Category: marketing

Just because something has niggling faults doesn’t mean you can’t still love it. Even the most ardent Powerpoint-er would still have a list of annoyances the length of, well, the average presentation.

One of the most commonly raised gripes is that Powerpoint is extremely difficult to design for. The default layouts invite text rather than images, and text never translates well with an audience. This usually combines with a complaint about the average Powerpoint-er having the design sensibilities of a half-hundredweight of deep frozen octopus eggs. The result is a blog-post about choosing fonts or paying for some decent photography.

This isn’t one of those posts.

We have created a beautifully simple and thoughtfully designed Powerpoint template. If you just want to grab it and go, then help yourself.

Grab a beautifully-simple-and-thoughtfully-designed Powerpoint template and Go


If you want to find out what makes it so special, read on.

Laying out the basic rules of layouts

Powerpoint produces pages. We really shouldn’t lose sight of that simple fact. We call them ‘slides’ because they are meant to be projected onto a screen. However, it is increasingly common to find ‘decks’ are emailed around organisations so that executives can absorb the information more quickly than they would be able to from reading reams of paper written out long-hand. They are documents that encourage a visual shorthand and bulleted lists  They are basically pages, though. And over the centuries lots of people have put lots of thought into how pages are laid out and presented. There is a magic in good page layout.

Gutenberg didn’t just invent moveable type and printing as we know it. Along with his acolytes he developed a visual language for the printed page. The language was only taught to those young men apprenticed into the printing and book making businesses. Nobody else needed to know it. Freedom of the press was at that time limited to those who had one. You certainly didn’t need to understand the aesthetics to understand the words.

Here’s a page from a Gutenburg bible.


We could have chosen a page from any of thousands of early printed works. They largely shared the same balance, regardless of the size of the page. The proportions of the red box to the page size were always the same, and lengths ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ and ‘d’ were always in the same ratio. Outside of the printing world, however, these things weren’t widely known. In fact, the geometry wasn’t well understood at all until the mid 20th Century when printing became available to a wider population.

The so-called “Secret Canon” of page layout was first demonstrated by J. A. van de Graaf (not to be confused with Robert van de Graaff, the American physicist who liked school-children to have crazy hair). Using only a straight edge and a knowledge of geometry he came up with the following construction for facing pages.

Van de Graaf Canon

There’s a lot going on here. It is explained in greater depth over here. We’ll not detain ourselves further.

Now, while this layout works brilliantly for books, with Powerpoint we have to make certain concessions. The margins in the Van de Graff canon allow the reader to hold the book at the bottom corner of each page while reading. This puts plenty of whitespace underneath the text area. Powerpoint slides typically require a title section. Because the eye is first drawn to the top of an object, it makes sense to put the title at the top of the page. So let’s rotate the page 180°.


We now have space at the top of the page for the title to live. But now we need to place it such that it ties in with the rest of the layout.

Happily, the layout fits beautifully in a 9×9 grid. If we take the same proportions but just focus on the area above the text area we end up with our bog-standard, instantly recognisable two-column slide.


Once we have the two-column slides, we can take the same set of proportions and create single-column slides. Of course, because of the ratios of the margins, we get a large column, which we have aligned to the left and to the right. Here’s how we made the left-aligned slide.



We then used a similar method to create title slides, this time turning our two column construction on its side.




Grab a beautifully-simple-and-thoughtfully-designed Powerpoint template and Go


Let me start by saying that anyone claiming your business can be more profitable simply by being on Facebook is a charlatan. Or an idiot. And I’m not sure which is worse.

For me, a Social Business is one that is outward looking. It genuinely cares about satisfying its customers. It not only acts on their feedback, it encourages feedback. A Social Business is innovative and responsive. And it isn’t necessarily on Facebook or Twitter.

Nice guys don’t get rich

Unfortunately, running a business in this way takes a lot of time. You must constantly analyse what is working and what is not. You must solicit, collate and build a plan around customer feedback. You have to stop running the kind of business that your bank manager wants to see in order to make it more social. All in all, it’s far easier to run an unsocial business. In fact, in terms of profitability and gross revenues, it seems make more sense to run an actively anti-social business. There are countless examples to back this up; in the banking sector; in flagrant multi-national tax avoidance; in tech companies’ increasingly closed, proprietary systems. The list goes on and on and gets longer each day.

If you’re here, there’s a good chance that you’re a nice person. And if you’re running your own business, large or small, you still need to sleep at night. We firmly believe that being nice and being in business need not be mutually exclusive positions.

A key characteristics of nice people is that they are open and welcoming to new people and ideas. They are willing to listen act on what they hear. It’s called empathy. The same is true for businesses.

