About Jo

I work for the University of Sussex Students’ Union where I’m responsible for our communications and digital channels. I also do freelance work for charities and students' unions, helping them communicate better

A new take on student decision-making

Daring to trust the people ~ Leeds University Union ~ 8th December 2011

Leeds University Union
James Robertson, Campaign & Democracy Support Manager (Leeds University Union)

TL;DR – Students’ Union goes back to the drawing board on ‘democracy’ and ‘representation’, randomly selects panels of 12 students who make decisions on ideas submitted by students.

[Bit of an epic fan-girl post this one, I’m afraid. Leeds are widely acknowledged as one of the best students’ unions in the UK and whenever colleagues visit or go to conferences which include Leeds, they usually come back with a list of things they do that we should steal examples of best practice that we can learn from. I spent some time during lunch prowling their building taking photos of their information and building up a collection of their printed material. I must’ve looked like a bizarre tourist/stalker…]

Anyway, this session explained Leeds’ model for deciding whether or not the students’ union should adopt certain policies which is fairly ground-breaking for a sector which is traditionally obsessed with voting and meetings and elected people.


[As a quick overview for those of you not lucky enough to work with students’ unions (and seriously, I do totally love them, my sarcasm is affectionate and tender sarcasm); unions usually have a council comprised of elected representatives, usually to represent different groups of students (such as women students, postgraduate students and students on particular courses). The council is usually supposed to hold the elected officers accountable to students and can vote on policies submitted by students – these can vary from international politics (e.g. condemning China’s one child policy) to local issues (e.g. lobbying the University library to open for longer) and everything in between]

1. Look at what you do and plan your project

James started by outlining the findings of the union’s research into how its council was perceived by students. In what was perhaps not the most surprising news to those present, Leeds found that most of their students were unaware of the union’s council and those that were aware of it thought it was inaccessible (particularly in the language used such as ‘submitting motions’), irrelevant (particularly the topics discussed) and cliquey.

The union continued its research over a two year period to establish the aims of the democratic process, consult students, consider existing theories, model options and decide on a replacement decision-making process.

2. Go back to basics

The questions they tackled included some biggies such as ‘what is democracy’ (we loved the mention of a two hour debate over whether democracy is a noun or a verb) and ‘what is representation’. They were keen to go back to basics to define these concepts and consider how they related to the union’s purpose.

Their research found that students wanted to be able to have their say on ‘big issues’ (direct democracy) but were generally happy for others to speak on their behalf for other things (representative democracy).

James went on to discuss some of the broad concepts their research covered and some of their conclusions. Some of these points really challenged the way that students’ unions think and structure their actions. I found myself nodding along (like a moron) at quite a few points.

3. Look at things from the point of view of your members/users/customers

He described how students and students’ unions typically classify students (clue – they are not the same). Students’ unions like to group and consult people by demographic categories such as level of study (postgraduate/undergraduate), gender and age. Students however typically identify with other students based on three factors; what you study, where you live and what you’re into. James pointed out that these are the questions students ask each other during Freshers weeks and are really saying ‘are you like me?’

Leeds’ research found out that students who don’t consider themselves as ‘political’ are put off by elections and that reps who are appointed are more likely to consult others than those who are elected (based on findings from interviews with appointed and elected representatives). The latter point is probably quite controversial amongst (elected) students’ union officers and representatives as well as students’ unions more broadly as elections are often considered the pinnacle of democracy and appointing or selecting representatives seen as unfair, open to abuse and (crucially) unrepresentative.

4. Ask big questions

What is representation?

James explained that the union decided to create a definition of representation to support a shared understanding of the concept;

A making B present = re-representation

i.e. someone is a representative when they consult others and speak on their behalf. Winning an election is the beginning, not the end of representation.

</lightbulb moment>

He also pointed out that voting can never represent a plurality of views, i.e. the views of a representative of a particular group of students can never comprehensively represent all of their views.

What is democracy?

