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


Premium Disaster …

So before I begin with my post, I have some good news …

This will be the last post for 13 days.

THIRTEEN!

I’m in China all next week and then when I return, I’m having 3 days off – of which one of them is to celebrate Otis’ 5th birthday!

Five. Can’t believe it.

Anyway, I know I’ve just made your impending weekend more enjoyable so have fun and see you when I’m back on the 12th … though there will be a special birthday post the day before for my little one.

So now back to the post …

One of the things I hate is when a client mistakes being premium priced for meaning they have premium customers.

That just isn’t true, even more so now with the access to finance. Seriously, it’s like banks deny the 2008 crash never happened. Mind you, when you’re bailed out by the public, it didn’t.

Anyway …

Being premium priced – especially when the brand is in a mainstream marketing and comparing themself to mainstream competitors – simply means you cost more.

There may be reasons for that cost premium.

Great and valid reasons … but that doesn’t mean the audience who are buying the products are more sophisticated or educated.

If anything, it might be the opposite.

Some may be doing it to overcome their insecurities.

Some may be doing it to satisfy their delusional ego.

Some may be doing it because it represents something they’ve worked – and work – hard for and want to protect or defend or nurture.

But whatever the reason, the vast majority of people who choose these brands are, in the main, everyday people who justify the price premium because they offer something additionally appealing – be it professional, functional or emotional.

There is nothing wrong with this.

There is nothing unappealing about this.

In fact, it is an amazing, given we are talking about people making decisions that cost them more because something is so important to them.

And yet so many marketers want to feel their customers are the wealthiest and most discerning of all, ignoring the fact that if that were true, then their product wouldn’t be premium priced, because for the wealthy, it would be cheap.

I recently had a meeting with someone from a mainstream, mass market brand who tried to convince me their customers were the 1%, despite all evidence proving otherwise. They also tried to claim their marketing was ‘high-brow’ as it meant only the wealthy would truly ‘grt it’.

That’s right, they were suggesting intelligence was linked to wealth.

I know a lot of people may believe that, but even if it were true – which it isn’t – they are mistaking wealth for opportunity … which I appreciate is becoming more and more influenced more by being able to afford a private education given governments are underfunding state options, ignoring the fact an educated population creates greater possibilities for the entire nation.

I digress.

Again.

Sorry, it’s just these are subjects that make me so angry and upset.

Anyway, I cannot tell you how much fun I had putting them right … how much I enjoyed explaining to them that their audience were far more in line with average household income than the 1% … but at the end of the day, I know it was all in vain because every single day, I look at ads and see ‘premium priced’ brands acting like their customer base are better than everyone else, which ultimately demonstrates marketing is less about understanding your audience and more about comforting the boardroom ego.



The Bigger They Are, The More Fragile Their Ego …

I appreciate I’m the last person to be saying this, but recently I’ve been exposed to some people who can only be described as having a very healthy ego.

You know the types … they say “I” instead of “we”.

They claim sole ownership for everything they’ve been a part of.

They talk about how their way is the way everyone will eventually adopt.

They are very in your face, view anyone who has a different point of view as the enemy and tends to align only with those who are of a similar make-up or are unfiltered in their adoration.

This does not mean these people are not good or clever.

They are.

Whether they are as good or clever as they think they are is another thing altogether.

But here’s the thing, working with them can be a nightmare.

You either play their game or you get discarded and slandered.

The amount of people who have written about these sorts of people on Corporate Gaslighting is incredible … and yet, because of their ego, they see their actions as ‘decisive’ rather than bullying and because they get stuff done, companies often view them as stars rather than grenades.

But here’s the thing …

The bigger the ego, the more they’re hiding.

An insecurity.

A past wrong.

A lack of knowledge in an area they should know.

At this point I should say you shouldn’t try to find what they’re hiding and then exploit it because then all you’re doing is being as bad as them, but there are also times when that is the only alternative.

And here’s how to do it without being a complete dick.

Listen.

Listen very, very carefully to what they’re saying.

Ask for clarification on points that may be ambiguous.

Give examples of situations where a different approach was successfully used to hear their perspective on it.

Don’t attack.

Don’t antagonise.

The point is there are always alternative ways to approach every problem and anyone who suggests otherwise is wrong.

