An article in Marketing Week flags up the tendency in the online world for the larger players to edge out smaller competitors, resulting in a ‘concentration of power among a small number of brands.’
Over the last months we have all learned to participate in events online – online meetings, fitness classes, teaching, virtual pilates, etc. The list goes on.
As we emerge from lockdown, many of those who used to provide an in-person service, fitness coaches for example, are thinking of staying virtual. This promises the advantage of potentially serving more clients, in more places, more of the time. With none of the extra hassle and costs of travel, venues, and so on.
However, going virtual-only also has the effect of drastically lowering the barriers to entry. No longer are you one of a few local providers in your niche, providing your service to a fairly captive local market.
You can provide your service to anyone, anywhere – but so can the big guys, with their ability to ruthlessly cut costs and amp up their marketing.
In short, the move online suddenly introduces a ‘drastic and permanent increase in competition from bigger, less expensive, more famous alternative suppliers.’
To make the long tail work for the local supplier – in other words, to leverage the potential of a small niche – will require developing and nurturing a strong brand: Good marketing will be critical for survival.
There are some who are smashing it. For example, take a look at https://www.instagram.com/lynseysuzanne86/ for example. Though Lynsey combines virtual with in-person sessions, which I think is probably a better, more sustainable model that going totally virtual.
Out of the blue, two very interesting quotes on commitment dropped into my inbox last week. Though coming from different angles, both illuminate the nature of commitment and our understanding and appreciation of what is gained when we commit to a specific path of action.
The two newsletters have nothing really in common, but share a characteristic that appeals to me – their wide-ranging approach. Whilst each is based on a specific topic, books and learning guitar, the way they talk about their subjects resonates across the wide spectrum of life and work.
The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.
Anne Morriss is managing director of the Concire Leadership Institute and I’m definitely late to the party as far as this quote is concerned. It’s even been printed on a Starbucks coffee wrapper – although perhaps only in the US which lets me off the hook a bit since I live in the UK. But, always, better late than never, especially where wisdom is concerned.
Anyway, I read this quote in this month’s Book Club Newsletter from Neil Pasricha (http://1000awesomethings.com/reading-club/). It’s free, and there’s always at least one book of interest. In this case, ‘Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You’ by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss. And, of course, that quote.
You can almost feel the anxiety of hesitation, of weighing up the pros and cons, slipping away as you read the words. Decision made.
In love, it’s perhaps what the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell had in mind when she described marriage as “the deep, deep peace of the double-bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue.”
However, the moment of commitment is only the beginning. Perseverance is needed to see any project to fruition. And it’s crucial to put in the necessary analysis and preparation (Ready… Aim…) before you pull the trigger.
Love (or that business idea) may not always turn out to be worth the risk, but if you never roll the dice… do you ever really live?
I’m not sure where the impulse to expand and improve comes from. I have it spades for the guitar, but ironically, the more I’ve turned it upside down, narrowing the scope of what I’m trying to do, the more I’ve enjoyed being a guitarist. Presumably that’s because if you narrow your focus, you can concentrate more of your energy on fewer things, the ones you’ve decided to care about at the expense of the ones you’re letting go of. The day I decided only to fingerpick, I cut adrift any sense that “well, gee, as an acoustic guitar player and roots-music aficionado, shouldn’t I be better at flatpicking than I am?” Now, I know the answer most emphatically is: ah, nope. […]
As a result of countless decisions like that over the past decade or more – and they pick up speed and momentum, the more of them I make – I feel more focused and more adept at the things I *have* chosen, and nearly negligible regret at this point about the equally countless paths not taken. In some ways, it’s a kind of creative decluttering – you let go of the things that feel like obligations, and hold onto the ones that light you up inside.
I can’t remember how I came to subscribe to roots guitar player and tutor David Hamburger’s newsletter; his lessons are way too advanced for me. I’ll put it down to aspiration. But I like his way of talking about music, the guitar, and the way that working on developing your skill (at whatever) is to contribute to your personal development. Though he would never put it this way, thankfully. You can subscribe here: https://www.fretboardconfidential.com/subscribe
‘The countless paths not taken…’ Of course, you can hear the echo of the Robert Frost poem, and from it know that there are times you have to choose. Making the choice may be uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to move forward.
