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I will try my best to update this webpage with  thought provoking and interesting content, as often as I can.  Please feel free to leave comments as  there is much that can be learnt from the sharing of ideas.

By pa360, Apr 5 2021 10:13AM

We are all hard-wired to seek relevance. This is primarily because it provides validation, affirmation and assurance. The thing about relevance is that, whilst by itself it does not solve problems, it is an important gateway to better things. In the context of a brand, relevance can be the difference. between the possibility of something and the guarantee of nothing.


Relevance ensures that a brand is able to navigate its way through a changing market-place. At the very least, it keeps a brand visible and at best it can give a brand a significant competitive edge. By contrast, nothing chokes and kills a brand quicker than ignorance about how relevance works. With this in mind, set out below are ten things that you need to know to make your brand relevant.


1. Relevance is often contextual

To fully appreciate what is and is not relevant, you must first understand the context and space within which you operate. It is often the case that relevance is no more than a window of opportunity at a point in time, which narrows incrementally over time. Whenever I think of 'contextual relevance' I am reminded of boy bands. It is well known that boy bands are relevant to a particular demographic. It is also well known that they are relevant for as long as it takes for the target demographic to grow out of them or for as long as it takes for another boy band to usurp them in the affections of the target demographic. In other words, with 'contextual relevance', there is no expectation of longevity or survivability and even though you do everything you can to make yourself relevant, you do not expect your relevance to last very long.


2. Sometimes relevance will find you

There are times when relevance finds you, without you even having to search for it. A particularly pertinent example of this is the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lengthy periods of 'lockdown', many people have been forced to seek out online tools to stay in touch with friends, family and co-workers. Zoom in particular has emerged as a market-leader over the past 12 months, not because of carefully designed and targeted marketing and promotion, but rather due to the exigencies of social distancing restrictions, brought about by the pandemic. Suddenly a product has taken on a level of relevance and achieved a reach, that could not have been imagined or forecast, in the year prior. Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances create the climate of relevance, that you cannot achieve all by yourself.


3. In the long run, relevance is meaningless without significance

The fact is this: there is no point trying to reach your intended destination if, when you get there, it makes no material difference. A politician becomes relevant when they are elected to high office. However, if whilst in office they fail to fulfil any of their campaign promises, it is likely that their tenure will be considered an irrelevance. Equally, if a product is launched with a fanfare and to popular acclaim, but fails to catch on and is quickly forgotten, then in the grand scheme of things, that product is also likely to be considered an irrelevance. Relevance without significance is like a light bulb that is never switched on. What is the point of everyone being able to see it, if no-one even knows why it is there?


4. Relevance is something that you work for, not something that you wait for

Often-times, we want what we want when we want it. We want access and opportunity on tap as though it were a microwavable option. There seems to be little desire or appetite to put in the hard miles in order to achieve the desired results. Yet the fact is that the road to relevance is often demanding and difficult; requiring dedication, relentlessness and conscientious effort. So, does that mean that on the road to relevance you will never have to exercise patience? Of course not; but the point being made here is that you earn the right to wait while you work. You don't assume the right to wait, while you do nothing.


5. Sometimes irrelevance is relevance

Several years ago, I was watching an absorbing soccer match and at the end of the game, one of the commentators mentioned that the referee had performed well because the game had flowed almost without interruption. For those who are fans of soccer, a good match is one that is remembered for the quality of football, not the frequency of refereeing interventions. Moreover, during the match when things do go wrong, the expectation is that the referee handles the matter deftly, quickly restarts play and reverts to their position of on-pitch obscurity. For referees therefore, the skill and art of the brand is to be known for anonymity and quiet efficiency, rather than visible presence. Sometimes irrelevance is relevance and if less in more, then it is only right that more is better.


6. Relevance is a journey not a destination

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to think that relevance is definitive. In their reasoning, they liken it to climbing a mountain or running a marathon. In actual fact, it is unlike either of those things. There is nothing at all that is definite about relevance. Depending on the particular area in which you are operating, relevance can be a never-ending process of reinvention, re-purposing and re-imagining. There is probably no better example of this than the tech industry, where whatever might have been thought of as cutting edge and ground-breaking just a few years ago, will be considered a museum piece today. In such a environment the ability to keep running, if only to stand still, is the only way that a business can truly remain relevant.


