Posts Tagged 'thoughts'

always learning, never failing

Learn from your mistakes and you’ll never fail.


one night brand

Too much marketing takes a ‘one-night stand’ approach to building relationships.

The brand does all it can to get people’s attention – to seduce and woo them – only to ignore them the morning after.

But most of us already know that such an approach rarely establishes meaningful, long-term relationships.

Sooner or later, no matter how clever the tagline, or how single-minded the big idea, successful brands need to progress from courtship to a relationship.

And that requires a different approach.

It needs regular, two-way communication.

It needs compromise and understanding.

It needs trust.

And all of those require something more than a flashy new campaign every few months.

Sure, they’re a big part of courtship, but courtship is just the beginning.

Moving from lust to love requires us to show our audiences attention; not just for them to give it to us.

Let’s get serious.

rethinking success

Happy New Year!

Did you start 2010 with a fresh set of objectives?

Grow profits; drive revenues; increase the margin.

Do you have any objectives that aren’t about making more money than you made in 2009?

Defining success

When it comes to measuring success, we often make comparisons to the past.

Companies look at how profits changed relative to previous periods.

Individuals might compare their earnings to previous roles.

Even charities look at the changes in donations received.

By most definitions, we haven’t succeeded unless we’ve grown, and in business, this invariably relates to financial growth.

Indeed, financial growth is often a business’s primary objective, to the extent that any gains are reinvested to generate yet more growth in the next period.

But why are we so obsessed with growth?

Growth vs. greed

In nature, the drive to grow is instinctive: we need to reach a certain size to survive and procreate.

However, unrestrained growth brings dangerous consequences: excess leads to obesity, slowing us down and compromising our health.

In the good times, this doesn’t matter too much, because there’s enough to go round.

But, eventually, excess becomes unsustainable: over-consumption results in scarcity of resources and intense competition.

When this happens, the obese are most at risk: their size makes it harder for them to secure food and escape predators.

They face a stark choice: redress the balance, or die.

Survival of the fittest

This pattern is obvious in nature, but we often miss the parallel in business.

However, just like animals, brands can’t continue to grow indefinitely: eventually, they either reach a healthy equilibrium, or they exhaust all the available resources and die.

Faced with that choice, the decision seems simple.

Sometimes, though, scarcity occurs quite suddenly.

Just a few years ago, newspapers were enjoying those ‘good times’.

Then, out of nowhere, a fitter species appeared and gobbled up all their resources.

Sadly, the newspapers were too obese – too complacent, too cumbersome, too bloated – to react in time.

Now they’re starving, on the brink of extinction.

Their demise holds a lesson for us all.

Fit for purpose

The trick to avoiding newspapers’ fate is stay fit and healthy.

One way to do this is to avoid excessive growth.

So, if your objectives for year ahead are based purely on growth, challenge them.

What’s all that growth for?

And what will you do when you achieve it?

All too often, the euphoria of achieving a growth goal quickly gives way to a desire to outdo yourself again.

It becomes a never-ending cycle; increasing the number becomes the only thing that matters.

But there’s got to be more to life than numbers.

We need to remember the real benefits that growth was supposed to bring.

What would success look like if you couldn’t grow anymore?

Better, not bigger

Most New Year’s resolutions relate to health and fitness.

Perhaps it’s time we set similar business resolutions too.

I’d like to start the year with a challenge:

Why not set one objective for 2010 that has nothing to do with financial growth?

How about play rises instead of pay rises? More time to do the things that feed your souls, not just your bank balances (think Google’s 20%).

Perhaps you could initiate pro bono work for issues you really care about? Rather than waiting for someone to ask you, just get on and do it.

Or, why not take on an intern and actually help them to learn useful skills? With a bit of guidance, enthusiastic graduates can do much more than just make coffee and photocopies, and you’ll feel rewarded too.

Whatever you decide, one thing will make achieving your goal easier:

Stop measuring your success by comparing yourself to others.

Innovate, don’t imitate.

It’s much easier to succeed when you write your own rules.

Good luck, and best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2010!

creative learning

An entertaining look at why we need to put more emphasis on creativity in education:

Thanks to newhighscore for sharing the clip, and to phil for bringing it to my attention.

escaping the spiral

One of the most enduring themes of the past decade has been the decline of traditional industry models.

Record companies and newspapers have been the biggest losers, yet demand for the ‘products’ these companies deliver has risen dramatically during the same period.

The two trends seem to be in conflict: how can something experiencing increased demand simultaneously lose its value?

