Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

Not the same: Brand Positioning and Brand Purpose

There was a period between about 2016-2017 where many brands seemed to combine purpose and positioning. During these two years, it appeared society had an awakening that manifested in multiple, intersectional ways: A significant refugee crisis was happening in Europe; Britain decided to leave the EU; Donald Trump was elected, and #metoo and #timesup forced sweeping change across a myriad of public and private organizations.

But the reaction to these phenomena in the culture was often polarizing, with online social platforms only multiplying the effect as algorithms optimized to create “filter bubbles” of impassioned points of view and moral posturing. Because brands reflect what’s happening in the culture, there were more than a few brand managers who decided to introduce storylines they imagined would appeal to customers’ sense of virtue.

Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman sums it up succinctly when he says, “Do you, as a company, have certain values? That’s great. Support them with money and actions but, please, leave me out of your self-regard. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, not to impress me with your nobility. Virtue-hustling is just one example of the old school psycho-babble trope of ‘laddering-up’ of consumer benefits. Often to the point at which they have no relationship to the product at hand.”

And that’s just the problem with anchoring a brand’s market position around a purpose that considered as virtuous. Diageo’s CMO Syl Saller says, “Everyone is using purpose differently and not defining it. And a lot of people are defining it as just things that are worthy and good for society. Our definition is straightforward; it’s why a brand exists.”

For many, the word purpose connotates something admirable and worthy which is the mistake.

And Diageo (with a brand portfolio of spirits and beer) has made their fair share of mistakes. Back in 2011, a campaign for Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur called “Make Women Shine” used lines such as ‘Be a woman for life, not for applause,’ They wanted to play the role of empowerment in female consumers’ lives, but lacked the insight to suggest that’s what customers wanted.

Diageo Europe’s innovation director Ed Pilkington recounts, “Baileys is a brand that skews female, but we suddenly pushed it too far and wanted to become a movement for females. And then we thought, let’s take a step back and think, what is the role that Baileys plays? About 100 million people in Europe claim to love Baileys and why do they enjoy it? Because it’s a lovely treat. So what does the Baileys stand for? It’s all about providing an indulgent, lovely treat.”

Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign was received favorably by consumers, but Mark Ritson castigated the purpose-driven ad, not for the values it expresses, but because it seemed the brand was an afterthought of the marketing. And marketing is not a public service agency, but rather a function that exists to sell. “Step back from the powerful four-minute Heineken ad for just 30 seconds and ask yourself why Heineken is the featured brand? Couldn’t any other brand pull this off with equal legitimacy? Surely this ad would work just as well with Guinness, Becks, Strongbow, Stella Artois or a host of other beverages,” he says.

And he’s right.

When purpose gets confused for a position, (how consumers perceive the brand in the context of competitive alternatives) brands lose their ability to differentiate and compete. A brand’s culture, organization, and strategy are what reveal its purpose, not the other way around. As Ritson says, “Somewhere between the commodifying monochrome of physical and mental availability and the achingly cool, belief-based world of ‘inspiring communities to be great’ is a middle path. A path we can call differentiated brand image.”

How Much Does Branding Cost?

How Much Does Branding Cost?

If you ask around for quotes on branding projects, you will get fees ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 and even higher, and this often is just for design work. You might find a freelance designer online who says they can do it for less than $500, and you can even get a logo for as low as $5 on There are a few websites where you can crowdsource the design of your logo, receiving lots of options for several designers before choosing one and then paying for it. So you might be wondering, Do you really get better work if you pay more? How do these services differ? How much should you invest in your business? Well, it depends on what different freelancers and agencies mean by “branding,” and what your business goal is with your branding project.

As I say to everyone I meet, your logo is not your brand. Branding is three different things used together, consistently. First, there is the positioning (aka brand strategy) of your brand, the one thing that makes you unique in the market (your “It factor) and how it blends into your marketing plan and you’re your business structure. Then there is the messaging (aka strategic communications) that communicates what you do and why you’re different, which includes all of the copy and your tagline. Finally, there is the visual brand (aka Brand Identity) that aesthetically represents what you’re all about (optimally it is aligned with your positioning and messaging): the design of your logo, website, and marketing materials.

When someone offers “branding” though, they may be referring to only one or two of those three elements mentioned above. You have to take into account where you are in the evolution of your business, assess your current challenges and goals, and determine the best partner to address them to decide which one your business needs.

Visual Brand Designers

When a freelance designer says they’ll “design your brand” what they really mean is they will just design your logo, website, and marketing materials. It would be more accurate to say they are designing your visual brand or brand identity (we used to call this “corporate identity” back in the day). You will most likely need to provide your own messaging and copy, and they will entirely rely on you regarding positioning and strategy.

