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Ten Things Your Competitors Don’t Do

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing


1. Obsess about how their products and services make customers feel.
2. Help people to ‘buy in’ and belong (not just to buy).
3. Make something that’s not for everyone.
4. Question how they could do it better.
5. Listen twice as much as they talk.
6. Do what they say they will do.
7. Play the long game.
8. Deliberately delight.
9. Practice empathy
10.Care more

It takes disciplined effort to create meaningful value—but it’s worth it.

Image by Yelp Inc.

Why How We Buy Matters

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

Forty years ago when Mr Ryan the greengrocer was thinking about his marketing strategy he didn’t have as much to consider as we do today. His customers were locals. They arrived on foot, only bought what they could carry and shopped every day. It was important to have fresh produce, a ready smile and time to chat and connect. Mr Ryan knew he could often upsell a fresh cream doughnut to Mrs Howard when she came in for a loaf of bread and a quarter pound of ham. In a world before 7-Eleven convenience stores, Mr Ryan didn’t have the challenge of being found. He didn’t have to be more convenient or cheaper. He simply had to open the doors. His marketing strategy was simple. Sell what people are buying when they’re buying it.

Of course, things are very different today. Everything about the business of marketing becomes more nuanced when it’s possible to get a litre of ice cream delivered to your door at midnight, without having cash in your wallet or shoes on your feet. Your customers and clients aren’t as predictable or as transparent as Mr Ryan’s. You have to consider how they buy, not just what and when they buy. You have to go deeper.

How does your customer’s evolving world shape and alter how you do business? How will businesses like yours thrive in the future by meeting not just the wants and needs of customers, but also by understanding their lives, habits and behaviour?

Image by Taylor Herring.

The Patient Marketer

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

The couple are examining winter jackets on a rail in the department store when the sales assistant makes a beeline for them. ‘What size are we looking for?’ he says, helpfully. They explain that they’re just looking, but he continues to follow them around offering assistance. So they excuse themselves and leave.

Marketing works best when we help people to get what they want when they want it. Trust and timing are an essential part of any marketing strategy, and patience is one of the most useful qualities a marketer can cultivate.

Image by Mike Melrose.

What Are Your Customers Looking For?

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

We are sometimes in the dark about what our customers want, so we make assumptions or ask them in the hope of happening upon the truth. There is a third way to get closer to our customers—one we regularly overlook. People’s actions and reactions can reveal more about their internal dialogue than their words. When did you last spend time watching what your customers do?

As an author, I spend an unhealthy amount of time in bookstores. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone take a thick book from the shelf, feel the heft of it in their hand—then put it back. I can almost hear them thinking they’ll never get through it. Sometimes I get chatting to them and ask them what they’re looking for. Most of the time they don’t know.

Try this. Head down to your nearest department store, cafe, gym or wherever your customers are. Then stand back and watch what they do. Are they feeling garments before they check prices? Are they more likely to make a purchase if they’re alone or with someone? Are they looking for something specific? Do they compare prices with online retailers on their smartphone? Do they buy what they came in for? The list of questions, observations and potential insights are endless.

We tend to think of our customers as intentional, rational human beings—which is why we spend a lot of our time marketing to their heads. We make and market better products and services by working harder to get a glimpse of their hearts.

Image by mgstanton.

What Standout Brands Do

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing

Have you ever noticed how a crowd exits a packed venue? Even when there are three exits most people take the middle one. You see this play out in business too. Take a walk through the running shoe department in any sports store, and you’ll find little to differentiate one shoe from another. When one brand starts designing and manufacturing with a new kind of material others follow suit. The same patterns emerge in marketing.

Every brand aspires to be unique, to stand out and create something meaningful—yet when it comes to executing on those aspirations we imitate, dumb down and deviate towards the mediocre mean. We head where everyone else is headed because the uncrowded edges feel risky. In fact, the opposite is true. You stand out when you stand for something— when you go to a place your peers or competitors aren’t prepared to go.

Image by Zoi Koraki.

The Listening Marketer

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

When I was young, Maeve Binchy was one of my favourite writers. She had this knack of creating characters who came alive. You somehow felt the people who owned the shops and arrived late for mass were real, and you knew them. I learned later from listening to interviews with Binchy that they were—at least their conversations were real. Binchy told stories of riding buses every day just to listen to snippets of conversation. On one if these bus journeys she overheard a young woman telling her friend she was going shopping for a silver wedding anniversary card for her parents. The friend marvelled that at the longevity of her parent’s marriage. ‘They’re miserable as sin together,’ she replied. ‘The worse the marriage, the bigger the card.’ That conversation went on to inspire Binchy’s successful book, Silver Wedding. Hearing the author’s story reminded me of the hundreds of missed opportunities we have every day to succeed by paying attention to our customers. It also reminded me again to wonder why so many marketing books have a megaphone on the cover.

The sales assistant in the running shoe store works hard to convince his customer about comfort, quality and price. The customer doesn’t pay attention. When he finally chooses a pair of shoes, his rationale tumbles out. ‘I like these because you can’t get them back home in Manilla,’ he says. Your customers are no different from the guy in the shoe store. They want to be seen.

