Blog

Nobody gives a s**t

The other day I read something in the brand and marketing Twittersphere that went something like this:

“The only people who care about brands are the people who work on them – no-one else gives a shit. If a brand disappears, the world will just go on as normal.”

There is an element of truth to this. It’s always easy to overstate the importance in global terms of something you happen to have a particular interest in. It happens all the time in politics, sport, universities, and places of work all over the world.

But I’m not sure I agree with the thought entirely.

Most people don’t care about most things, that’s just the way it works. But isn’t the point of creating a brand to at least try and overcome that? To matter to someone? To have achieved a level of important those who *are* interested in your particular field?

If you’ve done it properly, someone should miss you if you ceased to exist – even if everyone else ‘goes on as normal’.

Your aim isn’t to get everyone to ‘give a shit’, but just the right amount of people to make a real impact.

Sam

Do names matter?

Apple. McDonald’s. Tesla. Nike. Netflix. Amazon.

All these names mean something. They’re recognisable. They spark immediate images in the mind, be it the logo or an idea of what they stand for. If these brands had been founded under a different name, would they be as successful?

Of course they would.

These particular examples obviously have one thing in common: their names are short, snappy and memorable. This obviously helps, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that they wouldn’t be who they are if they’d picked something else.

If for some reason your brand isn’t hitting the mark, the first place to start is with your strategy and execution. Is your messaging right? Is it differentiating? Do the actions of your business support your words? Are you providing the solution to a problem that needs solving?

If you can do these things it doesn’t really matter what you’re called. You’re going to do alright.

Of course a great name will always help you out – things that are clever, easy to say or a doddle to remember will always give you the slight upper hand. But, thinking your brand name is the problem is you looking for an excuse, and creating a extra hurdle before you can tackle the important stuff. Focus on you’re brand’s behaviour. If yours good enough, people will learn to remember your name.


Sorry I’ve been away! I’ve been a bit under the weather the last week so this has been more a ‘sort of’ than a ‘daily’ blog. I promise to try and make up for lost time.

Book Club: ‘Story Driven’ – Bernadette Jiwa

So we’re back with another book review and this time it’s a little book called ‘Story Driven‘ by Bernadette Jiwa.

I’m not sure how I came across this book. If I’m honest, I think it was probably just that it was reasonably cheap on Amazon and came with a recommendation from Seth Godin, so the thinking was: win, win! And, you may have seen that it’s provided the inspiration for a few blogs already and so for that, it’s been well worth the money.


In the book, Jiwa explains how so frequently we are conditioned to play to win, but that those businesses and individuals that we admire and respect play to a different set of rules. They are driven by a strong sense of identity, where rather than focusing on how to differentiate themselves from the competition or ‘obsess over telling the right story’, they focus solely on their truths. Telling the real story is what matters.

The book itself tells you most of what you need to know in the first couple of chapters, and there’s no denying the value in what Jiwa offers up. What follows though, is a vast number of short ‘case studies’ on what she calls ‘story-driven’ companies doing things the right way. In the interest of being completely transparent: it drags and contains far too many examples to leave a lasting impact and so I skipped about half of them… But, the real gem of the book is in the last chapter so make sure you persevere to the end.

Anyway, my takeaways:

Don’t be like VW

Almost the entire first part of the book revolves around the Volkswagen scandal of a few years back and how it was their drive simply to ‘win’ that led them there. I’ve written about this more extensively in my post ‘Pursue meaning not more‘. Instead, Jiwa suggests that those who are driven by a story and sticking to their truth, are less likely to create a culture where good people do bad things.

Don’t read this book if you think VW has nothing to be ashamed of. Or rather, do – you’ll soon change your mind.

Align story with strategy

This is something I’ve banged on about a couple of times already. So let’s be clear:

You. Have. To. Back. Up. What. You. Say. About. Yourself. With. Actions.

Jiwa does a great job of explaining that often brands start out with a grand vision for the future, but without a plan to make it a reality, it can be easy to focus on succeeding in the present and taking your eye off the long-term goal. Having a strategy that aligns to your backstory and the future you’re looking to build, is the way you’re going deliver. Your strategy is your ‘how’ – the stepping stones to achieving your vision. Make sure they are aligned or you risk failure.

(pp. 69-71)

Invest in yourself

This is the gem.

