The Land Don’t Lie!

There was a time (in what seems like a distant past) when I could do all the things I loved; one of them was bushwalking.

Knowing how to use a map and compass is pretty much an essential element of such a pastime, but occasionally we would arrive at a point, invariably a peak it seemed, and on casting our eyes over the landscape would realise that the map didn’t match the terrain.

Bushwalking Snowy Mountains

We should have been on that peak in the background!

How was this possible? The map had to be right. We had followed our compass bearing astutely. We had taken the right path. We had to be at the right place. It left only one logical conclusion – the land was wrong.

Here’s a life lesson for you: the land don’t lie.

The land is the immutable object, and no matter how you cut it, the land won’t change for you. Something else is the problem, but not the land. Like the customer, it’s always right.

A marketing campaign is a lot like bushwalking. You plan your journey, lay out the map, set the compass (and stock up on beverages!) and often you can’t actually see where you’re going. But off you go in search of fun and fortune, hoping to take everyone along with you.

Every now and then though, you reach a point where you realise that where you’ve arrived isn’t where you were headed. You’ve climbed the mountain only to find the view is not what you thought it would be. Your audience – that land you were seeking – is not there to greet you. And no matter how many times you stare at the map and check your compass, that land won’t change.

It’s tempting to blame the map, the compass or the route you took. But the simple fact is despite your best planning the future is still an unknown, and sometimes the outcomes are not what you want or expect. Sometimes you just have to look, and listen, to the land for your answers, even when they are not what you want to see or hear.

The good news is you can still benefit from this experience. If you’re smart and keep an open mind you may be able to turn this unexpected vista into a ground-breaking new opportunity. Maybe it’s not just a new view, but a new way of seeing things.

Whatever you do from that point, it’s up to you to make the most of it. Fail, and you will come back to earth with a thud. Because the ground is hard, and the land don’t lie.

Have you ever gotten off the beaten track, and found yourself all at sea? (Oh, the metaphors are running wild and free today…)

If you’d like to see more photos of that particular hike through the Snowy Mountains visit (and Like!) our Facebook page –


Posted in Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jump To It!

It’s the start of a new calendar year. So picture this…

I’m in a room packed with attentive and intelligent people who want to improve their business. The talk I’m giving on marketing and branding has been well-received; their minds are ticking over.

But is that enough? I give them one last exercise.

“There are five frogs sitting on a log overlooking a pond. For reasons best known to their slippery little selves, three of them decide to jump in to the pond. How many frogs does that leave sitting on the log?”

illustration of five frogs on a logWell, pardon the pun, but everyone jumped in with the answer.

“TWO!” they shouted as one.

“WRONG!” I shouted back.

Stunned faces. Three from five is always two, unless you’re doing quantum physics or tax returns.

“There is a world of difference between deciding to jump, and actually jumping,” I tell them. “A thought by itself, resting snug in your consciousness, changes nothing in the real world. Only by taking action can you effect change. You want to change your business, DON’T go home and think about what was said today; go home and DO something.”

So often we hear a good idea, get presented with an opportunity, and decide we should do it. Only to realise days, weeks or months later that we’ve done nothing; that boat has sailed, and there is nothing on our horizon now.

As you head into the brand new year, DO this one thing.


If you think it’s time you left the job you hate, then JUMP ship. Wanna start your own business? JUMP right in! You might JUMP the gun by JUMPing tracks right now. You might be JUMPing out of the frying pan and into the fire.

You may feel you want to JUMP off a cliff some days, but I promise there’ll be days you JUMP out of bed filled with anticipation of what lays ahead, and you’ll JUMP for joy when you succeed. Then everyone will want to JUMP on your bandwagon!

Whatever you choose to do, JUMP to it. Because when it comes to taking action, there’s no time like NOW!

Posted in Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fashioning Your Business

The world of fashion is an amazing place, full of ego, genius, strategy and emotion. Yeah, it’s a lot like the stock market…

Giving your business style and substance

It’s also a lot like your average business, and how you fashion that is often an indication of how well it will function. Because just as our fashion choices are a reflection of our individuality and personality, so our businesses can be a reflection of the culture and identity we bring to them.