It’s worth remembering the fuller text of the famous Helen Keller quote:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
There’s no way to be sure you are making the right decision, but very often (always?) what you choose matters less than that you choose, and follow it through with commitment.
Being authentic – or, rather, the need for it, desire for it – is a modern marketing mantra.
People no longer want stuffy, corporate speak or shouty sales patter. Customers, we are told, want to know they are buying into the ‘real you’. But is this really true?
Well, copy with personality and style is certainly preferable, and more effective at building a long term relationship with customers, than tired corporate clichés or the kind of sales copy that talks at you rather than to you.
And it’s definitely a plus if your business and the way you present yourself is (in existentialist speak) ‘congruent with your beliefs’. If only because it’s so much easier if you don’t have to pretend enthusiasm. Or have to force yourself to be that outgoing, exuberant character, when really you’re the quiet, retiring type.
But of course it’s not the real unedited you that people want, it’s the version of you that’s congruent with them, that strikes a chord with their beliefs, the way that they see themselves.
Very few of the things we buy are truly necessary.
Everything else we buy is used as a way of telling the story of who we are, what we believe, and what we aspire to be.
Your story absolutely matters, but only to the extent that it helps people tell the story they want to tell about themselves.
Be you, but then get out of the way.
As Seth Godin wrote (and from which Brian Clark takes his cue): ‘Authenticity in marketing is telling a story people want to hear.’
But there is a way to be authentic, a way to be true both to yourself and to your customer, your ‘tribe’. An approach that is helpful to you and to those you want to help through your business, nicely expressed in another post on Copyblogger:
When you approach your subject with curiosity, modesty, and a sincere desire to help, you’ll find raving fans.
That’s where I stand.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”
During lockdown I have taken the opportunity to give my small (but now a little more perfectly formed, I hope) corner of the internet a makeover after, it must be admitted, a period of inattention.
Instead of launching straight into business matters, and in particular in view of the title of the previous post in this blog (very much pre-COVID19), I wanted to give a shout out to a few publications/resources that I’ve found helpful in getting through these strange times, and are also interesting and enjoyable in their own right. In no particular order:
Laura Olin is a ‘digital strategist with sisu’. No, I didn’t know either, but now I wish I was Finnish, although there’s no strict necessity to be Finnish in order to join her in acting with determination, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. [See what I’m ranting on about at https://www.lauraolin.com/]
But anyway, Laura Olin compiles a weekly email of ‘lovely and/or meaningful things’. The ‘things’ are not on any specific topic or agenda, but there’s always something to be interested in, to be surprised about; something to spark and encourage your creative energy.
I think she’s the most interesting and insightful person writing on happiness. Each week (amongst much else) she has a different interviewee responding to the same ten or so questions about happiness, habits and relationships. Last week the interviewee was author, blogger and speaker Jen Hatmaker [https://jenhatmaker.com] who spoke vividly about the importance of connectedness to us as humans – something we have all been missing in these days of social distancing.
In my latest book Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, I was surprised to discover how not just important but crucial connected relationships are to our well-being. It is the single factor that overrides virtually every other marker of health. It alone has the power to meet all three basic human needs outlined in Self-Determination Theory, it is the strongest predictor of physical health and lifespan, and it is permanently linked to our levels of resiliency, optimism, and productivity. In other words, the lonelier we are, the worse we are doing in every facet of life, and the more connected we are, the better we are doing in every facet of life. Connection and belonging matter almost more than anything else we put our hands to.
And I can’t leave newsletters without mentioning writer and artist (or, artist and writer) Austin Kleon. He is a brilliant curator who always has interesting things to say and draw your attention to in art, writing music and more. You can read more and subscribe here.
I’m a recent convert to Podcasts, but I’m really loving and highly recommended these:
How To Fail with Elizabeth Day
A blog about failure… or rather, getting through failure to the other side. Coming to terms with the things that haven’t gone right, in business or life or both (after all, work is part of life, which is why I don’t really go for the ‘work/life balance’ shtick; but that’s another story), because to ‘learn how to fail is to learn how to succeed.’
Whether one totally buys into this overall proposition or not, Elizabeth Day is an excellent interviewer and is able to attract a lot of very interesting interviewees.
During the lockdown there have been three special editions interviews with Mo Gawdat (author of Solve for Happy, Alain de Botton (of the School of Life and much else), and also now one with fashion designer Henry Holland. All are thought-provoking and offer a lot of helpful advice and insight. And are often very moving. For me, the standout (both original interview and recent coronavirus special) is Alain de Botton.
