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Guest Blog: Unlock the Purple Pound With Your Online Shop – Four Easy Steps to Start

Guest Blog: Elki from York Disability Rights Forum

The ‘purple pound’ refers to the collective spending power of disabled people. In the UK that equates to £24.8 billion, and this spending power also translates into online shopping. According to We Are Purple, around 4.3 million disabled online shoppers are clicking away from websites that are impossible or unpleasant to use. By making some small changes, businesses in the UK can open up access to the potential £11.75 billion they’ve been missing out on.

In these guest posts I’ll be writing about how businesses can earn more of those ‘purple pounds’ by improving digital accessibility practices. Over the series I’ll be writing about how your website can give opportunities for improved in-person customer experience (an important one for hospitality and service-based businesses). As well as inclusive marketing and the quick, easy things you can do to reach more disabled customers. But first I’ll be talking about online shopping.

This past year or so has shown how much of an advantage online shopping can be. Many businesses have needed an online offer and more of their customers have had to shop from home. Although things are slowly moving back to shopping in-person for some, maintaining an online shop remains a sustainable and secure way forward for a lot of businesses.

The good news is you don’t need to create a ‘disabled friendly’ version of your website; a website which gives disabled people a better customer experience gives everyone a better customer experience.

So, here are 4 easy things you can do to start making your website more accessible.

1. How does your website sound?

When people use a screen reader to visit your website, they hear it rather than see it. It’s likely that the text on your site can be read out, but how about the images? Making sure an image is given something called alt text means that blind and visually impaired people who are using a screen reader will hear a description of the image. 

An easy fix

It’s really straightforward to add alt text to the images you use. Most website editing platforms allow you to enter alt text when you upload an image or add one to a page. The option may be under an ‘edit image’ menu.

Aim for an accurate but concise description. For example “A bright red shirt with long sleeves and a collar. It has two large flap pockets and red buttons.” There is no need to start the description with “A photo of…” as a screen reader will always say “image” before reading out the alt text.

Added benefits

Alt text has an added benefit in that the description you enter will display where an image should be if someone’s internet connection is on the go-slow.

Mythbusting

Advice which suggests that cramming keywords into image descriptions improves SEO (search engine optimisation) is outdated. A good user experience, signalled by fewer click-aways, for example, bears much more weight these days.

Top tip

A great way to find out whether your website makes sense without images is to turn the images off. If you use Google Chrome this plugin will let you do that: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/images-onoff/nfmlhilnjccdggifdbhnhkffmjgalbgg/related?hl=en

2. Lovely! But just how tall is that flamingo-shaped lamp?

It can be easy to forget to give enough detail about a product, especially when you’re really familiar with it. But for anyone who can’t, or chooses not to, visit a bricks and mortar shop, product information is the thing that can make you the sale.

Many people whose physical access to shops can be limited, myself included, need details, details, details. Information that is important to me may not be obviously important to everyone. But if those details are missing, I’ll go somewhere else. For example, I’m looking for a water bottle which will fit in the holder on my wheelchair. I need to know the diameter of that water bottle, so I’ll buy one from the shop that gives me that information. You may not always be able to predict why the information is important, but that information might be the thing that gives you the competitive edge.

An easy fix

Think about the amount of time some people spend inspecting your products when they’re physically present in your shop and aim to give an online customer the opportunity for this same experience.

Added benefits

Visually impaired people who don’t use a screen reader but can’t see product images clearly will also benefit from thorough product descriptions. Plus, for everyone, information means choice!

Top tip

Look at Amazon listings. I’d rather not buy from Amazon. Like most people I’d rather shop local and support York’s businesses. But sometimes, Amazon gives me the information I need. A great tip is to look at the level of detail in Amazon listings for a product similar to yours and aim to include as much relevant information.

3. Click here, go where?

When you have enough sight you might find your way around a website by visually ‘scanning’ the pages. It’s usually easy to see which section is where, what looks interesting, as well as where the links are. When using a screen reader, finding out what’s on a page might mean listening to every bit of content. But, there are ways to ‘scan’ the links on a page. There is a tendency to link the words ‘more’ or ‘click here’. If those links appear in several places on a page, this results in a screen reader scanning for links and saying ‘more’, ‘click here’, ‘more’, ‘click here’… This doesn’t give a customer any information that suggests where the link goes or what it’s referring to.

An easy fix

Again, this one is really simple to do by making your link text meaningful. Instead of “For information about our sustainability practices click here.” use “Find out about our sustainability practices.”

4. Was it good for you too?

It’s impossible to make your online shop 100% accessible to every person. What you can do though is make it easy for everyone to let you know what they need and ask how you could improve. Over on the YDRF website, we have a notice in the footer which asks people to give us feedback on our content. We also regularly ask people if there’s anything we can do to make our website better and ensure we take action on those things.

An easy fix

Give as many options as possible for contacting your business; phone, email, on-site contact form and postal address.

Top tip

The Big Hack is a great place to do some reading about how you can make your business more accessible to disabled people.

So that’s it! Four easy steps you can take to start making your online shop more accessible to disabled people and earning more of those ‘purple pounds’.

For more information about York Disability Rights Forum visit https://ydrf.org.uk/

Guest Blog: Overcoming Work-Related Stress

Whatever your job role, stress is something many of us contend with. I think we can all agree that the last 12 months have brought new stresses to our lives, that certainly weren’t in our job description.  Many of us are still working from home and for a large percentage, we will be split between home and the office now, even when things return back to normal.

The health and safety executive says that 35% of work related complaints are due to stress, so it needs to be taken seriously.  As stress can hugely impact both health and personal lives, it’s an issue that employers and individuals must place as a priority for healthy, happy employees but also for an engaged and productive company.

