Black Friday – No Thanks

Black Friday might be a cultural phenomenon in North America but it means next to nothing to people in Europe. “I’m in danger of sounding like a Marxist, or at least a curmudgeon, but Black Friday doesn’t belong here….Today is simply Friday, the last one in November. It’s not black, white or rainbow coloured, just a little grey.” 

To read the full post click here –

Scottish Independence Referendum; What’s it Got To Do With You?

As countries go Scotland can’t claim to be a big one or in the grand scheme of things an important one, some people feel it can’t even claim to be a country at all. That might change in September.

On September the 18th this year all the permanent residents of Scotland will have the opportunity to vote on one question – ‘Should Scotland be an Independent Country?’ and if more vote ‘Yes’ than vote ‘No’ then the process of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom will begin.

For anyone who doesn’t know the United Kingdom, or UK as it’s often called, is made up of a union containing four distinct ‘countries’; England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Many people mistakenly call this entity Great Britain, or GB, but that is in fact the name of the island England, Wales and most of Scotland are on. Some people are also prone to saying England when they mean the UK, this can often annoy residents of the other three members of the union. England, Wales and Scotland have been willing and active members of this union for several centuries now. The island of Ireland was also once a member however following an acrimonious split in the early 20th century Northern Ireland remained in the UK and the Republic of Ireland became a separate country entirely.

The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy, everyone over 18 and not in prison can vote, it has two houses of parliament, one elected and one appointed with both situated in London, and a Queen as head of state a role that’s mainly ceremonial. In addition there is an elected assembly in Wales, Northern Ireland and Greater London and an elected parliament in Scotland. These regional bases have various powers and responsibilities. On top of all that there is the European parliament in Brussels, it also has certain powers and responsibilities. So on the whole there’s no shortage of democracy for anyone looking for it.

For various social and political reasons the ‘independence movement’ has gained significant traction in recent years. The main ‘independence party in Scotland is the Scottish National Party or SNP and at the last Scottish parliament elections they won an outright majority for the first time. The SNP has existed for decades but it tended to be a fringe party, strong in some geographic areas and sometimes attracting a protest vote from those disillusioned with the larger UK wide parties. But its goal of removing Scotland from the UK seemed very unlikely even a decade ago. However events have conspired and here we are.

With the possible exception of the Ice Bucket Challenge nothing dominates the media, both traditional and social, in Scotland like the referendum. As the election gets closer feelings are becoming heightened, the rhetoric has ratcheted up a notch or three and people are being forced to choose a side.

By now you might be wondering what does any of this have to do with you. Well like all major events if Scotland does become independent there will be ripples felt across the world. For a start other European secession movements are watching intently. Spain, France, Belgium, Italy and Romania all have secessionist movements. Spain in particular has been quite outspoken as it contemplates what Scottish independence might mean for Catalonia and the Basque Country. The further fracturing of Europe into smaller countries isn’t popular with the United States government. Most Western European countries are natural allies and trade partners of the US, change could affect this. Scotland is also a strategically significant part of Europe for NATO. It’s the home of most of the nuclear weapons and all the nuclear submarines in the UK for example, indeed its not clear anywhere outside of Scotland could house those vessels. The independence movement have made great play of their intention to remove all nuclear weapons from Scotland. The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, should that change if it breaks up? The UK is a powerful nation in the EU and provides a balance for those nations less interested in federalism. The weakening of the UK in an EU context might mean German and French influence increases. Interestingly there is no guarantee an independent Scotland can join the EU and some serious political manoeuvring can be expected on that topic should it arise.

Scottish waters are also home to oil and gas reserves, the largest in Europe and a significant source of revenue for successive governments. Uncertainty and change can also affect the economy. Business leaders have generally been in favour of remaining in the UK but a number of high profile ones have taken the opposite view and most have expressed no view at all. What’s not clear is what a ‘Yes’ vote would mean for an economy intrinsically linked to its southern neighbours. Some say it would flourish, other argue the opposite and in truth nobody really knows. What can’t be argued is the revenue gained from oil, gas and Scottish whisky exports is significant and it’s loss is likely to weaken the economy of the rest of the UK should it happen.

So far all opinion polls have a shown a majority of Scots will vote ‘No’ and choose to remain part of the United Kingdom. But it’s close and the number of people undecided is still large enough to change the course of the election. This might surprise some people, but it should be remembered that Scotland isn’t suppressed, it wasn’t invaded and conquered and it’s a member of a modern, democratic, liberal democracy. There are some cultural differences between the constituent parts of the UK but culturally we also have much more in common. Unlike say Quebec or Catalonia the vast majority of people in the UK speak the same language as each other, indeed speaking English is a great benefit for Scotland globally. We watch the same films and TV, listen to the same music and follow the same sports, albeit we might want different sides to win. We’re a mongrel bunch as well, many of us have a partner, parent or grandparent from outside Scotland, likewise Scots moving to other parts of the UK to live and work is commonplace.

