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


If Everything Is An Experience, You Better Make Yours Great …

I’ve written a lot about experience in the past.

How important it is.

How it can drive brand value and growth.

How it can create distinction and differentiation in crowded categories.

I’ve also talked about how badly so much of it is done.

That it’s more about consistency than excellence.

That it isn’t a new approach, just a new profit centre.

That many aspire to everything average than some things spectacular.

It blows my mind what some agencies and companies think is ‘an experience’.

Especially when you compare it to people who genuinely ‘get it’.

Whether it’s certain luxury brands or my client, SKP-S in Beijing.

Which is why I love the picture at the top of this page.

At the time, the person on the runway was 62 years old.

SIXTY TWO.

This was taken on the first of 3 nights of performing to 68,000 paying people.

So over 200,000 in total.

In South America.

Think about that for a second.

OK, so the person in question is Brian Johnson … lead singer of rock band AC/DC.

But let’s also remember we’re talking about a group of pensioners.

Literally.

Yes, I appreciate there are all-sorts of factors/considerations/contexts/excuses you could use to explain why they can achieve that sort of response when brands – with all their experience models and big budgets – can’t.

But the one thing AC/DC understand is if you want to keep people coming back, you need to focus on creating a seminal moment for your audience not average consistency.

It’s why I always ask ‘experience strategists’ about their life rather than just their work. I want to know what their frame of references are for experience. Because frankly – and I appreciate I’m being a massive snob here – if it doesn’t include festivals, theatre, art, music, retail, museums … then I don’t know if we’re ever going to share the same ambitions.

Because while I appreciate ‘average but consistent’ has value to some organisations, I would rather drink bleach than advocate that as a brand goal.

Not simply because I have an aversion to average.

But because when you do experience right – which means knowing who you are and who your customers are – the profits extrapolate. See, I’m not totally selfish.



Paint Pictures, Not Instructions …

I like quotes.

Always have.

I like them because they often frame something in a way that sets my brain on another track.

It’s why I enjoyed the Rules Of Rubin series I did a while back. And while that was for a specific work-related reason, I came out of it with far more than I imagined.

Recently I had another one of those quotes, not by Rubin but by Paracelsus … a Swiss physician who was a pioneer in many areas of the medical revolution’ during the Renaissance.

It’s that one at the top of this post.

Yes, I know what it is saying is obvious.

Let’s be honest, the phrase ‘everything in moderation’ has been around for decades, but there’s something about this that just has more bite.

Maybe it’s the use of the word poison.

Maybe it’s the way it doesn’t define any specific thing as bad.

Maybe it’s the way it doesn’t feel condescending or judgemental.

But it set my mind whirring far more than using words like ‘moderation’ and I would imagine it would do the same to any creative having to work with such a brief.

Quotes have a wonderful way of doing that.

They’re far more valuable to provoke different ways of thinking than filling in a creative brief with the answer you want the creatives to execute rather than giving them the problem you want their brains to explore and resolve.

We’re in danger of only valuing literal thinking rather than lateral … and that’s what I love about quotes. They challenge how you think … make you take some leaps, look in some new corners, explore what you think is possible … but never adding pressure on what or where you go with them.

I have always had a hard time writing briefs.

I place so much pressure on myself to get to something intriguing and interesting that I end up writing 7 or 8 different versions – all with different possibilities – so I and the team – can have a real chat about where our energy is at.

I think my record is something like 14 odd for Spotify.

And that’s before we even start on all the other briefs that come from it.

I still do that, but what’s helped my sanity is starting with a bunch of quotes or poems or song lyrics. Stuff related to the issue without being obviously directly about it.

It’s such a great time saver to open discussion.

Like the brief before the brief.

The opportunity to work out what excites you about a possibility without getting too lost in the detail of the possibility. At least initially.

So next time you’re stuck on where you should go, don’t start filling in the brief boxes in the hope the answer will present itself [it never does] … fill up the walls with stuff that opens things up before you start closing things down.

Because the best briefs are not a flow of logic, but a story of adventure.



Putting The Con In Icon …

I’ve talked a lot about how the industry loves to talk about innovation when what they actually mean is evolution.

Hell, sometimes it’s not even that … sometimes it’s just a new name for an old thought process or discipline that was expressed as part of what people always did rather than split out in an attempt to make more money or gain more influence.

I once said to the wonderful Martin Weigel that I am pretty certain marketing is the only industry that would make a paper plane and claim they invented flight.

Now that doesn’t mean people aren’t adding to what is being done … or bringing new thinking and craft to it … or finding new ways to incorporate it into work … but it does mean they’re trying to maybe ‘own’ too much of the narrative of the discipline. Suggesting they’re inventors when they’re actually craftspeople. Valuing ‘theory’ rather than actually making something truly interesting with it.

Now there’s many possible reasons for this.

+ We’re in marketing and so they’re marketing themselves.

+ Being a craftsperson has lost the value it deserves.

+ It’s cheaper to badge than to actually create.

+ People don’t know their history.

Now I’m sure I’m going to be accused of being a prick … an old, condescending prick. And maybe I am. But I am also not claiming I’ve invented anything and I’m just pointing out neither has many of the people who do.

And there’s nothing wrong with not inventing something … because doing your job really well is something worth celebrating, especially when you see what passes for ‘good’ in so much of what is put out these days.

But it appears the allure of pioneer is infectious these days.

Case in point is the talk around eco-systems, flywheels, multi-platform DTC/e-comm and the like. Yes, it’s amazing. Yes, it driving new ways for brands to behave and earn. Yes, technology has allowed this to be done in more powerful and profound ways. But in many cases, it’s not revolution, it’s not really even innovation … it’s evolution.

