For a while now we’ve been discussing where the big opportunities for B2B brands are. Here’s my take on what I think needs to happen next in the world of B2B Marketing.
I’m just going to say it. I love the Burger King rebrand.
I love it for many reasons, one being I’m in the midst of two massive rebrand projects myself, and know all-to-well the work involved doing it.
But beyond the brilliant art direction and design that really does defy category norms, the reason I love it is that it happened.
Anyone who has worked in advertising and marketing for a while will tell you how difficult it often is to get from an idea to something in-market. Bureaucracy, red-tape, lack of clarity, time, budget, bravery and many other things often stand in the way of ideas going further than a PowerPoint presentation. In fact, many years ago a Creative Director at one agency who I’m not going to name, told me “I’m in the business of making PDFs”.
So, I applaud Burger King. Not only is the work great, it also happened, and that’s simply awesome.
If there’s one thing the past year or so has taught almost everyone, it’s that so many things we thought were so important to us, aren’t actually that important at all. And conversely, many of the things we all took for granted, and didn’t really think twice about are in fact what make our lives the lives we all want to live.
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a sucker for brands. Not only is my entire career built around brands, I also love buying, owning and experiencing them. From my obsession for anything with four wheels and an engine, to my love for horology and a trainer collection that’s quite literally bursting out of my wardrobe, I couldn’t really imagine my life without certain brands in it.
Like everyone, the past twelve-months has impacted my life more than I can begin to describe. I’ve gone from spending on average twenty hours a week commuting by car, train and tube, to simply wandering downstairs and opening zoom each morning. My regular get-togethers with my friends now comprise of a series of WhatsApp groups chock full of photos, videos, emojis and memes to try and retain some sense of normality in this really bizarre moment in time.
And while I’m beyond grateful that my job has been largely unaffected by a combination of fast adaptation by my company – and the resilience shown by the entire team, one of the positive effects of lockdown and home-working has been the time I’ve spent with my family.
I’ve enjoyed getting up in the morning and having breakfast with my two awesome children, Jake and Millie – having conversations about what they’re eating, what they’re hoping to do that day – and how they’re going to make a new contraption out of household items. Even to this day their imagination amazes me.
I’ve loved being able to take them to school, and pick them up, and chat to them while I’ve been working. They’re now on first-name terms with many of my colleagues and friends – something that were I in the office may well not have happened for some time, if at all.
In a way, this whole experience is bitter-sweet, because while the transformation that’s happened in the business world in terms of people working from home is something that should have happened a long-time ago, it’s a transformation that’s happened under such terrible circumstances. Like many, I’ve found it immensely tough to deal with the stress of Covid-19 and lockdown but I’m hopeful this year is going to be a fuck-load better than the last. I just hope that people don’t revert back to some of the bad habits and behaviours that existed in pre-Covid times. Like pointless commutes five days a week.
I hope that people remember the closeness they’ve felt to all the things that really matter in life, like family, friendships and talking more often. Like sitting down as a family to enjoy meals together.
Because, in the end, while I’ll always love and enjoy so many things, lockdown has reminded me that you really don’t need much to live a happy, fulfilled life.
As I sit here in the pub, enjoying a cold pint and a packet of crisps, seeing and hearing everything going on around me, the rich tapestry of life, it got me thinking about the famous John le Carre quote that is the title of this blog article. Over the years, lots of people have quoted it; usually people whose field is either research, or whom use research in their role. Like Planners.
It is however, an easy thing to forget when you’re in the daily grind. Even if you do remember it, it’s easy to ignore, because, getting away from your desk takes preparation, time and sometimes, even permission.
I’ve always been a huge advocate of not working from the same desk, or even place, day-in, day–out. Even when I’ve worked in agencies where I’ve had a brilliant view from my desk, like the 12th floor of Sea Containers, overlooking the Thames whilst at GTB, it’s rare you’ll find me sat at it.
I believe that in the context of work, in planning especially, familiarity breeds complacency and often, laziness. You see the same stuff and the same people every day and it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing the world one–dimensionally.
I think that a pre-requisite to any planning role is that you don’t have a desk, and instead, each day have to decide on the best place to work that best suits the context of whatever planning you’re doing at that time. Ideally, at least half of that shouldn’t be in the office.
As any good planner will know, a big part of the art of planning comes from observing the world and relating those observations back to the work you do. Often, the observations you make at the time won’t be relevant to the specific piece of work you’re doing, but they might be one day. So go work from a coffee shop and observe parents meeting up in the morning. Go work from the pub in the day (drinking soft drinks, obviously) and observe business people and pensioners enjoying a pint and a chat over lunch. Go work from a shared workspace and observe other business people. And if you get really brave, strike up a conversation with them. The value you’ll sometimes get far outweighs many statistics you see quoted every day on Twitter, masqueraded as ‘insight’.
