Digital Strategy is not about being digital. It's about enjoying an evening with friends.

Published: 21 October 2014

Take a different look at Digital Marketing

By Nolan Collins, Blunt Brit Marketing

Everywhere you turn right now, the experts are talking about digital this and digital that.  KPIs, Metrics, Analytics, Facebook, Omniture, Video and on and on.You have to remember that these are just tools, no more than a hammer to drive in a nail and a level to make sure it is straight.  Tool and analysis. But ask yourself, what are you measuring? That the picture is straight? That the hammer did its job? 

The analysis really comes after the tools are put away and you see people stop and look at the picture.   

When I go into people's homes (I am usually invited!) I love to look at the family pictures.

They are not always straight, but they evoke questions and emotions.  Through their inadvertent revealing display of who they are, I can see what interests them, where they have been, if they are one of those families that wears the crazy jumpers for the family photo!.  Lots of pictures on display usually portrays them as extroverts, socialites and people who like to get involved.  Few pictures means I'll have to work a little harder to get to know them!

Whatever they display, it allows me to relate to them on a new level.  But remember also that they are at a disadvantage.  Where I can easily see what interests them, it is I who will have to deftly insert what interests us on a common level to earn their trust.

As the evening goes on, if I was observant at the beginning, and stay observant during conversation, I can interact with them by talking about things that interest THEM, not me.  By doing so, they'll get to know me better and will engage and parry with their own questions.  Conversations get more interesting when old slides and photo albums are pulled out and you really capture their emotions when they pull up the videos of the last holiday, staying at the Villa in Spain with the ocean in the background.

I have, on occasion, mentioned something that I didn't realise was a sore point.  A pet who has passed on, a member of family no-one talks to, or an interest that isn't there any more. The conversation starts to close down and I've had to think quickly to re-engage and bring back the level of passion and engagement that was there a few moments before.

Asking their opinion or viewpoint is an easy way to re-ignite a conversation and can lead to stories, experiences, triumphs and, of course, failures.  Through it all, we listen, observe and adjust our tone and content for the next segment of the conversation.

By the end of the evening, we both know more about each other and we decide in the final moments if we want to do this again.  Sometimes, it's our wives arranging a get together with other families.  This is what our goal was… social acceptance and a desire to meet others!  Other times, it's the promise of a new ale we'll be trying.  Even the kids make connections and sometimes the kids are the only ones who make the connection, and that's ok.

As we leave, we're already thinking about what we forgot to mention, and things we should talk about, or ask, next time we see them.

The Race Model from Smart Insights and Dave Chaffey

My point behind all of this is that digital strategy is no different than an evening with friends.

Like developing a friendship, digital strategy is also a perpetual cycle of planning, engaging, interacting, assessing and adapting. Or as Dr. Dave Chaffey puts it, RACE. (With some planning first, of course!)

- Plan

- Reach

- Act

- Convert

- Engage

Now that you've experienced how it plays out in real life, let's take a look at the business side of things using the RACE system from Dr. Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights.  This is, of course, a simplified account!


Before you start, here is something to think about: 

“Digital marketing is not about spending £1 to reach one customer.  It is about spending £1 to reach one customer who will tell hundreds more about you.” Bud Cadell, Digital Strategist

 So through all of this you have to ask yourself; is what I'm putting in front of my ideal customer worthy of being shared?



First, you plan ahead.  Define your objectives, evaluate yourself, your competitors and your existing knowledge of your clients or prospects (especially if you are new to market) Defining a clear persona of your client is also critical at this stage. 

A great tool for understanding one aspect of your (successful) competitors is to use a tool like Topsy.  Focusing on Twitter, you can go back and see entire histories of tweets and see how and why their audience engaged with them!

Another great tool for spying on your competitors is SocialMention. Simply enter a company name, keyword or search term and Social Mention will display content from social and blog spaces.


Next, you’ll engage your audience using paid, owned and earned media.  Paid, of course, being paid advertising.  Owned includes your social accounts, website, blog and videos.  Earned media will be referrals, retweets, guest blogs and partnerships.

Constantly review what is working and consistently optimise your content to increase brand awareness and integration across multiple channels.

