Curious Thinking

curious thinking

Blogs written for Namecheap

I’m exceedingly proud to have written blogs for Namecheap, even though it’s not exactly in the job spec. And I’m very grateful to them for giving me the voice on their platform.

 

My advice on what small business owners should do in the holiday slowdown.

 

 

 

 My perspective on the importance of staying close to your business vision.

 

 

 

 

A look at the Women behind the Internet as we know it, on International Women’s Day 2017.

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A Curious Evolution

curious thinking-02

Curious Decisions today is very different to what Curious Decisions was going to be at launch.  I started Curious Decisions with a dream.   It was a dream that if it materialised, and became reality, would change the world.  It was a powerful and beautiful dream, a dream of a better, kinder world where Curious Decisions had played it’s part to change marketing, to make marketing great, where the definition of great marketing was that it was marketing that would make people feel better about themselves, that it would be marketing that would be using the power of influence to make the world a better place.  And if the 5000+ marketing messages that we as consumers saw every day, not only reflected the diversity of us as consumers but also implored us to be kinder, nicer, more helpful to each other, then the world would be changed.

It was a dream.  And I was going to make it happen.  Curious Decisions was going to offer Strategic Consultancy – to help corporates, and the agencies they worked with make decisions based on an insatiable curiosity about their customers.  Curious Decisions was going to offer Marketing Capability workshops, to help marketing people improve their marketing skills and understand how to create powerful insights, inspired story-telling and turn strategy into action.  Curious Decisions was above all, going to change the face (literally) of advertising with our Diversity Marketing approach which would normalise difference.

It was a great deal of fun, setting up the company, dreaming the dream.  Less fun though was the things that a start-up can’t provide so easily; office camaraderie, laughs, sparking off others’ ideas and creativity.  And some of the things that a start-up can provide buckets of, in large measure are quite stressful.  Flexibility is so precious, but the responsibility for your whole day stretching out in front of you, just there, to be filled and so much to fill it with, the choices that need to be made – whilst social media distracts.

I learned a lot, some new skills, some learnings about myself. I learned about Companies House and being a Company Director.  I learned about basic accounts.  I learned some website basics and wordpress.  I learned I’m not a sales person (yes, sales is different to marketing).  Even when I totally believe in the product (and that product is me), I don’t want to sell it.  I learned to enjoy networking, for the first time, ever.  Talking about what I was passionate about, in collaborative and supportive environments has given me the impetus to take forward a new project, to create inspiring, supportive learning spaces for women in middle/early senior management within corporates which was always lacking in my previous career.

My biggest learning, and the most impactful part of my adventure was coaching.  I had always known that I loved coaching and Curious Decisions was going always going to feature coaching.  I love helping people, and like Phoebe in that episode of Friends where she is looking for the selfless act, the instant gratification that’s possible from when you’ve helped a coaching client crack a problem, have a breakthrough, achieve their goals, that’s what I love.  It’s entirely selfish, the desire to help.  I’m hugely grateful that my time with Curious Decisions (which I’d always framed to myself as an experiment) has enabled me to formally pursue my coaching training.  I will shortly be an ICF accredited coach and am an NLP Practitioner.  During this year, I am furthering my NLP studies with Master Practitioner and Train the Trainer as well.

Curious Decisions is evolving.  Dreams can be powerful, but they cannot be achieved overnight (or even, in a 6-9 month experiment window).  Curious Decisions is now reframing itself to achieve the dream at a slower pace. During the 9-5 working week Curious Decisions is now happily undertaking a Curious Assignment which will help marketing people be better at being marketing people.  The Curious Dream to help  people achieve their dreams through coaching, and through delivering personal growth workshops will continue to live, during evenings and weekends.   I’m looking forward to this next iteration.

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Diversity Marketing: Marketing Difference

curious thinking-03Diversity Marketing is a subject that is very close to my heart.  Back when I first started my career, I was closely involved with the development of segmentation models and understanding customers at the individual level; it was the era of one to one marketing, heralded in by Peppers & Rogers.  It was a time when CRM didn’t yet mean systems and databases, but a philosophy for business that meant putting decision-making about individual customers at the heart of strategy.  It was a time which promised the end of scattergun spam marketing, hoping something might stick, and instead targeted, relevant marketing that would be more successful.