It’s not clear what legacy this will leave. Increased powers for the Scottish parliament are guaranteed no matter the outcome and hopefully supporters of either side will accept the will of the people and move forward without acrimony or recrimination. Other parts of the United Kingdom are affected by this vote yet they’ve no say in it. The current UK government remains unpopular and unrepresentative here, if it retains power at the next UK election we could be doing all this again in five years time.

A Dirty Old Town

A couple of weeks ago I was in a bar high in the Wicklow Mountains outside Dublin listening to a band, they were encouraging their audience to sing-a-long to ‘Dirty Old Town’, a popular tune on the Irish traditional music scene. One of my companions on the evening commented that it wasn’t an Irish song they were familiar with; there is a good reason for this, it’s not an Irish song. Continue reading

Speaking the Language of Multinational SEO

Depending on what side of the force you see SEO on, be it the black, shiny, dark side of the black hats, or the gleaming, righteous side of the good guys you will see numerous answers to the question of multinational SEO. I have heard many a seasoned practitioner harp on about quick fix multinational SEO, employing horrific black hat methods like cloaking or in one case, writing a piece of content in English yet using keyphrase laden anchor text written in the target country’s native language. Content should be written to be read by people, not search engines. And if one more person tells me that “Yandex in Russia isn’t even worth the backlink”, I think I may kick him.

If like us you are safe in the knowledge that your site is not feeling the pinch of the Panda update and striding confidently towards setting up camp in a great spot in a competitive SERP, then listen up. 
….read more at the Levy McCallum blog

If Things are Bad, so is your Strategy

You’re in a packed bar, you want to tell someone at the other side of the room something important. How loud do you have to shout and what are your chances of being heard? These are the good times. Do the same in an empty bar and you hardly have to whisper for someone to hear what you have to say. That’s a recession. 

Customers are still there, just not in the numbers they used to be, but then, neither is your competition. So when you cut your marketing budget, did you do it in direct relation to the audience still left, or was it to hit a number an accountant wanted delivered across the board?

Accountants are lovely people (and we say this purely from a genuine, heartfelt standpoint that protects us from libel) but would you really let an Art Director have a go at your annual audit?Why is it that in the good times we passionately believe that marketing works and in a recession it suddenly doesn’t? It’s either on the investment side of your brain and balance sheet or the expenditure side, there’s a mile of difference and market factors shouldn’t decide which side it flips between.Cutting budgets takes little skill and even less imagination, adapting a strategy to take account of a lower spend takes great imagination, creativity and guts. Very few companies do this, which culls even more of your competitors from the arena of combat, surely?The role of any agency in harder times is to allow for this at a strategic level and in every brief issued that delivers that adaptive strategy. It calls for solutions that would never have been tried when business was booming, because there was no need for them. Just as there is no need now for lavish campaigns now that burn money.The role of a Marketer is to deliver growth against the market conditions, but deliver growth they always will. It can, and should, be measured against market trends, the competitor’s market share and be ahead of what a business in that sector is ‘expected’ to do. If an adaptive strategy takes all of this into account and delivers against the investment, where’s the cost in that? If it doesn’t, done blame marketing as a discipline, the strategy simply wasn’t good enough.A £5 million campaign advertising baked beans is fairly straight-forward, on condition you can afford it (you can, the market conditions must be pretty good for you to do so and the volume of customers spending must be available). Yet a truck load of baked beans dumped mysteriously overnight in Trafalgar Square will probably still get you on TV. Both have different costs that take into account the audience size available and the money required to get a healthy ROI from that audience.Interestingly, the population doesn’t shrink at all when interest rates go up, the consumer just stop spending as much. Did you have 100% of the entire audience already? Didn’t think so.So how do you take less, but from more people, many of who are not spending with you? How do you get a larger slice of a smaller pie? What else will your product or service do without wholesale investment? And what new markets could be available to you with a little lateral thinking?Lucozade used to ‘aid recovery’ in sick children. Then some bright spark noticed that the sport’s market was growing and the same ingredients were relevant to these consumers, even though the audience was completely different.The product didn’t change. Let me say that again, THE PRODUCT DIDN’T CHANGE. What transformed the brand was strategy, which in turn lead to different packaging, distribution, sales support and market intelligence. All of which should be considered part of marketing anyway.How much thinking did you do in order to convince people that it was a false economy before the cost cutting was imposed on you? How much are you doing now, when we all know that things are not going to bounce back within a fiscal year?Ironically, research shows that those who spend during a recession get a much better return once the market returns and a higher market share as a result. Those that top spending have to spend more to reach the same position they used to occupy. So how much are you really saving if you can stop working solely towards the year-end and concentrate on the lifetime of the company?So how much is all of this going to cost you? Well, if you’re nice to us we’ll be nice to you. We’re hardly going to make money if we don’t take a speculative approach now are we? You see, we changed our strategy ahead of the times and it’s really paid dividends. Continue reading