A Brand Is A Make

We’re sitting in a lovely Cornish beach cafe. Our kids are playing with another boy, of similar age, and they’re ducking and diving around the tables, sprawling out where they get the chance on the decking.

The boy points to the logo on our daughters sandals, and calls to his mother.

“Mum, there’s a picture on her shoes. What is it?”

“That’s what brand they are” his mother replies.

“What’s a brand?” he asks.

His mother thinks for a moment. How to tell a child what a brand is…

“It’s a make” she says. “It’s what make they are. It tells you who made them, and how, and where. A brand is a make”.

I quickly and quietly capture this on a card, for future pondering. The children play on.

a brand is a make

Cruise is to Adverts as Shatner is to Phones

Bobbing and weaving through the tweets an hour ago, I picked up on Jeremy‘s post on the issue of website performance vs serving ads/tracking people

…in fact, I really picked up on it because of Mark‘s reply:

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 16.06.25

Which is interesting, because there’s something been pinging around my head recently about why the advertising industry decided on this as their future. And why did we as people decide that advertisers knowing all this about us was OK…?

Here’s my hunch; Tom Cruise is to Adverts as William Shatner is to Phones.

Which means what?

Well, there’s the famous, perhaps apocryphal story that the mobile phone, specifically the flip phone, were inspired by the Star Trek communicator. The engineers growing up and watching telly around this time had a ready-made prototype of ‘the future’ in front of them… and so, it came to pass. Let’s make that.

Shatner Communicator Star Trek

Another example – last week at IED, the brilliant Andres Colmenares was talking about the Hendo Hoverboard that’s received kickstarter funding. It’s basically the Marty McFly hoverboard. Let’s make that.

Hendo Hoverboard

And the advertising example?

Minority Report, of course. Specifically the scene in which Tom Cruise goes hurtling through a crown of people in a shopping mall, and all the adverts start addressing him individually…

You’ll know the scene, because no doubt everyone’s been shown it often enough in presentations about ‘personalised marketing’. It became so trite that people stop using it. It may even be cool and retro to start using it again (I’m not really sure, as I don’t do enough advertisingy type things anymore to know).

Basically, it became a cultural shorthand; ‘This is a future for advertising’ became ‘this is the future for advertising’.

When enough people can use it as a common reference point, they can sit in meetings and decided what advertising should be in the future by using this example. When people were talking about how the ads that would support their platform, they’d major on just how ‘identifiable’ people were, and so the ads could be personalised too.

“You know, like in Minority Report”.

And maybe that’s why we’re here.

Thanks, Tom Cruise. Thanks a bunch.

Getting Off The B Ark

I did a wee talk on Monday evening, at the IPA 44 Club, which inevitably resolved itself in a Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy metaphor. It was part of Nick Kendall’s evening on the ideas behind the What Is A 21st Century Brand? book – Neil Godber from JWT spoke on Stephen King’s original, pioneering thinking on what a brand was in the 20th century.

In the book, Nick’s collected together what he considers the most pertinent theses from the ten years of the IPA Excellence Diploma. You can download mine as the sample chapter from here.

I thought I’d quickly write out what I think I was getting at.

It’s notionally a talk about brands, but in hindsight is as much about organisational change as anything. Which makes sense, I guess, given some of what Smithery does.

So, onwards.

My thesis, back in 2008 or so, was called The Communis Manifesto. To pull an explanatory paragraph from it, it was about this…

“I believe the future of brand communications lies in finding a way to become part of communities, and communicate with them in a way that is shared, participatory and reciprocal.”

I realise now, though, that I fell into a classic economics trap. I took a micro view of one brand, and forgot to consider the macro perspective; what happens when every brand does this?

Well, as we can see now, it all gets a bit noisy… an endless hum of brands vying for your attention at any given opportunity, all going a little ‘gorilla in a jock-strap’ in order to arrest some eyeballs for the briefest of seconds (go and read Faris’ Paid Attention for more on that).

Thinking about how brands and companies operate in the 21st century, and how some struggle to remain meaningful, it made me think of Golgafrincham.

You know, Golgafrincham, yeah?

Ok, I’ll explain…

In the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent find themselves on a massive spaceship, with lots of frozen bodies in the hold. It’s the Golgafrincham B Ark. The captain explains that they’d been told that the planet of Golgafrincham was in terrible, terrible danger, so they all had to leave.


On the A Ark would be all the leaders, scientists, pioneers… the high achievers.

On the C Ark would be all the people who made things and did things.

And on the B Ark, there would be everyone else. The middle managers. The hairdressers. The telephone sanitisers.

The leaders of Golgafrincham explained that they would send the B Ark first, so that when they settled the new planet, everyone else could be confident of a good haircut and a clean telephone when they got there. So off the B Ark went.

