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May 2024

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Get a “This thing…” Great brands always have a “This thing…”

If you do get a “This thing…” – here’s how I, and everybody else, will tell others all about it.

I’ll lean in so my face is closer to their face. I’ll look them in the eye. I’ll flick my eyes right, then left. As if to check no one is listening. Then I’ll mouth, in hushed tones, ‘And you know what?’ Before flicking my eyes right then left again, and proudly whispering your ‘This thing…’ My eyes clamped on their eyes as I do. As if it were the biggest secret in the world.

“And you know what… They do this thing. They toast the INSIDE of the bread. On every sandwich. So it’s soft on the outside. And crispy on the inside. It’s incredible!”

“And you know what… They do this thing. They give you a warm cookie as you check in. One for each of you. No matter how many of you there are!”

“And you know what… They do this thing. They give you a ‘Bye for Now’ bag when you check out. With water, savoury snacks, sweet snacks, hand sanitiser and voucher codes for your next visit. All sustainable and healthy. They don’t have to do it. They just do!”

“And you know what… They do this thing. There are three different kinds of firewood on the fire pits. One for brightness. One burns longer. One smells amazing. They think of everything!”

Great brands always have a “This thing…”

So. What’s yours?

Give before you get. Side Projects as Calling Cards are not just important. They are essential.

I’m no good at selling. I don’t like it. I don’t want to persuade people to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have. I’m OK helping people understand why ‘this’ is better than ‘that’, though. But only if I am being interesting, different, entertaining, funny,  generous and genuine (the offer must be wonderful). I can’t be arsed schmoozing with ordinary thinkers, selling ordinary things.

This brings me to something that, I realised, I’ve recommended to every single client of mine – for years. It’s ‘have a side project as a calling card’.

A digital book.

A library of essays.

A blog (that you actually bloody write!)

‘How to’ factsheets.

Etc.

Playing the numbers game, DMing strangers and treating them as prospects before anything else is boring, lazy and bad manners. We should be better far, far better than that.

Give before you get. Side Projects as Calling Cards are not just important. They are essential.

Some things resonate at any age, don’t they?

I’m lucky. I work as Marketing and Brand Director for a few companies. But luckier still, by a million miles or so, I’m a dad to 7 year old Izobel.

Increasingly, and not because Izobel is older than her years or because businesses behave like 7 year olds (although there’s truth in both), I chat about the same things with Izobel my daughter, and today’s board member. For example:

“Not being accepted because of who you actually are, is better than being accepted for pretending to be someone you actually are not.”

Izobel gets that, even though it’s hard for her. And as business leaders we know it’s true too. The brand building bit of my work covers this. Getting to the truth of who founders and leaders really are, so the business can happily be itself. Rather than the business and its people bending themselves out of shape, keeping the wrong people happy by doing things that feel unnatural to them.

Some things resonate at any age, don’t they?

When you increase your unignorability. It’s a pretty good place for you and your business to be.

A common business question is, ‘When it comes to marketing, how can you be hard to ignore?’ It’s a decent question. But because it requires imagination and time to address, there’s no urgency. It may cause a temporary puff of the cheeks but – well – it can wait. Ironically, a question addressing how to be hard to ignore, is easy to ignore.

A less common question is, ‘When it comes to marketing, are you easy to ignore?’ This is much more urgent. Because it only requires recall. It’s closer to home. It feels much more personal. Questioning how easy you are to ignore, is hard to ignore.

With most businesses and business people, the answer to, ‘When it comes to marketing, are you easy to ignore?’ – is yes. Here’s how to (start to) fix that. If you want to, of course.

Get an opinion. Tell me your point of view. Tell me what you’re changing. If your business is authentic and useful, it’s built around what you think and the valuable change you want to make anyway. State this steadfastly. If you do,  you’ll be well on your way to increasing your unignorability. And even though it’s a made-up word, that’s a pretty good place for you and your business to be.

Difficult to get is not the same as valuable.

I chat about this when I help business leaders. Sat at the Board Table. As Brand and Marketing Director. (That’s what I do for a handful of clients/friends).

Trying to win an unprofitable account, just to block ‘them’ from having it. Managing reputation when those adversely affecting it have no reputable position of their own. Trying to hold on to a team member that doesn’t want to be held. All difficult. None valuable.

These things are sometimes hard to see when you’re inside. But it’s not so hard for me to see, from the outside. That difficult to get is not the same as valuable.

I’m not sure about you, but I think I have a Brain-switch. When it’s on, I’m quite clever. When it’s off, I’m not. So if you want to talk to me about something businessy and important, please check my Brain-switch is on, first.

Brain-switch on.

I talk to MD’s about Underthinking. As a Brand and Marketing Director. Brain-switch firmly on. I encourage leaders to listen to what the gut says today. Then act. Today. I think with clarity and speed when my Brain-switch is on. Eyebrows down. Concentrating. Listening. Moving businesses, big and small, forward, at pace.

Brain-switch off.

You know how you get a carrier bag and fill it with loads of other carrier bags then forget to put the carrier bag full of carrier bags in the car so you have this one carrier bag full of loads of other carrier bags in a cupboard somewhere. I do that. The other day, a friend saw it, pointed right at it, and asked me to pass him a carrier bag. Brain-switch off, I picked up my carrier bag of carrier bags and, because my friend had pointed at the blue carrier bag containing all other carrier bags, I slowly emptied out 3 dozen carrier bags and, several seconds later, surrounded by emptied-out carrier bags, I handed my (now) open-mouthed friend the blue one. He didn’t speak. But he did shake his head. Slowly.

I’m not sure about you, but I think I have a Brain-switch. When it’s on, I’m quite clever. When it’s off, I’m not. So if you want to talk to me about something businessy and important, please check my Brain-switch is on, first.

Something I saw yesterday made me think about how we all solve problems. And in conclusion, I advocate the following.

Don’t blow. Suck.

I lived in Newcastle for 30 years. I don’t go much nowadays. But I was there yesterday. And at a sunny 10am, from my parked car window, I noticed a smartly dressed lady outside one of Newcastle’s best restaurants, with a leaf blower. And as I watched her, I felt sad.

Because she had a problem. And she was blowing. Not sucking.

Right now, we’re revamping our holiday cottages in Northumberland. It’s hard! Cleansing. Upgrading. Adding more beyond-expectation surprises. And partnering with key people. Local fresh food suppliers. Sustainability-focussed suppliers. Local bars. Local restaurants. And neighbours. We look after neighbour relationships just as determinedly as every other business relationship. So they look after us – and our guests.

And that’s why, as I watched the smartly dressed lady with the leaf blower outside the restaurant, I felt sad.

I felt sad because she was chasing leaves from her front door, to her neighbour’s front door. I felt sad because she was solving her own problem simply by displacing it to someone else. It affected my perception of her. And the restaurant.

There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. So whilst I’ve never articulated it quite like this before, here I am. Pondering how the next time I come across something shitty or problematic in my own life, I can sort it out for me and for everybody else at the same time.

In short; don’t blow. Suck.