The bully may believe their approach is the best. They may think that what they did had greater effectiveness than all the alternatives. But the reality is so much of that is subjective so if you let your ears do their job, then I guarantee you they’ll hear things that will allow you to offer an alternative that they themselves, will have created.

It’s not easy.

Even done gently and calmly it can be intimidating.

But it can work and the beauty of the egotist is that as much as they want the spotlight, they’re petrified of anyone who has the power to take it away from them, so they ensure that in the future, they’re also given a starring role.

And if none of that works, then you can always try Tom Hanks advice which is pretty good.

Or leave.

Because there’s never going to be enough room in any company for anyone if an individual believes they are the company.



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.



Technology Can Make Us More Human …

Technology gets a hard wrap.

It is blamed for all manner of wrongs, when we conveniently forget we are the ones programming it and using it.

Of course, they’re not totally blameless – but like powerpoint – we have to accept that the ‘badness’ that comes from it is, at the very least, equally our own fault.

But sometimes you see something that reminds you of what power technology has.

How is can change how someone looks at the World … feels about that World … thinks about the World.

No where is this more apparent in the area of medicine, where AR is being used in ways that few ever originally considered.

Not just to make people heal, but to make people feel better.

There’s a big difference between those 2, and if you are not sure what they are, then look at this wonderful clip of an elderly, Liverpool football fan, who is suffering from demetia.

Like most things, the role of technology is in our hands. We either use it for good or for evil and the scary thing is – as we’ve found out from countless platform ‘owners’ – the line between them is very thin indeed.



Independence Vs Ownership Explained …

David Lee Roth once stated “whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness, didn’t know where to shop”.

I get it … money is epic and makes life easier and – superficially – happier.

But what he didn’t say is that “there’s no amount of money that makes being miserable, worthwhile”.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t know it.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t want to admit it.

But given how he has talked about his toxic time in Van Halen, I am pretty sure he’d agree now … because while there are many benefits to independence [and ownership for that matter, but that’s a post for another day], the one that is the most valuable personally, professionally, creatively, commercially and collaboratively is the ability to be honest with your colleagues and clients.

Utterly honest.

It might not always be the most comfortable meeting – especially if you’ve been an asshole and tried to fuck them over and then beg forgiveness later – but it will always get to a stronger outcome.

After all, they say ‘honesty is the best policy’ for a reason.

Happy weekend.



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.



Brighton Is Rubbish. Kinda …

I went to Brighton recently and I have to say, I quite liked it in a try-hard-to-be-cool kind of way.

And while there was a bunch of things to see and explore, one thing stood out from all of them.

This …

I have to be honest, while I am all for sorting out your rubbish, a public bin just for BBQ food is pretty spectacular.

Especially as I didn’t spot a single place selling BBQ food anywhere near it.

But as I wrote about the bins in LAX airport, by not labeling it simply as ‘rubbish’, it did stop me in my tracks.

Made me look more closely.

Made me think.

Which begs the question, for all the logic we are approaching the challenges of the environment – maybe the best way to get people to actually think and reconsider is not to bathe them in facts about our self-created, impending apocalypse, but to use language and imagery that cracks the firewalls we have put up around ourselves to manage this sort of information on our own terms.

It might be counter-intuitive, but as the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Doncaster County Council grit machine campaign showed, sometimes the most sensible thing we can do to create change is to embark on utter madness.

Just like my Boaty McBoatface argument that I am absolutely not bitter about in any way, even thought they completely ignored it and dismissed it out of hand.

Oh no.

When will authorities appreciate that humans are hypocritical.

That common sense is often in the eye of the beholder rather than their being some uniform fire of how everything should be.

This is why we have rubbish ads, rubbish politicians and rubbish products … because while I appreciate we need certain benchmarks to move forward, so many of the things we rely on are as fake as the Emperors New Clothes.

Designed to hide our truth rather than to reveal it.

That doesn’t mean you should stop talking to people, far from it, it actually means you need to spend even more time with them so you can get even closer to them. Understand their realities, their contexts, their truths and dramas and all the nuances and personal rabbit holes they go down to manage what they think and decide to do.

People are fascinating, but it needs more than a fucking focus group or poll to discover it.

As I’ve said before, if you want them to respect your clients brand, start respecting them~.