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Don't fear the cookie monsters

There’s been a lot of panic around recently due to a change in the UK online cookie privacy law that became compulsory in May 2012. This has got a lot of people worried and confused as to whether their website is complying or not within this new law. So what is all this cookie stuff about?  

What's the beef?

In a nutshell, a new law now requires all websites to ask visitors for permission to store and access cookies on their computers.

There was an EU ePrivacy directive passed back in 2009 which in itself isn't a law but from which each EU country is required to make their own enforceable laws. The UK brought its new cookie law into action in 2011 but gave a years grace period which ended in May 2012, which is probably why you've recently noticed more messages on various websites asking you to accept cookies on to your machine. Prior to this websites were allowed to automatically place cookies on your computer as long as your browser preferences were set to accept them.


Cookie Cookie Cookie

What the hell is a cookie anyway?

A cookie is a small file that allows information to be sent back and forth between a website and a user’s browser so that websites work smoother and the user gets a better, uninterupted web experience. This can contain information that helps with things like remembering login passwords so that you are automatically logged in next time you visit a site. Other uses of cookies are storing a user's preferences, google analytics details, access/authentication, identification of a session, remembering shopping cart contents, etc.

Your cookies can also pass on information from one site that you visit to another, for example, if you are logged into a social network like facebook and you visit a news website your browser will realise you are logged into facebook and allow you to share a news story to your facebook friends directly from the news site without asking you to log in again.

This same method can be used for targeted advertising which allows websites to see what sort of sites you have been visiting previously and tailor the adverts displayed to you according to what you are interested in.


What's this new law trying to achieve?

The principle purpose of this law is to protect privacy even when the information collected via a cookie is not necessarily personally identifiable. The issue around consent is about transparency and helping the user know what information is being collected and by whom.


ico Cookie Law Guidance

What does the law say?

Regulations already existed dating back to 2003 which stated that you had an obligation to tell users how your site uses any cookies and give them information on how they can opt out if they objected. This was usually contained within a privacy policy page typically placed in the footer of a website.

However as of 26 May 2011* new regulations state that:

1) All websites must provide clear and comprehensive information about the purposes of the storage of or access of information via any cookies they are using; and

2) Website owners must obtain consent to store a cookie on a user or subscribers device when they visit a website.

Essentially the law is very similar to the 2003 regulation with the main difference being that whereas previously you just had to provide an option to opt out, the new law now requires every visitor to a website to actively ‘consent’ i.e. opt in or opt out of cookies being set for their web session.

It is this active step of flagging up a message or a pop-up box that has got the web industry annoyed as it is disruptive to the user's experience on most websites they will visit. Considering that 92% of websites use cookies to varying degrees you can see why developers might feel this is annoying but the fact is that this is the law now and unless they are going to stop using cookies then they will need to comply or ignore the law.

* The regulations were enacted in May 2011, however a year’s grace was granted for implementation meaning the deadline for compliance was 26 May 2012.


What could this mean for you?

Generally we would say that there is no great cause for panic for many B2B websites like those of our clients as they tend to not rely on cookies too much past the analytics use. It is something that should be implemented into your site alongside any other updates you are performing. Most sites can be amended quite simply to display a message asking for permission to store cookies with a simple accept or refuse button for customers to click on.

If your site is selling anything or storing details of users then you should definitely be looking to comply as a matter of urgency as the ico (Information Commissioner's Office) has the power of fining up to £500,000 (though there is suggestion that this would only be for when serious fraud has been committed causing substantial damage or loss to the user).


So, simple isn't it

We've tried to give you the edited version and keep it fairly simple and in layman's terms here. Obviously there is a lot of information surrounding anything like this and ico are the official body responsible for handling this new regulation. They have prepared a PDF containing the full details regarding the cookie law and this can be downloaded here.

There is also a FAQs video presented by Dave Evans from ico explaining what companies should be doing in order to comply with the new regulations which you can view here.


As a final note, if any of our Lamb client's out there are reading this and want to discuss any potential changes that may need to be implemented on their website then please contact Carl on 020 7247 2233.

10 Tips for effective brand guidelines

Lamb CMC's list of their top 10 tips for creating effective brand guidelines.

