Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Prague Food Festival took place for the 4th time back in late May of this year. It had been in a number of different locations over the four years and this year it was in arguably the most prestigious – the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle.

The weather co-operated and the sun shone throughout. Many of the city’s top restaurants were there serving tasting-size portions of their best dishes.

All sounds great apart from the fact that the organisers made some basic mistakes that led to much disgruntlement amongst visitors to the festival. As opposed to previous years there was very little in the way of ‘built-in’ furniture for sitting on at the venue. The grass was off limits even for walking on and there were nowhere near enough tables. Nobody thought to co-ordinate with the restaurants leading to lots of places serving very similar dishes. When the whole point of such an event is to try out lots of different things this was a disappointment for many. Other organisational mis-steps were cited, such as requiring advance ticket purchasers to go to one specific entrance, where the queue was longer than for people purchasing on the day, and a lack of toilet facilities. These concerns were all posted on the PFF’s Facebook page (some of them were removed to, a whole other level of fail) along with annoyance at how the prices for dishes had become excessive – though they were little changed from the previous year. The overriding criticism was that the organisers of PFF were only in it for the money and didn’t care about the visitor experience.

Marquees at Prague Food FestivalThis weekend saw the first FoodParade – an alternative to Prague Food Festival, featuring some of the same restaurants as PFF and whole load more from outside the central square mile of the city – up and coming places, or places with strong followings of locals but with a desire to expand their customer base. The festival was located out of the centre of the city but still just as accessible by public transport. As a visitor to both the difference can only be described as like night & day:

  • The odd PFF practice of giving you a set of chromed plastic knife & fork when you enter, that you are supposed to re-use (or find somewhere to wash, incidentally not very easy), gave way to an altogether more sensible ‘metal cutlery available at every stand’ approach.
  • The festival currency, “chefs”, had a conversion rate of 1 chef to 10 crowns, which was printed on each ‘chef’ whereas at PFF, each “grand” was worth 25kc, which you had to remember. A little touch that was aimed to be more transparent about how much dishes were costing you.
  • Tables were conspicuous by their abundance not absence.
  • All the restaurants and food retailers were treating the event as they should – a marketing exercise rather than trying to make out like bandits. Some even gave coupons for money off when you go to their restaurant.
  • The weather forecast on Sunday predicted rain. In anticipation of this the organisers put up marquees and posted pictures of the marquees to their Facebook page so people could visit without worrying about getting rained on while they ate.
  • FoodParade’s Facebook page is full of enthusiastic compliments from visitors, already looking forward to next years.

Without a doubt FoodParade’s organisers saw what was wrong with PFF and have put together an enjoyable event that stands as a true festival of food.

The marketing takeaway?

Keep an eye on what your competitors’ customers are saying in social channels:

  • Watch their Facebook pages (you can subscribe to a Page’s updates as an RSS feed)
  • Create saved Twitter searches
  • Set up Google alerts for their company names or product names + words like review, complaint, feedback.

And of course you’ve already got this kind of monitoring set up for your own brands and products haven’t you?

Five Useful Free iPhone apps for Local Business Marketers

iPhone in handThe iPhone is a handy little business too for business local marketing, here are just a few apps, all free, that can help you create content, spy on your competition and keep up with what your customers are saying about you.

Share 360 degree views with Photosynth

Creating 360 degree interactive panoramas used to cost lots of money and take lots of time. The only places you’d see them would be fancy hotel and real estate websites. Armed with just an iPhone 4 and a copy of Microsoft’s (yes, I was surprised too!) free Photosynth app, and a Windows Live account (Hotmail, live.com etc) you can shoot, upload and embed on your own website a very neat 360 panorama. The embedding part requires you to log in to Photosynth.net with your Windows Live account to get the embed code. Any business that has a physical location they want to show off has no excuse now!

Keep your finger on the pulse with Twitter

For instantly updating your Twitter stream, posting news and specials, keeping up with what your followers are doing, or checking up on your saved searches. Make sure to turn on notifications for mentions and replies to maintain a decent response time to enquiries too.

Spy on the competition with Foursquare

Foursquare might not have hit the mainstream in terms of user numbers, but those that do use it are very much the vocal minority. As a business owner you should claim your listing, make sure your business is correctly classified and run specials anyway as the app draws attention to anywhere offering a special. So why would you want to use the iPhone app itself, when you really shouldn’t be checking in to your own location? A few reasons:

1. Keeping track of any new comments by Foursquare users (especially complaints!) at your own business but also your competitors.
2. Finding out who your (Foursquare using) regulars are, and maybe following/friending them
3. Keeping tabs on any specials your competitors are offering
4. Seeing where’s hot nearby right now (places with lots of people checking in)
5. Posting photos of your location – you can upload photos directly from the iPhone app, and places with photos get more attention

Update your Facebook page on the go

Whilst the Facebook app doesn’t make it easy to update your Facebook Page status on the go (a menu item for ‘Your Pages’ would be nice!) all you need to do is search for your Page then when you’ve found it, add it to Favorites, then it will appear on the second page of your Facebook app’s menu. Once there, getting into it is simple. Anything you post via the Facebook app will get attributed to the Page, not your personal account.

Create video slideshows with Animoto

With the Animoto app and a free Animoto account you can create 30 second videos by picking photos from your iPhone Photo Library, choosing a soundtrack from Animoto’s categorised collections then share that video on Facebook, Twitter, by email and more. Paid accounts are available that lift the time restriction and for a per video fee you can create higher resolution versions. Creating a video slideshow like this is a fun thing to do when you have a special event. You can get something up on Facebook within minutes.


image credit: John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons on Flickr.

So you’re starting out on Twitter

Barn Swallow Chicks in nestStarting out on Twitter, particularly if you’re planning to be on Twitter in a business or professional context, can be confusing and dispiriting. The suggested user list doesn’t give you much to go on and Twitter seems pointless when you’re following nobody.

Twitter is what you make it

Everyone’s Twitter experience is different. It’s a combination of who you follow, who follows you and how you interact on Twitter. Do you actively look for new people to talk to and follow based on what they’re talking about or ‘grow organically’?

This isn’t about getting more followers

Well it kinda is. You know who gets huge numbers of followers? Celebrities, media outlets and people who tweet useful, helpful, interesting things. If you’re not in the first two groups, you’ll have to try that last option. Oh there’s one other group, it’s the people who pay for followers and get nothing but bots following them. It might look good to have a couple thousand followers but if all of them are default-icon bots then it looks as shallow and pathetic as it is.

OK, where do I start?

The collection of posts linked from Chris Brogan’s Best Twitter Advice is essential reading. A good way to begin is finding some interesting accounts to follow yourself. You could use Twitter search and search for keywords and hashtags, or try out one of the Twitter directories, like Twellow and WeFollow. An interesting shortcut is provided by Tweepi which helps you follow the followers or friends of a specific Twitter account.

Bear in mind that unless your Twitter stream is populated with worthwhile tweets (not just RTs and Foursquare check-ins!) you won’t get many follow-backs from anyone other than users who use auto-follow tools (you can do that if you want, using tools like SocialOomph).

Happy Tweeting!

Image credit: Alan Vernon via Creative Commons on Flickr

Guerilla Marketing in Real-time

I’ve long been a fan of guerilla marketing. Maybe it’s my parsimonious nature. Or maybe it’s just the fun aspect of it.

The original book on Guerilla Marketing is 27 years old but its central concept is more relevant with every passing year. Real-time is this year’s buzzword and makes it into the title of David Meermen Scott’s latest book, Real-Time Marketing & PR.

I’ve not read the book yet but from all the examples Scott has given on his blog and in interviews it’s clear that real time marketing is essentially guerilla marketing at internet speed.

So how do you do it? Seize opportunities the instant they present themselves? How do you even find these opportunities? Simple – either buy a lot of screens and try and spot things like that scene in The Matrix where Neo and Mouse are looking at the glyphs on the screen, or you learn how and where to pay attention.

Right now in Paris conference speakers and attendees are arriving at the Le Web conference. These people are digital media and marketing thought-leaders. And they can’t get online in their hotel rooms. What’s the opportunity here? Anyone with the ability to get them net access, right this moment, (bars or cafés, companies with offices nearby, mobile internet providers) gets themselves a lot of goodwill and favourable coverage.

But how would a business be able to find (let alone react) so fast as to benefit from this opportunity? Setting up a marketing radar is a good start. Keeping tabs on upcoming events in your neighbourhood, find the hashtags for conferences taking place on your doorstep, run searches on twitter for them, follow the people tweeting about it. Dig deeper and read reports, reviews and summaries (and tweets, if twitter would let you go back that far) of previous years’ events to find out how you can be useful to these guests in your city.

To each according to his influence

Palms’ chief marketing officer, Jason Gastwirth, is currently building out “The Klout Klub,” which “will allow high-ranking influencers to experience Palms’ impressive set of amenities in hopes that these influencers will want to communicate their positive experience to their followers.” The Palms is already pulling in data from Klout and referring to it as part of their reservations process.

That quote is from this piece in AdAge which has a lot of great comments and the main thread running through them is this “treating influencers differently creates an unrepresentative impression of your brand experience”.

I can see the ones-and-zeroes sense in taking note of influencers, using software to identify them makes a lot of sense but there are plenty of problems with this. Treating someone as a VIP because of the influence they wield means they will never be able to give an unbiased opinion of a service because they haven’t experienced it the same way a regular person is likely to.

The last thing a restaurant critic ever wants is to be recognised before the meal is served. If a critic’s readers found out that a review was compromised in that way they would lose respect.

A big part of this week’s Six Pixels of Separation podcast with Mitch Joel and Joseph Jaffe is on this topic and Mitch followed that up with a blog post explaining why he doesn’t want to use the influence or platform he has to get special treatment and by using tools like Klout, as Mitch implies, brands are asking for it. Read the comments to Mitch’s post too, some great stuff there.

It’s a thorny topic – preferential treatment based on celebrity and status, driven by a desire to please and to be praised can make a brand seem sycophantic but the alternative risks provoking the wrath of the influencer. Surely even thinking that way is the brand admitting ‘our regular level of service isn’t good enough to be remarkable and can randomly fall apart so badly as to make people angry’. Should brands aim to solve for the many or salve for the few?

Image credit: TimOve

What’s on your radar?

BattleshipsYou’re busily going about your work, doing what’s necessary to keep things moving, reacting as things come in.

What can you do to be more take a wider view and be more proactive?

A good start is to get an idea of what’s going to be taking place in your city over the next three to six months – we’re talking conferences, festivals, exhibitions, even concerts.

You will be amazed at the variety and number of events taking place right under your nose.

Fortunately the Internet makes this kind of research much easier than it ever used to be.

For general events check out eventful.com or upcoming.org, for conferences and trade shows worldwide then biztradeshows.com is indispensable.

Ninja tip:
Many of these sites provide information in the form of public calendars or RSS feeds. Make sure to subscribe to them in your calendar (iCal, Google Calendar etc) or RSS reader to keep up to date.

What to do with this information?

If you’re a local business, think what you can offer to people in town for just a few days. Some conferences have twitter hashtags and other ways to find out just who is attending. If you’re a restaurant or cafe, there’s probably a list of places nearby on the event website. See about getting a link there (for an SEO boost that keeps on giving as well). Not all conferences are in hotels, and even if they are not everyone can afford to stay at the conference hotel. For concerts, there’s always plenty of people who buy tickets then figure out where to stay later. If you’re an accommodation provider, watch Twitter for people looking for somewhere to stay, then offer your services. Got a blog? That’s a great place to put a post about your special room rates for the event – competition for “{Event Name}+{City name}+hotels” is never going to be as stiff as for “{City Name} hotels”.

Even if your business doesn’t offer local services, this information is still useful. It’s a rare conference season that won’t bring a whole heap of potential clients to town. Use that opportunity to deepen relationships with people you’ve only met online. Play host. Everyone loves to be shown around by a local.

What are the resources you use to put events on your marketing radar? And how does having that information power your efforts?

Image credit: Amanda M Hatfield, via Creative Commons on Flickr

OK, so you’re remarkable, now what?

Why local business and tourist venues should enable customers to remark about them

Purple CowWhy local business and tourist venues should enable customers to remark about them

We should by now all be aware of the importance of being remarkable, but one thing that’s often missing is making it REALLY easy for people to share that “remarkability” with their friends with the simple act of giving them a free wifi connection.

Mobile devices are getting smarter, more capable, high-speed mobile data is becoming more widespread, but that doesn’t mean businesses are off the hook when it comes to hooking their customers up to a fast, free internet connection (yes, I’m looking at you Hilton, Marriot and any other short-sighted money grubbing hotel that bilks their customers up to $20 a day for internet access). In fact sometimes the free wifi in itself is remarkable enough for a mention.

Given that very few data plans remain unlimited and in many cases a lot of people at a venue may be from out-of-country so have no data plan or desire to rack up huge roaming charges, it’s the very least you can do to be a good host.

If you’re responsible for the marketing of a local business, tourist attraction or pretty much anywhere people go and have an experience that you’re confident enough in that you want them to talk about, how about handing them that megaphone?

You want people shooting video, taking pictures, geotagging it and uploading it to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and all the other social media sites. You want people checking in on Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt or whatever (bonus points for making sure that your wifi access point has been submitted to SkyHook Wireless to give accurate geolocation). Enabling this is a matter of installing a public-access wireless network (segregated from your internal one) on a decent internet connection.