When you become a listening marketer you don’t have to guess what your customer wants, you already know. The listening marketer understands what’s motivating his customers to choose and what language will encourage them to buy. What the listening marketer does best of all is make and sell things people want because he’s been unselfish in the pursuit of doing work that’s meaningful to the people he cares about serving. If you’re not listening, you’re not marketing. You don’t need a megaphone to matter.

Image by Jeffrey Smith.

Where Does Your Story Start?

filed in Brand Story, Marketing

The easiest part of telling your story is writing it down. The hardest part is knowing what to say and why it’s important for your audience to hear. You must begin by wondering why someone (not everyone), will care about what you’re creating. That very act of questioning forces you to dig deeper and ask what you’re promising to whom. It invites you to get clear about why you wanted to make that particular promise in the first place.

As marketers, we believe it’s our words that create value. But it’s the intention that informs the decisions guiding those words that delights and thus differentiates. Getting clear on that intention is where your story starts.

Image by David Bleasdale.

The Power Of The Constant In A Changing World

filed in Brand Strategy, Innovation

In a commercial world, we’re always trying to predict and keep pace with the future. A bit like a toddler failing to outrun his shadow. It’s a race none of us will ever quite know enough to win. Because we’re focused on the future, naturally we worry about change and disruption, often overlooking what’s constant.

Many innovation missteps are thought to have come about because of a failure to recognise what was coming. I’d argue that they were a result of a failing to look at what’s constant. What every product or service has in common is a customer. While our eyes are firmly fixed on the future we’re building—we often forget to see what’s unchanging in the people we serve. Even in a world of self-driving cars and drone delivered pizza what makes people tick will be the same.

We come unstuck when we ignore what we already know about the world, not by paying attention to what we don’t know.

Image by Mark Lehmkuhler.

Who Do Good Ideas Come From?

filed in Innovation, Success

Everyone knows a good idea is a shortcut to success, profits and growth. Bad ideas lose. Good ideas win. This is why we are obsessed as a culture about where good ideas come from and how to have more of them. As we go in pursuit of a breakthrough idea we turn our gaze outward (but often not very far). We try using new tools and tactics or make changes to our environment in the hope that this will get our creative juices flowing. And then we increasingly look for proof in the data that our idea will work.

What Do All Good Ideas Have In Common?

There’s only one thing that every single idea from a recipe to a rocket has in common—and that’s a creator. Someone with a particular set of attributes who cared enough about solving a problem or creating change to come up with a solution. Why do we devote so many resources to optimising the environment to allow us to have more winning ideas, instead of wondering how we can improve our chances by changing ourselves.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
—Leo Tolstoy

We covet groundbreaking ideas, and we celebrate the people who have them. We believe in superstars and visionaries, in the power of Eureka! moments and special circumstances that set great ideas and their creators apart. Thousands of column inches are devoted to the singular genius of entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely, Richard Branson, John Lasseter, Elon Musk, James Dyson, Anita Roddick and Steve Jobs. Those who see and act on what others miss – the entrepreneurial pioneers who recognise opportunity as a hunch long before the world proclaims it as revolutionary. The supposed exceptions—not the rule.

Dollar Shave Club, the startup that disrupted the men’s grooming industry by selling quality razors direct to consumers at a cheaper price point, didn’t pioneer the invention of the disposable razor, and they weren’t the first company to use an ecommerce platform to reach customers. The CEO Michael Dubin’s role was to make the unexpected connections between the industry’s existing business model and a customer experience that left a lot to be desired – to create a brand that people would trust and become loyal to. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent online social networks. Anita Roddick wasn’t the first to create a skincare company. James Dyson didn’t patent the first vacuum cleaner. Arianna Huffington didn’t launch the first online news website. Someone else was there with the ideas first, but the people we celebrate and want to emulate had an inkling about how to breathe new life into those products by making them meaningful to those who would use them. It’s possible to become that kind of person intentionally.

Those successful entrepreneurs, creatives and innovators—people just like you—who have harnessed their curiosity, empathy and imagination, seeking out opportunities to invent, create and serve. Every day is filled with those opportunities either seized or missed, ours for the taking if only we can learn to listen for them. Every breakthrough idea starts not with knowing for sure but by understanding why it might be important to try.

My new book Hunch: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into The Next Big Thing invites you to learn from the successes of those who have gone before you. It gives you the tools to notice more and to understand how to recognise opportunities others miss and create something the world is waiting for. There are hundreds of books that can help you with the process of making ideas happen. This is the one you need before you get to the execution stage. It’s an invitation to pay attention to your hunches, reawaken skills you’ve neglected or forgotten, and develop new capabilities you need. It’s your guided practice to a new way of seeing the world and embracing your unique potential on the road to uncovering groundbreaking ideas. Intuition alone won’t tell you exactly where ‘X’ marks the spot, but it can give powerful clues as to where you might begin to dig. This is the book you need if you’re ready to begin finding them. You can preorder Hunch using the links below.

Preorder Hunch At These Retailers

Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Book Depository offers free international shipping.

Image by Ashley Rose.

The Value Question

filed in Brand Strategy, Success

What’s the one unanswered question you believe would unlock the most value in your business?

Why does it matter?

How would knowing the answer change your strategy?

Where can you find the information you need?

What’s stopping you?

Image by Derrick Story.