Let’s have a lot less value washing and a lot more action…

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

I’m writing this just after the end of Pride month and if I listen very carefully I can hear the sound of social media managers from across the western world taking down their specially prepared rainbow-tinted logos. It was audible due to the sheer speed that this takes place each and every year.

Why do I even care about this? In fact, you are probably asking yourself why you’re even reading this – and both are good questions, but stick with me as I want to talk about authenticity and the pitfall of value washing your brand. 

What is Value Washing?

When a person or organisation uses a political or cultural movement for their promotional activities but doesn’t act on or systemically support the ethos of the movement, that is value washing. 

This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with or celebrate brands that showcase their commitment to ideals, especially Pride, but it has to be more than changing their logo to have a rainbow filter over the top of their existing brand for 4 weeks in early summer. The same is true for important movements that have risen to prominence over recent weeks, especially Black Lives Matter.

Yes, the urge to be relevant and part of the narrative of major events feels important. This always needs to be balanced with what you are doing this for, and if it is only for shallow reasons, with no meaning or actions, you will instead be in a position of value washing your brand and this is detrimental to your long-term brand position.

Why Your Brand Shouldn’t Value Wash

  • Your audience sees right through it – not authentic
  • You will create more questions – what have you done to support, what haven’t you done before?
  • Is your brand in a position to support this cause? Have you always had the same position on the subject in question?

Without any activism or engagement in the cause, you run the risk of looking tokenistic. Indeed, if your brand has a less than savoury history in certain aspects (see Llyod’s of London and their connection to the slave trade) then your promotional use of a movement could backfire spectacularly – and rightly so! 

Think of it this way, if you are a retailer or a visitor experience you wouldn’t just wish all your customers a Merry Christmas on 25th December. No, you would spend months planning your activity – the products, the services, the experiences and ensure everything was in a place with a plan. This plan would link to tangible actions and supported by robust procedures.

Indeed, you would just limit your action to just placing two candy cane emojis next to your brand name on social media and call it Christmas. You would do more, a lot more.

It’s About Action

This is all feeling a little negative, isn’t it? And I don’t want you to feel I don’t support brands that are acting responsibly. I really do – but do you know why? Because they are doing something.

So, let’s make a deal, oh patient reader, for the rest of this article I will move away from the negative and instead focus on celebrating the brilliant and inspirational work brands have delivered to both addresses their difficult heritage and showcase the positive steps they are taking to make the world a little better. 

 Natural History Museum

Personally, I love this approach by the Natural History Museum to both celebrating Pride and addressing their institution’s record on engaging with indigenous cultures and race in general and the deep roots of colonialism. 

They are being honest about the issue and making it clear that both know they need to do more and making a promise to do so. It is a deeply complicated issue but by tackling it head-on they have the opportunity to build more supporters and advocates.

Their Pride content caught my eye too, and just because of the beautiful, bright imagery used.

What they have done here is augment their content to celebrate LGBT+ people and their contributions whilst also keeping to their aims of educating and celebrating the wonder of the natural world. The Pride flag is composed of colourful aspects of nature, creating a stunning example of the beauty of the world and the beauty of Pride in one image.

Trixie Cosmetics

You’re thinking to yourself, Drag Queen makeup?! Yes, a successful makeup range, targeted at a female audience and developed and marketed by a superstar Ru Paul’s Drag Race alum (and winner).

Trixie Cosmetics has strong values at the heart of their brand, they have been donating to bee protection charities since their inception and during the recent BLM protests, they took decisive action on their channels.

For such a light-hearted and frivolously fun brand (they have just released a series of YouTube videos where Trixie cooks using a children’s toy – worth a watch) to change their tone so dramatically showcases their true brand values and commitment.

Again, this reads authentic and is backed up by the actions of Trixie Mattel herself on her personal channels. As a TC consumer, you can trust in their activism.