This person is who you use when you are first starting out if you don’t have a lot of money to invest in your business. It gives you something to get your business out there, to start selling your services in the market. Once you’ve had some experience with clients, a strategic branding firm can craft that into something that will take you to the next level.

If your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

You can find people online who will do your entire brand identity for $1,000 to $3,000, but they may be less experienced (or capable) compared to other designers. This inexperience usually means a lot more of their time and yours is spent on the project. Also, they are not thinking about messaging and business strategy. They may design something that looks great, but if your messaging is generic and your business strategy is weak, a great logo alone is not going to help you much in the long run.

Brand Messaging & Design

Fortunately, many agencies integrate design with messaging. You tell them what you or your business is about and what you want to communicate, and they put it into words and design an identity to match. This approach is probably the most common to this type of branding, and if you’ve got a solid business strategy, a branding agency that does the messaging and the design is a great match.

This firm is who you hire if you have an explicit business model, own a reliable positioning in the market and are already profitable and looking to take your company to the next level. If you have a great foundation, a branding agency that has marketing and strategy savvy can enhance your brand’s existing positioning in the market.

A small agency that does both can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 and up.

This is quite a range, I know. It’s not an exact science, and if there were a definitive way to explain the difference in these numbers I would share it with you. Usually, the price is determined by the size of the agency, the experience of the principal, and the business savvy of the owners. The best thing to do is find an agency that you vibe with, and that seems to have enthusiasm for your company and its work.

Strategy Plus Messaging & Design

Finally, some (but not many) agencies do all three. This is who you hire when you have steady revenue—and therefore a budget—but not a lot of profit. They can help you strategize how to best position your business in the market to increase profit, and then build a brand message and design based on that positioning to catapult your business to market domination.

Few of these agencies exist because they need to understand business strategy, marketing and communications strategy, design strategy, and how to integrate it all together.

One of the reasons so many branding agencies don’t touch business strategy is that strategists are often the bearers of bad news, and typical creative agencies don’t want to take on that responsibility. Simply put, if your business is not profitable (meaning everyone is getting paid, but the owners are not taking home an additional profit share every quarter on top of their salary), a new brand may not be enough. You may also need a more robust sales and business strategy, as a foundation for the new messaging and design. In other words strategy, the shiny new brand may help you look nicer, but you’re not going to achieve the goal of having a highly profitable business without a good strategy.

Pricing for agencies that include business strategy range from $10,000 to $50,000, but could be even more. Some of the largest agencies start at $30,000 just for the strategy, and when you throw in research, messaging, and visual design, the projects can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Smaller agencies that offer all three services (like we do) is not usual, but they do exist. If you are seeking more profitability, I highly recommend you work with an agency that does positioning, messaging, and identity. Even if you only engage them for messaging and identity, you’ll benefit from their strategic acumen.

The real price of branding though is not doing anything consistently.

3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

3 Ways To Grow Small Brands On A Limited Budget

Surrounded by world-renowned brands such as Amazon, Apple, Procter & Gamble, and Netflix, we tend to forget there are over 28 million small businesses in America that create two-thirds of all new jobs.

Publications, podcasts, and business schools love to analyze what makes these giants successful. Although these case studies are inspirational, it is very hard if not impossible to implement such strategies with little to no marketing budget.

I truly believe that ‘small’ brands and businesses are poised for growth in today’s crowded marketing environment. Below is some  – free –  advice on how to build a brand when you can’t afford the Super Bowl half-time, nor even a local TV spot. I intend to turn the tables here, by giving small brands some tips that large players could hardly if ever implement.

1. Offer A Product That Is Noticeably Different And Superior
A local brewery can’t compete with Budweiser’s marketing budget. But its product is locally-made, has a distinctive taste and comes across as authentic. Such craft beer should be marketed to connoisseurs that seek your craftsmanship as well as regular beer drinkers that will indulge with your product from time to time. Remember that you are not trying to dominate the lager segment: these same people likely drink Budweiser also and that’s ok. Your play is to secure a niche of loyal buyers and leverage the uniqueness and quality of your product to command a price premium.

This same strategy can be implemented for any artisan-made products, such as small-batch whiskey, scented candles, olive oil, barbeque sauce or marmalade. If your production is very small (for now), take the time to write labels, and thank you cards by hand. Yes, it takes ages and doesn’t scale up, but it costs pennies and handwriting is the hallmark of authenticity.
The smaller the budget, the more you will have to rely on your point of difference. Brands with small budgets should focus their resources on promoting their strengths, ideally the key point of difference. Often, being local can be your strongest link versus large competitors. Communicate your local origins, reflect the local culture and reposition the ‘strangers’ as your far away, disconnected rivals.

