Monday, 11 July 2016

Is This How Marketing Works?

Before I go any further I want to say I have NO marketing experience, have never worked in the marketing department of any company nor have I worked in advertising. This is how my imagination sees a new product being launched. The product we are talking about is toothpaste. I will not identify the brand or the product within that brand, but the following is based on something I bought.

Around a table representatives of Research and Development Department and Product Support are
gathered to discuss the pricing and benefits of a new product.

PS: It’s great to have a new product to add to our range of twenty different types of toothpaste. Please tell us about this one. What is special about it?

R&D: This is our latest Super Duper, cure all problems, toothpaste.

PS: Great. What is so special about it?

R&D: It does everything the other toothpastes do but better. So we can charge more.

PS: Does it cost more to produce?

R&D: Well, actually, no. It’s pretty much the same.

PS: That’s no good, we have to have a fairly legitimate reason for charging more.

R&D: We solved this by asking our packaging supplier to come up with a new type of top. Instead of a simple flip cap, or a screw top with a pull-off piece of foil over the opening, they have made a sealed cap that needs to be inserted into the lid to release the seal the first time it is used.

PS: Ah! Like one of those tops that needs to be pierced.

R&D: Oh, no. this is much more complicated. The cap has a serrated edge to it which you insert into the top of the cap to match up with inverted serrations which you then twist to remove the seal.

PS: I see. And we tell the customers how this works on the packaging?

R&D: No need for that, we need pretty pictures on the packaging to show how clever the toothpaste is at cleaning your teeth and preventing sensitivity.

PS: And for this we can charge more?

R&D: Yes, the tops are more expensive to make as they need twice as much plastic for a start, let alone the engineering involved in making the serrations and the release mechanism.

PS: Great. Because it is more expensive customers will realise it is a better product. It is a better product, isn’t it?

R&D: Well, it’s toothpaste. It does pretty much the same as any toothpaste if used correctly. Seeing as how most people don’t use toothpaste correctly, it doesn’t really make that much difference. But we can charge more for it and that will increase company profits.

PS: It says in the test results that some people have complained that they have a strange sensation in their mouths after using it.

R&D: Probably down to the chemicals in it. But we can use that to say that it gives a tingling fresh feel to your mouth after use. People are suckers for gimmicks like that. Most toothpastes don’t leave you feeling anything, but if your mouth is tingling after use you know you have done a good job!

PS: Brilliant. So let me just recap. We have a new product that isn’t really any different to the twenty other products we already have, which costs the same to produce but has more expensively engineered packaging so we can charge more and which leaves a chemical reaction in the mouth after use which we can explain away as a magic formula for showing the toothpaste has worked. Great. Can’t see any problem there. Let’s go for it and start getting the marketing people involved! 

Thursday, 30 June 2016

New Book out now

If The World Hadn't Changed is my latest book out now at all the usual places.

For full details see its own page, then buy it, sit back and enjoy. You might want some tissues handy.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Are Shops Getting Too Big?

As another long standing British High Street store is under threat while people complain that the High Streets are dying, I wonder if it is because too many stores are trying to please everyone.

Shops that were once mere grocery stores now sell everything from clothes to electrical goods. I’ve bought a television in Morrisons. Now Sainbury’s are selling clothes. While I like the idea of not having to go to the butchers, bakers, greengrocers, fishmonger and delicatessen to buy my weekly groceries, I don’t want to be lured into buying other things at the same time. If I want new clothes, I will go to a clothes shop. If I want new shoes I will go to a shoe shop. If I need a new TV I will look in Curry’s or Argos. These are the shops that used to be on the High Street. If they are not there now it’s because people aren’t using them.

I was watching people being interviewed in the street after the announcement that BHS had gone into administration. Most people seemed sad but there were also comments like “I can never find anything I like.” Well, maybe you are looking in the wrong shop or you are too fussy. I rarely come out of BHS without at least one thing I didn’t go in for.

And that brings me to the point that major stores are trying to be everything to everyone in their search for customers. It doesn’t happen. I recently went into a large M&S on a retail park, the first time I had gone to an M&S since the small store closed in my local town. I felt overwhelmed. It was so big, so many things from which to choose, it was almost impossible to find anything because there was too much choice.

The fact is young people wear different clothes to older people. Quite possibly people in the North have different needs to people in the South (I’m thinking weatherwise here. It’s much colder the further north you go from London). By trying to entice younger people into a shop that caters for older customers you alienate those older people, without necessarily getting the younger ones who consider it a shop for oldies. Likewise, you won’t get older people looking in shops for youngsters. Trying to cater for everyone is costly and a gamble.

This massive shop I was in didn’t have any more cash points than my local BHS, and wasn’t as busy as the now defunct M&S, so despite its size I’m not sure it is doing any better. Maybe it was the time and the day, I don’t know. I hope for their sake it does get busier. In such a large store I expected to see two or three points to pay for your goods, but there was only one with only about four or five tills, and no long queues.

And then there is the cost of providing all those items in multiple stores. I know there is supposed to be economy in bulk buying, but if you end up buying too much as a retailer, what happens to all the things that haven’t been sold at the end of the season. Are they binned? Donated to charity? Sold on to market retailers?

Tesco learned to its cost that having too many choices does not always work. Giving the customer choice is one thing. Giving the customer five types of the same thing is something else entirely. So no doubt the smaller producers will lose out to the big brands because they are no longer wanted.

Internet shopping is being blamed for the demise of many stores, and in some respects this may be true. It is easy to find things on the internet, especially unusual things. I spent all of one Saturday afternoon trawling through my local shops looking for something very specific and couldn’t find it anywhere. Got home and went on the net and found it within minutes, if not seconds. But there has always been an alternative to buying clothes in shops. I bet there isn’t a home in the UK at least that didn’t at some point subscribe to a catalogue store like Kays or Freemans. That was the internet of the past, where you could get an endless choice in multiple sizes all delivered to your door. Such catalogues still exist, possibly even more, plus they have an online presence, too.

So are we heading for a completely shop-free world. Do we even need to go out to the shops? Personally I’d be happy not to but I’m weird that way. But to keep shops going people need to use them. It’s no good saying ‘it’s a shame’ when a shop closes if you haven’t supported it on a regular basis. Shops are there to sell things, not look pretty and fill a space. A small shop cannot give the same choice as a massive store on a retail park. It is not possible to cater for every taste in one place, so BHS, M&S, HM, and all the other retailers, make up your minds who your customers are and try to please them. Not an easy task, I know.

Where will I shop? Well, I’ve probably got enough clothing to last the next twenty years and I’m happy to wear the same thing year in, year out, so I’m not really bothered. I’d just like to put my winter stuff away and wear something light and only have one layer instead of three!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Meet the Author!

My sister-in-law came over to take some photos of me for promotion purposes a couple of summers ago. I still look pretty much the same. Still got the skirt but the tree has gone!

This is Mutley. Like all dogs she wanted to get in on the act.

It's not often you can get out in the garden in England but this was a nice sunny day for a change. Even had a skirt on so it must have been warm. Never been able to figure out why garden centres have so much garden furniture for sale. Never really figured out who actually bothers to buy it, but that's another blog!

At one time I belonged to a recorder group. Believe me a group of recorders can sound really good when the instruments are not being played by 8 year olds.
They invested in this huge instrument (can't remember what exactly, it was called) and I gave it a go but must admit I never mastered it.

Looks like I'm doing some editing.
Looks like it but I'm just posing!!

Ah, that old netbook. Brings back some memories. Use a Surface now. Love it.

I TOLD you I was working. Where's my cup of tea?

Mutley again. Thinks she is the centre of attention.

Have no idea what I was laughing at. Probably Mutley attacking the photographer!

This is a very dangerous position to be in with Mutley. You NEVER want her rear end facing you.

Well, I can't think of anything else to say. Hope you have enjoyed the trip around my garden.
Now let's see if any of these photos pop up when I post things on Facebook!

