Black Hop Burns is…? Well, actually, it's a beer, hot chile sauce and vinyl record store…obviously. In Dulwich - London, England. It's owned and run by a couple of kiwis and it is booming. The London Evening Standard just rated it a one of the city's great shops. Not bad for a fledgling business that seems to defy any kind of convention. Really, if a management consultant had prognosticated on Jen & Glenn's business plan they might well have advised 'concentrate on one of the three legs of their business stool, or maybe drop the hot sauce because that's just…weird…what's your core business?' I know, I nodded off writing it too. Beware of management consultants. Go with your gut.
But this post is about point of sale systems. One of the things I notice in dealing with small business owners, specifically shop owners - it's that they are run off their feet with the sheer number of things they have to take care of. From stock management to marketing, sharing their wares and experience with customers to make them insanely happy and even cleaning the place every day. Then there's dealing with suppliers and doing the accounts. You can't just concentrate on the fun, sexy things. Growing takes time and massive amounts of energy. Note I didn't say massive amounts of money?
Most small stores rely on cash flow, rather than investment from 'angels' or venture capitalists. It's the life blood of your business. A healthy business has good cash flow that is the product of getting the parts of the business iceberg below the waterline right - product selection, pricing, promotion, staffing, merchandising sorted so that when the doors open every morning new customers and returning fans are presented with an experience they love and products that satisfy their needs and wants. They show their pleasure and gratitude by exchanging their hard-earned cash for your goods and services and you process the transaction through your till…
Wait…your till? Remember Arkwright, the corner shopkeeper who's till had a mind of its own? Times have changed. Cash has given way to EFTPOS, debit cards and credit cards. The idea of a transaction has changed and with it how transactions are handled in store. One of the most important decisions you can make that will positively effect most other parts of your retail business is the choice of point of sale management systems you choose. Stock management and ordering, building your customer database and integrating with your accounts will all be made so much easier if you commit to a system early on. The best time to decide is when you are planning to open your store - but any time after that is fine too.
You have plenty of things to do and the more streamlined your business is the more time you will have to spend attending to the needs of your customers. And let's be honest, if you are anything like the people I work with, the more time you will have to enjoy life outside of trading hours.
The video about Hop, Burns & Black was produced by Vend, a New Zealand based point of sale system that is growing very quickly with small and growing retailers around the world. I recommend you have a word to them. Their site has a number of case studies of retailers in a wide range of categories you might find useful.
…or maybe they did. Just not at the opening of their developer conference. It's quite funny. Some insider jokes (it is a trade video after all - like the gag about the 'angel investor' who's actually an angel, but really just a rich guy - who explodes in a windfall of silver coins.
Actually Apple have a history of going to the wire with lavish productions that nearly didn't make it to air. The now-famous 1984 commercial shot at monumental expense by Ridley Scott at Pinewood Studios in England only ever aired one time - during the SuperBowl.
As difficult as it might seem to imagine the history of Apple - and even TV advertising - with a blank space in place of a dystopian classic - the ad very nearly didn't air. In the book Chiat Day, The First 20 Years the tale is told of how Apple wanted to can the ad - right up to the last minute. They asked how much they would save by pulling the plug on production - 'the price of lunch' was the answer. They tried to sell the airtime to another advertiser but, like the Apple Newton, there were no takers. The girl in the red shorts, pursued by IBM stormtroopers/thoughtpolice hurled her sledgehammer through the ranting face on the screen - …and 1984 wasn't like 1984.
If you haven't seen the original ad…here it is… still looks good today
Just to be clear - these are ads that were posted on YouTube - either by the brands themselves or their ad agencies etc. They aren't those ads you wait for the 'Skip Ad' message or open another tab with your device on mute until the entire awful 30 second invasion ends.
