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In 2019, I know a question that you will be asked many times.

The more gregarious you are, the more you will be asked it.

It is:

Who are you?

Now, I have one more question to ask – right now – about this.

It is:

Who will you allow to create the answer to this question at the beginning of 2019?

Other people?

Or will you do it?

And if you are going to do it, what will the answer be?

Me.

I’m Michael Owen. Dad, husband and businessman.

I’m Designer and Founder at Always Wear Red. AWR is the clothing brand focused on giving people the edge. AWR makes people feel amazing! We change people. Because I believe when people feel amazing… they do amazing. 

I am privileged to a Founder of angelfysh, too. angelfysh is a team of proven business consultants working at board level to energise businesses to become purpose-driven brands that matter more and last longer.

Oh, and I write the 50odd blog. 3,650 diary entries. 1 each day. For 10 years.

Over to you.

Brands have to reach people.

No matter how good or worthy you are as a brand, you have to reach people.

If you don’t, they don’t know you exist.

And you have to reach people – the right people – in such a way that they want to pay attention and get involved.

They get involved when you display a belief in something that they believe in too.

I like all that.

It’s hard to do.

But I like it.

Here’s Something I Don’t Like Though. 

Imagine you have come from a parallel world, where you and we are (allegedly) intelligent species, and are hearing about this business model for the first time:

Hi.

I’m an advertising opportunity for brands and businesses and I make money in two ways.

So you can visualise this clearly, imagine that I sit at the centre of a bow tie shape, creating or curating decent content that people want to experience. This draws an audience into my space.

To my left, in the left half ‘fan’ of the bow tie are people that you that want reach.

To my right, fanned out in the right half of the bow tie there are people like you. People with something to say or offer.

Here are the two ways I make money…

  1. I charge brands like you, to my right, for the delivery of messages to the people on my left. I help your messages to reach them. I’ll leave it to you to work out what to say to them and how to say it.
  2. Secondly, I charge the people to my left to switch off the adverts that I have encouraged you to make and charged you to deliver to them in the first instance. I promote to the people you want to reach that, if they don’t want to hear what you have to say they can pay me money for the privilege. This in itself has three effects. Firstly it makes me more money. Secondly it introduces or reenforces the idea to your audience that the things I have encouraged your brand to create and pay us to deliver on your behalf, are undesirable and interruptive. Thirdly, we are positioned as the hero because – for a fee – we can block out the ‘crap’ that we encouraged you – the brands – to create in the first place.

Anyhow, how should we work together?

Consumers.

I dunno…

Yes. OK. I get it.

The Internet.

But I don’t know about you… my habits as a consumer are changing.

Nowadays, when Grammerly or Wix or some other offering interrupts me or mine, I don’t listen.

I also don’t store them in my memory to use them later, either.

What I do do, is remember not to use them.

They just fucking annoy me.

I don’t want to be sold to at all really, but I certainly don’t want to be interrupted to be sold to in this way.

I don’t want a brand to say:

Hey. Stop being in leisure mode or relaxing mode and immediately move into consumer mode.

No.

Fuck off.

It’s rude.

The Solution. 

I’m not sure of the complete solution.

But a big part of it is for brands to first have a true purpose that I can remember easily and that matters to me and others.

Then, politely hang around in my peripheral vision until I am ready for you. Giving me great content that I enjoy and that enhances my life is part of this approach.

And whilst, as I say, I am not sure of exactly the best overall strategy (I’m working on it), I am absolutely positive that elbowing your way in front of my face, my partner’s face or my daughters face – uninvited – does the exact opposite of what you want strategically.

I really, really, really dislike you.

And I hope that an increasing number of people feel the same way too.

It’s almost 2019. 

I am looking forward to 2019 but I definitely want it to be different to 2018.

Particularly with business.

2018 has been a really bitty year.

Zigging and zagging all over the place with the two businesses I run.

Overcomplicated approaches to communicating the businesses.

Sprinting and jogging in business (both are important) but I am not sure I was always doing the right one at the right time.

I wasn’t as disciplined and hard working as I should have been.

I got distracted far too easily and I prioritised badly.

I had no single strategy that I stuck to.

I wasn’t as organised and structured as I could have been.

Plan.

So in 2019, I’ll:

  1. Plan better.
  2. Implement the plans better.

It’s tricky when I am not answerable in the day-to-day to anyone, though.

So I will remember who I want to be proud of me, and who will benefit from what the businesses are actually trying to do.

That last bit is key. It’s what drives me.

The people I want to be proud of what I am up to are (no particular order):

  1. Me.
  2. Anyone at all that helps me to build brand and business.
  3. Family.
  4. Friends.
  5. Anyone that interacts with and can benefit from the brands and the brand’s ‘why‘ in any way.

I’ll read this again.

And simplify.

P.S. I’m going to have a lot of fun though.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Happy New Year.

I need to choose whether I am actually ‘in’ work or ‘out’.

If I do what I did yesterday, which is to be ‘out’ but just pop ‘in’ to the AWR Studio to see if everything’s OK and look at emails – that’s not out.