Voting ≠ democracy

‘rule by the people’ (from the Greek translation)

There are different forms of democracy;

  • Direct (used by students’ unions at general meetings)
  • Grassroots
  • Participatory
  • Consensus
  • Inclusive
  • Representative (most commonly used by students’ unions)
  • Deliberative

Students at Leeds came up with two principles for student democracy;

  • Decisions should be made by the people affected by them
  • Intuitive and existing student networks should be used

Leeds’ solution – Ideas & forums

The students’ union used their research to develop their concept of ‘ideas’. Any student can submitted an idea outlining what they think the union should do and why. These are divided into three headings; ideas to make a better union, ideas to make a better university and ideas to make a better Leeds.

These ideas replace the traditional ‘motions’ structure of ‘this union believes/notes/resolves’ (as James pointed out, no one woke up this morning and thought ‘I resolve to go to the conference). This change in language makes the process much more accessible and intuitive. At Sussex, we’ve already dropped the motion terminology and structure in favour of asking students to tell us what they think we should do and why and have already received more submissions than we would typically get for our AGM.

Leeds hold monthly forums during term-time for each category of ideas at which the ideas are presented to the members of the forum. Each forum has elected and (in the case of academic reps) appointed reps but, in a change to the usual format, also include 16 randomly selected students who form a sort of student jury. It is these randomly selected students that vote on the idea.

The students are selected using a mystical sounding system which analyses the demographic breakdown of the student population to generate a demographically representative sample of students. These students are then invited to attend a meeting for which they are rewarded with £20 (and the warm fuzzy feeling that voting gives you).

All the members of the forum can debate the issue (retaining the valued function of the previous council format) to ensure that the panel’s decisions are better informed. Meetings typically last 90 minutes and cover 5-7 ideas. With 15 forums per year and 16 students per panel this means that 240 students are involved in making decisions about the Union each year. For the forum to proceed, at least 12 of the 16 panel members must attend and at least half of the reps.


For a decision to be made, 75% of the panel must vote the same way (agreeing or disagreeing with an idea). If the result is inconclusive, the decision is put to all students in the union’s termly referendums (in which all students can vote). This process helps identify the ‘big issues’ that all students want a say in (as mentioned earlier), as Leeds feel that ‘big issues’ probably means ‘controversial issues’.

Students can’t overturn decisions made by the panel, they can only force more students to be involved in the decision-making process. A petition of more than 600 students forces the issue to be decided in a referendum.

One of the fears when models like this are suggested is that the ‘wrong’ people will be asked or that they will make the ‘wrong’ decision. James used examples of several ideas which could have cost the union millions of pounds if they had been adopted, neither of which were. He highlighted the need for clear information to be provided to the panel so their decisions are informed to increase the success and legitimacy of the process.

Benefits of the panel model

Leeds found a number of benefits from the change to the panel model;

  • an increase in the number of ideas submitted by students
  • ideas were considered more relevant to students
  • more students nominated themselves for elected positions
  • a record-breaking number of students voted in the union’s elections
  • they’ve had a greater impact as a charity
  • 76% of panel members were keen to get more involved as a result of their participation

My thoughts

As someone who has worked for a students’ union for eight years (makes me feel quite old) and was a full-time elected officer, this idea is quite challenging. We’re used to thinking that the ‘best’, ‘most democratic’ decisions are made by elected representatives. The idea of handing this over to randomly selected (unelected!) students really challenges the status quo.

Following the process that Leeds took to get to this model and seeing how it has worked for them has helped me challenge some of the assumptions that we currently operate under. I’m a big fan of starting with establishing principles behind a process and revisiting them throughout as Leeds did with their discussions about democracy and representation. It can be easy to hang on to ‘the way we’ve always done things’ and things that have worked in the past without considering if they are actually the best way to achieve your goals.

I’m keen to discuss the panel model (and the principles and development process behind it) with colleagues and officers to see if it could work for us.

