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


Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Anything Is Easy If You Don’t Want It To Last

I am unashamedly a believer in brand.

I know there is a huge amount of talk about its commercial value, but – like the talk about whether we need ‘insights’ – there is plenty of evidence to suggest it continues to drive companies growth and revenue.

And while there are accademics, like Byron Sharp, who have proven people are far less loyal than they claim, the fact remains that loyalty – whether emotional or transactional – has significant value in building sustainable success for a brand.

But here’s the thing many brand owners forget.

To stand any chance of loyalty from your audience you need to be loyal to them.

Continuously.

It’s not good enough to simply offer discounts and early access.

Sure, that can help, but audiences know exactly why you’re doing it.

Real loyalty – by which I mean there is an almost irrational connection to a brand – is born from brands acting in ways that prove why people should care and keep believing in you.

Behaviour not just words.

Progress over the comfort of repetition.

Authenticity not just chasing popularity.

Telling beautiful stories not just spouting facts or contrived ‘ads’.

As I said, there are some marketers who say none of this matters in a world where digital enables them to have ‘direct to consumer’ relationships at a fraction of the cost of brand building.

I get it. It’s quick and it can be powerful which explains why every day there seems to be a new company claiming it will disrupt the category.

But where they go wrong is not realising disruption without distinction [ie: brand building] doesn’t create long term sustainable value, it just creates new commoditization.

In such an extremely competitive, highly-pressured, fast moving world, I would argue that brand has never been so important to stand a chance of having a stronger future.

And while this might all sound hypocritical given I work for a company who is trying to invent the future of marketing – which includes building new ways to have D2C relationships for clients, finding new ways to interact with subcultures through digital and passionately believes in disrupting categories – the fact is we never do this without an obsessive focus on the authenticity of the brand and how we can help it create the future culture wants to follow rather than just exploiting the offers of the present.

For me, the real issue is we are seeing is companies wanting all the good bits of brand loyalty without much of the effort, for which I leave them with this story I heard when living in China.

The successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.



Professional To The Core …

For reasons I don’t understand – but I do like – I occasionally get asked for my opinion in industry magazines.

While I absolutely take what I do seriously, I have realized that if I was to compile all that I’ve said that has been printed, I would look a bit of a maniac.

For example, there’s this. Or this. Or even this.

And just recently I was asked ‘what Star Wars character would I be’ and this was my answer …

But here is the thing …

While many may think I do this because I need psychiatric help or have a career death wish, there’s another reason behind it and it’s about comfortableness.

You see when I was a youngster in the industry, I was surrounded by super-smart, super-senior people who were full of opinion, personality and provocation.

While I didn’t agree with everything they said, they helped me realise that ‘just because you take your job seriously, doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously’.

What this did was let me feel comfortable in taking to any of them about any madcap idea I had … let me talk to clients about subjects that may otherwise seem ‘off limits’ and let me work with colleagues without thinking it made me look weak or incapable.

In essence, cheekiness has enabled me to do – or be part of – things that I may not otherwise never have been able to do.

From work I’ve been a part of … clients I’ve worked with … agencies I’ve worked at and countries I’ve lived in.

Now of course, mischief is in my bones so it wasn’t exactly hard … but being encouraged to embrace my truth rather than oppress it had a huge benefit to my career and so while a bunch of what I say and do is because I’m a bloody idiot, there is a part of it that is intended to create the space and atmosphere to enable my colleagues and clients feel comfortable with being vulnerable … whether that’s expressing their ideas, their fears and ambitions or simply realizing that if I can have a career while still being a sweary fool, then they – with all their talent – surely can.

You might think this is a load of bollocks – and I totally understand get why – but it’s true.

The future of adland is not going to come from more processes, it’s going to come from more people being able to express or explore their ideas without fearing they will be judged, shot down or ridiculed.

And if you think that’s a dramatic statement, just go on twitter and see how the masses react to any idea that challenges the belief system they have bought into, even though they know for a fact that the very small amount of people who succeed – which are mainly white men – are generally the ones who reinforce the cliche rather than push or break them.

Happy Monday.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



It’s Not Big. It’s Not Clever. But It’s A Bit Funny …

So Cannes sent out a ‘wrap up’ of things learnt from this years festival.

There was a lot of talk about authenticity and audience … great, intelligent speakers with genuinely fascinating perspectives on how we get closer to audiences without them just feeling like ‘the data told us what to say and how to do it’.

Again, this is not an anti-data thing. Far from it.

But for creativity to infiltrate, invigorate and ultimately move culture and business forwards, it needs to be resonant to the audience [and the brand] rather than be some semi-relevant message that has been designed to actively disregard the very things that makes us human.

For that I mean the messiness, hypocrisy, fears, complexity, loves, passions, habits and nuance of how we think, what we think and how we live … the stuff that gives us individuality … the stuff that is very different to just focusing on transactional data points that have ultimately been designed to give specific answers to specific questions that forgets the importance of context.

Great data folks understand the need for this.

Great planning folks understand the need for data.

