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.

Top of the funnel — 3 January 2021

Top of the funnel

For those who love our lead funnels…

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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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Drive-by Marketing — 8 November 2020

Drive-by Marketing

One of my favorite architectural styles is a great example of marketing

In America the 1950s saw 2 big societal changes which had a big impact on how much and how far people travelled:

1. A huge rise in car ownership

The 1950s began with 25 million cars on the road, most of which were old and in poor condition. No cars or parts were made during the war, for obvious reasons. But by 1950, most factories had transitioned to a consumer economy, and they produced over 8 million cars that year alone.

By 1958, there were over 67 million cars registered in the United States, more than twice the number at the start of the decade. American culture was beginning to be built around the car.

2. The massive expansion and improvement of interstate highways

One of the key challenges for military defence is moving units around quickly and efficiently. If you need tanks in one place, and they’re in another, you need to get them to the right place, as fast as you can.

While serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War 2, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed an admiration for the German Autobahn system as an essential component of the Germany’s military defence. He decided that the US needed something similar.

He expanded the National Highway System with interstate highways across many parts of the United States. The wider, multi-lane highways allowed traffic to move at faster speeds, with few or no stoplights on the way.

It’s my way, or the highway

More and more people were now moving around, and they were moving further and faster. This lead to new business springing up and offering products and services to these travelling families and business people. Places to stop for gasoline, food, drink, groceries, entertainment, and to spend the night.

This lead to an arms race among these businesses to see who could capture the attention and dollars of the passing customers.

Give me a sign

Marketing, at its core, is pretty simple. You have products and / or services to sell, and you want to draw people’s attention to them. Ideally, you want to draw people’s attention to them when and if they are likely to buy them. Marketing, I would argue, in its purest form, is the signs and motifs used to get people’s attention.

There are two major factors that can affect how likely your signs and premises are to get the attention of people speeding passed:

  1. The wording
  2. The visual elements

You could put up a sign that says you make the best bacon sandwiches in the entire country. You make sure the text is big and can readable by cars as they fly by. Maybe that will work. But you could also make the sign really stand out visually too. Maybe make it pink, in the shape of a pig, covered in lights, and with a moving tail. Maybe.

Sign designers and architects were tasked with finding the right visual styles to get people’s attention. They tried buildings that looked homely, signs that used arresting photography, pig-shaped signs (okay, this might just be my idea).

But one visual style really stood out and over time has developed a cult following – and is also one of my favourite forms of architecture. That style is Googie.

Googie (pronounced GOO-jee) is a mixture of Modernism, American car culture (which thrived in Southern California), and Space-Age retro-futurism. The term Googie comes from a coffeehouse in Hollywood designed by John Lautner, who was at one time an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Googie’s Coffee Shop at Sunset Blvd and Crescent Heights, West Hollywood

As an architectural style, Googie includes unswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie-style signs usually boast sharp and bold angles, intended to suggest the aerodynamic features of a rocket ship.

With the increasing prosperity of the United States during the 1950s, American designers celebrated this new affluence with optimistic designs. The development of nuclear power and the reality of spaceflight captivated the public’s imagination of the future. Googie architecture reflected this by incorporating energy into its design with elements such as the boomerang, diagonals, atomic bursts and bright colors.

One of the most famous examples of Googie – the Las Vegas sign

Even if you have no love for this style, and I appreciate it would be too bold for many, you can appreciate how it would grab the attention.

Would you drive passed this without noticing?

For me, Googie represents three things:

  1. A bold and confident approach to design from a time of peace and prosperity
  2. A willingness to adapt to societal changes and tastes
  3. An understanding of the need for a business to be bold and distinctive to succeed

If I could redesign my house along these lines, I really would. Even if it upset the neighbours (and it really would).

Sadly, many Googie structures were destroyed as tastes changed. But there is a list on Wikipedia, perhaps it’s time to plan a road trip?

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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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