October 28, 2008

One Small Misstep For Man...

An American friend sent on quite an extraordinary video link that puts me right at the heart of the election battle being fought out across the water.

They say that our favourite sound is the sound of our own name and, even as a non-American, there's something thrilling about seeing Gerard T. in the thick of that country's momentous action.

I've written elsewhere of the power of making our ordinary, everyday deeds somehow extraordinary or epic. Even the most private of us sometimes likes to imagine that our role is being played out on a world stage, that our heft is out of all proportion to our puny strength and that we too can impact on the course of history. No-one likes to feel that they don't matter.

A brand often helps us play such a role, to find a place to stand where we can move the world. Personalised messaging on this scale should prove invaluable in helping customers stand that little bit taller. There's a great opportunity there for both brand-owner and brand-buyer alike.

October 18, 2008

Please, Sir, I Want Some More

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds; and then clung for support to the copper.

The assistants were paralysed with wonder, the boys with fear. "What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.

"Please, sir,' replied Oliver, "I want some more."

The reaction of many of our politicians to the credit crunch and newly-arrived recession has me gritting my teeth. It's not so much the threat of half-rations that sticks in the craw but the humble pie that they insist forms part of our new diet.

There's more than a touch of the rather too well-fed Mr. Beadle in both Mr. Cowan and Mr. Lenihan as they lecture us for the over-indulgence of the last decade. The suggestion, not so subtly made, is that we've all been on the pig's back and it's high time for us to pay for our greed. In an instant, the same politicians who crowed over the success of the wonder economy are turning on those who worked hard to make it happen.

Maybe it's the circles where I move, but I've seen little of the gorging at the trough that they imply. I'm not suggesting that we've all been slaving in the workhouse but, in the main, our colleagues and clients have been working hard for a fair return. We'll tighten our belts if that's what's needed but we can do without the doling out of financial measures as though they were medicine, a sort of antacid for a greedy populace who's eyes have grown too big for its stomach.

I'm not surprised that our politicians and their well-nourished friends in property and finance are suffering more than a little heartburn. But I do think it a little rich that they rush to the same conclusion as their not-so-honourable predecessor Mr. Haughey and tell us that "we've" all been living beyond our means.

Please, sir, keep your nasty medicine for yourself.

October 10, 2008

Cafe Society

I've got mixed feelings about the Starbucks brand but I really like what they've done in their latest in-store poster campaign.

I say mixed feelings because my early experience of the brand in New York and other American cities was really good and I saw much to admire in the business philosophy and practices of a hardworking and thoughtful enterprise. Back in boomtown Dublin, I wondered why Starbucks hadn't made the short hop across the Irish Sea from England where it also seemed to enjoy considerable success.

When the brand did arrive here in Ireland, I was hugely underwhelmed. Where its overseas counterpart is smart and crisp, the Irish Starbucks seems sloppy and dishevelled. My abiding image of Starbucks in Dublin is of tables left stained and littered with the debris of the not-so-recently departed visitor.

All the while, many of the independent local coffee-shop brands deliver a much sharper offer and service that really put it up to the global blow-in.

On top of that, you may be surprised to learn that despite what I do for a living, I share with my countrymen something of an in-built suspicion of the big brands (and their shades of colonialism) so am reluctant to give them too much credit.

But Starbucks current posters, which proclaim 'WE'RE BIG on responsibly grown, ethically traded coffee' and 'WE'RE EVERYWHERE working with farmers to improve their coffee quality and standard of living', skilfully make a virtue of their enormous size and reach in a climate where many of us inclined to subscribe to Seth Godin's Small Is The New Big.

Through their smart messaging, it seems to me that Starbucks make a strong case for Big Being The New Small.

October 03, 2008

Did Not. Did Two.

Following on from yesterday's post, I happened upon this from Benjamin Franklin which kind of sums it up a lot better than I did: "Many a long dispute among divines may be thus abridged: It is so. It is not so. It is so. It is not so."

October 02, 2008

Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Wrong

Try to see it my way...

It's funny how a chance remark from a child can lead to a discussion on the timeless battle between good and evil.

As we were driving to his game on Saturday, my nine-year old gave me the heads-up on a dinosaur (whose name I've since forgotten), started quizzing me about the ages of pre-history (Ice, Stone, Bronze and the rest) and asked how long each period was before Biblical times. As I foostered about, trying to recall the bits and pieces of information learned and then half-forgotten, it was obvious that I knew a lot less about pre-history than he did.

As we talked, he seemed especially struck by the difference between the information which scientists deduced from physical evidence of earlier times and the details that emerged from the oral traditions and writings of the ancients around the time of Christ. It was a short step then to a conversation about how we might judge the reliability of evidence that's offered to us by those who have a particular world view, who urge us to see things their way or, as they would have it, the right way.

Our conversation came to an abrupt halt as we arrived at the pitch and Louis joined his team-mates to warm up for the game but my mind was racing now. Why are we so insistent that others see things our way? What is it in us that leaves us squirming when we're asked to leave our minds open to two or more possibilities for any length of time?

I say 'tomato', you say 'tomahto' but very few of us are inclined to leave it at that. More often than not, we fiercely believe that our way is right. I say 'tomato', you say 'tomahto', but you're wrong!

Deep down, we seem to have an extraordinary need for moral certainty in our thinking and our choices. Even those who preach laissez-faire can argue violently on behalf of that particular choice. It's as though we're hell-bent on making the world fit our way of seeing it.

This has important implications on customer choice. If there are two ways of looking at the world (my way and the wrong way), then it's vital that we make sure our offer is on the right side as far as our customer is concerned.

Otherwise, there's a real danger that our offer will be cast into that place where there is endless torment and gnashing of teeth. Anyone who doubts this need only sit at our (Irish-French) dinner table when the merits of tomato ketchup versus mayonnaise are being vehemently argued (the sauce of all evil...).

Or listen to the heated exchanges between advocates of Apple and Microsoft in the online world. Or Pepsi versus Coke, Macdonald's against Burger King... you could call it taking the moral high-brand.

Right, left, right, left, right, wrong.

The truth is that as we quick-march our way through the world, we're not simply keeping step, we're often stamping out imagined heresies and threats to our way of seeing the world.

The truth is..?

OK then, try to see it my way...