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EPISODE 2 – Jim O’Connor

How To Create A Brand Story That Sells

In most markets, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to differentiate on features alone. And even if a business develops a unique feature that’s important for its customers, you can bet that the competition will follow suit quickly. 

A more sustainable advantage is to build a unique position in your customer’s mind, combining the features and benefits of your offering with psychology, creativity, logic and emotion into a brand story that makes your business stand out from the crowd. Yet all too often, marketing teams just accept the bland, undifferentiated position they’re in, and try to outdo the competition by spending more on ads, exhibiting on bigger trade show stands and sending ever more emails. 

Marketing and advertising expert, Jim O’Connor joins me to share the logical, systematic and simple process that any business can follow to uncover their brand story that sells.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • What is a brand story
  • The sequence of steps to follow to uncover a brand story for your business
  • The one thing that every great proposition should have
  • Why talking to people you dislike can help your creativity
  • Techniques for switching off your logical mind, and letting your creative subconscious flow
  • What to do when you don’t have anything remarkable in your product



Purple Cow by Seth Godin is a marketing book that emphasises the importance of standing out in a crowded marketplace. The central thesis of the book is that traditional marketing strategies are less effective in today’s cluttered media environment, and that businesses need to become remarkable to capture the attention and interest of consumers. The “Purple Cow” metaphor represents something that is so extraordinary that it would be impossible to ignore.

Key takeaways from the book include:

  • Be Remarkable: Products and services need to be innovative, unique, and remarkable to stand out.
  • Target Innovators and Early Adopters: Focus on the segment of the market that is most open to trying new things.
  • Safe is Risky: Playing it safe and trying to appeal to the masses can lead to mediocrity.
  • Design for a Niche: It’s more effective to design products for specific groups of passionate customers than to create generic products that don’t stand out to anyone.
  • The Product Itself is the Marketing: The best marketing strategy is a remarkable product.



Episode Transcript
Episode transcript

This week on Marketing Freed, I’m joined by marketing and advertising consultant Jim O’Connor. Before going freelance under the brand name Stories That Sell, Jim spent time at agencies such as Young Rubicam and Saatchi, and in 2017 wrote a book, The Authority Guide to Creating Brand Stories That Sell.

In this episode of the podcast, Jim takes us through the processes and tactics he uses to uncover and communicate an organization’s brand story. Jim, welcome. Great to have you on the podcast. Great. thanks for inviting me. I’m looking forward to it. Yeah, no, it’s great to see you again. look, just to kick things off and for the audience, could you maybe think back across your career and pick out a few highlights that stand out to you, anything you’re particularly proud of having worked on, or a campaign, and what it’s achieved?

I think, oddly enough, the highlight was, ended up as a bit of a disaster, really. I was on the verge of getting laid off by Young Rubicam when the new creative director came along and it was, he got rid of half the creative department and he said he was just about to get rid of me but then he came into our office one day and he said, do you want to go to Queensland?

And he sent me and my art director to Queensland for two weeks to, just to drink rum. Which was, was a highlight for me. It was, the idea was to do a 60 second cinema commercial to launch a new rum to take on Bacardi. I don’t know, it was just the best, not the best two weeks of my life, but it was pretty good, that was, as work goes, that was probably the best.

That is important. Yeah, that was how it happened. That is important research, you’ve really got to get under the skin of the product. Yeah, that’s what it was about, it was actually, you had to, discover the Australian, research the Australian attitude to drinking. it was, just fantastic.

Then we worked on it for a year, and it, but the market disappeared. a bit like now, we had a sort of, it was inflationary and the market for luxury drinks, premium drinks just disappeared. But I’ve got my two weeks in Queensland. But I think the real thing, the highlight for me actually is, when you solve a really difficult problem.

that’s for me is what gives me the buzz. some people it’s on their winning awards or I don’t know what floats their boat. But for me, it’s a private, internal thing, really. You’re given a problem and you think, Oh, what am I going to do with that? And the best one probably was, I ended up going to California, with a little tiny design agency.

it’s only like him and about two others, really. But this, really big software, it wasn’t a big software company in Palo Alto, but they had Bankrolled by all the major banks in Wall Street to develop a new risk management software. And they, got three or four of the biggest global ad agencies to pitch for it.

But, just as a complete wild card, they invited us to go over. Thinking we were in London, but we, weren’t. We were in Bath. We were out, it was the middle of nowhere really. We went over there and we spent a whole day being briefed. It was 45 minute sessions by all different people in a room. Literally covered in whiteboard, with theorems written all over it.

