Skip to content

The perfect present?

December 20, 2016

So as we develop the strange co-operative, consultancy, think-tanky thingczpbdl5w8aa5zqy that is pleasewalkonthegrass (it will all start happening in 2017)
I’ve been thinking about revisiting the strategy model we developed many years ago to help SME managers think.

Then Julie Flower – the talented principal of the Specialist Generalist consultancy  – tweeted this, a festive-themed improvised strategy model. (I hope we’ll see more of her in the New Year).

In the meantime, could our “IPTB” model be tinselled up? Well, yes it could.

It turns out that it works as a pretty good* guide to choosing a Christmas gift for…well…anyone.

So – ask yourself these four questions – then assess your answers  not so much on the basis that they are right, as on the basis of your confidence in your knowledge and understanding to come up with a good answer…

Insight – What does this person really love/want/need?
If you’re buying them a gift based on what YOU want or you think they OUGHT to need…think again. Sometimes you just have to ask them.

Purpose – Why are you buying this gift?
Be honest, are you trying to impress them? IS this gift saying something about you or your relationship with them? Or do you want to make THEIR world a better place?

Truth – Is it a truthful gift; a real gift?
The trickest idea here because we’re so used to equating the VALUE of the gift with the PRICE of the gift. We often assume that because it’s expensive, it’s better AS a gift, but sometimes a gift that takes time and effort to find (or, perhaps, gives time to the recipient) is truly a meaningful gift.

Beauty – Is it the best designed of its kind? Is it the real thing?
It’s not always possible but the well-designed widget is nearly always more worthwhile than the Christmas-themed, novelty widget. And good design does what it’s intended to do… and lasts.

*Now I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll always get the right gift, but like the organisation that truly wants to be customer focused  – giving customers exactly what they want – and sustainably, it’s always got to be worth thinking about.

Happy holiday.

Christmas is coming….

December 13, 2016

…the goose is getting fat.

And so is everyone else. roast-goose

I know I’ve written about this before but the simple equation that besieges us (especially this time of year) is that we consume more energy than we need.

It really IS that simple.



Then if we heat our homes and drive everywhere, we’re using tonnes of carbon to prevent our bodies depleting our energy resources. Then, if we fuel up with 2000 or more kilocalories of sugar and fat, and we keep burning unnecessary fuel to do it, there are bound to be cumulative consequences.

I was reminded of all this over-consumption and the effects by this recent piece by Teresa Bolton in the Conversation.

But more directly, as we overeat we have to do something with that food-energy. Knowing no better, our bodies will save it.

We get fatter.

We get less healthy than we would be if we simply ate less.

It’s not rocket science.

But there is more. The thousands of calories we overeat are, effectively, depriving others of calories. If we, in the most developed countries simply demanded less, prices and production would fall.  There are, of course, complex market mechanisms that would fight against this; we might even start falling into recession.

But what needs to happen is a subtle shift of food and energy production into a more local, and less “marketised” part of the economy. If we all need food and light and warmth why shouldn’t this be part of the universal basic income idea that is circulating at the moment? It could be a global standard that would give concrete, achievable measures of development. It would demand that governments regulate certain industries (which they do anyway) with an objective of the ‘common good’ – meeting that global standard.

I suspect that this dovetails with Tim Jackson’s idea of Prosperity without Growth (to which Teresa Belton also refers.

Here is an over-oversimplification, but one that kind of makes sense if you think about it

Food marketing makes us fat and unhealthy.

The ONLY source of growth in the food economy should be from a growing population.

Anything else is engineering increased margins (what marketers might call ‘adding value’) by selling variety, novelty or convenience.

Or it is simply selling more, unnecessary, calories.