7. Relevance can limit opportunities just as much as it can open doors

It is important to know who you are relevant to, as well as what you are relevant for. There are products and services that are only relevant to certain demographics and communities. These days, typewriters are quaint collectors items, for people of a certain vintage. However, the truth of the matter is that they no longer have mass-market appeal because businesses and individuals now routinely use computers. Likewise, a trade in music cassette tapes, whilst holding nostalgia value for some, is unlikely to see much growth amongst the general population. This is because cassette tapes are no longer the media produced by manufactures or preferred by consumers. As such, relevance can be a value judgement that, whilst appealing to some, may be of little or no interest to others.


8. There are times when you don't even get to choose why you are relevant

It is extraordinary how people can become relevant for reasons that they had not expected or intended. The story of supermodel Kate Moss, is an example of this. Miss Moss, then aged just 14, was apparently recruited as a model in 1988 at at JFK Airport in New York. By all accounts, the young Miss Moss was neither canvassing for, not expecting the opportunity that came her way and subsequently changed her life. I have no idea what Kate Moss' career ambitions might have been at 14, but it is probably fair to say that they did not include being catapulted to fame a few years into her teens. As is so often the case with relevance, it is for others to make the discerning judgement, not for you to decide.


9. To be relevant you don't just need to know your purpose, you also need to find your place

Have you ever seen a green leaf insect camouflaged on a green leaf? The way they blend into their environment is quite incredible and an excellent example of the necessity for purpose to be complemented by place. A green leaf insect attempting to camouflage itself amongst dead and dry leaves on a forest floor, would likely see its life chances decrease significantly. In other words, as much as relevance helps to define your purpose, by itself, purpose is of limited or nil value unless it finds a natural blend with place. It is when those two dynamics come together, that the chance of survivability is increased.


10. Sometimes relevance is forged in the fire of disappointment

No-one would accept disappointment, if it is something that they could avoid. Yet the value of disappointment cannot and should never be understated. The reason for this because more often than not, disappointment is the sand-box of learning and development. There are times when it is only through the frustrating and painstaking process of discovering what is not relevant, that you can uncover what is relevant. Much as we hate the idea of not being able to get things right at the first time of asking, it is the commitment to bounce back and keep going that tests our resourcefulness, builds resilience and reveals character. Not only that, but the above-mentioned traits are also the very building blocks of what makes a brand relevant.


Ok, so in conclusion, relevance is a critical component of any brand. In fact no brand can expect to be successful without it. However, as this blog sets out, relevance is also a multi-faceted, complex and often organic construct. You may look for it and find it, you may search for it and miss it, you may encounter it without expecting it. With relevance there are a multiplicity of rules, some of which apply at different times and others which apply at the same time. In the context of a brand, the key learning point is that relevance is what matters to others, not what it means to you.



By pa360, Dec 1 2018 11:23AM

This blog is the third in a three part series on branding. In the first blog we looked at the '7 questions that will define your brand', whilst the second focused on '7 most common brand types'. In this third blog we look at '10 uncommon characteristics of incredibly successful brands'.


So, why is it so important to focus on 'uncommon characteristics'? Well, the reason why brands become incredibly successful is not just because they think the things that others do, it is because they think the things that others haven't thought of yet. An uncommon characteristic therefore, is not what it takes to fit in, it is what is required to stand out. Incredible success, is attributable to the nuance and point of distinction that differentiates a steady pace from rapid acceleration and big steps from giant strides.


Uncommon characteristics are the root system of every incredibly successful brand. They help to sway markets, drive change and deliver exceptional results. However, with or without uncommon characteristics, it is important to note that brands are defined by the lived experience of the consumer, not the artful promotion of the producer. As such, when those with whom your product or service engages, form judgements about it, then those judgements are your brand.


Incredibly successful brands do not develop simply because you work hard, or because you learn lessons, they develop because you do uncommon things. So here are 10 uncommon characteristics of incredibly successful brands.


