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Real Business Insights - now online

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The latest edition of Real Business Insights has now been published, in association with IBM, and we've also launched an online version – giving you straight talk about tech and your business. This edition features interviews with City University, NSPCC, The White Company and cover stars Vascroft Contractors Ltd.

Feel free to visit and let us know what you think.

Keeping your eyes on the prize

Just had a press release about www.glassesdirect.co.uk winning the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category and the overall NatWest Startups Business of the Year at the Startups Awards. Which is all well and good, but the real story is the ongoing battle between this young hopeful and High Street powerhouse Specsavers.

If you visit the "Specsavers rip down our webpages" part of the site, you'll find  a refreshingly open business battle being waged on the part of Glasses Direct, regarding a recent "Sheep Campaign". The campaign included, among other things, leaflets distributed by representatives of Glasses Direct dressed as sheep, bearing the headline "Specspensive?" and the strapline "Don't get fleeced, go to glassesdirect.co.uk".

The legal team at Specsavers didn't find this very funny, so they sent off a legal letter to the company, prompting one one of the more entertaining legal reponses I've read, including:

- "[Glasses Direct] notes that [Specsavers] apparently objects to representatives of Glasses Direct dressed as sheep straying into Specsavers' stores. Our client has no plans to repeat this aspect of the Sheep Campaign. Your client can, of course, raise no objection to the presence of 'sheep' on the public highway outside Specsavers' stores."

- "We are instructed that your client's staff and customers did not object to photographs being taken by the 'sheep', and appeared rather to enjoy the experience."

And perhaps best of all, both for the truly awful but appropriate pun, and the hard sell in the midst of potential litigation: "The message conveyed to the public... is that they can save substantial sums of money by buying from glassesdirect.co.uk. That is indisputably true. Our client has instructed us to inform you that it was not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes."

Solicitors with a sense of humour. Who'da thunk it?

A rolling entrepreneur gathers no dosh

The O'Reilly Radar has featured a selection of "Entrepreneurial Proverbs", including some clunkers:

- "Losing sucks." (Self-explanatory really, but that doesn't stop Marc Hedlund from going on about it for a paragraph)
- "Immediate yes is immediate no." (Not so much a proverb as five words strung together – though the idea behind the 'proverb' is a good one)

and some gems:

- "No means maybe and yes means maybe."
- "For investors, the product is nothing."
- "Give people what they need, not what they say they need."
- "The best way to get investment is not to need it."

Any others you might add?

[via BoingBoing]

British Gas must chill

Am I the only one to find the recent ad campaign by British Gas patronising? Around the same time as the company announced a 22% rise in gas prices, an ad campaign featuring headlines such as "Worried about rising gas prices? Relax..." and "Chill out"  was popping up everywhere, made even more irritating by its reliance on the ever-popular marketing device of inane animated cartoon characters.

This campaign is made that much worse when paired with the one that promises significant discounts if you switch to British Gas - which doesn't really help the three million customers who could be in fuel poverty by the end of the year (according to Energywatch).

British Gas (and owners Centrica) better get it through their heads: they are now the country's most expensive gas and electricity supplier (again, according to Energywatch). No amount of cutesy cartoon characters are going to make that an easier pill to swallow for consumers, and telling me to "chill" when my gas bill has more than doubled in the last four months is no way to encourage customer loyalty. I'm off to uSwitch.com to check my options...

It's an apostrophe thing

For weeks, the digital channel E4 has been airing an ad campaign for its 9:00pm slot of shows, in an animated sequence featuring the banner, "Its a 9 thing".

For weeks, I would cringe every time I saw the ad. It wasn't the colloquialism, or the fact that "nine" wasn't spelled out. It was the lack of an apostrophe, eating away at me a bit more every time. I came very close to sending off a stern note to the channel or even making a call to complain. I was that angry.

It is therefore with no small amount of shameless, editorially geeky joy that I can announce that E4 has at long last fixed the ad, inserting the apostrophe into the phrase in what must have cost the channel dozens, if not hundreds of pounds. Editors everywhere can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one who finds this sort of thing annoying. Perhaps technology's to blame?

Obviously, it's an apostrophe thing.

