March 2019


When your child first stands, wobbles and begins to walk, there is a flush of pride.

When your child first draws something – that first incoherent squiggle half-on and half-off the page, there’s another flush.

Because she or he has held a crayon and made their mark.

And when your child starts to string sentences together, as clumsy as they are, we flush with pride once more.

All this pride.

For rubbish balance, rubbish drawings and incoherent mumbles.


In life, this is all fine.

And natural.

And beautiful.

It’s what parents do.

But it is often what business owners do too.

Business owner’s first attempts at doing what they do in business are very often pretty shite.

But because we are doing them for the first time, we’re proud.

And this can blind us to the truth.


We have to be really careful with this in business.

It’s a real balance.

We must be brave enough to ‘just do’ and not wait for the perfect execution.

(Perfectionism is a form of self sabotage).

But we must also remember to benchmark.

To look across at what options the consumer has.

Be different, yes.

This is very important.

But be aware of the minimum quality requirements in your markets.

Your product or service offering, honestly, has to be shit-hot.


Some of the things I did in the early days of Always Wear Red were not really good enough.

The quality was always there.

But whilst aspects of the brand (I’ve built brands for years) were amazing – aspects of the Collection’s design (I’m quite new to this) just weren’t good enough.

‘Firsts’ can deceive you.

The adrenaline and the dopamine kick you’re getting is because you are pioneering.

It’s not because you are excelling.

Learn the difference.

Before you hear it from your customers.

If you run a business, or if you are thinking about running a business, this is how to get your brand chosen.

In his book, Branding with Brains: The science of getting customers to choose your company, Tjaco Walvis formulated an ‘algorithm in the brain’.

He suggests that the brain makes brand choices in much the same way Google uses an algorithm to search the Internet.

This brain algorithm has three criteria that inform consumers as they seek to choose one brand over another.

Here’s what the brain looks for:

1. Relevance. The more distinctive and uniquely relevant a product or service is, the greater the chance it will be chosen by the customer. Relevant brands are better linked to the dopamine, or reward, system in the brain (part of the limbic systems), which strongly influences our behavior.

2. Coherence. The more coordinated the branding efforts are over time and space, the greater the chance the brand will be chosen. Coherent branding means repeating the same message over the years and across all customer touch-points. This makes it easier for the brain to retrieve the brand and make it a winner in competition with others.

3. Participation. The more interactive the branding environment created for customers is, the more likely it is that the brand will be selected by the brain’s algorithm. The brain forms numerous new cell connections in response to interactive environment, improving brand memorability.

Here’s a summary

  1. Be different, know who you’re for and tell them why.
  2. Be consistent.
  3. Be connected and nurture interactivity.

I really like this.

Because it’s simple.

And because I know it’s true.

How does/will the behaviour of your brand stand up against this 3-step check?

12, Bowker Avenue.

I visited 12, Bowker Avenue, Haughton Green last night.

In Denton.

In Manchester.

It’s the house I was born into in 1968.

And lived in until I was 15.

Rude Words.

Craig Pyatt lived next door when I was growing up.

He, when he was in his teens and I was 7, taught me my first rude word.

It was ‘pillock’.

Larry Grayson.

My mum’s car used to park outside.

The car that her dad Harry left her when he died.

It was a black Ford Anglia, the ashtrays stunk and it had the registration 9166 LG.

It’s funny what you remember isn’t it?

She tried to sell that registration plate to Larry Grayson once.

He didn’t want it.

4 Bowker Avenue.

And Mark Woodcock lived at number 4 Bowker Avenue.

I went to his house last night, too on Bowker Avenue.

His dad Keith is dead now and I am not sure about his mum.

He was my first best friend and his dad, my Uncle Keith, made us bacon sandwiches.

4, Bowland Avenue

I went to 4 Bowland Avenue, Gorton last night too.

To visit my grandma.

She died about 20 years ago.

The front garden looked pretty much the same.

12, Elford Grove

Then I went to 12, Elford Road, Gorton.

That’s just about 200 yards away from Bowland Avenue and it’s where my grandma lived with her second husband, Frank Cherry.

