Steve Jobs – by Walter Isaacson – One of the best books I’ve ever read

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I am a bit of an Apple fan, so when my good pal Andy Hanselman bought me this giant book as a gift, I was looking for the right time to sit down and get started on this 600 page monster. As it happened, this time didn’t seem to be materialising, so I sat down to read it anyway and I’m extremely glad I did as it is completely brilliant and inspirational, if not a little sad. You can buy it here. I recommend you do.

What it does is go through the history of the way the business developed as well as give a real warts and all account of the man himself. there’s no doubt he was a completely obsessive and extraordinarily odd man, but he was also driven by passion for detail and a search for quality like we’ve never seen before.

I advise anyone who ever asks that you have to focus on quality to build a brand, but this is what Jobs did everywhere – throughout every single aspect of the business. And, I’m convinced that this is why Apple has been so successful. That and the fact that he had an amazing design partner in Jony Ives and between them they had incredible vision too.

A few highlights for me.

1. As an understanding of why differentiation is critical – “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy”. Most products that come to the market do so in flocks, following a market leader. Apple deliberately and methodically went the other way.

2. On having an enemy for the whole team to focus on – “Throughout his career, Jobs liked to see himself as an enlightened rebel pitted against evil empires, a Jedi warrior of Buddhist samurai fighting the forces of darkness. IBM was the perfect foil. He cast the battle not as mere business competition but as a spiritual struggle”

3. On why the little things matter too – Jobs father had taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship, even for the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design as the lines weren’t straight enough”. This point is again critical. Most businesses do the big things just fine. The ones that go onto become great brands care about the little things too, as this is where differentiation and ultimately, perfection lies.

Anyway, enough from me. read it. It’s an amazing and beautifully written book.

The Internet – creating the perfect market economy?

Nottingham's old market square
Nottingham's perfect market economy in the old days - if a seller sold bad product - everyone knew

I’ve written a few pieces recently about consumer power (and blogger power) and wonder whether we are reaching the position of a perfect market economy. That is the previously theoretical situation, where all the buyers having all the information to buy identical products.

When I studied economics at school the section I was most fascinated with was the perfect economy.

And I think that we’re almost there, because that’s the Internet now isn’t it?

All the buyers have all the information and almost all retailers are selling identical products.

And, as the theory of the perfect economy states, if all the buyers have all the information and the market is selling identical products, then people will always buy from the lowest price supplier. This has to be true, doesn’t it?

Well, no. they’ll buy from the one they trust the most, as long as the price is there or thereabouts.

My mate and business guru Andy Hanselman once said to me that ‘advertising is the price you pay for being mediocre’.

He’s right.

Products and services rise from mediocrity by being exceptional, by being differentiated and by being well branded.

So rather than the internet killing brands, it’s offering them the most incredible opportunity. A world at their feet, that’s theirs for the taking.

It’s the perfect market opportunity.

A version of this article was first published as The Perfect Economy and branding? on Technorati.

Original ideas are becoming rarer – But design needs originality

I read a great post from my friend Brian Cray earlier today about how sloppy designers are becoming in their thinking when it comes to design. It’s a great read and you can see it here.

It got me thinking.

Last month I wrote a piece about Branding in a recession, which you can read here

Later that very same day, someone took the whole article and cut and pasted it into his own blog, which again, you can see here.

His thinking was soooo unoriginal, that he didn’t even bother changing the title. Yes he credited me for it, but does Google really know which is the original and which is the duplicated content that it will mark you down for in SEO terms?

The same happened to my mate Andy Henselman in one of his excellent Slideshare presentations. Here’s his original

and here’s the uncredited copy by some Albanian shyster.

I’m also a big fan of the work from the extraordinarily rude guys at COPY©UNTS. They have made it their business to uncover lazy ‘creative’ work where it has literally just been lifted from other peoples original thinking.

And to top it all, I was sent an SEO proposal from one of my clients today and it read slightly awkwardly. I didn’t believe it was original, so I cut and pasted a few strings from it, only to find it was ALL stolen from an educational site on the web about SEO strategy. Oops. I naturally told the client, so they won’t be getting any work, anytime soon.

For designers, SEO experts and anyone in a vaguely creative industry, you have to have original ideas. It’s the only barrier to entry we have in our imperfect worldwide market, where everyone has access to perfect information.