Has classical economic theory come totally undone?

Let’s take a closer look.


As recently as the 1990s, a music collection of  100 albums (about 1,500 songs) was something to be admired, taking pride of place across a whole wall of the living room.

Today, even cash-strapped teenagers carry that much music in their pocket everywhere they go.

But still we crave more.

Numerous new services attempt to satisfy our insatiable appetite for a fresh and varied playlist – Pandora and Spotify are obvious examples.

Yet almost none of these seem to be making much money.

It’s the same story for news.

As technology has advanced, instantaneous, ubiquitous news updates have become the norm, and we’ve become so used to these ‘info fixes’ that we even experience symptoms of withdrawal if they’re taken away.

Demand for news hasn’t just grown; it’s exploded.

So why are news agencies disappearing at an inversely proportionate rate?

What’s going on?

From the outside, the reason appears very simple: these industries have become too caught up in what they think people are buying; not what those people actually want.

The music industry is still obsessed with selling albums, because that’s been their core offering for decades.

Of course, at the time of their inception, albums were a highly efficient (and profitable) distribution medium.

The same goes for newspapers.

But, as Dave Trott points out, people don’t buy the media.

They buy the content that those media carry.

And if they can find that content more efficiently (and cheaper) elsewhere…

A false equilibrium?

Despite initial appearances to the contrary, the trend of rising demand and falling profit in these media-based industries is actually in keeping with classical economic theory.

The model suggests that people will tend towards the most efficient satisfaction of their needs: that they try to maximise the benefits they receive, while simultaneously minimising the associated cost (in terms of money, time, effort, etc.)

As Adam Smith posited in 1776,

“…what every thing really costs… is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.”

He went on to assert,

“What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it… is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself.”

Let’s look at those two statements in context:

  1. From the consumer’s perspective, the cost of acquiring music and news content is not a pure price consideration: factors such as the effort needed to acquire and consume the product, as well as opportunity cost, are equally important;
  2. The worth, or value, these products deliver is hard to measure, because the benefits they deliver are usually intangible (except where unique access to news provides a financial benefit to the consumer).

The key issue in these industries is that people suddenly have access to identical value at a much lower cost.

So what changed?

What are people buying?

People don’t buy media; they pay for access to content.

But if that content is available for free, why would they choose to pay for it?

Free access to music has been around for years via radio; the main issue has been a lack of listener control in the playlist.

The only legal alternative has been to pay for the privilege to listen to what you want, where you want, when you want, by buying albums and singles.

But given the costs involved in this alternative, another popular solution has been to acquire an illegal copy.

Piracy is nothing new; it has affected the music business since it began.

However, until recently, the quality of an ‘original’ was always noticeably better than that of a cost-effective copy.

The advent of digital formats like MP3 changed all that. Today, people can quickly and easily create a copy that is identical to that which they would get if they bought it from the original source.

The problem for the record companies is that there is literally no difference in the quality of pirated content.

Furthermore, the industry’s continued protectionist approach to ‘selling’ music means that it’s often actually easier to find pirated copies than it is to find the original*.

Returning Adam Smith’s concept of ‘real cost’, this means that people have fewer and fewer reasons to pay the cost associated with original content; the only remaining motivator is conscientiousness.

Meanwhile, the situation with news is even starker: the industry itself has trained us to believe that news should be free, through ad-supported models such as CNN or freesheets.

When people have been so used to legal access to free news content, it’s easy to understand their current reluctance to move to services requiring payment – particularly when services like the BBC continue to offer free access.

Bene-fit for purpose

The only sustainable hope for these industries is to rethink what they’re actually offering.

The process is actually very simple:

What do people really want?

Where is it most relevant to them?

How can we deliver it to them and make a profit?

The critical step is to move away from thinking about how to improve the existing product, and to focus instead on identifying and understanding the benefits people seek.

New news

Why do people crave news?

It might be for a variety of reasons:

It provides information that helps us make decisions about our own lives (Will it rain tomorrow? Is there a crazed gunman on the run downtown?);

It offers a common topic we can talk about with others;

It shares opinion and that stimulates our minds and provokes further thought of our own;

It entertains and stirs emotion;

Perversely, it helps us put our lives in perspective, reminding us that “there is always someone worse off than yourself” (this is the only reason I can find for our continued obsession with ‘bad’ news).

However, none of these things belong to conventional news channels.

Indeed, most of those channels exist because they provide an audience for advertisers, and, arguably, they’ve never been truly focused on the audiences themselves.

