We’re all human

Just over a week ago, Rory Stewart was one of the most talked about politicians in the country. Today, most of you would probably struggle to recognise him in the street. It’s funny how it works – a week’s a long time in politics after all.

During his recent leadership campaign, I wrote about Mr Stewart a couple of times. He did things differently, challenged the norms and said some pretty thought-provoking things, so I make no apologies for that.

But there’s one thing he said that particularly jumped out at me.

To paraphrase him quite heavily:

To rebuild trust between the public and politicians we have to realise that they are just people like us. People with the same flaws, the same errors, the same prejudices; with the same ignorances, the same strengths and the same weaknesses. Not engaged in some grand conspiracy, they just don’t know everything.

Quite a unique thing for a politician to say. Take it however you like, but his point is an interesting one.

It’s easy – whether it’s politicians, business owners, your customers, or people from other cultures – to assume that there’s a fundamental difference between us and them. Somehow your B2B customers are more corporate and serious, while high street shoppers are more impressionable than others, and those running the country are far less competent at their jobs than you are.  It somehow feels easier that way.

The reality is, everyone is a human being, with the same flaws, errors, prejudices, ignorances, strengths, and weaknesses. The more you can remember that, the easier it is to empathise and connect with others on a human level.

Whether you’re an individual or a marketer, *that’s* key to effective communication, no matter the platform.


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?



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

Why your business needs to learn the value of values.

Politics always divides opinion. People may not agree on much, especially in today’s climate, but a quality that most people seem to admire when they see it in their politicians is ‘values’. Someone principled who stands for something more meaningful than just being a capable politician. It even better if you happen to agree with them…

Well, businesses are no different. They too need a clearly-defined set of values and to stand for something more than simply the product or service they sell. The only difference is, in business, you don’t have to command a national majority: just enough of the attention of those within a niche interest group. More on that here.

I mentioned this in my last post as a ‘take away’ from the book ‘Build A Brand In 30 Days‘ by Simon Middleton but I feel like it’s important and deserved some reiteration.

It’s true that every business needs to differentiate itself from the competition. It’s also true that nearly every business or business owner set out with a greater ambition for their project than just ‘make money’. (Note: if you own a business and that was your only motivation to get going, you might want to pick up a copy of Middleton’s book to see what you’ve been missing.) Why then, do so few – particularly small businesses – manage to break out from the homogeneity?

Find yourself some values

This is where the value of values lies. Every business has or should have, a clear vision of where they want to go: a change they seek to make in the world. If you don’t, think about why you started out and reconnect with it. From that vision should stem your values. These are the things you will not compromise in making that vision a reality.

Now, ‘great value’, ‘great customer service’, ‘delivery on time’, ‘quality product’ is going to get you nowhere. Ask yourself the question ‘as opposed to what?’. If you’re left feeling stupid, you’ve opted for things that are too bland and will never help you stand out. Dig a little deeper and focus on more of the ‘why’ and less of the ‘what’ of your business.

It might be worth drawing others into this exercise*. It requires some pretty honest reflection about who you actually are, as opposed to who you like to think you are. You might not like what comes back initially, but it’s a start and you can always adopt new values, provided they don’t become empty promises.

This is the important bit

What stops a value becoming an empty promise? Living it out in everything you do. Every decision. Every customer interaction. Every piece of communication. These values you commit to are what define your business: you need to own them, reinforce them with behaviour, stand by them, obsess over them and defend them when necessary.

This is THE critical part of becoming a strong brand. More on that in a future post.



* Like I’ve said, I’m not an authority on this. I’m simply going through the process of learning and sharing what I’ve picked up as I go. There’s a great exercise in Middleton’s book on how to go about defining your values, and a checklist to make sure you’ve picked the right ones. Do the work and you’ll see the reward.