1. What’s the story?

Just like fashion needs a back story to be successful, so a business needs something that customers can relate to. No designer sends their new creation down the catwalk without a theme or explanation that buyers can, well, buy into. And everyone has a story to tell, even you.

What is there about your business that sets it apart, that will make people sit up and take notice when you parade it in public? What inspired you to start up, and what made you believe that others would want to associate with your company?

2. Bespoke or Off the Rack?

When a fashion designer prepares for a new line, they are often designing for a market of one. It’s their creation, and so long as they believe in it, and love it, then it’s a success. The press and the public are secondary considerations in a world where one-offs are desirable.

In business the aim is more often skewed to selling to the masses. It’s tempting to want to be all things to all people, to think that everyone will want to purchase our products, but is that really suitable to what you do? What kind of marketing would it take to reach that broad audience? Or are you better off targeting a niche market, becoming that one place to go to for a specific group of customers?

3. Would You be Caught Dead in That?

There is hardly a fashion house around today that hasn’t committed some gross faux pas in their past. They survived these mishaps back then largely because of the time it would take for a groundswell of angry consumers to be organised.

Make a disparaging remark about someone’s appearance today though and half the world will be beating your door down demanding an apology.

fashion_black milk SM faux pas

The internet and social media have been instrumental in allowing businesses to grow beyond their traditional boundaries, but it’s a double-edged sword that can cut you to the bone.

If you want people to be proud to be associated with your business, make sure you’re easy to love. Be socially responsible, be sharing and above all be authentic. And when things do go pear-shaped be the first to respond, in a positive and responsible manner. You don’t want to end up being a case study on how NOT to do crisis management.

4. Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

One of the cornerstones of fashion and business is competition. And if you can’t handle the heat, then get off the catwalk ‘cos the bigger and better you get, the more you cop.

By your very existence you are somebody’s competition; you have to keep coming up with new ideas, improved products and better ways to market them in order to stay on top.

If fighting for survival isn’t in your DNA, then someone will be dining on your DNA before too long.

Sorry we're closed sign

5. Many Hands Make Light Work

Behind every great designer is a team of hard-working people that all bring something special to the table. Pattern makers, seamstresses, PR people, photographers, organisers, PAs…without this entourage the design would never be seen by the wider world.

In business you need a solid team behind you too. They may not all show up when you open the door each morning, but they are an integral part of your business. They might be bookkeepers or accountants, mentors, suppliers, marketing people, couriers and most important of all, customers. Don’t discount the support of friends and family either; they’re the people who always have your back.

6. If You Can See It, You Can Build It (And They Will Come).

Good fashion designers can visualise their creations long before they put pencil to paper. It could be argued that the only reason they do put down their imaginings is so others can marvel at their genius. And do the grunt work of cutting, sewing, etc…

fashion designer drawing layout

Setting out on your own business path is the same – you must have the vision before you begin. If you can’t imagine how it will look and feel for you and to the customer, then you can’t possibly build it.

The fashion world is often seen as cut-throat, bitchy and out of touch with the real world, but business can be guilty of the same sins. The truth is your business will be based on your standards, your culture and your vision. And if that presents as something that customers can buy into, you’re pretty sure to be a cut above the rest.

Footnote: much of the thinking behind this post has come from discussions with Kevin Gammie of Imagine First and Growth Mentors. Look out for his new book coming out soon.

Posted in Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Like Riding A Bike!

I was watching this video this morning, and it struck me that starting and running a business is like learning to ride a bike.

At the start, it all seems so damned daunting – even with training wheels on and someone running alongside. You’re expected to balance, steer and brake all at the same time…

“That’s insane!” you think. “How can I possibly manage all that?

Then one day someone takes the trainers off, and the insanity reaches a whole new level. “I’m not ready for this!” you want to scream. But you see other people doing it, and they seem to be managing all right. So with a push and a prayer, you wobble off down the street. You’re on your way, and on your own.

It doesn’t take long though for you to start pushing the boundaries, braking later, daring yourself to go harder and faster and deeper through corners.

You experience exhilaration, and the consequences of exceeding your talent.

A valuable lesson is learned however – so long as you get back on the bike, you’re not beaten; you’ve just found another way that doesn’t work.

So you cop the bruises and cuts, because you know there’s a price to be paid for knowledge. You want to be the best, and you want the world to recognise it. And yes, you want the rewards. You trademark your tricks, and build a brand around your story.