From Harry… to Frank.

She cried for years when her first husband Harry died.

I was 3 then, I think.

My grandma, Anne, moved from Bowland to Elford to be with Frank.

One of the reasons Anne fell for Frank after Harry died was because Frank tapped the barometer in the hall when he first visited 4 Bowland Avenue.

Harry had done that every day of his life.

Grandad Frank’s shed.

I looked at Frank’s Elford Grove house from the outside last night.

I spent many days and nights over about 6 years there, being looked after by my grandma and Frank as my mum worked.

I made planes in Frank’s shed as he patiently watched on.

Then Frank died.

Then my grandma died.

So I didn’t go there any more.

The Old Dog Pub

I wandered past the first pub I ever went into last night too.

‘The Old Dog’ in Haughton Green in Denton.

The Village Chippy

The ‘Village Chippy’ is still there too.


I looked at it from the outside.

Last night.

I felt very grown up when I was allowed to get pudding and chips and gravy from there when I was 10 years old.

I am happy it is still there.

The Fields.

And finally last night, I also found time to gaze across the fields that Darren McLellan lived the other side of.

The fields I used to walk past to go to school.

My mum didn’t like me mixing with Darren McLellan.

Two Trees School.

Darren McLellan went to Two Trees school.

It was a bit rough.

The Dead Man.

These fields are also the fields where my sister Debbie found a dead man.

She thought he was sunbathing.

But he’d died of a heart attack.

Shirley Frost’s Bottom.

I felt Shirley Frost’s bottom on these fields too.

She was 10 I think.

But so was I so I think that’s legal.

Time Machine.

You can try visits like this too if you like.

It’s emotional.

Google’s Streetview really is a Time Machine.

When I was 19 I went to Barcelona with University.

As part of my University Design Degree course.

It was an experience meant to be highlighted by Gaudi’s architecture.

But one of the most memorable things for me was seeing my fellow female course members in bikinis.


The broader experience was mostly a blur.

We drank a lot.

And messed about.

You see, I never really invested properly in my degree.

Life was superb and I made great friends.

But the course really didn’t fulfil me.

Anyhow, on this Barcelona trip, I had ‘a moment’.

Not just lying on the roof of a beautiful building with bikinied colleagues.

Something more memorable even than that.

Black and White. 

One evening, I found myself alone in a jazz bar.

(Not innuendo; it really was a bar playing jazz music).

I was sat right by the stage.

The music was not too loud from the 4 piece.

I had a glass of whiskey with ice.

Everybody was smiling.

I was 19 years old.

And the whole experienced seemed, somehow, to be in black and white.

It felt really lovely.


It was, I think, the first time I felt like a man.

(Not another innuendo, thank you).

…It was the first time I felt like the world really was my oyster.

Like I could do anything.

Nobody mattered at that moment.

Nothing mattered.

It was 31 years ago.

More than half of my lifetime ago.

And I still remember it.

I felt like anything was possible in that moment.

Lost In Translation.

When I watched ‘Lost In Translation’ 25 years later, I was reminded of my time in Barcelona.

For Bill Murray’s character Bob – Charlotte arrived.

For me, on that occasion in Barcelona, no one arrived.

Even though my scene was so beautifully set for such a meeting.

Maybe my Charlotte was there an hour earlier.

Or an hour later.

Or not at all.


I left the bar with no special new friend.

But I still smile today when I think of that night in Barcelona because fate sometimes creates things for you.

And sometime it doesn’t.

Nevertheless, unless you put yourself out there, it can’t happen at all.

Possibility is very seductive for me.


If you’re reading this story in your email, pop to to see 3 minutes of one of the nicest and most beautiful looking films I’ve ever seen.

It reminds me of my moment in Barcelona.

But without the Charlotte.


When I was in my late teens I was a big Tears For Fears fan.

They were there during the most informing years of my life.

The soundtrack to my firsts.


This story signposts to one of a few recent Tears For Fears reunions.

I think this is the best one.

It is from 2014, 30 years after the release of Songs From The Big Chair.

The Working Hour (25:37), in particular, is superb.

