The story of cake: a primer on good old fashioned marketing.


Last week, my girlfriend was considering a home made cake for her birthday celebration, but was conflicted about the relatively high price (which included delivery to the venue). Just order a cheaper one from a different caterer, I said. That wasn’t a good solution though. She had tried a free sample at an event for food lovers and really wanted to try it again. In the end, she decided to go ahead and order it.

So, what had happened? How come was she ready to spend almost 50% more than the other options? Simple: she fell in love with the product.

All of us do this at some point. Maybe we don’t realize it, but at various times we fell in love with that particular brand or product we keep using over and over. (It’s why I stuck to my Nokia long after they lost relevance.) It meant something to us and we stayed with it because the first time we encountered it, the experience was so memorable that it became meaningful. In short:

High quality or a great experience leads to amazing customer happiness.

The caterers, a little start-up focusing on genuine homemade products, were so good at what they do, that once experienced (for free), you had to try them again. But that is not enough. By having such a specific focus, they also intimately understood their target audience: as an attendee to an event for food lovers, my girlfriend appreciated the quality of the product more than the average supermarket consumer…so giving her a sample had a much, much higher chance of resulting in a sale of a premium priced product. Let’s rephrase, then:

Knowing what you do and who you serve allows you to focus on producing quality.

I’m a digital strategy analyst. Caught in a world of data points and metrics, I often have to stop myself from overlooking the value of traditional marketing. The story of the cake makes it clear: you can throw thousands of euros at advertising, but money cannot buy the loyalty that only comes from a real commitment to delivering happiness. The trust required from your customers for you to grow starts from here. In other words:

Amazing customer happiness leads to trust.

Back to the cake.

When she called up the caterers to book, my girlfriend asked if she could pick up the cake from their shop, instead of paying extra for delivery. Now, it would have been easy for the small business agree to that. But they went even further: they understood the question behind the question, which was essentially that the customer wanted free delivery. So that’s what they offered instead.

Earning trust is important. But that is not enough. To grow, you also need loyalty.


In exchange for a simple delivery job, the cake shop has just created a loyal customer through whom they will reach at least 40 other people. These will experience their high quality product, recommend it to potentially hundreds of others (food aficionados love their Instagram!), and in turn start the loyalty loop all over again.

To conclude, let’s distill the Cake Recipe for Loyalty:

  1. Understand what you do and who you serve so you can focus on producing quality.
  2. Let these people experience your high quality work. Deliver happiness, maybe by giving something OF VALUE away for free.
  3. Focus on building trust. Make small sacrifices and go out of your way to build on the initial connection.
  4. Make sure you recognize loyalty when it happens so that you can reward it. Keep talking to these people. Ask for their feedback. It is crucial that you understand what keeps them coming back.
  5. Ask for recommendations! At this stage, there is nothing wrong with this. They probably are already telling their friends about you, but a gentle reminder always helps.

The story of cake makes me wonder about why many larger businesses fail at this relatively simple premise.


Snowden vs NSA on the TED stage

Appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it. “Your rights matter,” he says, “because you never know when you’re going to need them.” Chris Anderson interviews, with special guest Tim Berners-Lee.

After a surprise appearance by Edward Snowden at TED2014, Chris Anderson said: “If the NSA wants to respond, please do.” And yes, they did. Appearing by video, NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett answers Anderson’s questions about the balance between security and protecting privacy.

What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong

Originally posted on TIME:

If you’re an average reader, I’ve got your attention for 15 seconds, so here goes: We are getting a lot wrong about the web these days. We confuse what people have clicked on for what they’ve read. We mistake sharing for reading. We race towards new trends like native advertising without fixing what was wrong with the old ones and make the same mistakes all over again.

Not an average reader? Maybe you’ll give me more than 15 seconds then. As the CEO of Chartbeat, my job is to work with the people who create content online (like and provide them with real-time data to better understand their readers. I’ve come to think that many people have got how things work online quite mixed up.

Here’s where we started to go wrong: In 1994, a former direct mail marketer called Ken McCarthy came up with the clickthrough as

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Should you automate your social media content pipeline?

One of the main reasons for being on social media should be to engage regularly with your subscribers.  This is an accepted tenet for the majority of digital marketers at this point, and is why the idea of automating your social media posts is frowned upon by many.

However, as an entrepreneur it can be easy to get sidetracked from more important thing (such as keeping your clients happy) by the ego-boosting stats of how many new follows you’re accruing.  I am not advocating ditching personal interaction completely in favour of automation, but I do think that if social media automation is approached respectfully and placed within the overall context of your engagement strategy, it can be a powerful tool for keeping a healthy presence on multiple sites without wasting hours every day. By making the best use of the available tools, you will end up with a social content sharing system that takes less than 10 minutes a day to manage, with the added benefit of scheduling and tracking your audience’s reaction.

There are a few steps required to achieve this:

Step 1 – Find content relevant to your audience

You need a  fast and flexible way to find quality content that centers around the topics your audience is interested in. I advice against relying solely on social feeds to discover content, but to build your own system using a mix of your own RSS  subscriptions with trending content search services:

  • Feedly hundreds of feeds organised around topic. Amazingly flexible, allowing me to also receive my YouTube subscriptions in a separate folder.
  • Topsy and News-Ox: the ability to find the most post stories  relating to a particular topic at a given time
  • Twitter: Checking the trending topics and typing in a few keywords always allows for a clearer picture
  • YouTube: We can’t really avoid the largest video archive on the planet can we?