They hadn’t, explained the Captain, heard anything from the other two ships since leaving. Which he began to think was a little strange, having finally told someone else about it…


Some companies are clearly on the A Ark. They lead in their space, well, any space. Pioneers, future provokers, creating the products and services we love to use.

A Ark stuff is easy to point at, and hard to do.

Increasingly [because INTERNET], there are a lot of C Ark companies around. Start-ups, and hobbyists, those born in the internet, who’re happy to show you everything that they do. It’s a new transparency, it makes companies and the people who work there very visible, believable, and trustworthy. It regularly works for much smaller companies, who can make enough people see what they’re doing to be successful on their terms

C Ark stuff is easy to do, and hard to point at.

Which leaves the B Ark companies. The companies that just kind of exist in that middle layer of life. They didn’t used to do the stuff that was hard, because they just had to do things that were good enough. They didn’t used to worry about pointing people to things, because you could switch on advertising and pipe people’s eyeballs towards your products.

It’s hard to be a B Ark company today.

So you’ve got two choices.

You can try and get on the A Ark, and start pushing the boundaries of expectations in your market. Every market has a future. Show people the one you really believe in.

Or you can jump onto the C Ark, and start showing people all the things you make and do. If it’s not good enough to be interesting, then you need to change the what and how of your makings and doings. If you do it well, people will start to point other people towards it.

Both things are hard to do.

But they’re better than being on the B Ark.



The Duplicity Of Data

I stopped wearing my FuelBand last week. It had stopped being for anything beyond telling me I expend a lot more energy when I manage to get out for a run. I’m no fitness expert, but I knew that.

(Oh, and sometimes I used it as a torch when I’d switched off all the lights before bed.)

Anyway, it’s on my desk now, from where it will disappear into a drawer, then start a little friends group with the various minidiscs and iPods and things that live in there too. They’re probably all on ‘device Friendster’. Or attending IoT Anonymous meetings.


I was also having a chat with Paul earlier, about the sort of days we’d had.

My day was very productive, thinking about it; great chats with various folks, working through ideas, reflecting on things… just a good day.

Except the data, and by the data I mostly mean the email numbers, doesn’t say that. It says I ended up being unproductive, as the numbers stacked up on flagged emails I’ve to do something about.


We’re using data systems in our lives that other people, or cultures, design to tell us how we’re doing. We don’t know if we should measure ourselves by these things, but don’t know what else we would measure ourselves by, so those measures suffice. But maybe we’re forgetting how to evaluate good days just by the feeling that they are good days?

When people ask you if you’ve had a good day, you don’t run a stream of numbers past them, do you?

Some things shouldn’t have a number on them. Just because we can count, doesn’t mean we should.


The Certainty of Delivery

Notes from the anecdata – posting things is getting bigger this year.

For instance, recently I’ve had three brilliant, lovely, thoughtful things in the post, from Hugh, Anj and Curtis & Emily at Fieldwork respectively.




Friends reaching out to connect, to say hi, yes, but also with a thing to do.

The old Royal Mail slogan… I Saw This, And Thought Of You.

Well, actually, all three are a bit more “I Made This, And Wanted You To Have One”. The point stands though.

For a while, perhaps we all stopped sending either of the two. Because we could grab pictures and videos and snippets of conversation of whatever it was we saw, and drop them in to the mighty social stream, where we knew everyone would see them… “I’ve Found This, And Thought Of You All”.

There was a promise of delivery from our social networks. Post this up here, and your friends will see it. That’s kind of fallen by the wayside. You post things up, and people might see them, maybe, if you’re lucky. Or if they really, really look. Though that wasn’t the promise when we signed up.


When we find things, or make things, and send those things somewhere, there’s an expectation of delivery. An expectation that someone at the other end would want to receive it, so we should be able to make sure they get it.

Maybe that’s why we’ve seen a return to email newsletters and podcasts, to posting letters and making things. There’s a certainty of delivery about them. People will get what we send. We’re not really sure whether the social network stuff we post is going to go any more, whether it’ll reach any of the people we want it to reach. Listen to conversations nowadays; there’s invariably an exchange where people ask “did you see the thing I posted..?”

People always thought it would be the social bit that broke first. It turns out that they might fail as networks first.


Froebel’s Gifts for The Internet

Over the past few days, after John first introduced the topic to me last week, I have been looking in to Froebel’s Gifts. For those of you who are unaware of Froebel’s gifts, they are a series of playthings for kids that are widely considered to be the world’s first educational toys.



The gifts, created by Friedrich Froebel, were introduced in 1838 at a similar time to when Froebel coined the term and opened the first Kindergarten. They appear deceptively simple but represent a sophisticated approach to child development. The six original gifts were accompanied by a series of “Occupations” such as sewing, gardening, singing and the modelling with clay, which were designed to help children mimic their experiences through play.

