Why did you do that?

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with what’s going through people’s minds. Over the weekend I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

What is it that causes people to do the things they do? Why exactly is it that some people follow the crowd and others systematically rebel? What’s the reason you saw that guy be inappropriately rude to the waiter when their steak was cooked medium not medium-rare?

It’s weird, right?

We’re a complex web of our upbringing and experiences, the way we were parented, our ambitions and dreams, our anxieties and deepest secrets, too. Everything we do, say or think is in some way a result of the messy cocktail going on behind our eyeballs.

*This* is why we make the decisions we do, not because of a well-placed ad on social or your ‘super innovative’ pricing structure.

Behind every decision in this world (at least for now…) is a human. Humans are irrational and emotional beings. That includes you. Brands – and all of us as individuals – should try to remember that more often.

S

Sam

 


Here’s a great video of the ever-brilliant Seth Godin talking about his take on a similar issue.

Pursue meaning, not ‘more’.

Back in 2015, the story broke. For the last six years, the engineers at Volkswagen had manipulated the system, deliberately fudging the numbers on their diesel engines during emissions testing to comply with US standards. In reality, they were emitting up to 40x more air pollution when on the roads. The scandal ended up costing VW billions of dollar in fines, an immediate 10% drop in share prices, a knock on global sales, and almost irreparable damage to its reputation and credibility.

Huge.

Over the last week or so I’ve been reading ‘Story Driven‘ by Bernadette Jiwa. She explains her ideas on what drove the engineers at VW to deception:

“The company’s goal was to beat the competition and be number one. […] Innovation, increased sales, increased pre-tax return on sales, and being a ‘top employer’ were listed as the means by which they would achieve this goal.”

According to Jiwa, VW was a prime example of a ‘competition-driven company’ – since 2011 their entire focus was on being a ‘market leader’ and everything they did was geared towards this. As a consequence, the company culture forced honest, smart, and dedicated people to hit their metrics. Meet your targets and you’ll be alright.

The problem with playing to win

When you’re sole aim is to win – to make money, or increase turnover – you’re shaping the culture of your organisation. If you’re not careful, you can create an environment where people start to believe the wrong thing is the right thing to do. The effects may not be immediately apparent, but over time these ‘wrong things’ stack up and the cracks in your identity and reputation begin to appear. And when you’re exposed, like VW, it will all be too late.

Don’t try to matter by winning. Win by mattering.

Meaning Economy

In the 50’s and 60’s, people created value by working with their hands – an Industrial Economy. We then moved into an era where our ‘heads’ or ideas produced value – an Information Economy. Then came the computer and all of a sudden we were designing, coding and connecting through technology. But today, we’re in the age of the Meaning Economy, where the brands that thrive allow their people to work with their hearts as well as their heads and hands.

The Meaning Economy has also produced a new kind of consumer – one who is drawn to the brand who shares their values and vision for the world. We are more likely to part with our money if we feel an emotional connection with the company we’re giving it to.

Pursue meaning, not ‘more’

More often than not business owners eyes light up at the numbers. The balance sheet rules all. Sales figures are King. And thou shalt all be judged by P&Ls.

That world has changed.

If you can take the time to sit down and figure out your company’s authentic vision for the future. A change you want to make in the world, underpinned by a clear set of values you’re willing to champion, that has the power to engage and motivate staff internally and connect emotionally with your customers, you will win. Your ‘why’ and reason for existing *is* your competitive advantage, not the unnecessary meddling of ‘marketing types’.

Don’t make a VW-sized mistake. Pursue meaning, not ‘more’.

Sam


You can a previous post I’ve done on ‘more more more’ culture here.

Pick me

 

It’s important for brands to differentiate themselves. We all know that. But why is it that ‘different’ often takes on the same form?

To my, albeit non-expert, eye it looks like almost everyone wants to be “more”. More funny. More on-trend. More innovative. More open. More consumer-focused. More trustworthy. More of an expert. More creative. More bespoke. More specialised.

But is that really the truth?

On the flipside, there are those who stand out by being “less”. Less corporate. Less stern. Less financially-driven. Less typical. Less ordinary. Less one-size-fits-all. Less secretive. Less stuffy.

But is that the truth either?

Being distinct becomes a game of top trumps: pick me; we’re the ones for you; I’m your guy; we’re more this, or less that than the rest. But with all this focus on how you’re perceived vs. the competition, where is the time to discover what you actually are?