It was incredibly intimidating, and I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. And that night, we had to present to the board the next morning, and we realised what we’d come over with was completely hopeless. And in the night, I just, I woke up, and I thought, we can’t explain this product, it’s too complicated.

But it’s risk management software, and if you don’t have this, you’re going to be in real trouble. I just came up with some headlines that preyed on the fear of, risk managers I think are probably nervous people, because of that risk management. and I just showed them these lines on the sort of days in stationary with the barrow, in the board meeting, and just the look on their faces was just fantastic.

And the line that really got it was, it’s a dog eat dog world, which dog do you want to be? Had nothing about the software, it’s just if you haven’t got this software, you’re going to be, people are going to be eating you alive. I remember that example. Yeah, they just ran a whole campaign, and that was a highlight for me, it was just like, it was like pulling a rabbit out of a bag really, it was a, right at the last minute.

I remember that example from your book. Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s a great example. I do remember it from the book. and perhaps we’ll come back to that later because I think it’s a really interesting, part of the process from coming up with the broad messaging that you’re trying to achieve for the client and then distilling it down into something that, it communicates everything but in quite a short, pithy way that’s easy for people to understand and remember.

Yeah, that’s, the key really. yeah, that’s when, that’s what the job is, Yeah, absolutely. look, your book is about helping businesses to create brand stories that sell. could you describe what a brand story is? Yeah, I know we talked about this before and I’ve been thinking about it a lot because it’s a really big question.

I think the key word is story actually and people in marketing, it’s a buzz word, it has been for years really. And people go, oh yeah, it’s all about telling stories. But they never explain what a story is and it makes me suspect they don’t really know what a story is. And they’re just repeating it, it’s just a buzzword.

And everyone goes, oh yeah, it’s about stories. what is a story, And, a story, I think if you’re going to write stories, it helps to, know what one is. To understand it. and it’s a sequence of events. but which are connected by causes. It’s like a dominoes, a line of dominoes falling over.

E. M. Forster explained. He said. For example, the king died, then the queen died. that’s not a story. A story is the king died, then the queen died of grief. And it’s one thing causing another. And there’s emotion involved as well. and I think that’s what a brand, A story has, heroes and villains and challenges.

You think of Lord of the Rings or any great story. And a brand story is where your brand is the hero. And it’s got challenges to solve, whether that’s Analyzing risk or cutting costs or, I don’t know, helping you lose weight or whatever. And, so that, that’s what, you have to, you turn your, product or service into the hero.

And then show it solving things. You show the product in action, which is, again, being kind of academic drama. character in action, so you show your product or service in action and winning, But the really clever brand stories, the ones that really work, are the ones that, the consumer goes, the consumer has their own story, not a brand story, their own internal narrative and the story they put out to people.

it’s when they adopt your brand story as their story. That’s the really clever thing, because they like what your brand story is and they use that to signify the type of person they are. And it’s, Nike or whatever it’s all about. Just do it. It’s about being an overcomer or an achiever.

And a load of people just love wearing Nike because it, it meshes with their story. It tells a story about them that they just love. And I think that’s, that’s why That’s the difference between a great brand story and just a not such a great brand story when people, adopt it themselves.

that’s a good one. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, thank you. One of the things I really like about your book is that you walk the reader through really quite a logical flow of the steps to take in order to create, first of all, I suppose a, position for a brand. And then once that’s established, then, moving on to how you can go about communicating that to your market.

The, one of the first activities that you recommend is, just to list all the features and benefits that you could associate or attribute to a, product or a service. How would you decide what features and benefits you end up focusing on? yeah, that’s the, there is a logical process to just rewind.

I’m not sure everyone uses a logical process. I think the misapprehension or the misconception is that just inspiration comes in from, somewhere. But I think if you’re a professional, that’s completely the opposite of what happens. You, there was a book written in the 1940s called, Technique for Producing Ideas, by a copywriter who watched how Henry Ford had invented the production line.

And he wrote this book in Chicago for some, Automobile executives, actually. and he said that you can have a production line for ideas exactly how you have a production line for Ford cars. And, the first thing is you list the features, you list the benefits, but also you, and you, put those together, but also the crucial thing is you’ve got a target audience.

It’s not just what have I got to say, it’s what do they want to hear. And also, it’s you’ve got to align that with the market and the competition. There’s no point saying What they want to hear if someone’s already saying it, you’ve got to find a different angle or different subject, a different set of features and benefits from your key competitors.

And really what you do, you move those four things around. that, that’s how you, that’s how you, what you’re trying to do is to find features that are unique to your product. And which appeal to the target audience, and which you can genuinely, promise. And then, you’re in the right area.