We get asked a lot about brand development and guidelines. So rather than posting again about how to create an engaging brand (which Mark touched upon briefly in a previous post), this post is a quick guide to 10 of our top tips to producing brand guidelines.

A well considered document will ensure the guidelines are effective at communicating your brand and describing how to produce it consistently without killing the ability to be creative with it.


1. Who are the guidelines for?

Consider who is going to be receiving, reading and using these guidelines and tailor the content accordingly. Write with language to engage that audience. Steer clear of jargon and try not to assume technical knowledge if it is going out to all levels within the company. Consider the benefits of multiple versions of guidelines; a technical production reference, a quick guide one sheet for logo and colour use, more indepth guidelines including brand personality, tone of voice, etc.


2. Keep it simple

We appreciate that this is easier said than done but if you want your guidelines to be embraced by all then you need to ensure that what you are explaining is easily understood. The extra time it takes to consider how to simplify the use of your brand now will save a lot more time in future; time that would be spent amending the guidelines retrospectively to verify what you meant originally.


3. Design the guidelines in your brand style

Make sure the document you are producing is truely representative of your business and embracing your brand. If your brand identity is a quirky, young, energetic feeling then make sure your guidelines aren't stuffy and dictorial.


4. Show clear examples of your brand in use

This tip is often surprisingly overlooked in many brand guidelines documents we see. How better to explain how to use your brand than to show it in various real-life examples as you intended.


5. Consistency

Make sure when explaining your brand that it is consistent in how it recommends use of your company's brand. If you are contradicting yourself every other page then what hope will the reader have of understanding how they are supposed to use your brand.


6. Keep tracks of where your brand is used

This tip is more specific to the visual identity aspect of your brand but worth including in your brand guidelines. If there are ever any changes to your logo, colours, font, etc. you need to be able to track back wherever the previous version has been used so that you can replace with the updated version. Examples could include stationery, website, intranet, aggregator sites, affiliate marketing, social networks, email footers, presentations, document templates, signage, etc.


7. Make your materials available

The number one reason we see for inconsistent use of a brand identity is down to staff hoarding out-of-date materials and not having access to a library of correct files. Eliminate this issue by setting up a download section on your website where all logos, current guidelines, imagery, etc. are stored and are easily available to all. Make it password protected if you must but trust us, it's a lot easier to update one set of logos online compared to replying to hundreds of individual emails requesting these marketing materials from various people in your company.


8. Involve your staff

If you want your staff to embrace your new brand then they need to truly feel like it is theirs. They need to understand why and how you have developed their brand and they need to understand how to use it going forward. Form a project team consisting of staff from all levels within your company who might encounter the guidelines and get regular feedback from them during guidelines development. Do they understand the document? What improvements do they suggest would help with the guidelines? What can you do as a company that will make it easier for your staff to use the brand? Involving your people on the ground and getting their feedback can throw up some great issues that would never have been appreciated within the marketing department alone.


9. Have a sign-off process

Assign a brand manager within the company who has been involved with the brand development process and understands your brand inside out. Stipulate that all new creative should be approved by this person and give them a 48 hour turn around period to allow this. This is especially important in the early days of a new brand while staff and external agencies are still getting to grips with any new styles. By doing this you will be able to ensure that you are delivering a consistent and correctly applied brand message to all communications leaving your company.


10. Review your guidelines regularly

The aim of guidelines are to explain, advise and guide use and reproduction of your brand. That doesn't mean that your brand is set in stone from now to eternity. Your brand will continue to evolve and guidelines must be revisited and updated continually and then made available to all again. And to this end, make sure you include version numbers and not just on the front page. Ensure you include the document version number on every page incase the document ends up getting split and passed around internally which invariably it does.


 So to recap:

  1. Who are the guidelines for? Write them accordingly
  2. Keep it simple to understand
  3. Design the guidelines in your brand style
  4. Show clear examples of your brand in use
  5. Keep your instructions consistent
  6. Keep tracks of where your brand is used
  7. Make your materials available
  8. Involve your staff
  9. Have a sign off process
  10. Review your guidelines regularly


There is just one more thing... Involve the professionals early on

We really recommend consulting a professional branding service to help you with any brand creation, development or guidelines. The same issues come up again and again and we know what to look out for and how to avoid certain pitfalls with preemptive planning and briefing which will ensure your branding project runs smoothly and successfully.