Recommended reading & links;


December 9th, 2011|Engagement|2 Comments|

Engaging a football crowd

Daring to trust the people ~ Leeds University Union ~ 8th December 2011

AFC Wimbledon
Nicol Hammond (AFC Wimbledon) & Perry Walker (nef)

TL;DR – Football club consults large number of fans to create its strategy using cool participative decision-making method

AFC Wimbledon is a fan-owned and fan-run football club. Nicol, a member of their elected board, described how they consulted their fans to develop the club’s strategy using Crowd Wise, a participative decision-making method developed by nef (the new economics foundation) that aims to find consensus amongst participants.

“Crowd Wise is a participative method for taking shared decisions. It produces outcomes which the participants are more likely to support or be able to live with.

“Crowd Wise is a tested and flexible format which can be used for a wide range of issues and decision. It can work as a single event, or over a period of time; it can work for 15 people or 1500; it can be used to set priorities, allocate budgets or respond to a consultation”

Crowd Wise booklet – nef

Nicol explained that the trust’s elected board are responsible for the stewardship of the club. I like the choice of the word ‘stewardship’ as sometimes in students’ unions I think we struggle to find an accurate way of describing what elected officers do; ‘lead’, one word that is typically used is sometimes misleading (no clever word play intended) as it can have connotations of dominating and of being managerial which aren’t (or shouldn’t be) part of officers’ roles. Stewardship better describes the role of trustees as guardians of their union.

Perhaps interestingly for those of us who have seen unpopular decisions made by elected officers or trustee boards; this project was partly a response to a decision made by the trust’s board which was made with no consultation of fans. Despite the fact that many fans might have agreed with the decision that was made, they were angry that they had not been consulted.

The Crowd Wise method in action

The Crowd Wise method involves developing scenarios from ideas and thoughts submitted by people. In this case, the fans were invited to submit ideas which were then collated to identify key themes. The club had four themes that could be put together in a variety of combinations to create possible outcomes for the club; funding, location, ambition and ownership.

I liked that Nicol used the word ‘stories’ to describe the six scenarios they came up with. She explained that this was linked to how fans relate to the club. It reminded me of other examples of marketing and communication that uses stories to engage people.

AFC Wimbledon’s stories included the ‘sugar daddy’ scenario in which a rich buyer is found for the club who can inject money and hopefully take the club to the top level of football but also remove the fans’ ownership of the club. Other stories were far less ambitious and one continued the status quo.

All of the scenarios were written in the voice of a fictional fan, e.g. ‘Why are we focusing on X, we should be doing Y’, which I thought must’ve contributed to the fans’ sense of ownership over the process – there were no external voices or jargon.

All six stories were put to the fans who were able to rank them in order of preference (and add additional options if they felt something had been missed. The sugar daddy option was the least popular which demonstrated that, to the fans, continuing the fans’ ownership of the club was the highest priority.


Nicol repeatedly mentioned that it was important to the board that everyone was included and that the process was open and transparent. The club used a variety of methods of communicating with fans to offer as many people as possible the chance to contribute.

Initially it was intended that a second round of voting would take place with the most popular scenarios from the first round put to members of the trust. These scenarios would be adapted in light of the first round of voting, e.g. to take into account the priorities indicated by the results.

This subsequent round of voting was not required however as circumstances meant that some aspects had been achieved (such as the club being promoted). Instead, the board will be presenting a strategy based on the initial results to the members at a general meeting. This will be accompanied by an action plan that will be updated and presented to future general meetings to hold the board accountable to the trust’s members.

It was interesting to note that (so far!) no one has questioned the results of the project as the process was so open and had external facilitators. Perry stressed that for effective consultation you need to make the scope of the options clear by outlining the fixed constraints and the factors which can be decided on as well as making the results and subsequent outcomes clear to those who participated.

Useful links

December 9th, 2011|Engagement|0 Comments|

Heal’s; the good, the bad and the very beautiful

So, one of the things I like to do (other than starting paragraphs with ‘so,..’) is to look at lovely things in lovely shops. Since the sad demise of Habitat I’d been on the lookout for a replacement and thought I’d give Heal’s a try. Heal’s is a chain of six shops selling furniture, home things and gifts which I used to browse as a teenager (I was a pretentious teenager with expensive tastes!)

