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Friday, 29 May 2009

Nationwide saves the dinner party from extinction

There was a gasp of appreciation and excitement this morning from the UK’s middling classes as the realisation that at last, we’ll have something to talk about at dinner!

For the past 12 months up and down the land at the gatherings of suburbanites, around the offerings of Marks and Spencer’s or Waitrose people have been left almost dumbstruck due to the rapid decline in house prices.

Without the obligatory chatter about how much our house or property portfolio was worth, compared to this time last year, last month, week, or hour, candle lit suppers had lost their sparkle. We were for the longest time, left with conversations based upon nothing other than our inability to fathom just how a mortgage backed security that was used to leverage or offset a derivate risk in the US, could cause RBS to loose huge value from its off balance sheet lending, which then lead to the downfall of dear old Bradford and Bingley. This less than riveting chit chat has led to less and less invitations to come and dine at number 74 Acacia or indeed Blossom Avenue and the dinner party was put well and truly on the endangered species list.

Well good news, we can all rest assured that that our usual keeping up with the Jonse’s discourse is likely to return any time soon thanks to Nationwide’s announcement that house prices are back on the up.

Phew! I’ll put the Mateus Rose on ice and see if the Hyacinth is available.

David McCann
Planning Director

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

FS has got talent

Inspired by my unfortunate relapse into reality TV viewing this week, I find myself wondering if the Britain’s Got Talent format would work to engage the great British Public with their finances? An entertaining proposition if ever there was one. Imagine, dancing father and son intermediaries; a troop of acrobatic mortgage brokers; a singing bank manager. Oh yeah, we’ve had that one already. Anyway, you get the picture.

These days it’s all about people power. It’s within everyone to know what they want or need, they just have to be excited, inspired and rewarded in order to become engaged.

So come on, let’s make it interesting! Creating entertaining communication with a great story at its heart is the place to start. Giving the audience an opportunity to tell us what they think is the way forward. And listening to them when they are giving us the answers is the future. After all, a great performance isn’t the only way to get your audience’s attention, (but of course, it’s a great way to start).

Montse Tojeiro
Client Service Director

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The power of a good story

So the Telegraph has gained 600,000 new readers because of the MP’s expenses scoop. What’s more astonishing is that it received a whopping 13 million web page views on the subject. This has now cemented as the number one newspaper website, overtaking the Guardian.

Being in PR, I have lost count of (but am still angered by) those that suggest social media and, in particular, blogging will lead to the demise of traditional media. I agree that the days of print might be numbered but the market for quality journalism has never been stronger.

Just as the VCR was hyped as a major threat to cinemas, yet drove interest in film and ultimately cinema visitor numbers, so consumption of information and opinion (from any source) has led to an increase in demand for traditional media, albeit online.

But the Telegraph hasn’t just attracted its seven million plus unique users by being in the right place at the right time. It truly understands the dynamic of the social web and embraces rather than competes with bloggers and tweeters. Online editorial is driven by trending topics of the day, therefore benefiting SEO (a third of all visitors come from search engines), the newsroom is structured around delivering across multiple media and tools like Digg and Twitterfall are embraced. Most importantly, The Telegraph is not afraid to let go of its brand a little – users can interact with and build content online and can personalise their experience.

So what next? News Corp has recently gone public about its intentions to charge for online content and as offline readers decline this is likely to be a trend others will follow. But how to strike the balance between keeping those user numbers up (and ad revenue) while still monetizing content. I would suggest looking to itunes for inspiration: a single user experience no matter what the music or record company, easy to use and based on micropayments. Although to make it work for media I suspect we will be talking nanopayments instead.

Scott Learmouth
Managing Director - Teamspirit PR

How mobile are you?

Interesting to see the new website for mobank offering us the ability to pay securely by our mobile for a variety of things, from flowers to lunch - the ultimate convenience. Watch others follow (how will credit card companies respond especially with the new pay and wave technology?) With the widespread adoption of Smartphones the ability to manage our investments on the move is taking huge leaps forward. Exciting times!

Jo Parker

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Should Financial Services brands be engaged on the social web?

The answer to the above is yes of course they should be. The more pertinent question is how should they be engaged? In an environment where trust in Financial Services brands has all but disappeared and Martin Lewis and Robert Peston have become the go to sources of advice for consumers it's going to be difficult to jump feet first into social media, an environment where trust is the key currency.

So, what should Financial Services brands be doing? Well at an absolute basic level there should be a core centralised listening strategy. If you're not monitoring what's being said, where it's being talked about and who's shaping the discussion across the whole of the social web (whatever that is) then you can't hope to reach engagement. That means developing a set of tools of which there are a multitude and analysis of the output tools that informs all the functions internally that the conversations touch.

Once that's done you can start to filter the conversations to understand what's really important and what can be realistically ignored for now.

Then it comes down to basic marketing and PR principles. Identify the content that will be of interest, arm the right set of people internally to use that content. Frame the message in a way that is helpful and concentrate on the message not the medium. Once that's done you can engage.

