Why your brand and your USP are important

Have you ever been confused by a marketing message or an advertisement that seemed out of place with the product? My on-line and sometimes off-line friend Rod Sloane quite rightly described McDonalds’ current TV ad in the UK as “bonkers” which was exactly the word that had come to my mind.

Possibly McDonalds feel that their burgers have to be portrayed as a wholesome product made with 100% British beef but the ad does not even show the product, only pulling us back at the end with the familiar McDonalds banner. Otherwise it is along the line of some of those car adverts where we think “what on earth was all that about?” Of course I understand that the healthy option food police have suggested that burgers are dangerous with all that cholesterol, but let’s be sensible. Healthy sports can be dangerous. As a fit though not talented skier I did myself a lot of damage once. I do not think we should ban skiing and I do not think we should ban Big Macs or that McDonalds should almost pretend they do not sell them.

I have more than one business, and perhaps I should not tell you so as not to confuse you. I think if you are here then you are more likely to buy into me and my personal brand (this is not a selling blog of course). However, my businesses are marketed separately and distinctly, and I hope people are not confused between them. We need to keep our propositions simple. If someone is a landscape gardener who also knows a lot about keeping coy carp and goldfish, and excavates and sets up ponds, it is probably better to keep the propositions separate. Otherwise potential clients will say “is he / she a gardening expert or a pond expert?” They might think that they are looking at a gardener who dabbles figuratively and otherwise in ponds, and it blurs the offering. Of course a person can be very good at more than one thing, as I think I am, but for someone who does not know the business owner, it can be very confusing and that person may go to whom he or she considers the “expert” rather than to a supposed dabbler.

So I believe that when we market our business by whatever means, we need to keep our product or service clear and distinct, and whilst we may talk about the problems we solve, we do not need to get involved in the fluffy stuff such as McDonalds’ pastoral scenes and bucolic frolics. McDonalds are selling fast food, aren’t they? They should stick with their USP.

© Jon Stow 2009

Scammers and traps for start ups

Starting your own business is a big step and one that often isn’t thought through. “Business plan? Goodness me, no I haven’t got one.” However, other difficulties that arise in the first couple of years arise from being too trusting and assuming that everyone with whom you deal is acting in good faith.

I freely admit I was caught out once or twice in the early years. Working for someone else, we are often insulated from outsiders trying to screw us out of a couple of bob or quarters or whatever currency we deal in. When we own the business we are in the front line. So it is that when someone telephones and asks to speak to the person who looks after the marketing and advertising, we will often say quite proudly “you are speaking to that person”. We will then take what the caller has to say at face value.

In my first year or so on my own, I had a call from someone who said he was selling advertising in a magazine which would be in all the local doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries, and which was sent out on a quarterly basis. Would I like an ad? When you start out you are often a bit short of business, so I said I would like to try an advert. They sent me a proof of the ad after we had agreed its content over the telephone, I had an invoice and I paid it by cheque. Guess what? The magazine was fictitious. I don’t mean it was an anthology of stories. I mean that it didn’t exist, and I had been taken for £100 I could ill afford, and of course by the time I realised that the fraudsters were long gone.

I learned a serious lesson from that, and it has stood me in good stead.

Another favourite in the UK and I am sure it has its equivalent in other countries is the Data Protection Agency Fraud. If in the course of your business you hold personal data for your customers or clients you must register with the Information Commissioners and pay an annual renewable license fee of currently £35. However, there are scammers who will write to you and offer to register your business for a much higher sum. They send official looking and quite threatening letters in brown envelopes, and there is an example here.

When I received the first of many such letters, fortunately my alarm bells rang and I checked on the internet where there is a great deal of information about this scam. I am pleased to say that people have been jailed over this racket but usually when the raids take place the criminals are long gone. They use PO Boxes and mail forwarding services and are very clever. If you need to register under the Data Protection Act do it directly to the Information Commissioners after downloading their form online.

Then again there is a charity scam which is quite common. I expect it is intended to be targeted at businesses just larger than micro-businesses, but even if there is just you and you are busy with other things you might get caught out. Anyway, someone calls, and the ploy is clever. They tell you that someone in your office, perhaps you, agreed some months ago when they called before that your business would either make a donation to a charity, or you would take an advert in a charity magazine. They will say something along the lines of “the money will go to a charity to help the disabled children” of your town, which they will name. Now, when they name my village, it is transparently obvious that they are blagging, because I would have heard of any special charity, and our village probably is not large enough to have such a charity of its own. However, if you are in a larger town, say Bradford or Canterbury, it is quite possible that there might be such a charity and a busy person or someone in a larger office could fall for it and give the company credit card number to the caller.

The scam works on credibility. If the caller says someone in your office was called and agreed to the payment some weeks ago your instinct might be not to go against this. Of course no one called before, but the lie is simply to suck you in.

It is stating the obvious, but never, never give a credit card number to someone you don’t know who has made contact with you by telephone. You would not if you had such a call on your private line, but if you get a call on your business line from someone purporting to represent another business or a charity it really would be all to easy to be drawn in. I haven’t done it myself, but have been led to the water from which I refused to drink. I think I know better, but people fall for these and the very credible online phishing scams. The crooks are out to get us. Be careful out there!