These are some of my favourite Heal’s things (well it’s nearly Christmas and I thought my friends, family and/or loyal readers might be feeling generous…)

Storage jarKnitted storage basketEames lounger

After lusting after pretty much everything in their shop I thought I’d check out their website. Their website is beautiful and fairly easy to navigate but then I started social media stalking them and decided they were missing out in a few areas.

Being a social media nerd (and after a good excuse not be writing the 15,000 word report for my MBA) I put together this list of tips for Heal’s;


Heals Facebook page screenshot1. Turn on your Facebook wall

If people can’t easily talk to you by posting on your Facebook wall then you’re just using Facebook to talk at people rather than with people. Not very social use of social media is it?

I’d recommend allowing people to post on your wall to show you’re happy to hear from your customers and fans.

2. Integrate sales

Why not sell things through your Facebook page? People might not spend £1250 on a bed but they might buy some Christmas gifts. Social Media Today have some other tips for integrating Facebook with online retail such as exclusive offers for your Facebook fans or encouraging customers to share their purchases online.

3. Ask questions, start conversations

At the moment, your wall is pretty much all press releasey promotional stuff and whilst it is good to draw attention to new and exciting things you’re being the Facebook equivalent of someone standing in the corner at a party droning on about themself.

Ask questions and encourage people to respond and interact with your content. Tag your favourite in this collage of products. Which area of your house would you most like to redecorate? Which is your favourite from our new collection? What will you treat yourself to this Christmas? Share your photos of Heal’s products in your home…

Ask people to share your content, like it or comment. This all helps show your fans that you’re interested in what they say and you might gain some useful customer insights and feedback

4. Use Facebook to capture customer data

The problem with Facebook is that its run by Facebook. If they change the rules there isn’t much you can do about it. Use Facebook to capture information about your fans so it is your data and you’re in control.

Heal’s have an email newsletter so why not set up a tab for people to subscribe or regularly post links to your subscription page?

5. Link your offline activities to your online things (and vice versa)

Encourage people to ‘check in’ at your shops, you could reward people with a special discount or offer. Put your Facebook details in your shops, on till receipts and promotional items.

6. Differentiate yourself with some personality

With only six shops and a long history of furniture-making and design you could make your brand stand out by adding some personal touches. Tell us about your staff, show us photos of special occasions, share stories of your staff and customers. This helps fans connect with your brand and builds affinity.


I totally love that you have an email newsletter (I’m a mega fan of newsletters since our Freshers Week success story) but subscribing is a little weird; you add your email address on one page then have to fill it in again on another. I imagine some people might not bother with the second stage so you might be losing subscribers. This is the first impression you’re giving people about your newsletter so you don’t want to confuse them or make them work too hard – they might remember this when considering buying from your website.

The free shipping code once you sign up is a nice little touch but have you experimented with telling people about it before they subscribe to encourage them to sign up? Presumably some free shipping on a few more orders is worth the extra subscribers with whom you can then build up a relationship and generate more orders in future.


Heals blogAgain, mega bonus points for having this, blogging = good but (again) I think you’re missing out.

Your blog is a bit too salesy and looks a tad like it was just written to squeeze in some good keywords and use some lovely photography rather than to genuinely engage with your customers (and potential customers)

Try dialing down the sales pitch and make your customers and their interests the focal point rather than your latest pretty shiny thing.

You could try inviting guest posts from design bloggers; maybe they could style a room, pick their favourite products or respond to a challenge such as furnishing a bedroom for a particular budget.

Showcase other products and things, not just yours. You don’t need to point out your competitors but why not include complementary products your market might love like handmade stationery (surrounded by Heal’s office bits maybe) or gorgeous recipes (served on Heal’s plates). You can still show off your stuff but it makes your blog sound less like a sales pitch and more like an interesting and inspiring design resource (confession; I am totally addicted to design blogs at the moment, I’ll try to put together a post with some of my favourites).

You could photograph and show off your customers’ homes to demonstrate how beautiful your products look in use and give people ideas for how they could style them and fit them into their homes (by the way you’re more than welcome to give me loads of free stuff to do this with!)

