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┬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

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

Do names matter?

Apple. McDonald’s. Tesla. Nike. Netflix. Amazon.

All these names mean something. They’re recognisable. They spark immediate images in the mind, be it the logo or an idea of what they stand for. If these brands had been founded under a different name, would they be as successful?

Of course they would.

These particular examples obviously have one thing in common: their names are short, snappy and memorable. This obviously helps, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that they wouldn’t be who they are if they’d picked something else.

If for some reason your brand isn’t hitting the mark, the first place to start is with your strategy and execution. Is your messaging right? Is it differentiating? Do the actions of your business support your words? Are you providing the solution to a problem that needs solving?

If you can do these things it doesn’t really matter what you’re called. You’re going to do alright.

Of course a great name will always help you out – things that are clever, easy to say or a doddle to remember will always give you the slight upper hand. But, thinking your brand name is the problem is you looking for an excuse, and creating a extra hurdle before you can tackle the important stuff. Focus on you’re brand’s behaviour. If yours good enough, people will learn to remember your name.


Sorry I’ve been away! I’ve been a bit under the weather the last week so this has been more a ‘sort of’ than a ‘daily’ blog. I promise to try and make up for lost time.