Consider Twitter

In the early days, Twitter was held up as an example of openness. They had a simple but effective platform, but they were willing to let others develop on top of it, building their own ideas and ultimately growing the userbase for Twitter through their own efforts. Now think about the reception they get when they announce increasingly restrictive terms of use and effectively stamp out many fledgling businesses. I’m not judging Twitter one way or another. They’re clearly doing what they believe to be right, but I would argue they are losing their empathy. Whether this will be detrimental to their long-term goals is still up for grabs.

Time is money

According to Steven Covey, one of the habits of highly effective people is taking time for yourself; going to the gym, walking the dog, sitting and thinking. He calls it Sharpening the Saw and uses a story to illustrate the point.

“A man walks through a wood and finds a lumberjack logging a tree. It’s hard work. After a while the man notices that the lumberjack’s saw is blunt. “You need to sharpen your saw”, he says. “But I have all these trees to chop up”, responds the lumberjack. “I don’t have time to stop and sharpen my saw”.”

In other words, we need to make the time to stop and regroup, reorganise our thoughts, and consider new ways of approaching the future. We need to do this both as people AND as business people. A truly Social Business will build this time into its operations. And it may end up being a lot of time. And, in the short-term at least, time is money.

This is what kills many small businesses efforts on the Social Web. As we know, the Social Web is great for gathering feedback and engaging with your customers. However, most businesses aren’t set up to be Social from the start. They are built around a product or service that they believe to be great, so that is their main focus. When they decide to raise their heads and look at their place in the wider world, it can be quite scary. They are not prepared for the sheer number of man-hours that can be consumed. They have no mechanisms for using feedback constructively. So they flounder and withdraw.

Unless your business has a willingness to listen and people who care enough about their customers to act on what they hear, your Facebook page isn’t going to help your business grow. Your initially enthusiastic Twitter timeline will be unused and useless.

Take the time to stop. Spend time listening. Then act with empathy.

And sleep soundly at night.

It’s now possible to share anything from anywhere.

Apple’s latest iphone software builds facebook and twitter sharing right into the core of the phone. Newpaper websites encourage button clicking and story sharing. There are even waste bins that upload pictures to Facebook to encourage recycling.

This is known as frictionless sharing, where anything that could prevent you posting your thoughts, location and pictures of kittens is eliminated. Of course, the point of this is to cause an increase in the amount of data that is transmitted stored about you. This data is valuable both to the mobile phone companies that charge you using it, and for the social web companies who want to provide advertisers with exact profiles about their users. And, of course, it’s a bonus for those consumers among us who want to post those pictures from that night out or that holiday without having to think too much about what they’re doing.

But what does it mean for businesses?

It goes without saying that businesses engaging on the social web all have strict policies in place, that they’re working to an editorial plan for content creation, and are scheduling posts to reach the audience when they are at their most engaged. (If you’re not, you’d better get in touch)

However, because of all this frictionless sharing from your audience and their peers, your carefully planned updates are in danger of simply sliding on by. Like  the beer bottles slung down bar tops in comedy western movies, they’ll keep skidding on until they crash to the floor, but without the hilarious consequences.

There are three possible solutions.

First, increase the amount of time you and your colleagues spend creating useful and interesting content. Just keep hammering out the updates in the vain hope that some will be seen.

Second, increase the repetition. Simply repost the information you want people to see two, three or four times per day.

Third, work even harder to make your updates even more relevant and even more shareable.

Of all of these, the third is the best option. Although the first two would not be defined as spam in the strict sense, they feel spammy and that’s probably worse.

Remember that nobody is here to hand you a living wage. If you want to cut through the noise, you have to sing your song with clarity. The only real way to make your updates sticky enough to attract a big audience is to make them so interesting that they get lots of shares, RTs and reposts.

Understand that not every post is going to garner a wide audience, but believe in what you are doing. Many of the beer bottles will hit the floor. It doesn’t matter Just make sure you’re slinging the best suds in town.

If you spend any time in a stationery shop, or if you have an internet connection, you’ll probably know that Bic have launched a range of pens designed for women’s hands.  The product itself may be great. I’ll never know – I don’t have woman’s hands, so I’ll never really be able to feel the benefit. Normally, I’d look to reviews on Amazon to discover the pros and cons, but sadly they are so loaded with scathing irony that the design merits (or otherwise) are completely left out.

Designing a pen ‘for women’s hands’ is always going to come with certain risks. Especially when women have managed so well with the existing unisex product. In fact, all the pages devoted to different colours, styles and pack sizes carry reviews about the concept rather than the pen. None of them will make happy reading for Bic. I’ve read them all. There are almost a thousand all told.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this morning I had this email waiting for me:

I wasn’t alone.

I also found this tweet in my timeline:

[blackbirdpie url=”″]

At least Victoria has the benefit of having lady’s hands, so there is some sense in her receiving the email. But how did it end up in my inbox? I have two theories.