You could offer tutorials that incorporate your products or styling tips; ‘5 ways to style this bed’, ‘how to prepare for unexpected guests’

You could use your blog to focus on the areas local to your shops; highlight local events, retailers and people to connect with local customers and get links from other local companies. I’d be happy to recommend some excellent cake and/or ice cream shops in the Brighton area for instance (I might just start on some pre-emptive research on that one…)

For bonus marks…

Experiment with other tools like Pinterest (seriously, it’s an amazing site though terribly easy to lose hours on just staring at all the lovely things). You can use it to curate collections that others can then ‘repin’ (share with their friends) and encourage your customers to add photos of their Heal’s things in use. Pinterest is a very design-focused, visual community so ideal for your market.

Would video be a useful tool? YouTube is apparently the second most used search tool after Google and ‘how do I…’ is their most common search term. Could you provide video demonstrations of products, 360o product views (both of which can be used on your product information pages to help drive sales) or follow some of the blogging principles above. For Christmas how about the best way to lay and decorate a table?

November 28th, 2011|Digital|0 Comments|

Freshers newsletter campaign

In one of those great ‘two birds, one stone’ scenarios a project I was working on fitted the brief for part of my course. It has also led to much smugness so I’ve decided to up the smug factor by sharing the project with you, the people of the internet.

Essentially, the Students’ Union wanted to launch a newsletter for new students (‘freshers’) to capture incoming students’ email addresses, get them interested in the Students’ Union and its Freshers Week events and start building a relationship between students and their Union.

This is the presentation I gave for my course outlining the project (which features some early drafts of the newsletter itself). It uses Prezi, a super cool online presentation tool which instantly makes your presentation infinitely more interesting than if you use PowerPoint (you might have to wait a mo for it to load), just use the back and forward buttons at the bottom right to move around or click and drag to move around. You can also view it full screen if you’d rather.

[prezi width=’640′ height=’486′][/prezi]

Permission MarketingI created a series of autoresponder emails which subscribers will receive over the summer in the run-up to the start of Freshers Week. Each email features one of the Union’s elected officers with tips and information relating to their area of responsibility and Freshers Week.

It builds on some of the principles of Seth Godin’s ‘Permission Marketing‘ which I recommend (though some of the examples now seem a little dated – it was written 10 years ago when Amazon looked like a promising little online bookseller…). The idea is that we get people’s permission to contact them via email by offering them something useful in return (in this case, exclusive news and content about Freshers Week). According to Godin (and common sense) they are then more likely to pay attention when we communicate with them than if we just put ads everywhere or thrust flyers into their hands.

Putting theory into practice

The newsletter is now live and is picking up between 10 and 20 new subscribers per day. We expect the subscriber rate to increase much faster once most students’ places are confirmed on 18th August. I’m using Aweber to manage subscriptions and send out emails and I thoroughly recommend it, it is really easy to use and their customer service is great. It also gives you lots of graphs and numbers to play with which makes me very happy!

So far the messages are getting very good open rates, much higher than our typical term-time emails. I attribute this principally to the niche content of the newsletter (whereas the term-time emails cover a wide range of topics) and new students’ enthusiasm for news about Freshers Week (and the well-crafted newsletter campaign obviously…). We’re hoping to transfer this high level of interaction to our term-time newsletter and other campaigns in future.

Unique opens Unique clicks
per open
1 – Hi [first name], welcome to our Freshers newsletter 68% 0.60
2 – [Sussex Freshers] Our top tips for settling in from Indi, Welfare Officer 58% 0.99
3 – [Sussex Freshers] top 5 Freshers things to get excited about from James, Activities Officer 68% 0.70
4 – [Sussex Freshers] How to find out what’s going on from Ariel, Communications Officer 47% 0.36
5 – [Sussex Freshers] A guide to the Sussex campus by Becca, Operations Officer 65% 0.67
6 – [Sussex Freshers] Tips for getting the most from your studies from Poppy, Education Officer 59% 0.26
7 – [Sussex Freshers] A look at the year ahead at Sussex from David, Students’ Union President 66% 0.44

I’ll keep this updated as the newsletter progresses, if nothing else it’ll encourage some friendly rivalry between the officers over who is the most ‘popular’! The table above was last updated on 22nd August, the first emails were sent on 27th June with follow up emails every four days.