Step 2: Find a hub for saving articles

Next, we need a system to keep track of all the links shared on various platforms as a complete, searchable archive in the cloud for future reference or re-posting. The links in the archive should be shareable and easy to organise by topic.

Solution: Instapaper is a great tool which integrates with several services. The best feature is the easy bookmarklet creation, allowing me to create a save button for different topics/folders. This is probably why I’ve made Instapaper the “heart” of my automated content discovery/curation system. Everything I find from my sources goes into it, ready to be scheduled for sharing.

Step 3: Schedule your articles to post

A huge part of successfully automating your content sharing is finding the right balance between when and how much you post.  To achieve this, I use Buffer. It’s great for  scheduling posts at different times in many different accounts on multiple networks, while allowing teams to collaborate. The simplicity of Buffer’s UI and their multi-device, multi-browser approach made it a winning solution for me. The pro version is also affordable for early stage entrepreneurs.

Step 4: Track and optimize your sharing

You cannot learn about what your audience likes and improve on your sharing unless you track engagement. In order to do this effectively, find a simple tool that gives you must-know information at a glance. While you can be tempted to track a million things, the three key metrics that matter the most in this case are (a) what links are clicked or shared (b) how many unique people did so and (c) at what time of day most people did this. When you are starting out  Buffer’s inbuilt link Analytics are more than enough to get the job done.

Fifth: Connect all the different parts of the system

Finally, you need a way to connect all the above into one seamless process. There is really only one contender for this:  I friggin’ LOVE this service! IFTTT stands for  If This Then That, and is the secret sauce that makes it all work. By setting up a number of “recipes” you can tell different tools to play nicely together. Here’s the ones I’ve set up:

  1. Youtube Watch Later to Feedly Saved For Later
  2. Feedly Saved For Later to Instapaper
  3. Instapaper Liked to Buffer

As you can see, the aim of these automation recipes is to send everything to the Instapaper hub in an organised, topic-oriented manner.

So there you go folks: my personal automation system that helps me stay sane while keeping all my 20+ social media profiles active and healthy. What do you think of this system? Let me know how I can improve it!

What is an expert? Someone who never stops learning

The question of what an “expert” is has been popping up in my head more frequently lately. Some will tell you that an expert is anyone whohas read 5 worthy books on their chosen subject. Another theory is that if you do something for 10,000 hours, then you’re an expert.

To me, both theories seem a bit off, for expertise is a moving line.  It’s something to aspire to; but the moment you start thinking of yourself as THE expert is also the moment when you stop questioning yourself, and eventually stagnate in your niche.

To avoid this outcome, I really think you need to continually force yourself to find new and exciting skills to master and keep on challenging your own expectations and beliefs of what can be accomplished.

This is the reasoning behind Project Level Up.

“We will priotise digital channels going forward.”

I’ve always found this type of statement particularly amusing, especially coming from a CEO or senior executive of a loss-making firm. While the sentiment is admirable, it’s so generic that it could mean basically anything. All too often, it’s often as a visceral reaction to something threatening a dying business model.


But let’s forget about all that for a second. Prioritising digital channels is actually a great idea … if (and this is a huge if) done right. Far too often I’ve seen startup founders, business owners, and managers think that “prioritising digital” means cutting back on traditional advertising and instead pouring that money into an online ad delivery network instead…then getting frustrated when the bottom line refuses to shift.

Prioritising digital is not a decision* to be taken lightly by any business. It’s so fundamental and mission critical that it actually requires a radical shift in thinking, management style, operations…even products themselves. Truly committing to digital requires a new culture to develop within the organisation, one that encourages a “build fast, fail fast” mentality. A common misconception is that this means forgetting other channels…I say not at all. However, it does require companies from the old guard to start seeing all their PR, marketing and other activities as “feeders” for content they publish online to spur the digital conversations they should be participating in.

It’s not easy. Silos still prevail, especially in large companies…but it’s time to stop trying to adapt and start changing quickly.

(*I use the word “decision” here to signify “the start of taking action”…it’s really not an option.)

Are you posting too much content?

We all know that content is great for marketers. People love it, especially if it’s surprising, interesting, and unique.  Once produced and published online, great content continues to attract attention and motivate people to share it with others. It’s also officially the best way to get more people to visit your site through Google, the king of search engines:

Yet if most of these people are leaving immediately, and are not coming back, what’s the point? The reason is probably that you don’t have a strategy but are posting blind. Quite simply, you probably have too much content. If your site’s trends are showing higher and higher bounce rates, maybe it’s time to step back a bit from your rigorous publishing schedule and analyse what’s going on.

If you’re simply writing blog post after blog post in the hope of getting indexed and get visitors that way, you’re doing it wrong. The only thing you’ll achieve after months of gruelling work is thousands of page views but no engagement. You’re overwhelming your potential audience with irrelevant content that doesn’t tell a story.   As Derek Halpern from SocialTriggers explains in his great video, you don’t want more traffic, you want readers. Why is that? It’s because readers come back.

Returning visitors stay longer

Check your Behaviour metrics in Google Analytics,  especially the New vs Returning report. You’ll probably see that the segment of readers who’ve already visited your site stayed longer and read more pages overall. This is your opportunity to build a lasting connection, not arbitrary numbers about how many people ended up on your site one way or another. Readers are the people who’ll get to trust your recommendations and advice.

Content is not a commodity. The content farms thought so and died with Google’s Penguin update. Don’t fall in the same trap. Create content sparingly, and give your users a more rewarding experience when they’re on your site instead of drowning them. If you do that, they’ll come back again and again.