I believe the history of marketing and design can teach us a lot, and look to find ideas and insights from the people and approaches of the past.

A mile in their shoes — 2 January 2021

A mile in their shoes

There is a BBC sitcom called Mrs Brown’s Boys. And the first thing you should know about it is it is very popular. It ran for 3 series from 2011 to 2013 and since then they’ve put out specials every year. Although the latest ratings were lower than previously, the team behind it recently signed to keep creating specials until 2026. Episodes have attracted audiences over 11 million people in the UK – a lot in these choice-filled times.

The other thing you should know about Mrs Brown’s Boys is… most critics think it’s terrible. And not just critics. I don’t know anyone who likes it or watches it. And out of the people I follow on various social media platforms who have seen it – they think it’s terrible and don’t know anyone who watches it or likes it.

Trying to find someone who likes Mrs Brown’s Boys is like trying to find someone who will admit to enjoying vegan cheese. If someone said to me, “tell me the appeal of Mrs Brown’s Boys,” I would shrug, suggest they looked “over there” in some vaguely indicated direction, and slink away quietly.

But it has appeal. Lots of it. Clearly not to the people I like to bump up against in a slightly awkward way, but to a different group of people. A segment. The “Mrs Brown’s Boys” segment – who also enjoy some of other terrible TV I don’t watch and have opinions that don’t align with mine or my bubble-tea-loving-bubble at all.

Being a good marketer means understanding the audience for something, even if that audience isn’t like you at all.

“Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Because then you’ll be a mile away, and you’ll have his shoes.”

Might be Jack Handey, Johnny Carson, Billy Connolly or Steve Martin, according to the internet

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New beginnings — 1 January 2021

New beginnings

When I was a kid, one thing I used to look forward to was the start of the new school year. Not because I wanted to go back or anything (I wasn’t a gifted student – too easily distracted) but because I looked forward to getting a new school bag, and a new set of stationery. It’s the small things.

I still stick to this ritual to a degree. This year I’ve bought a new watch – something to wear to my new job (more on that anon, I’m sure).

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I also like to start a new notebook for a new year – with plans to approach the use of this one in a fresh way. To be neater, tidier, more focussed in application. Of course, after a few weeks it ends up like all the others – a difficult to follow mess. This probably more accurately reflects the way my brain works.

Nonetheless, today I open a new notebook for 2021 – let’s see if we can approach things more tidily. Will you join me?

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Are paid newsletters a good idea? — 3 August 2020

Are paid newsletters a good idea?

So, I started a newsletter. I haven’t been great and keeping it going out – I like to think intentions are what really matter in Marketing. I am, of course, wrong. I will try to get better at it – it’s my promise to you! Whoever you are!

Now I’m involved in this whole writing and making newsletters biz I’ve noticed this trend. You sign up for someone’s newsletter because it sounds kinda interesting and, you know, get your kicks somehow, and then after a while they pull the old bait and switch on you.

“This is my free newsletter,” they say, in words in an email form, “but next week I’m launching a paid newsletter – you can carry on getting the free one, but the paid one will be EMAIL CATNIP.”

Hmm, well I read your regular free email and I think you use words good. But I only occasionally find something interesting enough to click on and spend some time with.

Before you embark on the perilous adventure of trying to supplement your lifestyle with that sweet email cash, maybe have a think about some things:

1. Is there enough value for the reader?

No offence, but I read a lot of newsletters. And in a good clutch I might find a couple of articles that are interesting enough to make me keep reading. Maybe those articles are all from yours – but that isn’t going to convince me to part with hard earned money. So many personal newsletters rely on 2 things:

  1. opinions – are people going to pay to hear what you think? Why?
  2. links to articles by other people – they can find these from other places probably – so is your curation that good?

Maybe you do add value to many people – it might be a good idea to ask them? Don’t presume people will. People are fickle.

2. Is it competitively sustainable?

There are a lot of people going down this route. If I wanted to keep up with all of them, it would end up costing me a lot of my money each month. If I had to choose, would I choose you? Do you stand out? Are you a distinctive voice adding value to your audience? Who is your audience?

3. How will it affect your relationship with your subscribers?

This is the point that inspired this article, after this exchange with Rob Estreitinho on Twitter (and thanks to him for letting me use it):

(the reply at the top is mine)

The reason I sign-up for a lot of email newsletters is because the author seems like someone I’d like to work with. A smart, insightful marketing person or writer. Someone who has interesting takes on things I’d be happy to chat with them about over a drink.

