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Many business owners are nervous about their business numbers.  When asked they might resort to: “My accountant looks after the numbers”. Yet numbers are the language of business and unless you understand the story your numbers are telling you, there is a likelihood that, rather than being in control of your business, you are leaving things to chance or luck. Continue reading

Do you love your inbox? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably a definitive ‘no’. That’s because, for most of us, our inbox is a forsaken place where we collect the detritus of our working lives and get the latest updates from that one website we thought might be useful in 2009 whose newsletters we just can’t work out how to unsubscribe from.

But there’s one thing that makes all this worse — the frankly appalling etiquette of our email contacts.

“Every office is filled with people who can’t use their emails properly, and it drives everyone mad,” says Brian Johnson, Director of Forward Role, the UK’s leading digital and marketing recruitment specialists. “Despite most people’s common sense, some part of their brain switches off when they come to open up a new email and type up that ‘urgent’ 48-line paragraph and then CC in the entire team.”

Below, we’ve listed the worse email offenders each office has, and what you can do to mitigate them.

1.  The Email Enforcer

Like some unsolicited apparition, these Email Enforcers magically appear next to you, just as their oven-fresh email drops into your inbox. “I’ve just sent you an email,” they helpfully say.

And then they proceed to explain to you everything they’ve said in the email … which means that all you can do is just sit there and listen to what you’ve just read that second.

This is like a parent knocking on their teenager’s bedroom door after they’ve already let themselves in. They’re probably even the type of person who says “Knock knock” instead of actually doing it.

Ugh.

When dealing with an Email Enforcer, do: Take in what they’re saying, repeat it back to them to confirm you understand, and wrap up by suggesting next time they just come and speak to you rather than emailing as well.

Don’t: Ask them to book a meeting in which they can explain their email in more detail.

2. The Ghost

The Ghost is the professional equivalent of that person you dated who never messaged you back. They’re charming in meetings, pretend like they’re interested in your strategies, and then — POOF! —  they disappear from the email stratosphere, never to respond to your emails again.

You get paranoid. Was it something you said? Maybe they didn’t really like your strategy and are avoiding having to tell you.

Then you realise you’re not alone … they’ve ghosted before – and they’ll do it again!

When dealing with a Ghost, do: Ask them privately to send back a quick reply confirming that they’ve read and understood your email.

Don’t: Harass them at the water cooler demanding to know why they didn’t email you back. “I thought what we had was special” doesn’t look good on an HR report.

3. THE SHOUTER

HAVE YOU RECEIVED AN EMAIL WRITTEN ENTIRELY IN CAPS LOCK? IT COMES ACROSS AS INCREDIBLY AGGRESSIVE AND MEANS YOU AUTOMATICALLY THINK THAT THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END IS EITHER LIVID OR IS ACTUALLY YOUR GRAN TRYING TO COMMENT ON A FACEBOOK POST.

Shouters are people who somehow write entire emails without reading them — because why else would you send it on? Weirdly, Shouters are often very agreeable in real life, which makes you believe that their habit of yelling their emails is purely an online quirk.

When dealing with a Shouter, do: Email back privately and politely inform them that they might have left their caps lock on by mistake.

Don’t: Use a megaphone to shout your reply back to them.

4. The Blank Subject Liner

In a detective novel, a mysterious email is an exciting thing, promising a secretive plot that is exposed by a clever protagonist who can piece together the clues to solve the case.

But at work, mysterious emails are about as exciting as your Aunt Audrey’s holiday photos.

The blank subject line surprises you every time you see it. You say ‘What’s this?’ and click on it, only to find yourself reading the same memo about that one project you finished months ago. Seriously, guys. A two-word summary is not that hard.

When dealing with a Blank Subject Liner, do: Explain to the sender that your inbox is usually very full, so without a subject line, their urgent messages might get lost and work won’t get done.

Don’t: Send them a mysterious email containing your Aunt Audrey’s holiday photos.

5. The Captain of the Seven CCs

You get an email from your boss. It looks important. Very important. At that moment, you start to believe that maybe — just maybe — they’ve realised they need your help. You hear the word ‘promotion’ echo in the distance. It’s happening.

But then you read it … and you realise the email isn’t addressed to you. It doesn’t even have anything to do with you. It might as well say “FOOLED YOU!” in Comic Sans.

Instead, you find yourself on a CC list longer than the Treaty of Versailles. There’s the marketing director, the head of IT, three interns that no longer work there, your mum, her dog … it leads to a lot of confusion, and a lot of wasted time.

When dealing with a Captain of the Seven CCs, do: Reply to them directly, asking whether they need your input on this email chain or whether you can be removed from the CC list.

