Blog

Hearts not eyeballs

Organic reach. Paid reach. Impressions. Retweets. Presence.

It’s all overrated.

Obsession over analytics and data has led us into a world where we seem to think the number of people you manage to shout at is the measuring stick of marketing success. There are two problems with this.

The first is that only a fraction of those who you have the potential to reach will ever see your content or messaging. Of those who do, you will be lucky if more than 2-3% stop to look properly. An ever smaller portion of those people will actually do anything about it and maybe perhaps consider potentially buying something from you, *if* on the off-chance they happen to feel like it. Not great odds.

The second problem is that by placing such weight on how many people *might* see your work, you become careless and fail to get to know the people who are seeing it. With such a broad church of an audience, you’re forced into a ‘throw shit at the wall and see what sticks’ approach. Again, not great odds.

Instead, marketers and brand builders should be thinking about depth, not width. Focus on what Seth Godin calls the ‘minimum viable audience‘ your business needs to work properly. That might be 10,000 people, or it could be 10. Then, expend all energy, not on trying to grow that number, but on building trust.

Get to know your audience, who they are, what makes them tick, what they find useful, and practice the craft of talking directly to them. Everything you do, say and create should be about serving their needs and rewarding them for their loyalty to your brand.

Do this and you’ll find that by speaking to those who want want to listen your chance of success goes up significantly. Oh, and it’s a hell of a lot less tiring than shouting into the abyss.

Language Barriers

Whenever we learn anything about anything we love to prove it. It’s only natural, especially if you’re enthusiastic. One of the ways we like to show we know something about something is to use the lingo.

Acronyms, abbreviations, buzzwords and bullshit.

If you read anything about marketing on or offline, every book, article and whitepaper (maybe even my own blog) is pumped full of it. And, if you’re looking for a bit of advice on how to make your business stand out, or make a start in digital marketing, it’s like everyone who seeks to tell you how it’s done speaks a foreign language.

David Ogilvy, perhaps the most influential adman ever, said this:

Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.

He was notoriously brash, but he has a point. Jargon works a bit like armour. It makes us seem more powerful than we are. Makes us feel safe. Reassures us that we’re doing the right thing, even when we’re not.┬áBut it can also force us into a box, restrict our thinking and will us to apply some ‘textbook’ theory where it makes no practical sense.

As far as I see it, marketing and branding are reasonably simple. Not easy – but simple. It’s about consistently showing up, staying true to who you are, always doing the right thing by your customers and working tirelessly at making your business matter to others, no matter how few.

There’s no one way to do that. There’s no set budget that needs to be spent. No must-use platforms or nailed-on strategies. No magic pill. No need for jargon.

Everyone can build a brand whether they’re a marketing guru or a handyman in his own van who couldn’t give a toss about David Ogilvy. Provided you’re doing good work, all it takes is persistence and patience. Don’t let the language barrier convince you otherwise.

Sam


Sorry for the radio silence over the last few weeks. It’s all been a bit hectic, but hopefully, this slightly longer-than-usual post makes up for it. I’m back now, so speak soon.

Sprint

In 1829, George Stephenson created the first locomotive. It was about to revolutionise travel in the UK. At the time, some feared that the speed of Stephenson’s “rocket” would be harmful – even fatal – to people’s health. How fast could it go?

24mph.

We’ve always had a fear of speed, not least in the decision-making process. Snap decisions are frowned upon and seen as reckless, which can often lead to a general reluctance to deciding things at pace. “Let me have a think about it”. “Can I get back to you?”. “Leave it with me.”

This hesitation around fast decisions, I’d assume, stems from the anxiety around not being able to change things at a later date. There’s some truth to this, especially in the digital/social media age. Once it’s out there, it’s out there and things can’t be taken back. But fast decisions produce action, prevent distraction, create momentum and keep things moving forward.

In David Hieatt’s book “DO/Purpose” he says:

“If you want to achieve amazing things quickly, set yourself tough, almost impossible deadlines.”

Spending twice the amount of time making the decision or completing the task won’t make it twice as good. If you keep on your toes, you can stay nimble, learn and adapt at a later date if your decision wasn’t quite right first time around. But indecision isn’t the antidote to poor decisions.

You can’t build a brand out of theory alone – it requires action to get ideas out of your head and into the world. Make stuff happen. Fast.

Sam

Tearing up the rulebook

Over the last week, I’ve been thinking through a few problems related to a couple of projects I’m working on. It’s surprising how often my ideas on potential solutions have changed.

My first reaction to almost any complex problem is usually to be a revolutionary. Everything is broken. Let’s start again. I must implement change.

I don’t think I’m alone in that knee-jerk reaction, but often it’s misguided. The urge to blame the hand you’ve been dealt and wish for better cards is strong. It’s also an easy escape. More often than not the cards you’ve already got are more than adequate. You’ve just got to play them right.

If you’re looking at your business and wondering how you’re going to forge a strong brand out of what seems like a mess, or far too boring, or ill-thought-out – resit the urge to start again. Start by thinking long and hard about the truths of that mess – the indisputable facts – and then start to piece it together in a way that means something more.