2. Engage In Customer Intimacy
Jack Trout (a pioneer in positioning) once pointed out, being ‘mentally closer’ to what’s important to customers sparks an intimacy that is a core advantage for smaller brands. For example, cross-fit studios, spin-cycling studios and other small gyms charge 2-5 times more than large fitness chains. Yet they often offer a lot fewer amenities, in much smaller venues. Their success is found in customer intimacy. That is, to understand the goals of each and every member, develop custom fitness programs accordingly and track member’s progress. Keeping track of each member of a club that hosts 2,500, let alone remembering their name is next to impossible. For $40/month at a large chain, you buy access to a well-lit parking lot, a plethora of equipment and large changing rooms decked out with saunas and hot tubs. For $150/month at a local gym studio, you pay for personalized training and membership in a community. Of course, customer intimacy is not limited to the fitness industry. Consider how this strategy can be used by coaches, consultants, bespoke products, or local businesses to gain a loyal following.

3. Provide Useful And Meaningful Content
Meaningful content is one of the great business equalizers of our times, lifting profiles to that of much larger competitors. While this is widely known, today many small brands have yet to take advantage of the opportunity. Creating content (like this article) is hard work, but it’s cost-effective and pays off. People seek, and value, free ‘how-to’ content to help them deliver on their projects, and grow their business. To be impactful, your content must be informative and express innovative and actionable ideas that matter to your target customer while relating to the essence of your brand. The key to success is persistence and consistency: whether you maintain a blog, Instagram feed, LinkedIn profile or Youtube channel, it will take weeks, possibly months before you gain any real traction. Therefore, try to produce content that will be valuable to your audience in the long run. ‘5 tips to lose weight in the New Year’ might be newsworthy today, but becomes pretty irrelevant after January.

If you don’t want to educate your audience, you can simply showcase your craft: Mark’s Bake Shoppe in Staten Island produces outstanding videos and pictures that feature Mark’s artisan-made cakes and pastries. It’s no wonder his Instagram account boasts 1,300+ followers. And if you think 1,300 is small, check the following of your local grocery store (assuming it has any). Be sure to develop your content with customer intimacy in mind, this is key versus the larger players.

To sum up, most of these strategies require hard work and don’t scale well, but they’ll lay the foundation for a stronger brand on a small budget.

Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Is Fear The Ultimate Brand Builder?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and has been since I was a kid. I grew up on the thrillers of the 1970’s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Alien, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (be thankful I didn’t choose the other image from that iconic movie). What I liked most about many of the thrillers from back then was that we often didn’t actually see the monster until late in the movie. So much of what scared us was the idea of the monster lurking in the dark.

Many companies have built their brands on promises based on addressing fears – the needs for protection, for reassurance, for status, for achievement, recognition and so on – in a world where so many of those things are portrayed as being at risk. But how successful is fear as an emotive driver today and should we still be using it as a motivation to get people to buy more?

The first thing to be aware of – fear works. While some marketers regard fear as an old-fashioned way of changing attitudes and behaviors, a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2015 and based on 50 years of research shows that fear-based appeals are still effective, particularly when they contain recommendations for one-time only behaviors. According to the article, including a fear element more than doubles the probability of change relative to not presenting a fear motive or including an appeal that has a low fear component.

Some of the reasons for this seem obvious. Fear gives people a reason to pay attention and therefore it instills an emotive reaction. Fear plays to our view of a changing world. And it seems we live in an age where fear is a significant component in the media. As someone remarked recently, the world is now presented to us as an ongoing sequence of dramas. So much is such a big deal that if your message lacks an element of primal response, there’s a risk some will feel that your brand could easily be lost in the noise. The temptation for brands to play up fear is also brought on by the observation that others seem to be using it successfully.

Keith Payne, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, makes the point that the brain is a pattern-seeking machine. In the absence of patterns, we go looking for regularities to make our lives work, he says. Chaos and randomness stress us because they make us feel left out, left behind or out of control. Lack of pattern and predictability induce fear. Too much pattern and predictability, on the other hand, quickly incites boredom and rebellion. We all want to know where we stand. At the same time, we don’t ever want to feel stuck or being seen to be stuck. We fear that.

Social media has generated its own fears, particularly around failure. The article I read that quoted Keith Payne also pointed out that Facebook et al have exploited notions of what is normal. Perfection is now portrayed ubiquitously as achievable and expected. In a time where so much is streamed to us as picture perfect, the fear of missing out or of not keeping up is driving many of those who interact with their world digitally to be highly anxious and chronically over-aware of other people’s achievements and opinions.

