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BUSINESS

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Sometimes in business.

Common sense is your enemy.

Especially when you’re thinking about brand.

Because brand thinking is different to traditional common sense thinking.

Brand.

For example, brands that say more things to more people are weaker than those that say fewer things to fewer people.

Odd.

But true.

A narrowly focused brand that targets a precise market can be very powerful.

Consistency.

Common sense also suggests that saying the same things over and over is dull.

Brand sense says the opposite.

Brand sense tells us that consistency is key to the success of all great brands.

Features and Benefits

And surely telling people what you do is the most important thing of all?

The features of your offering.

No.

It isn’t.

I don’t want to know what you do.

I want to know what you do for me.

I want to understand how I benefit.

Not how it all works.

That’s of no real interest to any consumer in the vast majority of cases.

Brand Sense. 

In business, brand sense is good sense.

If you want to know more about this, contact www.angelfysh.com.

Or read Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

(And then contact www.angelfysh.com).

Great adverts are well paced.

They draw you in.

They contain exactly the right thing at exactly the right second.

So you stay engaged.

And watch to the end.

One Message.

Great ads are also aware that every single thing in the ad revolves around just one message.

One simple thing.

One simple, memorable thing.

Brand.

And great ads focus on an ownable thing.

Something that is about that brand’s offering.

Something they alone want to be famous for.

Not the entire category’s offering.

So they stand out.

Not blend in.

Emotion.

Great ads are emotional too.

They are funny.

Or sad.

Or hard hitting.

Or, if they are really good, they are more than one of these things.

In under 30, 60 or 90 seconds.

Quality.

Great ads are also beautifully produced.

The simple things are just right.

They are clear about what they are portraying.

They are smart enough to put clarity before creativity.

Perfect. 

Here’s a perfect example.

From 2010.

(Go to https://www.50odd.co.uk/adverts/).

(You’ll smile.

And you’ll remember the brand.

And you’ll remember the one thing the brand owner wants you to remember about the brand, too.

Perfect!)

 

The way I retell this story will be pretty accurate.

However, with the passing of time (and the artistic license I flaunt as the writer of 50odd) I will probably smooth the edges.

That’s OK.

The essence remains intact.

LinkedIn.

Almost 10 years ago.

I sent a Linkedin message.

It was in response to an opportunity that I and my Creative Agency onebestway had been given.

The opportunity was to pitch to deliver high level, broad reaching marketing and communications work for a local College.

I won’t mention the College.

Or the hero of the story.

But they can if they like.

If they read this.

In the comments.

The Opportunity.

The opportunity was for the delivery of design and marketing work.

The brief was pretty standard.

I think it was the seasonal creative campaign for the whole of the college.

You know – the thing that colleges do each year to jostle for attention in their busy marketplace.

Budget and Brief.

The budget was enough.

The College was investing – properly.

But the brief bothered me.

So I sent my LinkedIn message to the Director of Marketing and Communications.

It went something like this.

Hello (I did address this person by name of course).

Thank you so much for asking us to pitch for the development of this year’s marketing campaign for your College.

It’s a great opportunity.

However, if you don’t mind, I have an observation for you.

If your College was a brand that stood for something desirable, that was consistently communicated and ownable (so it was uniquely you), I’d predict that your annual spend on communications could shrink dramatically.

And you’d get a far better ROI year on year, too.

Because you’d be famous for that one thing.

You’d not only be a great College; you’d be a great brand too.

You see, I don’t know why you are different.

And I don’t know why you are better.

So as a student I don’t know why to choose you.

And as the leader of a Creative Agency – I don’t know what message to deliver.

No matter how ‘creative’ we are.

I suppose I am saying that instead of investing heavily in marketing and design – year after year after year – have you ever thought about investing in brand first?

So that your College becomes famous for something that reminds people of you and only you.

That way, you won’t have to come up with transient, snappy, ever-changing (and expensive, because you are starting from scratch in each year’s bunfight) ‘flares’ that are ‘here this year’ and ‘gone the next’.

If you did become a brand, all you’d be asking agencies to do each year is reenforce your unique position.

Rather than come up with this year’s random eye-catcher.

Because you’d have real traction.

You’d stand for something.

The tone of my message was upbeat.

Solution focused.

I clicked send.

And I waited.

Leaders.

Finding ego-free people in leadership roles is quite rare.

Brave, adventurous, positive, clear thinking leaders are few and far between.

Especially (in my experience) in education.

Leaders keen to explore new approaches.

