The Diary Of A Man That Stopped Waiting


‘Know what the best way to get people to buy is? Sometimes. For some businesses. Maybe yours. It’s to just go and get them.

Businesses ponder Marketing Tactics. Adverts. Video. Social. SEO. Direct Mail…  And they think about Marketing Strategy too. What are the best things to say? How should we say it? So we sell more. And then there’s Brand. Your permanent, heartfelt essence. The thing they can get behind. So you and your audience are bonded in the change you both want to make.

But I still think that, sometimes, the first thought to have, and the best thing to do, is to just go and get them.

You’re a £2m turnover business that wants to grow 25% each year. Your average transaction value is £100k. So you want 5(ish) new or grown customers annually. A good business of this profile will already know target customers by name. And if your ‘yes’ rate is (say) 1 in 3, you need a hit-list of 15.

So, just go and get them. With a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful bespoke approach. Knock on their door. Present the thing that should, I think, have cost you £500.  Each. £500 for one direct approach!? For £100k of business, plus repeat, of course. No problem.

This is not the whole story of course. But it makes sense to me. That if your business is anything like the profile I describe here, and you want new customers, your first thought should be to just go and get them.

As a business, just as important as knowing how to be interesting. Is knowing when to be boring.

At the moment, I’m Brand & Marketing Director for 3 clients. And I write for 2 more. I first worked with one current client 15 years ago. And they are STILL saying they are special for the same old bloody reason as when I last worked with them. A decade and a half ago. Boring!

They’re now famous for this one thing. When any competitor says this one thing, they sound like they’re copying. When anyone asks what the one most important thing about this brand’s offering is, everybody’s Word of Mouth is exactly the same. ‘Good job the ‘one thing’ they now stand for is the most desirable ‘want’ in the minds of every single customer.

HOW they say the one thing is super interesting and compelling of course. That’s my job. But it is also my job to be completely and utterly boring with how I develop WHAT they say.

In short, I don’t.

A particularly contentious subject was being wrestled with on Radio 5 Live this morning. Two phone-in guests, on air at the same time, really disliked each other. They were on opposite sides of the argument.

The first guest was introduced as Brian (not real name). The second guest was introduced as James (not real name). Two different producers, off-air, gave each of them a pseudonym, so the two guests could remain anonymous.

All was well until, a couple of minutes in, the two guests realised that – quite by chance – they’d been given each other’s actual name as an alias. Brian (real name) was being asked to answer questions as James (not real name). And James (real name) was being asked to answer questions as Brian (not real name).

It was chaos. And very funny. The two guys ended up on each other’s side of the argument. Nobody knew who was being asked to answer what! Because the good intentions of the radio station, producers and presenter had caused an explosion of confusion.

In the end, the seriousness of the subject prevailed, but the crazy name-switch added an engaging layer of fun. The story stood out because it was awkward and clumsy. And the name swapping element actually amplified the subject of the debate. A win.

How strange it is then that, when almost all businesses tell a story, they choose boring. Polished. Anodyne.

When a business tells us their project went smoothly and their client loves them, the story is invisible. Such stories wash over us. Not least because they are not wholly true. To the business, it feels like they are marketing. But to us out here, because we ignore blend-in stories, it doesn’t. Stories are so much more engaging when they are unusual, surprising, funny, even – and real-world. 

It’s because we’re all human. We all worry and panic. Business can be awkward. Things go wrong. We doubt ourselves. We’re challenged. Our good intentions can be neutered by serendipity and coincidence. So these ‘human’ stories are the stories we humans relate to most. These are the stories we find interesting. These are the stories that stand out. These are the stories we notice. These are the stories we remember and pass on. So these are the stories to tell.

So mention the derailments. And how you recovered. Tell us how your good intentions were scuppered by serendipity and coincidence. Like the name-swap thing on Radio 5 Live. Such a great tale! Even though, on this occasion, because I was daydreaming on a long drive whilst listening to a particularly dull debate in the radio, I made it up.

Two questions.

1.  What is the single most important thing, to your single most important customer, about your business? I mean, what is the one thing that they want above all else?

Once you’ve written down your answer, please move to question 2.

2. Knowing what you know at question 1, why then are you waffling on about all that other stuff? Boring them with stuff that doesn’t matter. Diluting and distracting from what you wrote at question 1?

Just curious.

When Adele released ‘Someone Like You’ in 2011, 13 years ago (I know) I played it a lot. Too much, really. It’s a little story isn’t it? I remember the words. I relate. I pull a face when I sing it in the car and the shower.

Yesterday, I reconnected with an old friend. And part of the chatter was me quickly updating on my work. My eyes widened. I looked at him front-on. In the eyes. And, rocking from foot to foot, I sang:

“This company I work with is determined to reduce the world’s cable strikes – to zero. None! Their software is the world’s most used. And this other company provide cutting tools. They’re changing engineering though. Completely. They prescribe what’s needed so damn precisely and so damn quickly that client uptime rockets! And this other company, their kit’s the world’s toughest. And you know what, if everyone bought their kit, the global category’s positive impact on global warming would increase. Seriously! And this College I’m writing for, they’re the College that beats everyone when it comes to getting kids jobs. And this IP Company I work with, they’re not just protecting ideas. They’re creating whole new environments and thinking that actually means more and better ideas appear…”

Then I calmed down. Took a breath. Sipped my coffee. “Sorry.” I said. “So. You. What ‘you up to?” And on we chatted.