Interesting Stats

I'm just killing time here to see if my attempt to get some different pictures stored works. Although you can upload pictures for posts and then use them again because they are stored, I have no idea if you can store them without using them. So you might see a post that just consists of pictures of me. Don't spend too much time looking at it.

I had a look at my stats for this blog and it proved very interesting and a little confusing.

First I looked at the stats for 'all time'. I was impressed by how many people looked at my blog from the US, thanks guys. You came out top.

Surprisingly Russia and China came third and fourth, that was a surprise. Better be careful what I say!

Strangely in the All Time stats there was no sign of Spain, which surprised me because I know my good friend Mike Church, often looks at my posts and he lives in Spain.

But then I went on to the stats for last month and there was Spain. And top of the chart Israel. Yet that country doesn't show up anywhere else.

Interesting stuff. Must look more often. What it does show is that my humble ramblings are seen all over the world, including Indonesia, Ukraine and some other really surprising places. Thank you all for taking the time to look at my work.

I'll add a photo here, just to get it stored!

Monday, 4 April 2016

We Get What We Deserve

As the steel industry collapses around us and people bemoan that we have lost coal and all sorts of manufacturing to cheap imports, I ask if we have brought this upon ourselves.

Over the last few years we have demanded cheaper and cheaper goods in our stores.

Supermarkets are in competition with each other to sell cheaper food, at a cost to the farmer or producer. We moan about cheap labour being brought in to pick fruit grown here, but we won’t work for that rate ourselves, yet we want the fruit as cheaply as possible. And we want everything, now! Gone are seasonal products. Gone is the joy of waiting until summer to have strawberries for tea, you can have them at Christmas if you want. But only if they are cheap enough.

We want cheap clothes and shoes, so shops bring stuff in from places where labour is cheap, because we can’t make things for the same price.

Fifty years ago my mum used to work in a London sweatshop (you couldn’t call it anything else) and made dresses for Marks & Spencer. Everything was made to the highest quality, all the dresses had proper hems not just a running stitch around the bottom. Even in those days competition was stiff for the cheapest products. Even in those days the skills needed for making clothes was being forgotten.

Once upon a time, not long ago, the area in which I now live was the centre of the UK hosiery and shoe business. Both industries lost out to cheap imports. You can probably buy tights and pop socks at the same price as you could ten years ago.

Where wages are reasonably high we have become a throw-away society. Cheap clothes that are worn a couple of times are easily replaced instead of treasured for years. Too much food is bought because it was cheap and didn’t really break the bank, so it doesn’t matter if it is thrown away; except it does because it has cost farmers and fruit pickers money to produce it in the first place. Gadgets are bought and replaced with a click of a button on the internet. Shipped in from China, Japan, India or Korea. Nothing is made in the UK.

The mantra of “Go compare” has replaced value for money. And there is a difference between those two even if they sound the same. We are encouraged to seek the cheapest rates/deals/products in every walk of life. To some extent this has always been so, but now it has become so intense it risks wiping out the profits of every industry on which we depend. Business is simply that. Business. It is there to make a profit for its shareholders and for future development and although that has become a dirty word to some, without profit there can be no tax gathered from it. Without tax the infrastructure of the country is dented. Without infrastructure the country cannot survive. Pensions depend on profits from shares and investments. The future of our food and welfare depends on being prepared to pay the correct price for the things we need and allowing business to make a profit instead of a loss.

Our future also depends on said businesses paying their dues, too. Stop all the legal tax avoidance that has been going on for years.    

Sunday, 6 March 2016

What has Women's Lib done?

Now I want to point out before I start this blog that I respect every modern woman who is fighting for equal rights today and don’t want to lessen their achievements or their aims. What I would like to do is point out to some of the younger people amongst us what it was like for women when I was young and what equal rights has meant for us.

Suffragettes had already won the right for us to vote. Women could train as professional people although not many did. But I’m talking about the day to day equal rights that women did not have.