Quick update on marketing illusions that make us selfish

September 2, 2014

It’s that time of year when I still get butterflies about going ‘back to school’. Silly really. But it happens and I do have a way of coping. I stop and think. It’s the triumph of rationality over emotion; thinking that, logically, I’ve been through this many, many times and it’s never been so awful. All I need is a bit of preparation and to trust my skills (such as they are).
Recently, however, I’ve been thinking that this isn’t actually ‘rational’ in the sense we usually mean it. It’s true that there is a sense of calm consideration, but I’m not actually using a rational, objective argument to reassure me of what will happen as we get back into the University year.
Indeed, it is probably impossible to fully rationalise the apprehension I feel precisely because it is about the future and the future is uncertain. We can rationalise up to a point – we can consider probabilities – but, in truth, we never have full knowledge of the facts.
So, it’s occurred to me, what I am actually doing is being ‘mindful’. Allowing my full attention to play over the cause of anxiety rather that just letting my limbic system react.
Mindfulness is really rather popular at the moment and I’m always sceptical of anything popular. However the basic idea (familiar to Buddhists everywhere) is simple and reminds me of the ideas Of Lynn Serafin mentions (see my last post). I was also struck by the similarity of Lynn’s thesis with from Leo Babauta.
Again, it’s that time of year. I’m going back onto the 5:2 diet and I found Leo’s blog via a search for soup. What intrigues me is that being mindful of what we are consuming can help us consume less. And, I suggest, this doesn’t only apply to food (though it’s helpful that it does!)
In my last post I suggested that reminding ourselves how much we have, even when we feel we have very little, is a good idea. Well, even more so now. If we remind ourselves with each mouthful how remarkable it is that the food even exists, we might be getting some way towards realising that (much as food marketers would like to persuade us otherwise) we don’t need a new taste sensation every day.


Marketing illusions that make us selfish (Part 1)

June 16, 2014
In Winter and Spring of this year, I was teaching a course in which I try to get students to look critically at what marketing is and what it does.
The 7 Graces of Marketing book cover

The 7 Graces of Marketing

I’d come across Lynn Serafinn’s remarkable book The 7 Graces of Marketing online and (quickly) read it. I immediately knew I had to recommend it to these students and, even better, Lynn agreed to come and talk to the students in the midst of my course.

Now the course has ended and all the marking has been done, I want to try to sum up why I think Lynn’s ideas are important, not just for marketers, but also for consumers i.e. for all of us.

I need to start by saying I can be quite cynical.  I don’t think that the world’s problems are solved by opting out and knitting muesli or, indeed, by developing a new kick-ass web service that develops into a muti-million dollar corporation.  Revolutions tend towards the dictatorial…and people get hurt.   I do however, recognise that there are things wrong with this world.
In my own research and reading, I’ve come to recognise that in a consumerist society, we have a problem.  Marketing is part of the problem, not the whole of it, but part.  Without going into this in detail, for various historical reasons we have a form of economy that is based on the assumption that everyone is in competition with everyone else and that the competition is largely measured by money. It is an ideology which, even if you don’t accept it as ‘false consciousness’ still distorts the way we see our place in the world and, therefore, how most of us behave.
Allied to this is a ‘scientistic’ notion; that, given enough resources, we can solve any problem.
Possibly the most pernicious  part of this ideology – and you can measure the extent to which this idea is embedded in your own culture by your reaction to my next statement – is the myth that we are all individuals.
Hang on, you might be saying, we ARE all individuals. You can’t tell me what to think, no-one can. I do what I want.  Well, yes, of course but the fact of our physical individuality doesn’t take away from what we might call our sociability.  We are both individuals and, very essentially, part of a (often many) social groupings. We have to be: we simply couldn’t eat, drink or procreate without sociability.
Acknowledging this ’embeddedness’ leads us to recognise that we are always subject to social influences (including marketing) and, indeed, that we cannot escape from our culture. We cannot exist outside of a social nexus – much as we might sometimes wish. As Pierre Bourdieu once said we are all like “fish in water”.
But it would be a mistake to think that social groups are just an aggregation of individuals; they are greater than (or at least other than) the sum of their parts. In any case, it makes little sense to base all your (social) science on the assumption that only individuals exist, even if sometimes those individuals may be considered to be part of a group. Granovetter famously called this the error of ‘atomisation’. We can further assert that the very existence of groups and the various relationships between these, to some extent, shapes social space in a way analogous to electromagnetic fields distortion of space/time.  It’s called ‘social physics’.  Yes, we’re atoms, but we’re in a field of forces.
So how does Marketing contribute to the problem to which I refer? Well, that’s where Lynn’s thesis about the 7 deadly sins of marketing comes in.  In her book, Lynn lists the key mistakes that marketing, based I think, on thisatomised view of humankind, makes and the consequences of these.

Brian: You're all individuals Crown: Yes! We're all individuals! One voice: I'm not.