1. they are relatable

An incredibly successful brand is relatable. As such, even if you cannot possess what it promotes, you can still aspire to what it represents. Take a Ferrari motor car, as a case in point, it is an item of ostentation that most people will never be able afford in their lifetime, but that does not stop people from relating to the brand as something that they should aspire to possess. The uncommon characteristic here is that incredibly successful brands recognise that aspiration is customisable, translatable and transferable.


2. they stay relevant

Relevance differentiates those who succeed from those who remain successful and distinguishes those who were on the journey for the ride those who stayed the course for the reward. To remain relevant, incredibly successful brands are able to master the art of conformity and surf the curve of change. The uncommon characteristic here is that incredibly successful brands are in a constant state of readiness and always anticipate the inevitability of change,


3. they never confuse sphere of reach with extent of impact

In branding, success is not about reach, distribution or even concentration it is about impact. Neither is brand ubiquity, evidence of brand influence. Incredibly successful brands recognise that being everywhere without the influence to shape anything, proves nothing. The measure of a brand's influence is its effect not its visibility. The uncommon characteristic here is that it is better to have a big impact in a small place than to be in a big place with little impact.


4. they understand that an incredible brand sells itself

Ultimately, incredible successful brands sell themselves. That is because, the strength of a brand is the measure of what your customers and competitors say about you long after your marketing and publicity campaigns are over and your budgets have been spent. The uncommon characteristic here is that no matter how much you invest in promoting the power of your brand, the value of word of mouth is always worth much more.


5. they attract imitators and drive innovation

Imitation by itself is not uncommon; but what imitation conveys, is not always commonly appreciated. Few actions will imbue a brand with authenticity, value and status more than those who choose to imitate it. Imitation establishes your brand as the benchmark and validates it as the standard against which others should compare. Similarly, because imitation triggers competition, it will often drive innovation and innovation helps to raise standards even higher. The uncommon characteristic here is that incredibly successful brands don't just actively attract imitators, they often encourage them.


6. they don't just set trends, they send messages

An incredibly successful brand does much more than affect and influence the behaviour of others; it communicates permission, validates choice and affirms action. Incredibly successful brands make a conscious effort to set the agenda and see every engagement as an opportunity to send a message. The uncommon characteristic here is that incredibly successful brands don't just set trends to change behaviour, they set them to drive the narrative.


7. they don't just attribute value to generating sales

In business, strong sales will always be a key measure of the success of an incredibly strong brand. However, the true measure of success is the extent to which you attend to the things that make you successful. I am often reminded of a comment made by the late Steve Jobs, who highlighted that the key to success is to focus on making great product rather than making a profit. The uncommon characteristic here is that, if you invest value, when you make it, others will attribute value when you produce it.


8. they see competition as a test of strength

Incredibly successful brands do not fear competition or opposition. That is because they understand that survivability, in the face of competition, is the truest test of resilience. A brand that faces competition will do one of three things; it will either concede defeat, accept the challenge or raise the stakes. The uncommon characteristic here is that incredibly successful brands find the strength to more forward, even when you try to push them back.


9. they recognise that not all loyalty is transferrable

Do you remember the 'new Coke versus classic Coke' debacle more than thirty years ago? If not, Google it as it is a fascinating account of how an incredibly strong brand can fundamentally rethink its approach, in the face of overwhelming consumer power. The point to note here is that people can develop unwavering personal identification with the brands that they patronise (Apple is another case in point). The uncommon characteristic here is that when people are passionate about your product, their loyalty is not easily transferable.


10. they don't just search for excellence, they seek out mediocrity

The search for excellence is a defining characteristic of incredible successful brands, but it is not an uncommon characteristic. Just as important, but much less common, is the fact that incredibly successful brands actively seek out mediocrity. The reason why is because they recognise that the market-place of mediocrity, is the most fertile environment for growth, expansion and improvement. The uncommon characteristic here is that incredibly successful brands obsess as much about mediocrity, as they do about excellence.


Much as this blog summarises the uncommon characteristics of incredibly successful brands, it is important to underline the fact that a number of these characteristics are scalable. As such a small start-up or medium-sized enterprise, can adopt the same habits and behaviours that will, over time, produce the same results.