What’s wrong with “this is who we are and we’re an entirely credible solution to your problem”? It might not sound sexy, but ‘who you are’ is all that matters in this game.

Marketing and branding should magnify the truth, not manipulate the message. The aim isn’t to get people to believe us. It’s to give the right people something to believe in.

Sam


Thanks to Bernadette Jiwa and Rory Stewart for this inspiration on this.

Emotional impact

Every day I drive 1hr15mins round the M60 to work. It’s funny the patterns you start to see by doing the same journey on the motorway every day.

When it’s dark in winter, there’s a game I play. The aim is to try and spot the headlights in the mirror and guess the make of car, judged purely on the way it’s being driven before it comes past to reveal the answer. It’s surprising how often I’m right.

At least 20mph over the speed limit? Mercedes, maybe Audi.

Aggressive cutting between lanes? BMW.

The same but bigger? Range Rover.

I jest, of course. But it is interesting how certain people, all with a tendency to drive a certain way, opt for the same manufacturers more often than not.

Do people buy these cars because they’re angry or impatient? Of course not. Most people who drive them aren’t those things anyway*. But for those who are, the brand speaks to them in a way others don’t.

They tap into human emotions. People’s vision of themselves. The lives they’ve always imagined living. Because BMW or Mercedes or any other brand make them feel a certain way.

Cars, fashion, mobile phones, trainers, restaurants, handbags – they’re all symbols of who think we are and the things we value. They are a very human way of letting the world know something about ourselves. A signal to those whose opinions we value.

The brands that make the biggest impact are the ones that connect most intimately with our emotions. The ones that go on to dominate, back it up with action.

But hey, I drive a Citroën C1 so what does that say about me?

S

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*Just for the avoidance of any doubt! Please don’t hate me…

Show, don’t tell.

I once took an audio recording of myself doing terrible impressions to ‘show and tell’ at primary school. I must have been about 10 years old and I’d recorded it on a cassette on the stereo in my room. I’m not sure why I did it, but I did.

I thought it was excellent. Unsurprisingly, everyone else did not.

Mentioning a cassette tape isn’t an attempt at showing my age. After all, I’m not in the slightest bit old. It’s more of a clumsy segue into the difference between show and tell.

As a brand, it’s the ‘showing’ bit that counts. Showing your customer you care. Showing how you do things differently. Showing your dedication to excellence. Showing you mean more.

It’s being able to back up what you say about yourself with behavioural evidence. It’s building up a strong track record of sticking to your word and ‘doing’.

Advertising and social media are ‘telling’. Branding is ‘showing’.

Everyone can do the first.

The second is what true brands do.

S

Try Something New

The other day I read one of Seth Godin’s excellent blogs on ‘overwriting‘. It’s the idea that we all tend to write in overly-complex language to make what we’re saying sound a little more true. Instead, it’s far more effective to ‘simply write and write simply’.

As a frequent sufferer of ‘overwriting’, I’m going to give his advice a go.

What does that look like? Well, I’m going to trial these shorter, bite-sized thoughts and post them (sort of) daily to see how it goes. You know, just to try something new.

Without trying something new, how can you know what works best? It’s a trap that many fall into through fear of the unknown. Of course, it makes complete sense. But ‘trying something new’ doesn’t mean constant upheaval and revolution. It’s more ‘give it a go’, and test and learn – constant evolution if you will.

So, here’s my attempt at trying something new by seeing if this type of post appeals to you more than the others. If not, I’ll change – there’s no shame in changing direction. But, there is danger in standing still.

Take a look at your business, try something new, and see what you learn.

How did I do?

S

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I’ll still be aiming to publish a more substantial piece regularly too, but think of them as the main course. These are the snacks.

Why your business needs to learn the value of values.

Politics always divides opinion. People may not agree on much, especially in today’s climate, but a quality that most people seem to admire when they see it in their politicians is ‘values’. Someone principled who stands for something more meaningful than just being a capable politician. It even better if you happen to agree with them…

Well, businesses are no different. They too need a clearly-defined set of values and to stand for something more than simply the product or service they sell. The only difference is, in business, you don’t have to command a national majority: just enough of the attention of those within a niche interest group. More on that here.

I mentioned this in my last post as a ‘take away’ from the book ‘Build A Brand In 30 Days‘ by Simon Middleton but I feel like it’s important and deserved some reiteration.