Leaders that have the humility to rock back in their chairs and, authentically, listen.

Not because I or we necessarily know better than them.

Because they know that, even though they are being tasked to lead, they are not being tasked to have all the right answers.

They just have to find them.

This Leader. 

This leader’s response was short.

And fast.

It was (something like).

I know.

I agree.

Shall we talk?

This College.

This College is famous for one thing now.

The brand (and it is a brand) focuses on the endstate that all students really want.

It looks past the facilities (it has superb facilities by the way).

It looks past the delivery (it has superb delivery by the way).

It looks past external badges for performance (it always does superbly by the way).

And it looks past the transient wants of the student (the insta stars and the trainers and the smartphones and the hoodies will always be desired by the students of course. But that’s not really why they come to College).

None of these were right as a brand essence.

This, however, was:

…we have one aim; to make sure you leave us in the best possible position to secure a job.

Brand Position.

This brand position is beautiful.

And pure.

And ownable (because of this College’s history).

And simple.

And memorable.

And brilliant.

But most of all… it came from the College itself.

This quote that I have pasted above is not from our work of over 5 years ago you see.

It is from the College’s own website.

Today.

It’s part of the tagging in the content online.

Today.

It is what I read first when I searched for them on Google.

Today.

Fame.

If a young person wants to go to a College to get a job.

They choose this College.

This College understands brand and how to be a brand.

There is brilliant, largely female leadership and it’s 100% credit to them that they are respected so deeply on a national stage.

They also knew how to really shake a (perceived) number one brand when they were number two.

But that’s another story.

Summary.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a story about the work we did with the College.

Because that was a few years ago and for just a couple of years.

It’s about how this College was run and is run today.

As a brand.

With an open mind and an open heart.

They are clever.

And they give a shit.

Really.

And it shows.

Some people think they don’t go to enough events.

Some people think they don’t go to the right events.

I think that we don’t go to enough of the right events.

Events.

I have worked out what makes a great event.

They are events built around The Generosity Economy.

If you’ve not heard of The Generosity Economy it is not surprising.

Because I made it up.

(At least I thought I made it up. Until I searched for ‘The Generosity Economy’ on Google and found it all over the bloody place. But as there are several similar but different definitions of what the Generosity Economy actually is. I am going to make a definition up of my own. Here goes…)

The Generosity Economy is an environment where all people try to help each other out as much as possible. And give value to other people wherever and whenever they can.

As opposed to the economic model where people try to help themselves as much as possible. And get something of value from other people wherever and whenever they can.

Events.

The two events I’ve been to where The Generosity Economy is most prevalent are:

  1. The Do Lectures
  2. Newcastle Startup Week

Both are annual events.

They’re of different sizes.

And in different locations.

Yet both have a similar ‘buzz’ around generosity.

Conversations. 

Many of the conversations at these places start with (something around) what I can do for you.

And not what can you do for me.

The few that try to sell – stand out.

And not in a good way.

Today is an Event.

Anyhow, if you like, you can treat today as an event like The Do Lectures or Newcastle Startup Week.

We don’t need David Hieatt or Paul Lancaster to prompt us to be generous (even though they do, and I am glad that they do).

You can just do it.

If you want.

Today.

Start Now.

So, who will you help?

What will you give today – for free?

For nothing in return.

I hope it’s something.

PS.

Oh, and there’s a PS.

If you do become a part of this Generosity Economy.

At least two things happen.

  1. It’s viral. You will encourage others to be generous to others too. Good breeds good.
  2. You feel great. When you help someone. Expecting nothing back. You just do.

So I hope you give it a go.

Here’s a Facebook post.

I popped it out there a couple of days ago.

Having founded and now running Always Wear Red is a weird journey.

The downs are hard.

The zigging and the zagging.

The learning is constant.

The bruising – when things don’t go to plan – can be brutal.

Wanting to be absolute best… designing bravely… wanting to make a real difference… wanting to build relationships with the best makers in the world takes a lot of time and money.

Creating a brand that I love.

And that I want others to love too.

It drains me.

But then.

If you stick at it.

And ask the hard questions.

And do the hard things – well.

The good comes.

And it lifts you.

It lifts you high.

Here is a word-for-word message I just received.

After I’d asked to meet up with this person.

A person whose work I adore.

I wanted to chat about Always Wear Red.

Her message to me just now:

“Yes darling… once I get off “the road”. I’ll make time for myself and go exploring. Loving your designs, BTW. Cheers”

Well, I don’t know that this will mean something to all of you.

