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Proud Work

filed in Brand Strategy, Success

When I was growing up, work was a means to an end for many of the breadwinners in our neighbourhood. Work meant food in the bellies and clothes on the backs of the people you loved. There is both dignity and joy in providing, especially when you’ve gone hungry and shoeless, as my father often did when he was a child. I still remember how proud my dad was when he could afford to pay for me to be fitted with a pair of Clark’s black patent leather shoes.

Today, many of us aspire to do more than only provide. We want to do meaningful work. We want the hours we devote to working to stand for something—to be more than an exchange of time for money. If we are driven to find meaning in our work, then we must be clear about not just what we want to do, but who we want to serve and how we want to go about doing it.

Once money is no longer our only driver, we need to discern what enables us to do our best work, and then to detail what those projects or clients we want to work on and with look like. There is no single right formula—no one-size-fits-all answer. There is only your answer.

I have worked in places where the waitress loved her job more than the CEO loved his. And, where the nursing assistant—the least qualified person on the team, made as much impact on patients as the entire medical and nursing staff put together.

Now more than ever we are responsible for the kind of work we do. And more of us are charged with creating the places and circumstances that enable other people to do work they’re proud of.

As Lewis Caroll said; ‘If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there. ‘Once you do know where you want to go, and why, you can proudly choose the path that’s right for you. When you do the right things the way you want to do them, you’ll be surprised how loud your whispers become.

Image by Russell Davies

What’s On Your ‘Not To Do’ List?

filed in Brand Strategy, Success


Back in 2007, the New York Times called Apple’s decision not to add a mechanical keyboard to the iPhone their billion dollar gamble). That decision worked out pretty well for Apple.

Some of the most successful ideas in the world were born from a conviction about the things the creator, founder or company would not do.

Pixar decided not to make animated musicals.

James Dyson decided not to make vacuum cleaners with bags in them.

Nino and Sisto decided not to expand beyond their single successful café.

What are you gladly forsaking to become the best at what you do?

Image by K.H. Reichert

Easy Does It

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing, Success


Our expectations about the quality of products have increased exponentially with our ability to perfect the things we produce. When quality improves our tolerance for mistakes plummets. Interestingly, the same isn’t true for human interactions. Even though digital technology has enabled degrees of efficiency beyond our wildest dreams our expectations about how people will use it to serve and connect with us have dropped. Product reliability is a given. Great service and emotional intelligence are not.

Now when you respond to an email in good time or simply reply at all, people are blown away. When you take the time to listen to a complaint and acknowledge someone’s feelings, they are not just satisfied, they are delighted. When you go the slightest bit out of your way to resolve someone’s problem, you make a customer for life.

We spend much of our time working on perfecting the hard thing and not enough time doing the easy thing. People want to be seen and heard just as much, if not more, as they want things to work. Helping is both priceless and underrated.

Image by Jessica Lucia

How Much Information Is Enough?

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy


When do we know it’s safe to cross the road? How much information do we need about how far away that truck is and how fast it’s going to decide whether to step off the pavement?

How much information does your customer need before deciding she trusts you?

As people who sell things or ideas, our challenge is twofold. We must understand what information our prospective customers want as well as how much information is enough. All the while remembering that the same information doesn’t work for everyone and we can only ‘know’ with hindsight what messages worked.

Researchers in university departments around the world spend years, sometimes decades, attempting to answer similar questions. Unlike scientists, we don’t have years to discover what’s working. But just like the scientist we must try and test. We must begin with the posture of empathy for the people we want to reach and resonate with. The question about what we should say then becomes about what the person we’re speaking to is ready to hear.

Image by Garry Knight

The Assumptions Checklist

filed in Brand Strategy, Success


Our decisions are rarely based on objective information. And even when we do have ‘good data’, it’s coloured by why, who and how it’s collected. Often our decisions are based on assumptions. We accept something as true, without proof.  We make many of these assumptions with a scarcity mindset. We kill good ideas too soon by assuming there is not enough of this or too much of that to make a difference. And pursue bad ones for similar untested reasons.

We can challenge our assumptions by compiling three lists to answer three simple questions:

A. What assumptions am I making?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..and so on.

B. What if what I’m assuming is not true?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..and so on.

C. How can I test these assumptions?
1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..and so on.

We create a more hopeful set of expectations by calling out the beliefs that are holding us back.

Image by P. Thirumalaisamy

Fact Or Fiction?

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy, Marketing


The bookstore in Albert Park had just opened when Thomas, dressed as Batman, and his mum walked in. They headed straight to the children’s section at the back.  They were shopping for a present for Ben, who was having a superhero birthday party that afternoon.

‘Let’s get Ben this book about Brazil. Then he can learn all about the people in Brazil,’ Mum said.
‘No! I want to get him a book about Batman,’ Thomas shot back, bottom lip out and cape askew.