But then you’ve got to express it in a really interesting way. Because you, because even then you’re probably in the same area as quite a few other people. and that’s what, the trick there is to walk away from it. And I, started watching Mad Men recently, I’ve always avoided watching that. But, there’s a classic bit in the first episode, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched it.

Don Draper’s got to think of, A new, idea for Lucky Strike cigarettes, which, and there’s a whole load of research just come out from Reader’s Digest saying they give you cancer. So they’ve got this major problem. And he’s in a bar, the first minute, I think, of the series, he’s in a bar, trying to work out exactly what you were just saying.

Features, barman over actually and asks for his opinion. But then what he does, he can’t solve it, and he goes, and sleeps with his girlfriend. And the point is, and David Ogilvie would say when you go and drink a quart of claret or something, everyone had a different way of doing it, but they, they, we take a long walk, you feed your head and then you walk away and you let the subconscious do it.

And that’s when people think, Oh, you just sit there and wait for an idea. they’re missing the point. You’ve done all that process work beforehand. Yeah. It’s all noodling away in the back of your mind, isn’t it? Yeah. You’ve learned it all. You’ve learned it all. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I know that I’m going to go off on a tangent here, but, I’m, quite an avid, user of word games like Wordle and then, you expand that into Quirdle where you’ve got to solve four of them and then there’s Octurdle and then you solve eight of them at once and, when I get stumped with a problem, I’ve got some of the letters and it’s all a jumble.

It is remarkable how many times I can go away, make myself a cup of tea, forget about it, and I don’t know, later when I’m waiting to pick up my daughter from gymnastics in the car, I’ll have a look at it again and the answer comes immediately. But it’s, you remove yourself from trying to think about it and then the answer becomes apparent.

Yeah, you’ve got to switch the logical mind off, yeah, but you’ve got to do all that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That’s a really interesting point. Yeah, thank you. And you mentioned, about trying to find all the importance of finding not just your features and benefits, but it’s got to fit that Venn diagram of also not what you have to offer and what you’re credible about, but actually what your audience care about and ideally what your competitors don’t and what they don’t offer.

Yes. How do you go about finding that out? I think. Hopefully the brief should give you most of that, to be honest, but often it doesn’t. you just, online really, you just go and look at what the competitors are doing online, and you just, with the audience, I think it’s, slightly empathetic actually.

I don’t know that there’s I don’t think it’s not, for me, it’s not about data, it’s trying to imagine I’m that person. And you don’t think of a group of people, you think of one person. And you just put yourself in their shoes and you try and imagine how they think and feel and what problem they’ve got that the product might solve and what their feelings are.

It’s more an imagination process than a data kind of process, for me anyway. And it generally seems to work, because I find often a lot of data will tell you what you already knew anyway. I suppose the, concern with relying on data is if the data exists, then presumably other people have access to that same data as well.

And so you’re not going to end up with anything unique because of it. No, if you look at It’s more from the, passing comment. Yeah, look at banks. They’re all, they’ve all got the data saying people want the bank to be, customer centric and friendly and warm and They all have the same six words on their kind of, values or whatever.

they all end up at exactly the same place, because they all do the same, exactly the same products, Same interest rate, yeah, you can’t ignore the data, but it’s not going to solve the problem for you. You’ve got to go beyond that. I think that a lot of people in marketing, they spend all their time I’ve just seen a post on LinkedIn, obviously I won’t say who it was, but somebody’s saying I reckon I’ve read more biographies of great business leaders than anyone else.

And I think, oh, okay. But actually, perhaps you should have a bit more variety of reading. it’s, if you read lots of different novels, novels put you into the heart and soul of all kinds of different people. And I, go down the pub, I find the pubs really useful, and talk to people who I don’t even like.

Which are very different from me, because that’s when you learn stuff. And you’ve just got to, you’ve got, as a copyright, you’ve got a really broad wave band of people, of people. to just get how they think and feel and, I didn’t vote for Brexit, but there’s a lot of people in my pub did vote for Brexit.

And it’s really, you need to talk to them, you need to listen, Why did they vote for Brexit? Yeah, there’s the saying about creativity is actually about combining existing ideas in new combinations. Yeah, exactly, that’s exactly it, yeah. But, yeah, anyway, you can’t have, you can’t combine things if you’ve got an empty brain.

you need a lot of stuff, and I think the people are going around with a narrow wave band of stuff in their mind, or even not much stuff at all, and they’re trying to have ideas, and it’s just not going to work, because you’ve got You can’t make many connections, can you? Because you’re scraping around for stuff to connect.