You gather a support crew about you, and learn the value of a little insurance. You discover that sharing freely what you had to learn the hard way isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it makes you even better in many people’s eyes; your fan base grows.

Bicycle stunt riding

Of course it’s not as easy as it looks – nothing worth having ever is. It takes dedication, and belief in your ability to stick that landing. You don’t dare waiver in the face of fear, so you push to let your dream be the reality; not the nightmare that wakes you at 2 in the morning.

“You begin to go where others fear to treadly.”

You come to accept that there’s always new obstacles to overcome. There’s someone always trying to take your crown too, someone happy to copy your moves. Competition is good however, it keeps you at the top of your game.

Finally, appreciate the ride for what it is. Just being in the position to do that thing you love every day, making  a difference in some small way to other people’s lives, is good reason to get up in the morning. There’s reward in that too.

(And if that video didn’t get you pumped up for the day, try this one featuring Rudimental, based on the true life experience of BMXer Kurt Yeager! Gets me every time.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Breaking Isn’t Bad

“Everything has a time, and everything dies.” ( The Doctor, Season 1, Episode 2)

That’s a nice way of saying nothing lasts forever. And given that it is inevitable that things, whether they be machines, systems or relationships can all break down, it’s important to have a mindset that sees ‘broken’ as a normal part of the cycle, and not an affront to our capabilities.

“Broken allows us to change, and change brings opportunity.”

A diagram to illustrate how things go from broken to fixed.

The first step to fixing a problem is to recognise that you have a problem – ‘it’s broken’. Whether there is yolk on the floor, or customers drifting away, something’s broken, and action is needed. What we do next defines just how much of a problem we have, not just with the broken pieces at hand, but with our systems.

If we identify just how this thing got broken, then we can remedy that as well; now it is unlikely we will have this happen again. If we just fix the break, but allow the cause to remain, we are putting ourselves at risk of further failure. The ‘WHY’ is every bit as important as the ‘HOW’.

Of course, there are those that can never admit that things are broken. To do that would be to accept that things need fixing, and that may be seen as being too hard (“We don’t have enough people!”), too expensive (“We don’t have enough money!”), or just unthinkable (“That’s not how we’ve done it before!”).

The first two are ‘material’ objections; they can be overcome by allocating or re-directing resources, if not immediately then over time. The latter is more worrying and occurs when people are unwilling to break with the past, where tradition dictates a reaction, rather than a reasoned response producing the desired result.

If we accept that things are broken, but deny we have the responsibility or means to fix it, then again we remain at risk of further failures. When we don’t learn from history (this has broken before), we are indeed destined to repeat it (it’s broken again). Any organisation that can’t adapt and evolve will face extinction.

Oh, and as my Grandpa used to say…”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Change for the sake of change is never a good strategy.





Posted in Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ACCESS ALL AREAS – The Pass to Success

During the ’90s I lived a double life.

By day I worked in the printing industry; by night I was one of the city’s best live performance photographers, covering the sport and music scene from top to bottom. (Click on that link to see more of my work from back then.)

What I quickly learnt was the importance of access – the closer you could get to the action, the more likely you would score the money shot. You just had to find the right person – the one who could get you the pass to be onstage or in the pit, stalking the sidelines and behind the scenes; find them and you were on your way. Of course ‘Access All Areas’ laminates were the holy grail!

Backstage passes for concerts in the 1990's

A few of the passes from my glory days as a photographer.

Access gives you the ability to move freely to where you want to be, in order to give yourself the best shot. 

It’s the same in business – having access is the key to getting ahead, to being successful.

And it’s not just access to the decision maker – it’s a given you want that. First though you need access to the people that guard the people you want to speak to – the dreaded gatekeepers!

It used to be I had to get past the manager, or PR person. Now it’s someone who has an office in front of the office of the one I need to talk to! You need access to email addresses and phone numbers and social media to contact them.

What about access to the latest technology? Back in the day I shot everything on film (no digital cameras then!), so having the best possible lenses and developing gear was paramount.

Today it’s operating systems that need to be updated to stay ahead of hackers, and having the latest programs for CRM and accounting to manage the business.

Access to capital is vital too in order to expand. Access to ideas, and access to time to explore those ideas and implement new thinking into your business is critical to growth and opening new markets.

