The consumer experience is headed towards personalisation at top speed. Everyone’s chasing the elusive ‘single customer’ view, and we all want to achieve deeper interactive engagement with our audiences. At the same time new analytics are supporting the drive, letting business owners interact with consumers as never before. And none of it can be achieved without data… lots of it. What’s going on in the ever-changing world of digital marketing?Read More
If you’ve ever despaired over growing your business when you just don’t have the resources to get where you want to be, despair no longer. You can go massive and gather literally millions of customers with very few staff and enjoy teeny, weeny overheads too. Think Uber – which doesn’t own a single taxi – and AirBnB, who don’t own hotels, B&Bs or guest houses, and it suddenly seems entirely possible.Read More
Do you attend events, or even exhibit at them? If so you’ll be interested to know how the scene is changing. The latest research into Britain’s conference and business events industry, the UK Conference and Meeting Survey 2016, shows 600,000 more business events were held at UK venues than ever in 2015, but at the same time they attracted fewer delegates.Read More
The very mention of cybercrime sends people into a spin, whether it’s personal or business. We’ve been led to believe it’s a terrible thing we can’t recover from, carried out by terrifying, shadowy and merciless people. Luckily it isn’t necessarily so. Some are genuinely scary. But many hackers, mischief makers and identity thieves are just spotty lads hunched over screens in in smelly teen bedrooms.
That aside, we love the revelation that cybercrime isn’t quite as inviolable as it’s cracked up to be. You need to take great and continual care with online security, of course. But the cybercrime business model isn’t not as hard to break as you might have been led to think.
Cybercrime’s wonky business model
Cybercrime isn’t much different from any other business. They’ve been acting more and more like businesses for some time according to Shogo Cottrell, a security strategist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise who wrote this year’s Verizon Data Breach Report.
Apparently profit motivates more than 75% of all data breaches, a figure that’s been on the rise for years.
But the sector’s similarity to the regular business model means it also shares many of the vulnerabilities traditional businesses have to deal with on a regular basis.
When ego gets in the way of cybercrime success
Reputation – AKA ego – plays a part in their downfall. The reputation of a cybercriminal organisation is a big deal to many of them. They want their fellow criminals’ approval and respect much more than they want their brand to be well reputed in the legitimate world.
At the same time, criminals find it very hard to trust other criminals – surprise, surprise – and paranoia is rife. When everyone’s busy doing nefarious things, trusting someone who’s just as untrustworthy as you poses real difficulties. In a landscape like that it’s tough to build a solid reputation, and horribly easy to lose it.
Once a cybercriminal’s reputation comes under question, they’re stuffed. They have to give up and start again. A legitimate business, however, will take steps to repair the damage and bring the brand back into favour. As any business owner knows, it takes time and money to repair damage to a brand, never mind create a whole new persona designed to deceive.
This all means that rumours about a group’s failure or discovery soon kill a criminal enterprise. Just the same as the real world, trust comes at a premium and tends to be much harder to gain than lose. As a criminal, you wouldn’t do business with an individual who’s under investigation by the police.
Constant suspicion breeds betrayal
An atmosphere of constant suspicion doesn’t bode well for any business, even more so for criminals. There’s no honour amongst thieves, as the saying goes, and the Verizon Data Breach Report reveals how quick they are to betray each other when the pressure’s on, something investigators are very well aware of. Worse still, the law of every land on the planet is stacked against them.
There are plenty of hackers-turned-invstigators, people who are aware of what cybercriminals do and know exactly how to identify, track and even infiltrate them. All it takes is a tiny bit of clever code and a hacker’s activities could be revealed for all to see.
Cybercriminals on the run
Just like us, cybercriminals are vulnerable to anything that affects profit. The latest breed of investigators is ready to harness this and severely limit the financial gains cybercriminals can make. Things like building a deception system full of data that hackers might access, but which is actually meaningless. Wasting their time and resources, and using new tech to identify the patterns and signatures they can’t help leaving behind, makes their job a whole lot more difficult.
