To Click Or Not To Click

As a marketer I am delighted that I no longer have to push messages at unwilling recipients but the choices the internet has given us extend well beyond shopping and media. We are responsible for our own moral choices.

The hacking and publishing on the internet of a number of celebrities’ private photos has revealed more than these stars’ naughty bits. The incident has brought into the open the truth about modern

Finger on key
To Click Or Not To Click


Where once laws, censorship and peer pressure helped us keep our baser impulses in check, these days we’re on our own. Social network managers and even the FBI may try to control our access to these stolen pictures but the fact is, if we want to, we can find them.

In the modern world, we don’t even expect to tell other people what to do. Complaining about strong language or sex or violence in a TV programme seems almost quaint in a time when you can watch what you want when you want- or not.

If You Want It, You Can Have It

Looked at positively, we have become a more tolerant society, letting almost everything pass us by as long it doesn’t interfere with our own life. Looked at negatively, those who remain intolerant of different taste or behaviour can now be express themselves in the most foul way. Previously they held insulting remarks in check because they would have to be expressed face to face or in green ink in a letter that needed posting. Now someone can use a social network to anonymously threaten to rape an MP because she supports having Jane Austen on a banknote.

Just as there are caveman parts of our brain that haven’t caught up with our civilised life, we have 20th century habits that haven’t caught up with the internet age. For the last few generations, we have been a consumer society. We have been taught that if we want something, we can have it. But those things were what manufacturers pushed at us. The internet changed that.

As a marketer I am delighted that I no longer have to push messages at unwilling recipients. I can offer my wares and let people ‘pull’ out what they were interested in. Truly targeted interactive marketing builds up good relationships between consumer and supplier.

Some marketers haven’t learnt yet. I was fascinated to see that the Sky News iPhone app which used to be so popular now has the lowest possible rating because so many users hate the amount of ads it pushes at them. And of course they can choose to delete the app which many are.

It’s Your Moral Choice

The choices the internet has given us extend well beyond shopping and media. You are responsible for your own moral choices.

‘Pulling’ things into our lives that we know are wrong used to be quite difficult, now it can done in secret without moving from our computer. All that stops us now is our own self censorship.

It’s easy to click the button that brings nude celebrity photos to our screen but it’s our choice. There is no person, agency or God stopping us. Just as when we see an empty car with the engine running, we don’t have to drive it away.

You might even kid yourself that they’re celebrities and that these attention hungry women are getting what they deserve. You might say it wasn’t you that hacked the photos. But, if you know it’s wrong, are you any better than the thieves who stole them in the first place?

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn. A version appeared on the Daily Echo website.

Amazon: Future Tense

In a previous article, I established that, despite its market domination, Amazon makes little or no profits because the pursuit of low prices has led to very low margins. I asked is there a David out there that can exploit this Goliath‘s weaknesses and what we would lose if we didn‘t have Amazon?

Straightaway we need to remind ourselves that at least one online retailer has already grasped the concept of what is unique about the web better than Amazon. Step forward Apple iTunes, a brilliant idea for selling a product that has no physical substance and therefore no fulfillment costs. Amazon has come late to this game with their Kindle e-books.

National retailers like John Lewis or Sainsburys also have a potential edge with their marriage of shop and online. Customers can use the shop as showroom but buy online (rather than using Waterstones as a showroom then buying from Amazon) or utilise the excellent click and collect. There is still a huge percentage more shoppers visiting shops than buying online which means Amazon are limited by having no showrooms. You might wonder what will happen to Amazon book sales, apart from bestsellers, if Waterstones closes and we can’t check out the books before buying online.

Some retailers make a success of selling own brand products because they have a monopoly. Next, White Stuff and even Marks and Spencer (if only M&S had products people want to buy) are examples of retailers who can set their own prices. Again Amazon lose out because they only sell goods in competition with other retailers.

Independent shops like Your Life Your Style do not have the advantage of either a national chain of outlets or exclusive products, but as I said previously the online competition is not so great for niche products- overheads are the reason for us leaving the high street and taking our chances selling purely online.

Amazon tried to tear up the retailing rule book that said competing on price can only end in tears because you end up with no profit. The key to success in the pre-internet days was to compete on quality, service and marketing. The trouble was, back in the nineties, people were reluctant to change their buying habits to this new fangled internet. Offering low prices was probably the best way to get people to switch to buying online. In fact, tearing up the rule book may be proving as difficult as tearing up a telephone directory.

