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.

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

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

‘Go play football’

In football, it’s well known that a manager’s philosophy has a big impact on the success of a team.

Asking a team of individuals to pull on the same coloured jersey and just ‘go play football’ without any direction – an idea of how, why or what’s expected of them – rarely works.

This past season, Liverpool and Manchester City were the embodiment of teams that all gathered round a single footballing ideology and went on to dominate, while gaining mass recognition for the way they played.

From performance on the pitch, to transfer strategy, the training ground and commercial teams, the best football clubs create a culture around a single unifying idea. Everyone inside knows what it is, everyone knows how they fit in and what they have to do. It just works.

Why is business any different? What’s your single unifying idea?

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.

Sam