European law has arguably had more influence on our employment legislation than any other area of domestic legislation. Since the UK voted to leave the European Union (“EU”) there has been speculation as to whether any of these laws will be repealed. Laws that were either introduced or influenced by the EU include the working time regulations, agency worker regulations, discrimination, family leave rights, health and safety protection and employees rights when a business is transferred.
Impact of Brexit
The impact of exiting the EU upon employment law will depend on what arrangements are put in place when formalising the UK’s exit. If the Norwegian model is adopted and we joined the European Economic Area which provides for free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the internal market of the EU, we would still be subject to most aspects of European employment law anyway. Alternatively if the Swiss model is adopted which involves access to the single market and a number of agreements between the parties, this could also have the effect of restricting sovereignty of our domestic law (including employment law) because of the need to satisfy our trading partners. In any event a compelling reason for the UK to continue to observe EU employment would be to try and preserve a good relationship with Europe. Particularly, as we will want to continue trade with it. A condition of a trade agreement is likely to require a certain level of compliance with EU law in order to be permitted to trade in Europe. It seems unlikely that the Government will introduce a programme of deregulation, which will unsettle the workforce having a detrimental effect on production, thus a business’s profit which will also have a knock on effect on the UK economy.
Accepted standards of good practice
A lot of the protection that comes in via the EU reflects accepted standards of good practice that was already embodied in UK law. Equal pay and race and disability discrimination are examples. In view of this, there could be considered to be fundamental rights and so it is hard to see why the Government would legislate to remove them. However, there are some laws that were introduced by the EU that may be at risk of being repealed upon our exit because they are commercially unpopular in the UK. This includes the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 and also certain aspects of the Working Time Regulations 1998 which currently give holiday rights to workers on long term sick leave. Deborah Francis, Employment Law Specialist at Burt Brill Brill Cardens Solicitors, says it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty what will happen until the negotiations get under way and an indication is given as to what effect they will have on domestic legislation. Due to necessity to minimise the impact on trade her view is that only some minor changes may be made, at least initially. If you have any concerns about what you should do in the meantime and you wish to discuss them with Deborah, then call her today on 01273 604123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
How sensitive are you? Would you name your business after Isis? Probably not, now the name has been co-opted by an evil rag-tag, nutter-centric terrorist organisation. But what if you had already done the deed and perfectly innocently called your business after the ancient Egyptian goddess?
Some businesses are carrying on regardless, determined not to let the Isis nutter brigade win. Others are re-branding as fast as they can – a grim task when you’ve spent time, effort and money marketing your brand name and all sorts of positive associations have fixed themselves in the minds of consumers.
Here’s what a handful of British businesses are doing to overcome their now less-than-fortunate name.
‘My company is called ‘ISIS’ – To ditch or stay on board?
Isis boutique in Malvern is no more. Now it’s called Juno Boutique, after a few people lodged ‘very unpleasant posts’ on social media about the shop’s name. In the owner’s words, “I have absolutely no sympathy with these monsters in Syria and it is for very innocent reasons that we chose the name.” The Isis Beauty Academy in Walton-on-Thames had a similar experience, with people ringing up asking if they were a terrorist training organisation. Bookings were tailing off fast, so they changed their name to the Omni Academy of Beauty.
Isis Business Brokers is keeping its name. But they constantly examine the issue in case change becomes necessary. Their boss feels the positive things associated with the company name far outweigh the negatives. On the other hand he has experienced delayed US payments, probably thanks to the company name, facing extra money laundering checks before he was allowed to register with a US bank.
Common sense says a terrorist organisation wanting to launder money would probably avoid calling themselves anything to do with Isis. But common sense has very little to do with it when death and destruction are on the cards.
Isis Education re-branded last year and now call themselves the Oxford International Education Group. They did it because they were worried their mostly-foreign client base might have negative perceptions of the name.
Name changes come with more than re-branding issues. They have internet search implications. Google might justifiably decide to tweak its search algorithm to suppress the term Isis, which means a website with ‘Isis’ in the url could end up invisible to searchers. Not good.