So having a well structured And the more ideas you have, actually, yeah, it becomes exponential, doesn’t it? It’s the square of the number of ideas you have is the possibility of the number of connections. Yeah, when I was working in London at Young Rubicam, I’d go on the train. I commuted from Bristol to Paddington every day.

And I’d get on the train, there were some really bright people on there commuting for the city. There was a lawyer as well, a really top barrister. And I would just, and they, were busy, they were working on the train. I wasn’t really, when I was working, I used to look out the window, because that’s what I was, that’s what my work was, trying to think.

And and there was an architect as well, and I would just give them my problem. And so what they’d say, what are you working on today? And I’d go, oh God, I’ve got to think of something for the Bingo Association of Great Britain to make people go to bingo halls, And I remember this lawyer who just came up, just bang, he just came up with this great idea, Because they think of it totally differently. So it’s just, you don’t know where you’re going to get the idea from, but if you have an accent to be curious, it’s incredibly important, I think, yeah, absolutely couldn’t agree more. All right. So look, if we’re following the process, that you mentioned and you cover in your book, you’ve understood your features and benefits, your audience really well, you know what they care about, who your closest competitors are and what they offer and how they’re presenting themselves to the market.

You then move on to defining your proposition. Can you talk a bit about what a good proposition looks like? What it includes? Yeah, and this is the key. This is where most things fall down because you’ve really got to think. I think Henry Ford said, thinking is the hardest work a man ever does or a person ever does.

that’s why so few people are willing to do it. And it, Proposition. it’s a promise. What promise are you gonna make to the consumer? But it’s gotta be really simple. and when I worked at Atch Saatchi, they had this mantra, which was a brutal simplicity of thought. And it your, when you put a brief integrated department, it had to be one sentence, and there was no, no words like and or anything in it.

It had to be one thought. It had to be single-minded. The single most motivating and differentiating thing you can say about this product or service. So it’s got to be different from competition, it’s got to be motivating, and it’s got to be really just one sentence. And that’s the hard thing, because most people want to say two or three things. And that’s when it gets confusing, so you were going to say something? Yeah, no, I was just gonna ask a question as to whether you think, if you think across your career, has it actually got harder and harder to come up with something that is truly differentiating?

Yeah, definitely. Because because I’ve been doing it a long time. It’s I look back at when I started, it was history. It’s gonna, so I’m joking apart. I think, I started in the 80s and I was looking back at learning from people who did it in the 60s. And there weren’t, if you looked at, I don’t know, lawnmowers, there were only, there was like, only probably two kind of types of lawnmowers.

There was the hover ones, or the ones you, that rolled along. And it was much easier. There were, to find a point of difference. But now, I think I looked up how many potato products there are, in Tesco’s. I do that occasionally. it’s about a hundred. Hundreds, there’s chips and waffles and, and it’s the same in every market.

The markets are just so utterly stuffed with products and services. There’s virtually no point of difference. And I think this is actually a really key point that, I read a book right at the beginning, which I look at regularly, it’s on the shelf behind me, The Craft of Copywriting. and the guy said there’s only two types, when you’re a copywriter, there’s only two types of advertisement.

One’s where there’s something to say, and one’s where there’s nothing to say. And, there’s, nowadays there’s virtually no product that’s got anything to say, because someone’s already saying it. and, then that’s where you’ve got to be creative, because you’ve got to come up with some way of saying pretty much the same thing, but in a totally different way.

And the way I tend to do it is, and most people they still, what they do, they focus on the features. Especially business owners, because it’s their baby, they’re absorbed by their business and their product which they’ve developed. But they don’t realise that’s of the least interest to other people.

People aren’t interested in your product. They’re interested in themselves. And you’ve got to get over the features really. and, talk, about the benefits in a way that no one else is talking about them. You give a really nice example in the book about actually the power of how you communicate.

The story that you tell, the words, the language that you use. That can be a significant point of difference. And you give a great example of, in the Bible. You’ve got the life of Jesus as told by four different disciples. And then you’ve got films like The Passion of the Christ, and Ben Hur, and Life of Brian.

And they’re all utterly different from each other. so I suppose a question for you is actually, is there a part of the process, or how, do you go about making sure that the tone, the way you’re telling the story, fits with your proposition and your target audience? Yeah, I think, actually, I lost my way with the last point really.

I was talking, too much. I think, when you find you haven’t got anything remarkable to say about the product, what I do is I flip straight into what does the customer want to hear? And I think that’s, actually, if you analyse most advertising now, that’s what people have done.

