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July 2019

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I voted today.

I voted yesterday.

I’ll be voting tomorrow, too.

And so will you.

Voting.

I bought a coffee from LANEWAY today.

Nick owns that place.

On High Bridge in Newcastle.

He knows who I am and gives a shit about who I am.

He shows this by remembering my name, remembering what I drink, encouraging his team to do the same and by shifting what I pay from time to time – as a thank you.

Starbucks don’t do this.

So my money was a vote for Nick.

(I voted for Nick 6 times today actually.

Because I met 4 friends at LANEWAY later on.

Each of whom voted for Nick as well).

Iceland.

I met Richard Walker at The Do Lectures this year.

He’s the MD of Iceland Supermarkets.

Iceland is working hard to remove Palm Oil from all they sell.

And plastic.

Against a backdrop of a core customer demographic that find it hard to pay more for lots of life’s basics.

So these moves hit Iceland’s profits and not what their customers pay.

It’s a conundrum for Richard.

But he is doing this because he wants to.

Not because he has to.

So this weekend I will be voting for Iceland.

By buying from Iceland.

Patagonia.

I am after a tee-shirt or two in the next couple of months.

I am going to vote for Patagonia when I buy.

Because Yvon Chouinard’s book chronicles how he built this billion dollar business by doing good business.

As opposed to relentless profiteering and not giving a shit about makers.

Like so many high street clothing retailers.

You know the ones.

The ones you will see today.

And tomorrow.

With £3 tees lined up on a shitty rail in the corner.

Reduced from their original £6 RRP.

I vote for Patagonia.

Sunday.

And on Sunday.

I will vote for a £6 chicken.

Not a £2.80 chicken.

Because the £2.80 chicken spent it’s entire life looking in one direction, confined to floorspace slightly smaller than a piece of A4 paper.

Before having it’s throat cut.

Hey!

Don’t frown at me.

It’s not my fault.

I voted for the £6 chicken.

And anyhow.

How else do you think the cheaper chicken gets to people’s ovens for fucking two hundred and eighty pence?

If it’s anyone’s fault.

If you are one of the people that buy £2.80 chickens.

It’s yours.

Change. 

Yes; talk about the change you wish for

But vote for the change you wish for, too.

Every single day.

And guess what?

Your wish will come true.

As will the chicken’s.

I thought she looked like a little bird.

Tottering on spindly legs.

Not belonging anywhere in particular.

Not with anyone in particular.

No one looking out for her.

Or understanding her.

Yet still sounding beautiful.

As only this particular little bird could.

Amy. 

Here is a really bad quality version.

A slightly clumsy, grainy and visually compromised version.

Of a spontaneous, fidgety and badly produced acoustic rendition.

Of ‘Love is a Losing Game’.

That Amy wrote in 2006 for her second and final album.

Back to Black.

It’s the best music you’ll hear today.

Go here: https://www.50odd.co.uk/little-bird/

 

In early 2004.

My landlord was Fred Hoult.

Fred was a wonderful, well known, jolly North East businessman.

We got on well.

£8,000.

One day, Fred wandered in to my office.

A 1,000(ish) square foot office that I rented from Fred for about £8,000.

Fred (very politely) asked me to follow him.

So I did.

100 Yards.

We wandered 100 yards across the yard.

Together.

Chatting about the weather.

And family.

And business.

Fred saw me as ambitious.

Which is why he was taking me to The Boilerhouse.

The Boilerhouse.

The Boilerhouse was the biggest single unit on the estate.

7,000 square feet over two levels.

3,500 square feet at ground level.

3,500 square feet in the basement.

Underground.

Except, on that day.

And at that point.

There was just one level.

The underground level.

Because as we walked slowly into The Boilerhouse together.

We were faced with a gaping hole.

Because at that point.

There was no ground floor.

And, come to think of it, not much of a roof either.

Shell.

Here’s what Fred said.

About this shell of a building:

OK Michael.

I want to invest in redeveloping this.

But I want to have someone to move in immediately.

It’ll take 6 months.

And the rent, based on square footage will be just shy of £60,000 per year.

If you want it, you can have it for £8,000 per year for 1 year.

Then £16,000 for 1 year.

Then – you jump to full rate.

Let me know.

Ambition.

Ambition in your heart.

And ambition in your hands.

Are two different things.

Yes, I had talked about ambition to Fred.

And the businesses I had were good.

And I was good.

But ambition in your heart is safe.

Invisible.

Uncommitted.

Intangible.

And low risk.

Ambition in your hands is not safe.

It’s a real commitment.

Both financially and mentally.

For you and your team.

Confident.

If you are going to commit to your ambition.

Properly.

You have to be confident.

And you have to commit.