It doesn’t matter what you think
In a sense your own opinions about changing names doesn’t matter. This is business, and what your customers and prospects think matters a lot more. If you’re seeing a drop in sales and complaints coming in, you will probably want to change your business name.
How we can help
It’s a bit like moving house and having to tell everyone your new address. You need to tell everyone your new name. This might include a complete website migration to a new url, in which case your designer or developer will put 301 redirects in place from your old pages to the new ones, so you don’t lose out. And changes on stationery, directory entries, online accounts, memberships and a whole lot more. We can help you project manage the change.
You’ve probably done everything you can to go green as a small business. Energy-saving bulbs, smart hot water and heating gadgets, double glazing, insulation, a general awareness about the value of conserving energy and the willingness to support green issues, even if it’s only signing online petitions, is about it.
What do you do next to make our world a better place? Collaboration and social responsibility are a great way to extend goodwill into your community and beyond, and reap the inevitable business benefits of being an all-round jolly good egg.
Inspired by the ongoing battle for a climate the world’s peoples can live safely and well in, more and more businesses are shifting their focus to social justice. It’s Corporate Social Responsibility. It concerns the way your business produces an overall positive impact on society. And small businesses like yours can do it too, doing the decent thing whether you’re a start-up, mini-business, SME, freelancer or sole trader.
About CSR for small businesses
In a way it’s easier for small, local businesses to make an impact on their area and the people who live in it. You know the place like the back of your hand, you’re aware of its issues and know what’s best about it. You are perfectly placed to pick and choose how to do the most good.
In an ideal world social responsibility is an integral part of the wealth creation process. It makes sense since anything that’s merely peripheral to the main business will always be the first thing to go in a crisis. When it’s managed well CSR enhances competitiveness and also maximises wealth creation to society in general. Even when times are hard, the incentive remains to practice CSR, do more and make even more of a positive impact.
CSR means running your business in a manner that meets and even exceeds ethical, legal, commercial, regulatory and public expectations. It also means deciding voluntarily to contribute to a better society, integrating social and environmental concerns at grass roots level, in every aspect of your business.
What does CSR for small businesses actually involve?
You might run free courses out of office hours to train local people to use business software, or support local start-ups in creating an initial business plan. Your staff might volunteer at a local community garden, care home, children’s hospital or hospice, charity shop or animal sanctuary. And raise funds for it, too.
You might support local campaigns for or against new development, or provide your local newspaper with expert advice for their readers. Take work experience candidates from local schools. Or build cordial links with local businesses and actively support their growth plans.
Does going good really send more good things your way? Whether or not you believe in Karma, and whether it’s donating your time or energy, money or expertise, lending a helping hand makes people feel good. We love to help. It gives us a kick.
When groups of like-minded people get together to support a common cause, strong relationships are built. As a result your entire team is more motivated, enjoys work more and is better able to innovate. Which means CSR is also good for your bottom line.
In the early days it caused an international stir. It hinted at a world where we could use apps and gadgets to keep our brains in good working order, sharpen our senses, improve learning and even delay the onset of dementia, all sorts of magical things. Now the scientific opinions are in, and it looks like brain training isn’t delivering on its initial promise.
Do sites like Headspace.com and apps like Elevate and Fit Brains work? Can you really train your brain in the same way as you can train your muscles? The answer is no. Here’s why.
Is brain training effective?
The Live Science website says it all (click here). In their words,
“There’s no convincing evidence that any brain training programs will improve general cognitive abilities or help prevent or treat dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.” even though, “The companies often boast that their programs are designed by famous scientists and are supported by solid research.”
Then there’s the 2008 study by psychologist Susanne Jaeggi, who found memory training increased intelligence and may even boost our IQ scores by a full one percent. When a band of psychologists from Georgia Tech tried to reproduce the results, using stricter controls, they couldn’t do it. In the science world, it means the original study was fatally flawed in the first place.