What you can do to support and celebrate

  • Tell their story – promote ways your audience can support the cause
  • Tell your story – tell people what you have done and continue to do to support – the initiatives, the donations, the products that support the donations
  • Make any statement meaningful – speak from the heart and avoid meaningless language
  • Don’t just do it for the day, week or month of the campaign – embed the cause into your communications all-year-round by promoting your continued activism and support

Remember, when you align your brand to a political or philosophical movement it isn’t as easy as celebrating a season – it isn’t placing a filter on your existing logo or placing two Jack O’Lanterns emojis next to your name for Easter (I don’t have anything against emojis or seasonal activity, I hasten to add!).

It is a much deeper, more meaningful act, one that should be authentic and backed up with action. This action doesn’t have to be huge programmes or donations. Instead, it can and should be about the robust HR procedures you have in place to ingrain diversity and inclusion in your organisation or your ethical purchasing policies. Customers do care about things like this, and anything you do will put you above your competitors, so don’t be shy about showcasing what you are proud of and what you can and will improve on.

Of course, I’m all for marketing that cuts above the noise. You should absolutely take advantage of the news cycle, but only when it really means something.

Trust me, your customers and your employees will thank you for it – with loyalty.

Happy advocacy.

Practice what you preach – click here for links on how to support Black Lives Matter.

A New Independence Day?

Photo by 7shifts on Unsplash

How to Manage the Data Requirements of the Lifting of Restrictions and Add Value for Your Customers

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

News today (Tues 23rd June) that so many businesses in the leisure and hospitality sectors have been waiting so long for – a date when they can re-open and welcome visitors back after 3 long months. Ironically, or is that serendipitously, the date set is 4th July – famous as the date our cousin’s across the pond celebrate their independence – and this isn’t far off how many business owners will feel.

However, it isn’t total freedom. As with retailers and other businesses already reopened and trading, there is a myriad of restrictions and guidelines to follow. There are similarities to those in place in shops, including social distancing policies (though reduced to 1 metre, where appropriate), using protective screens and face coverings as well as managing numbers within a venue. There is one big difference, and that is data collection.

Can I take your order…. and your name?

Customers contact details will be required on entry to pubs, bars and restaurants, as this information will be used as part of the government’s ‘Track and Trace’ programme – but only if it is needed.

However, this does put a significant data burden on brands, as this is a huge amount of new data to collect, compile and store – and what about GDPR?! Yes, that scary-sounding acronym that kept many a marketer and business owner up a couple of years ago. How will this new data collection fit with existing policies?

I see two real challenges:

  • How to collect the data efficiently
  • How to store the data in a GDPR compliant way 

Both can eat away at your precious time, right at the time you need to be focusing on reopening and promoting your offer. However, this can also be an opportunity.

Data Collection

The easiest, quickest, and I would say safest, method of collection would be online before a customer visits your venue. This could be done at the same time as pre-booking their table at a pre-arranged timeslot. This has many benefits:

  • You have all the pertinent information together, including the date and time of the visit and their contact information
  • You can manage capacity at your venue 
  • There will be no need for your staff to fill in forms on site, further limiting face-to-face exposure and increasing focus on customer service 

We all know there is nothing worse than having to try and spell your surname (or worse personal email address you set up in your misspent youth….) out to a member of staff and it adds more stress onto the team too. Also, with restrictions on handling objects, you may not be able to offer customers the ability to fill in anything on site that they didn’t bring themselves.

I do, of course, understand that it may just not be possible to have customers pre-book their visit, and in these circumstances it is worth thinking about opportunities for guests to fill in their details via an online portal, either pre or during their visit.

This could be a simple contact form on your website that triggers an email to their account to confirm they have registered their visit. This could then be shown to a member of staff when they are served, a reliable way to know you have the required data and a more customer-focused experience.

Another option could be linked to any digital solution businesses are using for in-app or online purchases when at the venue. As another restriction is table service only, many pubs will be turning to these options to help cut down face-to-face staff time but maximise sales and speed of delivery. I explored these options in a past article but it is conceivable that many of these will need contact details inputted before service can resume and their login details can be used multiple times to track customers.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Data, Data everywhere!