They’ve ignored the product completely. if you look at, I was looking at Dove Soap the other day. I’ve got to do a talk to the Women’s Institute. Next week, which I’m pretty worried about. And I thought, what product might they be interested in? Dove Soap. They, talk about, They don’t talk about the soap at all.

They’ve got this campaign for real beauty. And it’s saying, you’re really beautiful if you’ve got grey hair. You’re really beautiful if you’re overweight. It’s making people feel great about themselves. It’s got nothing to do with soap at all. so I, think it’s, And that goes back to your point about tone.

The tone is just dictated by the, By what the people want to hear and perhaps where they want to hear it. but it’s all sorts of nuances because you might, you’ve got a choice. You could either, I don’t know if tone is even the right word really, but it’s a, Do you aim for someone’s head? Do you have a logical approach?

give them a logical argument? Or do you give them, do you aim for the heart and you go for their emotions? Or do you go for outright humour? And try and make people laugh. or do you go for wit, which is I think what’s called a smile in the mind. So it’s not a laugh, but you go, ah, that’s clever, yeah, And you, just make people like the product because you’re giving them a smile. So I think it goes, the tone goes back to the consumer I think. It’s what’s going to win their heart and mind. Yeah, and I think it’s important to mention it’s got to be both. there’s an author, that I read quite a lot of, a guy called Dave Trott.

and he’s written some excellent books. And his, career in Adland goes back, I think, to certainly the 70s. Even longer than mine. Yeah. Yeah. but, he, tells a story, of, It’s really, a reflection of the state of a lot of the ads that you see today. he likens it to salads.

And the example he gives is, you can have a salad, and it can be a bowl of lettuce leaves, and it can be dry and uninspiring and a bit of, a bit gruelling to munch your way through for lunchtime. It’s healthy and all that, but it’s not an especially enjoyable experience. But you can make it more pleasant, you can make it more enjoyable by putting some salad cream on it.

And what he feels a lot of brands are doing with ads currently is they’ve actually excluded all of the nutrition. They’ve removed all of the salad, which is the facts of the, information they’re trying to communicate. And it’s just spoonful after spoonful of emotion. but actually you, you’re not really left any better educated about what it is that you’re going to be getting, but you might feel something, you might feel something towards the brand.

And I think there does need to be that balance of the two. Yeah, you are definitely, that’s a brilliant way of expressing it. I think of it, similarly, fast food. McDonald’s, it’s like a burger, they’re just churning out these burgers, which are all this bread that’s like cardboard and, there’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing right with it either.

It takes all the, it’s, got a burger in it, it’s got some mayonnaise, it’s got a bun, it’s got some lettuce, and it’s all measured and everything. So you can’t criticise it, but it’s just, It’s completely tasteless, and there’s no nutrition. I think there was that saying, wasn’t there, about a presidential campaign in America, where somebody went, where’s the meat?

And the idea being there was no policy, if you like, in this person’s campaign. And, no content on the way. They, they, said, where’s the meat? Which I think probably was a slogan for a, burger originally, but Yeah, where’s, the meat in most advertising today?

it’s all, desperate for grabbing attention. or it’s ladling on emotion. And I keep hearing people who’ve got no interest in advertising other than they’re the target audience going, what was that ad about? What was that for? They’ve got no idea what, the, what it was, Yeah, often wins awards, but is actually totally ineffectual at changing behaviors. It’s very create creative because it’s got nothing to do with the product at all. so creative is way out there, Yeah, absolutely. I really like that point. and You’ve got to the stage now.

We’ve defined, define who we are, what we offer, who our audience is, how we’re different. We’ve actually got the tone of voice and our messaging right. I think the real skill that you’ve been able to demonstrate in the book is then distilling that all down into a succinct message. And if I think about it, My skill set, I’d find it, I think, relatively easy with enough time and effort to write out a page long argument about a particular product or service and why it’s better than something else and put some emotion in there and, but actually distilling it down into some short, memorable, catchy messages that is easy to understand.

That’s the magic, isn’t it? How do you go about doing that? Yeah, that, it is magic and I think Actually, I think you, last time we talked you you mentioned a line, for a campsite that, that I did, and it was so good I can’t remember it, no, free range camping, it was free range camping wasn’t it?

Love it. But, what’s interesting there is, actually I’ll put my hand up and go, it wasn’t my line, it goes back to what we were saying earlier, is talking to people, we were sat in the campsite. drinking cider because it was in Shedders, it was Somerset. And, the woman who actually did the booking, she lived in a caravan on the site.

