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April 2024

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Childhood lasts a lifetime.

I really like this thought because it can be read, and read into, in so many ways.

A reminder of our responsibility as parents – today – no matter how old our kids are.

A reminder to get off our collective arse, to knock on the doors of local schools and universities, to give our time to young people. (Not that he knew, my art teacher, Mr. Rice, was my dad when I was 16).

A reminder, for me at least, that it is neither unusual or wrong for some of the deepest scars incurred in childhood to still hurt.

A reminder that the best parts of childhood need not be gone. Some board tables I sit at are grey. The people around them; grey too. I’m the colour.

All of that is why I really like this thought. Because it can be read, and read into, in so many ways.

Childhood, I think, lasts a lifetime.

When we’re asked, ‘What do you do?’ – I don’t think we answer that question at all. We answer this question instead: ‘What do people like you do?’

It’s because we’re nice. Helpful. We give relatable responses. And that can sound, well, boring. I updated my LinkedIn profile this week. To this:

“I’m a fan of Underthinking. Underthinking is doing what your gut said today, today. I help business leaders Underthink, get unstuck, and act. Also, I think Marketing and Brand should be entertaining. Fun. Funny. Brave. Marketing that just tells you stuff – no good. Don’t do that.”

In summary, my work is Fast and Funny.

Yes; I’m a Brand & Marketing Director and Copywriter. That’s what I do. My uniqueness is the Fast and Funny bit. It’s what I enjoy, and it’s definitely best for clients too. It works.

So when they ask, ‘What do you do?’ – tell them. Tell them what you, and only you do. How only you can.

For me, right now, for various reasons, Coddiwompling is essential. Coddiwompling is ‘travelling purposefully towards an as yet unknown destination’.

In a certain frame of mind, I’d see this as silly. Moving forward not knowing where to. But, thinking about it, moving forward not knowing where to has taken me to the greatest places I’ve been, meeting the greatest people I know.

So join me if you like. If you do, at the very least, it means you can say this:

Them: “Hey; what you up to these days?”

You: “All good actually. Life’s exciting! I’m Coddiwompling.”

Hate is good.

When I started Kickboxing Fitness, I hated it.

Then I started Kickboxing Drills which I hated more than the Kickboxing Fitness. But, weirdly, I’ve grown to love the challenge of Kickboxing Fitness. I need Kickboxing Fitness for Kickboxing Drills.

Then I started Kickboxing Sparring which I now hate more than Kickboxing Drills. But, weirdly, I’ve grown to love the challenge of Kickboxing Drills. I need Kickboxing Drills for the Kickboxing Sparring.

And all of a sudden. Just like that. I’m better at doing a thing than I used to be.

Hate, it turns out, is good!

Not taking risks… is risky.

When I ran brand and marketing agencies I’d deliver ‘opinion’ events. One was called ‘Marketing is a Waste of Time’. The message being that without a differentiated and distinctively communicated brand, all a marketing agency can do is get their client to to outspend your client. Agencies win. Client lose. So we called it out. It’s risky having a pop at your own profession.

But not taking risks… is risky.

100 people paid to come (money to charity) and – at the start – I introduced the day, and my 2 guest speakers.

First, I introduced my sister, Debbie, a television script writer. I said Debbie would talk about character and precision storytelling. I told the audience that, as Debbie’s brother, I had unique insight into her as a person, too. I listed 3 amazing things about Debbie’s ability then, at the end, I said, ‘Oh, and she has a thing for older men.’ Debbie didn’t know I was going to say that. She smiled. The audience laughed. Ice broke. It was a risk.

But not taking risks… is risky.

Then, I introduced my second guest, Ali. Our biggest client and owner of a powerful brand. A 50-ish year old guy, married with children, respected, intelligent, brilliant. I said Ali would reveal how we helped him become the number one brand in his category. I told the audience that, as Ali’s longstanding agency, I had unique insight into him as a person. I listed 3 amazing things about Ali’s ability then, at the end, I said, ‘Oh, and he has a thing for older men.’ Ali didn’t know I was going to say that.

All was quiet as I slowly turned to Ali, sat slightly behind me. He smiled. The audience laughed. Ice, gone. It was a risk.

But not taking risks… is risky.

There’s a long list of problems that I cause for myself. And on that list is this. I sometimes think I have it all worked out.

Not always. But sometimes. And each time I do (I am increasingly realising), doors close. I stop learning. I stop absorbing. I shrink.