Over the intervening years, I’ve observed that it hasn’t really turned out that way.  However much brands work on segmenting their customer base, by attitudinal, behavioural, or value-led data, when it comes down to the messages which are put out to consumers in the wider marketplace, it’s still very generic and mass market.  Something that vaguely appeals to most in customer research is diluted further and further until it hardly resembles the original insight.  We are primarily still volume-led and so great returns in a niche area don’t get to stack up in business case decision-making.  We have little money for investment decisions and so what feels like it can work for most, is what gets done.  Which I believe leads to uninteresting and boring marketing which doesn’t excite anyone, and doesn’t build a relationship with the consumer.

Diversity Marketing is also very close to my heart on a personal level.  As a woman, it frustrates me that advertising is so often focused on the man, or the male view of what might appeal to a woman.  Women make up 80% of consumer spending but only represent 25% of leadership roles in advertising.  Generally, women tend to make decisions based more on emotion, and generally, men tend to make decisions based more on rational thinking.  So it comes as no surprise when white, middle class men fail to touch a nerve with women in selling to them. [See more here].

Not only am I a woman however, I am also bisexual and identify as queer.  Back when I was at Telefonica O2, I was incredibly proud to be the first chair of the LGBTQ network there.  Being able to stand up and say this is what I am, and for that to be accepted, is incredibly powerful.  On the surface, many questioned why it was necessary.  But I saw how important it was to many of our members who, whilst had never really identified there was a problem in the culture, had felt their sexuality had to be invisible & were suddenly feeling more able to be themselves and felt more belonging in the workplace – one person actually told me that they had decided not to leave because the network now existed.

So, why do I talk about our internal network in a blog about diversity marketing?  Because brands need to appeal to the diversity of their customer base.  If you want a loyal customer base that feels like it ‘belongs’ with you, you need to talk their language, you need to not make them feel invisible.  Until you can acknowledge something is, you can feel silenced.  Until what you are can become acknowledged, you are invisible.  And until there is common representation of all experiences, minorities will always feel ‘othered’.  Marketing, comprising a large influence on mainstream cultural norms (media & social circles being the other big influencers) has a real responsibility to represent the diversity of the consumer.

There is starting to be an acknowledgement that LGBTQ people can & should feature in advertising, and some brands are embracing that.  It’s estimated by Stonewall that LGB consumers in the UK represent over £96billion of spending power.  As a traditional ‘conservative’ brand, Barclays is really spear-heading the way in the UK with its support of LGBTQ people – primarily around Pride as a key headline sponsor but they also used the opportunity to make all their ATMs carry a Pride message (GAYTMS) and innovated with Ping for Pride [see more here].  It’s no wonder they are one of the top places to work in the Stonewall Employer Index.

Other great examples of brands embracing the LGBTQ ‘pink’ pound are Channel 4 with its gay mountain political statement during the Sochi Olympics.  In the ice-cream space, Cornetto has responded to Ben & Jerry’s Apple-y ever after positioning of campaigning for Equal Marriage with a lesbian love story for it’s Cupidity summer campaign.  And it’s refreshing to see Sainsburys acknowledge not just austerity issues in their ad’s but also feature a lesbian queer role model in Jack Monroe.  Many brands want the ‘family’ vote; but think about how you are representing the family – is it 2.4 children with a mother at home and a father at work, or are you representing the broad diversity of the family experience in 2014 Britain?

As a bi, queer woman, it frustrates me that very few brands seem to want my business.  The LGBTQ base is very diverse itself, we’re not a ‘community’ but a collective group of minorities – and bi-visibility for example is a real issue even between ourselves.  Under my other Twitter account I asked for help in identifying a brand or advertising campaign which had represented bi people.  We found this one by Ikea but it did play on the bi stereotype for promiscuity.  I was reminded by Jen Yockney, editor of BCN, of the NatWest ad which initially felt like it might be showcasing a polyamorous bi relationship but was merely twins with hetero and lesbian relationships (I remember being disappointed when the ending was revealed).

Many commented that it would be very difficult to represent bisexuals in advertising – not only are we diverse, but you will probably have to explain who we are as well as sell your product (although you don’t need to explain to us).  There were also concerns that ad’s could be seen to be pandering to male fantasies (but don’t many do that already for heterosexuals?).  There were concerns that it would be very challenging to represent bisexuals in a 30 second ad – but my challenge to marketing is that we are supposed to creatively overcome challenges to represent our consumer base.

