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June 2019

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If I were to suggest a decent (very) short-form Brand Communications objective for almost any business.

In an unwordy way.

Around which to develop a strategy.

This would be it:

Promise, then do something that matters.

Then nurture the engaged community that builds around it.

It’s because some consultants.

(Actually –  most consultants).

Overcomplicate things.

Because over complicating can, in the mind of the consultant at least, create the illusion that the consultant knows more.

I say illusion because, almost always, if someone is trying to make something sound complicated, it is because they know less.

Jargon.

So they use jargon and wear jargon like a badge.

Forgetting that jargon only serves to do one of three things.

Embarrass.

Confuse.

Or annoy.

Goals.

So if you are a consultant.

With a strategic goal to either embarrass, confuse or annoy your clients.

Use jargon and overcomplicate.

Otherwise, just keep it simple and – as a start point at the very least – advise business to:

Promise, then do something that matters.

Then nurture the engaged community that builds around it.

(Easy to say.

Hard to do.

But worth it for everyone involved).

This lady came up to me the other day.

She was quite – well – big.

She was large.

She’d overheard me talking about bigger women.

And I’d, apparently, used the word ‘fat’ as a descriptive term.

She said to me,

I heard you talking about bigger women.

And you used the word ‘fat’.

You shouldn’t say that.

It’s ‘fattist’.

I glanced over at the lady and, noticing that she herself was quite large responded:

Fattist?

I’m not the fattist.

You’re the fattest.

Now; that didn’t happen.

Because it’s a joke.

Written by Jimmy Carr.

But it’s still quite funny.

At least – I think it is?

The Line.

There are a set of words that I avoid.

A set of words that describe approach, attitude and mindset.

These words include:

  • Nasty
  • Bitter
  • Cruel
  • Bullying

Anything said or done that is driven by one of these things or similar is, I think, wrong.

Because of the intent.

However even if there is no bad intent then, sometimes, something can still be wrong.

The wrong side of The Line.

The line of what is, and what is not, acceptable.

Tricky. 

It’s tricky though.

Because I happen to think that Jimmy Carr’s ‘fattist’ joke is the right side of The Line.

I think it’s fine.

But you know what, would I tell that joke to a larger lady that I didn’t know that well?

No.

I wouldn’t.

So maybe, in actual fact, this joke is the wrong side of the line after all?

This is very confusing.

Is the rule (something like) if you wouldn’t say something to anyone, any time then it’s the wrong side of the line by definition?

Or – as an adult – can I use my discretion?

Or – because I may use discretion yet the person I tell my joke to may not – does that mean that I shouldn’t tell the joke?

For fear that it will be retold inappropriately.

Hmmm.

I am not sure what the answer is.

I don’t want to say nothing at all.

I love creativity in all things.

Including writing and storytelling.

Free flowing picture painting to make people smile or cry or think.

So, for now, I’ll avoid those words I mentioned earlier and carry on telling stories.

Conscious that, I think, stories that sit on or around The Line are very often the best stories of all.

I was in Finland 6 or 7 years ago.

On holiday.

Away from the control freakery of my day-to-day.

Away from the environment where I tried to control my businesses and every one and every thing in it.

Instead, I had reluctantly handed myself over to the control freakery of the travel agent.

The travel agent was looking after things now.

The Agenda.

There was an ‘agenda’.

An agenda!

On a fucking holiday.

My worst nightmare, really.

Because I like to do what I like to do.

And this agenda included Husky Running.

Something that I had not even processed as a ‘thing’.

Husky Running.

What was the point?

Husky Running.

When my Husky Running time came – I went along.

I complied.

I became the passenger.

And it was transformative.

It is one of just a handful of things in my whole life that has changed me permanently.

Trust.

I was immediately subordinate to an established, complex team of beautiful, perfectly synchronised wild animals.

They just knew what to do.

They just knew who should do what.

They were ‘doing their thing’.

And it was one of the greatest privileges of my life.

To be looked after by animals in this way.

To let go.

And to trust.

The Passenger.

That day, I learned to be a passenger.

Properly.

The huskies just did what they did.

I had absolutely nothing at all to add.

In fact, if I had tried to add anything at all, the experience would immediately have become a lesser experience.

So I remained silent.

The passenger.

The Point.