By pa360, Nov 4 2018 12:35PM

In this second of a three part series on branding, we look at the seven most common types of brand.


Brands are defined by what they do, but more importantly they are defined by how customers perceive, receive and respond to them. Brands are not homogenous constructs. On the contrary, they are multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, with unique characteristics and behaviour patterns that define and drive them.


Brands fall under a number of typologies, with each functioning as its own unique economy. There are brands that are time-defined and those that derive from extreme loyalty as well as others that communicate lifestyle choice, personal vanity and social concerns. For entrepreneurs, the better they understand the classifications and characteristics that define each brand economy, the more effectively they can cultivate customers, compete successfully and increase their market presence. Nothing drives success more than the power of a brand. So here are the seven most common types of brand.


1. the bubble brand

As the name suggests, a bubble brand is one with high impact, concentrated energy and a short life. The motion picture industry is a good example of where this sort of brand is most prevalent. It is well understood that the average life-cycle of a movie, from wide release to final showing, is about 10 weeks. During this 'bubble period' the biggest single point impact will be the film's opening weekend. Thereafter, the grosses will diminish, week-on-week, until newer offerings eventually displace it at the box office. A bubble brand is therefore intended to generate as much impact and as great a value, in as short a time, as possible.


2. the loyalty brand

A loyalty brand is one where consumer allegiance derives from reasons other than the quality or performance of a product or service. Some of the best examples of loyalty brands are in the sporting world, where allegiance to a team or franchise isn't transferable or negotiable. As case in point, in 2018, the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association, finished 15th and last in Eastern Conference. Despite this, during the season, the team still managed to pull an average attendance of 14,400 at their home games. The point to note here is that a loyalty brand is resolute, even in the face of the most negative consumer experience.


3. the endorsement brand

As the name suggests, endorsement is as much a branding technique as a brand in its own right. The purpose of an endorsement is to get the consumer to do something that they probably would not have done, but for the efforts of those who endorse it. A good example of this is when celebrities promote products or services in an effort to imbue them with their own credibility and glamour. However, the most effective and powerful form of endorsement does not come from well-known personalities, but rather from the word of mouth of ordinary consumers who use a product or service, have positive experience and recommend it to others.


4. the lifestyle brand

These brands are most closely identified with the needs, wants and particular preferences of an individual's everyday life. A lifestyle brand is something that speaks to you personally or something that you can customise to reflect your choice and tastes. Examples of this type of brand are tech products such as mobile phones, upon which people rely so heavily to perform every day functions. However, lifestyle brands are also reflected in the places that people regularly go and the things that they routinely do that underpin the rhythm of their daily lives. A good example of this are the restaurants, hairdressing salons and barber shops that people visit.


5. the status brand

A status or vanity brand speaks to the socio-economic statement that a consumer wants to make about themselves, whether or not that statement is accurate. Expensive cars, high-value jewellery, designer clothes and even some tech products are all examples of brands, which are assumed to convey a certain status on those who possess or utilise them.


6. the transferable brand

A transferable brand is one with such a high trust value, that it can be used across a diverse product and service range. One of the best known examples of this is Richard Branson's Virgin brand. Over the years, the Virgin name has been lent to everything from mobile phones and financial services, to multi-media and mass transit. Not dissimilar from an endorsement, a transferable brand, once attached to a product or service, confers value and standing and therefore communicates 'permission' to trust that product or service.


7. the conscience brand

A conscience brand is a form of status branding, where the consumer seeks to make a personal and social statement about the products and services that they procure. However, distinct from a status brand, which can often be a statement of ostentation or vanity, a conscience brand is communitarian and concerned with social welfare. Some examples of this kind of brand include products and services marketed as fair-trade, responsibly sourced or recycled.


In conclusion, a brand is an economy, reflecting the personal, social and commercial preferences of consumers. Whilst some brands intersect, making it possible for businesses to market products and services across boundaries, others are completely unique and require a more sophisticated approach. In the brand economy, the key to success isn't just the quality of your product, it is the ability to understand the psychology of your customer.




