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.



Could Everyone Associated With This Please Punch Yourself In The Face …

Have a look at this …

I’ve got to be honest, I think it’s one of the most amazing ads I’ve ever seen.

Not – of course – because it’s good, but because there’s so many things in it to hate, I don’t know which one I loathe more.

From the cliched photograph that is obviously trying to associate with street culture through to the absolutely fucking awful oxymoron/pun of ‘Future Retro’ and ‘Deja New’ … there is an endless amount of hate inducing triggers in this ad.

But even those things don’t come close to releasing my inner rage as ‘Time Tracker’.

TIME TRACKER!!!

It’s a watch. A bloody watch. Yes, they ‘track time’ but they’re attempt to make it sound like the future of watches makes me literally want to kill.

Oh I am thinking about how I’d do it.

Maybe a wooden post so I can smack them around the head.

Or maybe a canon, so I can shoot them far, far away.

Or maybe … oh hang on, I know what I’ll do … I’ll make them wear that ‘time tracker’ and refer to it in the same way, so their shame will be all encompassing and complete.

Time Tracker is a perfect example of something I’ve been seeing more and more of … repositioning that isn’t repositioning.

Repositioning is about helping culture look at your brand in a totally different way.

When Wrigley’s chewing gum moved from being a sweet to a dental care product … that is repositioning.

When Poloroid cameras shifted from photography to being a social lubricant … that is a repositioning.

When Old Spice moved from being used by men to being valued by women … that is repositioning.

A watch going from telling the time to tracking the time is not.

And yet I am seeing more and more work that is trying to position themselves as a catalyst for change when they’re doing nothing but re-articulating the category expression.

One of the categories doing this the most is the financial sector.

There are more new ‘banks’ than at any point in my life.

All with quirky names.

All claiming to be revolutionizing the industry.

All stating they are being developed around the needs of their customers.

And yet not one of them seems to realize that as much as they’re trying to be seen as disrupting the banking industry, they’re doing it in exactly the same way as everyone else.

Disruption but without distinction.

But here’s the thing, are they even disrupting … because so many of them are trying to communicate you can ‘trust’ them. I get trust is important wherever money is concerned, but it is also the backbone of the industry … so in essence, they’re saying ‘we’re different’ and yet they are communicating in exactly the same way as the establishment.

In essence, they’ve become the beast they claim they were created to slay …

But they’re actually worse, because not building any distinction into their offering or behaviour except their name and choice of pastel ‘brand’ colour means all they are really building is commodotisation.

Of course that’s probably because their business plan is to be bought by the establishment and so they don’t care about long term thinking, but this – just like the idiots behind that Nixon watch – is the new ‘best practice’ for brand and business strategy.

And we wonder why the business community questions our ability to talk business.



Bullshit Brand Bingo …

Years ago, there was an email that went around that invited people to play ‘Bullshit Bingo’, the marketing edition.

Included on the paper were words such as ‘synergy’ and ‘optimization’ and the aim of the game was to take this to your next meeting and cross off each word as someone said them.

The person who crossed off all the words first, won.

It was a tongue-in-cheek way to take the piss out of the marketing industry and it’s obsession with using words that are the absolute opposite of the words the audiences we try to have a meaningful connection with, say.

Well it appears there is a new version of this game in town … except some people haven’t realized it’s a game.

Worse, it appears they think it is a brand building bible.

Have a look at this …

I don’t know about you, but nothing says ‘brand transformation’ like bigging-up the fact you have decorated your reception area.

Don’t get me wrong, a brand should infect and influence every aspect of how you behave and express yourself but – and it’s a big but – it should be something that is truly distinctive to your brand, not just a bunch of brand mumbo-jumbo words and corporate colours that end up making you look and sound exactly like everyone else.

I wrote about this a while back when I said the best brief I ever received was from Richard Branson for his now infamous Virgin Atlantic London lounge.

I also talked this with Martin at Cannes.

The reality is too many companies aspire for best practice.

