Brand Trump.

OK, so the Republican race isn’t over yet but Donald Trump is now three to one ON in the betting to win the Republican nomination, with Ted Cruz now 4/1.

Now, I’m not saying Cruz is an angel, because he sure is not, but it says an awful lot about the state of the American electorate that Donald Trump has been able to muster such a remarkable following under the auspices of a brand that I could only describe as toxic.

Most certainly it is toxic in the UK.

And for liberal America it too repulses commentators most notably in this MSNBC report by a visibly shocked Rachel Maddow. In the broadcast above Maddow creates a timeline of Trump speeches (you’ll have seen many of these snippets before so it’s not clever editing at play here) of the escalating call for an end to the toleration of protesters at Trump rallies and an increasing call for violence that led to the riots in Chicago.

It’s only one aspect of ‘Brand Trump’ that is so much the antithesis of Obama’s winning campaigns, that it makes me wonder if it can be the same electorate that is being addressed.

Now, sure, Obama’s dream is far from realised, but the quiet dignity with which he has presided over his office is a lesson in diplomacy for many leaders.

The tone adopted by Trump on the other (small) hand threatens to drive the US political system into farce.

But, like all good brands, the tone of voice is consistent.

One might also describe it as disruptive because it’s taking US politics and entirely reframing it.

In that respect it is as masterful as Obama’s Hope campaign.

But people, ultimately, are frightened of disruption.

Brand owners particularly so.

So, we can only hope that ‘Brand Republican’ sees, in time, that sub-brand Trump is about to kill its parent.

Perhaps forever.

I mean, is this how you’d like your brand satirised on national TV and global internet?




Google RankBrain. What it means. (I think.)

I was reading a post today about RankBrain, the artificial intelligence (AI) tool that Google engineers have been training since last October to process user-search results in such a way that it makes them more relevant to users.

It’s essentially a new tweak to Google’s already highly complex Hummingbird algorithm to make search (i.e. advertising) more effective/intuitive/human.  (Slightly ironic then that they don’t use humans to actually train the algorithm.)

It’s got the SEO community in a palaver and it’s scaring some SEO practitioners because if it works it will make PageRank, which assesses inbound links, less effective. (Link building is the current top dollar methodology for increasing a website’s prominence and authority on Google.) And that will mean genuinely good websites will beat wolves in sheep’s clothing in site ranking.

That’s good for those of us who value quality over quantity.


Well the boffins can’t really agree on anything in SEO – which suits them.  As the more black magic associated with it the better.

They make it singularly as complex as they can, although five minutes spent perusing this outstanding infographic by Column Five Media might help you get see the full(ish) picture  because it gives an, at-a-glance, perspective on the factors that influence search.

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What’s gratifying about this, from my personal perspective is the things we mere humans can influence, situated prominently and with authority, at the top left of the table are Content, Words, Research and Freshness.  RankBrain is going to like these a lot and further move the dial away from link-building as the most effective means of getting people to read your website.


But if you want a boffin or two’s view; help yourself and maybe you could explain to me what they mean.

…it’s merely a switch from user-intermediated algo-tweaks to mostly automated algo-tweaks to arrive at the same end result

or this

 …also think they will include the fact element they patented – the number of facts a page has about a keyword set – latent semantics meets encyclopedic data.

Inconvenient truths unwrapped a little

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I wrote a post a few days ago that seems to have gained a little traction, so I thought I might expand on what I mean when I say I often have to tell my clients inconvenient truths (and by inference so should you, with yours).

By way of illustration, let’s rewind to 1995 or so.

The scene is an oak panelled boardroom. (Not mine.)

 “I’ve been thinking about the music track you commissioned for our new (£600,000) commercial and, you know, I play a bit of guitar myself. Have a modest studio in the house… and my best mate is a composer, so… we’ve had a little go ourselves. What do you think?”

My client pressed play as our hearts sank.

[90 seconds later…]

 “Well, I think David Bowie will like it because it’s his tune.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s essentially Heroes*.”

[Long pause]

“Of course it isn’t…and I love it…so that’s the soundtrack for the new ad.”

[Another long pause]

“Well, you’ll have to sign a legal disclaimer that you are going against the advice of your agency because I will not be held responsible for what a musicologist would say was a copy of someone else’s song.”

This is not a typical conversation in my career.

[*I’ve changed the name of the song and the artist in the story for obvious reasons. But the rest is true. The disclaimer was signed. We never made another commercial for that client.]

I’ve carried out a number of fairly significant consultations. In one I was asked to conduct a feasibility study for the expansion of a new service into a market I knew well. The client was clearly very excited about the prospect. I came back with the news that it sucked and not to do it. I gave the client a robust alternative.

The clients went with their own view.

Two years later the service closed down and was re-launched exactly as I had suggested and was a commercial success from then on.

These responses were both extremely inconvenient for my clients. In the first case they got lucky that Mr Bowie didn’t come knocking. In the second they could afford the mistake but it needn’t have been made.

On a daily basis I’m asked for my opinion. And one client actually described me as jaggy (definition: Scottish Pricklya jaggy sweater) when describing my style.

What he meant was that I told inconvenient truths, and you simply can’t do that with a smile on your face.

Telling an inconvenient truth is a jaggy jumper moment. Sorry about that.

The rest of the time I’m pure cashmere.