In 2010 neuroscientist Dr Adrian Owe and his team tracked 11,000 adults for a 6 week PC-based brain training regime. It was supposed to improve reasoning, memory, planning, visuospatial skills and attention spans. While some people said they’d noticed being better at the tasks themselves – no surprise when everyone knows practice makes perfect – there was no other noticeable change.
Are brain training programmes really supported by solid research? Hmm, sort of. The studies cited by the marketers are small, and short, which means the results are not always empirically sound. Many studies were funded by brain training companies. And there have not been any big long-term studies by independent researchers.
70 respected cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists deliver their verdict
The Stanford Center on longevity and Max Planck Institute for Human Development delivered their verdict in 2015, and the results were equally damming. More evidence has come to light since, and it appears brain training doesn’t have a scientific leg to stand on.
Exaggerated, misleading claims for brain training
‘Exaggerated and misleading’ is how some experts describe claims for brain training, which exploit the anxiety of healthy older adults worried about losing their memory. There’s no evidence whatsoever that brain training improves general cognitive abilities, or helps prevent or treat dementia.
Brain training makes you better at… brain training!
It looks like regular brain training makes you better at doing brain training, but not much else! The science proves regular players get better at the games themselves as they become more familiar, but there’s absolutely no improvement in fluid intelligence.
What’s the best way to keep your noddle in good shape?
It’s back to old-fashioned values. The scientists say there’s only one real way to keep your entire being in good shape, and we’ve heard it all before. Eat well, sleep well, get plenty of exercise, socialise regularly, read lots, keep learning new things… and whilst you’re at it, you might as well deactivate those brain training apps!
The entire country was shocked when Woolworths went under and one of the nation’s best-loved high street brands bit the dust. Huge efforts were made to save Woolies, but they closed their doors and left holes in hundreds of high streets, since filled with new shops, some independent and others chains.
The most recent loss, BHS, sent us reeling again, joining Jessops, Borders, C&A, Blockbuster and Our Price, all of which failed to stay ahead of changing demand and new tastes. But there’s a seldom-told story in the background, with ailing high street stores revived post-administration and looking stronger than ever.
Taking a look at some of the most dramatic losses, we thought it’d be interesting to examine why they died, how some of them have made a come-back and how the same thing can happen to small business owners like you.
The remarkable resurrection of Blacks
When Blacks Leisure Group went down the loo at Christmas 2011, it left a whole lot of employees in a turmoil. But the brand was soon bought up by a successful organisation, they’re doing well and now it looks like they’re a safe bet to remain on the high street for the foreseeable future.
The organisation in question was JD Sports, who realised that the boom in camping, glamping, festivals and outdoor living meant the Blacks proposition wasn’t out of date or irrelevant. It just wasn’t being expressed properly – the brand had lost its way.
JD’s Outdoor Division started off by cutting their costs down to size, something that was possible thanks to their sheer size and heft. The resulting nimbler version of Blacks was an instant success, delivering the products people wanted at the right price.
Blacks are not alone – more amazing recoveries
Much the same goes for old favourites Clintons Cards, HMV, Game shop and Hawkin’s Bazaar. They all faced death, but were rescued from tragedy thanks to a fresh look at branding, research into the consumer proposition, shopping trends and desirable, relevant product lines. And, often, new management.
Hawkin’s emerged from administration in early 2012, with the company’s original management team in control after a buy-out. Having carried out marketing due diligence, they re-stocked with premium products and immediately increased the cash generated per customer. All it took was starting to sell what consumers actually wanted to buy. Now the company boasts 30 plus shops. When they went to administration, they had twelve.
Hawkins’ re-think has another significant benefit. Wherever you live there are fewer people shopping on the high street, with online shopping taking a big chunk out of the old-school bricks and mortar target market. But when fewer people spend more on each visit, the dulling effect of the e-tail boom can be overcome.
Spot the rot early – Keep your marketing pecker up
Going to administration is a very painful way to learn critical marketing lessons. In an ideal world the rot would have been spotted in good time, and downward trends reversed. It doesn’t just apply to big businesses and high street giants either. The same can happen to you, as the owner of a small business.