(In real life, paid would be the bottle of wine you bring with you, or the round of drinks at the 19th hole!  Owned would be your own stories that you tell to interact with your audience and earned, well that’s when your friends tell others how cool you are!)

A couple of great tools for analytics are Google Analytics and, for the more advanced users, Omniture.  Both have a learning curve but can offer great feedback when used optimally!


As more data arrives, it’s time to create the conversion tools that will drive better brand interaction and conversions.  Lead pages, video and landing pages all play a role as well as analyzing engagement on both desktop and mobile platforms.  Adjust your ongoing strategy to allow for growth in channels that may not have shown much activity in the past.

(In real life your landing pages are the cliff hangers you tell to get people to want more from you.  You don’t sell the ending before you know they WANT to know what comes next!)

If you are a smaller company and want a good landing page system, LeadPages offers great training as well as a list of landing page designs that work better than others!


With more data and better insights, your conversion funnels are now created.  You’ve got the leads so use them to really focus in on what works best for each lead source.  Split testing in emails, posts, and landing pages contribute to better conversion rate optimisation.

(In real life, when you’ve finished one story, and your audience is hanging on your every word, you already have the next story lined up, ready to keep them with you)


The journey has just begun.  Once you have a captive audience, whether on your social channels, email lists or as actual paying customers, it is important to stay with them and keep your brand strong.  Crafting detailed CRM systems to segment and track your customers ongoing journey will lead to repeat sales, referrals and advocates who will make every £1 you spend worth a hundred.

Remember this, if nothing else; Email is still the tool preferred by most brands to stay in touch with and connect with their customers.  Great CRM systems allow you to segment your heart out as you keep adding more and more information about your customers to their profiles. Use this to reach out on a personal level and let them know that you don’t just get them, you get their reasons for why they follow and refer you.

(In real life, this is where you swap emails and phone numbers and start inviting each other to BBQ’s and community events.)


Virgin Experience Days - Digital Strategy Case Study

Case Study:

iCrossing worked on Virgin Experience Days (the plan) and realized that there were anomalies in the language used for search queries and what was actually on the site.  Acting on this information (act) helped them improve the UX, decrease bounce rates and increase the effectiveness of paid media (reach).

What was also impressive in this campaign was that non-brand SEO traffic was increased substantially showing that knowing what your customers are looking for, and adapting quickly, can increase visibility and interaction. (engage)

See the case study here: Virgin Experience Days


What's next?

While you revel in developing a quality digital strategy now, it is always wise to follow the words of an ancient Chinese proverb:  Keep one eye on the past and the other on the future.

Content is king.  Authentic, heartfelt, sincere, beneficial and adaptive.  Knowing your customers better leads to be better content, better engagement and more conversions.

With the abundance of data to continually analyse (Big Data as it's now called) it's also important to pick the tools that work best for you. Mobile is also key with the surge in both users and online interactivity leading to online sales.  It's not enough to be responsive, or reactive.  Know that mobile needs to be part of your plan and adapt now before your competition does.

If your company was born mobile (e-commerce etc), you have an advantage, but never stop understanding how your UX is influencing your customers and how simple tweaks in design can increase conversions and create fanatical advocates referring their followers to join your tribe.



If my friends read this, they'll probably wonder if I'm analysing them when I visit next!  The truth is, no more so than they are when we walk through the door.  I recently met some extended family for the first time after discovering they live only a few miles away.  Within minutes our kids, wives and the dads had all connected and we now consider them friends too.  Sometimes the connection happens quickly.  Other times, it may require some work. 

When you look at your customers and clients, look at them as people who have interests and experiences that, when you look closer, you'll discover you can interact with them on a more personal level.  After all, isn’t what all this digital stuff is trying to help us achieve?

In your personal life you live the RACE steps with every interaction.  Now you have a better understanding of how to apply it to your business too.

To find out more about RACE and receive a huge amount of digital marketing resources please check out Smart Insights – Professional Academy fully recommend this as a resource.

If you're interested in learning more about Digital Strategy and Digital Marketing for your business, and taking accredited courses, please visit the Professional Academy, UK's largest professional marketing and sales training innovators.