I tagged the links in the emails so I can use Google Analytics to see how people browse our site by following links from the newsletter. A quick glance the other day suggested that these are driving people deeper into our site than normal which suggests the targeted nature of the emails is working.

After Freshers Week I’ll post some examples of the emails we’re using, I can’t do them earlier as they’re ‘exclusive content’ for subscribers only! If you’re super keen you can head over to and sign up yourself!


August 2nd, 2011|Digital|5 Comments|
  • Reading UnMarketing
    Permalink Reading UnMarketingGallery

    ‘Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging’ ~ I love this book

‘Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging’ ~ I love this book

Marketing is not a task.
Marketing is not a department.
Marketing is not a job.
Marketing happens every time you engage (or not) with your past, present, and potential customers

So, recently I’ve been reading UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. by Scott Stratten and I thought I’d share some of the bits that made me go ‘oooooo yes I should definitely change how I do that’. Problem with that is that most of the book made me do that so here are the top best bits (as well as two pictures featuring my knees…)

UnMarketing notesThe book talks about the importance of building relationships with your customers and gives lots of examples of how this has been done well and badly by various organisations (the bad examples are my favourite!)

Scott emphasis the need to be authentic and real and not be tempted by automation where it kills personal contact.

He has a fancy diagram (who doesn’t love a diagram?) that shows that the best customers are those who have a relationship with you based on trust.

He describes the ‘trust gap‘ – “the amount of trust you have to earn before your potential customer will consider buying from you” and the ‘experience gap‘ – “the space between the best services, often what a new customer receives and the worst experience”. You need to work out how to bridge the former and minimise the latter.

The book is full of easy to read case studies and examples. The chapters are short and snappy which makes it perfect park reading material…

Reading UnMarketing

Scott definitely practises what he preaches, I tweeted this picture and mentioned @unmarketing

[blackbirdpie url=”!/jowalters/status/57139057960030208″]

… and swiftly got this reply 🙂

[blackbirdpie url=”!/unmarketing/status/57151603144273920″]

You should buy the book and go have a wander through the UnMarketing website –


Some Adwords words

I’m a trustee of the University of Brighton Students’ Union. One of the ways they generate income to spend on services for students is through advertising sales including print, online, sponsorship and on-site events.

One of the tasks on my course was to create some examples of Google Adwords ads so I decided to consider how Brighton Students’ Union could use an Adwords campaign to attract potential clients.

These are two examples which would aim to convert clicks into enquiries. They could run alongside each other and the more successful option be refined further to increase click-through rates and conversions. The ads could be targeted to people searching within East Sussex using relevant keywords about marketing, promoting, students and sales..

Advertise to students
Promote your business to students
in Brighton with targeted marketing

Promote to students
Want to promote to students?
Advertise directly to students


March 31st, 2011|Digital|0 Comments|

Email marketing analysis : Oxfam Unwrapped

As an email ninja I get very few email newsletters that I’m not interested in or don’t read so it was interesting to see how many people on my course have written about emails that they don’t open. I decided to write about one of the emails I pretty much always open so I could be all gushing and nice rather than shouting at some poor email marketer who dared send me an email I opted in for.

Oxfam emailI chose an email that had worked on me, the latest one from Oxfam, one of my favourite charities. I always read their emails as they contain a mix of campaigning actions, product information and updates on their progress. I receive emails from Oxfam as I’ve ordered gifts from them in the past and have clicked through from prior emails about their campaigns.

This email (pictured left, click to view the full size version) promotes their Oxfam Unwrapped range of gifts as ideal Mother’s Day presents.

The header comprises three links which relate to the three themes of the message; Mother’s Day, the special offer of free chocolates with every order and the weddings range which forms the second half of the email body. This helps people who read their emails in a preview pane (where only the start of the message is visible) as well as opening the message with key messages to encourage people to keep reading.

