The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Challenger Brands That Challenge …

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with challenger brands.

Some were overtly challenger … some were more in terms of their internal attitude and approach … but in all cases, they were up for a fight and were happy to take it straight to the competitor they wanted to play against.

Now forcing people to pick a side is not a new strategy … it’s been around for ages.

From religions to rock bands to sport to almost everything in-between.

And while some of the challenger brands I’ve worked with over the years became the beast they were created to slay, what united them all wasn’t just their ambition, but their dedication to doing something that fundamentally challenged the convention.

I’m not talking about an ad that said they were different.

Or a single product ingredient that claimed they were different but were still exactly the same.

I’m talking about a fundamental, distinctive alternative to what has been there before.

From features, to behaviours, to values to standards to design.

All in commitment.

Shit or bust.

Now we have a lot of brands today that claim to do that and be that.

Brands that go direct to the customer.

Brands that offer their services on the internet.

In the majority of cases, they’re not real challengers.

They might like to think they are.

The people who led the change probably are.

But having an internet bank that claims to be different but offers exactly the same products and services – albeit with a ‘cool name and choice of ATM card design’ – is not challenging much.

Nor is the 15th razor/toothbrush/haircare company who go direct to their customers.

They’re definitely an alternative, but they’re not a challenger.

In fact, given in many cases, they offer no distinctive element to their product or service to build something bigger than simply supplying razor blades/toothbrushes/haircare products to people at the lowest rate possible, all they’re doing is commoditising themselves to oblivion.

No, challenger brands don’t enter the market with an attitude of ‘minimal viable product’ – which basically translates to “we’re interested to see if it works, but if it doesn’t – no biggie”, they enter it with fully focused, fully engaged commitment.

You can read a lot about these in Adam Morgan’s brilliant book Eating The Big Fish … though, because of when it came out, it only refers to a challenger brands from a certain period of time rather than the ones of the modern era … whether that’s Tony’s Chocolonely, Fenty, Fortnite or even Greta.

But the reason I’m talking about this is because of that picture at the top of the post.

The iconic ‘we try harder’ announcement by Avis.

Maybe the first example where marketing embraced being a challenger.

We forget how impactful this campaign was when it came out in the 60’s.

Back then, the industry was all about superlatives … the biggest, the most successful, the most loved etc etc.

For a brand to come out and say, “we’re not the first choice”, was a big thing.

But this was not a mere marketing trick, Avis did indeed have big ambitions and knew that the only way they stood any chance of making it was if they indeed, ‘try harder’.

From making sure every car was washed before it went out.

Checking that the glove boxes and – because this was the 60’s – ashtrays were emptied.

Customer service people trained to help, not just take your money.

Not having to wait for ages to get given your rental.

All sounds the standard now, but back then? No way.

And on top of that, they then ran ads telling people to complain if they found the experience didn’t match the promise … because they never wanted to be seen as having the passive attitude of a number 1 brand – where their goal is to protect their revenue rather than reward their customers.

Which leads to the point of this post.

This.

Yep, it’s a continuation of the We Try Harder campaign.

Though, calling it a ‘campaign’ cheapens it, because it was their purpose. I don’t mean that in the wank way it is being used today. At no point were Avis saying. ‘We Try Harder To Make The World Better’. No, this was all about them trying harder for them. Which is not only more believable, it had a genuine benefit to the people who used them.

Which leads back to the ad.

Specially, the ad that features the President of Avis’ phone number.

So you can complain.

Directly to them.

Imagine that today?

You can’t can you, because not only do companies – including Avis – give customers who wish to complain the absolute runaround with endless email forms, faceless processes and protocols – all while claiming this is a more ‘helpful and efficient’ process for their customers – but because you don’t feel many companies are really trying harder at all.

Now it’s all about efficiency.

Removal of friction.

Basically making you do it all yourself but charging you as if you weren’t.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know if this ended up being the real President of Avis’ phone number … even though I really hope it was … but I know this ethos drove that brand to continued growth for decades.

Sadly, at some point, it went from purpose to a tagline and then Avis as a cultural force was done.