I haven't arranged them in top five sequence - but I have put my personal favourite at the top (hey, it's my blog…) The Force ad for Volkswagen just makes me laugh every time I see it. Simple idea. Simple demonstration of a product feature (car automatically starts remotely - which I guess is good if you live in a snowy place - though VW don't labour that literally with explanatory exposition because, well, people aren't stupid. The performance of the kid as Lord Vader is sweet. The oversized head makes him (or her) seem like Charlie Brown or, more likely, Calvin without Hobbes. The parents are placeholders but,…so what without them a car starting on its own would just be a Stephen King scenario. Warm, charming story, well directed…oh and a hit on YouTube - viewed more times than its on-air media spend would ever have afforded.
Intriguing that ads with messages that empower girls and women feature strongly to balance out the macho Messi/Kobe/Van Damme braggadoccio - Yin and Yan on YouTube - though now it seems any message of gender stereotype realignment refers back to the Dove campaign for Real Beauty - first mover advantage?
Google - who assembled the list - offer their analysis of the trends that were levered by the five advertisers. I've paraphrased.
1. Be authentic: On YouTube, authenticity is always the right choice.
2. Make video ads interactive: YouTube viewers are able to engage—comment, share, and click—in ways television never could. Make it easy for viewers to watch more or click-through to your website with interactive cards. However you make your videos interactive, give the engaged YouTube audience the opportunity to do something, not just see something.
3. Collaborate with experts who live and breathe YouTube. YouTube creators are experts in cultivating relationships with their fans through the content they produce. They know the right tone to take and the right topics to cover because they're having conversations on their own YouTube channels every day.
4. Take the time you need to tell your story: It's time to break free of the 30-second spot. Your story doesn't have to fit into a timeframe of 15 or 30 seconds anymore; it just has to be a story viewers want to watch.
5. Think like a filmmaker, not an ad maker: "Epic" used to be a word to describe the films that followed ads, but not anymore. Ads these days can be epic too. Consider creating videos with a film-y feel and a dramatic, storytelling quality. If you have the time to tell any story you like, why not make it epic?
6. Have fun with ad formats: Ad formats don't have to be limitations. What if you used them to your advantage? Take the "skip" button, for example. GEICO created a series of "unskippable" ads that communicate the brand's message in just five seconds, telling the user, "You can't skip this GEICO ad … because it's already over."
7. More Jean-Claude Van Damme: Enough said.
Gone are the days when ads lived in one medium and spoke at consumers. Brands and marketers have used YouTube over the past decade to change that paradigm. Ads on YouTube are still vehicles for telling great stories, but now they're much more than that. They allow advertisers to invite users to interact, cultivate relationships, and build fandoms of their own.
The Force - Volkswagen Passat
Advertising agencies sometimes hire 'planners'; people who use psychology and other behavioural sciences to figure out how people relate to brands - through the filter of how they experience their real lives.
The findings of the planners are converted into 'insights'. Insights are then taken by the creative teams and developed into narratives of one kind or anther - synthesised as stories that reflect a person's motivations and aspirations back to them in the context of a brand.
When the process is clumsy the advertising can be awkward. You can recognise this state when the creative idea is simply a literal retelling of the research. Kind of like holding a mirror up to the consumer and saying - 'look we understand you' - feeding back the feedback from focus groups.
Often the insight is mimed by someone deemed to be representative of the 'target audience'. These ads are still common - often they begin with a young woman with a child in their home saying 'If you're like me…'. An empathetic scenario is described and the product being advertised is miraculously featured to solve the shared or universal problem encountered by 'female household shoppers aged 18-35'.
Variations of the theme take the opposite tack. Instead of literal exposition, a contortion of the 'insight' might be illustrated. The consumer is left to interpret the meaning and find salience in the story and its technique, though they are guided not only by the semiotics of content but also by the context - where the ad appears. For example an ad with very little literal narrative or exposition featuring a beautiful, naked young woman on a satin sheet might become charged with meaning because it is featured in the pages of Vogue Italia (rather than Maxxim). The ad's meaning is changed by the viewing audience's interpretation and intention.