The marriage vows used to say ‘love, honour and obey.’ For those who took the vows seriously and not as just something to say to get married, this was a very restrictive vow. An example of what this meant is illustrated very well in the Doctor Who episode The Wire, where a very mean spirited man rules the roost. This vow was changed to ‘love, honour and cherish.’ Not sure when but it was in my lifetime as I can remember the debate about the change. Quite a debate it was, too!

When a couple got married the woman took on her husband’s name. In all formal communications she was addressed as Mrs John Smith. Even the Guide Association adhered to this right into the 1970’s. Imagine that. The second half of the 20th century and women were still addressed as if they were the property of their husbands. No wonder women were campaigning for equal rights.

A woman’s income was not taken into account when applying for a mortgage or other major loan. It was expected that women would stop working to raise children. Even if the woman earned more than her husband, her salary would not be counted. It was the husband who bought the property, not the woman.

And the thing that everyone is familiar with – women got paid less than men for doing the same sort of work.

So this is where we were in the nineteen seventies.

Have the changes made a difference and have we benefitted?

Obviously it is great that women are no longer considered as merely an appendage to their husband. Equal pay for equal work is equally valued although it is still not universal.

But not all pushes for equality have been good, in my humble opinion.  Looking back, it seems to me that the massive increase in house prices started when people could get bigger mortgages because two incomes were allowed. I was on the cusp of this change. We bought the house that was to start our family solely on the basis of one income and have stuck to that policy ever since. I must be one of the last generation to be able to say I gave up work to have a family and have never done more than part time work mainly because I was bored not because we needed my extra income.

I never wanted a career (apart from writing) so I was lucky. I never needed to work thanks to a hard working husband who actually loves working and doesn’t want to retire. But I do feel sorry for all those who have to work in ordinary jobs, the office workers, the shop assistants, the receptionists, the call centre workers, the people who keep things going for the high flyers, who now have to work all their lives to help pay the bills, where once they could take a break while the kids were growing up and maybe go back for a second chance later in life.

Being a working mum and then expecting everyone to lend a hand looking after the kids is something I never had to do. I suppose it is the way of life these days. The current government seems to frown on stay at home mums. But then again the number of stay at home mums is dwindling as mums can’t afford to stay at home. I have never been a great advocate of maternity leave, which may be surprising. I believe that if you decide to have a baby then you should be certain you can afford to have it without returning immediately to work. By immediately I mean within six months to a year in which time you get a certain amount of pay plus a guarantee that your job will be waiting for you when you decide to go back. Obviously there are lots of unplanned babies, so that makes things more complicated, but you can understand some employers being reluctant to take on women if they might have to pay for them not to work. And it’s the ordinary jobs I’m talking about again, not the high flyers.

Society is changing. Women need to work while they are also raising families. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. Mixing in nurseries can be good for children, it helps them to socialise. But it gives less time for them to learn from their parents on things like moral values. It makes it harder for children to relate to parents. Their carers are the people who tell them what to do, why should they listen to parents who do little but get them up in the morning and put them to bed at night? It is possibly too early to say how these children will react when they reach adolescence and adulthood but this could be the reason for the ‘entitlement’ culture that is growing as parents give their children everything they demand maybe subconsciously trying to make up for not being there in the early years. I’m not a psychologist so I’m probably talking rubbish but it is something to consider.

I do think dads should be allowed a limited amount of paternity leave. New mums need help and it can be a very lonely place in those first months. Maybe dads should have every Wednesday off for the first couple of months so that mum is never left alone for more than two days at a time. This may help reduce the incidence of post-natal depression. Just a thought.   

All in all, I do appreciate the steps that have been taken in equality. But I do feel women need to make up their minds just exactly what they want. We need women to have children, otherwise our species will die out. It is a fact that this job cannot be given to anyone else other than a woman. It is time to think that this as equally important as building a house or working in a shop. Maybe it is time women were paid to have children, freeing up thousands of jobs on hold because of maternity leave and re-establishing the pattern of young people taking jobs until they started a family then giving up their jobs for young people to work, or for older people to return after the family raising break.

Just my thoughts.