Play loud.

3:04  –  Everybody Wants To Rule The World

9:02  –  The Seeds Of Love

16:30 – Head Over Heels

21:22 – Mad World

25:37 – The Working Hour

33:17 – Shout

Go to to see the full 40 minutes if you are reading this in your email.

On Saturday we took Izobel to McDonald’s.

But I didn’t call it McDonalds in front of Izobel.

I just said we were going for a burger.

I focused on the category – not the brand.


I don’t want McDonald’s to be a part of my 2 year old’s vocabulary.

This will happen soon enough.

The kind of ‘mental addiction’ (this is a pretty accurate phrase) that this brand is likely to effect on my daughter is powerful.

So I don’t want to fan the flames.

I will have to tackle the effects of this soon enough.


If you run a business however, you want to do the opposite.

Focus on the name – not the category.

More now than ever.

Because of voice controlled devices.

You want to be a brand and you want to stand for something.

Be a Brand. 

Be a brand because within a year or three, if we want a burger we will shout at a device in our living rooms and it will be delivered.

McDonalds will be fine (notwithstanding other market forces and movements).

Because we will shout for a Big Mac.

If you’re a burger bar then customers just asking for burger to be delivered is likely to get them a burger from the chain that has paid Amazon (or whoever) most money.

See how that works?

You need to market YOU – by name (Big Mac) – and not the category within which you reside (burgers).

Or big chunks of your profit will go to some intermediary as you pay for a top spot in a category when you could have asserted your brand position by building a meaningful brand yourself.

Category Versus You.

I’ve worked in Business Communications for 20 years or so.

And as startling as it sounds, the vast majority of businesses I meet either:

1. Don’t market properly (or at all).


2. Spend money marketing everyone in their category.

Both are silly.

What I mean by Point 1 is just non-existent or crap communications.

What I mean by point 2. is, ‘Restaurant A’ does not know why its is authentically different or better so it just markets ‘going out for a great meal’.

Just like everyone in the category.

They all say similar things (atmosphere, service, food, choice, offers…) because they’re not clever enough (or their agency is not clever enough) to find and home-in on an ownable point of difference.

This is a problem if you are a business owner.

Your problem.

And it needs to be solved.

People that really understand brand do solve it.

But the new consideration now, and this really should be thought about is HOW people are going to order things.

Or communicate things.

And what this means to you.

Most specifically – consumer communication and buying will become increasingly verbal.


So, think about how people will talk about your brand.

In actual words.

Not just reputationally – but literally.

It matters more than ever.

I was in ASDA last Saturday and I photographed some guy’s underpants.

I don’t know who he was.

All I know is, when he bent down to look at things on a lower shelf in ASDA, his underpants were sticking out of the top of the back of his jeans by about 2 inches.

So I photographed them.


I’m 50 years old, yet I really wanted to ‘melve’ this guy.

When I was at school aged no more than 12, if anyone was unfortunate enough to have their underwear sticking out of the back of their trousers, they were in danger.

They were in danger of being ‘melved’.

This means someone grabbing the underwear and pulling them upwards so quickly and so firmly that they either tear or lift the person from the ground and up into the air.

The ‘melvee’ would scream of course.

And the ‘melver’ would laugh.


In ASDA in Byker (just in case it was you) I was transported back almost 40 years.

I really did want to park my trolley.

Look slowly right.

Then slowly left.

Then lift this guy right off the ground by his protruding underpants shouting ‘Melve!’ as we both fell to the floor and he wrestled to break free from my vicelike grip.


He was looking at pans at the time.

And I did imagine him laughing a good natured laugh and saying, ‘Ooooh – you got me!’ as his basket clattered against the saucepans.

The reality would have been quite different.

A punch to the face.

A police caution.

Or GBH charge.

Or at least two of the above.

We’re the same. Aren’t we?

Anyhow, I just wanted to let you know some of the things that cross my mind as I wander around Newcastle.

Because I know that these kinds of thoughts cross your mind too.

Don’t they?

So; we’re similar yes?

Aren’t we?


Is anyone there?