Another reason why fear gets our attention is that we have conditioned ourselves to believe that we must not just solve the problems that we face, but do so in ways that vanquish them completely. One of the key reasons for that, according to Brene Brown is we live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. We’re told we’re not getting enough sleep. We worry that we’re not getting enough done. We’re concerned that we’re not perfect enough. And we feel an expectation to deal with those concerns comprehensively; to use the resources that we have available to us to make the problem go away once and for all. But Brown makes the point that the opposite of scarcity is not necessarily abundance or completeness. Sometimes, it’s the ability to do enough, just enough, and then stop.

That brings us back to the point in the research – that people are looking for answers that resolve what concerns them; answers that they understand and can act on.

If you believe as I do that brands are most effective when they address a need stated simply, clearly and distinctly, then the path to being competitive may not lie in simply adding to the burgeoning fear factor. If they want to avoid being caught up in this escalating volume of drama, outrage, and concern, brands may want to adopt a different approach. As Anne Bahr Thompson points out, millennials rely on their favorite brands to help them feel less anxious and more emotionally balanced and fulfilled in a world that is increasingly complex to navigate. And so brands could, perhaps should, be making better use of that reliance to help them achieve a balanced response to the demands of their social media peer group and to develop more valuable relationships in a range of ways. I think her ideas are potentially applicable to all sorts of brands:

1. Deliver Leadership – in a world where people are concerned about the quality of life, long-term security, and family, brands should be looking for ways to inject confidence about the future and the planet and to embed broader societal solutions into their ways of doing business.

2. Be Realistic – brands need to help people connect with what really matters to them in life. The most powerful way they can do is by example – by being genuine and sincere themselves in how they interact with customers and potential buyers.

3. Protect The Relationship – brands need to respect buyers as people and treat data as a relationship building tool rather than as a sales platform and a means to stalk shoppers. Inevitably that means addressing the irony of a desire for more personalized interaction with a willingness to set boundaries around intrusion.

4. Treat People Fairly, Starting With Your Own People – brands need to establish their credentials as good citizens by behaving fairly and openly, but they also need to build a deeper and broader sense of community by taking opportunities to involve more people in how they develop products and set and deliver policies.

5. Defend And Support Wellbeing – in much the same way as brands need to consider how they can offer solutions for the world, they should also look at how and where they can help people function more effectively and in a more fulfilled manner. That may well mean looking out beyond what they feel they are responsible for (via their products and services) to a broader consideration set of human factors that they could positively influence.

Increasingly, it’s not good enough for brands to simply focus on what they want to get out of their relationship with customers and to use whatever means necessary, including fear of failure, to achieve that. While the pressures to deliver profitability internally may be as strong, if not greater, than ever, and certainly more complex, the onus for brands now is to participate in a much more rounded and considered way with those who buy from them.

So if fear works as such a powerful motivator, how do we harness it without relying on it? As Martin Lindstrom wisely pointed out, what’s more important for brands is to use our fears as the starting point for helping people to better manage their lives:

  • Convert problems into assets – People always have problems. Rather than highlighting those, find answers to the underlying difficulties. For example, he says, no one knew they wanted an airbag, but everyone agreed they wanted safer cars.
  • Add a practical dimension to an irrational decision – if you want people to buy something that rewards them emotionally, find a way to include elements that seal the deal.
  • Don’t just play on the fear. Instead, look for ways to systematically remove it, so that people feel a sense of progress and personal achievement.

Here is my perspective on how to best think about fear when: “People’s deepest feelings generally fall into two buckets: (1) anxieties/fears and (2) desires/longings. People try to avoid that which they fear and seek that for which they long. I personally believe marketers should pay more attention to people’s desires and less attention to their anxieties. And, to Brene Brown’s point, brands need to do so in ways that are practical, finite and provide a sense of closure and resolution. Brands should inspire customers to achieve what they want, but also help them set limits on where a sense of fulfillment ends, and unhealthy obsession begins.

That conversation – the one about brands’ responsibilities for responsible consumption – is only just getting started, and there will be some who fear it’s a step too far because it’s not the role of brands to define when enough is enough. But as brands like Patagonia have shown, calling time on what counts as *enough* builds trust and reinforces authenticity.

My (professional) fear is that unless brands choose to see their behaviors in the wider context of social responsibility and check them accordingly, they will continue to play on powerful emotions like fear for the quick wins they can get now, at the expense of the brand’s deeper, long-term value and trustworthiness to customers.

Where you work matters: 4 Ways To Increase Productivity

Where you work matters: 4 Ways To Increase Productivity

Being a business owner is challenging but it has some perks, like being able to work almost anywhere. Many of us work out of home offices, which in theory is great, until you realize the reason you’re working without pants is because you’ve gotten complacent with your work environment and pretty soon you realize you need another cup of coffee and some sunshine. So you grind up some that special Sumatra/Kona blend you picked up the other day, and dip your toes in the pool while thinking about the work you should be doing after you finish that 4th cup of the morning.

