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.

‘Twas ever thus

Things social media managers hear all the time:

“We should be sharing this on social media.”

“Can we put something out on Twitter about this?”

“That’s a perfect Instagram post…”

The answers are almost always ‘No we shouldn’t’, ‘No’, and ‘No it’s not’.

It can be tempting to treat social media as the dumping ground for the stuff you don’t think warrants any extra thought or budget. After all, it’s free, quick and easy. But, this kind of thinking is going to yield very little results for your brand.

The same attitude that gets your Great Aunt to like a picture of your cat on Facebook won’t cut it when you’re trying to convince people to part with their money.

The fact is, social media marketing is still *marketing*. The need to give it some thought, to be protective of your image, considered in your messaging, and creative in your output is still as relevant as it was pre-internet. Marketing is the same now as it was then.

Right message, in front of the right people, at the right time.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Sam


Ogilvy on Advertising is a great place to start for tried and true marketing advice that’s still relevant in the digital age.

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.

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.

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 comes 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