Firstly, I admit that I have looked at the lady-pens previously when the storm of condemnation first hit twitter. I don’t check out every hysterical micro-blogging outburst – I have work to do. I did look at this one, though. So Amazon tracked my visit. Fair enough. I’m tracking your visits, too.

If I wasn’t such a cynic I could imagine that Amazon have looked into their vast databases and pulled out a list of products that people are looking at but not buying (please, god, people didn’t buy these pens, did they?) and have simply sent out a little “You Looked At This But Possibly Forgot To Buy It” type email. Maybe that’s what I’m looking at.


But I am an incredible cynic. I know a bit about how these things work. Retailers make money selling stuff to customers. That’s obvious. But they also make money – masses of money – by charging brands for promotions. If you want your packets of stuff at eye-level on supermarket shelves, it’ll cost you. If you want to discount your products and have them on the ends of the aisles, that’s going to cost you more. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that some bright spark from Amazon has spoken to another bright spark from Bic and said “We’ve had millions of page-views for your lady-pens that haven’t converted into sales. People must have forgotten to buy. Give us some cash and we’ll send out some reminders”. And the bright spark at Bic agreed.

If you also received an email advertising the lady-pens, don’t get upset about it – it’s costing Bic money. They’re continuing to pay for their unspeakable daftness. They’re also inventing a process so packed with meta-unawareness that it could be explosive.

And so we enter the world of post-ironic marketing.

Here’s how it could work for you:

  • Come up with an idea. Any idea will do. Brain-storm it in the office. Maybe focus-group it enthusiastically with a bunch of punters who don’t really care. Anyway, do what ever you need to do to convince yourself that it’s a Really Great Idea. Try not to think about it too much, though.
  • Let the Hive Mind pull you up on your enormous lack of tact and insight, shoving mock reviews hither and yon and alerting the world to your idiocy.
  • Wait a couple of weeks. People are stupid – they’ll soon forget.
  • Spend some cash reminding everybody that deliberately avoided your piss-poor product that it is still available. Maybe discount it a little to sweeten the deal.
  • Watch the sales roll in.

This is only the next logical step in a process that has been serving the Mail Online well for years now – bait the intelligensia on twitter with increasing outrageous views; watch the page views come pouring in; sit back and count the ad revenue.

And for those of you thinking that I’m only coat-tailing on a debacle to get some eye-balls of my own; I refer you, gentle reader, to the headline.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the ROI of social media. We had our say on the subject almost a year ago. And the prevailing sentiment seems to be that we were right.

If companies continue to only refer to themselves and their offers, their messages will blur into the background hubub. And in many cases that would be a shame. Most organisations are too scared to embrace the true potential of social media. That potential can be summed up in one word. Banter.

Banter is a great word. It’s even slightly onomatopoeic. Banter is the back-and-forth of normal conversation. It is witty. It is often irreverent. And it has nothing to do with closing business. It is fun to listen to, even in overheard conversations. It will make people stop and think. And it will make people want to join in.

So continue to flout your current offers, or throw out click bait to drive people towards your blogs and websites. You never know, it might make you a sale or two. But you will definitely bore most of your audience to tears.

Instead, throw out some wit. Show the true tenor of your business. Use an authentic voice. Then people will listen. Yes, it’s scary and that’s precisely why you need to do it.

Want to join in the conversation? Say something wonderfully witty below, or get in touch with us for some one-to-one banter.

By our social web talents, according to their social web needs

Massive corporations have taken control of the internet. It’s time for us to take it back.

Yesterday’s internet was all about impressing computers. Today, the internet is all about impressing people. The social web makes us all the arbiters of taste. We collectively determine success. BigCorp, Inc. cannot compete with the passion and talent that we each possess.

New web, new work

The social web has brought together thousands of interested, motivated people with a desire to make the world a better place. There are loose affiliations of marketeers, designers, FaceBookists, WordPressistas and Twitter-junkies sharing ideas, inspiration and encouragement. We want to pull these people together into a new kind of new media business. A business arranged along the very same lines as the social web itself. A business that aims to wrest control of the social web from Big Corp, Inc. and tired agency models. A social web of social web experts making the social web a better place for everyone.

Freelancers, charge!

The web enables many of us to work flexibly but freelancers only ever see a tiny proportion of a much larger project. By combining talents, freelancers can work flexibly and collaboratively alongside people with other skills, feeding in thoughts at all stages of a project and seeing the whole thing through to completion. And that means greater job satisfaction.

And we certainly won’t be expecting to have anyone work for nothing. We all have bills to pay. But there is no need for an organisation to absorb all of the profits from your hard labours. Our new way of working will see profits split equally between all team members.