Which is the big lesson for us all.

Because while few would ever start a company to be like everyone else, the reality is many end up doing just that.

And while we hear people all talking about being the next Apple or Nike, they have to understand you don’t get there with a playbook, you get there with a singular focus on what you believe, what you value and what you are going to destroy to create.



Give Me Something To Believe In …

One of the things I’ve found fascinating over the years is how many companies think all they need to do to keep employees happy is cash and perks.

Don’t get me wrong, cash and perks are very nice – and for some people, that’s all they need – however for a certain type of employee, there is another attribute that has equal, if not even greater, appeal.

Pride.

Pride in what they do.
Pride in how they do it.
Pride in who they do it for.
Pride in who they work with.
Pride in the actions of the past.
Pride in the ambitions for the future.
Pride in the standards the company lives by.
Pride in the companies standing in their field.

Now I get the C-Suite may like to think their employees are proud working for them – probably reinforced by countless questionable ‘monkey surveys’ sent by HR – however more often than not, they are confusing ‘having a job’ with ‘being proud of the job they have’.

Nothing highlights this more than when a company feels morale is down, because that’s the moment the spot-bonuses and/or impromptu office parties begin.

Does it work?

Sure. For a period of time.

However employees are no fools, they know the real reason for these ‘additional benefits’ is to keep them quiet rather than force the C-Suite to open up a set of issues they absolutely don’t want to have to deal with.

Why?

Because in the main, the issues are about them.

Specially the work they aspire for the company to make.

Look I get it … no one likes to face their potential failings, so if they can avoid it with spending a bit of cash, why wouldn’t they?

Well I’ll tell you why, because money can’t buy pride.

I say this because I recently saw a video of Steve Jobs talking about standards.

He’s made similar speeches over the years – with his ‘paint behind the fence’ being one of my favourites.

However I love this one because there’s a bit of bite in it.

A clear perspective on what standards he holds Apple too, rather than what the competition hold themselves too.

Sure, to some it could come across as arrogant, but I imagine to the people at Apple at that time, it induced the same feelings I have when I work for a company whose standards and ambitions were at least the same as mine or – hopefully – even higher.

Pride.
Confident.
Togetherness.
A sense of ‘us against them’.
That feeling you’re part of a place playing a totally different game to the competition. A special place. A place that does things right, even if people don’t quite get it yet. A place that attracts the best to do their best … but not in a way where you then feel ‘you’ve made it’ for being there. Instead, it’s a feeling of responsibility to keep the standards of name moving forwards. An intoxicating mix of expectation, judgement and encouragement all at the same time.

You can’t fake that.

You can’t buy it either.

So when the C-suite hand out promotions, payrises and parties in a bid to boost morale because the claims of doing great work are not convincing anyone … my advice is to save their cash.

Not just because the employees know exactly what they’re doing.

Nor because whatever they end up receiving, it still won’t buy their pride.

But because they could save a ton of cash by simply committing to doing things to the highest standards rather than the lowest … because at the end of the day, these people don’t need certainty, they just want possible and if they have that, morale will fix itself all by itself.




What Would A Personalised Number Plate Say About You?

Years ago, I was asked the title of this post by an industry journalist.

I replied with, “it would say I was a prick”.

Given a bunch of people in the industry – not to mention my mates – have personalised number plates, it didn’t go down very well, however compared to this, they’re all saints.

Yep, that’s a real number plate.

Better yet, it’s not even a personalised one. [Someone checked]

That is the number plate the DVLC gave the car.

Now I appreciate that maybe you wouldn’t immediately see the perv potential of PU51BAD … but when it’s written out as PU51 BAD, you’d have to be Stevie Wonder to not see it.

And yet the owner of this Volvo – not sure if it’s a male, but a male was driving it – is happily driving around the UK with it.

Why? Surely they know what they’re doing?

Hell, it seems they even made sure the number plate clearly conveys its questionable words.

Surely they realise the only people who wouldn’t find this cringe worthy are 16 year old boys.

Or maybe I’ve got it wrong.