With stress awareness month running through April, organisations are using this as a focus for their wellbeing workshops to support their people, reduce stress and improve performance.

So the good news is that you don’t have to have a stressed out workplace, encouraging implementation of  these tips will enhance the support you give your people so that they can cope with these challenging times.

Start and end your day

If you’re in the office, you usually follow a fairly regimented routine, whether that’s getting up and stopping at the shop, or grabbing a coffee, so it shouldn’t be any different if you’re working from home. Get up as normal and ‘start’ your day, get dressed and ready as you usually would. I know I feel so much more productive if I am ready for the day, as opposed to just getting up and sitting down at my laptop! Ending your day when you’re at the office is easier as you can simply get up and leave, but at home you’ll need to create an act that essentially is the end of your day, whether that’s going for a walk, clearing your desk, or just doing something you enjoy.

The companies I’m working with are investing in support for their people around healthy boundaries and managing stress to improve performance because they are seeing that working hours are merging into the evenings and weekends, leaving their employees struggling to switch off or feeling under pressure to get through an incredible workload as well as juggling childcare when you’re essentially at your office all day and night!

Prioritise – make that list

Stress tells us that everything is a (perceived) threat, that it’s urgent. Everything you need to do is not necessarily a life and death situation it doesn’t need to be dealt with there and then.

One thing that can instantly make you feel less stressed is to write everything down.  Getting thoughts, tasks and reminders out of your head will give you space to think clearly, come up with a plan and be able to prioritise and delegate where needed.

And, don’t forget to factor in lunch breaks, or time to rest or just get away from your screen. After all, if you were in an office you’d be at the kettle a few times a day, or over at a colleagues desk for a chat every now and again.

Breathe

William James, an American psychologist once said: ‘The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another’ and this ties in perfectly to my next top tip, which is to breathe. By allowing ourselves time to take a deep breath in and a long breath out, we are giving ourselves time to choose another thought. The act of deep breathing takes your mind away from the initial anxiety in your mind, it calms down your internal systems and it will help prevent you from spiraling into a panic.  Practicing a breathing technique every day is easy to implement and has huge benefits.

Get moving

As we head into warmer weather, getting outside for a walk each day, even for ten minutes is hugely beneficial.

Stress is relieved within minutes of time in nature by reducing your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and reducing muscle tension and blood pressure.  Nature also boosts dopamine and endorphins production both of which promote happier feelings.  Taking a rest is necessary. It allows you to refresh your brain so that you return to work with higher productivity and better performance.

Speak to somebody

There are two strands to this, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, speak to your manager, quite often a lot of stress you’re feeling will just be your own mind and thoughts, but they might be able to help spread some of your workload. It might also be that you’re just feeling ‘zoomed out’, its so easy for businesses to get into the habit of just having meetings for meetings sake. Zoom calls can be exhausting as they stimulate our senses, so if you can free up time to get work done by dipping out of some meetings, that’s also worth mentioning.

Secondly, speak to colleagues. That’s it, plain-simple human interaction. If you were in the office you would be talking, so try and stay in contact despite being at home. You never know, you might be the only interaction somebody has that day. This can often help just make you feel better and less stressed too, by providing a distraction and taking a moment away.

As humans we’re hardwired to experience and respond to stress, but these simple tips can help you adjust your thinking to better cope. Stress can make us feel overwhelmed, unhappy and out of control, so its important to have some mechanisms to turn to. For more advice, get in touch with Emma at emma@emmalangton.com


Emma Langton has 10 years experience in supporting performance and mental wellbeing in organisations. She helps leaders with 1:1 coaching and organisations with virtual training and workshops. Emma regularly provides insights on leadership and mental wellbeing on her Lessons for Leaders podcast and has been featured in Forbes, Metro and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio and The Press Business Section. www.emmalangton.com

Guest Blog: Creating a Customer Journey Through Digital Marketing

Would you like to better reach your customers online and generate more sales? Little Seed Group’s Annabel Mulliner guides us through how you can create an effective customer journey through your digital marketing strategy.

Understanding how your customers interact with your business is crucial to securing and retaining loyal customers. Visualising and planning a customer journey is a great way to do this. It can help you to understand the key touchpoints between you and your customers across different marketing channels, and help you provide a consistent and positive experience with your brand. But where do you start with this?

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map should provide a picture of every experience your customers have with your brand. It should show you your customer’s journey from their initial interaction with your brand online, through to their first (and subsequent) purchases. And if your customers aren’t reaching that all-important final goal, the map should help you to fix this by creating a more cohesive digital customer experience.

It may be helpful to think about your brand as a person. What impressions can you gain of someone through their social media accounts? If they have a website, how about that? Do you get a complete picture of who they are, and what they stand for?

In this article, we’ll be focusing on digital interactions. But of course, offline aspects like your customer’s experience with your product or service, or offline marketing like postal correspondence, can also factor in.

How do your customers interact with your brand?

Creating an effective customer journey map will help you to better understand how your customers interact with your business, and which channels are creating the most leads for you.

Using channels like Google Analytics and Hot Jar, you can track a customer’s journey and investigate why they are leaving your site, rather than moving through your website or making a purchase. By doing this, you can notice patterns in customer behaviour.

Your aim is to ensure their journey is as straightforward and as reactive as possible. This means offering solutions along the way so that they are confident in your product or service, for example by providing unbiased customer reviews.

Before they buy

A customer will likely view or engage with your brand on different platforms in a couple of ways, rather than seeing a one-off ad. Some examples of how a customer might interact with your brand before purchasing include:

  • A promoted ad on their social media feed
  • Finding your website through a search engine
  • Reading a branded blog post

After purchasing

Once you’ve identified these, think about how the customer interacts with your brand when and after making a purchase. This will include:

  • Ordering and paying for a product
  • Your returns and complaints processes
  • Email correspondence: have they opted into newsletters at the time of ordering? Do you send follow-up emails to request a review? What other channels are you linking in your emails?

