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.



If You Don’t Know The Nuance, You Only Know The Cliche’s.


A client recently told me a story of a very successful client he worked with.

Apparently this person was a lover of cars and owned Ferrari’s and Rolls Royce’s.

My client asked him what the difference was between them.

Expecting some conversation about performance or comfort, he was surprised when he heard:

“When I pull into a hotel in my Ferrari, I’m treated like I’ve booked the Penthouse Suite. But when I pull up in my Rolls, I’m treated like I own the hotel”.

I really like that.

I like it for a whole host of reasons.

But the main one is the clarity in differentiating ‘success’.

So often, as an industry, we define things in absolute terms.

Good. Bad. Rich. Poor. Success, Failure.

But as with all things in life, there’s nuance and texture in there if you look closer.

Which is why planning – despite all the information that is now available to us – is still an outdoor job.

Going out to talk to people.
Listening to different viewpoints.
Watching how different groups react to different situations.

It’s not a ‘day out’. It’s not ‘superficial fluff’.

It’s the difference between doing work for people or about people.

I’ve banged on about the importance of resonance over relevance for years, but it’s never been so important … because with so much choice of who we can give our attention to, if we want to stand any chance of having people give a modicum of a shit about us and what we do/think, then we better be speaking their language and context rather than the language and context we think – or want – them to speak.

[A classic of utter bollocks is still the Gerard Butler, ‘Man of Today’ ad for BOSS. You can read the post I wrote here and see the ad it is referring to, here]

If the people behind the brilliant TV show, Succession, can talk to billionaires to ensure everything on the show reflects how the super rich spend their money – and how they act because of it, ie: they never bend their head down when entering or existing a helicopter because they travel by them so much, they know exactly where the propeller is in relation to their height – then surely we can go and spend some time with people to see what they do and hear how they think about brushing their bloody teeth or something equally inane.

If we want to get back to being valuable to clients, we’d go a long way towards that by stopping with audience generalisations – of which I am absolutely including broad – or even narrow – Lifestage segmentation – and knowing the real nuances.



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.



Fail Yourself Forwards …

Once upon a time, Dan Wieden was giving a presentation to a bunch of executives from one of Wieden’s big, global clients.

Dan was talking about the power of failing and asked if anyone in the audience had ever been fired from their job.

Nothing.

Not one person raised their hands.

Dan surveyed the scene for a moment before leaning into the microphone and saying:

“Cowards!”

There was a nervous ripple in the audience before some people laughed … but Dan wasn’t saying it to be nasty – or to be funny – he was saying it because he truly believes in the mantra of ‘fail harder’ and the positive impact it can have for both creativity and commerce.

Fail harder is not about seeing how bad you can do something.

Fail harder is about …

+ the quest to push yourself.

+ the desire to challenge limits.

+ the goal to provoke change through complete openness.

And while many people get the concept of it … even agree with it … not everyone can bring themselves to participate in it.

Now that’s totally fine until you start criticising or judge others who are doing it.

Especially if the only reason you’re criticising or judging them is because they’re doing something you didn’t do.

Then that’s a dick move. An insecure, dick move.

I say this because lately there seems to be a lot of people doing exactly that … especially on twitter and especially in the planning/marketing groups.

Judging … dismissing and insulting people who are trying different stuff.

Not because they think it’s wrong.
Not because they think it isn’t valid.
Not even because they don’t think it’s clever.

But because they’re cowards.

Sure, some will have valid reasons for it.

Family.
Mortgage.
Others relying on them.

But what is disappointing is – like the people in that conference – many of these people throwing shade are seasoned, senior individuals.

People who have the experience to push boundaries.
People who have the smarts to challenge the status quo.
People who have the knowledge to be more than capable.
People who have the voice to champion change.

And while it is absolutely their prerogative to not do it, sending our snide comments or subtweets about those who are, is pretty pathetic.

Ridiculing the way someone talks about their colleagues.
Questioning the ability to be taken seriously by clients.
Looking down on what they’re trying to do and what they’ve done.

Hell, some of these people have actually started their own company, so you’d expect them to be a cheerleader for the new … but instead it seems they see them as a more interesting competitive threat, so keep throwing out their barbs.

Oh they probably think they’re being so clever.

That the people can’t see what they’re doing.

But it’s so transparent you could grow plants in it.

However here is where it all goes wrong …

Because not only are many of these people pioneering a great business out of what they’re doing … everyone can see these insults are simply a way to distract thems from the fact they didn’t do what someone else has had the courage to try. That someone is trying to create their own story rather than simply follow someone else’s.

Personally, I think that is an incredible thing to do.

And thank fuck we have people willing to do that.

Not just because the old way isn’t working that well, but because the definition of ‘Fail Harder’ is the realisation that even if you fail in your attempt to do something audacious, you’re already further ahead than those who simply have followed the path of ‘achieving safely’.