About Nolan Collins

Nolan Collins - The Blunt Brit

Nolan fell into online marketing after having to learn the ins and outs for his own local business marketing strategy back in the mid ‘90’s.  When other businesses saw the results he was getting it didn’t take long for professional organisations to ask Nolan to speak and present at local and state level events and workshops.

Nolan has a strong background in developing and improving training systems for small and large companies.  Some of his clients for marketing and training have included local massage schools in Florida, franchises and National Restaurant chains in the US.

Since moving back to the UK, Nolan has started his new business, Blunt Brit Marketing, helping smaller businesses understand and navigate the digital marketing landscape.  

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Sales Advice: Helping you to get past the receptionist or gatekeeper

Published: 16 October 2014

Get past the gatekeeper - make that sale!

Getting to the decision maker or other influential people can be one of the most challenging and frustrating things a sales person has to do, they almost see anybody that stands in their way as the enemy.  However, if you simply consider that they are doing their job in the same way that you are doing yours, your life can be that much easier.

Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence Them” provides us with a myriad of suggestions on how to build relationships.  In his book he talks of the importance of first impressions and this equally applies with that of the gatekeeper.  Positive happy tones of voice will certainly start to breakdown the initial barriers. 

Although obstructive gatekeepers are usually resistant to protracted conversations, the importance of rapport building through low risk open-ended questions can be beneficial especially when coupled with a genuine interest in the person you are talking to.

Gatekeepers feel their role is to protect those inside “the sanctuary”, and it is appealing to this parent like attitude that often pays dividends, after all if you can pitch your wares to the gatekeeper’s organisation, surely they will be better off because of it won’t they?  It is because of taking this attitude during the conversations and written communications with gatekeepers that will help ensure success.  This opens up another barrier which needs to be overcome, namely that of your own self confidence.  Quite often the only thing standing in your way to success is self-belief where a small dose of positive thinking and affirmation may be just what the doctor ordered.

Gatekeepers are an intrinsic member of any decision making unit who should be treated with respect and with whom all of the usual sales cycle processes merit consideration. 

Build Rapport - Charm that Gatekeeper

The importance of “rapport building” has already been discussed.  The next stage of the sales cycle is “questioning”.  With gatekeepers this equates to understanding their position relating to why they feel the need to protect.  Sales people know that once they have identified a need, they match this with a “benefits based proposition”.  So turning to our gatekeeper this means presenting your reason as to why their organisation would be better off through talking to you.  Fortunately, as we know that all “objections” give us an opportunity to further seal the deal, when the gatekeeper gives us reasons as to why the buck stops with them, we can use our tried and tested objection handling techniques.  As a reminder these techniques include persuasion, reframing and compromise, amongst others.  The final stage of the sales cycle is the “close”, which should be delivered with confidence, remembering of course that the sales cycle is aptly named that, should you meet with resistance you should start back at the beginning.

Don't Give up just before that sale!Research shows us that most sales people tend to give up trying to penetrate a customer after three communication attempts, however the same research also tells us that most buyers acquiesce after seven attempts.  This does not mean seven phone calls or seven emails, it means a variety of communication attempts.  One strategy that often works is an introductory email stating a reason why a conversation with you would be beneficial and that you will be re-contacting via the telephone on a given date and time.  The call to action is therefore “please be ready for my call”.  This heightens the awareness of your contact and may even pique their interest in anticipation of your carefully crafted teaser email.

One final word of encouragement, rejection is by no means a reflection on you as an individual, it is purely a small hurdle along the way to the riches that lie ahead.  Try to learn from each rejection, persevere whenever you feel that others would retire and think laterally about the core messages in your attempts to circumnavigate the gatekeeper, who after all will ultimately be thankful that they wisely allowed you through the door when you demonstrate with clarity their justification for doing so.

If you have more sales questions like this why not join us for our Live Sales Q&A on October 29th over at the Professional Academy Twitter page.

For more in-depth information on Sales why not look into an ISMM Sales Qualification by downloading a copy of our most recent sales prospectus or contacting one of our qualification advisors today.  