Thats just a metaphor for being unproductive of course, and not reflective of my day at all. Or maybe thats exactly how some mornings go for me.

Working at home isn’t a good option for everyone. It’s a slippery slope if you’re not careful. Luckily, with evolving technology like tablets, laptops, and more, we have the freedom to work virtually anywhere. If you’re finding yourself getting distracted at home, it’s time to take a look at your options for work environments

1. Revamp your home office

Clear off your desk, get rid of some clutter, and bring in some plants! Make an effort to make sure your office is somewhere you actually want to spend lots of time. You don’t have to spend lots of time on making your office perfect, but keeping everything neat and pleasant does wonders.

2. Get an office

If you’re coming out of a corporate gig, it’s easy to cringe at this one, but the fact is that we’re more productive if we have a place we can go that we associate with the act of being productive. Essentially, if you have a place where you know work happens, more of it is likely to happen.

3. Go to a coffee shop

Find a spot, stake it out, and let the manager know you’re setting up shop and just became a regular. They’ll love you for it, especially if it’s a smaller, local shop.

Bonus: This is a great way to find new clients, too.

4. Find co-working space

There’s something to be said about working around other people. Not necessarily working with them, but there’s a little magic that happens working around people who want their dream as badly as you want yours.

Getting out of your head and talking out ideas or a problem that’s had you in a bind is the best way to start making progress again. Great connections lead to great ideas, and knowing you have in-person support when you need it is relieving.

They say you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. I think you can say the same for places. Where do you spend your time? And how’s that working out for you?

Find a new spot, and rejuvenate your creative process.

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

5 Tips on Successful Small Business Branding

We all understand how important brands can be. There are brands that are significant all over the world. Nike. Harley Davidson. Starbucks. These are companies that are more than just the products they sell. They’re lifestyles. They’re statements, both about the company and the consumers who choose them.

If you think bold, memorable branding is only available to big companies with massive marketing budgets, think again! No matter your industry, you can cultivate a unique brand that resonates with your clients. Want to know how to do it?

Small Business Branding Tips

1. Clarify Your Company’s Purpose. For a brand to be meaningful, it must connect to your company’s reason for being.  Why did you start your company?  How do you think you’re making the world a better place?  Without a firm grasp of your purpose, you’ll never be able to communicate what’s unique and important about your company.

2. Enlist Your Employees. Along with clarifying your purpose, you must also ensure that every single member of your staff understands that purpose and knows how and why to communicate that purpose with every customer. In a perfect world, your purpose isn’t something that’s pounded into your staff. It’s something you hire for. When you hire an employee who shares your values, then you’re on the right track. Effective branding isn’t an afterthought. It infuses everything you do!

3. Create a Rallying Cry. Your rallying cry lets you communicate your purpose and values quickly … to anyone and everyone. More than 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sang about a reason to believe, a hopeful song from the otherwise stark Nebraska album. There’s a reason this theme is a recurring one in music, literature and business. In relationships, as consumers and even as companies we need reasons to believe in the people and causes we stand behind, and for someone to believe in us. Companies spend a lot of time developing products and services, creating messaging and engagement, nurturing customers and prospects. Why? To create reasons to believe (which often lead to reasons to buy). A rallying cry builds loyalty and comfort, and creates advocates. A rallying cry gives a company its mojo. Its swagger. Its ethos. Its reason for being. That’s your brand. As Springsteen sang: “at the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe.”

4. Enlist Your Customers. You know your purpose. Your staff knows your purpose. But do your customers know your purpose?  Letting your clients know that they’re buying more than just your goods or services is key to enlisting them in your brand building efforts.  Consider the Life is Good brand.  When people don a t-shirt, they’re making a statement about a lifestyle, rather than just getting dressed. Folding in what makes you unique and worthwhile is a big part of successful branding.

5. Hire a Pro. Sometimes we think we should be able to do it all, but no matter how talented you are, you need help in the areas that aren’t your strength. If marketing isn’t your thing, consider hiring a consultant or agency to help you crystallize and evangelize your brand. Professionals can help you avoid spinning your wheels and wasting money on ineffective tactics.

Your brand is more than just your company name, logo, or slogan. It’s the expression of your values, your quality, and your unique vision.  Branding done right cements you in the minds of your customers. It makes it easy for people to understand who you are and what you do. Branding differentiates you from your competitors, and it speaks to your ideal customer, resonating with the people who will most appreciate your work.