Custom customers

Each project is unique. Customers shouldn’t have to shoulder the overheads of retaining designers they don’t need, or change consultants they will never see. Our new way of working relies on self-forming project teams comprising only those with the required skills. Projects can be delivered quickly and cost-effectively. New ideas can flourish. Amazing things will happen.

Join the revolution

If you want to hoist the flag, get in touch. Or leave a comment below.

There are three basic lessons companies need to understand about social stuff:

1 – It can not and will not make your company or its products sexy or desirable

2 – It almost certainly will not have any kind of positive effect on your bottom-line

3 – It takes a huge amount of time and you’ll probably get it wrong anyway

Betfairpoker, an online gaming site, seem to understand this. As a result, their unusual twitter persona is really quite popular.

Eschewing the usual corporate social media strategies of yelling about how great you are, leaking offers, and driving clicks (which could be legally ruinous in Betfair’s line of business), their success comes from a unique and engaging brand of silliness. Here are some recent examples:

Of course, it’s not just a stream of situationist one-liners. There is a fair amount of chat and banter as well. And the occasional nod to the fact that some people like to gamble. But does it make you want to sign up for Betfair’s services and throw all your hard-earned cash against a mountain of unbeatable odds? Me neither. However, if I was in the market for an online gaming service, I know where I’d go. I’d go to the company that is clearly setting itself apart from the crowd. One that isn’t afraid of being different. One that, on the surface at least, doesn’t seem to be blinkered in its pursuit* of profit at all costs.

Betfair are clearly playing the long game* here. I’m sure that the red-tape surrounding the gaming industry is at least partly responsible for the sideways approach. But it is the only corporate account that is worth following.

A final note of caution before you remodel your tweet-stream in a like manner. The charm and guile of the Betfair account appears to come from a single voice. Quite what will happen when that voice leaves to write the first social media sitcom for BBC3 is unclear.

*Two gambling related metaphors. This stuff doesn’t just crawl from under the hall carpet, you know…


The one constant word in the buzz around the web’s emerging technologies and techniques is ‘Social’. Whether web, media, networks, enterprise, capital, currency or bookmarks, everything is social.


When you meet somebody in the real world, whether at a party, a networking event, a conference, or in a bar, do you try to build an ROI case first? Do you stay at home or in the office, eschewing all human contact until you can be sure that bumping into people and starting (or joining in) a conversation is worth your while? Do you ask people how much cash they’re carrying before you talk to them?

Looking to exploit social situations for your own personal benefit is a sure sign of psychopathy. Until businesses fully understand and accept that sometimes it’s just good to share, converse and communicate they will always make a mess of the whole social thing. Going into this looking for ROI will just leave you lost, alone and frustrated.

So, those of you wanting to build and prove an ROI case from the social web can go ahead and try. For my own safety, I will give you all a wide berth.


Posted via email from plainadvice’s posterous

Here’s the thing.

Business communication is like a pop song. Trust me about this.

In any given lifetime, your audience will grant you two minutes and  thirty seven seconds in which to acheive two (2) things:

First – sing your song

Second – get everyone else singing your song, too.

For this to happen, your song has to be individual enough to be worth remebering. But it also has to fit within a style that is easy to recognise and accept.

Unfortunately, singing takes a lot of talent and a lot more guts. Not everyone can do it. Which is why most business communication comes over as a terrible dirge of confused ideas and lame cliches.

Applying the principles of pop to your business communications is not easy, but it works.

To start off with, you need a hook – a neat little riff or idea that is easy to grasp and even easier to repeat. Then you need to back this up with three other elements – a verse, a chorus and a middle-eight. Verses should be short and sweet but provide background, depth and colour to your hook. Maybe a handful of web-pages, maybe some of your staff tweeting around a theme, perhaps a revamped set of business cards with individual designs. The verse should lead into the chorus – this is where you can let rip. Your chorus should get you, your staff, customers, partners, the press and everyone else in the world screaming your virtues at the top of their voices. A simple statement that sums up the true value of you and your company. I’m going to repeat three words from that last sentence: simple, true, value. Simple. True. Value. That’s your chorus.

The middle-eight links your verses with your chorus. This may be the look-and-feel, or the tone of voice. The style of delivery, or the medium for delivery. A key point here is that nobody every listens to a song because it has a great middle-eight, but plenty of songs are left mediocre and forgotten because they had a weak middle-eight.

Of course, pop music has been constantly evolving, from Muddy Waters picking up an electric guitar to the Beatles harmonising with a string quartet, from Brian Eno’s synthesised noodlings to acid fuelled raves and warehouse parties, from Iggy Pop’s flailing nudity to Jay-Z’s tailored suits. So once you have your song down pat, you have to drop it and come up with something new. That’s why we’re here and why we keep coming back.

All together now, after 4…