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


Another Day, Another Postbox Post …

No, I don’t know what’s with all the postbox posts [even though in reality, there’s only been 2 in 16 years] but just like that old adage of ‘you wait for a bus and then 2 come at once’ … here is a second post about postboxes in a week.

First of all, DO NOT PANIC.

It is not as sentimental as yesterday’s.

Probably.

But recently someone sent me a photo of this …

Yes, that’s a sticker rather than a real ‘blue plaque’.

Yes, it’s about Danger Mouse rather than a real* historical figure.

But it’s still absolutely fucking awesome.

For those who don’t know what a blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in public places that commemorate a link between that specific location and a famous person, event, or a former building that serves as a historical marker.

[Yes, I did get that from Wikipedia]

For those who don’t know who Danger Mouse is … then I just feel sorry for you, because he’s the best. At least the 80’s version of him … not to mention his sidekick, Penfold – who a certain past commentator on this blog once said I had an alarming resemblance to.

Though he also once said that about the comedian Harry Hill … all because that I once turned up at a Coca-Cola event in a suit.

That said, when I look at a photo of that event – from 1996 – even I have to admit there is more than a passing resemblance to both of them. Though as tragic as that is, I ended up winning ‘best dressed’ for simply not wearing shit jeans and an ironic t-shirt, which pleased me no end but pissed off all the very glamorous female guests who were in attendance.

Anyway, if you need more info on Danger Mouse, please go here.

And to see me – I mean Penfold – please go here.

Or just look at this …

But the real reason I love this letterbox with the Danger Mouse blue circle as a sticker is that someone did it.

They decided it would be worth while doing.

Which means having the idea.
Designing it.
Getting it made.
Then going to the postbox on Baker Street in London – where Danger Mouse lives – and sticking it there.
And not just anywhere on the postbox, but low – where DM enters and leaves his place.

Some may say that’s madness.

Some may say that’s a waste of time and money.

But to me, that’s an act of wonderfulness.

A true commitment to craft, creativity and authenticity.

And what’s better is that while many may miss it, those who see it not only love it … but tell people about it. Which is a lot more than many of the multi-million, 48 sheet billboard, TV ads and digital DTC campaigns ever achieve.

So to whoever did this. Thank you.

You restored my faith in craft, commitment and ridiculousness.

And reignited my love of Danger Mouse. [But not Penfold]

__________________________________________________________________________

* Even though Danger Mouse was a fictional character, he lives in my memories and heart and that’s more than some living, breathing people … which means Danger Mouse is real to me. Deal with it.



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.



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.



The People We Have To Be Most Afraid Of Are The Ones Who Think They Are Strong …

I’m reading and hearing more and more people position themselves as some sort of elite force … because the pain, hardship and obstacles others face, didn’t affect them.

Except – as the tweet by Daniel above shows – it did.

It’s happening everywhere.

From that prick Piers Morgan claiming he is in someway responsible for the brilliant achievement of Emma Raducanu through to certain members of the marketing community who acknowledge there’s many barriers people face in the industry, but then add how they were still able to succeed … unsubtly insinuating their talent is so exceptional, they got to the top despite all the obstacles others say “holds them back”, conveniently ignoring the fact they’re white, educated to hell and privileged as fuck.

I’m over it.

There’s so many people out there who face challenges the majority of us will never appreciate.

Never understand.

And while that doesn’t mean the achievements of anyone should be dismissed, the assumption that everyone is playing by the same rules and contexts is total bullshit.

Which is why those who put others down by saying ‘they faced challenges and they turned out alright’ are missing the point … both in terms of the effect their actions and behaviours had on their wellbeing and the definition of what success has to be.

We’re all fighting demons and challenges only we know about.

So by all means be proud of what you’ve done, but don’t use that to then backhandedly dismiss the achievements of others – especially when they’re not really comparable in terms of context, category or celebration.

Past or present.

Have a great weekend.



Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Slayer
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.

Taste.

If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.

TEN!!!

And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.