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!


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.


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.


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.