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It's the pain that makes the inspiration.

By | Communications craft, content, Uncategorized


One of the recurrent issues when writing for corporations is the avoidance of anything that might look like a problem. Anything “negative” frequently provokes a squeamish response from the writing team who are sometimes programmed to say only “positive” things. Yet without the negative there is no positive, it’s all a slushy mush. And you’re never going to move or inspire anyone with mush.
But pain is a flip side of pleasure, and communicators need to work with both.
In a musical parallel, J.S Bach’s aim in his church scores was to move and inspire. So he gives us the most searingly beautiful aria from the St John Passion, where dissonant chords, tucked away in the music for fleeting moments, provoke subliminal anxiety that gets resolved later on. This becomes the motor of inspiration.
Howard Goodall’s brilliant analysis of Bach’s music could equally be applied to dealing with a piece of writing. It is especially true in writing for professional services that there are nearly always problems or a lingering pain that triggered the need for some kind of solution. Problems needs to be there, not in your face, but definitely in there, and woven in. Without problems, there’s no need for anyone to buy a product that solves a problem. Without the pain, or passion, (which means pain), there can be no inspiration.
And if you’ve never heard “Zerfliesse miene Hertz” before, you’re in for a treat.

Darwinian symmetry

By | content, Creativity, Uncategorized

Darwin’s vision of man and ape as separated only by a few millennia meant that essentially we were on the same footing as animals. This implicity challenged relationships such as father son and holy spirit. It’s hard to be a creative thinker without upsetting people because when you spot new symmetries you disturb existing ones.

Car and cow. Ford’s symmetry.

By | content, Creativity

Henry Ford famously used the paradigm of meat packing to find a better way of building a car. Essentially it inverted the notion that mechanics walked around a single car, gradually constructing it over a period of months. Under Ford’s system, it was the converse; cars proceeded like cow carcasses from one specialised process to the next. Where cows were disassembled, cars were being assembled. By seeing a car as a relatively low value object he could transform its production, and produce the world’s first high volume automobile.

Ideas mean new symmetries

By | Communications craft, content, Creativity

The pregnant man visual (top right) was part of an Health Education Council to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The headline ran “Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?” Copywriter Jeremy Sinclair, (Saatchi’s). By exploiting the symmetry of an imaginary situation, there’s an unarguable case for being more careful with contraception.
Below, bottom left, mushroom as jet engine. This visual idea was used both by British Airways to sell its food services, and also by HSBC to discuss organic fuel sources in the future. The BA idea ran “Before we fuel the aircraft, we fuel the passenger”. The HSBC campaign creatively recycled it, with the line “In future, we will all fly organic.” Anyway, the point is that strong ideas discover and exploit meaningful symmetry. See conceptual symmetries and Darwin

Case studies and professional organisations

By | Case Study, Communications craft, content


We all know that factories produce widgets. Or cans of fizzy soft drink, cars, smartphones and television sets, but what do professional organisations produce? If you show a car in a car showroom, you can get people to buy the vehicle; but what is the show room for the professional product?
If you ask the company they will tell you they produce solutions. But solutions tend to be invisible. They’re the lack of something; if you hold a solution up to the light, it’s usually colourless liquid.
It’s sometimes helpful to think of professional organisations as producing narrative. Either deliberately (PR agencies) or, as a by product of solving their client’s headaches. So if you’re, say a law firm, management consultancy, housing association or medical practice, these narratives can be stories of how various solutions came into being. The good news is they are usually very interesting stories. The bad news is that you have to work quite hard at retrieving them.

TED topics for Industry 4.0

By | B2B, Communications craft, content, Strategy, Thought leadership, What's out there now

Thought leadership has been a buzzword for a little while now.
To do it well you famously have to be able to have thoughts and also to lead. Neither of those two things are particularly easy things to do. For many content producers, it may feel like a big mountain to climb. They way to succeed is to break it down and get a little help.
Imagine you have to create a TED talk for your product or brand. What would it talk about? What are the big themes that operate around your product or brand that you personally find fascinating? Still stuck? Ok, try something simpler, treat it as an exercise in curation.
Just make a list of existing TED talks that seem to discuss topics near to the issues close to the brand. Then, write a few comments or remarks that bridge any relevant issues that need connecting. Here are some of mine for a company that’s designing software for a modern business. They deal with what’s generally called user centred experience. The connecting comments simply need to answer the question, “What’s the relevance of this inspiring video to what these guys actually sell?” Even if it’s obvious, it’s good to make it explicit so you don’t leave your audience in the fuzzy further reaches of philosophy.

Has marketing changed?

By | B2B, Communications craft, content, Uncategorized

It’s hard to do marketing without thinking everything is so different from when we all came into the industry. Even if you’ve only been in the industry for a year or so, you’ve probably noticed some big shifts already. But as ever there’s a counter view, and one provide by the father of advertising, the late, very great Bill Bernbach.

“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.” Bill Bernbach

*With thanks to Rory Sutherland for reminding us of this quote.

One of the classic B2B ads of Bernbachs era, printed in 1958 is by McGraw Hill publishing. It runs as follows.
So how might it read today? Here’s a guess.
The man sitting in the chair would also nowadays probably be sporting a beard and a mobile device, but as Bernbach would have said, his unchanging need to guard against an unknown visitors and their untested products is just as it strong as it always has been.