A classic recent example of how to engage positively and helpfully was Norwich Union's engagement with Ade Bridgewater on Twitter. Ade a journalist and influential twitter user had had a terrible experience with a Norwich Union customer care call and decided to really take them to the cleaners through his Twitter profile. However, Norwich Union were listening, they got in contact with him directly and put him in touch with the relevant department to sort out his issues. As a result he had nothing but good things to say on his profile thereafter. Job done.

Engagement has to be approached differently. Think of it as turning the sales process on it's head. You do all the aftersales first and then you can get to a sale sometime in the future. If a brand is thinking of engaging it has to be helpful, useful, valuable, trustworthy, an ally and a facilitator to users whether they are conducting a personal or a business transaction. Until you are all those things and you are conducting all of those functions where users are, you can't expect people to start trusting you.

Once they do begin to trust you though you can think about developing social destination points, whether that be a Facebook group or a Twitter brand embassy. After all you've put in the work to earn the right to be there and people will eventually come to you as long as you continue to be an advisory centre rather than a sales channel.

In short social media engagement should happen in five stages:

1. Assess
Listen to the conversation – identify where the chat is
Identify what you hold internally that would be useful for an external audience

2. Filter
Where’s the influence? – don’t worry about every single comment or post
What’s the real sentiment? – how is it weighted?

3. Generate
What does your audience want to be hearing?
Need to be developing editorial content that is engaging

4. Engage
At all multi-layered customer touch points
Focus on message not medium – go to your audiences and build trust first

5. Distribute
Finally become a destination point
Become an enabler for conversations that enhance reputation
Build brand embassies

Get all this right and you can create huge equity as we move onwards towards an era of social commerce.

Crispin Heath
Head of Digital

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

NISA news

There’s been much talk of greenshoots this week, especially from the European Central Bank (although Mervyn King has just sought to play down widespread talk of 'green shoots' and cautioned that the outlook for the UK economy remains uncertain). But here is some interesting, positive news. According to IMA stats the 2008/09 ISA season saw net inflows of £529.1 million, 74% more than the previous year’s inflow of £303.8 million (and yes that’s equity ISAs rather than cash ISAs). But as Meg said last year, should we be worried that given the lack of attractive saving alternatives more money is being ploughed into equities?

Jo Parker

Monday, 11 May 2009

The signs aren’t good

Redundancies for the three months to February 2009 were 270,000 - up 45,000 over the quarter and up 162,000 over the year. This is the highest figure since comparable records began in 1995.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by 1.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. Hotels, restaurants, transport, storage and business services all fell in terms of output in the 3 months to February this year.

And yet I look at my share portfolio and it has risen – significantly - in recent weeks. April was the best month for the FTSE 100 in six years, and the media are reporting that we are now officially in a bull market having risen more than 20% from the recent lows in March.

All of which leads me to one question. Are we experiencing a ‘W’, a ‘U’, a ‘V’ or even an ‘L?’ Are we positively talking our way out of things or is the widely derided ‘global rescue package’ actually working? Should I capitalise on my short-term gains and hope the markets plummet over the summer, or should I wait and keep my fingers crossed that stocks keep slowly rising back up?

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter that much – this is just a bit of fun for me. But for the estimated 1 million Britons that are due to retire this year, the answer to this question has a profound impact on the rest of their lives. The new guidance and information opportunities suggested as part of the Thorenson Review will help. But perhaps our thinking should be more profound than this. Perhaps we should stop thinking about equities being the investment vehicle for mainstream retail products and look to alternatives?

Meg Steele
Client Services Director

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Another retailer banking on finance in the future

Following on from our previous piece and the obvious move of Tesco to become a fully regulated bank after a decade of white labelling other companies products. We now hear that another High Street retailer is likely to follow suit.

Boots the high street peddler of cough syrup, toothbrushes and beauty products has announced it’s considering a regulatory status and selling personal banking products throughout it’s 2600 chemists and retail stores.

This begs the question just why do these business believe that they have the credibility, and what it takes to offer an overpriced current account and a second rate customer experience!

Well in fact they don’t, what they do have however, is an understanding of the imperatives that drive commodity purchases and a depth of knowledge about creating a great customer experience. That and of course they have the experience of using them in both the real and virtual world.

For many years Financial Service brands have used affinity deals with retailers and other brands in their pursuit of new customers, mainly because they found it difficult to travel across the emotional gap between their businesses and what their prospects valued and desired.

What they didn’t realise in undertaking this strategy is that in so doing they transferred all of their expertise, knowledge and credibility to their affinity partners, who while happy in the short term to share revenue streams, ultimately gained a longer term prize of being recognised as a capable financial provider.

This of course has all come at a time when consumer trust and belief in the financial institutions they grew up with has been shaken to the core, with the nationalisation and collapse of the Banking sector.

So while the retailers of today who are looking at the banks of tomorrow should have a lasting gratitude to organisations such as MBNA. Perhaps it’s time for the Banks of today to really sit up and take notice of what will become of retail in the future.

Ps. You might also find it slightly ironic that MBNA was set up in a Newark, Delaware supermarket, just goes to prove, what goes around, comes around.

David McCann
Planning Director