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BUSINESS

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There are many different ways to run a business and a brand.

And there are many different ways to run your personal brand alongside it.

These include:

  1. Construct one and tell that story.
  2. Just be you and tell that story.
  3. Don’t.

Personal Brand.

I was asked to talk on this subject alongside my friend Sarah Hall at the Northern Power Futures event in February 2019.

If you think that having some kind of a discernible personal brand can enhance or add value to the brand or business within which you are significant, here are some pointers.

First, keep in mind that your ‘personal brand’ has been described by many (including Jeff Bezos) as:

…what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

So if we take this definition as accurate, you have a personal brand whether you like it or not.

And if you have one whether you like it or not you may as well manage one.

And if you may as well manage one it may as well be an authentic one.

Or you can be pretty sure that, at some point, you’ll get found out.

What an Authentic Personal Brand Really Is

An authentic personal brand means being deeply authentic.

It means creating and sharing content about you like this.

  1. Show all sides of yourself. Go off-piste. You’re not just an MD. You’re a woman or a man too. You eat in good restaurants occasionally. You have family events. You have opinions on design. You may run through fields with your dogs to keep fit and alert. Real resonates.
  2. You’re not the consumer of this content, your audience on social media is. Or the community that has bought from you or may one day buy from you. So – there’s no need to polish or romanticise for your palate.
  3. Go cross-media. Write it. Create audio. Create video. Your audience consumes in many ways.
  4. Document content. Don’t create content. This results in much richer content that you can then re-edit for many different things. Audio for podcasts. Written copy for articles. Video for YouTube or Instagram.

It’s easier when you’re you.

It’s the person you do best.

I find it odd that anyone would actually admit being an influencer.

This is because, as I understand it, an influencer is most likely to be someone that pretends they like something because someone gave them some money to do so.

So if I was an influencer, I’d feel a bit uncomfortable with that.

I’d feel a bit shallow and stupid.

So would probably keep it quiet.

But then no one would know I was an influencer.

And wouldn’t know where to send the cheques and the stuff.

Oh.

I see.

Influencers.

I don’t get too fed up about influencers these days, because they are dying.

Though I must admit that a more naive me did flirt with those armed with large social media audiences in the early days of Always Wear Red.

I never gifted things.

But I did feel that I should be gifting things.

Because other people were gifting things.

So it must be right.

Right?

It always made me feel funny though.

So I stayed away.

Influence.

There’s a difference between a constructed, traditional (is that the right term for such a new construct?) ‘influencer’ and ‘someone with influence’.

And I think that there is additional subtext too in that if any brand takes influencing on as a marketing tactic, it is only acceptable if the greater good is fed – and it is part of their existing brand story.

So the messaging is not just made up for the latest campaign.

Lies.

So, nettle tea for slimming – because it is complete and utter bullshit – is not something that traditional influencers should flaunt.

Because this makes them liars, being paid by lying brands to lie to the vulnerable and the unconfident.

Conversely, Meghan Markle wearing Huit Jeans because they are genuinely superb jeans made by a genuine brand that is genuinely creating Welsh jobs and building a genuinely bonded community is fine by me.

I just see these two things as different.

So my summary is this.

Individuals that accelerate the building of good brands and good communities that – together – spread good ideas where there is clearly no loser, are fine.

Individuals that set unreal or unrealistic goals for the vulnerable is just a really shitty thing for one human being to knowingly do to another under any circumstances.

This second way is shitty not just because the headline is a lie, but because the subtext is that people are not good enough just the way they are is a lie also.

It’s positioning an impossible solution next to an imaginary problem.

And that clearly is, and always has been, wrong.

This short story is for business owners or those wanting to build their own business.

Marketing.

It’s everywhere, marketing.

The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements – profitably.

It sounds dead easy when we read that neat CIM definition.

And I suppose, when it’s stripped down, it is pretty straight forward in principle.

The more experienced a person is, the better of course.

And the more they care about the work they do.

And the more they have good ideas.

These are all important.

But it’s simply what you do in the space between you and the people you want to influence.

In order to move you towards achieving your business goals.

Brand.

I want to mention something that is more important than marketing though.

Brand.

Marketing is subordinate to brand.

Because if a business does not have a brand its marketing will be sub-optimal at best.

Here’s my definition of brand:

A perception held in the mind of a consumer about your product or service.

If you are a business owner that wants to become a brand owner (there’s a difference) – it is your job to engineer these perceptions.

Or to get someone to help you to do so.

Because it’s a science.

And until you do know what you want to be remembered for as a brand, reduce your marketing spend.

To zero.

Because until you know why you are different and better, you cannot expect your customers to either.

So until you have something to say.

Don’t say anything.

Agencies. 

There’s only one thing worse than a business owner that does not know why they are different and better.

And that is a creative/design/marketing/brand agency not knowing why their client is different and better.

Because if they don’t know that, the only strategy they have left is you get their client to outspend the competition in the marketing space.

