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The Simple (Not Easy) Strategy For Business Growth

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

When we think about business development opportunities, we mostly begin by knowing exactly where we are today and what goals we want to reach next. From there we set out to widen our net and acquire more customers or users for our existing products and services. Our growth strategy starts with the need to expand our customer base in pursuit of the targets we set.

If Steve Jobs had stuck with only this kind growth strategy, the iPhone wouldn’t exist. What he did instead of simply casting the net wider was connect the dots between Apple’s capabilities and where the customer would want to go next—even before the customer knew himself.

Net widening is a fine growth strategy, but it’s also one your competitors are likely adopting—which means whoever gets new customers faster (perhaps by being cheaper) will come out on top. There is an alternative.

We can create long-term value for our companies by understanding where the customer is today and where they want to go next. The path to growth doesn’t always mean having a bigger net. Often it’s about taking the time to consider if a net is the best tool for the job.

Image by Hasin Hayder.

More Vs. Deeper

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

On the surface of it, the all-you-can-eat buffet seems like a generous bargain. Why is it then that we walk away having had our fill without feeling satisfied? The truth is we know that far from being generous the offer of ‘more’ is a tactic to get the most people through the door. We understand the restaurant owner is hoping we come with small appetites and leave early.

Contrast the all-you-can-eat experience with that of the performer who must somehow find a way to deliver value to a stadium of 75,000 fans, most of whom she can’t reach or look in the eye. Singing one more song at the end of her set is unlikely to create the connection she hopes to make with each person. Her only option is to find ways to go deeper.

So she shares intimate stories of her journey from support act to superstar. She acknowledges the unique attributes of the city she’s performing in. She displays unpublished images from her childhood on the big screen. And she makes tiny handwritten love notes that are photocopied and turned into a mid-performance shower of confetti—souvenirs for her fans to keep.

We mistakenly believe that value creation is about delivering more for less when in many cases what delights our customers is more of less.

How can you give more by going deeper?

Image by Jackson Lavarnway.

The Limitations Of What We Measure

filed in Success

A friend recently posted a photo on social media of a star chart pinned up in her son’s classroom for all to see. You will have come across one of these before. Maybe the one you remember had your name clearly written in neat handwriting on the left alongside a blank column to the right, where your stars, once earned, would go.

There was a predictable distribution of stars on the chart in the photo—nothing unusual amongst an average population of 7 year-olds. Most had earned two or three stars. One boy was streaking ahead with six. Then there was Ethan without a single star to his name. There’s always an Ethan.

Everybody, including Ethan, knows he’s at the bottom of the star getting pile. Nobody, including Ethan, knows why. Starless, Ethan now bears the label of ‘the naughty one’ because he can’t seem to get to grips with performing at the star-worthy things that can somehow be easily measured.

And so it goes in business—where all success is defined by what it’s easy to put a number on. Revenue, sales, profits, growth, footfall, impressions, open rates, page views and likes—all the things that fit neatly on a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets, like star charts, don’t lie, they just don’t tell the whole story about the intentions we have, the effort we made, the impact of our work and the difference we will have over time—not just this term or this quarter.

The people with the most gold stars don’t always win. And sometimes they lose. Because they are so busy reaching for stars to stick, they forget to look up at the brightest ones, too numerous and too far off in the galaxy to count.

Inage by Jeffrey.

Why You Need To Build A Story-Driven Business

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

What drives our desire to get better at telling the story of our products, services and companies? We’re used to thinking of story as a way to create and communicate value. We know the running shoe with a tick on the side is more valuable than the one without because of the expectations and meaning we have attached to the story of the Nike brand. And who doesn’t want their company to be more meaningful and valuable?

What we really want from our story, though, goes beyond the need to be better known, sell more stuff or make more money. We are yearning for a deeper understanding of what we’re here to do and the difference it might be possible to create. The story, not of what is, but what’s at stake and what could be is what drives our desire to succeed.

