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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, 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, Oct 4 2015 09:56AM

Data is a language in itself. Those who can read, translate and interpret data have a competitive edge in terms of mapping trends, forecasting trajectories and planning for the future. A firm grasp of data will enable you to see the new product opportunity long before others even knew it was there. For start-ups, the ability to commercialise data is as good as cash in the bank.


The great news is that the market-place is being deluged with data. Much of it is available by default, some can be purchased and others can be requested under legislation. So what are these information sources and how might a start-up be able to exploit them? Well here are five ways to supercharge your start-up with data.


1. Consumer and market trend survey results – some market research companies gather cyclical business intelligence, which they publish free to download from their websites. These analytical products can offer powerful insights to better understand consumer behaviour and market trends. The key to making the most of these products is to use them as pieces of a puzzle. For example, market research data may only give you part of the picture, but supplemented by demographic and other data, might provide a more complete overview. For start-ups, access to pre-packaged free to download research, is invaluable.


2. Open data deposits – a number of Governments have an ‘open by default’ policy for public data. As part of this, literally millions of pieces of data are placed in the public domain, from contract values and consultancy costs to service spend. This kind of information can provide a veritable gold-mine for a start-up looking to find a way into new markets, exploit new opportunities and develop new products.


3. Population censuses, estimates and projections – one of the most powerful sources of data for any business are demographics. Good demographic data will disaggregate populations by a range of sub domains including age; gender; ethnicity and many others. The point is this, if you know how your target population is changing over time you will be better able to forecast product demand. Equally, demographic data will enable you to better tailor your product to new and emerging markets.


4. Economic digests – it is likely that your national statistics provider already publishes a treasure trove of information relating to local economics including business demography; VAT registrations; business starts & failures and labour market activity. By themselves these digests of are excellent raw material for smart products such as apps as well as invaluable intelligence for strategic planning.


4. Freedom of Information – one of the most effective and powerful ways to access data is through the use of freedom of information (FOI) legislation. Many countries have a Freedom of Information Act, which allows members of the public to access a wide range of information retained by Governments and their agencies. The key to getting the best from your FOI request is to be specific about the kind of information that you want – don’t leave it to the supplier to guess. A good FOI request can save you thousands of pounds in market research costs.


5. Subscriptions – for a relatively small fee, a number of companies offer subscriptions to pre-packaged market research that will enable you to access useful information on customer profiling, geo-spatial analysis and market research intelligence. These kinds of data could supplement your existing research or form the basis of new product development. If you need to speculate to accumulate, investment in a subscription is a very good way to achieve a high return at a nominal cost.


Data is a phenomenally powerful, but if you don't know what you are looking for you will not know when you find it.


By pa360, Aug 16 2015 11:56AM

In the market-place of opportunity, you need to stand out to compete and you need to compete effectively to succeed. For start-ups, the key to sustainable success is the ability to turn all things to do with ‘size’ to your advantage. By doing so you effectively re-define the market-place in a way that makes ‘scale’ work in your favour irrespective of what larger competitors are doing. So how do you do that? Well here are eight top tips for successful start-ups.


1. Just because you can’t compare doesn’t mean you can’t compete – successful competition is not necessarily about doing the same things better than others, it is about disrupting the market-place with a unique and distinctive offering. Study your market, don’t just look at what others are doing, look at what they are not doing. These gaps could provide the next big growth opportunity.


2. Better to get your strategy right than to get it written – a clear and coherent strategy is the price of admission for success. If you do not know where you are trying to get to, you will not know how to get there or know when you arrive. A strategy that is written to please your bank manager is neither use nor ornament. Invest the time needed to get it right and then use the strategy as a road map to get from where you are to where you need to be.


3. Being small and agile has distinct advantages – one of the greatest advantages of small enterprises is their ability to respond quickly to changing demands and the emergence of new opportunities. Use this distinctive trait to best effect by networking with like-minded others to build economies of scale when you need to grow and to spread risk when you need to diversify. The ability to assemble and disassemble as necessary will enhance your operational effectiveness and your strategic capabilities.


4. Customers don’t want to know who did it first, they want to know who does it best – if you are going to build on the successes of others don’t imitate - innovate. In 1984 the first commercially available handheld mobile phone was unveiled by Motorola. Today, Motorola controls less than 6 per cent of the global smart-phone market, well below that of its two main competitors. Modern consumers are not interested in history or tradition; they are interested in personalisation, convenience and choice.


5. Value is better than volume – establish a reputation for designing products and delivering services that people value. The time taken to ensure that you do not just get the right product, but that you get your product right is an investment in success. Products built on value breed confidence and confidence builds trust. When customers trust you they will follow you and they will bring others. Remember, it is better to do a few things well than to do many things badly


6. Slow growth is better than no growth – incremental growth and consolidation is much better than rapid and unsustainable expansion. By all means have high ambitions, but these must be underpinned by realistic targets. As part of your growth journey you need to know what success looks like in the short, medium and longer term.


7. In the market place for ideas, speed of thought levels the playing field – good ideas are not the preserve of blue chip multi-nationals or those with the biggest market share. A good idea can come from anywhere, anyone and at anytime. Keep your mind fertile, be open to new opportunities and constantly assess & reassess consumer and market behaviour.


8. Be fluent in the language of data – the data mine as the new ‘Klondike’ of product innovation and business growth. With a better understanding of data you can close the gap in performance between yourself and your competitors, better manage risk and expand into new markets. The importance of understanding data is crucial to sustainable success.


In summary, the most valuable asset available to a start-up is the ability to dominate economies where size gives you an advantage or where size makes no difference. Tactically, this will enable your start-up to compete and win on its own terms.


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