The Purpose Of Collecting Data

Data collection shouldn’t simply be about looking for proof or testing your assumptions. Your questions are not always about collating the right answers, often they are about finding out who the right people are.

The idea isn’t just to get the data, it’s to understand the people who want to be understood. That way you can focus your efforts on taking the people who have raised their hand with you. Then and only then can you say okay this is where we need to go.

Image by Polo Jimenez.

Valuable Things We Ignore In The Quest For Growth

One of the first words a baby learns to say is ‘more’. They learn very early on that this one word is the shortest route to getting what they want. Every three year old knows that two cupcakes are better than one.

It’s no surprise then that this lesson stays with us through life and that we take it into our businesses. We condition ourselves to believe that more followers, more leads and more customers are the key to success.

Growth doesn’t necessarily mean you are growing. If you attract the wrong customers, increase profits at the expense of staff morale, cannot deliver on your promises or create the impact that you’d hoped, are you any further ahead? So when you target growth it pays to think hard about the metric of more and consider a more holistic definition.

Could the best growth strategy for your business be to make the biggest difference to fewer people?

Image by Jessica Lucia.

3 Questions To Help Your Business Evolve With Your Customers

The sign next to the juice bar announces that waiting is over. “Don’t Line UP. Order on our app.” No interruption to your day required.

Have you noticed how waiting has gone out of fashion and the slew of products, apps, services and shortcuts that have come to market which are designed to give us back our time?

It’s not just styles that come and go. Cultural shifts and changing expectations mean our customers evolve too. It’s our job to notice the changes, then to understand the wants and needs that might stem from them as a result—perhaps even before they are articulated.


1. What are your customers doing?
2. What’s stopping them doing what they want to do?
3. How can you help them to do more of that they want to do or less of what they don’t?

Creating something people want is a lot easier (and cheaper) than trying to make them want something. The trick is understanding the future your customers will want to inhabit, sometimes better than they understand it themselves.

Image by drp.

Taking Your Place In The Difference Economy

Whole Foods launched it’s first national and TV marketing campaign in 35 years on the back of losing 30% of its value in just six months. The company has been losing market share to chains like Walmart who are now stocking once hard to find sustainable and organic produce and selling it cheaper.

There are four massive challenges facing every business today no matter their size or legacy—challenges they didn’t have to consider 30 (or even 10) years ago. They are:


Faced with unlimited choices savvy customers are becoming more discerning and more companies are happy to respond to their wants.

Companies like Whole Foods, Panera, Patagonia and more recently Warby Parker, Chobani, TOMS, Alima Pure and Harry’s have made values part of the foundation of their business. Standing for something has been something they built into their company’s DNA from day one.

And yet despite that Whole Foods is finding that as competitors respond to demand from an increasing number of conscious consumers, their market share is being eroded. They are now cutting prices and tripling their marketing budget in order to woo customers back and attract new ones and discovering that just because they were pioneers of the ‘sustainable food movement’ it doesn’t mean that they will be the last ones standing. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t see this coming or ask the question what’s our difference—our real advantage? What would happen if Walmart started stocking organic Kale tomorrow? It turns out that their advantage wasn’t just what they stocked on those shelves or how it was displayed.

When Jonathan Ive talks about what goes into the design of Apple products he doesn’t speak about values. He talks about how the user can sense the level of care that’s gone into creating those products. Values are felt. Fairness is shown and sensed. I guess Whole Foods customers will be questioning how prices can suddenly come down when they vote with their feet because they believed they were paying more for those values.

Yes, values matter more than ever in a world where people know and care about how things are made and how far they travelled to reach their plates, but their impact isn’t keenly felt in a video or poster that tries to start a conversation with everyone.

Showing is more powerful than telling. It’s not as simple as throwing more money at traditional marketing in order to increase awareness. It’s about digging deeper and understanding why people would cross the road to Walmart now that they stock coconut oil and quinoa. More importantly it’s about doubling down to better understand and serve the people who don’t cross the road.
Affinity first, awareness second should be the goal of every brand now. It’s a lot easier to say “look at us”, than it is to say “we see you”, to your customers.

Image by Mil Roesen.