Your customer’s interactions with your product or service also factor into their customer journey – arguably, it’s the most important factor in them returning to your business. If you are a hotel, how are you measuring customer satisfaction? If you are selling t-shirts, what sort of feedback are you receiving from your on-site reviews and social media comments?

Let’s map it out

Creating a visual representation of your customer journey can help you to keep track of all of these elements. This could be post-it notes on your office wall or an Excel spreadsheet. Hubspot has some free customer journey templates available if you aren’t sure where to start.

Once you have done this, you should better understand what is engaging your customers across your digital marketing channels, and what’s putting them off. You should also have an idea of which channels are performing well, and which less so – and more crucially, which ones are best suited to reaching your target audience. 

For example, you might realise that because your audience 18-24, Instagram is the best channel to reach them, and that you need to focus your efforts on creating better content and building your following. Or, you might find that some of your web pages aren’t performing well because they need more information adding to them.

What next?

Now you’ve got your customer journey as it is, it’s time to improve it! You can improve your customers’ digital marketing journey in a variety of ways.

Customer Service

Now that you’ve identified moments where your customers may experience issues or dissatisfaction with an area of your product or service, you can work out at what point to intervene and improve customer satisfaction. You can identify areas where your customer service could be more proactive. 

For example, if you are facing a high volume of orders resulting in a postal delay, you could send your customers a message letting them know so that they won’t be disappointed. Or perhaps you could use a live chat feature to resolve issues on the spot.

Target your audience

Your customer journey should help you better understand the demographics of your audience and target them more effectively. Finding out what your customers do and don’t want from your brand should give you a clear picture of what sort of people they are and how you can reach them. 

For example, a chef leads a busy professional life and doesn’t have time to sift through loads of information. Instead, information needs to be both concise and informative. Or, a clothing retailer looking for mannequins will want to see pictures of the mannequin in different clothes to get an idea of whether it will suit their clothing ranges.

Improve your web content

If people aren’t staying on certain pages, you should edit your web content to make it more engaging. You can do this by adding subheadings and pictures, and by rewriting your copy to make it easier to read. This might involve shortening sentences and choosing less complicated words. You could also add inbound links to other site pages to help customers find out more about your brand.

Guest Blog: How to wow with your web content

Would you love to improve your website, but don’t know where to start? York’s own Helen Reynolds of Ink Gardener Copywriting shares some insights to make your website content shine.

Here she expands on her recent ‘How to wow with your web content’ presentation for Make It York’s Connect Over Coffee online meet-up.

The power of words

Hi! I’m Helen and I love words. Before going freelance, I was the web editor for First Choice Holidays and the Lake District National Park. With 20+ years’ experience of websites, I’ve a pretty good idea of what works best.

A swishy website is a like a picture frame. You need the right words inside it, known as ‘copy’, to attract customers and Google’s search robots.

Your 24/7 shop window

Keeping your business website up-to-date may be the last thing on your To Do list. But I guarantee Googling you is one of the first things a prospective customer does.

Websites are as much a part of your ‘digital footprint’ as social media.

If you cringe when someone says “I’ll look at your website” you need to sort it out NOW.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Many people get nervous about changing web content. But websites are meant to be updated.

Your website should be set up so that you can’t break the design or layout. It’s like putting a new photo in a frame. You don’t pry it open with a screwdriver and re-glue it. You just update what’s inside. The same happens when you use a content management system like WordPress.

Worried about making a typo? You can correct it more easily on a website than a printed brochure. Plus Google ranks websites more highly that are updated more often. So it’s a win-win!

How to communicate clearly

Messages – be they on papyrus, carrier pigeon or on a web page – are just words. However the best ones:

  • keep the target audience in mind
  • use the right tone for that audience
  • are clear and concise

Good content makes people more likely to listen to what you have to say and feel positive about you.

Tip: Keep asking the question “So what?” or “What’s in it for me?” as if you were a customer to check you’re on the right track.

Your website isn’t for you

As the expert, you already know it all. Your task as a web content writer is to answer what your audience wants to know, not what you want to tell them.

Tip: Start by answering the questions you get asked every day. A FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page is a great spot to address tricky issues. For example there might not be free parking outside your premises, but you deliver for free within a 10-mile radius. Try to follow every negative with a positive.

But who is your audience?

In an ideal world, you’d now turn to your business plan’s target audience section. But in reality, how often does this get updated?

Instead I recommend imagining four ideal customers and making up a question or issue for them.

For example, someone investigating wine bars might ask “What sort of non-alcoholic drinks do you offer?”

Of course you should list these on the menu and make sure they sound appetising. But why is the person asking? Could they be the designated driver for a night out? If so, they’d welcome a list of the nearest car parks and handy drop-off points too.

The big school teacher in the sky

If someone doesn’t understand something, it makes them feel stupid. And people don’t buy from people who make them feel stupid.

But the idea of impressing teacher somehow still haunts us in our working lives. You don’t get extra marks for using jargon or longer words on the web. In fact it’s highly likely Google marks you down for them. Find out more about the Flesch-Kincaid scale.

Just write how you’d speak to someone on the phone, rather than in a PhD dissertation.

Jumping around the lily pads

Once upon a time we read books and newspaper articles from the beginning to the end. But then along came computer screens, and then mobiles. Mobiles with screens the width of a newspaper column.

Do you print things out when you want to check it? That’s because our attention span improves by 25% reading paper rather than on screen.