It’s such a danger to me. Imagining that I have it all worked out.

So what happened from 11pm last night, as I sat down to watch the first episode of Baby Reindeer, was really useful for me. Even though I’m quite tired today. Because four hours later. At 3am in the morning. I’d watched all seven episodes.

Watching Baby Reindeer was really useful because – as a story and as a piece of work – it is braver and better than anything I’ve ever done or (worse still) it is braver and better than anything I’ve ever thought about doing.

It left me with a wonderful thought. A useful thought. For me. It made me wonder, do we live the life we really could? Or do we live the life we think we deserve?

And it also made me think about if and how my writing makes others think. Because Baby Reindeer – as a story and as a piece of work – is braver and better than anything I’ve ever done or (worse still) it is braver and better than anything I’ve ever thought about doing.

It’s such a danger to me, imagining that I have it all worked out.

Someone I now know quite well, wrote something inside my trousers about 20 years before I met him. I sometimes recall what he wrote, and the brand he and his wife created, when sat on the toilet.

The reason I mention this, is to illustrate something important about my business and yours… If you want your business to be remembered, do something memorable.*

Howies was created in 1995 by Clare and David Hieatt. I bought their jeans. And written inside the back of the waistline, upside down (I think) was, “When did you last change your underpants?”

In a world of so much choice, please remember it’s better to be different than it is to be better. If you want to stand out, that is. So if you want your business to be remembered, do something memorable. Like writing inside their trousers. When nobody else is.

*This neat sentence is easy to read. But very hard to do consistently and well. Read it again and ask yourself if you could do loads more to make your business more memorable.**

**The answer is ‘yes’.

First to pull up a chair, at the head of Board Table, is the Managing Director. The tight-necked, moody, multitasking visionary.

Then the Finance Director sits down. Primed to spotlight and timidly advise on the business’s too much and too littles, as well as the unignorable financial red flags as they peep over the horizon.

The next chair to scrape backwards, made-ready for bottom accommodation, belongs to the Operations Director. Their management skills tessellating perfectly with the leadership skills of the MD.

Fourth to sit, always much later than is sensible, is the Marketing Director. Developing, delivering and measuring multiple strategies, tactics, messaging and creative execution by segment, territory and more.

One bottom may of course deliver on more than one role, especially in the very early days of a business.

Other chairs may house bottoms belonging to those focussed on HR, Sales, Sustainability and – super, super-rarely – Brand.

The Brand Director’s bottom sits directly between the MD and the Marketing Director, doing all she or he can to chisel and hone differentiated, distinctive and ultimately – owned – perceptions in the minds of segmented consumers. They make the brand so compelling and motivating as to affect consumer opinion and behaviour, aligned to the clearly defined, timed, granular organisational objectives of the business.

Except, none of this happens as it should.
Because there is no Brand Director’s chair.
And no bottom.

I’ve never, ever walked into a business with a Brand Director operating and thinking as I describe here. A Brand Director that understands exactly how they, and everybody else, fits – and purrs – together, for the benefit of the business.

I’m lucky though. Because I work in precisely that way with a small number of brilliant businesses in the role of Associate Brand Director. And later in 2024 and 2025, I’d like to work with two more. So if, in the next 24 months or so, a my-bottom-shaped-chair appears around your board table, please let me know.

PS. Sometimes, people tell me they print off things I write. They stick them on the wall (thank you). This two-minute read may be useful to early-growth businesses as your board table’s bottoms build and blossom.

Good luck.

Yesterday, I listened to YouTube relaxy piano music as I was writing. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know composers. If ever I reference classical music, all I’m capable of is shouting what it advertises.

“Those babies. Shitting. You know. The nappies one. You’ve seen it. Dut du du durrr duuuurr…” Etcetera.

So again, I didn’t notice the composer. But I did notice a three word comment beneath the dreamy composition.

“I miss myself”.

The music was calm. Reflective. So such a comment is not surprising, I suppose. It’s short, personal tone made me pause.

“I miss myself”.

It made me think about different versions of me. Why each began. Why each ended. Then, I asked myself which ‘myself’ I missed most.

Just as interesting as exploring the me’s I missed, was recalling why they came and went. It was almost always because I allowed myself to be affected by what someone else did or didn’t do, say or turn out to be. (I’ve read that back. It’s right).

Life is better, I think, when I am my unaffected self. That’s the me I miss most.