The idea of these gifts and occupations did spark a thought with us over here at Smithery. What would Froebel’s gifts be if you were designing them today, to help people grasp the idea of the Internet? Can you easily translate the physical lessons from 1838 over to the digital age? This translation is something I have struggled with in the past, as my brain works towards predominantly physical solutions for things.

Some of the lessons Froebel was trying to introduce included:

i) The idea of learning through “focused play”

ii) Seeing the interconnectedness of all creation.

iii) The importance of knowing how information fits together, rather than memorising facts themselves.

The last two lessons really stand out to really lending themselves to understanding the internet. Obviously the world is becoming more and more interconnected, and more recently the emergence of the Internet of Things will accelerate this. But also I like the idea of helping people develop a powerful skill; to be able to use the internet well without needing to be an expert in any of its particular disciplines. A way of closing the gap between amateurs and experts perhaps, or at the very least create common ground for dialogue between the two.

So we’re setting ourselves a task; what would Froebel’s gifts and occupations be for a digital world? We’ll have a little play around, with the Artefact Cards which exist already, and some other ideas we’ve been playing with.

And maybe, just maybe, we will try to create a collection of gifts to go along with one of our new years resolutions about producing more, and set up a subscription service for people to receive them.

We have some starter questions that need answered; if you can think of any more helpful ones, please do drop them into the comments below.

What would the internet look and feel like in your hands?

What would Froebel’s occupations be to enhance education for the internet age?

What’s the metaphor or analogy that helps you understand what the internet is?

The Layers of the Book Matrix


I’ve been playing with the Book Matrix. It might make sense to order the levels now by the complexity with which they deal, the time it takes to action things. At the bottom, the things you can pick up, and use that day. Habits. Playful things. Bite-sized things.

Then up through the layers. The routines of good weekly practice. The items of month long progression of ideas. The annual changes of company culture. And the lifetime long works, the things that tell us all who we might be in fifty years.

I haven’t sorted the left-right axis, I don’t know whether, in this new framework, the Book Matrix works like that.

Maybe Marketing Won

Two things in twenty-four hours have made me consolidate a thought I’ve been playing with on and off for a year or so. It’s about Marketing and the fabled 4Ps; Product, Price, Place & Promotion.

First thing.

This morning, another cracking post from Dave Trott. Read it all, but the payoff is…

“…by ignoring everything except the brand again, the experts got themselves in worse trouble.

But surely these were “marketing experts”.

Isn’t pricing and distribution part of what a marketing expert does?

Ensuring the pricing and distribution of the product is right?

Apparently not.”

Second thing.

Yesterday I had an excellent extended coffee with Brad Berens, and he picked me up on something I hadn’t thought of – I used the word ‘brand’ to describe everything that a company does (I was talking about the “tone-of-action” thing again). Brad’s point was this; it’s not that it’s wrong, in a classic marketing definition of the 4Ps, to use this as a framework for thinking. But as soon as you use the word ‘brand’, the CEO, and the CFO, glaze over. They pigeonhole it. You’re now talking about the thing that someone further down the food chain has to bother with.

Oh, actually, third thing.

Andy Budd and I have this really interesting, ongoing conversation about “marketing people” versus “product people”. The shorthand is that Andy’s position (in as far as I can talk for him, apologies Andy if I have it wrong) could be paraphrased by this Dilbert cartoon:

Engineers Built Everything That Matters - Dilbert by Scott Adams

I’ll leave a gap here for Andy to clarify better than that if he has a chance:


My point in this is that, defined and structured properly, Marketing includes the product. What Andy’s talking about is just the promotion bit. But then, upon reflection, Andy’s living in reality, and I’m describing a utopian position.

Marketing, the classic marketing, the stuff Stephen King wrote of in his brilliant late-career rant “Has Marketing Failed Or Was It Never Really Tried?“, is further away from being a reality than ever.

But why?

Well, maybe, just maybe, Marketing won.

It demonstrated the fundamental importance of the 4Ps to organisations.

Maybe the conversation went like this…

“Product” said Marketing “is fundamentally important; ‘Making Things People Want’, and all that.”

“You’re totally right” said the Business. “Tell you what, now that you’ve got us started, let’s get some real experts to push this to the next level. People who really understand our customers, our capabilities, the qualities we can deliver in the products and services we produce. They can take this from here.”

“Well” said Marketing, “you’ve got to think about Price too, that’s really crucial to get right.”

“Right you are” said the Business. “We know some really clever folks, experts in statistical modelling and price setting and with PHDs in Behavioural Economics and all sorts. They should probably do this, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, alright” said Marketing. “We’ll get on with thinking about Place then, and how we ensure availability for customers.”

“Actually” said the Business, “this is a specialist art, we think. It’s about building business relationships, personal relationships, with all the wholesalers and strategic partners. We’ll get a proper team on this.”

“Oh, ok then” said Marketing. “I guess we’ll just do the Promotion bit then.”

“Mmm” said the Business, not really listening anymore.