On a screen we scan the headline, flit to the side, then scan down to the next header. Our eyes skip around a screen in a F or E shape. That’s why short and sweet works best.

How web content looks on different screens - laptop, tablet and phone

Be a copycat

This article has lots of headers. And lists. Sometimes I ask a question. Or start a sentence with an And, But or So. This is the friendly, conversational style that works well on the web.

What to look out for: a checklist

Keep sentences short

Google marks down websites which use long sentences. Try to use sentences of 15 words or fewer. Avoid semi-colons. Check your testimonials, and split sentences if necessary.

Use active verbs

Passive verbs describe something happening to someone/thing – “The project was delivered by Make It York”. Active verbs sound more energetic – so “Make It York delivered the project”.

Use a question as a header followed by an answer

Whatever follows “I’d wish people would stop asking” is what you need to answer.

Break up blocks of text with subheadings and bullet points

Remember the lily pad!

Reduce the jargon

Always explain acronyms in brackets, for example YCC (York City Council)

Write as if you’re talking to someone on the phone

You don’t get extra marks for longer words and can sound pompous. Swap them for friendlier terms, for example:

  • prior to > swap to: before
  • commence > start or begin
  • the particulars > the details
  • in order to > to
  • in the event of > if
  • regarding > about
  • on receipt of > when we get or when you get
  • in excess of > more than

Use ‘We’ and ‘our’

It sounds friendlier than using your company name all the time.

Don’t embolden or italicise whole paragraphs

This makes text harder to read for people with visual impairments such as dyslexia.

Keep capitalisation to a minimum

Capitalising Every Letter Can Look Old-Fashioned.

Never use ‘Click here’ for links

Always underline a relevant word for a link. That way, read-out-loud software will say ‘Links: rooms, gallery…’ rather than ‘Links: click here, click here…’ Google likes this too.

Call to action

Put your call to action – a link or what you want your reader to do – at the end of a sentence.

Make a start

At the end of the day, your customer wants to know:

  • You know what you’re doing
  • You’re not going to run off with their money

Just start with one paragraph, then the next and soon you’ll be wowing with your web content. Good luck!


More about Ink Gardener Copywriting

Helen Reynolds founded Ink Gardener Copywriting to sow web content for businesses, from holiday cottages to cathedrals. Her services include a Website MOT and web content packages.

Contact Helen at helen@inkgardener.co.uk or 07929 948 743

Guest Blog: Customer Experience (CX) – Helping you to retain customers, gain new customers and sell more!

 

 

Thank you in advance for reading my blog, it’s always interesting to see people wanting to learn more about someone else, what they do and why.

My name is Ian Sadler, married to Nicky who works at the well-known York company, Aviva. I have a stepson Sam who is studying music at Leeds Conservatoire to be the next Hans Zimmer! I’m a big fan of walking currently, I feel the lockdowns have encouraged us all to get out into the open spaces of our local areas to learn more about it and recharge the batteries. We need it!

For the past 30+ years my role has been about Customer Service, doing it, managing others to do it, and partnering with others to appreciate it, deliver it and understand the importance of the customer and your team. Without a good team and paying customers, you don’t have a business.  

Since 2011, when the acronym for Customer Experience (CX) appeared, we were already delivering good to great service, but what is CX and why bother?

Demystifying CX

You and I, each and every day will interact with businesses who we may use, or may not. Typically, two very simple things need to happen as a given:  

  • It works
  • It’s easy to do

How often have you encountered a delay in being able to get hold of someone on the phone, by email, or finding a member of staff when visiting a venue? We all live in a world of instant delivery and therefore there are no excuses for not being easy to do business with.

In your own businesses, no-one is judging you against your competitor. They are comparing you against the best experiences out there. Ritz Carlton, John Lewis, Disney, First Direct, Apple, Amazon etc.

You may be a business which has existed 100+ years, your widgets are the best widgets in the world, or you have the best valued product or service. All of these are good facts, but what impact does this have your future customer? The one who might visit again, the one who might tell others about you, the one who might spend a little more.

Customer Perception

The customer perception is your reality and I regularly use this image to explain what happens each and every day.

The person on the left seeing 4 (see picture below), is the business owner/the team, they think business is going well. Customer numbers might be up, the team is working OK together, and profits are good.

However, the person on the right seeing 3, is you. You’re the customer who’s using the business but feel a piece of the jigsaw is missing. One, two or many more things went slightly wrong. Or in other words, there was room for improvement. What impact of these small things, will it have on your business in the future?

When you think about your customer, remember it isn’t about what you do or how you do it, it’s about how you make people feel. Perception is king.

What we have learnt from brands we love

In my role, I love providing insight and solutions to help motivate teams and support business development and growth. To share 6 things, we know from customers of the brands I mentioned earlier, these are important to get it right for you:

  • Be reliable
  • Be friendly
  • Be helpful (go the extra mile)
  • Be easily contactable
  • Provide a seamless process
  • Deliver on your promises

Are you achieving all of the above? If you are, then is your online feedback a fair reflection of this?

Measurement is important, but integration is essential

More and more businesses understand the importance of gaining feedback from customers. How many times have you been asked to complete a survey this week?

I can think of many customers who are still upset at that piece of negative feedback they received 5 years ago. But what is it you do today to understand how your customers feel? And then what happens?

Please do ask for feedback by verbally talking to customers, use digital survey systems, insight6 offers one for £50 a month for 3 months. Or run focus groups with your customers and team. Whatever the feedback is, you must use it.

I would encourage whether feedback is good or bad, use it to motivate you and your team to keep doing what’s right. Where customers highlight opportunities to improve, look at the touchpoints during the experience. Have you mapped your customer journey in the last 12 months?