The best way to describe this relationship would be one of peers. Two people wanting to share and learn from each other.

If I pay for your newsletter – for access to your ideas and thoughts – our relationship no longer feels like one of peers. It feels like one of customer and supplier. That isn’t what I want – and now our relationship is forever altered.

I hope you like breaking hearts, heart breaker.

4. How will it affect your relationship with your newsletter?

I started writing and creating a newsletter outside of work because it felt like something I wanted to do. It’s good practice to write – to try and translate thoughts into words. And it allows you to access a community of people sharing ideas – learning from each other.

If I had to think about these things as revenue generators it would seriously affect the way I think about them. I would feel pressured to spend more time than I currently do on them. I would feel pressure to keep publishing and sending, even when I wasn’t in the mood. They would become a burden, rather than something I wanted to do. I would resent them. I would send them out for coffee and run away before they got back.

A sad way to end.

If you are planning a paid newsletter, maybe think about these things. Because I look forward to reading your newsletter, and I look forward to us being peers who can learn from each other.


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Teamwork – a niche sports analogy featuring Reading FC — 30 July 2020

Teamwork – a niche sports analogy featuring Reading FC

Like lots of people who I move in similar circles too (in an online sense), I’ve been watching The Last Dance on Netflix. If you have missed it so far, it focusses on Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls – but uses this as a scaffold to look back at his career.

If you really don’t understand what I’m talking about – this is basketball – the one where you can bounce the ball with your hand and throw it in a hoop and all the games have ludicrously high scores. Yes, it looks a bit frenetic, doesn’t it?

What many people seem to have taken from the documentary series is Michael Jordan’s remarkable drive to win. One episode focusses on his former teammates, saying he wasn’t a pleasant guy a lot of the time, and would push them and cajole them to do better. This flows nicely into the question of whether it’s okay to bully, or come close to bullying, someone if it helps them to achieve remarkable things. But I’m not going to write about that here – if you’d like some thoughts on that I recommend the excellent film Whiplash.

No, the part that stood out for me was the episode discussing the relationship between Jordan and his teammates – and Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in particular. Jordan needed great support from people around him. He formed excellent on court relationships and understandings with key players on his team. They relied on him, and he relied on them.

Is it possible Jordan really could have been as successful with a bunch of average players around him? Examples from team sports of individuals carrying whole teams is very rare. Probably the most famous example is Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup – which I mention mainly to point you to another excellent film – Diego Maradona by Asif Kapadia. If you enjoyed The Last Dance – you’ll enjoy that too.

But team sports are in the mainly won by great teams. Even an iconic player like Messi had most of his success when surrounded by players like Iniesta and Xavi. So, what makes a great team? Well, this is where I get a bit niche.

As you can tell by my use of examples above, I am foremost a football fan. And football fate has lead me to support 2 clubs, neither of which have, so far, done anything to bring them worldwide attention – Reading and Exeter City. The one I want to focus on for this analogy is the mighty Reading.

You see, Reading have done nothing to bring them worldwide attention, but they did manage to be quite brilliant for 2 seasons back in the mid-noughties. In the 2005/6 season, they won the Championship (the second-tier of English football) with 106 points – a record that still stands. They won 31 games, drew 13 and lost just twice, scoring 99 goals and conceding 32. They were promoted, and followed that season up with an 8th placed finish in the Premier League, despite most pundits tipping them for instant relegation.

So who were these super talented players? Well, there was definitely no Michael Jordans. Instead, Reading assembled a team of players with no dramatic standouts – but the right combination of talents to make a successful team. Allow me to introduce the main men from the Reading squad of 2005/6:

Goalkeeper – Marcus Hahnemann

A, frankly, terrifying looking bear of an American. Kept the ball out of the net by mainly staring it down.

Right back – Graeme Murty

An absolute club legend and the Captain. Converted from winger to full back – liked to bomb forward and shout at people. Scored a penalty in the last game of the 05/06 season to make sure of the record points tally and everyone went nuts.

Left back – Nicky Shorey

Played for England twice. A dimunitive player with a peach of a left foot.

Central defender – Ibrahim Sonko

Very athletic Senegalese defender. Seemed to repel the ball like an unfriendly magnet. Left the club a bit acrimoniously, which is a shame.

