People like them

People like us do things like this.

A mantra introduced to me by reading Seth Godin, but a cultural mindset that is evident wherever you look. Whether it’s the latest fashion, politics or the new bar to have your next Instagram photo in, there’s no denying that so many of our decisions are based on how we see ourselves and how, therefore, we can best maintain that image.

The reverse is also true. More and more we define ourselves by what or who we’re not. For fear or being like ‘them’ we do/say/think/buy/post ‘this’.

When everything is a reflection of who we are or who we are not, it can easily trump more rational arguments when it comes to our decision-making.

I’m not sure I have an answer or a real marketing point to make here. Should brands get off the fence and become advocates for certain causes, even at the risk of turning away a portion of their customer base? I’m not sure. There’s certainly an argument for considering it.

But, one thing that is certain is the power and influence of ‘groupthink’ or ‘herd mentality’.

Brands can’t afford to underestimate it.

Not everyone is going to care

One of the questions often thrown out during discussions about any business or comms idea – normally by those who claim to ‘speak for the consumer’ – is ‘does anyone care about this?’.

It’s a fair question. There is no point pouring money or time into a project that no-one else cares about. But surely the answer is almost always: ‘of course somebody does!’.

That somebody might be an audience the size of a small country, or a select few individuals who are highly interested in your niche, but that isn’t at all important as long as you’re realistic with your business model. The aim with building a brand that matters, isn’t to get everyone to care but to find those who do and connect with them directly.

If you’re building a ultra-premium chocolate brand it really doesn’t matter that most people wouldn’t pay over £1 for a bar, and couldn’t give a monkey’s about where the beans come from for you £10 a bar product. There are enough people out there who do. Find them. Build a product they can love. Speak to them in a way they value. And ignore everyone else.

The problem with the question ‘does anybody care?’ is that it’s really asking ‘does this have mass-market appeal?’. Not only is it presumptuous to think that’s what you’re going for, it’s not at all a helpful starting point. Something *built* to appeal to everyone, more often than not appeals to no-one.

If that spark of an idea in your head sets *your* heart racing, you can be sure there are others out there too. The only thing then you have to work out is how to find them, and make your idea come life.

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. But 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.

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…