And just did the bookings and stuff. she came up with it, she just said it. It’s just oh it’s great here, it’s just it’s just like free range camping. that one I didn’t think up. but I wouldn’t have got it if I hadn’t been doing what I do. Which is just listen to everybody. and again, being on that train going to London, often some of the best ideas came from the lawyer, the architect or whatever.

but then a lot of ideas are, generally it’s me coming up with it. And I think people talk about it as being a kind of magic or something, but I don’t know how you do it really. It’s, I think, I hesitate to use this word because it, sounds a bit arrogant, but it’s talent. Some, nobody ever talks about talent anymore, but they used to in people like Dave Trott and that used to talk about it.

Certain people have got it, and certain people haven’t. And I’ve just got this knack of being able to, do that. Come up with a little quirky kind of set of words. and really quite quickly as well. I don’t know quite where it comes from, but it’s just the kind of brain I’ve got really. I guess it’s one of these things that gets easy with experience as well.

it’s devilishly hard to ask some, a marketing generalist to do that if that’s the first and only time they’ve ever done it in their career. It’s probably not going to be brilliant the first time around, but if you can engage with a specialist that’s what they do and they’ve been doing it for years, you would expect the end result.

Also, I suppose I’ve learnt off people, I suppose I’ve learnt over doing it. Forty five years or whatever, so there’s tricks that you learn certain tricks and techniques and The book craft to copyright he says that the how technique so how to do the how to do blah blah blah why to do such and such or when to do You look at campaigns then you go I think cinzano or martini had the martini moment or whatever.

So that’s a spin on the when moment The, who might be having a celebrity or, there’s just tricks and ways of doing it. But the other crucial thing is, I think, people overlook and never People talk so much about copywriting, but they never mention. copywriting agencies. They all think it’s about words and they only think about words.

that’s absolutely nuts actually, because at least half of it is the picture. with an ad, it’s the picture that does most of the communication. And the trick is to have the words that spark off the picture. And not, loads of ads these days. All they do is they go, they come up with a headline.

And then they stick a picture of the person in they think is the target audience. As if to signify, hey you, look like this. You’ll relate to this person. You need to read this headline. it’s just so lazy and dumb. Crass. the great ads, have, a picture and a headline that probably initially you don’t quite get the connection and then you suddenly get it and there’s a spark.

It’s like a spark plug. You’ve got to get the gap between the two. It’s just right and stimulate enough curiosity and it jumps across. So there’s definitely a I was just going to say, it’s definitely Yeah, it’s definitely a change though that you’ve seen in, you can notice in the ads that are running now versus how they were a few decades ago, where if you, cast your mind back, you might expect, some of the great ads to be, I don’t know, two thirds dedicated to the image that grabs your attention, but at least a third of the pages is actually dedicated to the copy that It explains a bit more about it.

So they grabbed your attention, but then it’s about convincing you and speaking to your heart and your soul. And nowadays, you’re right. It’s often a, catchy image and maybe a catchy headline. But you’ve then pointed to a website or left to your own devices, and it feels like that’s less effective.

They’re actually engaging people at that moment. Yeah, I think there’s loads, there’s just so many reasons for this, but part of it is I think you go back 40 years or something, ad agencies used to get 15 percent commission on the media, which meant they were making a lot of money so they could hire people like me and they could hire a copywriter and an art director to sit in a room for a week thinking up ideas because they were making enough money to do it.

But then the media fragmented, you came up with media independence. That 15 percent disappeared, so the creative departments disappeared really. And so ads have been done really quickly now. and we’ve gone back to a stage where the people doing the pictures and the words are probably not even in the same room anymore.

And in the old days, you came up with an idea and you took an actual photograph, you commissioned a photographer and you directed the photograph to tell the story. Now, you just go on Getty and you find a picture that’s, oh, that’s alright. there’s a picture of a telephone or a laptop or something.

And that’s why the advertising just doesn’t work anymore. Because they’re trying to do it on the cheap. They’re trying to do it, this whole movement to do stuff quick. technology allows you to do stuff quicker and more efficiently. yeah, it does. You can have one bloke on a laptop can produce an ad in half an hour.

And do something that took a week or more. But it’s crap. Because there’s no discussion. There’s no someone going, I’ve got a better idea. Or what if we did this and that. And and then it goes to the creative director. Who goes, yeah, why don’t you flip that around. Someone like Dave Trott. That’s where he earns his money.

Because he goes, ah yeah, what you’re missing here is this. And you’ve got this whole team of people. But a technology means that, One person on their own can do it really quickly. and the client goes, Oh that’s cheap, great, okay. Yeah, I wonder how much of that is also a result of measuring the wrong things as well, particularly now that a load of advertising happens online.

