Friday, 15 May 2015

Marketing Politics

Did the Tories win the General Election by astute marketing?

The usual flurry of polls  predicted a hung parliament, but it turns out Conservative Central Office had a much firmer grasp on statistics. Following the marketer's rulebook, they had segmented the market, identified their target voters (those likely to switch allegiance in marginal seats) and focussed their powers of persuasion on these select few.
Image result for market segmentation
Jim Messina, described as President Obama's "campaign guru", appears to have earned his consultancy fees. According to The Times
"The Conservative campaign, borrowing micro-targeting techniques from the US, was so sophisticated that in the final week the party was having multiple contacts via Facebook, phone and on the doorstep with individual voters who had been identified as likely to switch from the Liberal Democrats or choose the Tories over Labour."
Archetypal product marketing, which in an age of social media seems the logical election choice. Facebook and Twitter streams were alive with personal opinions in the month before this election, making it easy for an astute campaign manager to select and nurture both individuals and opinion-formers.

Which begs the question, why weren't all parties doing the same?

Why did most decide to deliver leaflets to every household, running up huge bills and wasting mountains of paper in the hope that the few who mattered might actually bother not only to read and digest every morsel, but be sufficiently persuaded to vote on that basis?
 Image result for junk mail

Loose advertisements stuffed in newspapers and magazines are a sign to me of a lazy business. I throw them out without a glance almost on principle: we both know that I could find this information for myself if I actually wanted it. And let's just not talk about charities sending unwanted gifts to guilt me into making a donation.

But had I been an 'undecided' voter, I would probably have welcomed an individual approach from relevant parties, a chance to probe them on areas of confusion and seek proof of passion and principles. Heck, a sincere apology for a recognised failing might have been enough to secure a wavering vote.

With lives now shared so broadly online, we might at least reap the benefits. Go ahead, Facebook. Sell my politics. Let's see which parties think I am worth approaching next time around. Or perhaps I will just feel left out and spoil my vote in a fit of pique.

Either way, I'd prefer that to the denture and incontinence companies to whom you have clearly sold my details.

Oh but wait, those weren't properly targeted either.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Celebration Weekend

It is some time since our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Two and a half years, to be more or less precise. So about time we treated ourselves to the promised luxury weekend away.

And we didn't have far to travel. Martin had promised to take me to Cliveden House, on a huge National Trust estate on the Thames in Berkshire, but we had to re-arrange several times and opportunities somehow slipped away.

But this weekend we made it, and what a treat! The hotel was taken over two years ago by a private business and has just undergone a two-year programme of renovation which has seen many of the rooms refurbished and a new chef installed.

Martin had the car cleaned especially, so we felt quite at home crunching up the stately drive. The building is a touch domineering, all straight lines and un-softened by landscaping from this approach (not improved by the freshly-gilded clock atop one tower), but once inside it is opulent and cosy, enfolding you in its warm, relaxed embrace.

We had been upgraded to the Mountbatten Suite, formerly a billiard room and complete with the old score-board and various hidden exits, which by chance is pictured in this article last year in the Huffington Post. An enormous room with desks, chaise and settees, a raised dais (with carafe of sherry and selection of snacks), beautiful oak panelling and a super-soft, cloud-pillowed bed. Heaven!
The Mountbatten Suite
We arrived early to take advantage of the spa, indulging, too, in wine and sandwiches there for lunch. Then we took ourselves off on a walk through the gardens and down to the river, finding gorgeous spots of bluebells and wild flowers amidst angular plantings of bright bulbs, statues and trees bursting with fresh leaves.

We saw the house launch leave and peeked into the boathouse, which contained other lovely old wooden boats as well as stained glass windows, a tiled floor (with rollers) and the remnants of a rather smart picnic.
It was early evening by the time we got back to our room, enough time for them to light a fire whilst we sat with sherry and read briefly (a turn in each soft seat), then changed for dinner.

Given the occasion, Martin ordered us champagne in the hotel's newly-refurbished bar overlooking the front gardens, and we were brought olives, nuts and the most delicious amuse-bouche. By the time we were seated for dinner in the new restaurant we had decided to go for broke and have the seven course Tasting Menu and accompanying wines.
And what a treat. The service here is attentive but friendly, and one beautiful dish after another was introduced, along with the perfect wine. Never again will I laugh at small servings: these were perfectly-formed, a delight to both eye and palate, and I couldn't have managed another mouthful.

The first dish, for example was 'Lovage and lettuce veloute with goats' curd tortellini, peas and shoots and parmesan tuile', a simple looking green-sauced individual pasta that was out of this world. There followed elegant and delicious dishes of crab, fois gras, turbot, lamb, cheeses, pre-dessert and a four-ways-chocolate mint dessert... and then coffee.

We slept like royalty and awoke to sunshine this morning, so after fresh and filling breakfast (with perfect poached eggs for Martin) went for a swim and laze in the sunshine after massages in the spa, topped off with a walk around the water gardens.