It’s true that every business needs to differentiate itself from the competition. It’s also true that nearly every business or business owner set out with a greater ambition for their project than just ‘make money’. (Note: if you own a business and that was your only motivation to get going, you might want to pick up a copy of Middleton’s book to see what you’ve been missing.) Why then, do so few – particularly small businesses – manage to break out from the homogeneity?

Find yourself some values

This is where the value of values lies. Every business has or should have, a clear vision of where they want to go: a change they seek to make in the world. If you don’t, think about why you started out and reconnect with it. From that vision should stem your values. These are the things you will not compromise in making that vision a reality.

Now, ‘great value’, ‘great customer service’, ‘delivery on time’, ‘quality product’ is going to get you nowhere. Ask yourself the question ‘as opposed to what?’. If you’re left feeling stupid, you’ve opted for things that are too bland and will never help you stand out. Dig a little deeper and focus on more of the ‘why’ and less of the ‘what’ of your business.

It might be worth drawing others into this exercise*. It requires some pretty honest reflection about who you actually are, as opposed to who you like to think you are. You might not like what comes back initially, but it’s a start and you can always adopt new values, provided they don’t become empty promises.

This is the important bit

What stops a value becoming an empty promise? Living it out in everything you do. Every decision. Every customer interaction. Every piece of communication. These values you commit to are what define your business: you need to own them, reinforce them with behaviour, stand by them, obsess over them and defend them when necessary.

This is THE critical part of becoming a strong brand. More on that in a future post.

S

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* Like I’ve said, I’m not an authority on this. I’m simply going through the process of learning and sharing what I’ve picked up as I go. There’s a great exercise in Middleton’s book on how to go about defining your values, and a checklist to make sure you’ve picked the right ones. Do the work and you’ll see the reward.

Book Club: Build a Brand in 30 Days – Simon Middleton

So to kick things off with the new direction for this site, I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading.

The idea for this came from my uncle. He’s read everything. Every book on business, personal development, productivity and Jack Reacher. If you need to dig deeper on almost any topic, he’s got the book for you. I find it really useful to have that kind of personal librarian, someone to point you in the right direction for extra information, and so thought I could do my small bit to do the same for you, the reader.

First up, ‘Build A Brand In 30 Days‘ by Simon Middleton.


I picked this book up to read it while I was away on holiday for a week with plenty of time on my hands. Reading is one of those things that I like to think I do plenty of, but actual books? I can go forever without having touched one. That I wanted to change, so I started here.

The book itself is a How-To guide for those looking to take their first steps into the world of ‘brand’. Whether you’re a business owner, or just someone within an organisation looking to affect brand change, it breaks the process of building a brand down into 30 ‘days’ or short-exercises. It runs you through each step, explaining each time why it’s important and detailing a few key case studies to demonstrate the point.

The book is a great introduction to the concept of brand and explains really effectively the fact that it means far more than just a cool logo and a well-thought-out company name (though that is part of it). Brand is about living and breathing your company’s identity through everything that you do as a business, no matter how small you are.

Anyway, 100% recommend it. Simon Middleton is a real expert in his field and well worth paying attention to. Here are my three takeaways:

Values matter

The best brands matter. And they matter to people because they have values. Values are the only thing, other than price (difficult to compete on) and product quality (subjective) that humans have to base their purchasing decisions on. It is vital that every business has some and that they are differentiating. It’s an idea often brought up when people talk about creating a brand. Every great brand has a purpose it exists, like Patagonia’s:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

From that desire to make a difference comes a set of values. Things you won’t compromise in order to make that thing happen. Proper values need to be lived out in every dimension of a business (which Middleton reiterates on several occasions) and are what successful brands live and die, succeed or fail by.

(pp.66-77)

Define who your customers aren’t

Everyone has heard about the importance of knowing exactly who your customers are. It makes complete sense. By knowing and defining your target audience you’re better able to serve their needs, communicate with them effectively and build an engaged community. But a great point that Middleton brings up, and something I’d never thought about, is how important it is to define who your customers are not. It’s not just people who don’t like you. It’s those customers that don’t stand for what you stand for, those who go against your values and don’t share your vision for the world. By owning this to the point that you gently and respectfully walk away from customers with whom your business doesn’t align is incredibly powerful. Concentrate on who your customers are/could be, by knowing for sure who they are not/never will be.