It’s really easy to measure things like click through rate, but that, for many brands, that’s of no consequence. You don’t care if the ad got loads of clicks for many brands. partly from what you said before, thinking about issues you’d raised before. if you have You compare four ads that are all crap.

You’re just measuring crap against crap, aren’t you? You, if you didn’t measure quite so much, but you really spent some time refining a really good idea and you didn’t test it. You’re probably better off than four ads where you go, Oh, I know that one’s the best one. Yeah, it’s the best of the worst.

There’s a great saying was average is the. Best of the worst. The worst of the best, and the cream of the crap. And we just got a load of average advertising at the moment that people are measuring to death. And it’s going, why? Why are you bothering? It’s not differentiated. It’s not motivating. It’s badly produced, and it is, it’s cheap and it’s quick and, yeah, the media, you are on Facebook, so the media doesn’t cost you anything.

Bob’s your uncle, then they, then the brand manager goes and gets another job. Tell them what a great job they did in the last, they keep moving every nine months, up the chain or whatever, Yeah, how many clicks were out there? I’m being really cynical here, but People don’t call this stuff out anymore.

I look on LinkedIn and it says everyone’s just congratulating everybody, being chummy with everybody, and I’m so proud to be working with so and and they’re such a great chap or whatever. It’s just this sort of, Chummy club of mediocrity, it’s a, I don’t, say that on LinkedIn because it’s, I don’t want to upset everybody, I’ve got friends, but I think sometimes you’ve got to call it out and say, there was a great Oscar Wilde, one of his plays, there was a character, somebody said he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and I think we’ve got a world of that.

Everyone’s got the data. They’ve got the price. They know what things cost. We’ve just forgotten what the value is, of great doing it properly. Yeah, absolutely. And when we caught up previously, you spoke about something other than ads often being bland and ineffective. something else that you see clients frequently getting wrong is They actually leave the message to the last moment.

you gave an example of websites being created and then someone coming to you and saying, we need someone to fill it with copy. On you go. that sounds like a devilish challenge. it’s not a challenge for me. It, I in a way, it makes my job easier, really. Because I think, oh, there’s just a few pages I’ve got to write.

I’ll write something to fill it, if that’s what you want. makes my job really easy. It doesn’t make a good brand story though, because they’ve put me in a box before I even start, So I’ll just fill the box. But that’s really not the, it’s not that I do care about what I do, but sometimes they make it so difficult for you.

The job’s almost done before you, before they get you involved. what they should do is What they do is they go, Oh, we need a, website, we’ll get a web designer, and then the web designer does the template or whatever and they, Ah, they have a colour palette and a mood board and all this sort of stuff.

and then they have a wireframe and then it’s Oh, what’s going in these spaces, And then I come along and I can fill the spaces in. And if I try and change what they’ve already done, I can say, actually. I think you need another page here or this, I think we could do this on the homepage in terms of brand story.

They go, Oh, no, you can’t do that because, it’s not going to fit with, Oh, all right then. Yeah. It’s putting the cart before the horse, isn’t it? Totally. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You see it a lot, but I don’t, think really big, really big companies don’t do that, but it’s the sort of smaller and medium sized ones, which are.

More reactive possibly, But even then, I think even when a website begins its life with a lot of care and attention, a lot of thought given as to what you’re trying to communicate and to who and why and what actions you’d like them to take at each stage. Over time, inevitably it just drifts anyway.

And what might have been perfect and fit for purpose two years ago. Often when you revisit it, it’s, just become a sort of horrible amalgamation of stuff that’s just been bolted on and happened. And then in, in its entirety, it no longer works and it needs that constant, not constant, but a regular refresh actually as to what you’re trying to communicate and why.

And, just a fresh set of eyes. Yeah, I did a, I was asked by a management consultancy, I’m not going to name any names here for slightly obvious reasons, but. They got six copywriters, I think. They were asked by this major utility company, a massive utility company, to get six copywriters to in six weeks come up with a new website.

And they had six different websites, this utility company. And they had I’m not exactly sure, it was almost a thousand pages of stuff. And they wanted that in six weeks, putting into kind of, Maybe 300, but halfway through the project after three weeks, right from the start I said look You’ve just got it You’ve got to tell me what the pages are because I can’t write if I don’t know what the subject of the pages After three weeks, I helped me through the project.

They went they still hadn’t told me or any of their copywriters They couldn’t tell us and then all these project managers Managing it but no one could take the decision And, then they said, the project’s lost memento. And you’re all laid off, It was just, it was hilarious, because you, but that’s what you, that’s what you’re saying really, is a website can just get totally out of control.

