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…

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

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.

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

Soil_Texure_Burgundy_A3_RGB_Digital


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