• How To Start Being A Common Brand

    On: February 19, 2015
    In: making, marketing, technology
    Views: 1390

    I finished and presented the “Fanfare for the Common Brand” presentation yesterday, about 150 yards out from the train station. I presented it 45 minutes later. Afterwards, Fraser and I talked about it, what needed to build on, what more should be in there. More examples, suggested Fraser, wisely.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 09.34.27

    Brad similarly challenged me this morning… “the one question I have — and I suspect that you talk about it in the narration — is how companies can do what you want them to do with their products, brands and their customers at scale?”. It echoed something the audience yesterday at Squared asked to… “but, how…?”. And Peter on Twitter asked similar.

    So, with that in mind, and without taking an age, here’s a brain dump on how you can start being a Common Brand, using the three working principles from the end of the presentation:

    Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 09.34.44

    Keep Talking

    – Invite three customers in once a week for lunch with your team
    – Find the earliest customer you can, talk to them about why they believed in you then
    – Find three simple questions about your thing – ask them to everyone
    – Hang out where customers hang out, just watch people using your thing
    – Make everyone in the company meet a customer once a month. Minimum.
    – Solve tricky customer questions face to face. Go and see them. Understand what went wrong.

    Share Everything

    – Write the story of your thing, as reflection. Share with the team. Then make it public.
    – Show things early. Make pictures of your process public.
    – If you can’t do that in your publics comms stream, make up another one.
    – Be interested in other people working in similar space. Say hello. Be nice.
    – Show your working. Some people are interested in how you got there.
    – Show your mistakes. Some people are interested in how you got there too.

    Make It Together

    – Watch people using your thing. Hands tell more stories than mouths.
    – Don’t show them ‘how’. They didn’t use it wrong, you made it wrong.
    – Bring people together to play with your things. Ask them to improve them. Record it publicly.
    – Give credit where credit’s due. More people will come and play.
    – Let people steer your choices, not your existing processes.
    – Prototype the thing that people say “well, you probably wouldn’t do that…” about.


    *Bear in mind, this is a first version of a list written in 20 minutes. I don’t think it’s particularly new or ground-breaking stuff in terms of suggestions, but if you’re asking the question you may not be doing any of it.

    **Some people asked yesterday “have you got any examples of people doing it well?“. Which sometimes annoys me as a question, because it means organisations are making people too afraid to try anything without a precedent. Well, there are loads of easy, quick stuff on the list above that you can try really quickly. Pick one, and do it. Then the example of someone doing this stuff is you.

    ***Here’s the full presentation again, if you want a flick through and the chance to discover the answer to what the true weight of the internet is… (it’s not what you expect…)

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  • Fanfare For The Common Brand

    On: February 18, 2015
    In: marketing, people, technology
    Views: 763

    I’m fresh out of presenting the below for the first time at the latest intake of Squared. For the last two years, I’ve presented various iterations of ‘Are Brands Fracking The Social Web?’, but over the last month or so, I realised that there’s something in the water around the relationship between the brand idea, the execution of it in practice, and what’s happening to the social web.

    So, here we are. A first version of a new thing…

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  • The Intention Gap

    On: February 16, 2015
    In: marketing
    Views: 698

    This morning, I read a great post from Asbury & Asbury on “brand conversations”, which is here.

    Here’s a key excerpt:

    “Brands have been talking about having conversations for years, mainly since social media came along and made such a two-way exchange theoretically possible. No longer would marketing be about shouting to the masses through 48-sheets and big TV spots. Now it would be about hosting a conversation, with everyone passionately acting as your brand advocate through the simple process of joining and sharing the conversation.

    Of course, nowhere on the planet has this happened. For a taste of true brand conversations, look at the Twitter feed of any major service brand – a never-ending stream of apologetic answers to customer complaints, punctuated by the odd, hopeful brand message from central marketing.”

    Whilst I have to disagree with a statement such as “nowhere on the planet has this happened“, we can probably use invoke one of the tools from Dan Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking, Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.

    As such, the main thrust of the A&A post still stands; the majority of social media activity is terrible. Phil points out as much here, too.

    I wondered if, rather than looking at this on a micro level, we should look at it on the macro level.

    What the sheer volume of social media activity from all brands is perhaps doing is turn the ‘two-way exchange’ into an expectation for people. We are now so used to being encouraged and asked into conversations that we’re reaching the conclusion that the way to talk to any brand is through a public social network.

    Which is full of difficulties, which I’ll get into later, but overall, social media has been a Pandora’s Box for the idea of two-way communication.

    Once people have it in their head that you can talk back to some brands, the expectation is that it should be true for all brands. There’s no going back now. The people view the products and services around them, and what to do when they fail expectations, has changed permanently.


    A short diversion, to look at this from anther angle.