And why do I say that? Have a look at this.

That is from 1957.

NINETEEN FIFTY SEVEN.

It’s Walt Disney’s ecosystem/flywheel/multi-platform DTC, e-comm [without the e] for the Disney corporation.

The blueprint for how he would use creativity to fuel his business in ways where every division is helping another division.

And while modern expressions of this have evolved and added more nuance, it’s not miles off, which is why whether you like/hate/respect/loathe him or the Disney Company, that’s pretty progressive thinking.

Or it was in 1957. in 2021 maybe not so much.

[Though, being honest, it probably is – which is even more worrying]

And yet we read so much from people acting like Walt Disney … except they’re not building their own brand, they’re selling their concept to build your own brand.

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fuck, there’s a lot of value and money in that.

It’s genuinely exciting when you see someone identify opportunities in old approaches and habits that millions have missed. And for that, you should absolutely be using it to build a platform for your future success, growth and change.

I am literally cheering from the sidelines. All I ask is you please don’t act like you have invented flight when you’ve actually made a more efficient and effective paper plane. Not because I’m a bitter bastard – OK, let’s not go there – but because the future of this industry requires bigger leaps not better wrapping paper and the more we manage up our abilities, the more we lower the reality of our potential.

Christ, that’s a heavy post for a Monday isn’t it.

Given I know what the rest of the week has in store, it gets worse. Eek.



Details Details Details …

I know lots of people are questioning Apple’s innovation … but apart from the fact the rumour is they’re going to be launching all manner of exciting new things – from Apple glasses to Apple cars – the reality is many organisations evolve into something different over time.

Part of this could be because of technology.

Part of this could be because of a new interest.

Part of this could be because they’ve just lost their hunger.

But whether it’s brands like SONY going from innovation to perfection or Queen going from rock stars to entertainers, evolution doesn’t necessarily have to mean a bad thing.

I say this because we recently bought a new Apple desktop.

Please note I said BOUGHT … no freebies here. [Damnit]

Anyway, when it came we were struck by a couple of things.

First of all, the packaging was even more beautiful.

Let’s be honest, in terms of iPhone etc, while nice … their packaging has become far more simplistic, but for the desktop, it was a celebration of cardboard engineering.

Everything was beautiful and precise … you felt the effort and time that went into it, ensuring from the moment you opened the box, you felt you were getting something truly special.

A celebration of purchase, so to speak.

The second moment was the cables.

Jill wanted a yellow desktop and while everything was as simple and elegant as ever, the cable just captured the classic Steve Jobs ‘paint behind the fence‘ philosophy.

Look at it …

Having a yellow outer makes sense, but the fact they made sure that extended to the inside of the cable is something that just smacks of attention to detail.

No one will see it once it has been plugged in.

It probably wouldn’t even be noticed if they hadn’t done it.

But by making the effort, it not only stood out … they reminded us that what we have just bought isn’t simply a computer, it’s something that has been crafted by people who care about what they do.

It helps justifies the cost.

It reassures the quality.

It defines the brand and brushes aside the competition.

For all the modern approaches of marketing spouted left, right and centre … it’s amazing how simple things done extraordinarily well supersede all the approaches, techniques and buzzwords.

And while this is all possible because the company behind it is united by an idea, an identity and a set of values that defines who they are in definitive terms, anyone who says the little things don’t matter doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.



Stop Thinking Different Means Disaster …

For an industry that loves to talk about doing new things – chasing new things – it doesn’t half hate trying new things.

The moment someone dares suggest something different, more often than not, they are shouted down by people saying it’s wrong … it won’t work … it’s foolish.

Even before anything different has been tried.

Now I appreciate we live in a world where clients want effectiveness and so the margin for error is getting ever smaller, but no one who is suggesting something new has the objective of being less effective, literally the opposite.

But if we can’t explore then we can’t move forward and instead of blowing things up, it may be interesting if we started building things up.

I say all this because I recently read a quote from the Chairman of Crystal Palace football club.

This year they have adopted a totally new philosophy.

Not because the old one had failed – quite the opposite, in many ways it had exceeded expectation – but because context had changed [their long-term manager retired] and they thought this was the time to try something new.

And while some have immediately come out to say what they’re doing is utterly reckless to the stability of the club, their chairman – Steve Parish – countered it with this lovely perspective on the situation they have chosen to enter …

I love that. I love how he dismisses the validity of any criticism and simply focuses on the fact.

No one knows if Crystal Palace’s new approach is better or worse than what has gone before – at least not yet, and maybe not for a significant period of time – the only thing people do know is the approach is different.

Different.

Not better. Not worse.

A simple change to the usual approach.

A change that will reveal, in time, how effective it was. And even then, it is still only an indicator as there are so many external influences that may affect it.

But for a moment, imagine if it works.

Imagine if Crystal Palace do better than they ever have.

That they consistently elevate their standing and success?

It could happen. It stands as much chance as the opposite right now … and yet people are so quick to jump on the ‘disaster’ bandwagon.

Adland is exactly the same.

We like the idea of different but not the reality.

We choose to hide behind certainty and history, even if we didn’t have anything to do with the work we use to assert our argument. We grasp at learnings from other industries despite their context being vastly different. Or we state the fucking obvious but pretend it is an act of genius.

Maybe if stopped having the need to loudly proclaim something is right or wrong and just embrace the fact someone is doing somthing different, we may be more positive about change as an industry.

And maybe … just maybe … if more people focused on building things up rather than tearing them down, we may end up creating possibilities that encourages clients to embrace different rather than see it as an act of commercial defiance.