What Crazy Chef – Gordon Ramsay – Has Taught Me About Online Marketing

In the background this evening is Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares playing on the TV.

For those who have not been blessed with the acne scarred, expletive derived, Michelin star holding master chef – this post is about a restaurant expert coming in to put things right.  How it relates to digital marketing? You’ll see.


Gordon is travelling around the US visiting SMEs and owner operator restaurants. It’s brutal truth as always with expletives in every sentence. Yet…

There are main themes that come through that I would relate back to digital marketing.

  1. Of course his expertise means he can comment on quality and that is step one that many of us forget. User surveys, customer insights and anecdotal comments at client meetings all need to be collected and aggregated.

    We need to understand explicitly what customers feel about your web presence and work to prioritise improvements. Including users within the organisation!

  2. The second point is that NONE of the owners have an exacting view over costs and income. At either end they are throwing away good food or not catering to the right market and missing income, or don’t even know their income.

    Having a clear understanding of cost per acquisition, how many of your warm leads are converted to sales or even how many conversions you get from PR, PPC, SEO or Social is paramount to selling ‘marketing’ to your colleagues.

  3. The third is finding your USP, what differentiates you from competitors, direct or indirect. Ramsay brings the basics: fresh, seasoned and tasty. Yet every restaurant brings its own twist. Be it Michelin star presentation, hyper local produce or just like Momma makes.

    More often than not, once Ramsay has been through they’re leading on price and offering top quality and service.

    Likewise, we need to have a fresh take, content and aggregation that can’t be found elsewhere. We also need to support this with well managed PPC and SEO to feed the sales loop to be ahead of competitors.

  4. As I watch Gordon work his way around the restaurant each staff member openly shares their thoughts on what’s wrong, and very few seem horrifically off the mark. Flattening hierarchies and asking for feedback from the front line is paramount with your online channels as well. Open communication is needed about how hard it is to run with an incomplete lead, how hard the analytics are to understand, or simply how long it takes to publish. All reflect on your end website and service.
  5. The main underlying point though seems to be stepping back from the routine to focus on what could we do differently. Doing this seals the episode.

    If we could all schedule a monthly day-long growth hacking session, where the day to day grind is completely dismissed, I am sure that our digital marketing will grow from strength to strength. Innovate.

As Henry Ford said –

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Brand Storytelling – Part of a Marketing MIX

This week I received a copy of the book ‘Around The World in 80 Brands’.

It’s a great selection of brand stories from around the world as the authoring pair travel and interview the people behind the brands. Letting readers understand what they stand for and how they have come to get where they are.

coolbrands - Around the world in 80 brands

They have also been releasing chapters online at http://aroundtheworldin80brands.wordpress.com. Well worth a follow and inspirational to take storytelling further with your own brands.

Good Storytelling enables you to connect deeply with your audience

Storytelling at a brand and marketing level is a great tool to build affinity with your audience. They see people, not a Brand, and it resonates.

Throughout the book the typical storytelling skeleton is present. One we have seen in countless books and more recently in great movies. Even the situational stories of how they managed to get interviews with some very busy owners are easy to relate to. You build an affinity with them and their journey, wondering what the next level of cheeky intro or table ‘invading’ will be.

Storytelling and the plot most used with brands has ancient roots. It’s success is proven. You’ll see this timeline and plot ring through many of my favourites and yours.

Saving Private Ryan, Star Wars, Toy Story, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Romeo And Juliet, The Old Man And The Sea and even 50 Shades of Grey (they tell me).

The plots follow a skeleton of:

  1. Hero we can all relate to shows their likeable or understandable personality – we relate to their situation,
  2. trouble comes and they deal with it, they will be knocked down, face adversity and
  3. they get up and are where they are today.

And even storytelling Steve Jobs’ life follows a similar path. The story of Richard Branson, Mandela and most successful entrepreneurs have similar stories to tell. Adversity bringing strength.