There’s a few people I know who are victims of this.

They say it doesn’t bother them, but it obviously does.

Of course it does … it’s shit … especially when coming from people in the industry who are supposed to be ‘senior voices’.

So fuck those guys [and it is nearly always men]

Make them cry tears of regret, because regardless what happens next, you’ve already gone further them most of them could reach.



Unmotivation …

A while back I wrote about how some companies offer incentives and bonuses to their staff to try and boost morale when the reality is all the employees actually want is the company to act in ways they can be proud of and believe in.

Values.
Standards.
Behaviours.
Ambitions.

The most depressing part of this is that in many cases, the companies know this but just think it’s easier to try and ‘buy staff off’, than to change how they act.

But if you think that’s bad, there’s some who are even worse.

The ones who believe their staff will be inspired and impressed by any gesture the companies shows towards them … even if it is an act that shows how little they really think of them.

Acts like this …

Or this …

Seriously, what on earth were they thinking???

Even if they were giving away a bunch of bananas rather than a single one, it would still be bad … but a postage paid envelope, that reiterates this is a ONE TIME act of generosity.

Either the people behind these ‘gifts’ are evil or utterly delusional … which is why the best leaders I’ve ever worked for have been the ones who are transparent and honest, whether for good news or bad.

There’s something really reassuring of knowing where you stand. Where there is constant dialogue with where you’re at and where things are. That even in bad times, you know what is going on, what needs to change and some suggestions how to do it … because the person telling you genuinely wants you to succeed. Not simply to make their life easier, but to help make yours bigger.

While there are a lot of benefits to management, it can’t be denied it’s a tough gig.

You’re dealing with a bunch of moving parts all at the same time.

Egos.
Colleagues.
Team development.
Individual growth.
Client satisfaction.
New business requirements.
Company reputation and profit.
And then your own, personal satisfaction and growth.

In some ways, each of these moving parts can act as a barrier to the other being successful … and that’s when a manager can get into real trouble, because pressure means they can end up choosing what ultimately makes their life easier rather than what makes everything better.

Now I am not saying I am a great manager.

While I think I am OK, I definitely have my failings.

However over the years – and with some excellent mentors and role models – I’ve definitely learnt there are some ‘rules’ that I believe can help companies ensure managers create an environment where good things happen can happen, for the work … the clients … the individuals … the team … and the company as a whole.

1. Stop promoting people simply because that’s the only way to give them a pay rise.

This is more than just about managing staff cost ratios – or keeping salary bands in line – it’s the reality that some people are just much better at doing their specific job than managing other people doing their specific jobs. Often they know this, but feel they have to accept the promotion ‘opportunity’ to get the money they want. The great irony of this approach is it ends up costing everyone more in the long term. Because the promoted person ends up stopping doing the work that made them – and the company – stand out and other talented people leave, because they are being badly managed. Until the day the company realises their mistake and lets the person go who didn’t really want the job in the first place, but did it as it was the only way to get fairly valued for their talent and experience.

2. Stop thinking being good at the job means you are naturally good at managing

Being good at a job doesn’t automatically mean you are going to be good at managing others doing it. Not only that, being good at your job doesn’t mean your approach will – or should – translate to how the entire department operates. Sadly, too many companies don’t think this way. Instead they promote without consideration to the ways of the individual or the needs of the department and company. Of course, sometimes the reason for that is because it’s a way to ‘keep’ talent from going to another company or because doing it makes things more ‘convenient’ for the company when someone has resigned. What makes that approach even worse is they then place huge expectations and judgement on people so that when things don’t go exactly as planned, they start adding additional stress and barriers. The reality is you don’t make good managers through a title, you do it by giving them training and time.

3. Every level needs training

It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to be academic. But it does have to happen.
Not just in terms of learning the company processes and org charts … but in terms of learning how to actually manage. What to look out for … how to engage … how to encourage and motivate. Not from a book. Not from an online course. But proper training with people who have done it very well rather than people who just hold the title. There are so many great managers who never got to realise that simply because they were thrown in the deep end and then kicked out because they weren’t given the support and time to train for their new position.

However I know the things I’ve suggested won’t be common, because too many companies see personal training as an expense and judge success as getting stuff done, regardless of the cost. Which is why after all the years I’ve had doing it, I still rely on 4 huge lessons I learnt from Dan Wieden and Chris Jaques.

+ When your focus is the work, every decision becomes easier.

+ Brilliant work sorts out almost every problem,.

+ Honesty and transparency is the greatest gift you can give someone.

+ The best way to stop complicity is to create an environment of openness and debate.

Sure, none of these are as easy as giving a banana or even a paid-return envelope … but I guarantee the positive effect will last a hell of a lot longer.