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7 ways to study - Advice from Students, Tutors and Experts

Published: 14 October 2014

7 Ways to Study Smarter

CIM Level 6 Diploma in Professional Marketing student Dave Thackeray is just weeks away from the Strategic Marketing exam. Today he asks seven highly-respected marketers how to prepare for the big day...

I was a serial failure at school. Fidgety and largely disinterested by the standard curriculum fare, I found myself excelling at anything remotely creative. But if you’re not a professional actor being great at drama doesn’t cut it; and despite being pretty competent at languages, I’m still getting to grips with Wiganese 18 months after starting my current role in Greater Manchester’s Pie Zero. But I love a challenge and that’s why rebooting my studying ambitions more than 20 years on seemed like a good idea. I’m a big fan of many different learning styles, which is why I picked Professional Academy to help me pass my CIM Level 6 Diploma in Professional Marketing. I can study at my leisure to get a good grounding but from what I’ve heard the workshops offered to students choosing the blended option (rather than purely distance learning) are a veritable godsend for boosting your confidence and validating everything you’ve discovered on your own.

Now I’m back in the hot seat and the studying is well underway, I recall many of the problems I once had. I think working in a digital role has exacerbated many of the foibles I suffered as a teenager - my attention span seems short, and a lot of the theories I’m learning are going in one ear, and out the other. During those dark days when I don’t seem to remember anything (I’m on 2.2 in the Strategic Marketing module CIM workbook and it’s all about numbers, which were never my strong suit) the words of my Professional Academy tutor Carol Laing shared in my last blog post ring in those same ears. Focus and concentration are clearly the order of the day, and these skills are especially important when time is short and you feel like you’re working all the hours god sends. Which is why I decided to reach out to several people I highly respect to get their take on how to study smarter. When it comes to tips and tricks, I find short responses hits the sweet spot so I went on the Tweet beat to hear what they have to say...


Know thy purpose

Paul Smith (PR_Smith) of PR Smith, co-author of eMarketing Excellence and creator of the SOSTAC® marketing planning system told me it’s essential to know precisely the goals of your study so you’re not wasting any time swotting up for those all-important exams.

Go with the tried and trusted

Paul’s a big cheese in marketing so we’re more than happy to have him give a shameless - but wholly justifiable - plug for his own system that has inspired thousands of organisations at large to crush it. This relates closely to the Strategic Marketing module since it includes a deep dive into marketing planning:

Consistency, not cramming

Prolific and award-winning marketer, and author CC Chapman (@CC_Chapman) said planning and preparation triumphs every time for smart students:

Play the long game

Some Professional Excellence tutors and former students had things to say on the timing front. It seems there are two trains of thought when it comes to scheduling your studying. Find a day and dig in, says Claire Boscq Scott:

Rinse and repeat

… or just build repetitive habits. Says Marcus Kilvington:

Take note

Fellow Professional Academy tutor John Chacksfield is a big fan of online tools that help you store and locate notes and information to help you create the definitive study resource.

Action, not distraction

To round up this list, seriously social marketeer Jeremy Waite offered up some solid - and unexpected - solutions to age-old problems of distraction getting in the way of action:


Those are some tips I learned to help me study smarter. Proof’s going to be in the pudding when I take my first CIM exam in December. First I have a Professional Academy two-day workshop by when I hope I’ll be well on course to giving the test my best shot. You'll be hearing how I fared in that workshop in my next article. Meantime I’m always on the hunt for better ways to study so if you have any wise words to share, Tweet me at @davethackeray and I’ll post the best here on the blog over the next few months.


Dave Thackeray Documents his CIM Student JourneyFormer journalist, editor and company owner Dave is now the web and social media officer at WLCT, a charity operating leisure services for councils. After years making his way through the marketing maze he decided to go back to basics and learn how to do it properly with Professional Academy and CIM. Follow his progress on this blog and feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter to ask about his experiences. 

If you would like to Join Dave on a CIM Marketing Qualification Course you can contact Professional Academy for some advice or Download a copy of the Marketing Prospectus today

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Is big data’s growing role in the recruitment process sustainable?