Finally, never forget it’s a two way street. Ask yourself, are you accessible to others who might be able to help and inspire you? The people on your team, be it in business or life, can all be willing contributors to your success – you just have to give them access.

Who’s opening doors for you?


Posted in Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s Shake On It!

“Just sign on the dotted line…and here…and here…”

I’m not a fan of the contract.

Contracts are cumbersome creations that are more about the lack of trust that two or more parties have in each other than they are about delivering on shared expectations.

Contracts are about consequences rather than outcomes. They sum up all the worst things that can happen, and then who’s going to be stuck with the bill when they do. They have no upside. They show no faith in the relationship, or the people involved.

Even the simplest of modern transactions requires a convoluted contract these days. Apple ask you to read through more than 10,000 words to use iCloud; if you want to buy a song it’s almost double that to access iTunes. PayPal has over 36,000 words in its T&C’s; that’s more than in Hamlet. And Shakespeare’s old English is more comprehensible than the legalese involved.

A handshake is a sign of trust

I prefer handshake deals. They are made without recourse to threats of dire penalties in order to achieve desired outcomes. A handshake is forward thinking; it is my promise to perform.

A handshake can express empathy and understanding; it inspires confidence. When we shake we are in agreement; meeting or exceeding the terms of the deal will grow the relationship, failure to perform by either side will put at risk any further deals between the parties. Simple.

In this age of social media, poor performance is very quickly public knowledge; justice is delivered online faster than any court can move.

Perhaps the real question is why you would deal with someone you think needs to be coerced by contract to uphold their end of the bargain? A handshake brings together a buyer, a seller, and trust. Where there is no trust, there is no deal.

Isn’t that a better way to do business?



Posted in Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Does it Come in Rat?”

Have you ever been told that marketing is a waste of time and money, something that spin doctors and big firms dabble with in order to garnish a tax deduction or appease the board perhaps. Maybe they think that the public won’t swallow it.

Well tell me then, why doesn’t cat food come in rat flavour?

The reason is obvious of course – your cat doesn’t do the shopping.

Neither does your dog, or they’d be looking on the shelves for Old Poop deodorant.

A label designed by Rebel Media for Old Poop

So cat food is served up in a variety of flavours, none of which are related to what our felines would feast on in the real world. Some Sliced Classic Grilled or Roast Chicken? Perhaps they crave a serve of Carved Beef?

Beef?? When was the last time you saw a pussycat pull down a passing bovine?

And fish…how about Tuna and Pumpkin? Seriously, there’s not too many cats in the wild dine on fish regularly, let alone tuck into tuna. Would a house cat even know what a fish was, other than entertainment in a tank perhaps.

And I’m pretty sure that while cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, they never took up farming on any scale. Even dogs only ever evolved to the point of digging up gardens.

But the owners know what fish is. They know it’s a delicacy in their world. And marketers know that cat people think their cats are people. So cat food companies spend their marketing dollars convincing owners that precious pet would love to eat their (very) fishy product.

The owners would probably eat it too if it was positioned right. They certainly lap up the advertising – Americans spent more on their pets in 2012 than they did on bottled water and coffee combined; a total of $52 billion! And yes, they probably bought them catacinos too.

So next time your client tells you they don’t have the budget, or that they don’t see the need to spend money on advertising their presence, tell them to stop and smell the cat’s dish, because marketing matters. After all, millions of moggies can’t be wrong.

Now, time to feed the dog…he just loves his Holistic Duck Formula!

Are you a price conscious pet owner, or do you buy only the best? What influences you as to what flavour to get for your ‘fur’ person?

Posted in Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s Not About the Product

Do you remember when the best idea you could have for a business was to build a better mousetrap? And then the world would beat a path to your door…right?

Well, I’m to say that if you do that today, you’ll be back where you started in 3 months. And the world will have moved on to the next mousetrap.

Example of better mousetrapThe reason is that anything you can design and build, can be copied, rebranded and on the shelf almost as fast as you can get your original product out the door.

Ask Apple. After releasing the iPhone to the world, China quickly unveiled the HiPhone. The iPad too followed suit. Heck, in Kunming they even copied an Apple Store so real the employees thought they were employed by Apple! (To be fair though, lately there’s reason to believe that Apple may have done some of their own copying too.)