10 Ways To Be More Productive

10 Ways To Be More Productive

Like many self-employed people I get to enjoy the freedom of taking on diverse creative challenges and consulting work. And like so many others, I’m trying to juggle a pretty full plate. I’m an advisor for the HOW Design Live conference, write for HOW, teach at Columbia University, serve as president of the board at InSource, volunteer for a public art study in my town… oh and I’ve got a consulting business which means lots of clients, and lots of projects, and each of those projects have multiple tasks to get completed. And then there’s my home and family life on top of everything else.

One of my fellow board members at InSource and I spent some time together in Seattle for an InSource event. After talking about what we’re both up to outside of InSource she said “Andy, I don’t know how you do it all”… and that’s honestly not the first time I’ve heard that. The director of the program at Columbia asked the same thing, as have several other people.

I could very easily feel overwhelmed if it wasn’t for my system for staying productive, and not just busy. I’d like to share some advice, tips, and tricks to help anyone who feels too busy and unproductive to gain more control over all the stuff and information we consultants have on our plates.

So lets start with 10 ways to be more productive.

1. Just start. Starting a task makes it easier to finish; our brains are wired to complete tasks

2. Work in short bursts. You can do more in less time, if you’re focused and energized.

3. Be unavailable during your peak performance hours,  so you can use your energy for big projects.

4. Quit whining.  You don’t have to ‘feel like’ doing something in order to do it.

5. Forget perfection. Get things done.  If you aim for perfection, most tasks will never be completed.

6. Take breaks. Increase productivity by 16% by taking 20-minute breaks in between 90-minute work sessions.

7. Take a vacation.  For every 10-hours of vacation, performance improves by 8%.

8. Work in bursts. The best performers across many disciplines work in 90-minute sessions, for no more than 4-hours a day.

9. Create a productive office space. Warmth and natural light make us happier and more productive.

10. Take a nap.  Recommended nap time varies from 10-minutes to 30-minutes. Pick a length that energizes you.

Bonus: Practice meditation. Studies prove mindfulness meditation improves concentration and strengthens memory.

The Basics of Getting Things Done (GTD)

The Basics of Getting Things Done (GTD)

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a system for getting organized and staying productive. It may seem complicated on the outside, but the end goal is to spend less time doing the things you have to do so you have more time for the things you want to do. Let’s break it down and see how you can apply a simplified version to your life.

What Is GTD (Getting Things Done?)

Getting Things Done (GTD) is actually two things: A productivity method, and a best-selling book by author and productivity consultant David Allen. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s a staple of productivity enthusiasts everywhere. Put simply, GTD is a method for organizing your to-dos, priorities, and your schedule in a way that makes them all manageable. One of GTD’s biggest benefits is that it makes it easy to see what you have on your plate and choose what to work on next. It also has a strong emphasis on getting your to-dos out of your head and into a system you can refer to. This clears your mind of any mental distractions that will keep you from working efficiently.

This sounds great, but some people thing GTD is too complicated. It doesn’t have to be, but part of the reason why it’s earned that reputation is because there’s no one, rigid, “right way” to practice it. There are lines to stay inside of, but there’s no “do this, then do that, and put these into that category” kind of rulebook. There’s no preferred app to use or journal to buy to make it work. Part of that vagueness makes it easy to personalize it to match your needs, but it also makes it difficult to approach. In this post, we’ll walk you through the basic tenets of GTD from a beginner’s perspective, and offer some tips to help you apply a simplified, more accessible form to your hectic schedule and overflowing to-do list.

The Five “Pillars” of GTD

GTD is an organizational system. It doesn’t put rules around how you actually do your work. Instead, it focuses on how you capture the work you need to do, organize it, and choose what needs your attention. At its core, GTD stands on five “pillars,” or steps to getting and staying organized:

1. Capture everything. Your to-dos, your ideas, your recurring tasks, everything. Put it in a pen-and-paper notebook, a to-do app, a planner, whatever you prefer to use to get organized. GTD doesn’t say to use a specific tool, but whatever you use has to fit into your normal flow. The barrier to using it should be so low that there’s never a reason for you to say “I’ll add it to my list later.” You want to capture everything as soon as it happens so you don’t have to think about it again until it’s time to do it.

2. Clarify the things you have to do. Don’t just write down “Plan vacation,” break it down into actionable steps so there’s no barrier to just doing the task. If there’s anything you can do right away and have time to do, get it done. If there’s anything you can delegate, delegate it.

3. Organize those actionable items by category and priority. Assign due dates where you can, and set reminders so you follow up on them. Pay special attention to each item’s priority, as well. You’re not actually doing any of the items on your list right now, you’re just making sure they’re in the right buckets for later, and your reminders are set. In short, this is quality time with your to-do list, inbox, and calendar.

