September 2022


This is a story about really knowing your brand or business.

Forensically, I mean.

How people perceive it.

How people actually use it and interact with it.

Exploring the part you play in both of those things.

And how you might be able to make things better.


And as such, this is an important little tale.

An insightful tale.

A positive tale.

(Despite the title!)

Northern Ireland. 

Each month, I work with a client in Northern Ireland.

I drive West from Northumberland.

Onto a Ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast.

Then I drive across to Dungannon.

And each time I do this trip.

I stop at a Service Station on the Northumberland to Cairnryan leg.

On Annan Road.

Near Dumfries.

And when I do.

I always do exactly the same thing.

I buy a bacon sandwich and a flat white from a busy Greggs.

And I go for a wee next door.

In an empty Starbucks.

And the reason I do this?

Because at this particular location.

To me.

Greggs is a fast food outlet.

And Starbucks is a toilet.

People Watching.

In addition to my ritualistic eaty-toilety activity.

I also people watch.

I watch lorry drivers stock up with Greggs goodies.

Then go to the toilet in Starbucks.

I watch elderly husbands caringly direct their elderly wives to Starbuck’s really rather popular toilet facilities.

Just inside the entrance to Starbucks.

(Over there.

To the left, dear).

Before said husband then pops into Greggs to purchase his-and-hers sausage rolls.

And so it goes on.

Greggs is a busy fast food outlet.

And Starbucks is a toilet.

Really Knowing Your Business. 

I’ve founded and run a few businesses over about 30 years of my life.

I always thought I knew all of them pretty well.

But I probably didn’t.

Not really.

I always remember when I was a trainee McDonald’s Restaurant Manager in my early twenties.

I remember how the Area Manager, Dave, would insist that I stood in the dining area alongside him.

For an hour or more.

Once month.

Just watching.


At the time I felt restless.

Them working… whilst I was ‘just standing there’.

But I get it now.

We’d see out-of-time coffee being served.

We’d see Ben, wide-eyed and alert behind the counter.

Locking his eyes onto the eyes of each person he served.

And we’d see bleary-eyed Steve.

Hands in pockets.

Hunched and hiding as the others hustled.

We’d see tomato sauce on walls.

Empty sugar dispensers.

And stacks of trays.


And as I think about standing there in McDonald’s with Dave the Area Manager as a 22 year old learner.

I am transported back to the carpark outside Greggs and Starbucks as a 54 year old learner.

Still watching.

Still learning.

Pondering what on earth this Starbucks could do to become somewhere that people visited to purchase liquid.

As opposed to being somewhere people visited to deposit it.


The turnover difference between this Greggs and this Starbucks must be huge.

A statistic made ever-more stark by the fact that the physical footprint of this particular Starbucks is about five times that of this particular Greggs.

Starbucks is a Toilet.

So there it is.

On the upside for this particular Starbucks, sandwiched somewhere between Northumberland and the ferry at Cairnryan.

The floor tiles any further than six feet into the building will last for decades.

But on the downside for this particular Starbucks.

Whilst Greggs next door is a busy fast food outlet.

Very often with a small snaking queue.


Just under two metres away.

Is a toilet.

There are no ghosts.

No gods.

And no Loch Ness monster.

None are real.

And whilst we’re at it.

There are no brands either.

Brands are not real.

Which is quite a weird thing to say considering I’m a brand consultant.

The Queen.

There’s a reason I mention this today.

It’s because.

(As you will have noticed).

The queen died.

And more specifically I am mentioning this today because of the way brands reacted when the queen died.


Those things that aren’t real, remember).

Brands did things.

And said things.

As if the things they said or did in relation to the queen dying, matter.

And they don’t.

None of them.

No one is arsed what a brand says or what a brand does about the queen dying.

It’s all utter, utter bullshit.


Brands are, I suppose, simple little ideas and behaviours that – when aligned habitually – underpin what a business is and does.

So I understand the business better.

And all good marketers do is.

From time to time.

Remind the right people that the brand they are marketing is a good solution to their problem.

In compelling and interesting ways.

So that when what the marketer say collides with an exact and immediate need.