“We’ve rejected concepts a, b and c because they are too creative and we’re going with concept d as it’s a lot safer.”

Now, what you read above is a mash-up, but it’s composite feedback I’ve heard time and again in a variety of formats and requires the strongest response in the consultancy book. (I should point out that, technically, concept d should never have been presented in the first place, but we all have our weaknesses.)

The inconvenient truth here is that if you truly believe that your work, or the work of your colleagues, will be more effective because it will stand out more and be noticed you need to fight with all your heart and soul for concepts a, b and c.

This is where the word ‘No’ comes strongly into play. As in “No, I think you are making the wrong decision” followed by a convincing argument as to why.

Dave Trott writes again and again and again in Campaign magazine about why over 90% of advertising isn’t even noticed, never mind ineffective.

Most ads are concept d.

Go on. Pick up a copy of today’s paper and see how many of the ads in there actually make you think “that’s interesting”.

Less than 1 in 10.

I know that for a fact.

Digital marketers get all frothy mouthed at 1% click through rates

That means 99 out of 100 people ignored their ad. (No doubt these were all concept d’s.)

But it’s hard to argue with your client who’s paying your or your bosses bill. I know that.

Think of it this way though, you’d respect an interior designer who robustly challenged your choice of pink and green for your living room. You’d bow down to your hairdresser who told you the mullet you so desired was not the best choice of cut in 2016.

These people take inconvenient truths in their stride and we marketers, advertising people and digital marketers would do well to recognise this. And to find ways to articulate why their clients need to know the truth, no matter how undesirable it might be.

We need to stand firm in our professional opinions that concept d should never have been presented in the first place and that it will be bad, not good, for your business to play safe, to be invisible, to become wallpaper.

And it’s not about being brave when we share inconvenient truths with our clients.

It may be jaggy, yes.

But most importantly it’s passionate and honest.

The ten year project. My voyage of discovery.

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I often help my clients to define their values and positioning but, like the cobbler who neglects his children, it has taken me 10 years to do the same for myself.

Until now.

This is Think Hard

What you’ll get if you engage with Think Hard’s eponymous Head of Thinking is a one-to-one service.

No juniors.

No bag-carrying yes men.

And that’s an important point.

One of my pet hates, when I worked in the advertising industry (specifically), was the account man who held his clients in thrall.

In such a way that their advice was compromised.

‘No’ is a wee word.  (But a big one.)  But too many of my erstwhile colleagues preferred the Y word.

I believe that if my clients engage me they want to hear the truth; not what is convenient.

They want to hear, in the words of Al Gore, Inconvenient Truths because once they know the truth of their brand, their service, their business they can act to enhance it.

Even if they don’t like it.

I recently read an interesting article  that said creativity essentially scares people.  That’s because the vast majority of us are risk averse and don’t want to break out of the mould despite hiring consultants, agencies and so on to be ‘creative’ and find alternatives to their current modus.

We want to conform.

It’s a crazy irony for those of us who are engaged to help our clients non-conform because often their wishes, when dramatised on whichever creative canvas we adopt, scares the bejeezus out of them, and so it plays straight into the hands of those consultants who feed off their clients’ fear of the unknown.

Consultants (account handlers) who prefer to say ‘yes’ when ‘no’ might be the right answer, thrive on this preternatural instinct for taking cover rather than facing up to and conquering inconvenient truths.

I don’t do any of that.

It doesn’t suit me.


I prefer to share with my clients what the truth is: no matter how inconvenient.

The money bit

I consider what I charge to be a fair price.  (I don’t have many disagreements over my fees.)

I could ask for more I suppose.  (I know some of my ‘competitors’ do; but I do OK.)

My office is in my home.  (And anyway, often I work in my clients’ offices.)

My Macbook is robust.  (I don’t need to replace it often.)

I ‘repurpose’ memory sticks, Postit notes and Blutack.

I use a second-hand desk.  (It suits my requirements.)

I cycle to meetings.  (If they are within cycleable distance.)

There is no BMW on my drive.

I don’t speak Drucker

I very rarely read business books because I believe my experience shapes my thinking better than someone else’s jargon. (That said, I wholly recommend The Lean Start Up, Hey Whipple Squeeze This and anything by Paul Arden and Trotty.)

I’m quick

I’ve always been quick.

Why do eight research groups when you know the answer after four?

Why have a full day meeting when all it needs is an hour?

(More to the point; an hour when five minutes will suffice.)

I cannot abide the practice of ‘spinning things out’.

That further cements my ‘value proposition’.

And at the very core of it all is that scary word creativity.

The need for creativity

I can’t paint.

I can barely tap dance.

My ‘White Balance’ is poor when I take photographs.

I’ve never been published as a writer (unless you count my absorbing undergraduate paper: Structure and Biochemistry of Endosperm Breakdown in Date Palm (Phoenix Dactylifera L.) Seeds).

I’m no Dame Kiri.

But I do understand and appreciate the creative process.

Moreover, I have an ability to manage and direct it in such a way that inconvenient truths can be overcome.

Creative people, the ideas people I know and often commission, or am commissioned by, seem to agree.

And it’s they that make my bit of the equation add up so that n + n really does equal 2n+.

I am not averse to a two Martini lunch

Sometimes it’s needed.

So.  Take it or leave it.

That’s me.