All this collection is great, but weren’t we meant to be only holding onto data when we get implicit consent from consumers? Are we allowed to even keep this information?

Short answer, and absolutely no surprises here, you certainly can. The General Data Protection (GDPR) Act lays out a series of clauses where you can process personal data without consent. These are:

  • A contract with the individual
  • Compliance with a legal obligation: if you are required by UK or EU law 
  • Vital interests: if it’s necessary to protect someone’s life. 
  • A public task
  • Legitimate interests

Source: Information Commissioner’s Office

This all makes it pretty clear, and the requirements certainly fit into at least three of the criteria listed above. What is more important is how and where you store this data.

Remember, this is not marketing data, customers are entrusting their information with you as part of a government scheme. It is not there for you to use to keep marketing to them after their visit.

This data will have to be kept in a new, separate database to your current marketing mailing lists and should include all the information we discussed earlier.

You can, of course, prompt your customers to sign up to your marketing mailing lists, and positively encourage them, but this is when you need consent, When they do consent and sign up this data will need to go to a completely new database, there can be no bleed over between databases.

Is your head hurting? I know mine is and I’m writing this, and it can be made simpler:

  •  One database for visiting information, including contact details, kept completely isolated
  • Other databases that hold marketing information but are not linked to the entries in the database listed above

This may feel like an incredibly cautious approach. It is, I’m a cautious kind of guy, especially with GDPR, but it also takes away any potential data headaches, leaving you to focus fully on delivering brilliant customer services and getting customers into your venue.

Building Trust and Relationships

Whatever approach you take make sure you showcase it, and your data protection policies, as bold and visible on your website. Ensure that customers know what they are signing up to and why. There will, no doubt, be more advice from the government on the wording of the data collection but as long as you are honest with your customers and tell what information you are keeping, and why, they will come with you.

Once they trust you on this they may very well sign up to your mailing list, as you’re a brand they want to keep engaging with.

None of this will be easy, but it is achievable and we all have an opportunity to build stronger and deeper relationships with our customers, and that is exciting, and potentially more profitable, opportunity for us all.

Happy Independence Day, mine’s a cheeky beer… 🍺

For support on the latest guidance, advice and requirements for operating during COVID-19 please follow this link to the government’s website.

For York Businesses, please follow the link below to a really helpful booklet put together by City of York Council on how you can get your business ready and fit into the wider initiatives taking place across the city – I highly recommend it.

How to Engage Your Way Out of Lockdown

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

With lockdown restrictions slowly lifting and the green shoots of more freedom on the horizon, how do you tempt audiences back after nearly 3 months and on-going concerns? The answer is simple, engage.

Simple Answers Require Hard Work

Audiences have had time to evaluate all of their relationships during the lockdown. From their own family dynamics (including who cheats on the video quiz… aunty) and wider friend groups to taking the time to take a forensic look at what brands they support and indeed, which ones mean something to them.

They will be thinking about which brands they simply couldn’t have lived without during this time. Which for many, if like me, would be the numerous food and drink brands that have repositioned their offer to allow for online order and delivery options to keep your cupboards (and drinks cooler) well-stocked. But what about brands that offer an experience that cannot take place at home or are best shared in-store? How can you start to tempt your audience back, and importantly start spending?

Education, Education, Engagement

For all the news of the lifting of restrictions there is still a lot of misunderstanding, and frankly, confusion out there as to what people can and can’t do. There is a desire to be educated and led in what to do and how to act in this new social distanced world.

The objective here is to create comprehensive content that aims to deal with all conceivable questions that your audience may have about visiting your venue. It is important to give as much information as possible, to allay any fears and ensure that customers know exactly what they will need to do to be ready for their visit.

This is not to say you should be speaking in clinical terms. You are aiming to calm nerves, not add to them. Keep to your brand voice and explain what steps you’ve taken to ensure the safety of both customer and staff whilst making sure that the unique experience you offer continues.

