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

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.

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

‘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.

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!