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As we all hunker down to limit the spread of covid 19, this is a time to reset our practices and reconnect with those dear to us in the best possible ways. Many of us will reassess our priorities, habits and rituals. One, I have allowed to slip is reading. Streaming services and screens have taken control over the last few years and I hope to change that around.
I have been a voracious reader for most of my life. At one time, I was the #12 reviewer on Amazon.ca, having only reviewed books. That statistic has slipped. But it is not about that number, it is about the joy of reading and the entertainment and education it provides. Groucho Marx said it well, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
What follows is a list of Long Reads that have impressed me in content and style. If you are not familiar with this brand of writing, Long Reads are dedicated to longer articles with larger amounts of content. The articles run between 1,000 and 20,000 words. Such pieces often take the form of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism.
Here are a few that I hope you will enjoy…
“Shortly after my college graduation, I trekked the entire Appalachian Trail with my roommate of four years by my side. Over the course of six months, we backpacked through 14 states—and learned a lot about ourselves along the way.”Read more
Let me make this real quick. Advertising, marketing and creative agencies are horrible at marketing and building their own brand. Cobbler’s shoes and all that (“someone very good at their profession but are completely unable or unwilling to use this ability on themselves”). While head of marketing at Interbrand, I obsessed over our brand. Given Interbrand was the leading global brand consultancy, my many lost sleeps were to be expected.
As Chief Communications Officer at DDB, I felt the weight of legacy while trying to make a Mad Men-era brand relevant. I give thanks that the competition were more laconic and greatly paralyzed in managing their own brand. While at the iconic agency, I tried to point out that PR was not brand-building. Further, award shows and sending out a press release on a new client win is table-stakes. To be more pointed, agencies of any size should redirect award show cash towards thought leadership and staff development (but I partially digress).
Over the last few years, I have consulted to over 20 agencies and consultancies on their business and brand strategies. It has been challenging because true sources of differentiation are elusive. All have great people, a smattering of cool clients (often the uncool ones keep the lights on), talk about a unique, cool culture that doesn’t actually exist, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and too many have an office canine featured in the people section of their website (agencies have made a cute pet table-stakes).
Here is more frank, straight-shooting … every agency should be a best practice case in their own marketing. When you are looking to hire an agency, look past the Nascar slide of past client logos. Discount the featured case studies unless they include impressive quantifiable results (97% of agency case studies are wishy-washy fluff). Drill down on process and methodology. See if they hint at their revenue model because that will drive how they behave and serve.
As much as I detest the proliferation of marketing award shows (a cottage industry of vanity), it could be fun to start one that recognizes agency marketing. There would be a lot of participation ribbons with very few standouts. So, when you go to hire an agency, do so based on its marketing. Otherwise, you may be hiring a dog.
Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past, a bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a tweet, or captured in an oversimplified how-to formula. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy.
Marketing and advertising agencies claim to be professional storytellers. Agencies deliver a brand story as part of engagements while creative briefs bring the story to life. Agencies pump out papers on the subject and profile case studies where the story is key to client success. Within the industry, marketing conferences make room for storytelling as part of the agenda. Media and publications write on the topic with frequency. Storytelling permeates the profession. Here are three changes taking place in business storytelling:
They Don’t Tell: by its very definition, storytelling is broadcast in nature. We tell a tale. It is ‘one-to-many’ like the Mad Men era of advertising. We know that no longer works. Stories must now invite consumers in and let them be both character and storyteller. It is now about participation not passive absorption.
They Are Organic: the best brand stories take root organically and get consumers involved. Then they really evolve. This scares traditional marketers. They fear ceding control. Granted it is a bit of a wild ride when consumers help build the story but this is what is taking place with Uber and Airbnb and has taken place with Apple and Red Bull.
Did you know that in 2018, luxury purveyor Burberry admitted it had destroyed £90 million worth of clothing and accessories over the previous five years. After a public outcry, the company stopped burning returned and leftover merchandise. Now they focus on recycling and donating.