The Amazon website is a wonderful warehouse but the emphasis is always on the cheapest price. Service is excellent but the clinical photos and bullet point descriptions do little to put across the value of the products. This works when it comes to selling a light bulb or something the customer already knows he or she wants but is no help when you need an uncertain purchaser to make an emotional connection with a product. John Lewis or even our own website do a much better job at persuading someone to buy a product. Its the difference between a description of a teddy bear’s size, colour and materials and a story of a child getting a bear, cuddling it and it becoming her friend. Or a picture of a wine glass and a photo of a dinner party with people chatting and drinking from the glasses.

From the early days of e-commerce, Amazon’s tactics have been the same. The company announced from the start that they would lose money for years while they built up their online business. As a result, they led the way, first as a cut-price bookseller who caught all other booksellers unawares. Then it widened its range of products, before moving into e-books which offer a better profit margin. Its best idea has been to invite other merchants to sell on its site. The virtually cost-free commission it earns from these traders may prove Amazon’s salvation.

If Amazon were to go, I would most miss the company’s tremendous commitment to innovations that make online shopping easier and more attractive to the customer from One-click shopping to rating the products to e-books.

Not that I would bet against Amazon winning the battle for the wallets of online shoppers. Nor it seems would investors who sent Amazon shares up when the results were announced.

How To Get Your Theatre Audience To Go Online

A theatre manager friend of mine told me he would like to get more people to use his theatre’s website. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea. You can communicate a lot more information on a website and the more people know about a product the easier it is for them to make a decision. You can clinch the sale there and then without the customer needing to pick up a phone or visit a box office. You can track what they are interested in. And if they book online, you save all that box office staff time.

What I’m not sure about is whether you can save money on print if people are using the website. It seems logical and it’s certainly what managers would like to do in these difficult times but research does show that an awful lot of people still need a piece of paper to stimulate their initial interest. Not to do with websites but I think the real digital saving is getting people to accept emails rather than letters.

So, how do we get people to use the website? First, make it easy to find. I’ve done quite a bit of PR for touring shows and I’ve been shocked at how many times council owned venues’ websites are hidden within a local government site or how many use a name that is different to the one people know it by. Assuming the address is what the customer would expect, you still need to rank highly in search engines. So, first, make sure your website is search engine optimised. It would be nice to think Google and the like would automatically recognise that you are the number one theatre in your area and indeed there is every chance that if someone types in your theatre’s name and location, your website will come up. But you may share your name with other theatres or people may type in much vaguer search words. So, you need to use all the methods we’ve discussed before that ensure your theatre’s name, location and the simple word ‘theatre’ combined with your location are picked up by search engines.

Second, make it easy to use. If you know me, you’ll know I have a thing about designers who get carried away with their creativity. We all know branding is important and the appearance of your website needs to impress your visitors but, come on, you couldn’t get a more simple site than Google’s and it’s the world’s number one. Okay, you’re a theatre and you need to look a bit showbiz but make sure your home page gets straight to the point. ‘This is what’s on now’- ‘this is what’s coming soon’- and a quick download.

It’s the same with navigation. Of course, your designers are bored with the same old tabs and left hand column list of page names. But your customers aren’t. That’s what they understand and they just want to get to the information.

Ideally you’ll have a mobile version of your website available since at least 20% of your visitors will be on their smartphone and find your traditional desktop version difficult to view.

So, you’ve told them about the production and you’ve shown them photos and a video. They want to buy. What’s this? They’re going to have to pay a booking fee! Why? If you want people to book online, you cannot charge them more than they would pay if they phoned up or called in at the box office. Fact. For goodness sake, the internet is where they’re used to finding things cheaper.

All right, let’s look at other ways to get your audience to go online. You need to collect email addresses. Whenever someone buys a ticket, ask for their email address (you don’t need permission to email someone whose bought something from you).  When someone visits your theatre, get their email address- bribe them with a free drink or something but just imagine how much that small investment may yield.

Make sure that all your communications- season brochure, fliers, letters, emails, even business letters- include your website address or a link directly to the show you’re promoting. Always include a QR barcode. These are the square barcodes you increasingly see in advertisements. When you point your smartphone at one (with the right app), it goes straight to your website. They’re catching on (and they’re free) so use them.

You also need a presence on social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest may not yield huge amounts of business but people who are interested enough in your theatre to follow it are worth nurturing, so post wisely and give your followers news and links to your website. And YouTube- a bigger search engine than Google- is essential. Create a channel and post all available video footage. The rules about search engine optimisation apply.