(pp.94-99)

It’s not necessarily about budget

This one isn’t detailed in a specific chapter in the book but still a big takeaway for me. One thing that comes across in the book is that much of building a brand can be done on next to no budget – good ideas are not expensive after all – what it does require is hard work, honest reflection and the desire to succeed. There are a few things that Middleton suggests you don’t scrimp on (excellent design work and website creation) but most of the exercises can be completed with a flip chart and marker pen, provided you’re willing to put in the time and mental energy to make it work. The great thing about all this is that you don’t have to be a large organisation with lots of cash to be a successful brand, in fact some of the greatest brands – those that really matter to the people who interact with them – are small, local businesses with a tiny payroll and an even tinier marketing budget. Don’t let size and money stop you from meaning more to your customers.

S

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All Change

When I first set up this site, it was simply a way of me showcasing the video work I had created for my social channels and for my employers in one location – it’s easier to point people in the direction of one URL than try to scroll and search your way to the right pieces of content.

Since then I’ve bagged a new job, still within the wine industry, but creating content full-time. There’s too much out there to keep this thing up to date so I’ve decided to change.

My ambition has never been to be a wine personality. My interests are too diverse and feet too itchy to restrict myself to talking and writing about wine for the rest of time. What I am keen to do though is dive deeper into the world of ‘brand’.

A word that makes most people roll their eyes – whether it’s because people see it as the coat of arms of consumerism, or the drug that fuels today’s increasingly homogenous, Instagram-obsessed world (or both!). But ‘brand’ is about more than labels on handbags. It’s the strategy of differentiation, the manifestation of standing for something, the tactics of communicating effectively and doing it all in such a way that people, companies and organisations begin to matter in this world.

Or, as the brilliant Seth Godin puts it:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.

Cheers, Seth.

Anyway, I’m not too sure at this stage how I’m going to go about this, or where it will lead, but I thought it was best to let you know so that if you came for the wine stuff, and hate everything I’ve just said, you have a chance to jump ship in advance!

Hope you’ll stick around. And if you ever want to get in touch, you know where to find me!

S

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The Wine Industry Needs To Wake Up, Fast!

Since ever the UK Wine Industry has been an elite club for those “in the know”. For the man in the street, wine has been seen as stuffy and pretentious. The two are closely linked.

The problem with wine is that it is complicated; there’s no getting around it. A subject matter that encompasses geology, geography, agriculture, science and art is bound to make the mind boggle. While knowledge of all of this isn’t necessary to enjoy a great glass of wine, the effort from those in the industry to try and connect with the everyman is quite frankly appalling. As such, wine is losing ground to sexier, more consumer-friendly alcoholic beverages, such as Gin and Craft Beer.

There is an abundance of trade-related media knocking about, telling those who have a keen interest in Wine all about the latest Bordeaux vintage or which Loire Valley rosé came out on top in the latest tasting. But who is producing content for those in this country who famously say, “I don’t know a lot about wine, but I know what I like”?

Today, the Internet is king, and long live the king! It is the great equaliser of our society, providing endless opportunity to learn, discover new ideas, or to be entertained FOR FREE. It is more significant than arguably any other form of media the human race has created. Why then isn’t the wine industry, which is struggling with an image problem and falling consumption, embracing this new technology and taking wine to the people? I am as baffled as you are.

There are a number of wine professionals who have a reasonable presence on Twitter, but the majority of the time is spent tweeting out content that is aimed at others working in the industry. Instagram, the most natural social media site for wine-related content to succeed on, has many accounts that ping out bottle shots, or photos of attractive individuals holding a glass of something while standing in a vineyard, but where is the substance? YouTube and Facebook, great for video content, are full of funny videos that reiterate the stereotype that wine is all a con, and void of any trying to break through that myth. Those who work in the wine industry in this country need to wake up, fast!

There is an enormous gap in the market for someone to come along who is serious about producing high-quality, consumer-led content, that doesn’t shy away from the complexity of the matter, but that informs and educates the man in the street about the world of wine, in a light-hearted way so as not to revert back to the old stereotypes. Whatever your strong point, there’s a content form to suit you: written blogs, video, photo, audio etc. If food-related content can have so much success online, not to mention coffee, gin and craft beer, then wine can certainly work too.

People like wine. Those same people spent vast amounts of time on social media. If you’re a UK wine professional, instead of complaining about price rises or the uncertainty of Brexit, start thinking about how you can produce content for the end-user in a way that matters to them, on the platforms that they spend their time on. Do your bit to generate interest in your business. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Check out my work and let me know how I do!