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Social Media Portal interview with Sean Blanks from Cartridgesave

Tim Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 24 April 2013

SMP Q&A with Sean Blanks, marketing director at Cartridgesave, a dedicated printer cartridge company

Profiled interview with Sean Blanks, marketing director at Cartridgesave on promoting the brand using digital and social media

Cartridgesave logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your name, and what do you do there at Cartridgesave?

Sean Blanks (SB):  Iím Sean Blanks, marketing director. I oversee all of our marketing activity and work very closely with Ian, the managing director, to manage day-to-day business operations and the companyís strategy for growth.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about Cartridgesave (for those that donít know), what is it and what does the company do?

Cartridgesave is the UKís largest dedicated printer cartridge company. We offer next day delivery on more than 6,700 printer ink and toner cartridges from 34 big brands and compatibles, plus printer paper and labels.   

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

SB: Anyone in the UK with a printer. We supply all manner of big businesses, including hospitals and schools as well as supplying direct to consumers.

Businesses are a hugely important audience for us and we offer discounts on bulk orders due to the cost-savings we can make on postage.  However, we also value the repeat business from loyal consumers who just want a cheap printer cartridge once every six-months, who we cater for with an everyday low price promise.

SMP: Whatís going to be the latest developments in the printing and printer ink industry and how are you preparing for it?

SB: Significant changes affecting us are, largely, the improvements to the courier industry such as tighter prediction services and improved speed, which make the consumerís life easier.   There is also significant improvement in technology that allows improved recycling and reuse of printer cartridges.  Naturally weíre researching suppliers in both sectors to be able to make cost savings and improve our service. The savings will be passed on directly to the consumer to drive more volume.

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your blog and site and how do you do it now (what social media approaches and channels are you using)?

SB: Good use of keywords, and guest posts on other influential blogs. As you can tell from the site, we blog less on our website, and we have increased the frequency with which we blog elsewhere. Various trials have demonstrated that our Facebook fans arenít interested in reading about business blogs, so we donít push these out through this channel so much.

Now, our focus is on sharing knowledge with a wider community, so we blog for other sites and provide a link in case readers want to visit our site to find out more about what we do.

SMP: What social channels have you elected to use to reach your audiences and how might this change?

SB: A key channel for is Google. We work extremely hard for our valued Google page rank, and this unquestionably drives the majority of business. Naturally, weíll use any social platform that can contribute towards this.

Besides the Google effect, we chose to set up profiles on social media platforms if there is an audience there for us. Each platform serves a different purpose so we tailor the messages depending on the platform. Facebook is direct to our consumers, we know the posts here donít reach big business, but instead will indirectly drive single purchases. The posts are light-hearted and fun.

Twitter is more business minded, with follows from the print industry and avid SME bloggers and start-up entrepreneurs, so we push out blog links and advice along with highlights from our Facebook page.

Linkedin is something we use exclusively for building business relationships and to that end senior management use personal profiles.

SMP: What are the low moments of what you have been doing so far (in regards to Cartridgesave and social media)?

SB: When we launched our Facebook page it was demoralising to see little engagement despite our team investing time into making the content attractive. The team was working exceptionally hard, and itís frustrating to witness good work going unrewarded.

Photograph of Sean Blanks, marketing director at CartridgesaveSMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far (in regards to Cartridgesave and social media)?

SB: Seeing the low turn into a high. In the last eight months weíve turned our Facebook presence on its head. We now have in excess of 5,000 fans and a lively, engaged brand page that is benefitting from finally understanding its audience.

SMP: What value are you seeing in blogging and building other content on other resources and not at your own blog?  

SB: We donít blog on our own site that often because we find thereís much more value in blogging for other sites, that have a bigger audience than us. Our typical customers arenít on the sites we write for, so writing for other sites extends our reach and opens doors to new customers and other businesses, whilst allowing us to share our experience and knowledge.

SMP: What do you think creating content for businesses like yours achieves and how do you think your content may change in the next 12 to 18-months?

SB: We believe we have an awful lot to share and that this content gives us a voice in our industry. This is Ianís second successful business and my second career, having worked at BAE Systems previously. Of course the blogs help to drive traffic and open doors to new business relationships, but we also hope our blogs can provide information (which we had to learn the hard way) to other entrepreneurs and create some happy companies and employees along the way.  Naturally the blogs will change to reflect our latest experiences and the business lessons we learn every day.

SMP: What do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

SB: The much-hyped paperless office would be the obvious answer. The truth is most businesses cannot exist without printing, and the predictions many experts are making currently are hugely unrealistic.  For us, the bigger challenges are competitors cloning our website, imagery, copy etc. While itís testament to our status as the biggest and best, itís frustrating and underhanded for a company to steal all of our hard work.

Thereís also the next Google algorithm, which could drastically alter our Google rank so our priority is to keep our eyes on our own work to keep ahead rather than pick at competitors or worry about the looming threat of the paperless office!

SMP: With what could be deemed as negative media (e.g. printer ink more expensive than champagne, how are you using digital and social media to work with this?

SB: We arenít trying to pull the wool over anyoneís eyes. Printer ink is expensive, which is why we do all that we can to drive down prices and pass on the savings to our customers.  If ink is expensive, then we have lots to gain in being the cheapest, as all consumers will be pushing for the best-priced option and this is where social media becomes useful. Driving people to our site, pushing key messages (where appropriate) and underlining our price guarantee. Using Facebook to challenge the idea that ink is expensive will only start an argument we couldnít win.