A sale might happen.

That’s it.

Tap, tap, tap.

Marketing is trying to sell stuff.

Marketing is a steady tap, tap, tap.

Reminding me that this brand can make my teeth look nicer, for all the right reasons.

Reminding me that this product is so well engineered that it delivers key benefits more consistently than the rest.

Reminding me that accurate prescription is important because having the right tool is better than having the wrong tool.

It’s just that simple.

Marketing is trying to sell stuff.

Good Marketing versus Bad Marketing.

If it’s good marketing.

I might smile.

And engage.

And remember.

If it’s bad marketing.

(Which is most marketing).

I pay money to block it.

But back to brands…

(Those things that aren’t real, remember).


When this thing that doesn’t really exist.

Starts acting as if it does.

By doing things.

And saying things.

About things that are fuck all to do with helping me to understand why what they’re offering is a good solution to my problem.

It just makes the business sound stupid.

Ask the Centre Parcs guests confined to their cabins.

Ask the Morrisons shoppers that experienced respectfully quieter till beeps.

Ask the Innocent Drinks followers that experienced respectfully fewer social media posts for a few days.

No one gives a shit.

Because there are no ghosts.

No gods.

No Loch Ness monster.

And there are no brands either.

Over 20 years ago.

I wrote one of the best things I’ve ever written.


The way I judge that by the way.

Is by how well the thing I wrote did what I wanted it to do.

Using very few words.

Four words, actually.

And how well it’s stood the test of time.

Two Gentlemen.

In order to understand the task.

I listened to.

And learned from.

The two gentlemen I was working for.

One gentleman.

His daughter had committed suicide.

The other gentleman.

His daughter had been murdered.

The organisation I was helping them with, supported gentlemen like them.

I remember the weight of that.


Perhaps the strangest thing about this task.

Is that at the time.

I had no idea if I could write.

Write well; I mean.

And I also didn’t have kids.

But somehow.

I managed to feel just a little bit of what they felt.

Two Daughters.

Both men were in their late 50’s when I met them.

Their daughters were both in their mid 20’s when they died.

In the years up to their deaths.

Both gentleman hardly saw their daughters.

Instead, they chased them around for the odd phonecall.

They spend days as their daughter’s birthdays approached.

Standing in department stores.

Staring blankly at perfumes.

Clueless as to which was right.

And which was wrong.

Cuddly toys, however.

They both agreed with a smile.

Even after their 60ish years.

They remember those.

But for a 20-odd year old daughter that felt.


Not quite right.

And so it was that these gentlemen, of course, hardly ever saw their 20-odd year old daughters in the day-to-day.

Yet when they lost them…



The words we ended up with.

That helped them.

And helped them to shortcut and resonate with the people they wanted to help.

Were this.

“Nothing Changes. Except Everything.”

I was sad when the queen died.

I’m kinda indifferent about the Royal Family, as it goes.

But as with all nice(ish) people.

I don’t welcome sadness or sad events.

The Queen is Dead.

There’s an obvious, 30-year-old Smiths reference.

And I did smile wryly at two consecutive comments that I saw on some online forum or other this week.

The first comment was:

“How poignant that Morrissey. 

Over 30 years ago. 

Was able to predict this week’s albeit very sad events. 

‘Quite the Nostradamus.”

The second comment:

“Yes but Morrissey doesn’t always get it right, does he?

‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ is on the same album. 

And with the cost of fucking electricity that will clearly be proven a load of old bollocks this winter.”


How sweet.



Marketer or Vending Machine.

Which are you?

Advice For The In-House Marketer.

Here’s some advice for the in-house marketer.

Working hard to support an in-house sales team.

Marketer or Vending Machine.

In my experience.

You’ll either be being treated like a marketer.

Or a vending machine.

If it’s the former.

(A marketer).

You’ll almost constantly be thinking deeply and strategically about.

Very often leading convincingly on.

And reacting in a timely, coherent and expert way to.

A whole host of key Business Communications subjects that link directly to the measurable performance of the business itself.


If it’s the latter.

(A vending machine).

Some bloke or lady will send you an email.

Asking for a brochure.