Here’s where my thinking lies at the moment: carefully-considered evolution often produces better results than all-out revolution. No doubt it will change again.

Creating a culture of meaningful work

If there’s one thing the world’s not, it’s ‘simple’. Yet we’re so often guilty of trying to make it that way. We’re always on the lookout for that ‘thing’ that seems to explain away all complexity and confusion. If only we could just do ‘this’ or understand ‘that’ better, everything would be an absolute breeze.

Right now, in the world of branding and marketing that ‘thing’ is purpose: sometimes referred to as the ‘why?’ of a company. This year’s Cannes Lions festival seemed to turbo-charge the belief that if you could just come up with a good enough purpose for your brand then everything would be ok. You’d succeed. Sales would rise. People would love you.

I’m being deliberately facetious. But when it’s written out like that, it seems far too simplistic to be true. And, of course, it is. I’ve written in the past about the value in genuine purpose, but what I hope I made clear is that it’s not the answer to all of your problems.

You can’t polish a turd

The most important thing about your brand is the product or service you’re trying to sell. No amount of fluff, heart-warming stories, or Corporate Social Responsibility work is going to make up ground for you if your product isn’t good enough, or if it’s the answer to a problem that doesn’t need solving.

Does it matter whether Amazon runs ads stating how conscious they are of the world’s ills, and how determined they are to right them? No. Their service is so exceptional that you’re likely to buy from them regardless. Have they still got a guiding vision or founding purpose that’s driving their work internally and helped get them to where they are? Almost certainly yes.

Purpose informs culture not marketing

This is where I feel the big confusion is surrounding the notion of purpose. When cynics hear talk about ‘having a vision of the future you’re trying to build’, or ‘establishing a purpose that resonates with others’, they can’t help but think of what that looks like in terms of marketing – holier than thou, ‘buy from us ‘cos we save puppies’, ‘we’re more moral than the others’, types of campaign.

But I feel this misses the point.

The reason why purpose and vision are so important is to act as an internal ‘North Star’: the guiding light for you and your people, making sure you’re headed in the right direction.

No need to brag

If your purpose is to make the best chocolate in the world, your outward message to the world should not be ‘buy from us because we’re trying to make the best chocolate in the world’. Great. Thanks. Rather, if you’re serious, your chocolate should speak for itself and prove it’s the best, while your marketing focuses on attracting those who might value chocolate of such high quality.

However, that purpose *should* be informing the culture of your organisation – your production method, the attitude with which each employee goes about their work every day, your commitment to the details, your efforts to help others understand what great chocolate should taste like and the work that goes into producing it. Your whole business can be confident then that everything it does and every decision it takes┬ácomes from the same place – your single unifying idea.

What you don’t need to do is tell everyone that’s what you’re doing. Prove it.

The idea of having a purpose isn’t that you can then go on to brag about it. It isn’t a marketing gimmick or the answer to all your questions. It’s a philosophy that you sign up to from day one. A commitment to doing meaningful work for those who care.

Sam

Trust

If I were to try and get you to sign up for a paid subscription service where you’d get regular, exclusive and high-value content, all written by me, you almost certainly wouldn’t. Why? Because I haven’t earned your trust – not least because I haven’t posted in over two weeks.*

I haven’t built a solid track record of consistent delivery for any of you to trust that your monthly subscription would be worth it.

Within the last couple of years, my mum has taken up running. Having never done much before, she has persisted in getting out and putting in the miles on a regular basis, and lo’ and behold she’s got herself up to a very respectable standard.

I think she enjoys it now, but she’ll tell you that when she started it was a slog:

“If I only went when I felt like it, I’d never have gone. I had to tell myself that it’s just something I do, not because I feel like it, but because it’s what I do now.”

The people we admire most are those who, come rain or shine, are consistent. They are consistently productive, or polite, or principled, no matter what they’re faced with. It’s that level of consistency that builds admiration and trust.

It’s not just about consistently showing up, but consistently being consistent in how you show up.

How can you show your audience that they can trust you and your brand?

Sam


*Somewhat ironically, the last post I wrote was about ‘showing up early and consistently’ in order to build that trust…

Show up early

Everyone knows the saying.

Trust is earned, not given.

This is true. But how exactly do you earn trust?

The most obvious way is by sticking to your promises. Say you’ll do something? Do it. Say you have a set of principles? Stick to them. Say something is important to you? Prove it.

I’ve talked about this and how it relates to brands before.

But there’s another way brands can earn the trust of their customers – by consistently showing up before they’re required. That is, doing the right thing day in and day out, before you’re called upon to do so by any increased exposure or notoriety.

Whether that’s a commitment to every last detail in the quality of your product, the reliability of your content output, or the way you treat your staff, suppliers or customers right from the off. Your consistency and willingness to ‘show up’ even when no-one else is watching, counts for an awful lot down the line when it comes to earning the trust of those you hope will pay your bills, and someone just happens to notice.

It doesn’t really matter how. What matters is that you did it consistently – and continue to do so – not because it’s looks good, but because it’s important to you.

People can trust that.


Not my best, but I’m here. Showing up. And I’ll be back, hopefully, with something better.

Thanks, as is so often the case, to Seth Godin for the inspiration on this on.