Unfortunately, that is just a drop in the bucket. You see, it is cheaper for businesses to throw away returns rather than go through the process of reselling. So much focus is put on our supply chains…getting something to market, it seems there is very little focus on the “remarket”. It is incredible in this time of tech, how retailers mismanage inventory and promote returns.
Thanks to the CBC program, The Current, for investigating this astounding issue in our society. They call out consumers who order two or three different sizes of clothing, knowing they can return the one that doesn’t fit (this is called “bracketing”). That return, more often than not, is sent straight to landfill. With about half of U.S. customers engaging in bracketing, the returns built into the sales cycle are staggering. More so in Germany, where 72% of consumers bracket clothing orders.Read more
When I was a consultant at Price Waterhouse, I worked for a time in Mergers & Acquisitions. Not the deals, the actual coming together after the deal was signed, the integration. It was all about managing the human aspect. Could two cultures come together?
When I moved onto large strategy projects, much attention was made to the organizational chart. I learned there is the organizational chart on paper, the one that is promoted, and there is the one that shows how the organization actually worked (the one I had to figure out).
For the past 7 years, my brand strategy work has been mostly executive coaching (as much as I hate the term, “coaching”). I contend 25% of my work has involved the process of branding and 75% has been helping, directing, influencing, and bolstering the thinking and decisions of management.
This experience has produced a single insight…business is all about human psychology. I know, that is not earth-shattering but put it this way, every human is fallible. Every business is made up of humans. Businesses are, therefore, fallible, imperfect, flawed. And here is a branding secret, that is what makes them great.
Enough. I am rambling. What I want to get to, is the criteria for evaluating a company’s culture. This will help career seekers. It will direct and ease mergers and acquisitions. It will help clients pick providers and providers seeking clients. It is the way to calculate connection and fit.Read more
There was a time when people actually read, and read a great deal. Now brands, marketers and advertisers, have catered to and hastened ever-shortening attention spans. Videos run in seconds, online ads pop up over-and-over again in seizure inducing ways, radio screams irrelevant call-to-actions.
We have robbed consumers of their intellect by dumbing down both message and medium. Yet, people still read and watch in longer amounts. So many documentaries on Netflix are long ads for different sides of the same debate. Reality shows espouse different ways of life and people eat them up. So, why are brand ads increasingly short and, arguably, simpler (if not, dumb)?
It is great to come across long-form ads in print as they are both endangered species. Check out this beauts that take the time to compel and tell a story. Make sure to read the last one!Read more
It takes a certain vintage, I am speaking of human age, not a red wine or long-packaged Twinkie, to recall the magazine called, Spy. It was, to use an expression oft-used, fucking awesome. It ran from 1986 to 1998. Those were formative years for me. Actually, every year has been formative for me. I expect future ones to be equally or even more formative.
The publication was founded by Kurt Andersen and E. Graydon Carter, who served as its first editors. Their pedigrees are well-pedigreed. Andersen graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon. He has been a writer and columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time. What an under-achiever. Carter is Canadian (enough said) who served as the editor of Vanity Fair from 1992 until 2017. Such a light-weight.
Before their real accomplishments, they focused on Spy, which bathed in irreverence and was doused in satire. The content loved to skewer the American media and entertainment industries while mocking “high” society (which in America is vacuous celebrity). To say it was ‘ahead of its time’, is an evaluation they would skewer and mock if still in print.Read more
Who reads books anymore?
Umm, people. Millions and millions of people. When it comes to business books, you know who reads them? Decision-makers. Most CEOs and executives read 4-5 books per month.
It is not inaccurate to refer to a business book as a thick brochure. One that demonstrates the depth and originality of your thinking, showcases your differentiation and, when done right, drives people to action. The kind of action that grows your awareness and business.
That is why we have introduced a new service that assists leaders and brands get their business book written, published and into the hands of desired readers. Check out more in our brochure.