But it meant a lot to me.

The message was from Alison Moyet.

It’s just a nice feeling.

That the things I love today, are allowing me to revisit the things I loved when I was younger.

The message for you?

If things get tricky… keep going.

There are lovely things just around the corner.

I don’t know which corner of course.

And neither do you.

But they are there.

‘Night.

Alison Moyet.

Here’s Alison singing ‘Only You’ in 2016.

At The Burberry Show.

If you’ve not seen Alison Moyet for a few years.

You’re in for a surprise.

I am sitting in silence. 

Apart from the click and the clack of my keyboard.

Hiss.

When I pause from typing, I can hear a dull hiss.

Deep in my ears.

But nothing else.

Music. 

My mind drifts to what music I should put on.

On my phone.

But instead of popping to YouTube, I do something I so rarely do.

Something quite different.

Something that makes me feel a little insecure, actually.

I turn my phone off.

(I paused when I got to the screen that prompted me to ‘slide right’, actually.

Just for a second.

But then.

Slid I did.

And the phone went cold).

Isolated. 

I feel.

Well.

Isolated.

Frank the dog snoozes to my right.

Boats bob on the River Tyne to my left.

And this, the 295th daily 50odd story, is written.

Silence. 

Silence breeds silence.

And that’s a good thing.

Silence in the mind makes room.

For new things.

New things. 

In the silence, my consciousness drifted.

Looking for new things to fill the space.

But I didn’t find any new things at all.

Not one.

I found something far, far better.

I found old things.

Old Things.

My senses were heightened.

All of them.

And, somehow, I tuned in to old things.

Things that have almost always been there.

In the background.

I heard Mickey Chips (our cat) meow just then.

As he chattered at a bird.

Goading him from a boat’s mast.

Out of range.

Then, I looked down into my coffee cup as I sipped.

Noting the coffee’s beautiful, even deep brown hue.

It was such a lovely colour that I inhaled deeply.

Smelling it.

Coffee is such a lovely smell.

And I also noticed that when Frank looked up at me.

He looks, well, a little lonely (see photo: https://www.50odd.co.uk/old-things/).

So I cuddled him.

Frank.

I was reminded that Frank is always there for me.

And that I am not always there for Frank.

Sometimes because it is impossible.

And sometimes because I am doing something pointless.

Looking at utter, utter shit.

On my phone.

Off.

Life is better with your phone off.

Really.

Not because you discover new things.

But because you remember the old things.

Some people.

They’re grabbers.

LinkedIn.

I quite like LinkedIn these days.

Now I have worked out what it is.

It’s actually a really great way of connecting to a new tribe.

People you can help.

By sharing your ups and your downs and useful little things that may just make their lives better.

Downside. 

On the downside, LinkedIn is for the moaners.

And the chest-beaters.

It’s OK.

We can sidestep them.

But it is also home to The Grabbers.

The Grabbers.

Grabbers on LinkedIn appear quite nice at first.

They do come in with a ‘can you help me’ quite quickly, I find.

But that’s OK.

I like to help.

They are not so hot at coming forward to help you, mind.

When you ask for a wee bit of support.

But that’s OK too I guess.

We all get busy.

But over time, the grabbers say:

Ooh. Can I have one?

And:

Hey. That thing I saw you talking about the other day. Can you dig it out for me again. The one about brand. And pop it through to me.

And I tend to find that they don’t actually say:

Thank you.

Instead, they say:

Cheers!

Because, I suppose, it is quicker.

For them.

Linkedin and Car Drivers.

The problem with LinkedIn is the same problem I observe with some car drivers.

Car drivers, for some reason, seem to think that when people are in their way, they can shout things like:

You bastard!

Or:

What the fucking fuck?!

Blurted from the most aggressive and nasty face they can muster.

If they were in the street of course.

They’d not do this.

Because the car-shouters tend to be quite cowardly when face-to-face I find.

And if they chose the same approach as the adopted from the safety of their cars.

They’d have their nose bloodied.

And quite right too.

It’s similar with LinkedIn.

If I were face-to-face with any reasonable businesswoman or man I’d expect (something like):

Hello. How are you?

Great!

Me too.

So what’s happening?

Actually…

You know what.

I was thinking about you just the other day.

I saw this great new book.

I’ll write it down for you.

Here.

I have a pen…

And I’d not expect:

Hey.

I hear you have a discount code.

Can I have one.

Cheers.

Bye.

It may be just me.

But that’s OK.