Customer Centric

Delivering a positive customer experience is easy, people make it difficult as we create processes and systems which pulls against this:

“Putting the customer at the heart of your business”

The next time you make a decision about your business, put a chair next to you. Imagine your customer is sitting in it, or better still let a member of your team act as the voice of the customer.

The aim is to make sure whatever decision is being made is for the benefit of the customer. If it isn’t, then more than likely, it doesn’t need doing.

We care about, and partner with businesses

We work with attractions, farm shops, hospitality, legal firms, opticians, retailers, plus much more across the UK and Ireland.

We specialise in helping you to retain customers, gain new customers and sell more!

If you would like a no-obligation chat, I’d be delighted to speak to you.

Many thanks.

Ian.

Email: ian.sadler@insight6.com
Phone: 07891 631869
Website: www.insight6.com

Guest Blog: The power of a brand story and how to use it to reach more customers

Hello, I’m Holly, the founder of Yorkshire Brand Stories.

Born and raised in the beautiful city of York, I have been influenced and inspired by my city’s heritage, culture and home-grown brands. York is not only rich in history, cobbled streets and chocolate making but it is also a modern city. Vibrant and full of life, a source of inspiration to many businesses and individuals to build their brand story around.

What is the purpose of a brand story?

You brand story is your purpose, your mission, your voice and your vision. It tells your customers what you are about and what to expect from you. It determines what you stand for…and what you don’t stand for. It is the guiding principals of your business and helps shape your business decisions and bring clarity and direction.

It’s the reason you get out of bed every day and work every single hour without a break till someone tells you to stop! It’s what connects you with your customers and when used effectively can be the most powerful tool to market your business.

What should I consider when writing my brand story?

Remember branding is not just about the visual – it’s what your business is about, what it stands for and your tone of voice.

What is your business about and not about? Be clear what your businesses is and isn’t about. Telling your customers what you don’t do can be just as powerful as telling them all the wonderful things you do, do.

What is the essence of your brand?

What do you do differently?

What’s your tone of voice? Conversational, high energy, knowledgeable, genuine, professional, calming?

Who is your target audience?  What’s their gender, age, are you targeting families, professionals, hobbyists? Are you able to supply locally, nationally, globally? How affordable is your product?

How do you want to be perceived? Friendly, helpful, thorough, environmental, charitable, innovative, fun & wacky, creative?

What is your strap line? Or how can you sum yourself up in one sentence? Here a couple of great examples from local businesses:

York Gin – History in the tasting’

Yorkshire Provender – Honestly delicious’

York Mumbler – Your local parenting community’

When it comes to the visual aspect of your brand story this is usually the first way people will discover your brand. So making a good first impression is vital to setting out what your brand story is about and what people can expect from you. You want to spark their imagination, excite and delight them and even bring fond memories to the forefront, connecting with them on a personal level.

The York Cocoa House branding pays homage to the great chocolate makers of the city and York’s chocolate heritage. Many local families will have a connection to the chocolate industry and York Cocoa House draws on those memories to connect with their customers. The simple, honest brown paper packaging allows the decadent, handmade chocolates to sing at the forefront. This stripped back approach also fits with the companies brand values of producing a fairer chocolate that not only tastes good but also does good.

Partnering with an artist is a great way to help illustrate your brand story. Finding someone with a  style that fits your brand can really add layers to your story telling and also gives you a wider audience instantly by tapping into that artists fan base. Local artist Emily Sutton created illustrations for Bettys café which were used throughout their packaging to evoke memories of traditional activities such as enjoying an afternoon tea whilst people watching from the grand tearoom setting.

By allowing customers to purchase products with these unique designs customers are whisked away to the Bettys café every time they open the cupboard and reach for their tin of tea to make a cuppa. If you are interested in learning more about working with artists please get in touch as I can help connect you with the right partners for your brand through my local artist licensing programme.

If you are starting to write or review your brand story I have created some simple activity sheets to help you work through these questions as well as a couple of completed examples which you are welcome to download for free. I’d love to hear your brand story so please do share yours with me!

How can I tell my brand story effectively?

Writing your brand story is key to knowing where you are coming from and how to market your business to potential customers.

Use your brand story to form the language of your marketing tools such as website, blogs and key words. To ensure the language, look and feel of your brand is consistent throughout every single touch point of your business create a mini style guide. This should include current logos, fonts and phrases as well as graphics, photo’s and brand imagery. Free services such as Canva are great tools to set this up.

REMEMBER: A consistent brand look and voice makes you memorable, trustworthy and appealing!

Social media, websites, newsletter and the like are all essential parts of marketing your brand but which ones are most relevant and effective for your business? Which tools allow you to best express your brand story?

How else can you make an impact, allow customers to experience or taste of your brand and how can you educate your customers and allow them to interact with you?

York Mumbler is a community focussed business whose primary objective is to keep parents of York informed about what is going on in the local area. In October half term they hosted a free, community Goblin trail at Rowntree Park. This covid safe activity allowed families to get out the house with young children and explore the local area. The Goblin trail gave York Mumbler, usually a digitally focussed business, the opportunity to have a physical presence in the city and reach a new audience.

My top tips:

  • Establish and write down your Brand Story
  • Define what your business is AND isn’t about
  • Create a Brand style guide and update your current customer touch points to ensure you project the same messages – verbally and visually – throughout
  • Asses your marketing tools and develop those that are most effective for your business

How can I help you?

Having spent 14 years managing global brands in the consumer goods industry I had a strong desire to be better connected to the city that had shaped me. Yorkshire Brand Stories was born to enable me to work with local brands I felt passionate about and made a difference within my community.