Today’s podcast

I’ve recorded some additional comments here on the topic. (Oh, and the Volkswagen Beetle – tough in its latest rendition – has a great story, even in its name “people’s wagon”).

Storytelling is a technique with its own unique intricacies

I highlighted MIX in the title of this post as storytelling is powerful tool if used correctly. Yet is is a different beast to content marketing, how to guides and sales decks or brochures.

You might be the CMO, or even the Marketing specialist creating the pages on the website. But understanding that storytelling is about connecting with people, characters and personalities behind a brand is key.

You all have sales and the rest of the business breathing down your neck to show the ROI of marketing, to have some good consistent quick wins. Maybe your Harlem Shake clip generated some traffic and ‘buzz’ but nothing leading to sales. Then when you talk about the REASON, behind your company – it’s direction and how it got to today – the sales team have something to run with. Clients empathise, market share rises and you are closer to the companies overall goal.

It is nothing to do with product specifications or the number of high level clients your service has.
It has no spin, it is honest and as transparent as possible.

Few will get it right, but some key tips that you’ve got it wrong are:

  • Titles replace names in your storytelling.
  • Product specifications get mentioned.
  • Price is mentioned, heck, any of the 6 P’s that isn’t PEOPLE sneaks in!

Again, knowing when and how to use this tool in your marketing mix is paramount. Find where it fits with your brand and their path (story).

How To Create Animated GIFs From Video

Well it was my first BBQ of the year earlier this week so I thought I’d take a quick clip and convert it to an animated GIF.


If you’d like to do the same here’s the five steps I went through.

  1. Record the video using a tripod or leaning against something solid. I used my Samsung GSII propped up on the hot tong handle (NOT as stable as it should have been and the heat made me rush).
  2. Save your MP4 to your desktop and open up Photoshop.
  3. Click File, Import, Video Frames to Layers. Cropping the video to manageable length of 10 or less seconds and work with 2 or 3 frames per second.  Image
  4. Click Image, Image size, and reduce to around 640 or less pixels wide, so your computer can render it.
  5. Click File, Save for Web and Devices. Play with the quality till your GIF reaches a reasonable size (mine is 500kb) and save.

You’re all done and ready to share.

For the bonus round – head on over to http://giphy.com for an indexed searchable list of GIF inspirations.


This post in no way condones or promotes the abuse of lolcats, PSY, Gangnam, Harlem shake or any other “trendy” MEME jacking in any way shape or form.

Use of the above instructional tutorial is subject to the creation of innovative, original, entertaining GIFs only.

5 ways to have the freshest marketing and sales materials

For many, finding the time, source or quality for consistent content marketing can be a problem.

Your editorial calendar might be perfect and you have lined up authors to pen or record videos. Content for each of your buyer personas is scheduled weeks ahead and it is connected to the various stages of the purchase cycle.

Then it all happens. Half the business team that were writing for you get called into a special project. Your top author decides to return to New Zealand and the company switches focus to B2C.

Don’t fret, get creative. Here are 5 new sources of fresh content.

  1. Walk your clients through the creation of your product, the teams involved and the steps taken to ensure quality. Market the unfinished product and give them a behind the scenes exclusive.
  2. Take a deeper look at your vertical. Talk to your suppliers for stories about how your components are sourced. Sustainability, innovation and social responsibility are great stories to tell. Talk to your retailers for moments of great customer service or great product or in-store stories. Like this great weed gun from Kiwicare!
  3. Run a photo contest on your social channels and get your customers to create content for you.
  4. Tap your employees for content, they all have phones too so run a competition, or include it in their KPIs to see who has the best in context shot of your product.
  5. Connect your time sheet tools to a mapping engine to provide real-time updates as to who just got connected, serviced or installed. And if you’ve got an exciting product or service like speed boat rides, include media rights in their liability waiver and record each journey with a GoPro.

There’s a few. I’m sure you can think of more. Think outside the square boxes of your content calendar and cubicle and get creating!