And if they do that, the agency wins – and the client loses.

Because the agency gets fees.

And the client’s profitability is eroded by unnecessarily high marketing spend.

Zero. 

So.

In summary.

Until you know why you are different and better, and why your customers should choose you over the competition, and you’re prepared enough so you can communicate this at every touchpoint simply and consistently, reduce your marketing spend.

To zero.

Being in a groove sounds great!

It sounds relaxing.

It sounds like I’d be walking like I’m dancing and clicking my fingers.

Or if I was in my car, I’d have one hand on the steering wheel, an elbow out of the open window and I’d be waving.

Being in a groove sounds like a good place to be.

Antenna.

If you do get into the groove in business or life though, I think you need additional antenna.

So that you stay aware of what’s going on around you.

There are, for example, lots of businesses that batten down the hatches in a recession.

They stay in the groove they’re in and wait for the storm to pass.

However recessions, in recent history, never pass.

They create new norms.

And those that stayed in the groove they were in – die.

Football

Roy Evans was Liverpool manager from 1994 to 1998.

He didn’t win lots.

But he did stabilise a wobbly Liverpool coming out of a bad set of performances.

And the once said:

You can’t win the premiership by Christmas.

But you can lose it by thinking you can.

I like this quote.

It’s a verbal kick up the arse.

It should create focus and kill complacency.

2018/2019

This season, Liverpool were comfortably top of the Premiership at Christmas.

And Klopp (Liverpool manager for those that don’t know) said to those that are predicting Liverpool for the 2018/2019 Premiership title:

What’s the point in winning half a race?

I’m not a Liverpool supporter.

But I do like this kind of thinking.

I suppose it manifests as a football team only being as good as their last match.

Or their next performance.

And for businesses and brands – it’s the same.

The Groove.

Staying in the groove can be relaxing.

But it can also be terminal.

Stay alert.

It’s OK to zigzag.

Because when you’re zigging, you don’t really know what zagging is like.

Until you actually zag.

So it’s good to try.

Always Wear Red.

Going ‘all in’ on a project that is important to you seems like the right thing to do.

If and when you do this, only then will you truly know what it feels like.

In the middle of 2018 I stopped working as a Brand Consultant and worked 100% on Always Wear Red, my fashion brand.

Being a Brand Consultant is where I am safest.

I’m good at it.

I’ve been doing it and similar business communications activities for 20 years.

But as I decided, at the age of 47 to go into fashion, a totally new thing for me, I also decided that if I was going to do the new thing well I’d better commit.

Fully.

So I did.

Logic. 

The logic behind this decision is sound.

Surely the more time you spend doing a thing, the better you become?

I had to do it and I don’t regret it.

But a few months in, something happened.

I realised that I was struggling with the responsibility of just doing the one thing.

It HAD to be successful… NOW.

Because it was all I was doing.

Patience.

My ability to be patient weakened.

I was forcing things that should not be forced.

Like design.

And every day I woke I was hit full in the face with ALWAYS WEAR RED.

It was all I thought about and all I could see.

And that was not good for me.

Or for Always Wear Red.

Zag.

So, I’ve zagged.

I’ve gone back to working with just a couple of brands as a consultant, helping them to maximise by getting their business communications right at a brand level, then both strategically and tactically, and all of this aligned to the overall organisational objectives.

I can do that for other people.

And I can do it for me too.

In fact because I am doing it for myself it makes me better at helping others.

And, for the moment at least, because I am helping other people, it’s making me better at doing it for Always Wear Red.

Weird!

I’ll do this for a while. For as long as everyone is winning.

Then, if things change again…

I’ll zig.

If I had my time again – I know I won’t  but I want to illustrate a point – something I’d do a whole lot more is practise.

Freely, consistently, wholeheartedly and over longer periods of time.

The Dictionary versus My Dictionary.

Here’s the dictionary definition of ‘Practise’

…perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to acquire, improve or maintain proficiency in it.

Here’s a Michael Owen (me) definition:

…perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) in an incomplete, ineffective or sub-optimal way repeatedly or regularly in the hope that you might acquire, improve or maintain proficiency in it, when in fact you may very well simply look like a twat as you chase levels of performance that are clearly way beyond a pathetic thing like you.

You see… I do that.

Sometimes.

I tell myself the wrong story.

Bicycles.

Izobel is loving practising with her new bike at the moment.

However I did say this to her on Boxing Day:

Izobel, for shit’s sake – how many times are you going to falling off?

Maybe you were just not cut out to ride a bike.

Me and your mother spent £100 on it as well.

Now get back on and if you can’t ride it in a straight line for any useful distance it’s going on bloody eBay.

And for Christ’s sake stop crying… you’re 2!

I didn’t say that.

So you can stop looking for the number to call Childline.

Clothing.

I’m leading Always Wear Red.

It’s very new to me.

I do some things really badly.

And some things really well.