The most inspired entrepreneurs and successful organisations know how important and powerful understanding the significance of your story can be. What drives Elon Musk, for example, is not building more cars for the sake of selling more cars. Tesla Motors and SolarCity (the energy company Musk is Chairman of) exist to ‘accelerate the advent of sustainable energy’.

If someone were to ask you to tell them the story of your business you’d likely explain what you make, who you serve, where and how long you’ve been doing it. It’s unlikely you’d begin by telling them why any of it matters in the grand scheme of things (even though it does). What’s at the heart of your story? What’s the reason you got out of bed this morning? It isn’t just pride in the product you made, the need to launch the website you coded or the hope of selling the service you designed. It’s the deep desire to change someone or something you care about changing and the belief that it’s possible.

The intended impact of your work on the world and in the lives of the people it touches is where your story begins.

Elon Musk knows what he’s setting out to do over the next ten years because he and his companies are built on a story-driven business framework. Their vision of a sustainable energy economy which helps to avert the collapse of civilisation is the reason they are setting out to;
‘Create stunning solar roofs with integrated battery storage, expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments, develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual and enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.’


1. PURPOSE: Why we exist.
2. VISION: Where we’re headed.
3. VALUES: The beliefs that guide us on that journey.
4. PLAN: How we will deliver on the vision while staying true to our values.

When your business or organisation is story-driven, it’s grounded in a framework of purpose, vision and values that inspire commitment, create momentum and lead to a solid plan for achieving success. This enables you to adapt in times of change because you understand that your story is bigger than the scene that’s playing out in the moment.

What’s driving your story?

Image by NRMA

You WILL Have Unhappy Customers

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

Unhappy customers are a bit of an Achilles heel of the committed entrepreneur, business owner or leader. When you’re working hard to build a business and do meaningful work the last thing you want to hear is that you haven’t met the mark. You can find thousands of practical, stay calm, listen, sympathise, don’t take it personally and solve the problem type articles and advice online. But skillfully dealing with the complaint isn’t the hard part. The more challenging thing to cope with and attend to is our visceral reaction to criticism.

The unhappy customer lays his story at our feet, and we hastily pick it up, place it on our shoulders and carry it around with us. Yes, sometimes our products or services fall short, sometimes we get it wrong even when we’re doing our best. We should always apologise for failing to meet expectations and do what we can to resolve the problem. What we must also do is recognise that often the customer’s fear, anger, remorse or disappointment has less to do with a bad experience and more to do with what’s going on in his life right now.

You WILL have unhappy customers, no matter how caring and diligent you are. There is no way to avoid the pain of this fact. That one in a hundred customer who calls you out is the price you pay for the privilege of getting up to do the work again another day.

So yes, take responsibility for your mistakes and fix the things you can fix—while remembering there are some things you have no way of making good. You are not obliged to own the weight of your customer’s circumstances or worldview. You have an obligation to get back on track for the other ninety-nine customers you hope to serve and delight. Some of the greatest lessons unhappy customers can teach us are not about improving systems, processes and logistics, which in the end are easily fixed. The important learnings are about ourselves, and our resilience and determination to do good work and make a difference to the people we get the chance to serve again tomorrow and the day after that.

Image by FFCU.

A Question Of Priorities

filed in Brand Strategy

A priority is defined as something worthy of special attention. We get better at prioritising the things that are most important when we stop to question if our actions align with this definition. Consider the things that unintentionally become a priority in your day, that then go on to form and affect your actions, strategy and results.

What if instead of diving straight into doing the busy work—attending that meeting and responding to those emails we questioned why it was worthy of our special attention in the moment?

Try this. Take a blank sheet of paper and make a note of the thing that’s most important to your business right now. It might be creating new services, staff training, or customer acquisition. Now make a list of the things that are worthy of your special attention to make this a priority. Does what’s on this list align with what’s on today’s to-do list or scheduled in your calendar for this week?

Our stories are shaped by what we choose to do. The magic happens when we are honest about aligning our actions with our priorities.

Image by Marjan Lazarevski.