Or a new set of business cards.

Or branded water bottles.

They’ll ‘push your button’.

And you’ll spit them out.

Some Background Thinking.

But let’s dig a bit deeper.

For any in-house marketer that just realised they’re a vending machine.

(Before you hand your notice in).

Here are a few more things to consider.

It’s Your Own Fault.


If you are being treated like a vending machine

It’s your own fault.

So it’s useful for you to immediately take responsibility for the fact that you are allowing yourself to be treated like a vending machine.

And just as importantly.

My advice to you today only really applies to you if you are any good.

A ‘really good’ in-house Marketer, I mean!

Or if you aspire to be really good and are doing all that you can to get there.

And quick!

Really Good.

‘Really good’ means.

Being able to appreciate, balance and work towards optimising three things.

All at the same time.

Either by getting them right yourself.

Or overseeing good people to get them right for you.

These are:

BRAND: What you stand for. The change that you, uniquely, want to make. Why you really are the only solution to your customer’s problems. What you want to be uniquely famous for and own.

MARKETING: Deciding the most effective, coherent, brand-supportive/additive ways to communicate in order to support the sales effort, and – at the same time – build your brand reputation precisely, clearly, and consistently.

DESIGN: Distinctive yet consistent/coherent/clear message, branding/aesthetic/design and tone.

There are more things, of course.

But these are the basics if you think you’re ‘really good’.

Marketer or Vending Machine?

It’s a funny little question, isn’t it?

‘Marketer or Vending Machine?’

But then all of a sudden.

If the realisation is that you are a vending machine.

Or that you are not ‘really good’.

It’s not so funny.

And the real question isn’t really,

‘Marketer or Vending Machine?’

It’s two questions.


‘For how much longer am I going to allow myself to be treated like a vending machine?

And second,

‘Am I really good? And if I’m not. What am I going to do about it?’

Because if you’re not really good. And you don’t propose to do anything about it.

Then why should you expected to be treated like anything other than a vending machine?

Over to you.

DPD’s Customer Service Phoneline is not a Customer Service Phoneline.

Because it doesn’t ‘Service Customers’.

It does something else.

So I’ll name it more accurately in just a moment.

DPD Customer Service Phoneline. 

When you call DPD’s Customer Service Phoneline.

A young, script-reading person asks you what’s up.

You tell them.

Then you ask them what might happen next as a result of you telling them what’s up.

They say, ‘I’m not sure’.

Then you ask them if someone will call you back to tell you what might happen next as a result of your telling them what’s up.

They say, ‘I’m not sure’.

Then no one calls back.


So here’s the rename.

It’s not,

“The DPD Customer Service Phoneline”.


“The DPD shit-ignorant management idea Phoneline that does absolutely fuck all other than enable DPD to say they have a Customer Service Phoneline. Because all the phone line actually does is waste the time of already-pissed-off customers, for absolutely no fucking reason at all. So the customer thinks that DPD is not just shit because of the reason they rang the phoneline in the first place, but also because of how they treat the person who already thinks they’re shit. Reenforcing the fact that DPD are even more shit that you thought they were before you picked the phone up…


You’re welcome.

I was watching ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ this week.

And one chap that had £125,000 didn’t know the answer to a ‘2-choices-remaining’ question.

If he got it right, he jumped to £250,000.

If he got it wrong, he dropped £93,000 to his safety net of £32,000.

And because this guy didn’t understand how groups of people react to questions they don’t actually know the answer to.

He asked the audience.

And lost.

What’s The Question?

Here’s why he lost.

One of the answers ‘sounded’ much more feasible than the other.

And when that happens, it’s a big problem.

It’s a big problem because the contestant thought Jeremy Clarkson was asking the audience this question:

“Which of these two answers is right?”

But Jeremy wasn’t.

Jeremy was actually asking the audience this question:

“Which of these two answers do you know is right, or if you don’t know, which do you think sounds most right?”

And because most people didn’t know the answer.

81% of them chose the answer that sounded most feasible.

81% of them were wrong.

And £93,000 was lost.

Simply because the contestant didn’t understand how groups of people react to questions they don’t actually know the answer to.

