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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Have we made the recession worse by choosing the wrong number? 20% VAT and the perception of pricing.

Petrol retailers had to endure some anguish a year of so ago when price per litre hovered just below £1.00. There was something about the magic pound that provided a brake on suppliers, before they lifted the price through the bar. Now at £1.30 there is no holding back until £2.00 beckons.

Moving to Open All Hours-speak there are some further lessons for us. Price labels can be an irritation but none more so than £4.99. The shop assistant is forced to open the till, issue the change, record the transaction and a discentive for employee theft is created. The more cynical observer will observe that the pricing strategy, lulled the purchaser into forgetting that the bill is a penny short of a fiver, and the £4 dominates the perception of the sale.

In that context, the impact of the VAT change to 20% is worth a second look. In the hurly-burly of a financial transaction,a mental calculation with 17.5 percent does not come easily. Conversely, there is a certain ease in working out 20%.

We are handing over a fifth of the price as a tax. We can visualise a fifth of a cake and it is a big slice. That fifth will go around in peoples' head and the outcome is predictable - an encouragement to spend wisely and less. What chance an economic recovery then?

When the Treasury staff advocated a tax increase, I am sure they knew demand would be squeezed. I wonder whether they could have made a better fist of it, if they had chosen 19.5 or 20.5%. Then the public would have been stymied by the mental arithmetic.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting your message across powerfully, practically and persuasively - rule of three.

The next time you are at a trade fair or exhibition take time out to do a 360 degree whirl, view the banners and give them a score out of ten. You won’t find many that grab you.

Here is an opportunity to make yours work when others don’t.

I visit the NEC and ICC regularly and in a day take in several hundred of these displays. The number that stay in the mind are pitiful. Assume your audience scans you for a couple of seconds at max.

A visit to Earls Court or Olympia, provides fertile ground for observing one of the most misused business marketing tools around. We are talking of the seven foot pop-up roller banner and its cousin, the airship-dimensioned display frame. Erected apprehensively, knowing they may collapse on you or snap down like a mouse trap. We have all been there.

How many of them really catch the eye? Have company managers dominated the design process and content? Have the graphic artists, speech-writers and copywriters had their creative skills pruned? Have we kitted the stall-holders with tools that just don’t work? How many exhibitors pack up their displays, wondering whether the ROI has been justified? The same rituals are played out thousands of times a day.

This is how it goes. After an outlay for the stand, possibly running into thousands, our intrepid exhibitor lays out the gizmos to attract the punters. The bowl of sweets, key fobs, mouse pads and corporate blurb come out of the bag. The backdrops of course are the banners and this is what they remain - a glorious vehicle to market the organisation but woefully misused.

So where does it all go wrong? Well it could be the content of the banner for starters. There could be too much of it. As the punters walk the aisles they will give a fraction of a second to each banner, so you need something to bring them in. The name of the organisation and the logo don’t work and they are usually the dominant graphic and text. Punters want to know what you do, what makes you different and whether you are any good.

Banners can be run off in a day, but it takes time and skill to put one together which is eye-catching and discourages a high bounce rate. Walk the aisles and make a note of the banners which pull you in. Those that do make you think, tug at your emotions and give the reader something to do.

Next, borrow some rhetorical speech-writing devices from the political worlds i.e. rules of three, contrasting phrases, witty play on words and reversal phrasing eg “Building is what we do best and the best is what we build.” Useful and snappy copy for the press release and website. Living in a five second culture, we do not tolerate lots of text so keep it down. Cut out the jargon.

Space on a stand can be at a premium so why not use the banner itself as a demonstration tool? Something you can engage the client with. It is almost as if the production of the display banner becomes an end in itself when in reality it is a starting point for promoting goods and services.

Ineffective banners emphasise company name, logo and contact details and have no call to action. The punchline is simple: create banners that are pithy, witty and engaging.

Of course you need presenters who can bring them to life – but that is another story. www.younevercantell.co.uk

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Does the Wikileak affair mean a return to pencil and paper? Do the leaks tell us anything we could not have guessed anyway?

It will take time for the dust to settle over the Wikileak revelations so that a reasoned assessment can be made of their publication. Words such as hypocrisy, embarrassment and incompetence will be bandied around by the population, as they see the revealed workings of its political and diplomatic elites. Governments should be receiving more in their input tray than high level gossip. Are the diplomatic positions revealed any different from what a professional analyst knew anyway? Security services and diplomats will jump and down over the “irresponsible” exposure of sources and positions taken. However much redacting takes place, humint may have been compromised, and there is only so much one can glean from remote sensing and drones.

The digital communication revolution has seen the inexorable onward and upward rise of traffic and there has been nothing to date to question this curve. The Wikileaks will give everyone pause for thought. What information is being hoovered up, why and to what end? We have information overload drowning in a sea of data.

For the first time, there has been a massive leakage of digital material to the global press. How much of this quarter of a million pages will provide interesting copy is questionable. In the five-second culture, the public will not be listening as the next story emerges.

Security tightening will be a given. Beyond that, we are likely to see a more circumspect use of the digital networks. We may see a return to a more humble way of communication i.e. word of mouth and paper and pencil. They have their flaws, notably dated and partial pictures of a situation. On the other hand easier to erase and deny.