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


The Great Effectiveness Swindle …

There’s so many agencies, consultancies and self-appointed guru’s out there who talk about how to be successful at business.

They all have their models, eco-systems, philosophies and proof points.

And yet so few have ever done it for themselves.

They’ve chosen to ‘succeed’ under the safety-net of anothers money, reputation or effort.

That doesn’t mean what they do or think doesn’t have value – of course it does – but it also doesn’t mean their viewpoint is the only one worth counting.

And yet, every single bloody day, that’s how it is presented.

Recently someone wrote a piece on how they had used their proprietary research methodology on a Cannes winning TV ad and declared it would not deliver sustainable growth for the brand in question.

Putting aside the fact they were judging work that had won a creativity award rather than an effectiveness one … the thing I found funny was their confidence in proclaiming their view was the ultimate view.

I am not doubting their smarts.

I am not doubting their data.

But I am doubting their breadth of business appreciation.

And yet somehow, the voices of a few have positioned themselves as the be-all and end-all of effectiveness.

Don’t follow us and you fail.
Don’t follow us and your brand will lose.
Don’t follow us and you will be labeled foolish.

Now I am not denying these people do have a lot of experience and lessons we can learn from, but they’re not infallible.

But that’s how the industry approaches them.

Lording them like they are Yoda’s of the future.

But they’re not.

Don’t get me wrong, they are very good at evaluating effectiveness from a particular perspective and set of behaviours. Offering advice that can be hugely important in the decision making process.

But there’s a whole host of brands and business that have adopted totally different models and achieved ‘effectiveness and success’ that leaves others far behind.

Incredible sustainable success.

From Liquid Death to SKP-S to Gentle Monster to Vollebak to Metallica to name but a few.

Oh I know what some will say …

“They’re niche”“they’re young”“they’re not that successful”.

And to those people I would say maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about … because in just that list, it includes the biggest selling brand on Amazon, the fastest selling brand in their category on earth and the second most successful American band in history.

But there were two things that really brought the issue of mindset narrowcasting to me …

The first was the launch of a book that was basically about creating future customer desire for your brand/business.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that … but no shit Sherlock.

Has the market got so short-sighted and insular that the idea of doing things that also drive your future value and desirability become a revelation?

It’s literally the most basic entrepreneur mindset, and yet it was presented like it was Newton discovering the laws of gravity.

This person is super smart.

They’ve done a lot of good stuff.

But it just feels the actions of some in the industry are driven by the fetishisation of icon status … even though, ironically, what it does is highlight their experience may be narrower than they realise.

But at least the book had good stuff in there.

Stuff that could help people with some of the basics.

A desire to look forward rather than get lost in the optimisation circle-jerk.

This next one was a whole lot worse.

Recently an ex-employer of mine went to see a current client of mine.

Specifically the founder and CEO.

Apparently they went in to tell him he was missing out on a whole host of business and they could help him get more.

They then proceeded to present a massive document on how they would do it.

He looked at them and told them it was very interesting but they were wrong.

He told them their premise was based on a business approach he doesn’t follow or believe in.

A business approach that didn’t reflect the industry he was in, only the industry they were in.

He then informed them he had the most profitable store on the planet and so while he appreciated their time, he had faith in his approach and it was serving him well.

But it gets better.

As they were leaving – and I’ve been told this is true by someone who was apparently there – the person showing them out informed them their boss had a personal net worth of US$36 billion and based on their companies current share price, that meant he was more valuable than their entire group.

Was it an asshole thing to do?

Yep.

Do I absolutely love it?

Oh yeah.

Will I get in trouble for telling this?

Errrrrm, probably.

My point is the industry has decided ‘effectiveness’ can only be achieved and measured in one way and any deviation from that is immediately discounted or considered ‘flawed’.

Often by people who have never actually built a world leading business themselves.

Again, I am not dismissing the importance of what is being said, it’s HUGELY important – which is why I’m proud we won the Cannes/Warc effectiveness Grand Prix – but, and it’s a huge one, if we think that’s the only model and only use that one ‘model’, then we are literally adopting a single approach to solve every one of our clients every problems.

One.

That’s insane.

Not just because it’s stupid but because if everyone adopts the same approach, then impact will be influenced far more by spend and distribution that strategy.

Please note I am absolutely not saying we should burn the models or philosophies or systems that have proven their value to drive business. No. Absolutely not. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be praying at the feet of them … especially when many are simply focused on creating steady impact rather than spectacular.

Yes, I know ‘spectacular’ has a lifespan – which is why innovation is so important – but so many brands out there either aim for the middle … reinforced by processes, protocols and rules defined as ‘best practice’ by people in a particular industry … or they bake-in ‘limitation’ into their potential because they’ve blindly adopted rules they never challenge or explore from other industries or entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, if a brand like Liquid Death can become the biggest selling water brand on Amazon because they found a way to make men actually want to drink water through a model and approach that is not only radically different to what so many of the industry experts say is ‘the only way’ … but is the opposite of it … then your brand may be inhibiting itself by following a model designed to make you fit in with it, rather than redefine how it fits in with you.

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It’s Not An Ad, It’s A Documentary …

So recently, someone sent me this from the US …

It definitely raised my eyebrows reading it.

Mainly because – regarding Prince Andrew – it was absolutely true.

And while it was definitely done for ‘attention seeking’ purposes … and the company behind it has, as far as I can see, absolutely no connection to the Royal Family in any way … it is STILL better than most brands trying to hijack a cultural moment for their own benefit.

Maybe it’s because of the subject matter, one few would dare to play with.

Maybe it’s because they went all in with their headline, rather than blandom bullshit.

But when a mini-storage billboard – using terrible font and imagery – still produces something much better than the ads from brands trying to ‘hijack’ the Boris resignation, you realise 3 things.