In the end, they bought both books, but you can guess which one Ben loved.

It’s obvious that Thomas will be the best judge of what Ben likes. But his mum still has an opinion, based on her assumption about what’s better for Ben in the long run.

We sometimes make assumptions based on our opinions about a customer’s wants and needs. It’s hard to be objective about our ideas when we are invested in the outcome. But that shouldn’t stop us trying to stand in our customer’s shoes for long enough to understand how he feels. Our opinion is immaterial if it doesn’t align with the story the customer believes.

Image by Jonnie Anderson

When Did One Day Become Never?

filed in Brand Strategy, Success


The first time I met Simon he was juggling four dirty plates while greeting customers and directing his team. Over time, I came to know Simon as a friend and also as one of the most gifted people I knew. Simon’s bosses loved how he ran their cafe as if it were his own. They loved how he made their customers feel so welcome that they kept coming back. And they loved how their business was growing under his caring leadership. They just didn’t show it.

Simon loved his customers, but he hated the feeling of not being valued by his employers, and besides, he had a dream. At the weekend Simon had a side gig. He became a personal chef and dinner party host for hire. His clients went out for the day leaving him in to cook the meal and style their home before their guests arrived in the evening. Nothing gave Simon more satisfaction than seeing the look on someone’s face when they came home looking relaxed to an exquisite meal in the beautiful setting he’d created.

Simon wanted to do this work full-time. He dreamt of starting his own business one day. He could see how his service would work for dinner parties, small celebrations and family gatherings. He had everything he needed to begin and clients who were ready to recommend him at the drop of a hat.

Simon spent hours that next year talking about his business ideas. He worked on everything from the name to the launch strategy and service descriptions. That was fifteen years ago. I’d love to tell you that Simon got his business up and running and that it’s succeeded beyond even his wildest dreams but I can’t. You see, he never did find the courage to leave his old job. He never started. He’s still working in the cafe where we met. The only thing that’s changed is that he’s stopped talking about how everything is going to be different one day when he gets around to doing the thing he really wants to do.

Too many people not only never make the leap—they never even take the first step. Often what’s holding them back is the clarity, confidence and support they need to change direction. ‘One day’ becomes never when we fail to take the first step.

I’ve been helping people and companies to find and tell the story that sets them apart for more than a decade. And now, along with my friend and colleague, Mark Dyck, I’m helping more of those people who have a story to tell to find the people like them who can support them on their journey, in the Right Company. We’re opening our business community to a handful of new members this week. You can apply to join here. Simon might believe it’s too late for him. It’s not too late for you.

Image by Garry Knight

Tell Me About Your Company

filed in Brand Story, Brand Strategy


If you were asked to describe a friend in three words you’d have no problem. Maybe you’d say he was fun or kind, perhaps you see him as loyal or generous. But if I asked you to tell me about your company’s attributes or brand’s characteristics you’d probably struggle. We invest a lot of time and resources in becoming known without clarifying what we want to be known for.

If we want to have a say in how our brand is perceived, then we need to be intentional about creating that perception. As the saying goes, if you don’t tell your story someone else will.

Questions For You

Can you describe your company in three words?
Are those the three words you aspire to be known for?
Are those three words how your customers already describe you?
If so, how can you continue to tell that story?
If not, what needs to change for you to become the company you want to be?

The goal isn’t to manipulate the message—it’s to amplify the truth.

Image by Garry Knight

How Much Runway Do You Need?

filed in Brand Strategy, Success


An aircraft must reach sufficient speed to take off. The pilot needs enough runway to achieve that optimum speed. The same is true of our projects and ideas. Velocity alone is not enough to make an idea fly. Ideas also need time.

We often focus our energy on gathering speed and creating momentum, while forgetting the importance of allowing ourselves enough runway. How much runway does your idea need?

Image by Björn

Pitch Perfect

filed in Brand Strategy, Marketing, Story Skills


The two falafel makers at the weekend market sell an almost identical product but achieve very different levels of success. The marketing tactics they use are similar. Make eye contact with potential customers, offer them a small sample to try and use the time they’re chewing to launch into your sales pitch.

The first maker tells passers-by his falafel are the best in the world. ‘I should know, I make them,’ he proclaims.

The second tells potential customers that her falafel are vegan, dairy and gluten free. ‘They are delicious hot or cold. Wrap them in pitta bread with some salad and hummus, and you’ve got an easy, tasty and healthy lunch,’ she says, as customers line up to hand her their ten dollar notes.

We spend days, months and sometimes years perfecting our product recipe. We should honour that devotion to creating something that matters by perfecting our sales script too. If you want to make something matter, you must be able to tell the people you want to serve why it should matter to them.

Image by Stijn Nieuwendijk

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