Rich Snippets and Open Source Architecture

Theres two topics for today’s post, and both on very different streams. The first, rich snippets, is the ability to tell search engines to display text and images, that you provide, in the manner you want, on search engine result pages (SERPs).

Hubspot wrote a great article on snippets earlier in the week. The article is robust and covers so I won’t go into too much detail. But in case you aren’t aware there are snippets that allow you to provide structured detail for:

  • Authors
  • businesses,
  • music,
  • videos,
  • products,
  • recipes
  • and events.

With my blog hosted on WordPress, I will need to explore how far I can take snippets, but Twitter does already recognise the first image and paragraphs of my post, displaying them in stream much like Facebook. Which is a reasonable first step.

Two benefits I can see from ensuring your snippets are in place and working are:

  1. You really get a chance to optimise and enhance your calls to action and distinguish your result. I for one would be more inclined to click on a well formatted link, even if it was mid way down the results page.
  2. You also get the chance to start feeding through your brand, corporate palatte and tie this to your site. Consistency between the author image in the SERPs, and tone of voice can’t help but improve the users experience.

View this post on Instagram

Priory park. #nofilter #spring

A post shared by Nick Allen (@nickwallen) on

The second edition of Sunday Session was recorded at Priory Park today. I shade from the wind beside the lake, looking across at the pavilion, a feature piece of modern architecture in Reigate.

Which vaguely leads me to the second topic today. UNStudio architects in the Netherlands have said in June they will re-form as an open source architecture studio.

Here’s the tweet which proved popular – perhaps as it is an innovative step for an industry that is still, like many, tightly holding onto IP and what they believe to be competitive advantage through knowledge.

I think this could be an exciting move for the studio, as they vow to make as much as possible of their processes and architecture open to the public and other architects.

It’s not too dissimilar to content marketing and sharing how to, or instructive guides like Hubspot has above. When UNStudio release what would be mainstream architecture fundamentals (say the design of a 3 bed townhouse) it frees them up to focus on innovation and differentiation. Rather than redrafting the same things constantly, to add a flurry at the end.

What’s more, unable to find a structure within their industry that they felt could innovate fast enough, they have looked to the startup scene and the likes of Square, Xero and Twitter. Tech companies using Agile project management.

While the process may not be truly agile they are letting the teams self select and focus in their strength among four topics in the new open source platform: sustainability, organisation, materials and parametrics.

It is definitely one I’ll be watching this year, and that I hope succeeds.

Listen along…

Podcast: Sunday thoughts on online and offline cartels

Well this week I have come to the conclusion that I need more practice speaking.
As this blog progresses I have begun to feel quite confident in my ability to communicate thoughts and invoke interest from colleagues online.

At work I am confident that as a leader my direction and directions are understood and executed efficiently. What I would like to improve is my ability to improvise. To think and speak simultaneously.

To this end I’ve decided to take up Sunday podcasting. Short thoughts to start with, using Soundcloud on the go.

View this post on Instagram

Boom… Shhhhhhh.

A post shared by Nick Allen (@nickwallen) on

This first session, by the roaring waves at Shoreham Fort is probably pretty bad in terms of background noise and coherent chain of thought and expression. Hopefully I can improve incrementally as the weeks progress.

Having introduced what I’m doing. Here’s what sprung to mind down at the waters edge.

Cartels will emerge – playing to the strengths of their members

Remembering the phrase I’d heard earlier in the week, “A rising tide lifts all boats” I couldn’t help but feel we will see – in the coming years – industries and sectors banding together as cartels to rise together.

The cartel, being to some extent, less offensive to the masses than the monopoly that Facebook has on social or that Google has on search.

Competitors, could quite well become allies, as they strategically align their strengths and focus so as to leverage each others USP, rather than all trying to be reasonably good at everything.

In search terms this would mean aligning key phrases so there’s less overlap. For example: I’m optimised for Auckland B2B Agile Marketing, another colleague would be for Retail B2C and another for FMCG yet together we cover all facets of marketing in Auckland.