You have to commit to projected numbers and strategy.

A strategy that you have to monitor and change constantly.

And even though numbers on a page and strategies are not real.

Bricks, mortar, fit-outs, salaries – and giving your word (and your money) to a landlord you like and respect – are.

The Boilerhouse.

We moved into the Boilerhouse 7 months later.

Our 8 staff rattling around.

And our £350,000 turnover just about making sense of key financial ratios.

So long as the rent stayed at £8,000, of course.

Two years after that, our 25 staff and £1,100,000 turnover made more sense.

Even with a £57,000 rent bill.

Optimism. 

What happened in those two years was all about optimism.

Measured and constantly tested optimism.

And focus.

And painting clear pictures so you take people with you.

The ambition was in my hands.

And in the room.

It was in every room that I entered.

And it was the team’s hands too.

I made sure they knew that.

And I made sure that they believed.

I made them see it

Smell it.

I made them be it before we were it.

Each morning I woke up and – just like Dracula in his coffin.

In those old films.

I sat bolt upright.

Eyes wide.

Ready.

Bright.

Wide awake.

Full of energy and ideas.

We had to be it before we were it.

It was the only way we were going to bring the vision to life.

And we did.

And it was brilliant.

2008.

A year later, 2008 came.

But that’s a story for another time.

And how much do I regret the 2005 to 2007 journey?

With the hindsight of 2008?

Honestly?

0%.

I drew my entire lifestory last night.

It took about 20 seconds.

Here it is: https://www.50odd.co.uk/lifestory/.

Lifestory. 

When younger, I wanted stuff.

Oftentimes, just for the sake of having stuff.

I’d accumulate… things.

Now.

As I get a little older.

I feel the urge to do things that matter more.

And impact less.

50odd.

On my highly complicated diagram you can see where 50odd started.

This diagram assumes that I will live until about 90.

I might not of course.

I have about 1,000 months.

As do you.

And that is, in fact, 83 years and 4 months.

So I am being slightly optimistic.

Purpose.

Nevertheless.

From now.

Every new thing I start.

And every big decision I make.

Is tinged with a question or questions about purpose.

Why I am considering doing it.

What is the change I can make.

How I and the businesses that I create can contribute.

Learning.

I read about Yvon Chouinard.

And from this month, any new businesses that I take on through our ANGELFYSH business will be contributive in some way.

Or they will genuinely crave these credentials.

It’s because I only want to work with brands that matter.

Brands focusing only on self actualisation for the consumer – are dying.

And quite right too.

(‘Interesting how life changes.

This basic diagram also works for me.

If you replace the word ‘indulgence’ with ‘nightclubs’.

And the word ‘purpose’ with ‘sleep’).

I don’t like cricket.

But I liked yesterday’s cricket.

The World Cup Final.

The game that was won by England on Super Overs.

Super Overs are (as I and many others discovered for the first time yesterday) one special additional over, per team.

Something that had to happen because, after every single ball of the ‘normal’ match was bowled.

England and New Zealand were still completely level.

Tickets.

One of the commentators.

As we entered the Super Overs bit.

Said this:

If you paid £2,000 a ticket.

You underpaid.

Tongue in cheek I am sure.

But a great comment.

And it got me thinking.

Special Moments.

It got me thinking about how special moments and experiences are created.

I know that the unpredictable, unfathomably unique circumstances that this one cricket match magicked were not the result of an exact formula.

But without the clever training.

The risk.

The imagination.

The hard work.

The team talks.

The talent and the nurturing of that talent.

The patience.

The camaraderie.

And the luck, of course.

This could not have happened.

My Businesses.

And I then asked myself am I doing everything I possibly can in my businesses at the moment so that magic might happen here.

And the answer is.

That I am not sure.

Maybe.

I think so.

And that’s not good enough.

Not for me, anyway.

£2,000.

Is £2,000 acceptable for a cricket match.

No way!

Is £2,000 acceptable for a match that, today, is being hailed as the greatest match of all time?

Maybe.

Magic.

Magical moments cannot be completely engineered.

But can we create circumstances and environments that are more likely to allow them to happen?

Yes.

I think we can.

Rugby is sport I neither watch, like or understand.

(A reflection on me – not it).

Spencer Davey.

I was chatting to Spencer Davey about rugby just yesterday.

Spencer played professionally and now runs STORM Fitness, employing – alongside him – former world cup winning rugby players.

Spencer and I chatted about what young rugby players should be taught when they first start playing.

When a rugby player receives the ball.

There is much discussion about what they should immediately ask themselves.

In that first second.

Should it be:

“How many of my teammates are on the outside?”

Or:

“Am I going to be tackled?”

In fact- there is just one thing that any rugby player should be asking themselves as they receive the ball.