By pa360, May 30 2016 11:57AM

For any new enterprise, the requirement to 'start small' is more likely to be a necessity than a preference. This is because the resource base, competitiveness and market reach, that are so characteristic of larger organisations, take time to develop.


But it is easy to forget that starting small actually offers many important strategic advantages and benefits, which are denied to organisations of greater size and with more plentiful resources. Harnessing these opportunities is crucial, because it helps to ensure that an organisation that starts small, in the short term, will be better able to grow sustainably in the longer term. Set out below are six strategic advantages of starting small.


1. maximises the value of limited resources - if you have little to work with, then you will always look to make the most of what you have. Resourcefulness is so much easier when every penny counts and when every second of productive time must be accounted for. Starting small is therefore the ideal place to learn good habits, apply good principles and model good practice. It is also worth noting that resourcefulness is scalable. As such, the practices that you apply when you are small, can also be applied as you grow.


2. builds character - to truly appreciate what it means to have much, you must first appreciate what it means to have little. Character is what you develop when you are under pressure, face tough challenges and keep going long after others have given up. If you are a small fish in a big pond you are perfectly placed to develop the resilience to survive, the courage to compete and the determination to succeed. But even more than being well placed to achieve success, those who start small are equally well placed to sustain it.


3. enables intimate relationships to develop with staff and customers - big organisations are more likely to know their stakeholders by number, whilst smaller organisations are more likely to know their stakeholders by name. To build loyalty you need to establish relationships and the most effective way to establish relationships is to get to know people and develop intimacy. This is where size offers distinct advantages to smaller organisations who are more naturally suited to developing one-to-one relationships and are therefore more likely to be rewarded with loyalty for doing so.


4. innovation is much easier - as organisations grow, structures fall into place which, over time, can become rigid and unwieldy. Needless to say, inflexible structures are often the most difficult environments within which to develop fresh thinking and implement new ideas. By contrast, one of the greatest advantages of starting small is the freedom it provides to innovate and do things differently. The more you experiment, the more you learn and the more you learn the more confident you can be about what works and what doesn't.


5. decision-making is much quicker - if you do not have to delegate or escalate, then decision-making can be much quicker. If you cannot make a quick decision, it doesn't matter whether or not you know the right answer. Speedier decision-making not only positions you to take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise, it also creates a perception of agility and organisational competence. This is crucial in building confidence amongst employees, customers and potential investors.


6. responsiveness and flexibility - one of the most valuable assets of any organisation is its capacity for responsiveness. Being responsive is more than the ability to reassess priorities and refocus effort in light of changing needs and demands; it is the ability to do so in a timely fashion. By virtue of size, smaller organisations are much better able to surf the curve of change and respond quickly as and when required.


The overarching message of this blog is that there are many distinct advantages of starting small. However, though a business might start small, the longer term aim is usually to become bigger. This is just the natural order of things because growth is an important indicator of progress and progress is an important indicator of success.


By pa360, Jan 24 2015 11:06AM

On a particular afternoon, many years ago I was making chicken stew. Just as I had done many times before, I placed all the ingredients in a saucepan and left them to simmer on the cooker for 30 minutes. Given that I had successfully performed this task on previous occasions, I had absolute confidence in the outcome. However, this time I did something different - I fell asleep.


I don't remember how long I was asleep for, only that I was awoken from my slumber by the acrid smell of burning chicken. My stew had been reduced to a smouldering ruin, all because I had failed to pay attention to what I was doing. I think it is worth repeating that I didn't fail in my objective because I lacked the belief, skill or talent to complete the task. On the contrary, I failed in my objective because at a key moment I was distracted and lost focus. This is a sobering lesson because it reveals that by themselves our skills, talents, competencies and experience amount to nothing without the ability to stay focused. So here are the seven kinds of distraction that the most successful people avoid.


1. The distraction of success

Success can be a major distraction primarily because it can lead to complacency. The danger of complacency is that complacent people rest on their laurels and take for granted the things that made them successful in the first place. The eco-system of success can also be a distraction for other reasons, notably because those who achieve success often attract people around them who will feed their insecurities, nourish their vanity and massage their egos. When others tell us what we want to hear, they wittingly or unwittingly shield us from what we need to know. As a matter of course, the most successful people surround themselves with those who will provide challenge, balance and context to their thinking and reasoning.