I've selected the 2011 advertisement for Twinning's Tea (above) as an example of when planning and execution get it right. The insight is that women feel emotionally stretched by their many roles - mother, lover, worker, unpaid worker, confidant (you can expand this list in your mind with as many interpretive variations as there are women on the planet). They seek to remain themselves in spite of this - a core self. The metaphor of the turbulent seas in the ad represents the external forces. The music is an affirming power ballad by The Calling (the kind of song that audiences hold aloft their phones, swaying in shared revery at live performances) - it might refer to a lost love or difficult romantic situation, it might refer to a mother's un-judging love for a wayward child - and this is one of the powerful aspects of the ad - the viewer is guided to a conclusion but is able to project their own situation and understanding onto it. The animation technique also helps with this. The audience can identify with the metaphor, rather than a faked realism. In effect, though the ad is by Twinnings Tea and is intended to drive the sales of the product - the ad 'belongs' to the viewer. The character in the ad (notably not particularly galmorised or etherial) is a proxy for her and when the character finds herself in the calm centre - with a restorative cup of tea - she is a one - with herself; and the brand.
On case you are wondering - sales increased. Twinning's market share went up over 5% in a declining category.
Great advertising can be a beautiful thing.
The simple link is the building block of the web. Being able to connect one document with another is the basis of it all - that's why the language of the web is HTML - hypertext markup language.
For years we have been conditioned to click text that is blue and underlined. It doesn't have to be blue and it doesn't have to be underlined - but it will work better if it is. Designers have been offended by this convention since the beginning of web time.
I was looking at this site on my mobile phone and I realised that the links in the text are difficult to see - the CSS in the template I use highlights the link and mousing over will show the magic disembodied Mickey Mouse mitt to indicate I want you to click the link - but on a phone that is a drag.
So, I am going through my sites and, where it is possible, replacing links with buttons - or having both to make it easier for you to interact on all devices and, as my stats indicate, on the devices you use most often.
Will it be clunkier aesthetically? - probably. Will it be easier to use? - definitely. Will you get downgraded by Google in their search results because your site isn't user-friendly?
If you walk the streets of Auckland as much as I have you'll see a lot of marketing. If you catch the ferry to work and arrive at the main terminal at the bottom of Queen Street you are going to have to run the gauntlet at least one day a week. The Britmart concourse in front of the Downtown shopping centre is a hot spot of theatre sports and trialling. I've been given samples of insane products there - from yoghurt to cider. It has become something of an art.
The promotion for SkyTVs show The Unforgotten Soldiers was a theatrically stage reenactment of a World War 1 battle. The trench was squeezed into an alley between two buildings on Lorne Stree. Actors played kiwi soldiers preparing for an engagement with the enemy -Germans? Turks? - didn't matter.
A film crew were preparing to shoot through the day - while passersby could watch and freely shoot video with their smart phones (and share, like I am doing now) . Normally the production crew would have someone to marshal the crowd and preserve the client's secrets. Obviously not the case here.
I'm not sure how far it radiated - I haven't had a chance to catch up with the news - but I am sure the investment in conceiving and designing the set, costumes, casting etc will all be worthwhile - not to mention that there will be a finished commercial to do the rounds in media in support of the story - which may have little to do with ratings for the show itself and everything to do with the battle between video on demand players, broadcast TV and every other medium to convince advertisers that SKY are the one to back. That's my interpretation on the strategy.
Though I did admire the tactics.
In Sweden VW tried something a little different to promote road safety (and it almost goes without saying, their brand).
They installed a speed camera that recoded and ticketed offenders. Drivers within the limit earned the chance to win a share of the fines.
I can see that it might work. Perhaps the only downside would be that, once word got out, the area might become a little too congested to speed.