If you are looking for help writing your brand story or building your brand please feel free to get in touch and have a no obligation chat. If you are interested in learning more about my artist licensing programme I would love to grab a cuppa with you are share the secrets to this lucrative industry.

Holly Davies – Yorkshire Brand Stories

07544 281036

hello@yorkshirebrandstories.co.uk

www.yorkshirebrandstories.co.uk

Guest Blog: Leading Your Virtual Team

Jackie Black, director of Digital Business Communication Ltd

Many managers have been thrown unexpectedly into working virtually and consequently, do not feel they have the experience or know-how to lead their teams as well as they would like.

But I would like to pose the question: how is leading a virtual team different? And what new skills do you need to be an effective virtual manager?

In fact, there should be very little difference in how you lead your team in a virtual environment and the skillset remains practically the same. In the early days leading a virtual team often requires much more effort: your team need to feel confident that you are there to support them, listen to them and provide direction whilst allowing them perhaps, a greater degree of autonomy. Resilience at this moment in time is also extremely important for both you and your team.

You may also need to up your game in terms of how you use technology. There are myriad of software programmes, tools, apps, and platforms out there which can make working virtually easier and there are plenty of experts ready to offer you advice.

I have worked with many international virtual teams over the last 7 or 8 years, helping them to work together more productively and to communicate with each other more effectively. More recently, I have also become a digital champion for the Digital Knowledge Exchange and, as such, mentor small business owners who want to build their digital skills.

I would like to share the following tips on how to lead a successful virtual team. I hope they will be helpful to those of you who, six months down the line, feel they need a few pointers:

  1. Take a moment to reflect on how you communicate as a team. Do you have a robust set of protocols or best practices for team communication? These best practices will provide a firm foundation for collaboration. They will also allow individuals to voice expectations and raise doubts before miscommunication and confusion arise. Investing time and energy in getting the relationships and procedures right will lead to greater efficiency and productivity in the long run.

Considerations:

  • How does the team like to communicate internally – WhatsApp, Messenger etc.
  • Response times for emails and messages – what is reasonable in these challenging times?
  • How and where do you share information – Share Point, Trello, Google?
  • How should feedback be given – is an email acceptable?
  • What is your meeting style – formal or informal?
  • Individual team members often experience a sense of isolation and a lack of connection with others in the team. You, therefore, need to be adept at keeping your team engaged and feeling included.

Considerations:

  • Is everyone clear about their role in the team? Who do they report to? Who they can turn to in a crisis? What can you do to make this as transparent as possible?
  • What does work-flow look like for your team? Have all the relevant processes been adapted to the virtual workplace?
  • Does your onboarding/induction process for new team members allow for the fact that they will most likely not meet the rest of the team face-to-face for a long time? How will they forge new relationships? How easy is it for someone new to your set up to learn the processes? What support will you provide?
  • How do you encourage collaboration? Research ways for your team to work together easily through document sharing tools like SharePoint or in project-based tools such as Trello.
  • Is there a regular time slot during the day/ week for socialising as a team? Is it sufficient or can you do something to make it more meaningful? How do introverts in your team feel about ‘performing’ on camera in meetings? Are the extroverts able to cope with working alone for significant periods of time?
  • Are you truly ‘visible’ to your team – do you check in with individuals on a regular basis to see how they are coping emotionally and physically? How do you let them know there is still an ‘open door’ policy in this virtual workplace?
  • Trust is fundamental to the success of your virtual team. Research shows that teams who are thrown together at short notice, for a short period of time, or to work together virtually, form what is known as Swift Trust.* In this case individual team members are willing to put aside their usual distrust of each other if they believe they are reliable and will keep their promises. Achieving a goal or completing a project on time takes priority over everything else.

Whether you need to build Swift Trust or something more permanent, the starting point is surely for the team to get to know each other. At this stage, hopefully your team members do know each other to a certain extent. However, we should never underestimate the importance of building and strengthening existing relationships. So, invest time whenever you can in creating opportunities to do just this.

In addition to familiarity, trust is often based on things like competency, integrity, empathy, reliability, consistency, sharing, mutual trust and similarity.

Considerations:

  • How do you demonstrate to the team that they can rely on you? And are you consistent in your management style?
  • How do you know the team is confident in your competence as a leader? Do they have opportunities to give you feedback and how?
  • Do you involve your team in decision making? How do you empower them?
  • Are you open with your feelings? How willing are you to share information?
  • How do you show the team that you care about them?
  • In what way do you show your team that you trust them?
  • Resilience, as I have already mentioned is vital for everyone working in the ‘new normal’.

Resilient teams will learn how to improvise in this situation, but it will necessitate constant adjustments and no doubt mistakes will be made. The key is to learn from these mistakes and find ways to bounce back.

Having a strong support network motivates people to keep trying, so as a leader it is important that you do what you can to strengthen the relationships amongst the team. Show them that you are a part of the team and not an outsider, that you empathise with them and even if you cannot solve all their problems, by working collectively you will be much more effective.

Considerations:

  • Who in the team needs most support in terms of resilience? What can you do to help?
  • In what ways could you monitor levels of resilience among the team?  
  • Could a buddy system help build or maintain resilience? How could you implement this?
  • Resist the urge to micro-manage and DO NOT succumb to spying on your team. Statistics show that many people working from home are equally as productive as they were when they were in the office, if not more. Many have successfully adapted to their new work environment and, having the freedom to manage their work-life balance is a major factor in motivating them to keep going.

If you would like to build on your virtual skills, check out the courses on my website: https://www.digitalbusinesscommunication.com/courses/leading-virtual-teams/

*Swift trust is a form of trust occurring in temporary organizational structures, which can include quick starting groups or teams. It was first explored by Debra Meyerson and colleagues in 1996. In swift trust theory, a group or team assumes trust initially, and later verifies and adjusts trust beliefs accordingly.