Sadly, we still treat them as an either/or, which highlights our industry seems to be more focused on the ego of power and control rather than what can liberate the most interesting creativity. Ironically, while I think my attitude shows me in the most professional light that I’ve ever been, I recently got called a ‘corporate anarchist’ – which kind of reinforces my point – however all this is immaterial, because imagine the utter disappointment of the people who spoke their brilliance at Cannes and discovered in the wrap up, almost half the pages dedicated to this subject come from a ranty, sweary Nottingham lad.

Their loss.

The industries shame.

My unbelievable, unashamedly wonderful gain.



Why Purpose Marketing And Planners Need To Be Stopped …

Purpose.

Planning.

Both have had a lot of debate about them in the past few years and both have their cheerleaders and detractors.

The reality is they both have incredible value but – and it’s a big but – only when used responsibly.

Of course, what ‘responsibly’ is, is often in the eye of the brand owner and that’s where the problems starts … because too often, the focus is appealing to the ego of the company directors rather than the pulse of culture which is why we’re seeing more and more ‘purpose work’ that communicates in the corporate monotone of egotistical, bland, business-speak.

The client doesn’t think that of course, they think they’re doing an amazing thing and that people will really believe Hard Rock Cafe’s want to stop hunger or a plastic lighter company in HK wants to save the rainforest [which is true, but I can’t find the post about it, mainly because it was back in 2010] or – hold on to your hats – this …

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Yes, that really is an umbrella company claiming their purpose is to offer lifestyle solution and protection for the public.

Are they insane?

Even if that was true – which if it is, means they’re bonkers – then the way they’ve written it means the umbrellas are to save you from marketing bullshit raining down on your head.

Purpose has a really important role for brands … but you don’t just ‘make it up’.

I am utterly in shock how many companies sell ‘purpose’ to brands and yet never investigate the soul of the brand.

Go into the vaults.

Look inside every single box.

Discover what made them make their decisions.

Understand the values they lived by and fought for.

Talk to the people who have worked there or shopped there since the earliest of days.

Basically discover their authenticity rather than what they wish their authenticity was.

And yet a lot of companies are paying a lot of other companies to literally make up a bullshit story about them.

Something they think makes them sound good.

Something they think will make people want to choose them.

And while we are definitely seeing more and more people choosing to associate with brands that live by a set of values and beliefs, the thing the brands who ‘invent a purpose’ fail to understand is that this audience seeks truth, not bullshit and so what they’re doing with their make-believe is actually achieve the absolute opposite of what they were trying to do.

Purpose matters.

Planning matters.

But the moment you let ego drive your ambitions rather than your authenticity, you end up being a brand that is flying extremely high on the Planning Purpose Twatosphere.

Remember brands, by being yourself you will be different.

Stop inventing bullshit and start acting your truth in interesting ways.



If You’ve Not Experienced It, You Can’t Possibly Understand It …

So I’m back from Cannes.

It was alright.

Enjoyed doing the WARC speech with Martin of course.

As much as he likes to think he’s a grumpy asshole, he’s insanely wonderful in every way.

I genuinely adore him, which is probably the last thing he wants to know or hear.

Which is, of course, why I have said it.

That said, I still have my reservations about how some people act at Cannes.

How some people walk around.

Like they’re better than everyone around them.

That their view of life is everyone’s view of life. Or should be.

And yet, even though they revel in their bubble of privilege, they deny they live in one when there is the opportunity to pass judgement or commentary on how others live, despite the fact even having a regular income puts them in a totally different orbit.

Of course not everyone was like that.

Some are great people who also happen to be great at advertising.

But I’m still not sure if that split is even or – as I suspect – in the minority.

Which is why I hope those who sit in their ivory towers, passing judgement on people they have almost zero commonality with – let alone have probably never interacted with – read this post and, more specifically, watch the clip.

In 1968, American novelist, playwright and activist, James Baldwin, visited the Dick Cavett Show and shared that he wasn’t feeling optimistic about American race relations – referencing the toll racism takes not only on individuals, but on American democracy.

To add context, Martin Luther King had been murdered earlier that year in Memphis, prompting the greatest wave of social unrest in the United States since the Cvil War.

Shortly afterwards, Yale philosophy professor, Paul Weiss, walks on set to give his “scholarly” take on the issue. Weiss launched into a tirade about how each individual has to struggle with some obstacles in life and that emphasizing one element of the struggle at the expense of others leads to a form of inauthenticity. “So why must we always focus on color?”

What happened next was unprecedented for American television. Black America’s foremost intellectual delivered a deviating soliloquy that explained institutionalized racism to millions of white people who never before experienced it or accepted it existed.

What makes it hard to watch isn’t what James says – he’s right on everything – it’s that so little has changed.

If you don’t act against the prejudices that exist in society, you’re complicit to the prejudices in society. Pure and simple.

It’s why I worry too many people in our industry, especially planners, want to be like Paul Weiss – academically victorious – when the power of James Baldwin was that he was culturally resonant.

While we may all like to think our intelligence allows us to engage and understand others, the reality is no one can truly understand what is going on in the lives and minds of segments of society if they don’t come from those segments of society, especially if their views are born from the pedestal of observation.