Since starting Cord, I’ve had the privilege to work on a few projects that have recognised the value of going beyond simply using desk and online quantitative methods to inform strategies and ideas, and have instead placed a great importance on the value derived from observing and speaking to people. Seeing what can not be seen in a spreadsheet or a dashboard, or a beautifully written and curated report you and every one of your competitors can pay for online.
Just to be clear; I’m not dismissing any form of research you can buy (as long as it’s actually good), but you’ll only ever get part of the picture from it. If you’re simply researching by reading websites and reports, you’ll still have to fill in the gaps. Make assumptions. Form conclusions without a true understanding of the reality of seeing or speaking to the people you’re reading about.
I don’t need to write about the importance of doing this, because so many have written about it before.
What I do need to remind you of, is, in the age of unprecedented volumes of data, intelligent algorithms, digital tools, dashboards and quantum computing, sometimes the thing you really need to do is head to a pub, and have a chat over a pint and some crisps.
A few months ago, I, along with two of my most trusted friends, decided to take a massive leap and set up our own business; Cord.
I say massive leap, because it meant leaving the security of a full-time job; the regular income, the paid holiday, sick pay… all the things that provide some degree of assurance that each month you’re going to have enough money to pay the mortgage, feed your family and, well, live.
It’s a massive leap because, despite what some people seem to profess on LinkedIn, setting up a business is complicated. To begin with, there’s a ton of admin that you have to start doing, and for someone like me, it isn’t something that comes naturally. Not only am I not that good at the financial and operational side of things, I’m not particularly interested in it either — I just want to do good work.
By running your own business, you absolutely have to be interested in the admin and the numbers, because without a strong understanding of what’s going on under the bonnet, you’re doomed.
Thankfully, these days, there are a ton of brilliant tools, apps and solutions that make everything, from accounting to invoicing a doddle. God bless SaaS and the cloud.
Cord is now two weeks old. We decided to set it up because we became disillusioned with the traditional agency model; a model developed a long time ago, when life was simpler and you could count your choice of media on one hand. Whilst this model might have been fine in the 60’s, it isn’t fit for purpose today.
The need for a different way of doing things has never been greater; a new model, better suited to getting to creative solutions for businesses. Solutions that are developed faster, in a more efficient and effective manner.
The three of us all worked together previously, and despite our varied expertise, we saw the power of strategy and creative working as one to solve problems and develop creative solutions.
We believe this is the only way to work when creativity is concerned, and we believe so strongly in it we’ve given it a name; Collective Thinking.
No more production line.
No more planning briefing creative.
No more back and forth.
No more egos protecting their discipline.
No more land grabbing or internal squabbles.
No more departments.
We’ve even done away with job titles.
At Cord, we are all creative and we are all strategic and we all work collectively to solve your biggest marketing and advertising challenges.
We’ve already been working on some brilliant projects; from running a creative comms planning workshop at TBWA, and a brand and creative strategy workshop for Carlsberg in Ukraine.
The work has been exciting, fascinating, challenging, creative and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a joy to work in this way, and Cord has rekindled my love for the industry – at a time when I was ready to chuck it all in and go and do something completely non–advertising related.
In going through this process, I’ve also learned something about myself; that the thing I thought I’d hate most is actually something I realise I absolutely love; the hustle.
Being able to go in to a prospective client and talk with authority and confidence about what you do, and what you can do for and with them is an amazing thing.
Another platform I’ve only really recently started to see the true potential of is LinkedIn. Since launching Cord, I’ve been consistently surprised at how many people have got in touch to find out more. As a tool for promoting your business and networking it’s really come to life for me.
The first few weeks have surpassed all of my expectations. Whilst I know that it’s not always going to be a series of highs, I will say that if you’re sat at a desk in your day job, feeling bored, unappreciated, disengaged, whilst dreaming of setting up your own business, then do it.
Yes it’s scary.
Yes it can be complicated.
Yes it takes over your life.
Yes you lose any sense of certainty from a financial perspective.
Yes you have to learn a fuck-ton of new things.
But the very fact it’s yours, forces you to embrace it, and dive head first into everything.
This post isn’t about touting for business. It’s about sharing my experience of what it means to set up your own business. However, if you’re reading this and do have a strategic or creative challenge you think we might be able to help with, or you want to find out more about our Collective Thinking model, or you just fancy grabbing a coffee and a chat, feel free to get in touch.
Since before I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. Not because I’m a complete megalomanic, but because, like all entrepreneurs, I’ve always had a vision for how I believe the work should be done.