Marketing & marketing people need to make sure that their campaigns reflect their customer base, that they aren’t trying to market to ‘everyone’ but recognising and celebrating the differences in people, creating an emotional connection of belonging that can transcend commoditisation on price, or a new competitive entrant.  Mass market advertising is the scattergun of yesteryear, an anachronism that in today’s world, with mass personalisation possible through digital innovations, is just outdated.  Turn stereotypes and clichés on their head.  Be different, stand out with a refreshing approach.  Engage your consumers in your discussions.  Be bold, be fearless, and be authentic.

 

Further reading:

Marketing Week: Brands come out of the closet to target LGBT community. By Sebastian Joseph, March 2014

Marketing Magazine: Marketing & the LGBT community: when will it be normal to have gay couples in campaigns? By Simon White, February 2014

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Marketing Ethics: Change the World

curious thinking-04Another day, another week, another story about a brand getting their marketing so very very wrong.  That’s the thing, in the digital age, if someone doesn’t like something, they get to say so, publicly.  And that doesn’t mean a lone angry letter to the CEO.  That means a tweet out to their followers, RT’d, a blog, which turns into a Huff Post article, or Jezebel, and then gets into the comment section of the Guardian or the Independent and it’s gone viral; if you’re really unlucky there will even be a petition started to persuade you to change your policies.  Some of those tweets obviously, they just fall into the ether.  But many don’t.

Now, of course, what can feel like a Twitterstorm might be just that; a storm, and storms pass.  In the scheme of your business, it might be just a blip.  You might not notice a drop in sales.  You may only have succeeded in antagonising a segment of customers that you were never targeting in the first place.  But storms can often turn into hurricanes or tornados.  And those cause lasting damage.

Beyond the obvious risk to the brand, there is a wider societal issue at play.  Your advertising agency might defend the campaign as just another example of what is popular, part of the zeitgeist, that appealing to human base instincts sells product.  And, appealing to insecurities does work.  People will want to try things that will make them feel less insecure and more confident [fatgirlslim, I’m looking at you].  People will want to try things that will make them feel more sexual and more desired [American Apparel, I’m looking at you].  People might want to try things that will help them get what they want in life [Nine West, I’m looking at you].  People will want to try things that will make them feel superior to others [Garagista Beer, I’m looking at you].  Unethical marketing does sell.

But, take a step back.  Who created that zeitgeist?  You did.  And all the others like you.

The average consumer consumes (apparently, according to my Google search, so it must be right) as many as 5000 marketing messages every day (yes, that high surprised me too!).  Those messages influence what consumers think about the world around them.  Marketing influences societal norms – to an extent, marketing does more than influence, it creates.  Here’s a crazy idea – how about use the power and influence of marketing to create a better society?  Not overnight, but tweaking this and tweaking that, nudge theory, one campaign at a time.  And do it without losing sales.  Do it with your customers on your side, by making your customers proud to be with you, not fearful not to be.

Some brands realise this and are embracing what is being called ‘empowerment marketing.’  The Misty Copeland ‘Under Armour’ ad is a great example of this; and Always has been challenging societal stereotypes with its ‘Like a Girl’ campaign.  There is a fine line however, between empowerment and condescension.  Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is often cited as the leader of empowerment advertising – but they made a misstep too into patronising condescension with their ‘Patches’ campaign.  The fact they are owned by the same company who objectifies & sexualises women through Lynx is also oft-quoted by some.

Getting the balance right is always going to be difficult, especially when customers are mostly savvy to the insecurity you have been selling them.  They know the picture of the beautiful model is photo-shopped; they know even the models aren’t as beautiful as you pretend them to be.  So, there will be distrust and cynicism.  The only way to overcome distrust is to earn trust.

The challenge for marketing people is this: do you want to be paid to do your job and earn a nice, comfortable living?  Or, do you want to be paid to do your job, earn a nice, comfortable living and at the same time, change the world?