Getting Your Message ‘Out There’

When I was fifteen it cost fifty pence to go a see U2 play live to a tiny audience in the function room of the Rathfarnham Inn. A group of girls from my school who were die hard fans and too young to get into a pub at night applied three layers of eyeliner, half a can of hairspray and bluffed their way in every week. Of course once the word was ‘out there’ and U2 became the next big thing the fifty pence gigs came to an end before I was old enough to go. They are still my heroes.

‘Out there’ is a place most companies, entrepreneurs and artists want to get to. Getting the word out becomes a preoccupation. Everyone knowing about your thing becomes the goal. This might partly explain why U2 in partnership with Apple tried to give away their new album to 500 million iTunes users who had never asked for it. Sadly the noise from those who resented the interruption and didn’t want the album, drowned out the voices of the people like me who were delighted. It turns out that no matter how big you are permission is not just a nice to have, it’s mandatory for marketers now. Here’s what lead singer Bono had to say in an apology last week:

“There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

It might have been easier thirty ears ago to rise above the noise, but no matter how far we’ve come or who you are the strategy for being successful is still the same.

  • Make something great, which by definition won’t be something for everyone.
  • Speak directly to the people who want to hear from you, which means you have to know who your right customers are.

Ironically this is exactly what U2 were the masters of even when they were just starting out.

What’s more effective than getting your message out to everyone is drawing your right customers in and giving them a story to tell. There is no shortcut to mattering more.

Image by Phil Romans.

The Best Marketing In The World

It’s easy to know why the features you built into your products and services are important, but it takes a particular skill to understand and communicate why they should matter to people.

The best marketing in the world doesn’t remind people how great the company is or how many features have been added to the product. The best marketing reminds people how great they are.

Image by Mikael Wiman.

How Everything Truly Great Is Inspired

This is the story of a trap we all fall into. Every single entrepreneur or creator without exception is thrown off course by following a similar pattern. It doesn’t matter if you are on the board of a Fortune 500 or a designer trying to get her blog off the ground. The same struggle happens at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.

You’re about to start a project, set up shop, begin blogging, develop a breakthrough product—what’s the first thing you do? You begin looking for inspiration and the first place you look to is your competitors—the people and companies you believe have everything worked out.

But sometimes you forget to stop looking and start doing. You begin to draw on their experience neglecting to build on it by using your own. You subconsciously focus on how hard it’s going to be to catch up, instead of intentionally learning from what they forgot. Their voice, purpose and way of showing up in the world gets louder and grows bigger, while yours seems quieter and smaller, until eventually it’s so muffled that you can’t find it at all. This is the point where some people stop showing up because they don’t gain the traction they had hoped for as a pale imitation of a competitor, influencer or market leader.

The people who stick with it know that there is a place where truly great ideas, writing, design, products, services, platforms and innovations are born, if only we would allow ourselves to tap into them sooner and more often. Everything truly great is inspired by our own stories and experiences—our unique worldviews.

I know for sure that as soon as I began putting more of my own experiences into my writing it got better. So what? Maybe you couldn’t care less about writing? You might want to be CTO of a global corporation, or CEO of the best company in the world? So this is where I draw out my trump card (and everyone else’s too). If we know anything about how Apple succeeded under Steve Jobs we know that he, as my friend James Victore would say, “had an opinion and put it in the work.” He drew inspiration from what he lived and saw other people living, not from what he saw another company do. The following passage from his Stanford Commencement address is worth revisiting.

“And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.

Of course everyone knows that Apple is the exception to every rule of success. There’s only one Apple after all and perhaps the same conclusions can’t be drawn in the industry you work in? Except that the Airbnb guys experienced the pain of not making rent, so they started a company unintentionally by renting out the extra space in their apartment. And Mark Zuckerberg created a platform for people like him, without quite realising how lonely the rest of the world was too. Then Dave Gilboa, Co Founder of Warby Parker lost a $700 pair of glasses he couldn’t afford to replace and it got him thinking about why glasses cost as much as an iPhone. The same rules applied in the pre-digital world of Adi Dassler—yes, Adidas got its name from the founder who learned how to make shoes by watching his father who was a cobbler. As an athlete Adi also came to realise that the right equipment could enhance human performance. He went on to design football boots that helped Germany to win the 1954 World Cup and athletic shoes that were responsible for enabling the gold medal winning performances of Jesse Owens and Dick Fosbury.