And the point of this journey through the snow?

Was that it was just that.

A journey.

Every half second, because my senses were heightened, and because I was just experiencing instead of controlling, I noticed something amazing.

The 28 magically synchronised feet of 7 dogs.

The horizon.

The new, terrestrial clouds of powdery snow that the dogs made, to cool and freshen my face.

The trees.

The mixture of barks and squeaks and telepathy that fused the dogs together as one driving force.

All of this was new.

And beautiful.

And unforgettable.

And the only way I could enjoy the experience and the show to the maximum was to become a passenger.

Which was new for me.

I had to become a true spectator.

To forget my ego.

To lose my control freakery.

To control my fear of things going wrong.

And simply trust.

The Journey. 

I try to remember this today.

To enjoy the journey.

And to be led by those that know much better than me.

In a way I never could.

And to leave them to do their thing.

In business.

These days.

If you’re in the middle.

You’re in trouble.

The Middle. 

‘The middle’ means trying to appeal to everyone.

It means riding on coat tails.

Playing safe.

Re-hashing.

Being boring.

Not innovating.

Not evolving.

Not being creative.

Not thinking differently.

Not standing for anything.

Having no strong, clear, consistent opinion.

Not leading in – well – anything.

Or over-leveraging a brand ‘here’ just because it worked ‘there’ so it becomes so diluted that it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Jamie Oliver, for example.

The middle is rubbish.

Supermarkets.

Waitrose I get.

They say:

Hi. We’re expensive. So we’re not in the middle. We’re at the top. We believe in paying a bit more for a bit more. We’ve been at the top since day one. We know what we stand for. We’re authentic. So if you want a treat, come to us. We’re good quality. We’ll continue to innovate and be ready for you when you do come. And if you’re worried about spend, pay for us from your ‘going-out-leisure-pot’. Stay in a bit more. Leave the expensive restaurants alone for a while.

Aldi and Lidl I get.

They say:

Hi. We try hard to be cheap. We believe in cheap. We’ve been trying since day one. We’re authentic. It’s cool over here at the bottom. We’re so bloody good at being cheap these days though that you find some really great quality and interesting things at our place, too. We can sacrifice margin even further in some key areas now you see, because we’re increasing volume so effectively. You’ll find some real diamonds that you can’t get anywhere else. We’re funky and interesting. You might come for your weekly shop and walk out with a bloody tent or a multi-story carpark for matchbox cars at some strangely low price. It’s fun at our place! A bit crazy and unpredictable in every way but one – we’re still cheap!

ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are in the middle.

They say pretty much the same as each other.

They copy each other.

They try to launch their ‘back to the eighties’ pricing images before one of the others does.

They’re tactical.

Because they have no discernible strategy.

They react to what they think we want.

So they don’t come across as authentic.

I don’t know what they believe in.

Because they’re in the middle.

So they flick-flack from one boring, expensive, blend-in campaign to the next.

(Unless they’re trying to buy each other of course.

Thinking that scale will help).

The Middle.

Don’t sit in the middle.

It’s lazy.

It’s ordinary.

And it’s average.

And when markets get bored.

(As they will).

Because you have nothing new or interesting to say.

It’s a really bad place to be.

Just ask Jamie Oliver.

Freddie Mercury died aged 45.

In 1991.

So 27 years ago.

(That’s twenty seven years ago.

Twenty seven.

I know that sounds unbelievable.

Well, it did to me.

That it was such a long time ago.

So I checked and checked again. 

And it’s right. 

24th November. 

1991.

Kensington).

Freddie.

Freddie Mercury is, unfortunately, still dead.

But if you were to wander past this studio and, from a half open door, hear Marc Martel singing.

And then take a look at Marc (there’s a resemblance).

And checked out his mannerisms.

And heard him play the piano.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Freddie was back.

Here’s Marc: https://www.50odd.co.uk/45-2/

 

Here’s a second and final part of my Mick Hucknall binge.

This funny-faced ginger manc…

(I say that affectionately.

As I’m all three of these things as well).

… is quite a talent.

Talent. 

Talent is best assessed, I think, when exposed.

When raw.

No faff.

No bullshit.

No brand.

No marketing.

Pure.

So here you are.

Assess away: https://www.50odd.co.uk/mick-2/

(He wrote it too).