Brand and Marketing done properly is emotional, exciting, compelling, noisy, heartfelt and lovely. It’s a little story isn’t it? People remember the words. People relate. I pull a face when I’m talking about great brands.

It’s not, “Our business made a thing, sold a thing, they were happy, we were happy, here’s a testimonial, we grew our company, we’re doing well, we had a visitor, they had a nice time, blah, bleh, bleugh.”

That’s is not Marketing, or Brand. It’s just boring. That’s LinkedIn. (Well; most of it).

Brand and Marketing done properly, to me, feels like singing.

ASDA nearly did a good advert. By saying:

“We price match with Aldi and Lidl.”

Now, I am not a fan of these price match things. Because everybody is price matching everybody else. I forget. But the reason I say that ASDA nearly did a good advert is because “We price match with Aldi and Lidl” misses a great opportunity to (more directly) tap into a real insecurity. This one:

“Is Aldi cheaper than Lidl? Or is Lidl cheaper than Aldi? ”

All ASDA had to do to resonate better was to say:

“If you’re worried whether Aldi is cheaper than Lidl? Or if Lidl is cheaper than Aldi. Worry no more. Because ASDA price matches both! ”

With some visual of, maybe, a signpost (Aldi – left, Lidl – right, ASDA – straight on).

This is an example of two things:

1. It’s best to join a precise, real conversation with your messaging.

2. Detail is important.

Andrew Tindall from System 1 measures ad effectiveness more scientifically than me dropping my occasional opinion. So follow Andrew on LinkedIn too. He’s a nice chap. Clever too.

Whether or not a business is a brand depends on how you define brand.

If you define brand as ‘what they think about you/how you make them feel/how they perceive you’ then yes, 100% of businesses are brands.

If you define brand as, ‘unearthing, staking a claim for, then growing to stand for a unique and ownable perception in the mind of the consumer. A perception that is simple, clear, relevant, distinct and compelling. So compelling in fact that, to those responsible for building the perception internally, as well as to those we want to attract on the outside, it becomes impossible to ignore.’ Then 1 or 2 in every hundred businesses I see are brands. Under 2%.

In my work I build the latter. Because these are the business that are easier to sell. Why? Simply because (read the definition again) they are easier to buy.

People can pinpoint which part of  my work is most important to me. And I can pinpoint which part of another person’s work is most important to them. By where their eyebrows are.

When I say the following, I’m looking you in the eye, and my eyebrows are forced way down:

“Most marketing activity is cloned activity. So over 90% goes unnoticed. Which means I can’t form an opinion on you. Which means I have no idea whether I should buy you. Marketing should be differentiated and consistent at a content level. And bravely distinctive at a delivery level. If it isn’t, save your money. Don’t fucking bother.”

This is not the whole story. But it is very important to me that people know what I think, what needs to be done, and precisely how I can fix things. And I can fix things.

Eyebrows though. They’re important. Check them out. Your own and other people’s. Because when they’re forced down, that’s what’s important to you. That’s where the magic is. That’s where you’ll find your brand.

Whenever I clear our dining table. Or stairs. Or coffee table. Or that drawer in the kitchen with the screwdrivers, plasters, keys, pebbles, unwrapped wine gum, coffee machine instructions, tissues, pens, puncture repair kit, dog treats, hair clips, kids party invites and receipts. New things start to turn up in the space I create, by “not me!”, within about an hour.

Something always appears in the space created. From nothing.

This reminds me of a friend of mine that built his business, sold it for £15 million and now has a giggle with a couple of smaller businesses. It reminds me of my friend because, even in the early days of building his big business, he was never too busy to leave every Friday empty.

For this guy, every Friday had nothing in it. Yet it was always his most interesting and productive day. When he spoke of his work, the best and most interesting stories were always about Fridays.  And he insisted it was because, just like my dining table, stairs, coffee table and kitchen drawer. Something would always appear in the space created… from nothing.

Interesting and spontaneous things very often need space to happen. Or maybe it’s we that need the space to notice them. Whichever it is, my Fridays are all empty this year. And when I’m asked what for, I answer with a smile, and at my absolute sparklingly obnoxious best:


Last week, stood before 30 Financial Advisors, I explained how the way we express ourselves online – to the ‘not yets’ – is key to whether they move to ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

One chap looked particularly worried by the prospect of authentic self-expression online. He said:

“Something holds me back from writing about me. As I actually am, I mean. Authentically. I just can’t move forwards.”
I paused. Then said,
“Moving forwards is not the answer. Go backwards.”
Writing as you really are means going backwards how you really are. Dropping the pretence. Dropping the, ‘I wonder what the best version of me, for them is?’ Dropping the ‘How can I sound ‘the part?'”
Of course, considering your point and harnessing your passion are part of the solution. But moving forwards is you moving in the wrong direction.
If you want to write authentically. Uniquely. Naturally.  Go back to that stuff you blurt out to friends over coffee. Write that. Not the over-polished, sanitised crap that everybody else writes. We’ve had enough of all that.
Move backwards to who you really are. Then write.