SMP: Whatís the next big step for social media / networks and what impact may this have upon brands such as yours?

SB: Social media platforms have truly changed the way in which businesses communicate with their consumers, and how they evolve is now pivotal to many companies.

The next big step is how so many of these free-to-use platforms will monetise their services. Itís not as simple as selling adverts. Weíve seen that social media users will campaign against too many ads or any move by Ďthe maní that infringes on their rights to make money. Instagram suffered a huge user backlash. Similar problems with sites like this may well result in an audience walking away and allow rival services to steal market share, so thereís going to be a very fine balancing act for these services to manage. The truth is though; consumers have had so much for free for so long that they are likely to resist any kind of system that requires them to part with their cash.

So weíll be watching closely to see whether itís us that have to foot the bill for the continued growth of these platforms. Brands are already investing time and money in generating the content, providing competition prizes and even paying to make sure their posts reach all of their fans. More costs on top of this may mean we, and other brands, consider investing money elsewhere, where there arenít so many hoops to jump through.

SMP: What was the most challenging part of building upon the brands presence in digital environments (including social media)?

SB: We operate within a very unglamorous industry; itís difficult to get people excited about printing and ink cartridges. So the biggest challenge for us was finding a relevant and interesting Ďvoiceí across our social media platforms.  As a printing supplies brand thereís no reason for us to discuss the X Factor, Eastenders or our plans for Saturday night. Users may expect this from a lifestyle brand, but not  We decided to focus on beautiful imagery and useful materials that our fans can print out and keep. Our content will always revolve around these materials, as it can be engaging and it is related to our core products.

SMP: Whatís going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media / technology for the next 12 to 18-months what impact might this have upon Cartridge world?

SB: Weíre expecting a continued increase in traffic from mobile and tablet devices and all sites, particularly e-tail sites, should be optimised for the best, easiest experience possible.  Retailers need to act fast to ensure their websites can collect payment with as little friction as possible, links should be to mobile-optimised sites and any future web development needs to be respond to the device your content will be seen on.

SMP: What are your top five predictions for social media for the next 12 to 18-months?

SB replies with:

1. Sites consolidating each otherís features
Weíre seeing Twitter move into pictures and video and Facebook introduce hashtags. Over the next year expect to see all of these services add to their core functionality so that they all largely perform the same key functions.

2. Increased consumption of the internet through mobile devices
Sites that arenít mobile-ready will be left behind within the year. Consumers will increasingly use their smartphones to do everything. So, build an app, update your site and make sure the links you push out on social media are mobile-optimised sites.

3. Social Media platforms used as a portal to the rest of the web
More and more websites will allow users to log in and create accounts using social media platforms. Itís clever data capture and an easier route for consumers to access websites; one less password to remember!

4. Increased prominence given to adverts
These free-to-use platforms are increasingly popular and users are generating endless data that has to be stored in expensive, shiny data centres. There are also Venture Capitalists waiting impatiently for a return on their investment. Someone needs to pay for it, so expect a wave of tiered monetisation strategies and increased prominence given to adverts.

5. Increase in niche apps
Along with the increase of social media behemoths, thereís a steady increase in niche apps that cater for all kinds of activities and people. Your audience may well be interacting on the next big thing, so do your research and make sure youíre where your audience is!

SMP: What are your top five social media tips for all business including Cartridgesave?

SB replies with:

1. Tell, donít sell
However great your product, however much you believe in it, just using your brand page as a notice board for your product links will not convert fans into brand advocates or consumers.

2. Use your analytics
Use analytics to assess both your most popular content and the content that didnít engage users. Assess these figures in the wider context of your fan numbers and decide whether your content published three times a day is actually doing more harm than good.

3. Network
Thereís a brilliant opportunity to position yourself as an authoritative voice within your industry through the use of forums and groups, especially LinkedInís. Identify groups that post regularly, and decide how you can contribute and add value.

4. Content Is key
Make sure you know who your audience is and get your content mix right. Sending out the wrong type of messages will send people away from your pages.

5. Monitoring
The most vital thing for a brand to ensure is that theyíre constantly monitoring their pages. Itís not good enough to just have a presence, people are increasingly taking to social media to post complaints as itís expected that theyíll get an instant reply. Either keep an eye on social media 24/7 or manage expectations by laying out what times of the day people can expect responses.

SMP: Is there anything else we should know, or is there anything that youíd like to share?

SB: Thereís not very much we can say at the moment, but we do have an exciting project on the horizon. All I can say for now is that it involves 3D printing!

SMP: Best way to contact you and Cartridgesave?

SB: Thereís lots of ways to contact us. Weíve got an award-winning customer service team, who can be contacted via +44 (0)845 686 8555. However, if you want to contact us via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn you can find us there.

Twitter @cartridgesave

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

SB: Lunch: Chicken sandwich at the pub. Surprised there was no salad, but still very nice.

SMP: Whatís the last good thing that you did for someone?

SB: I went all out and bought Ianís lunch, as itís his birthday.

SMP: If you werenít running or working on Cartridgesave what would you be doing?

SB: I know itís boring, but Iíd probably be working on another online business. I love problem solving, and it beats Sudoku.

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

SB: January 2012 Ė skiing to Chamonix, with my wife and two children.

SMP: Whatís the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

SB: Get a coffee, and then have our daily five-minute meeting.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

SB: To be able to fly (very fast).

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