1. The corporate desire to blend in more than stand out.
2. The lack of pointed headlines in communication.
3. The phone-it-in approach to comms planning.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t advocate using Prince Andrew as a figure in any of my clients ads either … but I’ll remember that billboard far more than whatever BK and countless others did during a mass ‘high profile’ moment.

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Leave Them Wanting Less …

Despite using examples that probably featured perspectives that were the opposite of every MBA case study they had read, it all went pretty well.

I got a bunch of questions and even received some lovely notes from people in attendance.

But the reality is, I kind of ensured that the end would be remembered better than the beginning.

You see Otis saw me writing my talk and asked if he was in it.

So I added this as the last slide.

Which means regardless what went on before, the ending was always going to be perfect.

#Strategy

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Creativity Creates Value …

A few weeks ago I was asked to talk to a board of directors about creativity in business. Specifically, how they could encourage more of it.

I showed them this:

I had seen this image on Twitter and fell in love with it.

Yes, it’s a small thing, but it’s an important one.

Alright … before I go over the top, I do appreciate it’s simply a napkin holder with some words printed on it and there’s millions of companies that offer that.

But instead of just putting their company name on it – or NAPKINS in big letters – someone at this shop saw the opportunity to use them to add charm and value to their brand and product.

Hell, I’ve seen 3 minute TV commercials that can’t achieve that.

And all it took was 4 words.

Four words to turn a lowly napkin into a Donut Evidence Removal Kit. A Donut Evidence Removal Kit that celebrates the deliciousness of their food. That acknowledges what you’ve just eaten is definitely on the naughty side of indulgence.

FOUR WORDS.

ON A NAPKIN DISPENSER.

And yet it all comes together to convey a ridiculous amount of cheeky charm for a shop that, whatever way you look at it, simply sells fried dough.

So don’t tell me creativity doesn’t add value or drive business.

It can make more of a claim for effectiveness than logic ever will.



Money Can Buy Tickets, But It Can’t Buy Respect …

Like most things in life, there tends to be 2 sorts of people.

Those who chase the cash.
Those who chase their passion.

Or said another way, the business folks and the creative folks.

But one thing I’ve learned from working with a number of highly successful bands over the last few years is this.

Those who chase cash can be hugely financially successful, but they’ll never achieve the level of creative respect those who chase their passion will receive.

Now you may go, “who cares, they’re rich”.

But here’s the thing …

People who chase their passion can end up being even more financially successful than those who simply chase the cash.

Sure, it doesn’t happen often, but it also happens more than you may imagine. And when it does, that’s when things get really interesting.

I’m working on a project for a band [not Metallica] that is – quite simply – bonkers.

Not just bonkers in terms of what they want to do, but why they want to do it.

And why do they want to do it?

Because they their die-hard fans to be properly rewarded for their die-hard loyalty.

I don’t mean that in terms of getting early access to something they have to pay for – which is the way many companies think loyalty works. I mean rewarding them with something that has real – and long term – economic and emotional value to them.

Obviously I can’t go into specifics … both for the fact I’d be murdered and there’s still a fuck-ton of hurdles to be dealt if we stand any chance of pulling this off … but what I’ve loved seeing is how artists who have built their fortune as a byproduct of their passion [rather than just a focus on the cash] seem to reach a point where they kinda turn into a musical version of Robin Hood.

I should point out this does not mean they suddenly start doing things for free.

Nor do I mean they start giving all their money away.

There may do some of that but by then, they’ve finally learnt the value of their value.

No, what I mean is they put a lot of effort into ensuring their long-term fans feel the respect the artist has for them and all they’ve done for them … and one way they are increasingly doing this is by finding ways to ‘steal’ from the rich, so they can reward the loyal.

Case in point.

Billy Joel.

In 2014 he started a residency at Madison Square Gardens and vowed to keep playing there once a month until his concerts stop selling out.

Well, he’s still playing … and given he allegedly makes US$3-4 million per show, it’s proven to be an incredible relationship.

But this is where it gets fun …

You see Billy Joel no longer allows the first row of the venue to have people sitting in it.

There are 2 main reasons for this.

1. It stops scalpers from making huge money off him.

2. He hated looking down and seeing rich people looking back at him. Not really into the evening, just there because they could afford the seats and could brag about it to their friends.

So instead, every time he plays, he gets his crew to find fans who are sitting in the worst seats in the venue and gets them to bring them down and give them the best seats in the front row. People who are really happy to be there – not for the bragging rights – but for the chance to get the best view of an artists they love, singing the songs they adore.

In essence, he uses the wealth of the uber-rich to pay for the seats for the real fans.

Giving them the night of their life and letting Billy show that money can buy lots of things, but it can’t buy the respect he has for his true fans.

Now before anyone slags this post … or Billy off.

While I appreciate what he’s doing is not perfect … it’s more considerate, respectful and loyal than 95% of companies who talk a great game in terms of their customers/employees being their greatest asset right until the point it actually might result in costing them more than they want to spend.

Which is why I’d rather be loyal to a kinda musical version of Robin Hood than a smiling snake.

And before I go, I just want to leave you with my favourite little film about Metallica.

Unlike the Billy Joel story, this is not about repaying fan loyalty – at least not in the way I’ve just described how Billy Joel has. This is more about the sentimentality the band has for people and places that they believe has had a significant impact on the life of the band.

I’ve written about this before, but whereas that was about their ongoing relationship with Cliff Burton’s father … this is about one of James’ guitars.

That might not sound enticing, but I assure you it is.

Because while this film talks about where this guitar came from … what it represents and how it was crafted to have even greater meaning and significance to James and the band … it’s really a story of loyalty, legacy and love.

Enjoy. They’ve come a loooooooong way since Some Kind Of Monster, ha.