2. The distraction of discouragement

At some point everyone will experience disappointment of some description. By itself, disappointment is not final or definitive. However, where it becomes problematic is when disappointment leads to discouragement and where discouragement then results in indecision and unreasonable self-doubt. This in turn can provide a justification for giving up. With successful people, disappointment is contextualised in a completely different way. Instead of giving undue weight to disappointments, when things have gone wrong, focus is given to active learning in order to better understand what went wrong and what can be done better next time. In this way. the discouragement that comes from disappointment can be re-purposed to build resilience and persistence.


3. The distraction of significance

Not everything has the same level of importance. One of the things that really successful people are able to do is prioritise the most important issues, without being distracted by those that are of lesser significance. Think of it this way, if you have 100 things that you need to do of which 60 are desirable, 30 are essential and five are critical, which ones should be given the greatest priority? The critical ones right? Not only that, but really successful people would then be able to make discerning judgements about the apportionment of their time eg: they might spend 70 per cent of their time on the most critical things, with the rest of the time apportioned to essential tasks. The key learning point here is that successful people avoid spreading themselves too thinly, mindful that doing so can divert attention away from those things that matter most.


4. The distraction of preference

Successful people know that preference is the opposite of necessity. The things that we prefer to do are the ones that give us the greatest satisfaction or stimulation and reflect our personal interests and choices. Unfortunately preference can also be a major distraction, diverting focus and attention away from those things that are absolutely necessary. A manager who prefers to avoid difficult conversations with poorly performing employees, because they do not want to offend them, will likely encourage other employees to underperform. By contrast, a manager who does what is necessary, rather than what is preferable is more likely to take the difficult decisions if that is what will produce the most appropriate and successful outcomes.


5. The distraction of the moment

Have you ever observed the behaviour of people waiting to cross the road at a major pedestrian crossing? They will check the traffic lights, wait until it is safe and then walk across the road before the lights change. For the most part, people intending to get from one side of the road to the other take active steps to de-risk their behaviour. You do not for example see them reading newspapers, applying make-up or stopping to tie shoelaces in front of stationary traffic. The reason is because such behaviours are distractions that will increase one's exposure to risk and potentially lead to undesirable outcomes. Successful people understand the moment and are quickly able to distinguish that which is appropriate in the moment from all the other things that might be happening or could happen during that point in time.


6. The distraction of ambient noise

Noise is a powerful distraction. Not least because we routinely ascribe some sort of value to sound. For example, the sound of whispering can make us suspicious, the sound of laughter can make us curious and the sound of shouting can make us anxious. However, it is how we behave and respond when we hear ambient noise that makes the difference. Again the point being made here is not how much you hear, but rather what you ascribe value to, because it is what you ascribe value to that will determine what requires your attention. Consequently, what requires your attention ultimately determines what you need to do next. Successful people are able to filter out that which amounts to actionable information from that which constitutes ambient noise. It is this distinction that enables them to enhance access to opportunity and mitigate risk.


7. The distraction of the unfamiliar

Almost anything that is new, different or unfamiliar can create a distraction. However, having one's concentration momentarily broken may not necessarily be the worst thing, particularly where this might offer new insights that could help to re-balance perspectives and positions. Rather, the problem is more likely to arise when concentration is continually broken in a way that points to shallow reasoning, a lack of commitment or transactional values. In simple terms, it is almost impossible to complete or finish any task if you lack the capacity and intensity to see it through to the end. By contrast the most successful people are determined, resolute and conscientious. As such, they are better able to avoid the risks associated with those who exhibit indecisive tendencies.


In conclusion, when you are distracted you lose focus. When you lose focus you are no longer paying attention. When you are no longer paying attention standards slip, behaviours become erratic, decisions become questionable and end goals are compromised. By themselves distractions are unavoidable (everyone has to face them) but it is ultimately how you deal with them that makes the difference. To that end, living with distraction puts you on the pathway to learning, but when you avoid being distracted, you are on the pathway to success.



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