Published: 09 October 2014

Big Data in Recruitment - Warning

BBC business reporter Matthew Wall asked an interesting question last week: Does job application success depend on data, rather than your CV? Professional Academy’s (PA) success depends on data. We know it’s powerful. We also know that, ultimately, there is only one data crunching system that can get your recruitment strategy right. That system is the most complex computer on the planet: the human brain.

PA’s success depends on data. We’ve pioneered that most advanced online learning management system available to develop custom-designed learning and development programmes for leaders, sales people and marketers. We can pull off meaningful data about any candidate that has ever been through our doors, anywhere in the world. We are certain about the power data gives us to help our clients develop exceptional people. And, at the end of the day, that is our business, ‘developing exceptional people.’  We’re passionate about people; we simply use data to help organisations enable their people to excel. So we were fascinated to learn about all the ways organisations are using data to help them recruit.

Matthew describes many ways that companies are analysing and using data in their selection processes in this article.  Clever algorithms are removing subjectivity from the recruitment process. This is attractive, as research shows us that most managers claim to use objective criteria to appoint. Research also shows us that, in reality, these managers claiming to use objective criteria to appoint people, actually use subjective criteria, such as empathy and likability. 

Likeabilty - the number one reason to hire someone

Sure the way people interact with games tells us a lot about how they think, and their social media trail may tell us a lot about their attitude, and recruiting for attitude, training for aptitude is something we promote. It’s very easy though for candidates to leave data trails that show you what they think you want them to know, and with articles like this around raising awareness of the recruitment process, and organisations like ours, making potential candidates aware of the importance of their digital presence, it will only become easier. Using data-mining alone for selection is not sustainable.

Research also shows us that most people leave a manager, not a job. Managers are guilty of not training, supporting and coaching.

Action Centred Leadership - TM John AdairThey focus too much on task and not enough on individual and team needs. If recruiting becomes another data driven task, even if you are basing your decision on the right data, there is a danger that the manager may not retain that candidate. If you are going to the effort of data-mining to find the right people, you are probably investing in training them too, and, to paraphrase Richard Branson: “there is only one thing worse than training people and they leave; not training them and they stay.”

At PA we believe that with the right strategy anybody with commitment can achieve their goals, in this case recruiting the best candidate or getting the best job (depending on which side of the desk you sit).  Getting exceptional people (or becoming exceptional at your job) takes belief, dedication and depth of knowledge in what to develop in the person (or yourself).  Sure, big data analysis has its place. Its place though, has to remain alongside human judgment using the most complex computer that exists: the human brain…

If you are interested in learning more about Management & Leadership including how to recruit the right people please feel free to download a copy of our CMI Management Prospectus or contact one of our qualification advisors today.

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Live Twitter Sales Q&A Session with Professional Academy & Talk Business.

Published: 07 October 2014

Live Sales Q&A

On October 29th from 11am to 12pm Professional academy will be teaming up with Talk Business Magazine for a Live Sales Q&A Session on twitter via @ProfAcademy.

The event will follow along the lines of our recent FAQ article with Talk Business and will give any one working in or interested in Sales as a profession the opportunity to ask some of their most pressing questions to the Professional Academy expert sales trainers & tutors.

On the day you will be able to submit questions from “what is the best way to handle sales objections?” to “how can I pick the right sales client?” and receive the answers from our experts years of sales practical experience. All you need to do is add the #AskProfAcademy hashtag to the tweet or send the question directly to @ProfAcademy or @TalkBusinessMag and of course keep it to 140 characters.

Experts on the day will include Martin Hutchins. Martin is the MD of Professional Academy and fellow of the ISMM with over 20 years of High Level Sales and Sales Management Experience.

Feel free to submit your questions prior to the event via the twitter feed and we will make sure they are answered by the Professional Academy experts on the day.

You can read Professional Academy’s latest article for Talk Business Mag (on Page 97 of Octobers Edition) and find regularly updated sales advice articles via the Professional Academy News Feed.

Professional Academy are also an accredited ISMM Study Centre. You can find more information about ISMM Qualifications with Professional Academy by downloading a copy of our Sales course prospectus or contacting a Professional Academy advisor today – Alternatively you could visit Professional Academy at the ISMM’s National Sales Conference on October 16th at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. 

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