And if I go ‘in’ and then do a bit of Christmas shopping and move things around of a shelf, that’s not really ‘in’.

Both are ‘INT’.

INT.

INT is is what people do when they are being stupid.

Because I’m either ‘in’ work and not doing great work because I am thinking about Christmas and the family.

Or I am ‘out’ and not relaxing over Christmas and with the family because I am worrying and wondering about work.

So no more ‘INT’ for me.

Because it’s stupid.

Right!

I’m off to catch the news.

Which is talking about politicians again.

Those highly paid people that we all rely on to build our futures and run the country for us and our children.

They are looking after Brexit for us.

Which is that thing about being ‘out’ of Europe.

Whilst still being ‘in’.

(INT is what people do when they are being stupid).

Merry Christmas.

Just so you know…

9% of UK shoppers admit to buying clothing so they can be photographed wearing it on social media.

No other reason.

Here’s a quote:

For some, the constant compulsion to record their lives on social media means they’re unwilling to be snapped in the same outfit twice.

This fuels fast fashion – cheap garments bought only ‘for the gram’ and then returned or not worn again, as observed in a recent Barclaycard study.

According to the bank, which surveyed 2,002 adults, 9% of UK shoppers admit to buying clothing just so they can be photographed wearing it on social media.

OK, two points.

  1. Buying stuff to wear and take back really hurts brands. I understand someone doing it as a fun thing, I really do. But if someone does this once they’ve had their eyes opened to the fact that it can put little brands out of business – it says a lot about that person. (It doesn’t happen to Always Wear Red by the way. So this is not coming from a personal experience. We have had one thing returned in almost 3 years. But it is a bit selfish. So don’t do it to any brand, please).
  2. Wear clothing for you. To tell the story of who you are or who you want to be. Look in the mirror, not down the lens of your camera phone. What you think is enough. In fact, what you think is all that matters.

Here’s the full report:

https://www.home.barclaycard/media-centre/press-releases/snap-and-send-back.html

I used to drum in a band in Derby when I was in my teens.

I had a few lessons. I was OK.

I played live a few times and liked being in a band.

That’s why I started to play the drums, by the way. Because I wanted to be in a band.

My confidence wouldn’t let me play any other instrument at that time though.

I had to be at the back.

Newcastle.

I came to Newcastle to study and I still wanted to be in a band. And like everyone else arriving at the same time, I had the opportunity to reinvent myself. So I could have done it in any way I liked.

But there was a lot going on. New people, new city, new influences. So much to experience and do.

I wanted to get back into music but it didn’t happen until I left Polytechnic three years later.

If I am honest, it was because I integrated at Polytechnic quite well (I tried hard to fit in; I wanted to belong) and being in a band would have been too risky.

I’d have been judged.

Work. 

But in a world of work, after I’d left studying, everything shifted.

Work was steady. A bit dull. So I was ready to go again. I had room to create.

This time as a singer.

Frontman.

Oddly, I didn’t want to be a frontman. I just wanted to see what it was like to be a frontman. I wanted to see what it felt like.

I could sing. A bit. And as history has proven that that’s enough for Chris Martin, I was right to have a go.

And I was OK!

Much better than a lot of the kids around at the time.

I enjoyed it. For a bit.

I didn’t push things.

But I enjoyed the view.

Business. 

I had jobs through my twenties.

At thirty I started my first proper business.

I was now the frontman in business. And that’s never changed since.

2019.

I am writing this because in 2019 I am going to explore more what being a frontman in business really means.

I personify Always Wear Red. In the same way that a singer personifies their band.

But am I enigmatic enough?

Cool enough?

Memorable enough?

Brave enough?

Am I playing the role properly for this creative thing that I have built?

Not as well as I should, is the answer.

Frontmen and women have ‘something about them’.

Next year I am going to explore what my ‘something’ is.

I just hope I am more Paul Hewson than Darius Campbell.

Always Wear Red is a brand with a purpose.

It is a brand born to create confidence.

When you wear our Collection you look amazing.

When you look amazing you feel amazing.

And when you feel amazing you do amazing.

You might even feel so amazingly confident that you do that thing you were born to do.

Momentum.

The problem I have sometimes though in the AWR business, is that there are too many ideas.

I have lots of ideas about how I want to create product, grow ranges, tell stories.

I want to change people.

And I believe I can.

know that the relationship between what we wear and how we feel is real.

It is an existing conversation. People are feeling this right now. 

People ‘get’ it.

Famous.

I want to build a brand that is famous worldwide for its customer experience, quality British craftsmanship, edgy yet classic design approaches, a bonded community that exists around it and its dedication to causes that encourage individuals to be more confident and address their potential as human beings.

I’m driven by this.

I am bursting with ideas and vision, but – I am finding – with the lack of support to see some of the  ideas take shape.

I think I am a leader who can see the end game and gets excited by the creative ways to get there.

Partners

I need more people around me.

Lisa, Co-founder of Always Wear Red is amazing at getting things done.

But I need an additional sounding board.

Someone to fire ideas at and brainstorm with.

