It’s B2B, Jim – but not as we know it

B2B is currently experiencing a transformation of two parts: A reaction to the wider-global context, but equally, new attention and investment from inside and outside the industry. Whether you work for a B2B brand or not, perhaps it’s time to start paying attention because there’s a strong chance the work that’s going to start being recognised as the best has some little (or big) B2B brand behind it.

Link to the original article on The Marketing Society website below:

The power of reinvention

You could argue the secret to Mario’s success is simply down to the quality of the games he has featured in, or the advertising that’s run over the past four decades. While these are clearly relevant factors, there’s one more striking, more important factor at play: reinvention.

Of all the games manufacturers, Nintendo has continually looked at ways to reinvent itself by both innovating and tapping into wider-culture.

They got it their way

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.

It’s life, Jim, but not as we thought we knew it

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.

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world

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 leap into the unknown

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.

There is no fate but what we make for ourselves

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.