Ok, so using emotion to manipulate people isn't a great strategy in my book - (or it is if you're a fake); but I like this spot because it is a nice overlap of celebrity, a mega corporate franchise (Marvel) and some genuinely cool technology.
So, the story is made up, but it's real at the same time. By the time you set aside the mental flip flops and gyrations you end up with a nice bit of clever content about something good. Which is good.
It’s not easy being small.
Well, if it’s any consolation - it’s not easy being big either. Or mid-sized.
But small businesses have advantages over big businesses too.
1. You can be agile
Turning around a battleship obviously takes a lot more time and a lot more people than it does to make a 180 degree course change in a speedboat. Military geeks call this the tactical diameter (TD) and in an old school sea battle the maneouverability could be the difference between victory and Davy Jones’ locker for all hands on board.
2. The consequences of errors are smaller
When you are big the stakes are higher. That’s not to say small businesses don’t put everything on the line when they commit. But when you have 100 people working for you, and suppliers, and shareholders - then the consequences of your actions and the choices you make a greater. So you will take longer to evaluate even tactical options and, oftentimes, will opt for the safest option. It used to be said that ‘no-one ever got fired for choosing IBM’. It wasn’t necessarily true that IBM was any better than alternative computing brands - but its brand reputation meant that managers could use it as a default. If the project they had hired IBM to undertake went pear shaped, then they could shrug if off - ‘who knew?'. Conservative decision making can have radical negative consequences. In the 1990s the New Zealand government engaged IBM to introduce a new system to overhaul the Police's computer systems to improve their ability to investigate and analyse crimes. It was a monumental failure - before the plug was pulled on INCIS it cost taxpayers $110 million dollars.
By comparison developing a promotion for your small business may not work as hoped; but, if you play your cards right - it won’t put everything on the line.
3. You aren’t flabby.
This relates to agility but deserves a special mention. Sometimes the speed at which things get done is exactly inverse to the number of people involved in the process. When you have layers of people involved with their own agendas and egos in the mix things get complicated. Complicated things are delicate and break easily - so people in large groups tend to get drawn into groupthink and maintaining social order. Top managers don’t have to worry about protecting their teams and silos of influence and under-managers don’t have to worry about antagonising their bosses. I’m not saying that there aren’t dysfunctional small teams - obviously there are - but in a small team there is less precious energy and resources wasted to simply maintain the operating system - before you even get going on a challenging project.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that big businesses have more resources. More money, more established connections with customers. Waste and inefficiency is often factored in. Think of the Saturn rockets that were designed to carry astronauts to the moon. The very reason they are so big - as tall as a 36 story building. Fully fuelled it weighed 2.8 million kilograms (most of which was need to lift itself off the launch pad and beyond the atmosphere). Lumbering scale has an inevitable energy cost - and waste is often accepted (the boosters and fuel stages of the Saturn rockets were only one-time use). In big organisations individuals may also be more inclined to operate inefficiently - ‘just doing my job’ rather than taking a wider view of their work. This can also filter into interactions with customers. If most workers in large organisation use 70 percent of their possible effort (discretionary effort) then business turning over $50 million might be throwing away $15 million every year, simply as a tax on scale.
JackSpratt™ is a service for small business that not only helps you make the most of your advantages - but also to amplify the resources you do have by helping develop cunning plans and to implement them at little or no cost. Not only will there be short term gains but you will also learn techniques and habits that can stay part of your culture as you grow.
Get in touch if you'd like to know more.
Here's an interesting approach by the lobby that wants to restrict access to guns in the United States. It is a confronting message that has been picked up by broadcast media and so reaches out to far more people that the stunt would have connected with in person.
(As a footnote - it is interesting how things get distorted and confused over time. The 'right to bear arms' in the US constitution was designed to ensure that a militia force could be mobilised - because the United States didn't want to have a standing army. hard to imagine the authors of the founding document finding it acceptable that their intentions could be so disastrously misconstrued).
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.