For one reason or another, it’s never really happened, but today I’m proud to announce the launch of my new agency; Cord.
The best bit is, I’m not going into it alone, instead, I’m one of three co-founders, having the privilege of working with Nick Watmough and James Hart. The best bit is, we’ve all previously worked together so it’s not a case of jumping into the unknown.
The fundamental idea behind Cord was to create a new proposition that both brands and agencies can tap into; one that gets strategic and creative minds working together, to develop unique solutions to business problems. It’s something we’re calling Collective Thinking.
Collective Thinking was a concept born of the premise that we don’t believe in the production—line processes that still seem to be so prevalent in the industry today. We believe the best thinking comes when people from different disciplines work together, not in silos, which is why when you engage us with a project for Cord, you’ll get all three of us working on it.
We want to work with brands and agencies that are looking to bring a more nimble and unique approach to solving their challenges, so if this is you, feel free to give me a shout and we can grab a coffee and have a chat about it.
If you’ve never seen The Big Short, then I highly recommend you watch it. (It’s on Netflix). Other than incredible performances from Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale, it provides a unique look into the chain of events that led to the monumental clusterfuck that was the 2008 global financial crisis.
Unlike some docu-movies that attempt to dramatise real-life events but end up skimming over the detail, The Big Short does a brilliant job of bringing the financial complexity to the big screen, treating the viewer with respect in the process. Even if you don’t fully understand what a CDO is by the end, there’s a strong chance you’ll open Google and find out.
The premise of the movie is about how a small group of investors saw what no—one else did in the run up to the financial crisis. That the US housing market was nowhere near as healthy as it was pretending to be. That fraud in the US financial system was rife; from banks, mortgage companies and even credit ratings agencies, the housing market was built on lies.
The film begins with a length narrative from Ryan Gosling, but the best bit is what he ends on, saying:
“These outsiders saw the giant lie at the heart of the economy, and they saw it by doing something the rest of the suckers never thought to do: They looked.”Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) — The Big Short
It’s a pretty simple thing when you think about it; looking at the detail to see the glaringly obvious, but what I love most about it is it’s a brilliant reminder to anyone who works in marketing and advertising.
In this turbo-charged, time-pressured, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world that we live in, throwing yourself into a task, allowing yourself to really get into it, and spending time obsessing over the detail seems like an unattainable luxury. It’s far easier to jump to conclusions, base theories on assumptions, fill in the blanks with conjecture, research passively (or not at all), and create strategies and ideas that aren’t really grounded in anything more than a hunch.
Of course, sometimes hunches pay off and everything comes together as planned, but sometimes they don’t, and this can have catastrophic consequences.
Wouldn’t it be great then, if every bit of work out there had the sort of thinking that comes when you’ve got the time and inclination to throw yourself into the problem. Richard Huntington wrote a brilliant article about what he coined ‘Deep Thinking’ — it’s well-worth a read.
There’s a saying that goes; ‘failing to plan, is planning to fail’. On the whole, it’s something I can categorically say is true — certainly when it comes to marketing and advertising. Because only when you look, really really hard at something, do you give yourself the best possible chance of getting to a really good answer.
I love ice cream. Soft scoop, Mr Whippy, Walls, Ben and Jerry’s, Häagen–Dazs, Kelly’s, Jude’s… the list goes on. In fact, not needing to find an excuse for eating ice cream almost daily is one of my favourite things about Summer.
Unfortunately, I saw an advert that left a bitter after—taste in my mouth:
If the brief was to simply cram as many advertising clichés into a 30 second spot as is humanly possible. then they nailed it:
- Attractive woman seductively eating ice cream – check
- Metaphor for eating ice cream – check
- Position ice cream as some sort of escape from reality – check
- Using the word ‘indulgent’ – check (‘indulge your curiosity’)
I totally get there’s a need to bring product features to life in ways that aim to connect with the viewer, but this advert feels completely at odds with the authenticity people want and expect from brands today.
I’ll leave you with this quote:
Last night, I watched Avicii: True Stories on BBC iPlayer.
Even if you’ve never heard of Tim Bergling (Avicii), or, you have but you don’t like his music, I implore you to watch it. At one-and-a-half hours long, it’s not a quick watch, but it’s an incredibly valuable one for a number of different reasons — the main being it helps you to see the effects of mental health in a way that so few programmes have ever been able to ever do.
I can say this because, like 25% of the population of the UK (16,500,000 people) my mental health has suffered at various points in my life.
It’s a hard thing to write about so publicly — particularly working in the advertising industry where it still feels taboo to talk about mental health for fear of being judged, but to be completely honest, if this helps even one person then for me that’s a good thing.