Given that Cliveden has just announced the completion of this expensive renovation (though the National Trust is paying for further work to the exterior) we were delighted to have chanced upon this perfect time to visit.  And we deliberately left exploring the house and gardens further until the next time...
Martin at the Fountain of Love

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

May Day

Just back from a long weekend in Normandy with Rosie and Max, relieved to have had a very calm (though packed) sailing before today's heavy winds.

We arrived on May Bank Holiday in France so took food to tide us over then went to Barneville market on Saturday, leaving Rosie and Martin to choose dinner. They came back with crab, scallops and oysters so we had a wonderful seafood meal with lots of fresh salad, a great start to the weekend.
Everywhere was looking lovely, with bluebells and roses out around the house and the river peaceful, though our fields have been badly muddied-up by the cows and another corpse was lurking under plastic sheeting...
The wind was deceptive, as the air was warm and we quickly took off layers, especially by the time we had been over to the river and back to the lake!
It turned out Martin had been working hard in our absence, digging out falling earth at the side of the patio and sawing up old posts to make a retaining wall. Luckily Rosie was just in time to help with the hefty axe-work (though I missed her scything the weeds).

Martin managed to avoid damaging the main gas cable running in the gap, and the resulting 'wall' is now looking good.
We bought a new TV to take over, as the old one was suffering (now upstairs to be used for DVDs and Xbox) but apart from that mostly just enjoyed the countryside and the house, with lots of lovely food/wine and good company.

Rosie proved victorious at Ludo, Max won at Chinese Chequers, and Martin and I won a great game of Cranium (despite him responding "Hitler-spot-illness" without guessing my mime of German Measles).
So back home this morning Rosie and I took the chance to walk among the bluebells again before I dropped her at the station to return to London for her Improv. class tonight, then on to start her 3-month internship with the National Trust.

Oh and I took this as we returned: Martin will be delighted that his threats to the wisteria have prompted a goodly show of flowers this year!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Bluebell Ben

Ben celebrated his birthday last week, but we didn't see him as his landlord had called the pest team in early that morning (mice), he was going to a gig that evening, and the night before he was taken out for dinner by Fran.

So he came for a quick visit this week instead, managing to see both Martin and Max on Sunday evening before spending Monday unwinding with a long sleep and a lazy walk through the bluebells.
Deer and pheasants bobbed out of our path, Ben took a call from a new pupil, and we posted a New Home card to Jon and Sam en route, so it felt like time well spent.

Now Martin has been stuck in Cambridge all week, Max has just come home with his first paycheque from The Priory, and I have shown the third potential painter round the house to quote for exterior paintwork (he too sucked his cheeks and told me what a big job it is... I dread seeing the figures).

I also had a quick chat to Vicki on Skype. She sounds chirpy and was telling me about the posh party she was invited to, followed by an invitation to watch polo, which sounds like THE thing to do if you find yourself fancy-free in Argentina.

BubbleAR seems to have published plenty of Vicki's articles of late, giving her a good journalistic portfolio, whilst she has also been doing some paid translation. However we are keeping fingers crossed that she will be able to pick up a job when she returns here in mid-June as her funds are likely to be perilously low!

Monday, 27 April 2015


Without wishing to betray my age, I fear I have become an old fogey.

Poor grammar, arbitrary apostrophes and gratuitous expletives assail us everywhere, perhaps simply more visible now that a quick-fire comment is seen by millions within seconds.

But my fogeyism stems rather from the impact of the 'selfie' on basic good manners. Take this, for example: Ed Miliband stepping from his election bus this week to thrill the crowd:
Here they are, excited to meet a famous person, and what do these girls do? Virtually as one they turn their backs on him.

The story is the same at famous landmarks worldwide. A generation growing up with cameras to hand, eager to prove that they have seen a famous work of art, place or person, focus so much on the 'self+object' shot that they barely register the thrill of the direct encounter.

If the object is inanimate the only loser might be the photographer himself, substituting a cursory look for the more detailed appreciation to be gleaned from full-frontal inspection.

But the selfie-taker rarely respects others' (literal) point of view. Jostling for prime spot at a gig or public event, you feel you have the perfect view... until a sea of smartphones is raised above those heads, blotting out all but the sky. The same goes for selfie-sticks, now banned at Wimbledon and numerous galleries for their prodding, tripping unwieldiness.

However,  it is the human object of the selfie for whom I feel most compassion, even if it is just a politician out for publicity. No more polite chat, eye contact and a handshake: instead the crowd rudely turn their backs, more focused on their image than his. 

How did we come to this? I understand that morals and manners evolve as the world turns. That society develops apace with technology, each accepting and yielding to the other.

But human beings remain the same. Sentient, caring, as easy to offend as to please. This is the ground-rock upon which manners are built. Stop observing the niceties and we stop relating to each other with respect.

In my book, that means not turning your back on the object of your fascination. Enjoy the moment, focus on what is before you, and turn away only when polite to do so.