Brian: You’re all individuals
Crown: Yes! We’re all individuals!
One voice: I’m not.

  • Disconnection 
  • Persuasion 
  • Invasion 
  • Distraction 
  • Deception 
  • Scarcity 
  • Competition
I’m not, in this post at least, going to go through all of the 7 deadly sins, but they are all reflective of a misunderstanding of humans as individual and ‘agentic’ – entirely able to make their own decisions.
There is one of the 7 sins I would like to bring to your attention, the illusion of scarcity.
I said that Marketing contributes to the world’s ills, but this is not to say that all marketers, or all marketing does so. Indeed some of the insight and the skills of marketing have been harnessed to achieve good things and, I’m sure, many people reading this will think of themselves as good people.  That’s okay, because there are many good people out there doing good things. Of course there are many people also (like me) unwittingly do not-so-good things through choice or error, with the best of intentions.
As marketers, we work with tools (models, techniques) that, predominantly, are based on that view of the customer as individual.  We talk of needs and wants as being, somehow, within the individual – in their mind perhaps. We acknowledge that these are influenced by outside factors such as age, wealth and, of course, our efforts to remind, inform and persuade. We also use ‘models’ such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to imagine the separation of physiological needs from social or even spiritual ones.
We’re just wrong. Every need, indeed every aspect of our selves, our personality even, is mediated.  Everything that we think defines us is, to a greater or lesser degree given meaning by our place in a social setting; that field in which we operate. We even view our interior, secret life, through the lens of others’ (imagined or real) judgements.
Yet despite this truth instinctively known by us all and especially by (social) psychology, marketers continue to act as if appealing to individuals with personal and limitless needs.  Consumers will always want more…or better. And in the face of this, how can any amount of product or service be ‘enough’? And if all marketing (indeed much of the media) agrees on this view of the world, who are we to contradict?
In fact, the situation is even more curious, because as marketers we wouldn’t really want consumers to be satisfied. If they were, they would stop consuming. So, it’s in our interests to ensure that consumers continuously discover new needs or, indeed, new dissatisfactions. Infinite needs and wants.
The myth of scarcity, that it is impossible to ever meet these needs, is I believe Orwellian double-speak for the fear of looking at ourselves as we really are. We are afraid to be satisfied, to stop and be still and to ask for nothing more. Perhaps it is too close to giving up on life.  As marketers we seem unable to acknowledge that OUR demand for more, now, is not necessarily reflected in the needs of consumers. They might not want the ‘more’ we want to sell them.
A recent talk given by Brian Wheeller of Breda University in the Netherlands reminded me that one of the tools of control used to get consumers to consume is the (marketing) manipulation of taste and fashion; telling us what we ought to be wearing or experiencing ‘this season’.  Why this should be the case I hope to discuss in a future post, but for the moment it is enough to acknowledge that there is a contradiction at the heart of the marketing logic.  Marketing ‘sells’ need, not satisfaction.
In order to truly meet people’s needs therefore, and at least one of these must be happiness, we have to enable them (and therefore ourselves) to see how this can possibly be constructed.  How can we break away from the needs we are constantly being sold? How can we see that even if we work harder to buy more ‘stuff’, there will be a new need along in the future. As many a person who has ‘had it all’ has testified, there are many things that money just can’t buy. Indeed, it seems that because money can’t by love and friendship and respect, they are all the more precious.
Of course money helps but more money doesn’t help more and a lot of money doesn’t add up to a guarantee of these things. Pretty much everything we really, really value involves other people, people who have a commitment to us and our values and family and friends. And it’s an old truism that you get more of these things by giving them.

Incidentally, this is one of the points of another book from a colleague, Michael Babula, on what he calls the coming age of altruism.  That hierarchy of need doesn’t stop when we reach ‘self-actualisation’ because when we recognise that our essential needs are met, we begin to recognise our ability to achieve more… for other people.

Incidentally, this is one of the points of another book from a colleague, Michael Babula, on what he calls the coming age of altruism.  That hierarchy of need doesn’t stop when we reach ‘self-actualisation’ because when we recognise that our essential needs are met, we begin to recognise our ability to achieve more… for other people.