This is your chance to tell the story of how your brand is reacting to the current conditions, and indeed, how the needs of the customer are at the very heart of your business.

I would recommend the following suggestions to ensure the messaging comes across clearly:

Content & style

  • Write in clear, concise language, and stay away from acronyms or clinical language
  • Create a series of FAQ pages that deal specifically with questions you think your audience will ask – ‘do I need to pre-book?’ or ‘do I have to visit alone?’ this makes the content easier to digest and you can link to more detailed explanations elsewhere
  • No matter how much you do, remember that customers will always have more questions. Ensure that there are links to contacting you directly for more information and if there will be a delay in responding

Positioning on your site

  • All existing pages on your website that deal specifically with visiting your business should be updated with your COVID-19 information, so it is easy to find
  • Develop banners across your site that link specifically to information relating to COVID-19, so the customer has no issue in finding this information
  • Make contact information, including eNews sign-ups, as obvious as possible – people will want more information
  • Consider the imagery you are using on your site – try not to use shots that appear too crowded. What looked ‘bustling’ before the pandemic will not have the same appeal today

Nothing groundbreaking here, I know, but now is the time to get these simple steps in place in order to build confidence in your audience.

Getting Your Message Out There

Once you have somewhere to send people to you should focus on sharing the message as far and wide as possible. Social Media, as always, is a cheap and efficient way to reach your audience and build interest. My focus, however, would be on your email database, as this will be the key to rekindling your engagement with your most loyal audience and develop your relationship more.

Photo by Onlineprinters via Unsplash

Email it forward…

In a post-GDPR world, your email database (should) be your strongest and most effective direct marketing tool. This is an audience that has consented for your brand to communicate regularly with them – so they should be your biggest advocates. So use them!

According to Campaign Monitor, click-through rates in emails for UK campaigns skyrocketed in 2019, jumping from 0.9% to 2.4%, showing that consumers engaged with content on a deeper level.

Over 2% might not seem very high, but think of it this way instead: imagine all the impressions your social media posts reach, how many of them actually click through? I’d imagine, on average, it is less than 1% in most cases.

Investing time and resources will be worthwhile in the development of a deeper and more profitable relationship with your audience, who will appreciate the work you’ve put in to keep them informed.

Delivering Your Online Messages in the Real World

You’ve done the hard work. You’ve successfully initiated the measures for this ‘New Normal’ and promoted them to your expectant, and thankful audience. Now what?

Well, aside from continuing to offer great customer service, you need to make sure that the messages you’ve been advertising online translate into your physical space.

Things to keep in mind: 

  • Artwork and language should be consistent across all channels. If you are using graphics for social distancing on posters, make sure it is replicated online
  • Wherever possible, ensure that signage pushes audiences online for more information, saving resources on additional, and unnecessary signage

A Relationship Takes Work

This is more than just announcing a reopening though. It is your opportunity to restart your relationship with your audience. Think about what regular messages you will want to share over the coming months and beyond.

Don’t just think in terms of new products or discounts, ensure you continue to update them about changes and (hopefully) further lifting of restriction. Think as well about including them in conversations about the future direction of your brand – how they can become a more integral part of your business. Everything from crowdfunding ideas on new initiatives to even crowdfunding to have more of a stake in your brand, engagement creates loyalty – and loyalty creates profits.

Invest time in producing a content calendar for your brand, charting the main messages you want to share at specific times and which channels would be the most appropriate. I would suggest, again, that email is your silver bullet here, and by promoting your sign up options prominently across your channels you can develop a recruitment and retention strategy of well-engaged and active advocate group.

Remember, people who love brands talk about them, a lot, online. Be that brand.

For support on the latest guidance, advice and requirements for operating during COVID-19 please follow the link to the government’s website.

For York Businesses, please follow the link below to a really helpful booklet put together by City of York Council on how you can get your business ready and fit into the wider initiatives taking place across the city – I highly recommend it.