Avicii: True Stories does what so few have succeeded to do in the past because not only does it show you how mental health can so adversely affect someone’s life, it helps you to begin to really feel what it might be like (unless you’re a complete sociopath).
It succeeds where thousands of images found online that try to convey mental health issues fail. Google ‘depression‘ and click on ‘Images’ and you’ll see what I mean.
Like many of the tired, lazy cliches you see in advertising today, the images on Google couldn’t be further from the truth of what mental health is really like for lots of people suffering from it.
The following image I saw the other day on Instagram was interesting, because it shows how many people suffering from mental health do a brilliant job of internalising it. Yes, it’s not as black and white as this, but it certainly provides a fresh perspective on such a serious issue:
This was especially true of Tim Bergling.
At the time of his death, his net worth was $85 million.
On paper — and from the outside he had it all; fame, fortune, success, travelling the World by private jet, a team of people at his beck and call, and the admiration and adoration of millions of fans.
But when you watch the documentary, you’ll see why the most important thing in your life isn’t material, it’s your mental health. Tim knew it.
Throughout the documentary, he continuously expressed the fact that the expectation and pressure placed on him (by others and by himself), was slowly but surely killing him:
It was really difficult to watch.
On April 20th 2018, aged just 28, Tim tragically passed away, reportedly taking his own life, shocking the world in the process.
Since his death, his family have set up the Tim Bergling Foundation, with the aim of addressing mental health in the music industry. They also released the following statement:
“Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions. An over-achieving perfectionist who travelled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress. When he stopped touring, he wanted to find a balance in life to be happy and be able to do what he loved most – music. He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace. Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself in; he was a sensitive guy who loved his fans but shunned the spotlight. Tim, you will forever be loved and sadly missed. The person you were and your music will keep your memory alive.
We love you,
But the sort of pressure he felt doesn’t just exist in the entertainment industry. It’s rife everywhere — speaking from experience, it certainly exists in the advertising industry.
Whilst it has been shown that parts of the Internet can exacerbate mental health issues, I still believe that on the whole, the Internet is a brilliant thing, and for every negative, there are tens, if not hundreds of positives, and today, the Internet has meant access to the best possible information, support, help and advice has never been better.
From charities like CALM that exist to eradicate suicide in men, to Corporate Gaslighting — a site set up by Rob Campbell to address the effect of systematic abuse from bad management on employees whilst hoping to help those who have been victims of it. Check it out if you haven’t already, because, whether you work in advertising or not, it’s likely you’ve either experienced or witnessed the behaviour the people who have contributed so bravely talk about on there.
So please, try to remember, just because someone looks happy on the outside, doesn’t mean they’re not going through a world of pain on the inside. I’ll leave you with this quote, also pinched from Rob’s blog (why does he have to be so fucking smart):
“If we knew the troubles that weighed on the minds of the people we talk to, we might react to what they say in a very different way”Source
Increasingly, we spend our lives checking, scrolling, updating, scanning, browsing. constantly looking for something that’s going to occupy our attention for a few milliseconds and distract us from our day-to-day.
But for what?
To pass the time?
Alleviate our boredom?
Give us that little dopamine hit the devices we carry around are increasingly designed to give us?
In 2018, Marks and Spencer launched a campaign entitled: ‘Life’s short, so let’s spend it well.‘
Whilst their purpose was about instilling the notion that because life is short you should indulge and enjoy nicer food, i.e. M&S food, I loved the sentiment — because it’s true.
Life is short.
I know this because, (and speaking from personal experience) people close to me have been taken too young – like my friend Charlie from school, who passed away a few years ago.
Life is precious.
I turn 40 in a few weeks.
I own a big house in the country, and I’m lucky enough to own a few nice cars. I have all the things I thought I wanted in life that would make me feel content.
But the truth is, material things don’t make you happy.
They might make you feel good in the short term, but they rarely have lasting appeal.
Unlike the things that really matter. Like friends, and family.
Like my wife; a smart, incredible, wonderful, amazing, beautiful woman.
Like my two amazing, funny, kind, loving and beautiful children; Jake, aged 3, and Millie, aged 1.
Before I had children, I used to wonder why people who did have them, never came to company parties, or stayed out late, or went out drinking at the weekend.
But now I get it.
With the big 4-0 dawning. I get that no amount of material things will ever give me the pleasure that time with my family gives me.
Time doing things that I love doing, with the people I love being with.
When Marks and Spencer launched their campaign, it connected with me in a way so few campaigns ever have done.
Not because it featured amazing looking food (another passion of mine).
It connected with me because of the message.
A message that’s relevant to everyone.
Life is short.
Life is precious.
And because it’s short, you need to do everything within your power, to live it well.