Guest Blog: The Three Fresh Insights you need to be more Resilient and less Reactive.

It seems that no sooner have we wrapped our minds around one set of guidelines a new set is either being introduced or planned. Long gone it seems are the days when we can plan ahead, and along with it, it seems, that we can no longer look forward to what the future may look like, we can no longer be motivated or excited by what’s to come as the future seems so uncertain.

But more than that, it seems, that no sooner have we got used to how our business is going to operate, no sooner have we come to terms with how our business looks like, when the sands shift again and the whole landscape changes. The nature of responding to an external factor which is ever changing means that never before has running a business been so uncertain as it has now.

What cannot be ignored is the emotional impact that this can have on every business owner, their staff, and all whom they do business with. As human beings we’re not lovers of change at the best of times, yet here we are being faced with it on an almost daily basis.

What I have seen with clients who have come to me over the last six months is not uncommon. Higher levels of stress, anxiety, worry, fear for the future; clients who don’t know if they will have a business in one month let alone six and don’t know what the fallout from that will be; clients who have changed, adapted, and changed again, exhausted from having to constantly respond.

When we talk about businesses, it’s easy to innocently overlook that what lies behind every business is a person or group of people, all struggling and trying their best to make sense of what has happened this year; human beings with complex emotions and ever changing states of mind, reacting to each and every different set of circumstances and making decisions based on that. If life didn’t feel too much like a rollercoaster before Covid 19, I’d be surprised if it didn’t now.

In my experience I have found that when we have more understanding about our state of mind it enables us to navigate an ever changing landscape with more ease and resilience. It’s a little bit like driving a car but innocently believing that you only have reverse, then someone gives you a driving lesson and you discover not only you do you have 5 other gears, but also a steering wheel and a mirror!

In this blog I share three insights that clients have had over the past few months, I hope you find them helpful, you may find the concepts interesting or logical, but I invite you not to stop there but to be open to what you hear, what ‘insight’ or realisation that you may have when you read them.

You are built for the unknown, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

I remember the conversation with my client clearly, it occurred to me to question ‘what would happen if, as humans, we’d never had a fresh thought?’ My client, took a moment to answer and then replied, ‘we would never had evolved! We’d still be in caves!’ I then asked, ‘what would happen if from this moment we never had a fresh thought again?’ realising where I was pointing, he replied, ‘We’d be stuck, we’d wouldn’t move forward at all, we wouldn’t be able to work things out, have fresh solutions’.  We then reflected on times when he had ‘figured things out’ when a solution or workaround had occurred to him.

Whilst it may have seemed like a ‘lucky break’ at the time, what he saw that he was experiencing, was a consequence of the deeper intelligence that every single human being has access to – our capacity for relevant, in the moment, fresh thinking, that literally enables us to evolve to the circumstances that we are in.

We are built for the unknown, even if you don’t feel like that sometimes. Our ability for fresh thought enables us to evolve, grow, change and come up with solutions for problems that we don’t know exist yet.

There is both power and value being in the present moment.

One thing that humans have which is an incredible gift is our imagination. It’s certainly been a factor in our evolution, that we are able to imagine what something could be like (and then be able to share that with others). However, there are times when we use this gift in a way that is not quite as helpful. Another client of mine, was doing just this. Her business had been badly hit by Covid regulations to the extent that it had virtually closed. When we spoke her mind was understandably racing, every sentence started with ‘what if’. She was no longer in the present moment with me but 2, 3, 4 months into the future, visualising exactly what that looked like and imagining what her reaction was going to be. The glitch if you like in our system, is that our bodies don’t know that we are imagining and respond as if all of that future thinking is happening ‘right now’. She was so stressed and anxious, she was tense, she wasn’t sleeping and nor did she know what to do. She was like a rabbit in headlights.

After we had chatted for some time, her mind settled, and she was more in the present moment. It is fascinating that we are able to do that, to bring ourselves back into now. Being in the present moment can be very valuable and powerful. 

When she saw that it was her imagination, her thoughts, that were taking her into a future, a future that she couldn’t possibly know what it was going to look like, she calmed almost instantly. She also had the insight that when she imagined the future, she innocently forgot about her ability for fresh thought. 

However, what started to happen was that she noticed when her mind was settled, she could hear that deeper intelligence more, she experienced fresher thought.  She was therefore able to come up with some new ideas as to how she could serve her clients in a new and different way – resulting in the longer term survival of her business.

To react is human, noticing that state is transformational.

As humans, when our circumstances change it’s understandable that we react to them, we like things to stay as they are, we like to feel like we know what is coming around the corner. So when circumstances change unexpectedly, we become disrupted – our imaginations take over, we become fearful, worried, stressed or anxious. All of these are normal human reactions – like a stone being thrown into a beautiful lake – there are ripples!

A recent client was doing just this, with every client that cancelled, every regulation that changed, every plan that had to be altered, she experienced a negative reaction, become despondent and often made a knee jerk decision. However, what she found was that some time later, she had a different perspective on the situation and she’d either have to change or alter her position to accommodate this or even worse, she’d criticise herself for reacting that way.

When we had our discussion she was frustrated that she responded in this way and wanted to stop being this way, she could see that it wasn’t helping her business to be consistent and resilient.

Humans react, it happens, and just like the ripples in the lake, if left alone we too settle by ourselves. Trying to stop the reaction or prevent it from happening is a bit like patting down the ripples on a lake – it has the effect of making it worse or even prolonging it!