The trick is to keep your marketing pecker up. You can’t afford to be complacent whether you sell flowers, business support services, toys or SEO expertise. It’s your job to examine your brand, proposition and market in the context of the sector you operate in, new trends, tech innovations and product development, and make sure your business always has the exact right focus and direction.
Consult with us for marketing and brand insights
We see the wood for the trees, spotting opportunities and identifying gaps in your strategy. Call us in and we’ll help you stay on the rails.
Has your employer made their feelings about the EU referendum clear? We’re not used to corporate entities advising us how to vote, and it’s an uncomfortable experience. How would you react if an employer tried to influence your vote in a General Election? Bearing that in mind, is it any of their business how you feel about the EU? The situation is so unprecedented, we think it’s worth exploring.
Can politicians be trusted to tell the truth?
There’s been a flurry of arguments amongst politicians, and it’s easy to view the whole referendum thing as politicking, not in our interest as voters. It looks an awful lot like point-scoring. Many of us are bewildered, not sure which way to vote, and it’s easy to see how some people might trust employers to provide clarity.
Should corporate bodies express their opinions to staff?
Recent businesses to warn their employees about the dangers of leaving the EU include Microsoft and Aviva. While they, like the rest, stressed that individual choice is the most important factor, they also made it abundantly clear which side they were on as a corporate entity.
Microsoft says that, as a business committed to the UK, they want us to stay in. So does Aviva, warning employers in writing that a Brexit could mean a slipping pound, falling stock market and reversing economy. Dramatic stuff. The owners of Otis lifts, the American organisation United Technologies, pushed the boat out with more scare tactics. Their internal staff memo warned a Brexit, “would create years of uncertainty, jeopardising investment and jobs”.
Leavers include Wetherspoons, who included a heartfelt appeal in their company magazine finishing with: “Continuing to give away power to the unelected elite in Brussels is a dangerous and unpredictable path.” Blimey. That’s a bit strong. Or is it acceptable? How would you feel if you got that message in your inbox at work?
More influential bodies have given their opinions publicly, including the Bank of England, IMF and World Trade organisation. But they haven’t directed their opinions at the people who work for them.
What does the CBI think?
The CBI thinks it’s perfectly OK for companies to express their opinions to staff. They feel responsible business leaders should give their employees the choice to hear what impact a Brexit would have on company growth, their jobs and the community. Taking the opposite view, the Vote Leave campaign feels these messages amount to intimidation, calling it, “an establishment stitch-up”. In their view the bosses are ganging up on their staff and lecturing them on how to vote.
The facts behind the ‘facts’ about Brexit
As discussed in detail on BBC Radio 4 this week, ‘uncertainty’ is an odd argument whatever side you’re on. It assumes he future comes with a level of certainty, which of course it doesn’t. The future is inherently unpredictable. This means the arguments politicians, business leaders and everyone else are making are spurious. They’re not facts. They’re opinions. Which in turn means our votes also depend on our own opinions, not non-facts, rampant speculation and junk science.
Some feel a global economy makes nationalism irrelevant as well as dangerous. Some say we’ll never be able to deal successfully with climate change if we’re all working to disparate plans and don’t co-operate. Some feel untangling the EU will leave the country without essential trade deals, having to start from scratch and wait ten years for things to recover. But they’re all feelings, not facts.
The referendum is a secret ballot
Thankfully this referendum is a secret ballot. Your employer will never know how you voted. Which means the establishment’s messages can’t threaten workers’ job security or prospects. But if you work for a corporate entity with a strong opinion about the EU and they’ve made it clear to everyone who works there, or in public to the media, you might want to keep your opinions to yourself at work.
One final thought. If it’s OK for your employer to suggest, however directly or indirectly, that you vote in or out for the EU referendum, where does it end? Is it also OK for them to interfere with your lifestyle choices or influence what you buy and where? Is it a slippery slope? What do you think? Feel free to comment.
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