‘This’ is Wrong.

This happens in board rooms every day.

Groups of business leaders explore with (allegedly!) experienced and expert marketers and brand builders like myself.

Whether they should do ‘this’ or ‘that’.

And if ‘this’ simply sounds like it could be more right than ‘that’.

More familiar.


Like it ‘worked for them’ so it might just ‘work for us too’.

They choose ‘this’.

Boring, boring ‘this’.

When ‘this’ is wrong.

And the expertly crafted – but unfamiliar, braver and slightly more scary ‘that’ – is right

Group-think compounds the problem, of course.

And the business is dead.

How to Win. 

In this over-communicated, oversupplied world of ours.

In order to win you don’t do what others have already done.

You do what others dare not do.

And in addition.

It is just as important to remember this.

Amongst those that don’t really know the answer.

Whether that be in business, life, or who Wants To Be a Millionnaire.

It is very often the case that the answer that sounds most right.



The answer to how to advertise compellingly.

And by compelling I mean in such a way that the advertising stops people.

It makes people think.

And it might even make them smile as it makes them think.

Is to not chase the right answer at all.

It’s to chase the right question.



When you’re trying to get someones attention.

Questions beat answers because questions feel personal.

Even if the question is not targeted exactly at you.

It’s still more likely to ‘make you think’ than simply spitting out an answer would.


The best example I can think of right now.

Of how a question beats an answer.

Is the 1964 Volkswagen ad.

And apparently.

(Though, of course there are a lot of tall tales around how great advertising concepts were devised).

A junior marketer asked a daft question.


He said.

‘How does the driver of a snowplough…

…get to the snowplough?’

Questions Beat Answers


The answer to how to advertise compellingly.

And by compelling I mean in such a way that the advertising stops people.

It makes people think.

And it might even make them smile as it makes them think.

Is to not chase the right answer at all.

It’s to chase the right question.



LinkedIn have launched this NEW Anti-Spam thing.

So we can filter out the shit.

All the utter rubbish that stupid, bad mannered, lazy, unimaginative, blend-in, pig-thick marketers send us.

You know the kind of thing.

Like this:

“Hi Want to rank on page 1 on Google!! Share your website URL & email-id so that we can provide you with the full SEO proposal and price Regards, Mukesh”


Here’s how it works.

LinkedIn have put the word InMail at the front of all of the stupid, bad mannered, lazy, unimaginative, blend-in, pig-thick crap that some marketers fire out.

Enabling us to immediately delete them without reading.


Thanks LinkedIn.


Because I am Telepathic.

I am going to tell you about a brand in a moment that you may or may not have heard of.

And I predict.

(Because I am Telepathic as I mentioned a moment ago).

That these four things will happen to you:

  1. You will think that the thing they are saying with their slogan is bold, ‘out there’ and maybe even a little bit crazy. And you’ll also think that you’d not be brave enough to say something as bold, ‘out there’ and crazy, about your own business.
  2. Then, you will start to like them. A lot.
  3. Then, when you look at them a little more closely, you will want to own one of their products. Even though they are fucking expensive. (In fact, at least in part, you’ll want to own one of their products because they are fucking expensive). And you might even buy one.
  4. Then, you’ll feel confused. Because at the same time as thinking that you’d probably not be brave enough to say something as bold, as ‘out there’ and as crazy, about your business. As they are saying about their business. You’ll still want one. Which is weird. And confusing. Because you’re meant to be trying to sell more of your stuff. Aren’t you? But you’re not brave enough to say something like what they said? And so it goes on.

Anyhow. Here they are.

Saddleback Leather.

I want a Grandfather Collector’s Case.

And I’m not even sure what a blibbing Grandfather’s Collector’s Case is.

Their slogan:




In one of their videos.

To prove how tough their stuff is.

They played tug-o-war with one of their briefcases.

Between a guy on a boat.

And an alligator.

At the same time as you’re worrying that your logo isn’t quite clear enough in that little video you’re working on right now.

And the light isn’t reflecting off your product in quite the right way.

And your not showing YOUR machine quite as nicely as they’re showing THEIR machine…

Fux sake…