Do you take your business, your brand and the growth of your business seriously?

Or – really – are you just pissing about?

I asked someone these exact questions last week.

(I’ll tell you who I asked later).

I asked this person if they actually knew what they were doing.

Or if they were just smiling through the big, shiny, artificially whitened teeth of a well constructed and presented but wafer thin brand.

A brand that, behind the scenes, didn’t really have a clue how to grow.

A brand that, behind the scenes, was scared to ask for proper help.

Because, (they thought) asking for help would make them look silly.

You.

If you want, you can ask yourself the same Entry Level questions that I asked, below.

The same questions that I asked this person.

To find out if YOU are taking your business, your brand and the growth of your business seriously.

Or – really – if are YOU just pissing about.

Just as I asked the person I was talking to last week.

Entry Level. 

Entry Level for any business are these rudimentary questions, studies, touchstones, documents and frameworks:

  • Organisational objectives. What do you and yours actually want from this venture? And when do they want it? You, your family and fellow shareholders.
  • Customer Avatars. Who will buy from you? How well do you actually know them?  How do they live their lives and how do they actually behave? As people and as consumers. How are  you going to get them to notice you, buy into you and buy from you? (And then buy from you again). How are you going to get under their skin? So that they become fans and tell others.
  • The Competitive Environment. Do you understand how readily your target customers can get the same benefits that you are offering from elsewhere? Have you developed strategies to corral competitor audiences to defect to you? To become your customers instead of their customers? Have you developed a circle of brands with whom you should be associated, so that their audience can be encouraged – by you – to become your audience and customers as well?
  • A Brand Strategy. What do you stand for? What is the change you want to make? What is your distinct, ownable, memorable, compelling and motivating reason for being? What is your purpose? And who gives a shit about all of that? (If it isn’t your customer avatar – you really are screwed). And how do you propose to embed all of this into the fabric of your organisation (even if it’s only you) and into the minds of your segmented marketplace? How are you going to find and engage with those that believe what you believe? Do you even understand how you are different and better? And is this point of difference something you can own?
  • A Marketing Strategy. What will you say, to whom, when, why and how? What combination and schedule of marketing tactics is best? And how do you know and review this? What five different strategies do you have in place for your five different kinds of customer (there are only ever five kinds of customer. In any business).
  • A Messaging Framework. What will your brand actually say? What are the actual words? What is your leading edge proposition and that are your trailing edge propositions? Those things that focus on customer acquisition. And those that will consolidate a sale and build loyalty, repeat business and reputation. So you will be remembered.
  • Sales Strategy. What are your routes/channels to market? How does your selling machine actually work? What do you do when? Who else is involved? How can you ensure that intermediaries can sell as well as you can? What are your sales targets?
  • Organisation. How does all of this work and fit together? Who do you need and who do you have to make all of this work?
  • Money. Profit targets and margins. Reserves levels. Are the key ratios correct. Does your pricing policy allow you to flourish in the channels you have chosen? Or are you restricted? How are you in the context of industry norms? Is cash flow OK? Are you planning for organic growth or step change…

If you are good with 80% of this, go for it.

If you’re not, get help.

Immediately.

Get someone that will help you then hold you to account over time so you don’t drift.

Conversation.

This stuff is hard.

It’s thorough.

And when you’re on it, and if you address all of this properly, it’s great fun.

Honestly, it’s ace.

I told this – in no uncertain terms – to the person I was giving a fucking good talking to last week.

Asking them every single one of these questions – and more.

I thought you might benefit from listening in.

Because the person I was talking to.

Was me.

Image by Pete Zulu.

Markets (‘needs’ or positions/opportunities to sell into in business) are like icebergs.

At first, you see just a small indication of what might be possible.

Peeping above the surface of the water.

Then, when you investigate further you may find that the market – or the iceberg – is much bigger.

Below the surface.

This is great news.

Because you might just have found something around which to build a business.

However, there’s a downside to icebergs.

They melt.

Icebergs.

This is important to remember.

Over time.

That what worked ‘then’ may not work ‘now’.

Not in the exact same form, anyhow.

It is a well known fact (I say ‘fact’ because I value this next point way beyond mere ‘opinion’) that it is the brand who knows best how to evolve that lasts longest.

Indeed Darwin applies this theory to the survival of species.