And I sometimes ask myself why on earth I’ve founded a clothing brand in a world where brands like Levi Strauss have been making perfectly good clothes for 165 years.

Well, I am practising.

I like practising.

I am enjoying practising becoming a great clothing designer.

Just like they did.

What else can I or anybody else do with anything fresh and pioneering but practise?

This is worth remembering.

As is this…

Someone else is also practising creating great clothing for today’s consumers.

Levi Strauss.

Practise or Failing?

So call it what you will.

Practise… failing… something else.

But I think we should all embrace it.

Because I don’t think it ever stops.

Here I am in WH Smith today with Izobel.

I am reading The Gruffalo crouched on the floor.

Izobel is lost in the story… ecstatic as the characters come to life.

They come to life because in the two to three feet of distance that exist between us we’ve created a brilliant, beautiful experience.

She is giggling at me.

I am fashioning different voices for foxes, owls, snakes and The Gruffalo himself from thin air.

We are totally, totally lost in each other and in the experience that Izobel and I have created together.

Retail. 

If we zoom back just a little from our beautiful bubble, we see a different kind of experience.

A WH Smith staffed by miserable bastards on the ground floor in Newcastle City Centre and no one at all on the first floor.

It is December 1st and no one that is there wants to be there.

They sigh.

They shuffle around.

No one looks at us.

They moan at each other about being at work and recall tales of getting pissed, annoying relatives and (quote), ‘shit Christmas presents’.

Lisa wanders freely around the scruffy store as Izobel and I dance around in our made-up world.

The store is not dirty.

But half open boxes are strewn around.

It’s just horribly untidy.

Ladders stand against walls.

Black and white A4 photocopies of what displays should look like after the grumbling staff have restocked them were sellotaped to empty shelves.

Not A Complaint. 

This is not a complaint about my experience today.

I was fine.

I had Izobel and The Gruffalo.

It is simply a relaying of what I saw in yet another lazy, unimaginative, dusty, crappy, unprogressive, ideas-vacuum of a retail brand that is bleeding to death.

All of the stuff they were doing today should have been done through the night.

Out of eyesight of any customer.

And if through the night is not the answer, then the brand leadership should find an alternative.

No question.

Touchpoint after touchpoint after touchpoint left me feeling utterly empty and sad for the soon-to-be-redundant leaderless tribe let down by their visionless, idealess leadership.

WH Smith’s leadership will no doubt claim to have no idea why the brand disappears from our highstreet in the next year or two.

The answer to why they will have no idea, is that they have no ideas.

This is not ‘a shame’.

It is simply embarrassing, obvious and fucking disgusting.

I honestly don’t find many things more exciting than owning a new, hard backed notebook and a new, great quality black permanent ink pen.

It’s blank pages, as I run my fingers over them, wake me up.

It’s because of the possibilities.

I can write what I am going to achieve.

I can design a new thing to develop with Britain’s best makers for the Always Wear Red collection.

I can record beautiful and poignant things that people say to me.

I can capture the future on these pages.

But much more than that – I can write it.

If you would like to give yourself the most valuable gift in the world, bar none, do this.

Off.

I’ve started turning my phone off.

For large parts of the day.

I smile a lot… because I keep picking it up and staring at a blank screen.

It’s like a drug currently, mauling the lifeless metal and glass brick as I get through the cold turkey phase.

Reacting. 

The reason I do this is because I spent days… no, weeks… no, maybe even months in 2018 reacting – immediately or very quickly – to something that happened on social media, email, text or as the result of a phonecall.

I also started to rely on the dopamine that the good stuff on social media released in me. (If this sounds weird, I know someone that is/was almost certainly similarly dependent… you).

Question.

To finally instigate the change I asked myself a question…

How would life be different if I didn’t react to anything that happened on social media, any email, any text or any phone call within, say, 4 hours throughout the whole of 2018?

The answer is – it wouldn’t.

So I am going to turn my phone off for 1, 2 or 3 blocks of 4 to 6 hours every single day from today.

Weird.

I feel a bit weird.

And my neck aches a bit from looking forward so much, instead of down.

And I’m not even joking about that.

How embarrassing!

The Gift.

The gift that you (and your family, children, other loved ones, business, etc) will get by doing this can’t be bought.

No matter how rich you are.

It’s time.

I don’t think that anything you do should be everything you do.

The stakes are too high.

I’ve made this mistake more than once.

Obsessing about one thing and letting it take over my life.

Going All In.

This doesn’t mean not going ‘all in’ though.

Committing to your dream properly is important.

You have 1000 months – then you die.

So if you are going to do something, do it really, really well.

Balance.

But like I suggested at the beginning, I think we should fill our lives with other things as well as our dream.

So that family and friends still see us and know us.

So that we still know ourselves.

So we still learn and experience things outside of our core activity.

So yes – I don’t think that anything you do should be everything you do.

It’ll only make you miserable.

And the thing you’re supposed to love might just end up becoming the thing you hate.