Don’t: Type something witty and hit ‘Reply All’. You know who you are. Stop it.

6. The One-word Wonder

It’s late afternoon. You’ve just spent the best part of an hour crafting that perfect email to your manager explaining the next steps of your marketing strategy. It has charts. It has chapters. It even has a list of contents and an epilogue in which you thank your family for all the support they’ve given you in writing such a wonderfully crafted email.

And the reply you get?

“Great, thanks.”

CEOs and Managing Directors are particularly bad for this. To them, they’re just trying to be efficient by providing quick sign-off on a good-enough suggestion so they’re not a bottle-neck. But to their staff, it can come across like they don’t care, which can be frustrating.

When dealing with a One-word Wonder, do: Ask for specific feedback in your email at the beginning and the end so they can’t miss it if they skim read.

Don’t: Yell “You’re not even trying!” before sobbing quietly at your desk.

7. The In-office Auto-responder

There’s something incredibly satisfying about setting an auto-responder. It’s a badge of pride — that little message that tells your contacts that, sorry, you can’t answer their email right now because you’re too busy enjoying yourself in some sunny corner of the world.

But once you’re back at work, the auto-responder makes you look like a fool. It’s not just annoying for staff but for clients, too. One might be given some leeway on their first day back, but by day two, it’s embarrassing.

When dealing with an In-office Auto-responder, do: Politely inform them that they might have left their auto-responder on and, if necessary, show them how to switch it off.

Don’t: Make loud, sarcastic comments about how amazing it is that someone could be at work and on holiday at the same time. You’re not funny, Jill.

8. The False Alarmer

False Alarmers are those people that somehow missed the parable of the boy who cried wolf. They mark their emails as ‘URGENT’ so that they catch your eye, and naturally, you open it in a panic, only to find that they want to know whether there was a milk delivery this morning because they just checked the fridge and, well, we’re out.

False Alarmers make trouble for themselves. It’s not long before you stop opening their urgent emails, which means when they have something important they need to communicate, no one is going to listen.

Come on, people, we learned this in primary school.

When dealing with a False Alarmer, do:Explain to them that, although you understand they believe their projects are top priority, they should only mark emails as urgent if it’s a genuine emergency.

Don’t: Secretly fill their pockets with meat before a company hike to recreate the parable of the boy who cried wolf.

9. The Historian

You know it’s going to be bad when you see this subject line:

“Fwd: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Changes to homepage”.

Historians like to forward LONG email chains to people. They want you to scroll to the very beginning, painstakingly making your way back through time until your finger hurts. You scroll past the Millenium, the Great Depression, the Ice Age. You’re pretty sure email can’t have been around long enough for this email chain to be possible, and yet you’re still scrolling.

And just when you’ve caught up, they forward you the next batch of updates.

Kill. Me. Now.

When dealing with a Historian, do: Ask for a quick summary of the key things they need you to action to make sure nothing is missed.

Don’t: Build a time machine to go back and stop them from being hired. You might bump into yourself and let’s face it, you were not cool in the nineties. No one was.

I’m often asked what my personal favourite is amongst the 75 tales I have written about the origins of some of the world’s biggest brands.  I always find it difficult to pick just one, there are many that appeal to me for different reasons, but one that definitely and consistently makes the shortlist is a story of a happy accident, an unexpected outcome to what could have been a failure but became a huge success.

So here’s the story of “The samples they wouldn’t give back”:

The Samples They Wouldn’t Give Back

The fastest selling drug of all time doesn’t do what it was originally intended to do.

It started life in 1989 as a medication called sildenafil citrate and was classified as UK-92480. It had been created by British scientists, Peter Dunn and Albert Wood, working

for Pfizer. They believed it would be useful in treating high blood pressure and angina, chest pain caused by the constriction of vessels that supply the heart with blood.

Somewhat disappointingly for them, and for Pfizer, the initial trial results suggested that it didn’t help relax these blood vessels.

However, things were looking up on another front as Dr Brian Klee, a senior medical director at Pfizer, later told the French news agency, AFP: “Originally, we were testing sildenafil … as a cardiovascular drug and for its ability to lower blood pressure, but one thing that was found during those trials is that people didn’t want to give the medication back because of the side effect of having erections that were harder, firmer and lasted longer.”

With UK-92480’s chances of treating angina slim, Pfizer decided to focus on erectile dysfunction, so another Pfizer scientist, Chris Wayman, was asked to investigate

what was happening.

He created a model ‘man’ in the lab.

He took a set of test tubes filled with an inert solution and placed a piece of penile tissue taken from an impotent man in each one. Each piece of tissue was then connected up to a device that, at the flick of a switch, would send a pulse of electricity through it.

Applying this current of electricity mimicked what happens when a man is aroused.