4. Reflect on your to-do list. First, look over your to-dos to see what your next action should be. This is where the clarifying step pays off, because you should be able to pick something you have the time and the energy to do right away. If you see something that’s so vague that you know you won’t be able to just pick up and run with it, break it down. Second, give your to-do list an in-depth review periodically to see where you’re making progress, where you need to adjust your priorities, and determine how the system is working for you.

5. Engage and get to work. Choose your next action and get to it. Your system is, as this point, set up to make figuring that out easy. Your to-dos are organized by priority and placed in categories. You know what to work on, and when. They’re broken into manageable, bite-sized chunks that are easy to start. It’s time to get to work.

Those are the basic principles of GTD. At its core, GTD gives you a way to get everything you need to remember out of your head and into a system that can remember them for you, organize them, and break them down into pieces you can work with. That way the next time you look at your to-do list, there should be no confusion over what you have time to tackle, or what’s most important. You can spend less time thinking about what to do and how to work and more time actually working.

5 Key Steps to paperless productivity

5 Key Steps to paperless productivity

I love paper. I hate paper.

Regardless of format, print or digital, what I want is information at my fingertips when I need it, wherever I am. I want instant capture of ideas, to-do’s and notes (which for me still requires paper) but I don’t want a lot of paper laying around creating clutter.

Less paper helps me focus. Less paper makes me more efficient.

This isn’t about being totally paperless. I’m not there, and doubt I ever will be. But I’ve eliminated at least 80 percent of paper from my life with a significant, measurable improvement in efficiency, access and results.

Here are the eight steps I use to make paper-less (not paperless)a reality in my life.

1. Use paper as a capture tool first. I keep a notebook with me most of the time (see below). I take it to meetings and use it during phone calls. Throughout the meeting, I sketch-note, capture to-do’s, and jot down creative ideas.

2. Process to-do’s into an online system. The actionable tasks from those meetings are transferred into my digital task management system – Currently Evernote and Trello. Meetings get scheduled, outsourced tasks get assigned.

3. Process all other paper similarly. This includes business cards, letters, bills, anything else you get that’s paper-based and worth keeping. I use Evernote as my digital filing cabinet, but Dropbox, Google, Box, or some other cloud file service to save copies of your paper files will work too. It doesn’t really matter where you keep files. The key elements are organization and access. These documents are available to me literally anywhere – at my office, on my laptop, my iPhone and iPad.

4. Use mobile apps for information capture. Whenever I can, I capture information straight into my digital systems. Again, I use Evernote for capturing notes, ideas, and to-dos where carrying just my iPhone is ideal and I don’t have my paper notebook.

5. Paper notebook. During the day I usually carry this with me at all times. It natural, easy, and fast note taking and to-do recording when I don’t want to interrupt the rhythm of a conversation by taking out my iPhone. Any next steps or to-do’s are processed using GTD principles and the steps above, and indexed so I can quickly flip to the pages in the notebook when needed.

If you’ve read this far, you’re likely either interested in trying something similar, or think I’m a nut. Whatever you choose as your own process (online or offline, digital or paper) clearly isn’t going to work if it doesn’t make you comfortable and isn’t something you can sustain on a daily basis.

All I know is, this basic process makes my life easier, less stressful and far more productive.

Transforming Your Brand Culture

Transforming Your Brand Culture

In the first part of this two-part series, I talked about brand cultures that focus on performance, those that are restless for change, freeform cultures and those that learn fast and continue to evolve.Understanding the type of branded culture you are trying to change is critical, because no culture is serendipitous. It evolves from the mindsets, habits and viewpoints of those who made it the way it is. Equally, change will be dictated by the willingness of those involved to change.

I’ve always argued that changing a culture requires working with its pervading biases to the greatest extent possible. If you are looking to change or adjust a performance culture, for example, work with the competitiveness that is inherent in that culture rather than trying to work against it. So much cultural transformation fails I believe because those seeking to change a culture try to impose an ideology that simply doesn’t align with the dominant characteristics. Some will say that is what cultural transformation is: taking a brand’s culture, breaking it down and rebuilding it. I beg to differ, and the failure rates around corporate cultural change would suggest that, at the very least, a different approach is well worth considering.

With that in mind, here are four more of eight different brand cultures I’ve encountered and some thoughts on what it takes to successfully achieve enduring change in each of these environments.