Central defender – Ivar Ingimarsson

With Sonko formed an inpregnable barrier at the back. Dependable, and an Icelandic international.

Right wing – Glen Little

Set up 14 goals and scored 5 in 05/06 – including at absolute beauty against Plymouth. A majestic player who probably would have played for England if he was a bit quicker.

Left wing – Bobby Convey

The sides second American and winner of 46 caps for the US of A. Pacy and with a good work rate. Floppy hair.

Central midfield – Steve Sidwell

Probably the most talented of the whole squad – signed for Chelsea after leaving. Like to get forward and score while pivoting perfectly with…

Central midfield – James Harper

Skilful and a hard worker. Wherever Sidwell wasn’t, Harper was.

Striker – Kevin Doyle

Famous for being a bargain buy from Cork City. Hard working and pacy. I saw him eating in a restaurant once and was shocked at the size of his watch.

Striker – Dave Kitson

A man who often seemed a bit too sensitive to be a footballer. But nonetheless was the big man in the big and small partnership who also weighed in with a decent number of goals.

Honourable mention – Leroy Lita

The third striker in the pairing. Had that arrogance that a lot of the best strikers have. Also owned a hummer.

And in control of this team was Manager, Steve Coppell – a man who liked keeping a low profile, so an unfashionable club was perfect for him.

The thing that strikes me looking back at that side, is how rare it is to get that perfect storm. The right club, with the right manager, and the right squad of players at the same time. Reading have never put together another side to rival 05/06. There’s been good sides and bad sides – but nothing like that.

So, what can we learn from this? That real success comes from working together, and trying to put together the best team you can. But also being aware that you won’t know when the perfect storm is going to happen, so be striving for it – always. That’s your best chance of developing your own 05/06 Reading FC.

I just wanted to give you the table — 25 May 2020

I just wanted to give you the table

I once worked for a major UK charity.

At the time Google was offering free partnering sessions to help charities with marketing. Google arranged for 2 members of the public to come to a workshop to discuss their experiences with the charity.

Yeah, it’s just a table. Look at it, holding stuff.

One quote (which I will have to paraphrase) really stood out to me.

“I had a table I wanted to donate, so I brought it to my local shop. I was instantly offered a range of options to accompany my donation – gift aid, tracking what happened to the table, a loyalty scheme – all with a raft of accompanying paperwork.

All I wanted to do was give you the table.”

For influencing behaviour, friction is a powerful tool. If you want someone to do something, make it easy – maybe frictionless. If you want someone not to do something, make it harder.

Recently I move my house insurance to a new provider. I’m a classic ‘get a new quote for every renewal’ guy – yes, you may leave now if you like. I found a cheaper quote and set up a new account and paid for a years insurance upfront.

Right there was some friction. If I paid monthly, it would cost more overall. But if I paid for the entire year, it was cheaper. So I paid for the year – the insurance company are happy as they have their money – and I’m probably a stickier customer as I don’t have to see the money going out of my account every month.

Then I needed to cancel the existing insurance – so I went into my online account and looked at the renewal. All the details were there, and it told me it would be auto-renewed if I did nothing (quick! do something!) – but there was nowhere to cancel. To make any changes, I had to call them.

So I did – and, as you’d expect, they tried to talk me out of it.

“We can match your quote… Do you know about these benefits… There is a cancellation charge…”

They’re creating friction – in a classic way that businesses do. Make it easy to sign-up, but hard to cancel. It happens with some email lists too – just pop your name in the box and you’re signed up. But want to unsubscribe? You must click the link, then enter your email address, then tell us why you want to, then confirm… lots of opportunities to change your mind.

Some of these tactics seem… well… questionable.

But adding friction need not be employed with questionable motives. If you are fond of a chocolate biscuit or a bit of cake, a suitable way to try to stop yourself eating too much is to put them on a high shelf. Make it more effort to get to your favourite fattening treats and put the fruit somewhere easy to reach.

“I recently wrote about how important it is to make the right thing easy. The opposite is also true: it’s important to make the wrong things difficult.”

Tim Kadlec

If you’re trying to convince someone to adopt new behaviours – a customer, a team, a friend or family member perhaps, could you think about adding or subtracting friction?

Well, I hope you enjoyed that. If you want to keep up-to-date with everything I find and post then sign-up for my email newsletter – The Cream.

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