They are real.

The Grabbers.

And I wish that they weren’t.

Grabbers…

I just don’t like them.

I once ran a business called onebestway.

It was a Creative Agency.

Over 14 years it grew from nothing.

To something.

Growth.

Specifically, it grew from nothing to sales of £1,250,000 over about 8 years.

Then trundled on.

Winning awards and creating jobs over 14 years.

But it wasn’t always steady growth.

Sometimes, there was sharp decline.

Consett.

An example of sharp decline happened one cold early morning early in year two.

Our offices were in Consett.

And I turned up early.

I was always in first.

First to see the cold computers and desks.

First to warm them, and the room, for the others.

Except on this one morning.

Because when I arrived at the office.

I saw something quite different.

Different.

On this one morning all I saw.

Was a brick.

Brick.

One way to enter to an office.

In the middle of the night.

If you have no keys.

Is to use a brick.

Throw it at a window.

(That should do it).

And one way to very, very quickly ‘unplug’ monitors from sockets.

Is to hit the cables with an axe.

So the axe cuts through the cable – and the table top actually – with speed.

I learned both these things on this cold morning in 2002.

Momento.

For years, I kept the brick.

I smiled at it.

It was a momento.

It reminded me, and the thought of it still does, that we bounce back.

The brick incident was a mere blip.

A bump in the road.

The road from nothing.

To £1,250,000 of sales.

Bikes need stabilisers.

So do businesses.

And, sometimes, people do too.

Stabilisers.

The difference between bike stabilisers and these two metaphorical ones I mention (business and life).

Is that once you’ve worked your way past your bike stabilisers.

You probably won’t go back.

But the other two – stabilisers for your business and your life – you may need them more than once.

And that’s OK.

I don’t think that business or life are things that you initially wobble through, learn, and then have mastered for ever.

So from time to time.

When you feel you need to.

Go get the stabilisers.

Stabilisers. 

My stabilisers in my personal life are my friends.

The ones that understand my business side as well as my ‘me’ side, mostly.

People that take the time to listen to me.

When I am wobbling.

And for my business, I have a coach.

As some businesses have me to help them when I have my ANGELFYSH hat on.

I help people when they wobble through the tricky bits.

As others help me.

Tricky Bits.

I may be experiencing tricky things for the first time.

Or I may have forgotten how to confidently zoom forward as smoothly as I once did.

Either way; I am glad they are there.

Stabilisers.

Nice to have.

When you need them.

Paul Lancaster started Newcastle Startup Week 3 years ago.

I don’t know how many more years it will last.

And Paul probably doesn’t know either.

But what I do know is that Newcastle Startup Week is very, very special.

Newcastle Startup Week.

This May.

Over a 5 day period from the 13th to the 17th.

Over 700 people will gather in Newcastle and Gateshead to explore a huge range of subjects around starting and growing businesses.

It’ll be about 1,000 people once we add in students.

But it won’t be at all businesslike in the traditional sense.

Suits will be few and far between.

As will vol-eu-vents.

Instead, there will be the excited and the entrepreneurial, buzzing with optimism and positivity.

As well as amazing local food, coffee and beer served from mid morning to late into the night at amazing local venues like Tyne Bank Brewery, Back Yard Bikeshop (By The River Brew Co.) and Stack Creative Social Hub.

And because of all this.

What comes as absolutely no surprise to me at all.

Is that this event is more attractive, better attended and more loved than anything of its kind that I have ever seen by any university, college, enterprise agency, local authority, networking organisation in the North East of England over the last 20 years.

And I have worked for 4 universities and the North East’s 2 biggest enterprise agencies.

Nothing has ever come close.

Festival.

Newcastle Startup Week is a festival.

The speakers (of which there are 60+ from around the world) are diverse and intense.

Each speaker gets an average of 20 minutes to do their thing.

So the content is sharply constructed and efficiently presented.

The whole event crackles and buzzes with seemingly endless layers of information, entertainment and inspiration.

And it is unencumbered by waffly sponsors.

They’re clever enough to know that just being involved, and a sprinkling of a few well-chosen words, is enough.

Tickets.

Newcastle Startup Week is innovative, layered, surprising, fast-moving and vibrant.

And as I say – very, very special.

Which, I guess, makes Paul Lancaster very, very special too.

All you need to know is here, including how to get a week-long ticket.

And if you email me at michael@500dd.co.uk, asking for a discount code, I’ll send you one that’ll give you a 50% discount in these last few days.

Please.

Go.