Where would these benefits be most relevant?

What could we do to deliver it to them then… at a profit?

Change the tune

The task with music is a little more difficult, because it’s intangible and transient.

What exactly is music, and why do we love it so much?

What benefit does it provide?

It’s a question that has many different answers, because music means different things to different people in different contexts:

Sometimes it’s an all-consuming experience, like a concert;

Often, it’s something we use to define our personalities;

Sometimes it’s a means of escapism (like ‘cocooning’ on a crowded subway);

Sometimes it provides a reassuring background distraction;

Like fashion, it’s something that’s constantly evolving and fresh, providing us with something to talk about, and offering us things to look forward to.

I’m sure you can think of many more benefits (why not share them in the comments?).


It’s safe to assume that people’s desire for new music and fresh news will continue to grow.

As such, musicians and journalists are not – contrary to media scaremongering – on the verge of extinction.

The only thing that’s likely to disappear is the existing media model.

So how will we access these benefits in the future?

Much as I hate to inflate an already over-hyped solution, I believe the answer is ‘something social’.

Services where people already go to seek similar benefits – to talk to people, to find out what’s new in their world, to seek emotional stimulation – are the most obvious places for them to seek music and news benefits too.

I believe we’ll see an increasing number of social services combine these offers in their bid to become our ‘one-stop shops’ for all such content.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t include TV and movies too.

Services such as Facebook have a great opportunity to became the de facto source for news and new music, although I suspect it will be a new, as-yet unheard of successor, who’ll bring about this next step in the web’s evolution.

So what’s new?

I suspect that, although you’ve nodded your head a few times during this post, you don’t feel there’s anything revolutionary in its content.

But that’s possibly because, in this simple format, it all seems obvious.

And I think that’s the problem: perhaps it’s so obvious, we’ve been missing the forest for the trees.

But, the good news is, the solution is very simple.

If we focus on the benefits that people seek – the real value that they perceive in the things they consume – then we have a chance of delivering it to them at a profit.

Sadly for some, it may be too late to save the mass media model, but the rest of us have a real opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Thanks to Willsh for setting this thought process off with these lovely posts: one, two.

good vs evil

Most people believe that good will triumph over evil.

This optimism is a core tenet of humanity.

Indeed, it’s so ingrained that we often assume that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ will be easy to tell apart – like night and day.

Sometimes this is the case; some crimes can never be justified, while some acts are universally welcomed.

However, much of our world view dictates ‘good’ from ‘evil’ on a purely subjective basis.

For example, religion will likely always remain a matter of individual opinion.

The same is true of culture.

There’s little doubt that globalisation has led to a degree of homogenisation of attitudes and behaviour, and we’ve lost much cultural variety along the way.

But this is nothing new; the Greeks and the Romans are perfect evidence that even the strongest and most influential ‘civilisations’ rise and fall.

This is because culture and ideas are subject to the same principles of evolution as biological species: only the fittest survive.

And as with biology, the key to continued survival is genetic diversity.

This means we must draw from as many influences as possible, but at the same time, ensure that we do not distill everything into a single, homogeneous result.

I was reminded of this while watching a fantastic TED talk from Dan Dennett (below).

He approaches the topic of cultural propagation from a philosophical angle, but there’s a clear relevance to advertising and planning in there too.

For me, the abiding lesson is that our individual cutural and moral perspectives are never ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

They’re simply subjective perspectives.

keep watching

strategy results

More wise words, this time from Winston Churchill.

the right track

train arriving

Something occurred to me while reading this superb presentation from David Gillespie.

Media platforms are very similar to platforms in train stations.

It’s important to be on the right one, but only insomuch as that helps you get somewhere else.

Sometimes, choosing the wrong platform will take you somewhere a long way away from where you wanted.

But you can easily change the platform without changing the journey or the destination.

And so it is in advertising.

Platforms are just the start.

It’s the journey to the destination that matters.

David’s got a load of other good stuff on his blog – go take a look.

perceptions of value

A great talk by Rory Sutherland on the value of advertising:

Rory makes the daring assertion that a change in perceived value can be just as satisfying as what we consider “real” value; his conclusion has interesting consequences for how we look at life.

UPDATE: TED have posted a transcript of the fantastic Q&A session with Rory that accompanied this talk – take a look here.

Quote taken from the TED site. Many thanks to Dave Trott for introducing me to Rory’s speech, and to Anjali for alerting me to the Q&A.


Other Distractions