This isn’t just true in the world of product innovation. Great works or art, design, graffiti and literature from Banksy to Brontë are all inspired by lived experiences or drawn from within.

Your inspiration is all around you in your day to day. Your advantage probably already exists.
You’re just not looking there. Yet.

Image by carnagenyc.

The Meaning Business

In the past most businesses gained competitive advantage from size, scale or dominance. Whoever the biggest marketing budget and could sell the most stuff won. Success was more about what you did and much less about the way that you did it. But today it’s the way that you go about your business and how you enable people to attach meaning to your brand (soloist or Fortune 100 included) that matters.

It’s a lot easier of course to say that you’re an author, photographer or investment advisor. It’s much simpler to describe your company as being in user experience, the technology business or the transportation industry—the ‘this is what we do’ part. But what you make probably isn’t enough to create an advantage for you in today’s marketplace. Products and services without meaning are just replaceable commodities.

When you think of beloved brands like the most popular cafe in your area, what one word immediately springs to mind? Perhaps it’s consistency or community? It’s probably not coffee. Apple is immediately design. Samsung.…er, let me get back to you on that. PayPal is convenience. Your bank is.…probably something that you don’t want me to repeat here. Nancy Duarte is resonate, Simon Sinek, why. This word association seems even more powerful when you flip it the other way. Which market leader comes to mind when you think of tribes, the blue box, a tick?

If you asked the same question of your customers would they be able to shoot a word back at you without hesitation? What word would that be? If the answer is ‘no’ and it’s not the word you were hoping for then go change something. You get to choose what your work stands for and the meaning it creates.

It turns out that there isn’t room for more than one blue box in a category.
’The way’ matters far more than we realise.

Image by Mairwen.

How To Communicate Your Difference

There is a place where many entrepreneurs, (maybe you) and even global corporations who look like they have got it all together, (maybe yours), get stuck when trying to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. They hit a wall when they begin to articulate what’s unique about what they do and why it should matter to their customers. The reason they get stuck is because they’re starting in the wrong place—by trying to find the words before they work on the understanding.

Difference doesn’t manifest in well-crafted descriptions, value propositions and vision statements that live in A4 files or posters in the sales department. Differentiation isn’t just described or articulated, it’s perceived and felt.

Re-arranging the words that describe you isn’t going to get you to where you want to go.
You need to dig deeper.

And sometimes even when we do know what makes us different we are afraid to own and communicate it. We’re afraid to stand out for being good at that thing that we’re good at, in the precise way that we are good, just in case that’s not enough for everyone. We get scared about putting hearts on business book covers or we worry that choosing to be small on purpose makes us less, when it probably makes us more (maybe even the best driving school in Perth).

The irony is that not being enough for everyone means you’re exactly right for the people who matter. Separating yourself from the pack starts by knowing what you’re proud to stand for and owning it. Once you do that the words will come.

Image by oddharmonic.

Showing Up For Humans, Not Just For Google

I want to send some flowers to a friend a few suburbs away, of course I could deliver them myself, but there is something magical about the unexpected arrival of flowers that means I want to have them delivered. And so I turn to Google.

After 20 minutes I find myself on page ten feeling like I have viewed 56,000 of the 57,000 results. Who gets to page ten without finding what they are looking for? I never get to page ten! But all of the florists are the same—at least that’s how they look and sound on Google—see. The formulaic bouquets look like they were assembled in a factory to spec. The frustrating thing is that I know every florist is not the same and I’m trying to find the one that’s had the courage to say we’re not like everyone else.

I want to believe that someone who cared got up before dawn, so he could reach the flower market in time to get his pick of the best blooms on sale today. I imagine him back in his workroom carefully trimming each stem and examining each petal. I conjure up an image of how he assembles every bouquet, choosing each flower on purpose so that no two bunches look alike. And it matters that he cares enough to know that he’s not just delivering flowers today, but that he’s enabling connections between friends or soothing quarrels between lovers.

Whatever you sell or serve if you go to the trouble and expense to be found then don’t make yourself invisible to the person who matters.

Image by Robin Giese.

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