Business, Chinese Style

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It's not easy doing business in China – as demonstrated in our feature in the latest edition of Smart Company, the quarterly magazine we produce on behalf of Portman Travel. Here are just a few tips on Chinese business etiquette, to help you on your way:

• Rank is taken seriously and the highest-ranking guest should enter the meeting room first
• Chinese people prefer not to deal with strangers – so establish credentials as soon as possible
• Use people’s family name, rather than their first name
• Chinese etiquette emphasises “surface harmony”, so people can find it hard to say no – don’t mistake silence for assent.
• On your business cards – which you will definitely need – have your details written in Chinese as well as in English (and consider having them printed in gold ink, as gold signifies prestige and prosperity in China).

"The heyday of the outsider" - really?

Fellow Biz Ed contributor Stuart Rock pointed me to this article from Der Speigel, which offers a snapshot of the human side of global supply chains, and no matter how many times I read it, I keep coming back to this paragraph:

"The globalization process began 600 years ago, when Europeans discovered the world in order to appropriate it – by means of cartography, religion, violence, economics and transportation [ed's note: and sex?]. What we are now experiencing is the final act of this drama: a world completely conquered, in which commodities, goods and information circulate freely with no place beyond their reach. It is the heyday of the outsider."

Sweeping generalisations aside, that last sentence leaves me baffled. Surely this is the heyday of the insider, the participant, from the cogs in the wheel to those with their hand on the steering wheel? Those outside the purview of the global business club seem increasingly desperate to take part, while many within the remit of the club seem desperate to break out – even one of the people from the supply chain featured in the piece: "Everyone is lonely. Everything revolves around the dollar. Capitalism and globalization are not good for people."

Maybe it was just a throwaway line, but if the people featured in the supply chain are the "outsiders", then this doesn't sound like much of a heyday, does it? But perhaps that was the whole point.

Outsourcing IT is exciting - no, really.

Mention "IT outsourcing" and most people will be asleep before you get the words out - but not at Slashdot ("News for nerds. Stuff that matters")

When Nedry57 asks "How do you get your technology work done, when your IT department is more hindrance than help?" and the first (anonymous) response is "You fire them and outsource their jobs to India", just check out the heated debate that rages on and on.

Included in the debate, this gem:

Dear IT Professional

Please don't change anything about the way your IT organization does business. We love the way you and your team fail to communicate; the way mindless mandates from on-high drive pointless initiatives; the way the latest technology trend shifts focus from project to project like the attention span of a two-year-old.

Especially don't pay any attention to streamlining the use of hardware and software investments that you've already made. You and your team need MORE MORE MORE to get this project wrapped up on time. Have you upgraded to the newest rev of our software? Can't you just taste the new-and-improved speed of our latest hardware?

In summary, we love the way your IT organization is today, and wouldn't change a single thing
.
Yours Truly, Your software & hardware vendors

"This is damn bad" versus "As Seen On Google"

Making the move into China has never been so controversial, as Google discovered recently, and now the global search engine has earned the wrath of the inestimable Ling Valetine (thanks to fellow BizEd blogger Matthew Rock for pointing this out to me).

Gateshead's own Chinese car magnate (see my previous blog entry) has thrown her hat into the Google.cn ring, protesting what she describes as “Google’s support for a violation of human rights”.

As she says in a statement on her website: "I am so sad and disappointed [Google] have done this, chasing the Chinese money (because that's all this is about). I never advertise on Google again until they change policy. Why wait for first arrest, first detention, first political prisoner, first killing due to Google user information being given to Chinese FSB or Security? Change policy now."

The BBC has a few nuggets of reaction on the situation from within China, with one blogger in particular making some thought-provoking points, but I suspect that Chinese users are accustomed to and aware of such restrictions and will continue to find a way around them (misspellings being one option).

Apparently, no matter which side of the Great Firewall you're on, doing business in China remains a touchy matter. And while Ling's stand is admirable, I can't help but notice that her website still includes an "As seen on Google" logo at the top...

Looking to the Future

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We've just published the latest edition of Future, the global magazine from Thales. In this issue: understanding tomorrow's navy; an exclusive interview with Nick Witney, chief executive of the newly formed European Defence Agency;and the state of play in European Research and Development. Click on the cover image for a Contents list – downloadable versions of the publication, in English and French, will be available soon at www.thalesgroup.com/future.

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