5. Purpose Culture – driven by a need to change the world. Dominant once in challenger brands and ethical brands, but increasingly becoming mainstream as corporate brands catch onto the galvanizing power of focusing their people on a big idea. These cultures are highly motivated because they have a clear ‘wrong’ that they are intent on righting. You’ll find these brand cultures across many sectors, particularly those where the mainstream incumbents are seen as out of step or in areas where there are opportunities to fly the flag for democratizing access. Three things can do serious harm to a branded culture that is purpose driven. It becomes too successful for its own good, and therefore loses much of the energy and ambition that powered it. It can become so absorbed in what it is doing that it loses the plot competitively. Or people within the organization can decide to over-share their evangelism, lecturing those that they see as disagreeing with them or who they regard as obstructive, including the brand’s own customers. In their book On Purpose, Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan share the story, for example, of Virgin Atlantic firing 13 crew members after they posted rude comments about passengers. The great strength of purpose-driven brand cultures – their impatience for change – is also their potential weakness unless handled well. Refocusing is best achieved by a shift in target, preferably to something even bigger and more ambitious, leveraging off a sentiment that ‘our work here is done’.

6. Start Up Brand Culture – the culture that defines the brand. There’s a romance and defiance to the best start-ups that most CMOs would love to bottle. To me, that aspect of a brand culture is seldom the issue. The small number of people, the huge workloads, the odds against success, the pressures of investors and the belief that they have something that will change the world combine to give those start-ups that make it the gumption and vision to pull together as a team. Where things become difficult is when the growth sets in. As the brand incorporates more systems and processes, perhaps increases its footprint and learns the meaning of success, hesitation becomes more normal. The impulsive early days are replaced by broader and slower decision making, the rise of silos, politicization and a tendency to take less risk. All of this can combine to make the brand culture more obstructive, less enjoyable and less motivated. The key with any start-up as it grows up is to insist that the characteristics that built the company stay with the brand; and that it embraces those defining tenets to address its growing problems, rather than abandoning them in order to grow. That may sound relatively straight-forward, but in reality it’s difficult because it requires those coming aboard to ‘learn’ what the brand was while adding to what the brand is. I’m always bemused by the fact that start-up brands seem too eager to abandon their history as they grow while established brands don’t seem eager enough. Two questions I like to ask of start-up brands that are evolving to the next phase in their culture are these: What motivated you to start in the first place? And where do you continue to put all that energy?

7. Personality-Powered Culture – shaped by the style, manner and priorities of a leader. These people exert such an influence over their organizations that they drive and shape the entire culture. This can be a hugely positive force for good – think Walt Disney or Coco Chanel. But when a brand revolves so much around one person and the brand they envisage, it can, in the wrong hands, stifle innovation and change. People and their visions underpin some of the most powerful brand stories. Great brands leverage the charisma and vision of these leaders to hold the brand together, but continuing to interpret the founder’s vision or that of a great leader after they have left is something many cultures grapple with. Too often, they lapse into preservation – failing to change because of a reluctance to move on from what has been a tradition for too long. The secret to driving such a culture forward is not dissimilar to that of the start-up brands given above. It’s about holding the organization accountable to what made the brand famous and continuing to evolve how the culture works and thinks. There was a great piece by James Allen and Christopher Zook last year in which they talked about the need for organizations to keep their founder spirit. To do that, more brands need to disperse that thinking beyond their leadership and into the very marrow of their culture so that everyone feels encouraged and motivated to think like an entrepreneur.

8. Lean Culture – these are brands that need to keep pushing down costs in order to thrive. Often they are in sectors characterized by high volumes and low margins, such as wholesalers, big box retail and many intermediaries for example. There’s a tendency to see such brand cultures as people-unfriendly. Brands such as WalMart have taken a lot of flak over the years for the demands they make on staff and suppliers alike because of their propensity for driving out cost anywhere they can. But brands like Costco have also shown that lean cultures can be effective and humane. It all comes down to where you put your priorities. Lean brand cultures that see people as costs will look to automate and standardize in order to hit their bottom lines. Lean brand cultures that see people as assets will look to do the exact opposite: treat their people as a resource for extracting more value out of how the business works. Happiness, motivation and support may seem like fluffy qualities in sectors where price and margin dominate so many of the conversations, but the secret to making these cultures work is recognizing that change from within rather than from above will be most successful. I’m a huge advocate for little changes when looking to move lean cultures – because the cumulative effect of so many tweaks can be significant and people feel like they have control and that they are bringing the change about themselves. But there’s a flip side to this success as well: getting everyone to understand and embrace the pricing, and encouraging a straight-shooting culture where no-one is scared to tell the truth. When people feel they have a future, but they also know what the business needs to achieve in order for there to be a future, it quickly generates a powerful sense of ownership.

Perhaps some of you will be thinking that your culture has elements of several of these cultural types, and therefore it’s hard to pinpoint where you should focus in order to achieve meaningful change. My recommendation is that you look for two things: the characteristics of your culture that drive the greatest and most successful change; and those that hold the brand back and prevent it achieving its potential. If you can, draw on the first to address the second.

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