Given the image of the typical Volvo driver – especially the old Volvo driver – maybe this has given them the bit of an edge they’ve been craving for years.

No longer are they the responsible, safe, family man/woman driver … now they’re sexpests of the most public order.

And to think, Volvo spent untold billions to shed their ‘safe and boring’ persona when all they needed to do was get a perv numberplate.



Corporate Schizophrenia …

During these COVID times, we’ve heard a bunch of terms that are supposedly the foundation of survival – the most widely used being ‘pivot’.

While I get it, the problem I have with this terminology is that it is expressed in such a way as to suggest people or organisations should be willing to let go of everything they have been doing for decades and embark on a totally different activity that may have more important commercial value at that time.

Been an airline for 80 years?

Let it go and start delivering groceries.

Been in hospitality for 3 decades?

Let it go and start working in a supermarket

Been in finance for the last 5 years?

Actually – stay as you are – you’re always going to find a way to make money.

OK, so I’m exaggerating … but I have read so many decks from strategists who throw around buzzwords without either seemingly understanding what they’re actually saying in them or – worse – what the implications would be if people actually did what they said.

Reframing your proposition is not pivoting. It’s reframing your proposition to existing or potential clients.

It’s airlines moving from carrying passengers to carrying freight.

Or restaurants moving from eating in to delivering out.

Pivoting is a fundamental change of direction … and who the fuck would do that?

Well I say that but then I saw this …

Yep, this person is a human pivot.

From digital marketing to being a magician with almost every profession in-between … including MIND READING!!!

From my perspective, he can never be out of work.

Not just because his range of talents means he’ll always be useful to someone – from boardrooms to kids parties – but because if you can mind-read, I expect every one of this marketing recommendations is EXACTLY what clients want.

Maybe this is what planners should be learning instead of frameworks and tools?

Forget my rant from a few weeks back and get down the local magic club to learn a few tricks. Hell, at the very least you could say, “my marketing ideas are magic”.

Just for the record, I’m not taking the piss out of this person – I genuinely think it’s amazing.

But there are 2 questions I would love to know.

1. Which came first, the magician/mindreading or the marketing?

2. Does this broad range of talents attract or repel potential clients?

I admit I noticed him because of his breadth of skills – and in the old days, I did a similar thing by making sure my resume mentioned how I used to be a session guitarist for 80/90’s popstars – however while that captured potential employers attention, I don’t think they would have called me in for interviews if they felt that was still my life.

Who knows, I just find it fascinating this individual openly communicates they’re in the consultancy world and the trickery world [yes, I know, I’m calling out the legitimacy of magic] so I’d love to know more about his story, which – in this competitive world where everyone is being told to pivot – means he’s already ahead of many in the pack.



When Commericalisation Goes Too Far …

Covid.

A virus that has – at time of writing – affected 7 million people worldwide and killed 220,000 in the US and 43,000 in the UK.

Given brands pathological fear of being associated with anything negative, this blows my mind.

Now, I must admit I don’t know if this is real.

It looks it, but who knows.

However, assuming it is, there are so many questions that need to be asked.

First is ‘what the hell are they thinking’?

Seriously, what’s going on?

Did Walmart offer the tie-in with Pepsi?

Did Pepsi ask Walmart to sponsor the signs?

Is the COVID-19 testing centre anything to do with either of them?

Could anyone please explain the rationale for doing this?

Now … I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that if it is indeed true, some of the justifications will likely read as follows:

1. We’re providing hope and happiness to people at a worrying time in their life.

2. We’re removing the stigma of COVID by embracing it with positivity.

3. We’re about American families and nothing is more American than Walmart and Pepsi.

[Please note, I haven’t even considered that Pepsi or Walmart deny the existence of COVID]

And while I accept this tie-in may say more about the people who enjoy those brands than the brands themselves, it still seems shockingly bad taste to try and make it sound like a family event when over 200,000 people have died from it.

But then, as we have seen from the past, Pepsi’s have a lack of judgement in terms of what is good for their brand.

No doubt we can expect a Pepsi/Walmart tie in at cemeteries in the near future … justified by targeting ‘a captive audience’.