You can DIY it if you wish, taking care to block file-sharing ports and the like, or have a consultant install it for you if your needs are more complex. It may cost a few hundred dollars or pounds (up to a few thousand for a multiple access point setup for larger locations) but it’s a lot cheaper and more effective to have your customers spread the word than what you spend on interruption marketing.

Image credit: sunclover via Creative Commons on Flickr

Who needs social media when you’re too busy being awesome?

fiber optic cableCatching up on some blogs this weekend, I found this post about Comcast’s usage of Twitter by Lisa Barone over at Outspoken Media.

Not living in the US I don’t have the opportunity to try Comcast’s service. My overall opinion of the way Comcast use Twitter is that it’s great for the people who get help that way, though it creates a two-tier support system – people savvy enough to turn to @comcastcares get ‘premium hotline’ support. Those who aren’t so connected (if your internet connection is out, you’re probably using your iPhone) are subjected to phone trees and hold music. If the team that use Twitter in some way can generalise problems and drive organisational improvements then I can see the up-side. Otherwise @comcastcares is just an insiders’ priority support channel.

Anyway, to my point. I’ve been in the Czech Republic since 2001. Over that time I’ve used numerous internet providers (cable, ADSL, Wi-Fi), but the one that’s always my first choice if it’s available (a few years ago we even paid to have a building wired up) is UPC‘s cable internet service.

Every year since I moved here their offerings have got faster, when their infrastructure could take it, or cheaper. They’ve driven a stake through the ADSL internet provision business of Telefonica O2 (previously Czech Telecom) by always beating them on price AND quality of service. They were the first ISP here to get rid of FUP limits. They don’t have blanket coverage of the city yet but where they offer service, you’d be crazy to go with anyone else.

UPC don’t do Twitter, getting support from them involves calling in, or filling in an online form, though as it’s impossible to outsource a Czech-language call centre any further abroad than Slovakia, UPC handle support internally. If you have a problem that they identify as a physical fault they have an engineer out the next working day. If you want an install, lead time in my experience has been 2-3 days. When I moved apartment a couple of months back we had internet the day after we moved in.

Business customers (the people paying a fair sum for 100Mb upstream/10Mb downstream connections) get priority support but there’s no way to queue-jump just by using a different support channel – everybody gets the same efficient service.

If UPC asked me what they could improve, I’d be at a loss for an answer.

If your service is awesome you don’t need to apply a band-aid.

Image credit: Stavros G. via Creative Commons on Flickr

Twitter: It’s only as useful as you’re prepared to be

shoe shineAs Twitter grows in popularity and becomes the must-have shiny thing for mainstream companies, organisations and individuals (despite the apparent recently reported plateauing) this simple maxim becomes more important.

If you’re just getting to Twitter now and you’re wondering how to start out, there are some great resources available online from sources such as Mashable and Chris Brogan, or in print in the form of the recently published Twitter Marketing for Dummies.

Just bear this one thing in mind – for some people (news outlets and the like) Twitter can work as a one-way medium. For everyone else, you’d better be prepared to take part in your community, listen to and interact with others. If you can be entertaining too, that’s a plus.

Don’t start out with ‘what can I push out on Twitter?’ think ‘who can I be useful to?’.

Image credit: caribb, via Flickr.

Missing the point about Pepsi’s Before you Score App?

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Lots of vitriol being poured out about Pepsico’s AMP UP Before You Score branded app (see Twitter search results to the left) and this Mashable piece.

Most of the opinion (most of which is just people retweeting) is overwhelmingly negative, but then how many people of these people have actually tried it out?

I did, and this app has its tongue placed very firmly in its cheek. Would a branded app supporting a fairly bland energy drink have got this much coverage or attention if it didn’t pose as misogynistic?

Based on the branding of the product it’s pretty obviously male-targeted anyway . Maybe Pepsi should have been less obvious about their involvement (PepsiCo stated as the developer and copyright holder on the App Store page [screengrab]) but then that would have come out at some point anyway – their name is on the cans.

The criticism on Twitter, using the #pepsifail hashtag, in the reviews on the iTunes Store and in other places amounts to ‘Pepsi don’t want women to buy from them’. Some are calling it a fiasco. Just like Motrin moms and countless other ‘storm in a social teacup’ incidents, this will blow itself out before the end of the week. People (the mass market/general public) will be unaffected and life will go on as normal, but a lot more people will know what AMP is. Not quite the fail that the voices of protest wish it would be. More to the point the outrage is going to nothing more than fuel the popularity/notoriety of the effort.

Update: Mashable post on Pepsi’s apology for ‘bad taste’