My business partner Mich Slack wrote a piece about this in response to the Glasgow Commonwealth games identity, which you can read here. But at least in that case, the designer had made some effort to change the overall look and feel.

It’s hard enough to retain credibility in this industry when your peers will undercut you for the price of a beer, but the sooner these people are kindly asked to leave it, or forced out by more discerning clients, the better.

Long live original thought, long live original design and long live clients who can tell the difference.

I did an MBA on Friday – It was easy and excellent fun too

It was brilliant in fact. Fancy being able to complete a really usable MBA in a single afternoon!

It wasn’t a traditional MBA though – you know the ones – that restrict your thinking and drive you into the word of paralysis by analysis – but a real world one that will directly benefit our business from tomorrow.

Meet Up,
Benefit from others’ experience and
Accelerate our learning.

It was organised by my good friend Andy Hanselman and in this first run, saw five of us sharing notes, ideas and good practice that we could take into our own businesses, even though on the surface they may have nothing in common.

I've done an MBA - Andy, Jonny, crisps and lots of clever thinking in an afternoon MBA
I've done an MBA - Andy, Jonny, business crisps and lots of clever thinking in an afternoon MBA

I learned loads about the view of an art teacher and how beards and funn (sic) are important in business from a brilliant and beautifully designed presentation by Jonny Douglas – A man who can even out-talk Andy and myself (which is some feat!).

I learned from an anonymous business guru in the book Millionaire Upgrade by Richard Parkes Cordock that Andrew Seaton, brilliantly summarised for us. He’s an IT man who seems to specialise in making your IT problems go away with his business Resolve IT.

Gill Hanselman scared all of us by showing us pictures of really bright young business people who we all need to be able to admire and not be scared of. Business is about your mindset and not always by the number of years you’ve been doing it.

And Andy introduced us to 21st Century Entrepreneurship with a profiling system that I loved and will complete first thing in the morning with a clearer head. If you want to understand your own business brain, I suggest you do the same.

And I picked their planet sized brains about what else I could do with social media. I now have a checklist of what to do, in order to maximise the experience I have gained in this enormously scary rollercoaster area of our business.

Its not often I stay in Sheffield until well after the close of business. But it was worth getting to the pub late, because learning needs to be this much fun and this directly beneficial.

We’re meeting again in a month or so, to do it all over again. I guess that will be my second MBA in as many months then.

How to create devoted customers

A very good friend and colleague of ours (currently honeymooning in New York and still blogging) has written a brilliant little presentation that he has published on Slideshare about how to create devoted customers.

I love the logic.

Delighted just isn’t good enough, because when (or if) they come back for me, they already have high expectations and to really win them over you need to deliver even more next time, or they will just be satisfied.

It’s the challenge facing any company, any brand and in effect any employee. How do you keep raising your game, so you don’t get overtaken by the next big thing.

A really simple line of wisdom that I have quoted before from Tony parsons in his book Man and Wife, where he is speaking to his Mum to understand how his Dad and her had managed to stay married for so long, where she says “you have to keep falling in love over and over again”.

If you don’t take this seriously as a brand owner, pretty soon, your customers will fall out of love with you and the devotion will be gone.

CRM is not enough MCR is getting closer though

I was speaking to Andy Hanselman today about the much talked about topic of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). He has the view that this is just not enough. What we should all be looking at is Maximising Customer Relationships (or MCR). Branding has become such a wide subject now that it is far, far more than just doing logos, it’s about every single aspect of your customer interaction.

A system that maximises customer relationships seems to be a far more sensible and holistic way of dealing with your customers.

If you look at your existing customers, are you genuinely delivering them all of the available products or services you offer? Or more likely, are they using you for one or two of the things you can do for them and buying others from others?

In an article about agency survival by Alain Thys, he gives us some great pointers about what we should be doing. Perhaps the most important of these is making ourselves accountable for the work we produce and delivering a sensible ROI for our clients. He argues that many of the reward models for agencies are just wrong, because they reward overspending and not results.

At the Marketing Live conference in Leeds a few weeks ago, one of the main topics discussed was again, about agency rewards. I was the only person who held my hand up saying we had been doing this for years. As an agency, Purple Circle has always put its money where its mouth is and for the right projects will either take an investment in the company, or find a reward system that is based on results.

Duncan Bird, a long time friend of ours is at Anomaly in New York and they have built their entire business model on this idea. They not only create brilliant work, they invest in the business and take a shareholding. They are truly rewarded for their work and this is the future for an agency.