During our discussion what my client saw was that having such a reaction was human, it didn’t need fixing or preventing, she didn’t need to be immune to life! However, what she began to see is that she had an ‘in built’ system of settling and that by noticing when she was in a reactive state of mind, she could hang fire on decisions until she was more settled and clearer minded which resulted in better quality, consistent, decisions and she experienced more resilience.

Andrea Morrison is a Transformational Coach & Consultant, Tedx Speaker, Writer & Yorkshire Post columnist. She delivers state of mind training to organisations and coaches individuals privately. You can find more information at andreamorrison.co.uk

Guest Blog: Looking for ideas – right now? How marketing can move your business forward – Now

Guest Blog: Ann Gurnell, Marketing Director at Ideas Group

Just think back to the weekend of March 21.

This may have been your household to do list:

A typical mixture of family activities and planning – trips to the supermarket, booking a celebratory meal out and looking into options to change the car…. Just every day stuff.

Roll forward just one week: March 28

How different the world had become. Nothing we thought was normal was possible and we had no idea of when or how we’d be able to do any of those things again in quite the same way.

And now?

We all know how that has affected businesses of all shapes and sizes across so many sectors and not just those tourism and hospitality, culture and the arts. Small organisations and huge corporations, public bodies, schools and transport and the thousands of SMEs and independent businesses that underpin our economy – especially here in York.

As we slowly unlock what does it mean for us? As consumers and also as businesses.

At home and at work, we are living with different, constantly changing contexts and I wonder what brands and companies might feature on our lists now – and importantly, why?

We might again be thinking about changing the car or selling the house

We may be planning a holiday

We’re going into the city or our local community shops, cafes and pubs

Booking a hair appointment!

But who with?

Those businesses who have kept in touch with us.

They may or may not be the same ones as we went to before but undoubtedly it will be the ones with whom we feel confident, connected and who understand what we need.

This is true for both B2C and B2B.

People are looking for brands and businesses they can trust, especially if you haven’t been able to visit, shop, or meet face to face for a while? Through keeping in touch, through keeping your brand alive, through… well, marketing. The activities that reach out to your customers and stakeholders, engage and enable them to choose your products or services rather than someone else’s.

So NOW is the time to be looking at your marketing – strategically and tactically.

Being proactive and reaching out to customers old and new.

Thinking about who needs you and your business – Now.

Listening to what they need – Now.

Prioritising precious budgets

Mixing strategic thinking with creative ideas to enable you to be relevant and visible.

Getting yourself ahead of your competitors and creating those loyal relationships, advocates and stakeholders for your future business.

There are some wonderful examples – large and small:

Love them or not, Amazon didn’t stop marketing in the 2008 recession and came through it as the powerful dominant force that we see today. They may be huge but the same principles apply for even a sole practitioner.

Closer to home, Grays Court, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, City Cruises and York’s Chocolate Story in York have all kept in touch with their markets and adapted their businesses to maximise awareness that they are still here, now open and operating safely – and bringing in vital cash flow.

Hudson Quarter has reached out to new markets and reinforced relationships with existing ones as the development builds to completion next year.

Stryker is balancing tactical sales support with 2021 planning.

They are all looking for ways to lead and transform their business.  Working on their marketing strategies and plans for the future as well as the now: Looking for the opportunities, developing new ideas to help them stand out, preparing the business and building the relationships that will underpin their long term sustainability.

Listening and talking to their customers – old and new

Updating their websites and marketing collateral

Developing new products and campaigns

Working with partners to combine precious budgets

Inspired by thinking differently and great ideas.

This advice is being echoed through marketing leaders:

 “… marketers cannot afford to fall into the same cautious mindset as consumers at the moment — in doing so, they will forego invaluable opportunities.”  Sanchit  Jain, media and technology analyst, The Drum  14/08/20

Scott McKenzie, global intelligence leader at Nielsen, recommends using your brands to guide and support customers through the challenges:

“There’s a risk that brands will want to adopt a “wait and see” attitude before committing to supporting products in a big way… consumers are looking for guidance (via the messaging in advertising, promotion etc) that helps them make smart choices when they feel increasingly pressured financially. Additionally, those who innovate in tough times inevitably come out much further in front when things get better.”

So, here are some good questions to ask yourself:

Be endlessly curious about your customers:

Who were they, who are they at this moment and who could they be in a year’s time?

What do they need/want from you and your company?

Do you need to find different customers or to offer something different? Or both?

How strong is your brand? (Not the logo)

What does your brand stand for and what makes you special and will inspire them to choose you rather than a competitor?

Are you planning your marketing?

What’s your business strategy and plan?

Now: Do you need short term cash flow from certain markets and for products and services you can deliver now

The future: Who will be priority markets for the rest of 2020 and and for 2021?

Do you need fresh ideas and inspiration to think differently?

Plus some simple thoughts about things we can all do:

Be strategic: If you need to do less, do it better by prioritising spend where it can make the most difference strategically or financially, or both

Have brand clarity: For all marketing to be effective – especially with digital – you need clear vision, values and brand messages to ensure you reach the best audiences to get engagement and spend

Be distinct and brave: disruptive and inspiring ideas often come from looking for opportunities and new approaches – AirBNB came out of the last recession and Disney out of the great depression of the 1920s – so ideation can spark incredible future success

Be agile: don’t become bogged down in process and bureaucracy. Empower and enable your teams, products and brands to act to keep relationships alive – Now.

Investing time and/or precious budgets wisely in your marketing will undoubtedly reap return for you and your teams – now and beyond.

We’re of course here to help – inspiring and transforming businesses and brands; helping you keep your products and services relevant and in touch with your customers – B2B and B2C and supporting you to develop those cut through ideas to survive and thrive whatever the circumstances.

We’re always here to listen and support:

Just call or email

ann@ideasgroup-uk.com

07495 826006