But the reality is best practice means averageness.

Fitting in not standing out.

Differentiation without distinction.

Staying in the middle rather than reaching for the edges.

I am amazed how many companies fear being different and yet claim to be.

I am even more amazed how many companies then shit themselves when someone comes along with a point of view that is genuine and authentically expressed and executed so that it attracts culture rather than tries to chase it.

Apart from being a law firm, I don’t know who Pinsent Masons are, but if they aspire for their new reception to reflect their bland brand value with words like ‘bold, connected and approachable’, I think I’ll survive living in my ignorance.



Be Interested In What Others Are Interested In …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of conferences – in Hamburg, for the APG, and at ‘Closeness’ in London.

In both cases, I was asked to talk about the importance about empathy – something I’ve been banging on about for centuries.

And in both cases, I felt the best way to do it was to talk through the lens my Mum had taught me … which is the title of this post.

For an industry that is supposed to understand people, I’m surprised how few seem to really understand what that means.

Rather than understand hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and contradictions … it seems we prefer to focus on the bits that are relevant to our business needs, without seemingly realizing the important role context plays in shaping how we live.

If you don’t get context, you don’t get people … and you don’t get context without investing time.

Not focus groups.

Not ethnographic studies.

But an on-going commitment to going down the rabbit hole of people’s lives to understand how they live and the nuances that separate each and every one of us.

You can’t do this if you want to ‘fast forward’ to the bits you have pre-determined will be useful to you.

You can’t do this if you want convenient answers to ‘sell your campaign’.

You can’t do this if you want answers rather than understanding.

This last point is especially important.

Frankly, understanding is becoming a lost art.

Understanding is built on emotional connection, not intellectual.

Where you leave your prejudices, barriers, filters, expectations and hopes at the door and focus. Asking questions to understand more about what someone is saying than to get the answers you want to your specific challenge.

It’s hard.

It takes real practice.

Because while you may appreciate every person has a story … it can only truly be revealed if you let them do it in their own way, in their own time, in their own words. Which means you might end up hearing things that makes no sense to you, even though it makes perfect sense to them … and while that might not initially seem valuable, you’ll soon realise it’s immense.

But all this takes time.

And takes a real commitment.

However it lets you go back with knowledge that enables you to make work that feels like it was born from inside the culture rather than from a bunch of observers.

Work that is filled with the nuances that makes the audience take notice.

Care.

React to.

Feel respect towards because it shows respect to them.

Or said another way …

Work that is resonant to culture rather than just relevant.

And it all starts by being interested in what others are interested in.

Not for commercial gain, but because you are interested in who people are.

It’s why my Mum is still teaching me how to live, 4 years after she has gone.

And now she is teaching others too.

Thank you Mum.



When Marketing Goes Utterly Wank …

Look, I get the whiteboard marker business is probably low on most people’s priority.

I also appreciate that if you work in this field, you probably want to feel like you’re doing something special … different … worth while … at least on a bigger scale than simply enabling people to write/draw rubbish in boardrooms.

But – and it’s a huge but – I can’t help but think the people behind the name for this whiteboard marker have slightly lost the plot …

Friendly?

Chisel?

Are they stark raving mad?

I swear to god you would have to be the most coke-snorting maniac to come up with those names.

What’s so friendly about this marker?

Does it do the writing for you?

Does it make your scrawl suddenly look neat?

Do other whiteboard manufacturers make their product hold a knife against your throat?

As for chisel?

A tool designed to hit things that will leave their mark in stone forever is literally the opposite to a whiteboard marker in almost everyway.

Where did that come from?

Did they want to big-up their role and significance or is it their way to add a psychological element to their product in the hope it makes the middle management who use it think their scribblings is the second coming of christ?

I’d respect them more if they named it, ‘A RED PEN FOR BAD MEETINGS’.

Or even ‘THE LOOK LIKE YOU’RE CONTRIBUTING WITHOUT CONTRIBUTING PEN’ …

But a friendly chisel?