    This is a quick test of an idea, in preparation for my rewrite* of the “Are Brands Fracking The Social Web?” presentation I’m giving on Wednesday for the first time at Squared. This particular element is still forming, so YMMV.

    As I mentioned, I’ve been reading Dan Dennett’s aforementioned Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking.

    One of the tools he describes is something called The Intentional Stance, which is one of three stances a person can take when predicting the performance of the thing in front of them.

    In ascending order…

    1. The Physical Stance is the one you take when predicting the behaviour of things that are “neither alive nor artefacts” – we use only our understanding of the natural physical world and how things behave accordingly in contemplating them. How gravity works upon a stone, or how wind works upon the surface of water.

    2. The Design Stance is when you take an object and predict what it does by the cues that it contains. Dennett’s example is an alarm clock. If you see something that fits into the category ‘alarm clock’ in your head, you can reason that there’s a few buttons you can push on the back to make it ring at a certain time (this made me think of the ‘archetypes’ than Dejan Sudjic talked about in The Language of Things). The object itself (if well designed) helps us predict how to use it.

    3. The Intentional Stance, which Dennett references as a subspecies of The Design Stance, means that you treat the thing as an agent of sorts, “with beliefs and desires and enough rationality to do what it ought to do given those beliefs and desires” – “The intentional stance is the strategy of interpreting the behaviour of an entity (person, animal, artifact or whatever) by treating it as if it were a rational agent who governed its “choice” of “action” by a “consideration” of its “beliefs” and “desires”.”

    These stances are a good user-centric way of imagining who people see your brand.

    My own working shorthand for the three is…

    The Physical Stance – Basic Things Should Act As Expected.

    The Design Stance – Designed Things Should Act As Created.

    The Intentional Stance – Representative Things Should Act As Instructed.

    I’m still playing with language, but the space between the last two is the interesting bit for me here when unpicking some of the implications that social has for brands.


    If you take the general brand proposition at face value, it’s always seen itself as delivering value at the level of The Intentional Stance. These were not just mere products cranked out of a factory, these were the representatives of the “beliefs and desires” of the company who made them, with “enough rationality to do what it ought to do given those beliefs and desires“.

    That’s why brands were seen as valuable things; they differentiated you from every other product which people would interpret at The Design Stance level, where everything did the same thing for people (a chocolate bar would work like a chocolate bar, but a Cadbury’s bar was a bit more special; an alarm clock would work like an alarm clock, though a Braun one would work and look better than others).

    However, whereas once having people evaluate your thing using The Intentional Stance meant just broadcasting adverts at them, it now means something different.

    If this thing in front of me is an agent of your beliefs and desires, then it’s now an offer to engage with you on those terms. It’s not a one-way transmission of what you consider your brand to be. You’ve sold me a living, breathing emissary of your beliefs, with a walkie-talkie built-in so that we can talk about it. You instructed it (and indeed, may still instruct it**) to act like this. So we should talk.

    The great social media promise was, of course, that I’d love your product, and would want to share, publicly, in my support of those beliefs and desires. Yet much more often, the product realty fails to live up to the brand promise.

    If you really believe that personal banking is so important, then why does your system fail so spectacularly in delivering personal banking? Why are your burgers not even the third best on the high street? Why doesn’t your beer taste of anything? Why did you change the chocolate in the eggs we all liked? 

    Social media has increasingly become the space to resolve contradictions between the claimed beliefs of a brand, and the functional reality of using its products and services. It is the space between how you’re judged from The Design Stance and The Intentional Stance.

    As a working title, I’ve called it The Intention Gap – the distance between the promise and the reality

    Intention Gap

    And whereas once upon a time, it wasn’t really that much of a problem (as Russell pointed out last year when talking about parity products), it now matters a lot more, because the gap is a black hole, with a gravitation pull for social commentary.

    The bigger the gap, the greater the gravity, and the more it will pull in comments saying “wait, no, this is a rubbish thing, don’t waste your time”. The more your product or service fails in meeting inflated expectations, the more you can expect “a never-ending stream of apologetic answers to customer complaints, punctuated by the odd, hopeful brand message from central marketing”.

    I’ll keep nudging and prodding this idea, obviously, but it already raises interesting questions to ask. What happens to brands who can’t afford to bring the product quality up to the general expectation at the same price point? Are they happy to trade current margin for future existence? How easy is it for new market entrants, who’re setting the running on product quality, to scale up to rival existing brands? And what sort of questions must you ask to establish what sort of Intention Gap you might be looking at?

    There’s one thing worth trying to establish a firmer viewpoint on for Wednesday though; with mainstream social networks erring towards becoming platforms for brand broadcast, will the social activity which seems so tricky for many brands disappear? Or is it just going to shift elsewhere less visible and manageable spaces for brands to see?



    * I’ve given the talk eight times across the last two years, each with gradual updates and evidence plucked from the maelstrom as it passes by. This is the first time I’ve fundamentally rewritten it, because of two things.