In that first second.

It is:

“Can I score?”

Business.

I’ve founded 8 businesses so far.

I know why I started my first business.

It was because I wanted to run a business.

That was pretty much it.

Yes, there as a market opportunity.

A ‘point’ to being in business.

But, in honesty, I think I was more turned on just by being a business owner than anything that my the business could effect or do.

I was, if you like, playing rugby just because I liked being on the pitch.

Forgetting what the actual point of the game was.

To score points.

The business didn’t last long.

Purpose. 

There is much talk of purpose in business.

And I am, at this precise moment focusing, simplifying and refining the purpose of the three businesses that I run currently.

My hand knits clothing brand  Always Wear Red encourage those wearing our jumpers to rest.

To switch off.

To relax.

To be kind to themselves.

To recharge – properly.

That’s what Always Wear Red is for.

ANGELFYSH is our Brand Communications Collective that builds, integrates, measures and refines change maker brands. So that they matter more and last longer.

And I think I have the opportunity to position 50odd as a publishing brand that can encourage people to tell the greatest stories in the world.

Their own.

Scoring.

The chat with Spencer reminded me .

That just being on the pitch is not enough.

Rugby is about scoring.

And so is business.

It is important to master what I do.

But it is so much more important to master what I am for.

Van Morrison has been in my life for years.

A grumpy little sod by all accounts.

And when I saw him live at The City Hall in Newcastle.

As I sat on the front row.

I fell asleep.

Admittedly, it was a very pissed 21 year old me that saw Van the Man at that point.

But I blame him.

Because he can’t sing.

Music. 

I bloody love his music though.

I probably just mean the Moondance album, really.

But I love every single track on there.

Brilliant!

And here it is (go to https://www.50odd.co.uk/van/ if you are reading this in your email).

 

Read this here: https://www.50odd.co.uk/beanbags/.

The photograph helps.

Beanbags.

The beanbags at The Do Lectures are not very comfortable.

They’re too long.

They’re filled with unknown stuff that just doesn’t support you.

It moves somewhere else!

So that you are quite literally brought down to earth.

Landing with a firm ‘bump’ on your arse.

On the cold, hard floor.

So when I sat there one morning.

Eating my cereal.

Alone.

I felt, well, lonely.

It seems to me that those Do Lectures people really haven’t thought this through.

The beanbags at The Do Lectures are not very comfortable.

Rona

The evening before.

I sat on the same beanbag.

Chatting to Rona about life.

The beanbags at The Do Lectures are really comfortable.

They’re perfect for two.

They’re filled with unknown stuff that supports you beautifully.

Because one person balances the other.

You raise each other up.

You float.

Above the cold, hard floor.

So that when you sit there with gin and tonic.

Together.

I feels lovely.

It seems to me that those Do Lectures people really have thought this through.

The beanbags at The Do Lectures are really comfortable.

Life.

When Rona and I chatted, we chatted about life.

About how life can be very uncomfortable.

And feel too long.

Filled with unknown stuff and people that just don’t support you.

They move somewhere else!

So that you are quite literally brought down to earth.

Landing with a firm ‘bump’ on your arse.

On the cold, hard floor.

Feeling, well, lonely.

Life can be uncomfortable.

Another Life.

After a little more gin, we chatted about life some more.

About the fact that life can also be really comfortable.

Perfect for two.

Filled with unknown stuff but the other person supports you beautifully.

Because one person balances the other.

You raise each other up.

You float.

Above the cold, hard floor.

So that when you sit there with gin and tonic.

Together.

I feels lovely.

The beanbags at The Do Lectures.

They really are a very comfortable place to be.

The most wonderful American sitcom is ‘Cheers’.

And the most wonderful Cheers characters are Norm Peterson and his wife, Vera Peterson.

257. 

In almost all of the 257 Cheers episodes.

Norm sits on his stool at the far end of the bar.

And Norm’s wife Vera is at home.

And in each Cheers episode, little stories – just like this one – are told.

Stories.

*BAR PHONE RINGS IN CHEERS*.

*WOODY ANSWERS*.

Woody:

“Hello?

Oh; hi Mrs. Peterson!

Yes, Norm’s here.

*TURNS TO NORM*

Mr. Peterson. 

It’s for you.”

*HANDS PHONE TO NORM*.

Norm:

“Hello?

Oh; hi Vera.

Whaddya want?

Woah slow down!”

*PAUSE*

“I dunno.”

*PAUSE*

“I dunno!”

*PAUSE*

“I don’t know where it is.

Under the stairs?”

*PAUSE*

“In the garage?

No? 

OK well keep lookin’.

I’ll be home later.

Bye bye.”