It has nothing really to do with branding, and everything to do with your own personal story. The whole chapter is excellent and beautifully-written. I can’t quote it all but it feels particularly relevant. I’m just going to quote part of it here, so if you take nothing else from ‘Story Driven‘, remember this:

“We spend a lot of time looking at our reflection […] to wonder how our appearance will be perceived and what we need to do to perfect it. Our days are consumed with measuring up in all kinds of arbitrary, superficial, ungrounded ways. What would happen if we spent as much time reflecting – wondering about and working on the inside, nurturing the things that make us who we are?”

And while we’re here, there’s also this zinger:

“Exceptional performance is not a result of expending the most effort. The secret to being exceptional is the small choices we make moment-to-moment.”

Sorry it’s a bit of a lengthy one!

Sam

‘Go play football’

In football, it’s well known that a manager’s philosophy has a big impact on the success of a team.

Asking a team of individuals to pull on the same coloured jersey and just ‘go play football’ without any direction – an idea of how, why or what’s expected of them – rarely works.

This past season, Liverpool and Manchester City were the embodiment of teams that all gathered round a single footballing ideology and went on to dominate, while gaining mass recognition for the way they played.

From performance on the pitch, to transfer strategy, the training ground and commercial teams, the best football clubs create a culture around a single unifying idea. Everyone inside knows what it is, everyone knows how they fit in and what they have to do. It just works.

Why is business any different? What’s your single unifying idea?

Why bother with a brand?

It makes things easier to sell.

You might have something niche that on its own isn’t easy to shift. A brand with a story, that makes the effort to connect with the humans who are willing to listen, turns your niche product into the complete package.

You might have something everyone wants to buy. Great, but if it’s that good someone else is going to come after your business sooner or later. A brand with heart and soul, that matters to those who buy it and represents more than the sum of its parts will protect your business when you need it.

Rather than saying ‘I’ve made something, do you want to buy it?’, you have the choice to create a brand. You do that by telling your story effectively and building trust with your audience. That way, when you show up with your new shiny thing, people are already ready to do business with you.

So, why bother with a brand? Because it makes things easier to sell.

Get it right, and it can even *become* the thing you sell. Easily.

We’re all human

Just over a week ago, Rory Stewart was one of the most talked about politicians in the country. Today, most of you would probably struggle to recognise him in the street. It’s funny how it works – a week’s a long time in politics after all.

During his recent leadership campaign, I wrote about Mr Stewart a couple of times. He did things differently, challenged the norms and said some pretty thought-provoking things, so I make no apologies for that.

But there’s one thing he said that particularly jumped out at me.

To paraphrase him quite heavily:

To rebuild trust between the public and politicians we have to realise that they are just people like us. People with the same flaws, the same errors, the same prejudices; with the same ignorances, the same strengths and the same weaknesses. Not engaged in some grand conspiracy, they just don’t know everything.

Quite a unique thing for a politician to say. Take it however you like, but his point is an interesting one.

It’s easy – whether it’s politicians, business owners, your customers, or people from other cultures – to assume that there’s a fundamental difference between us and them. Somehow your B2B customers are more corporate and serious, while high street shoppers are more impressionable than others, and those running the country are far less competent at their jobs than you are.  It somehow feels easier that way.

The reality is, everyone is a human being, with the same flaws, errors, prejudices, ignorances, strengths, and weaknesses. The more you can remember that, the easier it is to empathise and connect with others on a human level.

Whether you’re an individual or a marketer, *that’s* key to effective communication, no matter the platform.

Sam

Let me explain

I don’t write this blog to try and appear like a high authority on brand strategy. That would be entirely false: I’m not, and you know that full well*. I do it because I have something to share that I’ve found interesting.

This is why context is so important.

Yes, I write semi-regular articles that talk confidently about branding and brand strategy, but I do it within in the context that I’m learning about it; I’ve usually found something interesting, I’ve processed that thought, decided someone else might find it interesting, and then gone about noting it down and publishing it.

Without that context I’d just be making bold claims about something I currently have little experience in and no right to lecture anyone about. I’d open myself up to (justified) criticism.

Context is equally important for brands, too.

A ‘brand story’ is the term you’re looking for: it provides a ‘why’ to your business’s ‘what’. It explains eloquently where you have come from and why, where you wish to go and why, how you wish to do it and why.

Without this context, not only can it be confusing for those outside your organisation to understand fully everything you do and say, but there’s also no internal reference point to make sure you’re continuing your the story the way you set out to.

Write your brand story out and make it public. Let the people who matter hold you accountable: your paying customers.


*It would also be wrong of me not to admit that my intention is to one day be good enough to be a proper authority on branding… See, context: it’s important!