In truth I suspect that ‘I’ (and by extension ‘you’) don’t really exist as individuals. Instead in my family and social network, there is a ‘me’ shaped hole; I occupy it, but it defines me.  To think of ourselves only as individuals is to deny the most fulfilling aspect of our humanity: the acceptance by, indeed love from, other people.
It is, I think, a sign of maturity to realise that we exist within that nexus of ties and values and to understand the extent to which so much of what is important exists outside of ourselves and our selfish impulses. It is the third stage of Kohlberg’s idea of moral development and is crystallised for many of us in that moment we become parents or, as poignantly, when we face the death of our own parents.
This realisation of our social being can be helped by us coming to know how lucky we are (in relative terms), how much we have and how little we need.   And then, beyond that, we need to recognise how little some others have and how powerful we are to help them.  Some of these findings are reported in these BBC articles and the associated programme.
It’s here that marketing (and politics, and education of course, and all forms of public discourse) can play a part.  Not by picking out particular ‘classes’ in need charitable largesse like a dish of the day, but by drawing attention to the way in which such inequalities are allowed to persist in our society. And reminding us that we (and by extension, our elected Government) have the power to improve things.
I’m particularly reminded of this last point when reading Harry Leslie Smith’s affecting book about the decline of the post-war ‘land fit for heroes’; Harry’s Last Stand.
If marketing is as powerful as it seems, if it can influence values and attitudes, and it must as no business (or Government) seemingly can succeed with out it, here is a real challenge. To make people realise that they are not only individuals, but they are also part of a social ‘organism’ the health of which depends upon every part.
Many people have been credited with saying “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” but this isn’t just a question of assuaging our guilt by donating to (ie ‘consuming’) a packaged solution for the very poorest, weakest or sickest.  It should, I think, be a recognition that we are responsible for them just as surely as we are responsible for the parts of our body or the members of our family. And that means rejecting the insidious notions of competition and scarcity.
For the things that matter it’s simply not true that “there isn’t enough to go around” or “it’s them or us’.  We don’t need more and more resources or endless economic growth, we just need to give and share and be honest about the things that bring us real happiness.
See also my personal blog post on Fear and Loathing in UK Politics

Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart: Creativity is about connecting unrelated ideas | Marketing Magazine

November 13, 2013

See on Scoop.itProducts & Things to make the world better

Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart: Creativity is about connecting unrelated ideas, Creativity can be unsettling, but binding unrelated elements to forge something new is a pathway to ­genuine excitement, writes TALENT­’s creative marketing…

See on

As VCs Retreat Four New, Nimble Innovation Funding Structures Step In | Lux Populi

November 13, 2013

See on Scoop.itProducts & Things to make the world better

Can’t get venture capital? Try these alternatives via @WorkMJ

Philip Holden‘s insight:

Could be useful for social entrepreneurs…

See on

Official BioLite Site | Home of the CampStove

November 11, 2013

See on Scoop.itProducts & Things to make the world better

BioLite Stoves make cooking on wood as clean, safe & easy as modern fuels while generating electricity to charge phones, lights and other electronics off-grid

Philip Holden‘s insight:

Check out Biolight’s products for you and the developing world. Another product that makes a difference- including giving light to read and study by. Running LED lights off your cooking fire = brilliantly simple.

See on

Wonderbag – Home

November 11, 2013

See on Scoop.itProducts & Things to make the world better

Philip Holden‘s insight:

A fantastic product that reduces fuel poverty, reduces respiratory illnesses and death and frees up resources for education in very poor households. It can save you fuel and time and quite probably give you somewhere to rest your weary head.

See on

Honesty is the missing ingredient

October 24, 2013

I don’t really have much time for Russell Brand. I’ve never been that keen on vanity. But here he pinpoints the problem with politics (and indeed business) and why nothing changes for the better.
It would be nice to have a more complete road map to the alternative but the increased taxation of corporations and the wealthiest is clearly achievable (damn, it would mean voting).
Incidentally, the standard response to this is that it would drive companies away from the UK. I’d argue that it’s precisely those kind of companies we don’t want. Meanwhile companies that value people, the environment and social justice might just like being in the UK.
Revolution anyone?

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling as Image Macros

October 16, 2013

See on Scoop.itMarketing Insight

“ Back in 2011, then Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats (now freelancing) tweeted 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar. Coats learned the ‘guidelines’ from senior colleagues on how to …”
See on

%d bloggers like this: