Scott is an avid blogger (see his blog here) as well as being a writer, family man, former minister, social entrepreneur and management consultant working in engagement.
Scott has joined the BETA Enterprise business mentoring team and you can book to see him and other BETA Enterprise mentors, Raphael Dennett (technology), Gareth Hart (social enterprise) and Richard Peachey (property) via these dates and then weekly from mid October to June.
What inspired you to blog so extensively?
So I wrote just shy of 300 blog posts in just under 2 years. That’s a blog post every other day or so, which is a lot, from one point of view, but there are people who have been blogging for a decade and write 3 times a week, so compared to them, I’ve not blogged extensively at all.
But, at the time that I was blogging, I was pretty involved in it and doing it a lot.
Initially, I did it to document my thoughts and my life story. I wasn’t expecting much from it, really. But about 10 posts in, I was getting 5 – 10 comments per blog post, and I got into some really rich conversations with these people. They shared the blog to others, others got involved in the debate, and slowly my readership grew. After about a year, I had chatted with people from all over the world, and my blog had become a top 20 marketing blog in the UK.
It was meeting people and having wonderful, collaborate conversations, that drove me to blog more and more and keep it up.
And then, slowly, I got bored of social media (ironically, as it was my business), and when my first daughter was born I hung up my blogging boots, as it were.
What drew you to social enterprise?
When I was 13 there was an exercise at school about guessing where you’d be in 10 years. I wrote down that I’d own a few businesses, so business was always of interest to me.
What got me into social enterprise in particular was the church that I attended. My parents took me to church as a kid, so as a teenager I was influenced by the messaging of helping people out and making a difference. But I wanted to combine the two. I wanted to build businesses, and I wanted to help people. So when I was 19 this is what I started doing – social enterprise (although it wasn’t called that back then!)
Even now I still have this desire to help others through business. The professor of economics at UCL, Alex Edmans, says that “Businesses exist to serve a purpose, and only by doing so will they generate profits in the long run”, and that’s something that I believe in down to my bones. So my drive isn’t to earn money, it’s to serve a purpose to people. Maybe I would’ve been better off in politics! (Or maybe not, as the case may be!)
What are the main challenges when developing a following from scratch?
A network is the most important thing that people need in business. It has always has been, and always will be. So if a following is a network, then building your following is critical. Of course, it’s hard to talk about building a network, or following, without talking about social media, because it’s such an easy way to connect with people. So let me touch on that first.
The way of building a following is actually very simply in theory:
- Have something that those following you will follow you for (your niche, your expertise, etc)
- Talk about that with people in general, through your social media
- Also talk about it specifically with people, tag them in your conversation, showcase what they said, and then they’ll share it, and you get more people following you because they’ve promoted you to their audience
- Repeat, with increasingly more influential people as time goes on, who will help spread you to more people
But what really turbo charges this is when you meet people in person, one-on-one, or by speaking at events, meeting people at networking events, etc. Nothing beats meeting people in person because it is simply more powerful when we are in the same physical space as someone. In fact, Forbes reported that 87% of execs believe in-person meetings are more beneficial than the cost-saving benefits of digital interaction.
When I got into Twitter in 2008 it was easy to build a following because there weren’t many people on it. Now, it’s harder. It’s the same with Snapchat now – although that is already growing quickly. What face-to-face does is allow you to beat the busyness of Twitter or Snapchat. In the same way that Twitter was the cool way to network in 2009, face-to-face has become cool again because so few people do it! In fact, hand-written letters (you know, those old fashioned things) are a big way that people get introductions these days.
For instance, I occasionally turn up to my clients’ offices with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. They might not remember any Facebook updates they read that day, but they certainly remember the box of doughnuts that I brought them.
Marketing often has a bad reputation historically. What makes your approach to marketing and engagement different?
Seth Godin wrote a book called “All Marketers Are Liars”, and that indeed seems to have been the impression for years. There’s something about marketing, and especially sales, that has a sense of trying to manipulate people into buying something.
The reality is actually different. A good marketer brings the thing that the buyer needs to their attention, and the buyer walks away happy with the exchange they’ve made. There’s lots of people taking this approach. No one likes to be fleeced, but there is a role for marketers to bring exposure to potential customers of things that could be valuable to them.
The method that I’ve taken with engagement is different again. This is about building long-lasting, self-sustaining relationships, that whilst they yield small amounts upfront, yield far longer over the lifetime of the relationship in both spend and advocacy. In fact, a “fully engaged” customer delivers a 23% premium over an average customer. Engaged customers are also a far lower risk because they are more loyal.
In your opinion, what does the future of brand engagement look like? How will social media play a role? How important will face to face interactions be in generating consumer buy-in/engagement and brand loyalty?
I mentioned before that face-to-face is becoming premium again, because so many people connect digitally. The stats show that Millennials particularly (those born between 1980 and 2000) have a significant leaning to in-person meetings and experiences. (Consider these studies from PCMA, Harris and Marshall School of Business.)
The boundary between offline and online has become very blurred, leading to the rise of “hybrid” communications and events, where both offline and online communication and engagement is featured simultaneously. For instance, consider a QR code that you can scan onto your phone, or Periscoping a live event, or following an event through Twitter that someone else is at. Snapchat have become a big player in this space, and provide live coverage of major events that even those people at the events are contributing to.
What people seem to want is to be able to interact with their favourite brands on their own terms, and in an exclusive way. What brands need to be able to do is engage with massive groups of people, but enable those people to have their own unique relationship back with the brand. For instance, my relationship with Nike will be different to yours, and this is because they’ve enabled me to customise my shoes using NikeID, install their running app on my phone, and use other associated products and services. This is what Joe Pine heralded over 15 years ago in his book Mass Customisation.
Another name for what we’ve described above is platform capitalism. Facebook, the App Store, Uber, Air BnB – these are all creating platforms that enable their customers to engage with each other through the brand, thus each interaction is actually a branded interaction, even if the brand is silent and in the background (I don’t think about the App Store when I buy an App, but they are there regardless).
How this looks in the future, we’re not sure. But I can recommend one major resource: check out the Ogilvy Trends Report. Every year they put out a report saying what to expect in the digital landscape that year.
What would your advice be to Plymouth University graduates?
First one is start a business right away. It doesn’t need to be good. It doesn’t even need to work. But if you haven’t started a business before, then doing it while all this knowledge is fresh in your head is VITAL. (Caps intended!)
The great thing with Futures is that they get students to start trialling business ideas while student’s are still at the University – so you’re one step ahead if you’re a Plymouth University student that attends extra-curricular events!
The second thing is to build your network. Here’s a really easy way to do it:
- Have one central place to keep all your contacts, and every month go through it and reach out to people you haven’t spoken to in a while and just touch base with them. Do that for years, and you will have some seriously strong connections.
- When you meet people at events, taken an interest in them. Talk to them about their interests, find common ground if you can, and then add them to the list above.
- When the time comes for you to need something from them, you’ve now got a network.