Someone to capture my ideas and put them into a plan, sometimes parking ideas that sound exciting but aren’t commercially ready yet. Someone to hold me accountable and put a strategy in place for the brand.

And I need that person to also be ‘hands’ for the business, though.

A do-er.

Someone to get things done for me and with me.

This can’t be someone to just talk with.

I also need additional creative minds to help me shape what the brand looks like, to add value at each stage of the customer journey and create content – graphics, video, photography –  that wow and inspire our customers to want to join us on our journey.

To be a part of our story and to allow us to become a part of their story, too.

I need a team that can be flexible and react to new ideas quickly, to come up with coherent and relevant ideas I never even imagined and guide me to think differently based on their own extensive branding and marketing knowledge.

You

I’m working on this. As we approach 2019.

And what about you? In your business or venture.

Who do you need?

No great brand was ever built by one person.

Not one.

Have a think.

I intend to accelerate in 2019.

And I know I can’t do it alone.

Is it just me, or is this the first year that the John Lewis advert has flared brightly then just kinda died?

I’ve not really thought much about it at all.

Have you?

The John Lewis gals and guys will be around a table already pondering the 2019 advert of course.

Budgets tend to be between £5 million and £10 million from memory. Plus media spend of tens of millions more (paying for the spaces to put the advert).

So they have quite a bit to think about.

Tired. 

But maybe we’re just a bit tired of these annual spend-fests?

I think they’re just a bit crass now.

Self indulgent.

Thoughtless.

There this year just because they were there last year.

And I don’t just think I am saying this because I worked in advertising… I just think we all know what advertising is now.

And it’s not that nice really.

It’s boring.

It’s just getting us to buy things.

And so much of it is lazy and regurgitated.

Are brands actually trying to make us love them? To help us to understand why they are different and better? To build relationships with us? To look for win:wins?

Or just trying to dazzle us for a few seconds with me-too messaging.

I think it’s the latter.

Please, please, please. 

Anyhow, in my own self-indulgent moment, here is the music from the 2011 John Lewis advert.

The last advert I actually liked.

It didn’t help me to understand why John Lewis should be my store of choice.

But it did remind me that Morrissey is a genius.

If you’re a business, big or small, wanting to get a message to your market – know where they are focusing. 

Know what they are reading and where they are reading it, so you know where to tell your story.

This might help (percentages include multi-tasking):

In 2012, a UK adult spent 11% of their day staring at their phone. In 2018 it will be 31%.

In 2012, a UK adult spent 2.2% of their day staring at a tablet. In 2018 it will be 9.3%.

In 2012, a UK adult spent 40.9% of their day staring at, or being around a TV. In 2018 it will be 30%.

In 2012, a UK adult spent 18.4% of their day listening to, or being around radio. In 2018 it will be 13.3%.

In 2012, a UK adult spent 4.5% of their day reading printed content. In 2018 it will be 2.7%.

Gary.

Gary Vaynerchuk is imploring businesses to message more online using the mighty Google and Facebook.

And whilst this powerful duopoly might make some feel funny about boosting their dominance further, it seems we have little choice at the moment.

The upside, and Vaynerchuk talks about this too, is that messaging on these platforms is only going to get more expensive. So you get a lot for your money right now.

Trend.

The above figures are a trend.

Follow.

Or be left behind.

The photograph with this story is a burger and fries.

It’s a great burger.

Loads of flavour, not too expensive, loaded with two cheeses and from The Merchants Tavern in Newcastle.

It’s independent and good.

The Black Horse Pub in East Boldon is amazing.

REALLY amazing.

The food!

It is independent and good.

Small.

Small businesses make up 95% of all businesses in England.

The government gives billions (I cannot remember how much, my friend Tony knows) to big businesses and single figure millions to support small ones.

The government, for a whole host of reasons of course, is stupid.

But worse than stupid is callous, aloof, arrogant, elitist and, in far too many ways, just couldn’t give a fuck about small people and small things.

The government thinks that big, rich people and corporations are big and rich because they deserve to be.

And that small and poor people are small and poor for the same reason.

When I last checked, we pay them to listen to us and look after us.

But because they do neither of these things, I’d like to suggest that you do what they should be doing.

Think small.

Buying things.

When you’re buying things, please try to appreciate how valuable it is to buy from small, hard working businesses.

There’re big hard working businesses too of course.

But please think on.

Any decent smaller businesses will love you more because you have taken the time to seek them out, learn to love them, then buy from them.

It’s a good thing to do.

Cost. 

And one last thing.

If you have on the tip of your tongue with regard to this subject:

But why are they so expensive?

First of all, when you look closely for the answer, you will probably find beautiful stories and great value in the answers.

And they probably aren’t as expensive as you imagined.

Honestly, and you will LOVE the answers you find.

And anyway, there is a much more valuable question than this.

About the big corporations.

It is:

But why are they so cheap?

Please ask.

And believe me, you will NOT love the answers you get.

Merry Christmas. 

Make a small business’s Christmas.

The feeling you get by doing so will make yours too.