A few more things about website content. If you provide links on your website to other sites, e.g. a show producer or a sponsor, don’t lose your visitor: make sure any links open in a new page, so your site remains open and available. Make sure your site has all the useful information about how to find the venue, where to eat or stay nearby, what the auditorium looks like, parking, seating plans. If people want this information, don’t fill you precious brochure with it, direct people to your website. Finally, make your website a place where audiences can rate, comment on and discuss your theatre and its products- even if the postings are critical, it gets people to engage with your theatre online


How To Sell A Million Pound Panto

Very few things are certain in the world of show business but one is the profit to be made on panto. Or so I used to think until I heard that a major regional theatre actually lost money on a panto a couple of years ago. So it’s clear that you still need a good product and you need to market it well. Otherwise it shall end in tears. As someone who has sold some of the most profitable and best attended pantomimes in the last twenty five years, I can help you avoid the humiliation of a trip to the Boardroom.

Pricing is often not the responsibility of the marketing department which is unfortunate because it can make or break a show. Price too high and no-one will buy a ticket, too low and you don’t make the margin you need. Pantomime is about numbers so it is better to keep the price down as low as is profitable and concentrate on selling high volume. As always, offer at least five prices (three if you have a small venue) to appeal to all pockets and attitudes. Plan discounts for early birds, last minute buyers, groups and less popular performances.

It’s Behind You

The golden rule for promotion is, as with panto itself, it must be over the top. The first thing is to be first. Get the news out as early as possible. Party bookers are the foundation of a successful panto and they start thinking about their Christmas outing in January. Remember, yours won’t be the only show in town, or if not your town certainly somewhere within reach of a 55 seater. You want the others to be behind you so email or write to them in January. And write to them again. And phone them. And invite them to the press launch. And… you get the picture.

As to PR, since the first wave of individual ticket buyers comes quite early, I recommend a major media launch before it goes quiet for the summer. Then a series of individual visits by the stars through the autumn. If you have no stars, you can still feed stories about the director planning unbelievable theatrical magic, the writer researching the true story behind the fairy tale or an actor overcoming a fear of heights to climb a beanstalk.

Media coverage through PR is more important than ever because traditional print or broadcast advertising is far less cost effective than it used to be but the online alternatives have yet to deliver the numbers you need. Panto is particularly problematic in this respect because it appeals to an audience much greater than your usual customer base so they can’t be reached only through your email, SMS or postal mailing list.

You will need to advertise but do it sparingly and with a bang. Don’t throw your limited budget in every direction. Don’t even start until October when the main booking period begins. Do use only the paid for papers that cover your town- free and fringe media won’t deliver the numbers. Take only a few ads but make them big so they can’t be missed and because they say to the reader this is a major show worth seeing.

Otherwise use the proliferation of media that’s out there to best advantage. Make sure you have masses of photos, interviews and short videos freely and easily available for download to the huge number of websites, social networks, magazines and newspapers that want to cover your panto.

Oh Yes It Is

With such a massive choice of channels, you need help. So use your strongest supporters to spread the word. Get the word out to supporters on Facebook and Twitter but also get everyone else involved in the show- cast, creatives, producers and your own staff- to do the same.

Your website has a key role to play so make sure you’re pushing that panto as hard as possible on the home page from the moment it goes on sale. Keep updating your entry with new photos (cast in costume, set designs) and, if at all possible, upload short video interviews.

And let’s not forget that there are many people who still get their information from a season brochure or a flier. Get it in the spring brochure, even if you don’t have much information. By the time of the autumn brochure you’ll need a double page spread. Get those fliers everywhere- bulk distributed, included in mailings of tickets, handed out at shows.

As always, try to learn from what you do. The Panto Villain just spends money without knowing what works. The Principal Boy constantly experiments and monitors to find out what’s most cost effective.

I Guess I’m Right or The Importance of Research

We’re all guilty of thinking we know our audience. Often it’s based on what we are like ourselves or what we would wish our audience to be like. I came across this article on Social Media Today which illustrates the gap between what managers believe their customers use their Facebook page for and what they actually use it for.

We would probably all like to to think that when someone signs up to follow our Facebook posts or our Tweets, it’s because they like us, they like what we have to say and they want to know about us. That’s what the marketing officers surveyed thought. However the majority of consumers said they signed up because they wanted offers, games and info about new products. Only 38% said they wanted to show they were a fan. (I assume this leaves out all the people who sign up purely to try to sell you something.)

If we don’t research why our customers follow us, buy our product or visit our venue, how can we hope to market effectively to them? We often can’t afford to do our own research but that’s no excuse when there’s so much available on the internet. You may be right that your customers are different to those in this particular bit of research but it can’t harm to make sure that your postings on Facebook and Twitter include plenty of offers and news about new products.