You might find out more than you hoped. A sincere personal encounter is worth a dozen passing pics.

And at the very least the politician's smile might, for once, be genuine.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Relationship Marketing

The more I learn about marketing, the more I resent its pervasive intrusion. As a consumer I like to think I am impervious to marketing wiles, buying because I have done my research and genuinely think this is the right product at the right price.

But it seems none of us can escape the marketer's unwelcome embrace.

Yesterday, Which? dominated headlines with another complaint about misleading supermarket pricing. The tale hits headlines regularly: 2-for-1, 'special' or 'reduced' offers the equivalent of goods waving a happy red flag and shouting 'Buy Me!' as you pass.
 Tesco in The Daily Mail

Surely we are each capable of making a rational decision whether to buy, even amidst such rumpus? Why trust someone who is selling you something? Marketing at its most brazen should be doomed to fail, yet supermarkets use it because it works. More fool us for being so gullible.

Unit pricing means price comparisons are simple. Tesco and the like may choose to price one shampoo by the 100ml unit, the next by the litre, but we can all do the maths. Anyway, with ubiquitous smart phones, virtually every shopper has access to a calculator of sorts, right there in their pocket, should they wish to delve more deeply.

Perhaps the complaint is simply a double-bluff, a marketing ploy by Which? itself for column inches.

Public and media alike appear quick to believe what we are told. In an age of prolific information it seems we remain governed by instinct. Take the sorry 'fracas' saga. Within hours of headlines that Jeremy Clarkson had been suspended for verbally and  physically abusing a fellow employee, an online petition seeking his reinstatement had been signed by hundreds of thousands of people.

None had a clue at that point what had actually happened. At work it's likely they would have been appalled at such an attack. But somehow the cultivated Clarkson image had become more real than the man. Able to do no wrong: a marketer's dream.

And so in politics. Whole campaigns are geared around the soundbite, the carefully-managed photo-opportunity. A fortnight before the General Election it's hard to hear the truth through the marketing spin, though digital media has made it easier than ever to think and find out for ourselves.

I spent this weekend at another intensive CIM marketing course. The take-home message was that it is 'all about the customer': the focus on building a relationship, entertaining and informing him so that he will return instinctively to you when next he needs a product.

But isn't this exactly the problem? I don't want to be nurtured to unthinking loyalty. I may trust a business to give me a good price or service (think John Lewis or M&S) but that doesn't mean I won't research my purchases. I might like Clarkson as a presenter but I should check the circumstances before offering any kind of moral support.

And I most certainly should not trust a politician who claims at this stage to support a policy that looks suspiciously like voter-bribery (right-to-buy social housing, or more free childcare) unless there are clear signs it is consistent with his party's philosophy.

I should, in short, beat marketers and their methods.
... or join them.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Footloose in London

I decided on Tuesday that I would take advantage of my free Wednesday evening to see Caitlin Doughty at the Barbican Open Salon on the launch of her book, Smoke gets in your Eyes.

It was all a bit last-minute, and the day turned out to be the hottest so far this year, clear blue skies and no need for coats and scarves,  so I did a rapid wardrobe-hunt to find a light blouse, then urgent trainline-queries, to find that I could take advantage of a seasonal Easter offer and travel from Micheldever - which I managed to get to in about ten minutes flat.

Hardly one to waste a visit to town, I had Googled the magnificent 7 cemeteries and took myself off to Kensal Green in Kensington for a tranquil hour amongst the twittering birds and gravestones.
Barely a soul disturbed the peace (though doubtless many floated watchfully) and it was a truly restful experience. Moving too, as many of the stones have histories to tell. For example, this tomb marks the burial of a whole series of children from one family, a few months apart (inscriptions on all sides):
And this beautiful, overwhelming tribute topped with angels reflects the trauma of a wealthy Bristol divorcee whose 18 year old daughter died at a London hotel, possibly whilst seeking medical care.
Mary Eleanor Gibson 1854-1872
 I hadn't realised that the cemetery backs onto the old Grand Union Canal, giving a wonderfully scenic walk towards Little Venice. There were plenty of narrowboats moored up, a few cyclists and walkers using the path, and even one young man cross-legged on the grassy side busy with a crochet hook. As I passed I noticed he was wearing crochet trunks. And continuing the eclectic theme, I caught this high atop a roof
After a refreshing cider in a canal-side pub I scooted to the nearest tube and popped out at Waterloo just on time to meet Rosie, who had been working at a Special Needs school nearby this week.

London always looks beautiful in the Spring sunshine, confetti-blossom everywhere and skies fresh and blue. But the crowds were thick and noisy, school-children jostling along in large groups attended by trepid adults. We switched to the North bank and found our way to Somerset House, where we chatted by cooling fountains and enjoyed chilled drinks.
We sat outside a Covent Garden cafe enjoying a light supper and catching up, before Rosie went home and I found my way to the Barbican to listen to some pleasant chat from a couple of characters I am getting to know online through my other research.
My thanks to whoever was in charge of the London weather !