Species.

Not mere businesses.

Timing. 

Markets evolve.

Trends come and go.

Consumers don’t necessarily want the same things tomorrow that they crave today.

They change their minds.

Or, more specifically these days with the proliferation of messaging (both real and fake) – their minds get changed for them.

Massive choice and messaging does that.

It distracts.

Outsiders. 

If you think that the iceberg upon which you built a business might be melting, there are a set of people that are worse than useless to you.

Here they are:

  • Friends.
  • Family.
  • Co-workers.
  • Co-Directors.
  • Existing ‘core customers’.

They won’t tell you the truth, you see.

Not because they are bad people.

It’s because they don’t know the truth.

They can only tell you their truth.

Which is a mixture of sincere love for what you do and who you are, nostalgia and a desire to see what you do endure.

They want you to be happy.

They want you to be alright.

And that’s why, perversely, they are worse than shite when it comes to feedback and advice at these tricky times.

They will get you to throw good money after bad.

They won’t tell you that you need to start again.

Or stop.

Or that you are becoming deluded.

Or that your silly, pointless, meddling step-change management approach is utter shit.

And that – instead – you must revolutionise all that you are and do to merely survive.

(If indeed there is anything to save).

And build from there.

And they certainly won’t tell you that your short-sightedness and internal pride is killing you.

Summary.

In summary, you need outsiders at important and tricky times in business.

Good outsiders, though.

Talented outsiders that can help you to regroup, regain perspective and become strong again.

You must choose them wisely and you must be prepared to listen.

Properly.

I have helped people in this way for years with ANGELFYSH of course.

But I only choose to help those that want to be helped these days.

Those that rock back in their chairs and have the bravery and the humility to admit – to themselves – that they might have stopped looking beneath the surface of the water.

That they are in trouble.

Those that admit that all they are looking at is the tiny percentage of the business that wooed them in the first place.

The once seductive tip of the iceberg.

Poking above the surface of the water.

The outsider will tell you how stupid this is.

And that they must stop.

And they must listen.

Because if they don’t, they will not be looking at just the tip of the iceberg because that’s where they choose to look.

They will be looking at just the tip of the iceberg because that is all that’s left.

A thought just arrived.

In my head.

As I looked down from the first floor of my house.

Out of the window.

And saw Lisa smiling.

And happy.

In our sunny garden.

Teaching Izobel about water bombs.

(Lisa will, of course, regret this at some point).

Happy. 

Anyhow, here’s the thought.

The one that arrived.

I thought back to when I was single.

And when I really wanted to be with someone.

I thought about when I used to say this to my friends.

And to myself:

I really want someone to make me happy.

Now that I am with someone I just wanted to point out that this is completely the wrong thing to say.

And to think.

And to want.

Because this was not what I wanted at all.

I wanted this:

I really want someone to make happy.

This is what makes me happy, you see.

Seeing Lisa happy.

No wonder I got it wrong for so very long.

There’s a lot to be said for doing nothing.

Even though you’re never really doing nothing, of course.

Theres always something going on.

In your head.

And more often than not – the something that goes on in your head when you’re doing nothing is really quite something!

Somethings from Nothing

The excellent Somethings from Nothing that happen in my head when I am doing nothing include:

  • Bad ideas.
  • Good ideas.
  • Remembering to call someone that I said I’d call. Then calling.
  • Actually fucking reading one or two of those emails I’ve saved in my inbox to read. That I don’t read.
  • Doing a favour for someone, unprompted. And without expecting thanks.
  • Remembering something funny about something that happened within the last week or so. And laughing.
  • Thinking about how boring and shit certain corners of my life are, wondering why the hell I am doing them in the first place, and deciding therefore to stop doing them.
  • Remembering how lucky I am.
  • Identifying toxins in my life and frowning and silently shaking my head at how stupid I am to binge. (Alcohol. Netflix. Crisps. Looking at websites that force me to then try to remember where the bloody ‘Clear Browsing History’ thing is).
  • Looking at the most important things in the whole world and being thankful. Trees. Rain. Animals. People. Fresh air. My education and freedom. I could go on and on and on (and so could you, of course).

And so it is that I have a new slogan for life.

It is:

‘Nothing is the new Something’.

I thought of it just now.

When I was doing nothing.