And it needs somebody to be totally brutal, brutal simplicity of thought, just go, you know what, let’s just trash the whole lot and start again. Because, this is just a mess, Sorry, I was on mute then. Yeah, absolutely I’m conscious of time, Jim, and thank you so much for right. Yeah, we’re doing good, but I just want to leave with a couple of parting thoughts. Something I’m asking every guest is for a book recommendation to do with marketing and maybe a point about what it’s taught you or why it’s relevant.

Yeah, I think, behind me, there’s loads of books. The one I picked was one I read first of all. It’s really thin. It’s a tiny little book really, It’s only that thick, Purple Cow by Seth Godin. And the first time I read it I thought, oh, it’s a bit superficial and a bit trendy and then I read it again and just thought actually, it didn’t seem to tell me anything I didn’t know, but it just reminded me that the whole point is when you see cows they all look the same and they’re not But the purple cow would be really worth noting, it would be remarkable, and he’s saying that your brand story has to be a purple cow, it’s got to be remarkable, otherwise it’s just a complete waste of time.

And he just comes up with loads of case studies and it’s very readable and, but the point is you’ve just got to be remarkable. and I think people have put in so much effort to all sorts of other things like, like research and data analysis and user experience and all the rest of it. And, unless you’ve got a remarkable product or a remarkable brand story or a remarkable way of expressing it, it’s just a waste of time.

you’re just going to be pouring money and resources into it and tweaking stuff. and it’s, having a good story just isn’t good enough. That’s how he ends the book. It’s got to be absolutely brilliant, And I did actually, it made me think I did actually have to do a campaign on a purple cow once, when I was at Young Rubicam.

I worked at Young Rubicam, they were the biggest ad agency in the world at that time. So you would, every day you’ve got a different project on some massive brand. And, Souchard Chocolate, has a brand called Milka. It’s Milka. Yeah, it’s a purple cow, And it was like, oh can you do some, do a, I think it was a TV commercial for, Sell this chocolate, and it wasn’t necessarily a proper job.

It was just as one speculative, but it was like We the pen is slow to money. Could you just do some ideas to keep them happy, to make justify our fee or whatever and Make my copyright me and I was copyrighted being the art director came up with What can we do with this cow? it’s this sacred cow, literally.

It’s the Swiss, worship this cow. And we came up with, there’s a song by, Deep Purple, called the Purple People Eater. And we came up with, we thought we’d use that song, and we’d have this cow going around eating people. And it, it’s crazy, but it, the purple cow, For milk and chocolate just was a bit boring really with a mountain behind it and a milkmaid or whatever.

What are we going to do that’s remarkable? So we thought let’s kick it up a gear and the cows running around eating people. And the line was eat it before it eats you. And then we had to present this. And then somebody said alright, you’re going to have to go upstairs to the sort of, one of the big chairmen from America or vice president or something.

And I remember he was called Joe Dedeo. And I thought, God, Joe of God. And we went to this room full of clocks. It was a really surreal experience. Thinking, he’s not going to like this, And we had an animatic and we showed him. And he just long paused. And he went, so let me get this. The cow eats the people.

And we went, yeah. He said, oh good, okay. I think it should, show it eating more people. ha. Oh okay, But it never went anywhere. Cause it was just, and that’s what happens actually with most, of the good ideas I ever did or, remarkable ideas. They never go anywhere. People go, Oh yeah, we love it, but, you wait for the but.

And I think it’s especially true now. If they can’t justify it with data or research, they’re not going to have the guts to do it, Yeah. Whereas back in the 60s and 70s they did. People like Dave Trott, they, would. be able to do that, Yeah, it’s an interesting point to finish with.

Thank you very much. Jim, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I’ve enjoyed all our conversations leading up to this point. So thank you very much for all of your time and sharing your knowledge and experience. for anyone who wants to connect with you after the podcast, how can they find you? my website is, storiesstoriesthatsell.co.uk so that’s probably go to the website or My email’s jim at, that, that address, storiesthatsell.co.uk that’s, yeah, I’m pretty happy to talk to anybody to be honest, I’m semi retired now And I’m in the kind of help people mode, so if anyone, I’m giving back I suppose, if anyone feels I’ve got anything worth giving back so yeah, so I’d love to hear from people, if anyone’s got any questions on that, or, yeah Great.

Perfect. Thank you very much. Really appreciate it, Jim. really, it’s been a pleasure. All right. Thanks a lot, Jim. Great to see you. Thanks everyone. Cheers. Bye.