*NORM PUTS PHONE DOWN AND SLIDES IT BACK ACROSS THE BAR TO WOODY.*

*NORM CONTINUES, HUNCHED OVER, TO DRINK BEER.*

Woody:

Is everything OK Mr. Peterson?

Norm:

Yeah; I dunno Woody. 

I dunno why Vera always has to bother me here at Cheers.

Something about,  (*PUTS ON VERA’S VOICE*), ‘have you seen the fire extinguisher?’.

I dunno Woody.

*NORM SHAKES HEAD*

Woody:

Weeeell; did you ask Mrs. Peterson why she was looking for the fire extinguisher Mr. Peterson?

Norm:

*INCREDULOUS

No!

Should I have?

etc.

Voice and visuals.

When your brand speaks, it should sound like you.

Every single word.

Should sound like you.

Yet when I meet people, for the first time, that run businesses.

And then look at their websites.

I almost always know what it is going to say there – before I look.

And I almost always know how it is going to say it – before I look.

There is absolutely no unique voice.

No character.

No stand-out.

Technically, this is ‘category marketing’ when it comes to message and simply ‘copying’ when it comes to tone.

The business is saying what everyone else in the same category is saying – and in the same way.

It is, if you like, a strange kind of painting by numbers.

It’s sterile.

And boring.

Because painting by numbers is soulless.

Norm and Vera.

Norm and Vera are beautifully painted characters.

We know Norm and we know what to expect from Norm by the end of episode one.

And from then on in he is consistent.

He is, well, Norm.

And what is more incredible is that Vera behaves just like Vera too.

Every time she appears in the story.

And more incredible still is that Vera never actually appears in person in any of the 257 episodes**.

You never actually see her.

Yet you still know her.

And you know what to expect from her.

And this is why all brands have absolutely no excuse for not painting characterful, soulful, memorable, meaningful, ownable and compelling persona.

It is key to the creation and longevity of all brands.

Storytelling.

Tell your story.

And – because it’s hard – if you can’t find it tell it exceptionally well, invest in getting someone to find and tell it for you.

The greatest stories in the world are told by and about the greatest characters in the world.

Whether this be sitcoms or brand stories.

The rules are the same.

And if you don’t know what the rules are – work with someone that does.

Because a story untold, or a story told badly – is exactly the same as no story at all.

And no story at all – whether you like it or not – means no brand.

**Vera did actually appear in just one of the 257 episodes.

The food fight episode.

But as she had a fruit pie thrown in her face, you didn’t actually ‘see’ her.

Oh, and Vera’s pie faced character is played by Norm (George Wendt’s) wife in real life.

Way back in (about) 1995.

I was busy advising business owners how to start and grow businesses.

I didn’t really understand brand back then.

But I was quite good at marketing.

These days, I’m pretty good at both.

Definitions.

By the way, I am defining Brand as:

Building a perception about an offering in the mind of the consumer.

And I am defining Marketing as:

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

Buyer Behaviour.

Anyhow, a big part of both is really knowing your customer.

And in particular, buyer behaviour.

Why they choose you.

Or why they don’t.

Fish.

I was chatting to someone about buyer behaviour just the other day.

And I was reminded about quite a large fishmonger business that I worked with in the 90’s.

This business was over 100 years old.

And I worked with the owner.

A nice chap.

He understood lots about cod and herring.

But – at the beginning – he wasn’t big on buyer behaviour.

Customers.

His customers used to annoy him.

He was quite grumpy most of the time anyway.

Up at 3am to meet the fishermen.

Overseeing the laying out and running of his shops from 4am to 4pm.

Then it was pub.

Home.

Tea.

Bed.

Kippers.

Anyhow, there was one thing more than any other that used to drive him mad.

It used to really piss him off.

It was to do with kippers.

And butter.

Best Product v Best Brand

Basically, the best way to get a great tasting kipper is to simply catch it.

Smoke it.

And shrink wrap it.

But this chap and I discovered that he would only sell out of kippers each day if he did something quite specific.

Something he hated doing.

Because it actually made the kippers taste slightly worse.

It was, quite simply, adding a little butter floret (flower shaped pat of butter) inside the clear pack.

It enhanced his brand offering.

It influenced buyer behaviour positively.

But it annoyed him that, in order to achieve this.

He had to consciously create a better brand offering that – at the same time – resulted in a slightly less good product.

Customers. 

Customers can be strange.

But it is our job as business owners to understand this strangeness.

And the nuances of why they buy.

Because to ignore buyer behaviours will never maximise sales.

The Truth.

Your product must be great.

And the kipper, even with the butter, was pretty good.

So we were OK.

But even this grumpy old fisherman knew an important and absolute truth about brand.

He knew that, ultimately, the best product won’t win.

But the best brand – will.