Category Archives for "Blog"

March 29, 2016

Degrees of separation

In 2009 I spent a week in the Pacaya-Samiria rainforest reserve in Peru. The reserve is the second-largest protected reserve in the Amazon. I spent most of the week sitting in a tiny canoe with my guide, Roberto.


“Mira…” he would say, pointing. “Mira… monos.”

Four seconds later there would be a crash and a howl, and a troop of monkeys would swing by through the trees.

Roberto spent his entire life living and working in the jungle, so perhaps it was no surprise that he would spot things my untrained eye would miss.

I was reminded of this over the weekend watching Tribes, Predators & Me on the BBC. Cameraman Gordon Buchanan spent a week living with the Waorani tribal people in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Buchanan went on hunting expeditions with the tribe, ultimately catching (and releasing) a Green Anaconda.


The show finished by discussing the threat the Waorani people face from encroaching oil-fuelled deforestation.

“Tell the people about us,” said one tribesman. “Tell the people we will fight to protect our land.”

Linzi, who has been to Ecuador more recently than me, commented that they actually do. Oil workers have been attacked by tribal people. The Ecuadorian government, in Linzi’s words ‘doesn’t give a shit as long as they keep getting their oil money’.

What always strikes me whenever you encounter indigenous people is the knowledge and respect they have for the environment they live in. There is in effect zero degrees of separation. They hunt there. They live there. They survive because they understand their surroundings. If they make bad decisions they have to live with the negative consequences.

A texas-based oil company just has too many degrees of separation. The people at these companies who pay the Ecuadorian government to allow them to deforest the Amazon face no negative consequences as a result of this.

If you were an architect in Roman times and you built a bridge, the Roman authorities would make you and your family live under the bridge for a period time. The consequences of you doing a rushed job were very apparent. This removed the degree of separation because your family lived or died with the consequences of your work.

The ‘degrees of separation’ problem also affects the way we organise our marketing providers. There seems to be a popular idea now that you can run a micro-multinational business from your spare bedroom, and employ contractors around the world to implement different aspects of your marketing. You end up being the puppet master in the middle pulling all the strings.

I can tell you that being the puppet master isn’t always very fun. You spend your entire life being a project manager, trying to manage people who have no real interest in your business goals or the long term success of your business. Everything ends up suboptimal and disjointed.

I tell you all this from first-hand experience. I’ve done my fair share of work where I didn’t ultimately care about the success of the business I was working for as long as my invoice was paid.

I think there is a better way, but it involves taking more responsibility for your marketing results.

We’ll talk more about this later in the week.

March 23, 2016

Self awareness and better carrots

In 2009 I spent a month in Peru. For a tourist in Peru the most interesting places to visit are Cuzco and the Inca sacred valley.

The sacred valley is littered with spectacular Inca ruins built in seemingly impossible places. I took the photo below in August 2009. It is a small ruined building high above the town of Ollantaytambo.


The inside of the building looks like this.

Ollantaytambo 2

Until this weekend I thought this was simply an interesting ruin built in a strange and seemingly impossible place. Then last weekend I watched a BBC documentary by Dr Jago Cooper.

Dr Cooper explained how these buildings, known as ‘qolqas’, were in fact part of a vast network of storehouses. Excess food would be dried and stored here, helping to ward off drought. You can see from the second picture how the room would have been well ventilated.

The Inca conquered huge regions of the Andes in a short 150 year period. They did this by moving in to a new region with a spectacular army. Messengers would be sent to the leaders of the existing incumbents offering a choice.

It was explained to the leaders of the new region that the Inca would help them eliminate famine. They would be allowed to keep their religion, their way of life, and simply pay certain taxes to the Inca.

Or alternatively they could be destroyed and flayed alive.

Many people in the Andes seemed to have selected the first option.

War to the Inca was inefficient and a last resort. Why kill everyone when you can sell them a dream and employ them in building your empire?

The Inca empire expanded quickly because they knew how to sell the benefits of the empire to the people around them. They understood the landscape, and understood what the people around them wanted. They knew how to dangle the carrot before they waved the stick. The storehouses I saw were very much a part of that carrot.

The language of marketing is very much that of the stick. We talk about squeeze pages, campaigns and trip wires. I think instead we should be figuring out what our customers actually want and dangling better carrots.

I increasingly think that the primary marketing problem of 2016 isn’t that you need to know AdWords better, or Facebook better. The primary problem is self-awareness. Knowing what value you really bring to your customers and knowing how to communicate it to them.


March 22, 2016

Hidden objections

I normally go to a local running track once a week. I went last night for the first time in a month.

Woodbourne Road

I am possibly the best person in the world at making excuses not to go to the track.

Previous excuses have included:

  • I’m tired
  • It’s cold
  • It’s wet (because I might melt)
  • I don’t want to pay the £4.65 to use the track
  • It’s dark. (Seriously, they have floodlights)
  • I’m too busy. I don’t have time. (Generally untrue)
  • I’m injured. (Generally untrue)
  • It’s windy. (I might get blown away, like Dorothy)
  • I’m unfit. (Possibly the worst reason of all not to go)

Unless the weather is truly miserable I always enjoy it when I go. The battle seems to be getting out of the front door.

I have friends who run marathons. I do sort of understand the marathon thing. I admire the mental challenge that must go with it, and Sheffield is a nice place to train if you are a marathon runner.

The fundamental problem for me is that a marathon is 26 times too far.

Occasionally a marathon-running friend will join me for a track session. Nothing dissipates my flakey track excuses quite like having a friend come along. Especially a marathon-running friend.

I relate all this because your prospects also have a whole boatload of flakey excuses swimming around in their mind.

Half of them are bogus and made up, but they are always there. And because they are always there they are always real, even if you don’t agree with them.

I suspect we don’t spend enough time thinking about customer objections. We might think about the obvious ones – price and so on. But what about the less obvious ones?

What if it rains? What if it’s cold?

Can you pair up your customers into ‘accountability partners’ like I sometimes do at the track?


March 21, 2016

The ebb and flow of the story

We were down south last week for a funeral. The funeral was for my wife’s cousin. Tragically she committed suicide.

She was only 26.


As a writer one of the things I do for a living is try to get inside people’s heads. I’ve played the scenario through a number of times. I’ve tried to figure out what she must have been feeling.

Every time I think it through I come up short. I think suicide is one of the hardest deaths to process because ultimately we can never quite put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We are always left asking ourselves why.

We’ve been talking a lot in my copywriting work group about the ebb and flow of stories. The highs and lows. The ups and the downs.

We were talking with Lizzie’s mum Caz the day after the funeral. As you can imagine it hasn’t been the best time for her, but she said she had mixed feelings about the funeral.

One the one hand it was undoubtedly the saddest day of her life, but at the same time she enjoyed the day. She felt a degree of pride that over 100 people attended the funeral. She felt good about the memories that were shared.

The up that I have taken away from this has been gratefulness. I’ve been forced to think about things I take for granted. This includes friends and family. It also includes time on Earth, and the options I have in front of me.

In darker moments I sometimes worry that I haven’t really “made much” of myself, by conventional standards. I’m not rich. I don’t have the swanky ‘house and the car’, or any of that bollocks.

But I do have a plan. I also have sufficient control over my life to implement the plan according to my own rules.

Surely that isn’t something to take for granted?


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