Where we are not an expert, we forward (and link) clients to our cartel members. Playing to their strengths.

Social sharing and blogging about the ability of others will also be the norm.

As industry cartels or networks form, online niche platforms and networks will grow to support cross selling and cross sharing of content.

One nod to this is the advent of blogger outreach platforms.

Chuck Kent interviewed Dino Dogan about Triberr (see video here) last week which I think is a first step in this direction. The platform connects bloggers with products to which they have a true natural affinity. Not just one they want swag from.

There is some way to come from this to cartels but I’ll be doing my best to push it forward.

Digital Project Management and Tuckman’s Phases

Mentoring teams for digital projects and web development can be plain sailing. No, really.

The Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “Forming, storming, norming and performing” back in 1965 to describe the path to high-performance that most teams follow. Later, he added a fifth stage that he called “adjourning” (that others often call “mourning” – it rhymes a little better). Wikipedia covers them here –  Tuckman’s phases.

Mad Life

The phases can be seen in project teams of any size, formal or informal and in any setting. Understanding the phases is step one. Knowing how to navigate through each phase at an appropriate speed is the leader’s art. But also a skill for all team members.

Icebreakers, the more embarrassing the better, are great tools to break down the barriers in a Forming team. Unravelling interlinking hands, naming the teams mascot, balloon passing –  all feel a little bit childish. Yet remember how innovative we were as kids. How free our thoughts were…

The Storming phase, despite its name, can be innovation at its best. In a strict management led project – where the projects manager dictates workloads, task and roles – the manager can control overtly domineering team members and assert their positions, tasks and roles. They can also encourage the introverts and push the team through the phases.  Self selecting and self regulating teams, like those in Scrum don’t have this “luxury”, which in a way is a blessing. Team members fall to tasks which they can best perform.

The Product Owner’s job is to ensure they are focusing on the most valuable tasks to complete the project. They must instil an understand of what it is brining to the end product. Giving them an understanding of what, why and when lets them focus on the how.

A good example of teams passing through the Forming and Storming stages in subsequent iterations is the improvements in sizing. As the team learn to understand those that are optimistic and pessimistic about the complexity and time involved in tasks, they learn to how to explain their positioning and understand that of others.

When the team reaches the Storming stage, adhering to strict scrum processes and routine can comfort those who are worried about decisions being made. Point out the phases to team members that have concerns. Also, bear in mind that if your project has dependencies or requires new members mid project, your team to a certain extent, will revert to Forming again.

One Scrum practice that is paramount to the growth of the team is the retrospective after every sprint. An aid to the Mourning or Adjourning phases, the retrospectives focus on open and frank conversation around improvements. This highlights the strengths and weaknesses in the team.

The Mourning, of how things were in their old team encourages members to take the good points through to their next project.

They’ll carry experience of when to sail into the storm and when to tack.

Social media – Deus ex machina to the digitally disrupted?

I was watching this great what to do with Twitter video this morning and it got me thinking could social media provide the Deus ex machina that many companies are looking for?

Andrew Grill covered a report by Deloitte on the notion of Digital Disruption. The report covers industries that are predicted to be hardest hit by the combination of mobile platforms, social media and online sales.

The report highlights industries that will have to truly switch up their business models, revenue models and products or services to survive. One of the first to be hit being retail as we see more and more shops being forced to compete on price as “showrooming” becomes a thing.

A case in point is this Australian store charging people to enter as they just go home and buy the same thing online elsewhere (thanks Mahei for the insights @iconic88).

Instead of fighting back with her own website, content channel, live tweets and promotions this store owner sadly still thinks in footfall. Much like the numbers game in eyeballs to ads model last week.

This week I think we need to look at the strengths of the mediums we use and work out how that best fits with your company.

I had some ideas a while back on marketing unfinished products to give insights into your brand. As the Twitter video highlights, if you know your platform well you can use it to great effect.

It is a new medium that requires a new mind set. Traditional values of open, transparent, good service will prevail but we need to hone our new media skills.