Email body textThe main body of the email combines several short paragraphs of text, a photo and a testimonial quote which appears to be from a prior recipient of Oxfam support. The text is full of links (six in total) to various sections of the Oxfam Unwrapped site; a special offer landing page (used three times) and three individual product links that are based around families and women. The section ends with a ‘start shopping’ call to action to emphasise the point.

The text moves from referencing your mum (not in a ‘your mum’ joke sort of way I hasten to add!) to mothers who have benefitted from Oxfam Unwrapped before tying the concepts together with ‘Thank your mum and mums all over the world with an Oxfam Unwrapped gift this Mother’s Day’ using empathy to reinforce the call to action.

The quote and photo aim to give a human touch to the story. The use of an individual quote rather than statistics about the scope of problems such as dirty water reminded me of this recent Guardian article about how people find it easier to relate to individual stories rather than broad statistics.

The email is then divided with eight colourful boxes linking to other gift categories, this is quite a good discreet way of reminding readers of the breadth of gifts available as well as potentially prompting sales unrelated to the Mother’s Day theme.


The second section of the email introduces a new range from Oxfam with three images linking to the relevant sections of Oxfam’s site. There is no call to action in this section, maybe because weddings are more of a niche market.

The email ends with a three updates from Oxfam on different topics; fundraising opportunities, gift ideas and campaigning. This is a great way of illustrating the range of Oxfam’s activities and definitely something charities and commercial organisations could use. The footer contains links to Oxfam’s website and social media channels as well as unsubscription information, contact details and legal information about the sender.

I like the layout of the message as it is simple but interesting as it features a variety of topics and colours without being overwhelming.

The special offer’s landing page reiterates the free chocolates offer then lists some of their bestsellers. This acts as an endorsement from other customers and encourages confidence in the product and organisation. The page lists as three-step process to complete the purchase which presumably helps convert potential buyers.

The email doesn’t contain any personalisation though it would be interesting to know whether this email was targeted in any way based on the demographic or interaction history Oxfam know about me. It is unclear whether the campaigning, fundraising and sales messages I receive from Oxfam are connected at all. It would be interesting to know whether targeted or personalised emails, ‘you signed our petition about X so you might want to donate Y’, would lead to more sales or donations. As Oxfam work in so many countries, across so many projects and in different ways I wonder if and how they segment their subscribers and supporters at all.

P.S. Mum, if you’re reading this, act surprised on Mother’s Day!

March 24th, 2011|Digital|0 Comments|

Viral cats (not cats with viruses)

“I had never heard of Cravendale milk until Bertrum Thumbcat came along… I bought my first carton today and it’s quite tasty! Yes, I am a slave to advertising … and to thumbed cats.”


What would happen if cats had thumbs? This is one of the questions we’ve all asked ourselves (or is that just me?). Cravendale milk have decided to answer this for us with a great example of viral marketing.


Bertrum ThumbcatThe ad appears to be aimed at a tech-savvy audience with its twitter, facebook and web channels highlighted at the end of the ad. This seems to have paid off as Bertrum Thumbcat (the feline star of the ad) attracting more than 15,000 fans on Facebook and almost 2,500 followers on Twitter (an interesting imbalance, maybe Bertrum is more fun in the media-rich and community-centric world of Facebook). The YouTube video itself has had over 1.5m views.

Milk isn’t a sexy product to market, we pour it on cornflakes and put it in tea. Also, one pint of milk is pretty much the same as any other so differentiating your brand is a bigger challenge than with many other products. Cravendale have previously differentiated their product by highlighting the fact it is filtered and therefore purer though their previous ads didn’t stand out so much (one of their previous ads has a fraction of the views on YouTube).

Whilst the ad itself is very funny and people may share it amongst their friends, that in itself is not necessarily the mark of a successful viral marketing campaign. The transition to measurable tools such as the Facebook page allows the brand to subtly build a relationship with the consumer and continue the ad’s success beyond its initial TV airing. The enthusiasm of the page’s users suggest that Cravendale have made their brand of milk stand out to consumers.

March 10th, 2011|Digital|0 Comments|