(If you’re reading this in your email, here’s the photo:

Happy Sunday.

Try to find 6 minutes alone in the calm of a Sunday morning.

To listen to this (the tune is at

I think it’s about relationships and how we all might feel about them.


Or after.

It may or may not mean something to you but it’s a lovely thing either way.

Have a relaxing day.


The key ingredient in the recipe for an adventurous life – is confidence.

It’s powerful.

Yet transient. 

I am not sure where it comes from. 

Or where it goes.


It’s important to get the balance right though. 

So you don’t get a little too cocky or slimy.

Confidence, for me, is eye contact. 

And smiling. 

And listening. 

And being interesting and interested. 

And it’s an open posture with warmth and vulnerability and kindness and maybe even awkwardness. 

Because you are just being you – and you are totally happy with that. 

Awkwardness and vulnerability can be very engaging, actually.


You know you’re not perfect.

Yet you show your full self. 

Confident people do that. 

Three things.

Here are three things that confident people do:

  1. They think first about how they can make people around them feel good. 
  2. They ask people how they can help them. 
  3. They ask for help themselves, when they need it. 

I mention these things because so many people seem to wish they were more confident. 

Or (as some frame it) ‘naturally confident.’

I think that, if you do these three things, you will be. 

Almost immediately.

Give it a go!


Just this week, on LinkedIn, there was a post about logo design.

It was by a nice chap from Scotland.

The chap was a dragon from the digital version of Dragon’s Den.

So very successful he was too!

Anyhow, here’s what he wrote, alongside little images of four similar logo concepts.

Each of the four logos, by the way, was with a different font, colour way, layout and/or with one of the letters turned quite randomly into an abstract shape.

His copy:

What do you think A B C D or none of the below?

This is the first draft of the branding concepts and it would be good to get your feedback.

He provided a link to the project also.

I responded:

What’s the project’s point of difference please?

The thing you want us to think or remember about them please?

What sets them apart from the other options that the customer has?

He responded:

It will all make sense when we do our big reveal.

I responded:

I ask because, without this information it is impossible to know which logo is strategically correct.

All we are left with is a beauty parade.

And that’s not the way to create a professional logo.

Thank you.

I’ve not had a response to this second remark.

Logo Design.

However, about 230 others did respond to what they thought of the logos.

With things like:

Love the first one. An expression of simplicity in a contemporary world.


D has a clean look.


A – for the A Team!


C but without the two dashes.


A or C.


D looks good to me. Might be worth adding a little green from A in the same colour as the ‘M’.

This went on.

For over 200 comments.

All of them utter, utter, utter, utter, utter drivel.


The reason I get annoyed with practices like this is because – and all professional designers worth their salt know this – the creation of a logo is mostly strategic.

You see, if a graphic designer can’t get clarity, simplicity, memorability, readability and transferability (so it can be used big and small and across several applications/media) into every logo they create then they are not graphic designers.

They’re idiots.

No graphic designer should get major accolades for these things.

Truly great creators of professional logos or corporate identities (or whatever we’d like to call them) help brands to communicate their point of difference – why people should choose them – within the design.

This is not always possible because some businesses don’t actually know their point of difference.

Then brand consultants are needed (but that’s another story).

But the point is, these stupid, pointless beauty parades should never ever appear on LinkedIn.

Or anywhere.

They are embarrassing.

Not only because the designer should know which is the best strategic solution for the brand – but because the whim of an arbitrary group of followers is entirely irrelevant.

And I find them annoying because people actually charge for these silly beauty parades.

And that is wrong.

In summary, a professional graphic designer will create you a visual mark for your business.

A great logo designer will do all of that too of course.

But she or he will definitely, definitely, definitely quiz you to develop a deep, deep understanding of your specialness, your journey, your ambition, your purpose and the reason that you should be chosen above all others.

Then try hard (it is not always possible but we must try) to weave in or sprinkle reference or echoes of this into the right logo for you.

So, if your ‘logo designer’ EVER asks you which iteration you prefer (and there should never be more than 1, 2 or 3 to choose from) – with no explanation as to which is strategically the best for your brand…