    Firstly, one of the participants said at the end of the course in November something interesting – “When you gave the talk in the first week, I thought it was the worst we’d had. By the end of the course, I thought it was the best.” User feedback like that is really useful – it made me think about what I was trying to achieve across the six weeks, rather than just in the ninety minutes.

    Secondly, it feels like we’re getting close to an answer: Are Brands Fracking The Social Web? Yes, quite possibly

    **This idea of products as agents gets really interesting when we start seeing more and more things that arrive in our homes that are constantly instructed on how to behave, be it intentionally or unintentionally. Samsung’s TVs that are listening to you, for instance…


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  • The Certainty of Delivery

    On: February 12, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 784

    Notes from the anecdata – posting things is getting bigger this year.

    For instance, recently I’ve had three brilliant, lovely, thoughtful things in the post, from Hugh, Anj and Curtis & Emily at Fieldwork respectively.

    P1010239 P1010241 P1010240

    Friends reaching out to connect, to say hi, yes, but also with a thing to do.

    The old Royal Mail slogan… I Saw This, And Thought Of You.

    Well, actually, all three are a bit more “I Made This, And Wanted You To Have One”. The point stands though.

    For a while, perhaps we all stopped sending either of the two. Because we could grab pictures and videos and snippets of conversation of whatever it was we saw, and drop them in to the mighty social stream, where we knew everyone would see them… “I’ve Found This, And Thought Of You All”.

    There was a promise of delivery from our social networks. Post this up here, and your friends will see it. That’s kind of fallen by the wayside. You post things up, and people might see them, maybe, if you’re lucky. Or if they really, really look. Though that wasn’t the promise when we signed up.


    When we find things, or make things, and send those things somewhere, there’s an expectation of delivery. An expectation that someone at the other end would want to receive it, so we should be able to make sure they get it.

    Maybe that’s why we’ve seen a return to email newsletters and podcasts, to posting letters and making things. There’s a certainty of delivery about them. People will get what we send. We’re not really sure whether the social network stuff we post is going to go any more, whether it’ll reach any of the people we want it to reach. Listen to conversations nowadays; there’s invariably an exchange where people ask “did you see the thing I posted..?”

    People always thought it would be the social bit that broke first. It turns out that they might fail as networks first.


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  • Froebel’s Gifts for The Internet

    On: February 11, 2015
    In: artefactcards, making, material culture, rivetings, technology
    Views: 540

    Over the past few days, after John first introduced the topic to me last week, I have been looking in to Froebel’s Gifts. For those of you who are unaware of Froebel’s gifts, they are a series of playthings for kids that are widely considered to be the world’s first educational toys.



    The gifts, created by Friedrich Froebel, were introduced in 1838 at a similar time to when Froebel coined the term and opened the first Kindergarten. They appear deceptively simple but represent a sophisticated approach to child development. The six original gifts were accompanied by a series of “Occupations” such as sewing, gardening, singing and the modelling with clay, which were designed to help children mimic their experiences through play.

    The idea of these gifts and occupations did spark a thought with us over here at Smithery. What would Froebel’s gifts be if you were designing them today, to help people grasp the idea of the Internet? Can you easily translate the physical lessons from 1838 over to the digital age? This translation is something I have struggled with in the past, as my brain works towards predominantly physical solutions for things.

    Some of the lessons Froebel was trying to introduce included:

    i) The idea of learning through “focused play”

    ii) Seeing the interconnectedness of all creation.

    iii) The importance of knowing how information fits together, rather than memorising facts themselves.

    The last two lessons really stand out to really lending themselves to understanding the internet. Obviously the world is becoming more and more interconnected, and more recently the emergence of the Internet of Things will accelerate this. But also I like the idea of helping people develop a powerful skill; to be able to use the internet well without needing to be an expert in any of its particular disciplines. A way of closing the gap between amateurs and experts perhaps, or at the very least create common ground for dialogue between the two.

    So we’re setting ourselves a task; what would Froebel’s gifts and occupations be for a digital world? We’ll have a little play around, with the Artefact Cards which exist already, and some other ideas we’ve been playing with.

    And maybe, just maybe, we will try to create a collection of gifts to go along with one of our new years resolutions about producing more, and set up a subscription service for people to receive them.

    We have some starter questions that need answered; if you can think of any more helpful ones, please do drop them into the comments below.

    What would the internet look and feel like in your hands?

    What would Froebel’s occupations be to enhance education for the internet age?

    What’s the metaphor or analogy that helps you understand what the internet is?

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  • New Old American Burger

    On: February 6, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 336

    Saw this shop being refitted. Nostalgic reconditioning, the endless recycling of something old to be new again, means I don’t know if the old shop was called New American Burger, or the new one will be.