Neil Johnson speaks to Insurance Age about how brokers can harness their websites to drive interest

Internet assistance - Keeping in touch Louise Meeson offers practical advice on how brokers can utilise their websites to build customer relationships and improve business performance

Insurance Age | 29 Jan 2010

The internet has revolutionised our buying habits. While many town centre shops sit vacant, the virtual high street goes from strength to strength - according to card payment firm Retail Decisions, online retail purchases in 2009 soared a massive 21% on the previous year to £49.8bn.

However, the insurance industry in general has lagged behind other sectors, leaving a gap in the market, which has been filled by the web-savvy aggregators. While some notable exceptions have bucked the trend, many smaller brokers do not have a web presence or, if they do, often have basic brochure-style sites, which fail to engage with the target audience - a short sighted approach to take in this day and age.

In its most recent general insurance online shopping survey, digital consultancy Foolproof found that 63% of adults in the UK bought their previous motor insurance policy online while 45% purchased their home insurance on the web and this looks set to rise.

In Foolproof's 2006 report, 66% said they expected to buy their next motor insurance policy online while 49% intended to buy their next home insurance policy this way, both of which have risen to 76% in 2008.

The number of people who use the internet for research is even greater. In its 2008 survey, the consultancy found that 93% of motor insurance and 92% of home insurance respondents cited the internet as one of the resources they would use to research buying their next policy.

While far fewer businesses buy insurance this way, the number is increasing. Given that small to medium-sized enterprise business is the bread and butter of most smaller brokers, it is vital that they get to grips with the internet sooner rather than later.

Adrian Waters, technical director at Ceta, says: "I do think the industry has been lagging behind somewhat. The majority of consumers choose to do their research on the internet but if you search for insurance brokers, often they don't have websites or are very basic. Just having a website is an essential element. It's a confidence thing as potential customers want to see what they are dealing with."

Equal opportunities

He points out that a professional website can allow smaller brokers to compete with national players, adding that it's not all about sales but that it can be used to improve customer service, gather information - which can be used to cross-sell - as well as showcase customer testimonials.

Steve Manton, chief executive of marketing agency M Consulting, agrees that most brokers have been slow off the mark, but he does highlight pioneers such as Moorhouse and Belmont.

"You need to plan the customer journey. You must keep the website fresh as you want people to come back to it regularly. In order to do this, you can publish information such as government White Papers and blogs - elements that get you recognised as a source of knowledge," he adds.

It could be that some brokers have resisted the lure of the internet as they are afraid of losing their personal touch but this need not be the case.

Mr Manton says brokers do not have to spend up to £30,000 on implementing a fully integrated e-commerce solution but could use the website to direct enquiries to a call centre, highlighting the importance of free social media tools, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, in building brand recognition.

Neil Johnson, director of marketing company Lamb, says: "When you buy a URL and server space you have, in effect, created your own TV channel. You can't just ignore it, you need to make sure it's fresh and up to date," he adds.

"From a broker's perspective, they have an opportunity to be a voice in their own local community. Why not engage? Why not talk about what's going on locally - for instance ask what people think about the local school being shut. If your business is situated in the community, then interact with it."

Indeed, brokers that embrace the internet are reaping the benefits. Welsh personal lines broker Motaquote, which is part of Protectagroup, says that since it invested in pay per click advertising in August 2009, the number of visitors to its website has increased significantly.

Nigel Lombard, MD at the company, says: "A website should not be a temporary measure. It needs to be part of the strategic business plan.

"If businesses want to move forward and grow their customer base they need to make effective use of their website by ensuring the information is relevant and up to date. The content on the site should be related to any keyword search terms used in search engines by customers."

He continues: "Brokers are great at networking and these skills are transferable to social networking sites. Using your URL will help raise awareness of your brand online."

So, the message is clear: it is simply not enough to have a web presence - it's about making sure you engage with your audience in as many ways as possible. The internet is here to stay, so you ignore it at your peril.