The first time Chris did this nothing happened to the vessels, but when he added the drug to the tissue bath the penile blood vessels suddenly relaxed – as they would for a man with normal erectile function – giving him an erection.

“What was amazing about this study was that we saw a restoration of the erectile response,” he said. “Now we were on to something which could only be described as special.”

In 1996 Pfizer, on the back of further encouraging test results, patented sildenafil citrate in the US.

On 27 March 1998, complete with a new name, the FDA approved the use of the drug Viagra to treat erectile dysfunction.

It’s estimated that the drug has now been used by more than 35 million men around the world.

SPARKPOINT: Sometimes you can start out looking for one thing but find another along the way – don’t ignore happy accidents.

About the Author

Giles Lury would describe himself as a VW Beetle driving, Lego Watch wearing, Disney loving, Chelsea supporting father of five who also happens to be Director of a leading strategic brand consultancy, The Value Engineers. Giles is the author of six previous books, including two volumes of marketing stories – The Prisoner and the Penguin and How Coca-Cola Took Over the World (both published by LID Publishing).

Addiction in the workplace can present significant challenges for employers and specific instances of drug or alcohol use can present health and safety risks, and serious conduct issues.

Use of drugs or alcohol is frequently related to other health issues, both physical and mental, which is a further reason the issue needs to be dealt with sensitively by employers. Continue reading

A brand represents a customer’s perception of a business and can represent the entire customer experience. Often when we think of a product, the first thing that pops to mind is a certain company’s brand, from Coca-cola to Apple.

Today, there’s a seemingly infinite number of brands for consumers to choose from. Small businesses are then presented with a tricky challenge: how do they make their brand stand out from the crowd? Continue reading

My new book Inspiring Innovation is really more of a story book than a textbook. It brings together “75 marketing tales to help you to find your business’s next big thing”.

Now having finished the manuscript, I have had the chance to think what the book teaches about the process of innovation and perhaps the most striking thing is that there is no single right way to go about it. There are many different and sometimes surprising sources for new brands and marketing ideas. They include positive concepts like love, travel and curiosity but also include the less glamourous pain, disappointment, shame and embarrassment.

Over the next few weeks I’ll being sharing one or two of these stories as an appetiser for the book and I thought I should start with an innovation inspired by love … read on

The Ideal Husband – how to win a woman’s heart with a bowl of custard

Next Valentine’s Day, what are you planning for your special one? A card at least, I hope, but maybe a bunch of flowers, a bottle of champagne or a romantic dinner for two? But how would your partner react if you gave them a bowl of custard? Yes, custard – that sweet, yellow dessert sauce we Brits pour over our rhubarb crumble and apple pies.

Well, if you were Mrs Elizabeth Bird you would be delighted.

Now the exact date in 1837 on which Alfred Bird presented a bowl of custard to his wife is not known,

but whenever it was it clearly won him some serious brownie points.

Elizabeth had persistent digestive problems and suffered severe reactions to eggs and yeast-based products.

But she was a lover of custard, and despite the consequences she simply couldn’t resist the stuff.

Alfred had qualified as a Fellow of the Chemists Society and set up a shop in Birmingham’s Bell Street, selling household medicines and toiletries. Business was good, but Alfred wasn’t satisfied, and every night after the shop closed he indulged his passion for experimental chemistry.

The task he set himself was to find a way to help his wife enjoy the foods she loved.

He began a quest for an egg-free custard and finally, after many late nights, he developed a recipe for a new custard powder based on corn flour.

His wife was delighted, and soon too were some friends of the Birds’, when they were introduced to the confection by mistake.

The story goes that it was ‘accidentally’ fed to some of Elizabeth and Alfred’s guests at a dinner party. Seeing their reaction, Alfred realized that perhaps there was more to his invention than just a happier wife. Bird’s Powdered Custard was born, and lives on successfully to this day.

A few years later Alfred again proved what an ideal husband he was, when in 1843 he came up with a yeast substitute. It was originally called ‘Bird’s Fermenting

Powder’ but was quickly renamed ‘Baking Powder’. It not only helped people like Elizabeth, who had yeast allergies, but was soon widely used to help people bake lighter bread, cakes and pastries.

It was, and is still, a success.

SPARKPOINT: Solving someone’s problem (loved one or not) is a well-used path to innovation.

About the Author

Giles Lury would describe himself as a VW Beetle driving, Lego Watch wearing, Disney loving, Chelsea supporting father of five who also happens to be Director of a leading strategic brand consultancy, The Value Engineers. Giles is the author of six previous books, including two volumes of marketing stories – The Prisoner and the Penguin and How Coca-Cola Took Over the World (both published by LID Publishing).