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  • The Layers of the Book Matrix

    On: February 1, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 618

    I’ve been playing with the Book Matrix. It might make sense to order the levels now by the complexity with which they deal, the time it takes to action things. At the bottom, the things you can pick up, and use that day. Habits. Playful things. Bite-sized things.

    Then up through the layers. The routines of good weekly practice. The items of month long progression of ideas. The annual changes of company culture. And the lifetime long works, the things that tell us all who we might be in fifty years.

    I haven’t sorted the left-right axis, I don’t know whether, in this new framework, the Book Matrix works like that.

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  • Blacksmiths Make Their Own Tools

    On: February 1, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 504

    From Dan Dennett’s “Intuition Pumps and other Tools For Thinking”

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  • Maybe Marketing Won

    On: January 29, 2015
    In: marketing, rivetings
    Views: 618

    Two things in twenty-four hours have made me consolidate a thought I’ve been playing with on and off for a year or so. It’s about Marketing and the fabled 4Ps; Product, Price, Place & Promotion.

    First thing.

    This morning, another cracking post from Dave Trott. Read it all, but the payoff is…

    “…by ignoring everything except the brand again, the experts got themselves in worse trouble.

    But surely these were “marketing experts”.

    Isn’t pricing and distribution part of what a marketing expert does?

    Ensuring the pricing and distribution of the product is right?

    Apparently not.”

    Second thing.

    Yesterday I had an excellent extended coffee with Brad Berens, and he picked me up on something I hadn’t thought of – I used the word ‘brand’ to describe everything that a company does (I was talking about the “tone-of-action” thing again). Brad’s point was this; it’s not that it’s wrong, in a classic marketing definition of the 4Ps, to use this as a framework for thinking. But as soon as you use the word ‘brand’, the CEO, and the CFO, glaze over. They pigeonhole it. You’re now talking about the thing that someone further down the food chain has to bother with.

    Oh, actually, third thing.

    Andy Budd and I have this really interesting, ongoing conversation about “marketing people” versus “product people”. The shorthand is that Andy’s position (in as far as I can talk for him, apologies Andy if I have it wrong) could be paraphrased by this Dilbert cartoon:

    Engineers Built Everything That Matters - Dilbert by Scott Adams

    I’ll leave a gap here for Andy to clarify better than that if he has a chance:


    My point in this is that, defined and structured properly, Marketing includes the product. What Andy’s talking about is just the promotion bit. But then, upon reflection, Andy’s living in reality, and I’m describing a utopian position.

    Marketing, the classic marketing, the stuff Stephen King wrote of in his brilliant late-career rant “Has Marketing Failed Or Was It Never Really Tried?“, is further away from being a reality than ever.

    But why?

    Well, maybe, just maybe, Marketing won.

    It demonstrated the fundamental importance of the 4Ps to organisations.

    Maybe the conversation went like this…

    “Product” said Marketing “is fundamentally important; ‘Making Things People Want’, and all that.”

    “You’re totally right” said the Business. “Tell you what, now that you’ve got us started, let’s get some real experts to push this to the next level. People who really understand our customers, our capabilities, the qualities we can deliver in the products and services we produce. They can take this from here.”

    “Well” said Marketing, “you’ve got to think about Price too, that’s really crucial to get right.”

    “Right you are” said the Business. “We know some really clever folks, experts in statistical modelling and price setting and with PHDs in Behavioural Economics and all sorts. They should probably do this, don’t you think?”

    “Yeah, alright” said Marketing. “We’ll get on with thinking about Place then, and how we ensure availability for customers.”

    “Actually” said the Business, “this is a specialist art, we think. It’s about building business relationships, personal relationships, with all the wholesalers and strategic partners. We’ll get a proper team on this.”

    “Oh, ok then” said Marketing. “I guess we’ll just do the Promotion bit then.”

    “Mmm” said the Business, not really listening anymore.


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  • Fighting Fires or Lighting Fires?

    On: January 27, 2015
    In: culture, people
    Views: 884

    This flew by my eyes yesterday (HT Mark Storm)

    fightong vs lighting

    The bit I’m most drawn to is the pithiness of definition – it’s by Kenneth Mikkelsen:

    If Management is about Fighting Fires, Leadership is about Lighting Fires

    It’s so easy to get drawn into fighting fires. The machinations of the organisation around us make it easier for you get involved in the urgent thing that must be solved. It sucks the time, the energy, the impetus to do anything but focus on the problem at hand.

    But if you work that way, if you battle to extinguish every fire in the business, it’s probably at the moment just after you put out the last one that you realise there’s no more fires to be fought, because the company has run out of things to burn. There’s nothing left to do.

    Remember to light more fires, folks.


    Of course, I have a track record in natty turns of phrases involving firey metaphors. I never use that one at all anymore, but somewhat unbelievably it’s five and a half years old. Where did the time go, eh?

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