Talk about an oxymoron.

Chisel’s aren’t friendly. You have to hit them to make them do anything.

Calling it a ‘stupid chisel’ might be more appropriate which is why the name of this bloody whiteboard pen has depressed me more than being invited to a 6 hour ‘brainstorm’ led by a middle manager who thinks leading a discussion that no one will pay any attention to is a demonstration of their emerging power and influence.

And no, I am not going over-the-top over this issue one little bit.

Ahem.



It’s A Matter Of Taste …

Before I start, let me ensure your Friday is even better than if you were being bathed in a sea of Crunchies by letting you know next week there will basically be no posts as I’m going to be back in the good ol’ USA.

Now I’ve given you a deep sense of joy, let me rip that away from you with some bitching.

So I saw this ad for Kontor – a company that helps other companies find their perfect space.

Now I appreciate I have the style sense of an Australian [Boom Tish] but I must admit I am a bit confused regarding the image they’re using in the ad.

If it’s an example of an office environment they think is good, then I am afraid they’re badly mistaken.

It feels more like a hotel restaurant in any 3 star business hotel you can find across the US.

Or the Costa Coffee boardroom.

But if they’re trying to make it look like the sort of office environment a company would want to move away from … an office environment that Kontor can help them find … then I hate to say it, but it’s not bad enough.

Let me be a bit clearer …

Yes, it’s horrific, but in terms of an image for use in an ad on a tube, it’s no where near horrific – or nice – enough to make whatever point they want to make and so for the poor schmuck stuck on the tube looking at it, you end up wondering if Kontor have as bad taste as me both in terms of what they hate and what they love.



You Can Tell How Much The Finance Industry Thinks Of Us By The Products They Try To Sell To Us …

OK, I know banking is an easy target but – as anyone who has read this blog over the years will know – I am more than happy to throw darts at them.

Recently I came across this gem from Nutmeg … one of those financial institutions who give themselves a cool name so they can pretend they’re ‘down with the people’ when everything they say and do demonstrates the opposite.

Have a look at this …

Apart from the fact that they say nothing about what they do or how they do it – because, let’s face it, compound interest is hardly a unique offering – I’m just surprised they are saying that if you leave £20,000 for 40 years you’ll get over £140,000 at the end of it.

First of all, £20,000 is a lot of money.

Secondly, putting £20,000 away that you’ll never touch is an amazingly big ask.

Thirdly – and I don’t want to sound a dick – but I don’t know if £140,000+ sounds that much after a wait of 40 years.

Sure, I wouldn’t say no to it and I appreciate it represents a huge growth on your initial investment, but after removing the £20,000 you put in at the beginning, that works out to be a return of £3,000 a year.

OK, that’s not bad, but it’s certainly not enough to live off and certainly not the ‘most powerful force in the Universe’ that Einstein supposedly said.

And let’s not forget that little bit of copy at the top of the ad that say’s ‘Capital at risk. Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance’.

Yes, they really are saying that everything they’ve just said could be a load of bollocks.

Imagine what else you could do with that strategy …

“Eat chips 10 times a day and could be beating admirers off with a shitty stick*”

[* Your health is at risk. Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance]

Or what about this …

“Buy this skin care and you will look 30 years younger*”

[* Your self esteem is at risk. Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance]

Why hasn’t someone thought of using this cross-category before???

But getting back to Nutmeg … my question is who is this ad aimed for?

Is it for people who are worried about their future and will put all their life savings away to get £140,000 in forty years time – ignoring the fact, that in 40 years time, £140,000 will be worth around £2.77 in todays money?

Or is it aimed at the wealthy … who can afford the investment, but probably expect even higher returns?

Honestly I’m not sure, but one thing I am certain of is that a financial organisation who doesn’t tell me why I should choose them over every other financial institution that also claims if I give them my money for 40 years, they’ll [hopefully] give me more back – but no guarantees – doesn’t stand much chance of getting any of my money.