 

Top Tips:

Do:

Appeal positively to your consumers’ emotions

Be a positive force for good in the wider world

When using humour, laugh with your consumer

 

Don’t:

Trade on your consumers’ insecurities

Reinforce negative societal attitudes

When using humour, laugh at anyone

 

What do you think?  Do you have examples of any great marketing campaigns that show others how to do it?  Please share them in the comments here.  Thank you for reading.

Curious Decisions will help organisations and their people make more ethical marketing choices by showing you how to put those choices at the heart of decision making.  Interested? Get in touch. info@curiousdecisions.com

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The Curious Brand (& thanks)

curious thinkingI’ve had Curious Decisions in my head for quite some time.  It wasn’t a fully-formed idea for a while but as my 5th decade started to approach I kept coming back to the truth that I wanted to go my own way, carve out my own path, and subtly change the direction of my career by using my extensive marketing strategy experience to help enhance marketers’ marketing capability and change the industry for the better.

It was probably around 3 years ago that the seeds were formed.  I started thinking deeply about what I wanted to be doing in my working life for the next 20-30 years.  And it wasn’t what I was doing.  I had one of the most awesome jobs on the planet, having a part in defining the marketing strategy for one of the best brands in the UK, but it wasn’t fulfilling me.  A coaching session with the wonderful Sarah Lane helped me to visualise what I wanted to be doing longer term and create a plan for getting there.  Last year, with my 40th birthday, I began in earnest to put the plan into action.  I got a secondment into Learning & Development and learnt so much from some very capable colleagues.  I created the opportunity to work with Imparta on designing & delivering training.  I was so lucky to be able to work side by side with, and get advice from, some of the people I have most admired and wanted to emulate – thanks to Liz Machtynger, Fiona Maktari, Mark Abell, Mark Simmonds and Nick Baggott, your input and advice have been invaluable.  Support from my colleagues, Simon Groves, Ben Messore, Roger Beesley and Justine Jenson also deserve special mention, thank you.

The opportunity to start Curious Decisions probably occurred about 6 months earlier than I’d planned; I wasn’t quite ready, I’d wanted some time to let it settle on me some more, to build some client & project leads, to get my name ‘out there’.  But you can’t pass-up the opportunity to make your dreams come true when opportunity comes knocking.  And so Curious Decisions was born.

The Curious Manifesto attempts to explain what Curious Decisions is standing for in the industry.  Sitting down in May to try to articulate how that should be encapsulated in a brand, a logo, a website, was really very difficult for me.  I can’t draw to save my life and my visual thinking capacity is fairly limited.  I was therefore delighted that a wonderful friend was able to put me in touch with Jo Harrison who is the designer and facilitator behind Make Bright.  Jo was able to take my vague ramblings about Alice in Wonderland and wanting to connect with child-like wonder, avoiding anything that looked too corporate and staid, demonstrated the female touch, yet was still professional and turn it into what you see today.

The essence of Curious Decisions is the combination of art and science, of emotional and rational, of the micro influences in the macro world.  So the lettering for Curious represents the whimsical, wondrous imagination of the child and the emotional responses that go into decision-making.  And the lettering for Decisions represents the harder, more tangible decisiveness of the rational, grown-up with a business imperative to meet.

Jo has created some beautiful, unique illustrations to bring to life some of the concepts that Curious Decisions stands for, and everything has a very personal connection to me.  From the chosen fonts (art nouveau, art deco), to the bi-planes, skydivers, Russian dolls, everything, there is a link to something I have felt connected to or experienced in my life.  I wanted the brand itself to inspire, to take you to a place in your heads where you can embrace your creativity, your curiosity.  I wanted the brand to relish the process of coming up with decisions, and not focus only on the end-result of the decision itself – favouring the journey over the destination.  I also wanted the brand to feel other-wordly, because Curious Decisions will create a new world; it is my new world and it will change the world.  I’m super-happy with the result: I hope you like it too, thank you for reading.

Addendum, 16th August 2014.  I went on a copyright course this week and learned that I should have checked with Sheryl Sandberg and Cindy Gallop for permission to use their quotes.  I’m really happy that they have provided that permission; thank you.  I was also relieved to discover that Lewis Carroll’s quotes from Alice are out of copyright, but in case you didn’t realise, of course those wonderful quotes which I use are Lewis’ words, not mine.  Namaste (I’m assuming the Dalai Lama won’t be minding me using his words).

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