Why You Need An If-Then Storytelling Strategy

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy

It was a slow Thursday evening at the iconic sportswear store. There were more sales assistants than customers silently wandering through the displays across polished black tiles. Alan decided to approach a customer who had just picked up a premium shoe, turning it over to check out the price.

‘Can I help you?’ he said.
‘No, I’m just looking, thanks.’ she replied.
‘It would be good to get out of those Nikes. Have your tried our SuperBOOST shoes?’ said Alan.
‘No.’ said the customer, as she hastily put the shoe back.
‘They’re really comfortable and last longer.’ Alan said to the customer as she started to walk away.

We would never say half of the things we say or ask many of the questions we ask if we stopped for a second to think how the customer was likely to respond. What if instead of following a script that leads us to a dead end, we anticipated where our questions would lead the customer? We know that 99% of the time the response to, ‘Can I help you?’, will be, ‘No.’ So how can we do better?

An if-then storytelling strategy invites us to be more empathetic towards the customer and more discerning with our questions.

If the customer is browsing for more than a few minutes, then I will ask how I can help.
If the customer is looking at running shoes, then I will ask her what kind of training she does.
If the customer picks up an item, then I will ask her if she’d like to try her size.
If the customer asks for her size, then I will try getting to know more about what she needs from her shoes.

Better brand stories, marketing and sales conversations always start with understanding what unmet need or unspoken desire brought the customer to us, rather than with our need to say something when it’s convenient.

Image by Amira A.

The Relationship Between Metrics And Progress

filed in Brand Strategy, Success

There are many things we can and do measure in our quest for progress. We measure revenue and how many units we sold. We measure footfall and customer conversions. Numbers of followers and how this marketing campaign performed compared to that one. The irony is what looks like progress in the moment does not always lead to long-term results. Progress is often made and sustained by things we can’t or don’t measure.

We don’t measure how the customer felt an hour after she bought the expensive body lotion. We can’t determine the last thought she had before she clicked on the link. We will never know what she hasn’t told us about a bad experience as she leaves the restaurant vowing never to return. We don’t often question how our employees feel at 7 am on Monday morning or the significance of their weary smiles at the end of the week. We forget to question the effect of a toxic organisational culture or unnecessary and unproductive meetings.

On the flipside, we can’t always know the impact our product had on the life of a single customer. We often don’t hear the stories about what happened once the thing we made left the factory or the words that someone needed to hear left our lips. Progress is not always to be found under the spotlight—sometimes it’s hidden in the shadows. We get to choose where we shine the light.

Image by Gina..

Shouting To Be Heard

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

If we want our ideas to be embraced, we have two choices.

We can shout to be heard, or we can listen to understand. When we shout, we’re not even sure who is listening. When we understand we know what the listener is ready to hear next.

We all know which strategy has the best chance of succeeding.

Image by Masayuki Takaku.

The Right Words

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

When we have a message to communicate, we obsess over finding the right words. Which copy will convert better? How can we construct the perfect offer that draws people in?

What we lose in our attempt to optimise the words is the ability to create a deeper more lasting connection with the reader, user or customer. We forget that we’re not just in the business of trying to win a sale today, but that we’re aiming to build a relationship that sustains both the people we hope to serve and ourselves.

Yesterday a note arrived in the letterbox from our wonderful local council. They’re resurfacing the road and repairing the pavement on our street next week, and of course, there will be disruptions. The note addressed to owner/occupier, goes straight into the project details, time frame, parking and access. It ends with a warning that vehicles parked will be towed and an apology for any inconvenience caused. What a missed opportunity not simply to inform, but to deepen connections with people in the community.

The whole tone of the message could be flipped on its head by positioning as something to celebrate.

‘We’re delighted to let you know we’re starting work on improving your street next week. No more potholes! Obviously, this will mean some disruption and inconvenience for a few days, but we hope you’ll think it’s worth it when you cycle down the brand spanking new road. Here’s what you need to know and how you can help.’

What we say might get people’s attention, but how we say it changes not only what they think, but how they feel and act. It’s worth considering how you want people to feel after they’ve read or heard your message, not just about what you want them to do next.

Image by Hans Splinter.