We need to ditch the hard sell, ad driven product centric work – for content that brings clients closer to the brand and heightens their affinity.

So beyond the brand strategy, and content calendars we need to also learn the skills of the medium:

  • Respond quickly to customer enquiries at a one to one level, that can be seen by many
  • Learn to Newsjack and make a trending issue relevant to your fans
  • Share your fans stories to create affinity
  • Have a voice and people behind it that connect and converse with your fans and their contacts as humans, not a brand
  • Make it about them, not about your product or service.

What would you add?

Mobile – Our Last Chance to Ditch the Ad Fixation!

Interruption is part of our every day life. We battle constantly to find delightful interruptions to the mundane and to fast forward unwanted disruption.

As Neville and I discussed this morning.  Marketers KNOW we fast forward ads, have banner blindness, ignore adwords campaigns and hate popups.

So fixated on the ad model, eyeballs and exposure – brands are excited when someone finds a way to create a  “Slowmercial”. A commercial you can still see even when fast forwarding through the ad break.


And it is not just mass media, which is not going away any time soon. New media and social networks are still forced to focus their monetisation around ads because they are so entrenched in our  marketing mix.

Thankfully for a while they didn’t feed us ads in their mobile apps, a few months reprise from the interruptions. Even so this didn’t stop us marketers from: pushing ads into Instagram, hashtag photo competitions, “like us to win” and all our other techniques to PUSH our products to the target audience.

We need to draw the line.

Mobile, the personal device we take with us everywhere, our trusted assistant, could be the deal-breaker.

With data prices still restrictive we are precious about our online time over mobile. We focus our core activities around checking email, checking Facebook and updating statuses. Maybe exploring news sites or YouTube if we find a free WiFi signal. We don’t spend the time visiting brand’s websites, and we most certainly resent them interrupting us.

Content marketing in my mind is the logical non disruptive method of bonding with customers on the go.

By this I mean creating content good enough that people will subscribe to our channels, follow us and maybe even download our app. Content that is truly informative, educative and entertaining. A step back to traditional soap operas if we can.

If we do this right clients will opt in to PULL content from us into their RSS reader or subscribe to our channels. I am not saying it will happen over night, but it will happen.

It is a slow road to rehab, but hopefully the big four social networks will realise soon that: big data can power content strategies and  product directions – not just hyper-targeted ads.

The Locomotive Revolution and Agile Project Management

I was watching a program last night on the evolution of the train, from the first steam trains to the current Shinkansen and AGVs. It was a great story of evolutionary steps to get us to today. Yet one stood out beyond the others. Revolutionary.

View this post on Instagram

Bluebell Railway

A post shared by Nick Allen (@nickwallen) on

Right before the invention of Stephenson’s Rocket the current train (sorry) of thought was: the most efficient way to move goods and passengers on tracks from one point to the next is the cable car. You would hook the carriages up to steam engines constructed at regular intervals along the track and reel in the cable to bring them up. Then uncouple, ready for connecting to the next engine. Stephenson suggested the engine could in fact travel in front of the carriages pulling them along. Revolutionary.

As I watched I couldn’t help but see correlations to Agile and Scrum. The fix mounted engines gave waterfall progression to targets and the locomotive was Agile. Exploring this metaphor a bit more I now have a far greater empathy for those that have troubles adjusting to an agile project management style. It’s revolutionary.

Fixed steam engines

  1. There were fixed costs for each mile of track and steam engine.
  2. Destinations (results) were defined from the start.
  3. If one steam engine breaks down you could not complete the journey.

The locomotive

  1. Costs would vary with the length of the journey.
  2. Destinations could change. The train could even switch tracks (pivot).
  3. The locomotive was independent.

This shift in focus is polar. Switching from focusing on cost savings to revenue creation is a big change in mindset. Yet taking the jump from emphasising defined costs and outcome to flexibility and incremental value puts clients and users at the forefront of projects.

This places organisations in an even better position to give value in return for value.