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.

‘Twas ever thus

Things social media managers hear all the time:

“We should be sharing this on social media.”

“Can we put something out on Twitter about this?”

“That’s a perfect Instagram post…”

The answers are almost always ‘No we shouldn’t’, ‘No’, and ‘No it’s not’.

It can be tempting to treat social media as the dumping ground for the stuff you don’t think warrants any extra thought or budget. After all, it’s free, quick and easy. But, this kind of thinking is going to yield very little results for your brand.

The same attitude that gets your Great Aunt to like a picture of your cat on Facebook won’t cut it when you’re trying to convince people to part with their money.

The fact is, social media marketing is still *marketing*. The need to give it some thought, to be protective of your image, considered in your messaging, and creative in your output is still as relevant as it was pre-internet. Marketing is the same now as it was then.

Right message, in front of the right people, at the right time.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Sam


Ogilvy on Advertising is a great place to start for tried and true marketing advice that’s still relevant in the digital age.

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.

Hearts not eyeballs

Organic reach. Paid reach. Impressions. Retweets. Presence.

It’s all overrated.

Obsession over analytics and data has led us into a world where we seem to think the number of people you manage to shout at is the measuring stick of marketing success. There are two problems with this.

The first is that only a fraction of those who you have the potential to reach will ever see your content or messaging. Of those who do, you will be lucky if more than 2-3% stop to look properly. An ever smaller portion of those people will actually do anything about it and maybe perhaps consider potentially buying something from you, *if* on the off-chance they happen to feel like it. Not great odds.

The second problem is that by placing such weight on how many people *might* see your work, you become careless and fail to get to know the people who are seeing it. With such a broad church of an audience, you’re forced into a ‘throw shit at the wall and see what sticks’ approach. Again, not great odds.

Instead, marketers and brand builders should be thinking about depth, not width. Focus on what Seth Godin calls the ‘minimum viable audience‘ your business needs to work properly. That might be 10,000 people, or it could be 10. Then, expend all energy, not on trying to grow that number, but on building trust.

Get to know your audience, who they are, what makes them tick, what they find useful, and practice the craft of talking directly to them. Everything you do, say and create should be about serving their needs and rewarding them for their loyalty to your brand.

Do this and you’ll find that by speaking to those who want want to listen your chance of success goes up significantly. Oh, and it’s a hell of a lot less tiring than shouting into the abyss.

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

 

Sam