So, if you can’t get ahead by building a better product, how does the modern business get a jump on its competition?

The answer people is…people.

More specifically, your people. The ones you pay to stand out the front of the shop, and the ones who work behind the scenes. All of them are individuals capable of greatness. None of them can really be replicated. And if you train them well, and reward them properly, I’ll bet they’d be hard to match.

I believe people are the most important part of the business. Incentivised, knowledgeable people who are a joy to deal with and are as willing to work as you are will stand out above any product your opposition can offer. Other people will talk about them, and we all know the power of referrals.

People, talking to other people, making things happen. Isn’t that what business is all about?


Posted in Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Word of Mouth – Telling It Like It Is

“Marketing is no longer what you say about yourself; it’s what everyone else is saying about you.”

Amplifying your message via word of mouthWOM. It’s an acronym for Word of Mouth. And it is possibly the biggest influencer in terms of decision making right now.

Word of Mouth (hereafter referred to as WOM) can be defined as customers talking to other customers, whether they know each other or not. They can be strangers linked only by their shared experience with a product, service, brand or even government policy.

What other people have thought has always been a part of the matrix that leads us to make the decision to ‘buy into’ an idea or purchase an item. Until recently it was a muted voice, generally confined to our close circle of friends over a beer or work colleagues around the water-cooler.

With the arrival of social media that voice has gotten louder, to the point where it can now drown out a company’s own ‘official’ message. Once these conversations were just small ripples on the surface, but today they are amplified many times over through new mediums such as social media.

Like a tsunami they can be a deadly force building under the surface, gathering momentum until they crash on the shores of your business with terrifying consequences.

Not all WOM effects are bad of course. Managed well, a WOM campaign can be of enormous benefit to your company (remember the one for The Best Job in the World?).

best-job-in-the-world website

WOM is seen as more reliable, honest and sincere than any other advertising or marketing medium. One reason for this is that we are more likely to accept the opinion of strangers rather than the outpouring s of advertisers simply because strangers haven’t lied to us yet.

It’s a twist on the innocent until proven guilty theme – “This person has no reason to lie to me, and until they do something to erode my trust in their opinion, I will accept it at face value.” No ad company campaign is given that level of belief.

Central to making the most of WOM is a shift in thinking. You will no longer be marketing ‘at’ the consumer; you will now be conversing ‘with’ the customer. You are effectively handing control of the campaign to the people you wish to buy in.

WOM marketing can be as simple as giving the customer a positive experience, and the means to share their views. The experience could be great customer service, going that step beyond what is required to make sure they are happy. The channel to express this view may be a Facebook page (yours or theirs), Twitter account or place on your website.

And you better believe and have confidence in your product, because it will backfire badly if the promise of your message is found wanting in reality.

Here are my top five tips to creating positive word of mouth experiences:

  1. Give the people something to talk about: put simply, are you doing the best you can for your customer? The old adage of ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ will always see the customer go away happy. And happy to tell others about you.
  2. Be an advocate for the customer in your workplace: if your role in the company is public-facing don’t be afraid to stand up for the customer. Your job is (or should be in my opinion) as much to meet the client’s needs as to turn a profit for the company. And you can’t do the latter if you don’t fulfil the former. It’s how you get repeat business.
  3. Listen, engage and give voice to the customer: with the advent of social media conversations are happening everywhere. Listen to what is being said, engage in a positive manner and allow them to have their say. Censoring is not an option!
  4. Share: once it was policy to keep everything a secret so competitors couldn’t find out how you did business. Today being seen as an expert in your field is preferable if not best practice. And a sure way to get referrals from people who like to be seen as in the know.
  5. Reward your mavens: call them experts, mavens, trend-setters, loyal customers or thought leaders, find a way to reward the people who advocate on your behalf. Whether it’s a referral for a new client or just a positive reference on Facebook, find a way to reward those who speak well of you. You can be sure that that reward will also get mentioned, and you will be seen as a company that listens to its customers.

Remember, what used to work for businesses is just that – it’s old news. People will talk about you, and what they say now will be made louder and shared much further and wider than ever before.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Just make sure you’re part of the conversation, and it’s all for the right reasons!

Posted in Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment