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.

Let me explain

I don’t write this blog to try and appear like a high authority on brand strategy. That would be entirely false: I’m not, and you know that full well*. I do it because I have something to share that I’ve found interesting.

This is why context is so important.

Yes, I write semi-regular articles that talk confidently about branding and brand strategy, but I do it within in the context that I’m learning about it; I’ve usually found something interesting, I’ve processed that thought, decided someone else might find it interesting, and then gone about noting it down and publishing it.

Without that context I’d just be making bold claims about something I currently have little experience in and no right to lecture anyone about. I’d open myself up to (justified) criticism.

Context is equally important for brands, too.

A ‘brand story’ is the term you’re looking for: it provides a ‘why’ to your business’s ‘what’. It explains eloquently where you have come from and why, where you wish to go and why, how you wish to do it and why.

Without this context, not only can it be confusing for those outside your organisation to understand fully everything you do and say, but there’s also no internal reference point to make sure you’re continuing your the story the way you set out to.

Write your brand story out and make it public. Let the people who matter hold you accountable: your paying customers.

*It would also be wrong of me not to admit that my intention is to one day be good enough to be a proper authority on branding… See, context: it’s important!

Customer Services

For a large number of consumers, Twitter has become the ‘go-to’ for customer service enquiries. Especially complaints. Tweet your grumble at Virgin Trains and someone will get back to you reasonably promptly, usually in a friendly/amusing way, and your complaint gets dealt with just like that. No need to speak to anyone directly and far quicker than writing an email.

But the thing with customer service is, it’s a hell of a lot more than call-centres and Twitter responses.

It’s become fashionable to re-brand your customer services department to ‘customer experiences’. The idea is a noble one, but the responsibility for your customers’ experiences doesn’t lie at the feet of one department.

From your email newsletter to your salespeople’s manners, the speed with which you process invoices and even the things your company does when you think no-one is watching; everything contributes to the ‘customer experience’.

No one area of the business operates in isolation. Someone is always watching.

After all, ‘experience’ is about how you feel: making a customer feel valued at every touchpoint. Allowing them to connect with your vision and purpose every time they see your name mentioned. Every time.

When you’re building a brand – or in old money, your reputation – you can never let your guard down, you can’t have one team member let the side down. Walking the walk is what you do. ‘Customer services’ is everything.


People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou



Why did you do that?

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with what’s going through people’s minds. Over the weekend I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

What is it that causes people to do the things they do? Why exactly is it that some people follow the crowd and others systematically rebel? What’s the reason you saw that guy be inappropriately rude to the waiter when their steak was cooked medium not medium-rare?

It’s weird, right?

We’re a complex web of our upbringing and experiences, the way we were parented, our ambitions and dreams, our anxieties and deepest secrets, too. Everything we do, say or think is in some way a result of the messy cocktail going on behind our eyeballs.

*This* is why we make the decisions we do, not because of a well-placed ad on social or your ‘super innovative’ pricing structure.

Behind every decision in this world (at least for now…) is a human. Humans are irrational and emotional beings. That includes you. Brands – and all of us as individuals – should try to remember that more often.




Here’s a great video of the ever-brilliant Seth Godin talking about his take on a similar issue.

Show, don’t tell.

I once took an audio recording of myself doing terrible impressions to ‘show and tell’ at primary school. I must have been about 10 years old and I’d recorded it on a cassette on the stereo in my room. I’m not sure why I did it, but I did.

I thought it was excellent. Unsurprisingly, everyone else did not.

Mentioning a cassette tape isn’t an attempt at showing my age. After all, I’m not in the slightest bit old. It’s more of a clumsy segue into the difference between show and tell.

As a brand, it’s the ‘showing’ bit that counts. Showing your customer you care. Showing how you do things differently. Showing your dedication to excellence. Showing you mean more.

It’s being able to back up what you say about yourself with behavioural evidence. It’s building up a strong track record of sticking to your word and ‘doing’.

Advertising and social media are ‘telling’. Branding is ‘showing’.

Everyone can do the first.

The second is what true brands do.




The Wine Industry Needs To Wake Up, Fast!

Since ever the UK Wine Industry has been an elite club for those “in the know”. For the man in the street, wine has been seen as stuffy and pretentious. The two are closely linked.

The problem with wine is that it is complicated; there’s no getting around it. A subject matter that encompasses geology, geography, agriculture, science and art is bound to make the mind boggle. While knowledge of all of this isn’t necessary to enjoy a great glass of wine, the effort from those in the industry to try and connect with the everyman is quite frankly appalling. As such, wine is losing ground to sexier, more consumer-friendly alcoholic beverages, such as Gin and Craft Beer.

There is an abundance of trade-related media knocking about, telling those who have a keen interest in Wine all about the latest Bordeaux vintage or which Loire Valley rosé came out on top in the latest tasting. But who is producing content for those in this country who famously say, “I don’t know a lot about wine, but I know what I like”?

Today, the Internet is king, and long live the king! It is the great equaliser of our society, providing endless opportunity to learn, discover new ideas, or to be entertained FOR FREE. It is more significant than arguably any other form of media the human race has created. Why then isn’t the wine industry, which is struggling with an image problem and falling consumption, embracing this new technology and taking wine to the people? I am as baffled as you are.

There are a number of wine professionals who have a reasonable presence on Twitter, but the majority of the time is spent tweeting out content that is aimed at others working in the industry. Instagram, the most natural social media site for wine-related content to succeed on, has many accounts that ping out bottle shots, or photos of attractive individuals holding a glass of something while standing in a vineyard, but where is the substance? YouTube and Facebook, great for video content, are full of funny videos that reiterate the stereotype that wine is all a con, and void of any trying to break through that myth. Those who work in the wine industry in this country need to wake up, fast!

There is an enormous gap in the market for someone to come along who is serious about producing high-quality, consumer-led content, that doesn’t shy away from the complexity of the matter, but that informs and educates the man in the street about the world of wine, in a light-hearted way so as not to revert back to the old stereotypes. Whatever your strong point, there’s a content form to suit you: written blogs, video, photo, audio etc. If food-related content can have so much success online, not to mention coffee, gin and craft beer, then wine can certainly work too.

People like wine. Those same people spent vast amounts of time on social media. If you’re a UK wine professional, instead of complaining about price rises or the uncertainty of Brexit, start thinking about how you can produce content for the end-user in a way that matters to them, on the platforms that they spend their time on. Do your bit to generate interest in your business. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Check out my work and let me know how I do!


Wine For The 21st Century | #EnglishWineWeek

Posted 30/5/18 for thewhalleywineshop.com.

In this post, Sam celebrates the quality of English Wine and argues how #EnglishWineWeek should inspire the wine industry in this country to embrace the 21st Century and propel English Wine to the top table. 

Happy #EnglishWineWeek: the dedicated week of the year where all eyes turn to England’s green and pleasant land and, more specifically, to its wines and winemakers. And with good reason! English wine really is something to celebrate and be held aloft as one of the most exciting emerging wine regions of the world.

Of course, it’s Sparkling Wine that has put England on the oenological map, thanks in large part to the likes of Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Gusbourne and Camel Valley, but the still wines are not to be overlooked either! With some great examples of Bacchus, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming out of the vineyards of the South East, we’ve got much to be proud about in this country and the potential to be truly great.

There are, however, some hurdles yet to overcome before English Wine can really claim its seat at the top table.

The most obvious of which is, of course, the issue of climate. In simple terms, we could do with being a tad warmer, and not for the sake of a couple more outings of the string vest and knotted hanky, but in order to achieve greater vintage consistency in our wines. Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion about climate and the science of viticulture, there are many who are much more qualified than I to address this. But, the climate will come! Temperatures are rising, viticulture is shifting northwards and we are well placed to be the beneficiaries of these facts, but only in time. So, hurdle number one: the weather. Not much we can do about it, so let’s put a pin in that for now.

The second obstacle I see down the road, however, is something that is within our power to change: image. Now, I am not saying that English Wine has an image problem, but moving forward it’s essential that we get this right. Within my experience of introducing customers to English Wine, I have found that it is certainly a hard sell, with much of the talk being about how ‘great it is to support our very own wine industry’ and how the quality is ‘actually really good’. This can’t be the case. The wine is good and deserves better than to be bought purely for patriotic purposes.

Although still a relatively young wine producing country, English Wine needs to stand on it’s own two feet, shaped by but not entirely defined by its ‘Englishness’ and certainly not by its relation to other regions ie. ‘It’s just as good as Champagne’. So where to go from here?

From what I can see the English Wine trade has a fantastic opportunity to excel. Take a look online and you’ll see that hardly anyone in this industry, home or abroad, promotes themselves effectively online. Take a look at other industries and you see a wealth of engaging content available to consumers: videos, blogs, podcasts, the lot. Herein lies the opportunity: to make English Wine the wine for the 21stCentury consumer.

I don’t mean to make English Sparkling the stuff of hip and trendy Millennials, in the way craft beer has had so much success, but just to use the tools at our disposal to bring the wine to the people, generate some genuine interest, to inform, educate and entertain the drinking public with all things English Wine.

We have the product, the people, and the potential, to effectively communicate the amazing story of English Wine, forge a true identity as the most innovative region in the world, and lay the foundations of greatness for when the climate does us a favour a few years down the line. Leave ‘tradition’ to the Champenois, and let us embrace the future, let us embrace our modernity, and let us give English Wine the image and the global profile it deserves.