FT Culture Call
Lively and engaging chat and interviews between two engaging FT’ers in London and New York about culture high and low – a redundant distinction, thankfully, but just to indicate we’re not simply talking opera and classics here.
In a recent episode Lilah, in New York, interviewed chef Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. You don’t need to have heard of Samin Nosrat or be interested in food to find this a fascinating listen.
Finally, for a bit of fun and escape, Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs is hard to beat. These two are fun, sassy and, as with all the best conversations (or criticism for that matter), it doesn’t really matter whether you know or care much about the particular song or artist they’re talking about. Still less whether you agree with them. I can even just about forgive them for not including Tom Waits in their episode talking about songs called ‘Hold On’. His is head and shoulders above any they chose. But no matter.
What they have to say is always entertaining and perceptive. The recent episode on Nelly Furtado is a good case in point, the conversation ranging far and wide, from reflections on the emotional power of music to a certain nostalgia for the days when you had to actually leave the house to get your hands on a new album. It’s a joy, and a regular fix for me while walking the dog.
‘I’m so glad I didn’t die on the various occasions I have earnestly wished I might, for I would have missed a lot of lovely weather.’
Elizabeth von Arnim, in a letter.
Born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Sydney, Australia on 31 August 1866, the prolific and, in her day, hugely successful author ‘Elizabeth’ von Arnim lived a remarkable life that, just for starters, included performing Bach and Liszt on the organ at Bayreuth for Cosima Wagner (Liszt’s daughter) and marrying into the Prussian aristocracy.
The unprecedented modelling capacity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is opening up new possibilities for understanding the way diseases develop, and finding more effective ways to fight disease.
This short video of the presentation by Abigail Hing Wen at the AI O’Reilly conference in Beijing 2019 provides a fascinating glimpse into how AI, in the form of Google’s Deep Mind, is helping researchers begin to provide answers to long-standing problems which up to now have eluded scientists.
For example, the three-dimensional structure of a protein, based on a sequence of amino acids, governs a protein’s abilities to perform its functions. Inability to perform these functions can have devastating consequences, for causing diseases and allergies, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cystic fibrosis.
Understanding how a three dimensional structure is determined can help us better predict harm to patients, design better drugs and design better proteins to fight diseases.
But the possible shapes that a string of thousands of amino acids can take is far beyond the capacity of even the most powerful computers to model …
Interesting thinking on innovation and customer focus in this post at Harvard Business Review –
Smart companies increasingly recognize that their own futures depend on how ingeniously they invest in the future capabilities of their customers.
and transforming your innovation mindset:
Shift the focus from extracting value from customers to making customers more valuable. Simply put, this new focus redefines the purpose of innovation — which is not just designing better products and services, but designing better and more valuable customers.
Design for Albanian Letters, a compilation of letters and reports on Albania in the 1870s by archaeologist and journalist Sir Arthur Evans, the latest book from the Centre for Albanian Studies now in print.
From the blurb:
In Albanian Letters Evans not only explores the implications of the key political events of this period but also paints a vivid picture of the country’s complex social and cultural make-up. Albanian Letters looks at how Albanians’ views of their homeland were affected by developments taking place at the time, including increasing awareness of ethnic differences, population migration, and changes to its distinctive culture and tradition.
and the back cover testimonials:
‘These fascinating letters and reports – never previously collected – cast fresh light on one of the most vital periods of Albanian history. The crisis which began in the late 1870s would lead, eventually, to the creation of an independent Albania. But while the end-point of that process was a relatively simple solution, the starting-point was a complex problem, with many different interests competing for power. Arthur Evans was both an opinionated young man and a brilliant journalist, with a vivid pen and a keen appetite for information; his accounts of these tensions and conflicts, both internal and international, make him a very valuable witness – and a very good read.’
Sir Noel Malcolm, Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford
‘Despite their biases as pointed out by the editors, Evans’ journalistic reports provide an impressive depth of detail as well as insightful analyses of events, personalities and intrigue within their cultural and historical context.’
George W. Gawrych, Professor of History, Baylor University
Today is the last day of the office in Cavendish Square, with the advantage of the Mayfair galleries just a short step away. So very glad to have caught a great exhibition of work by Erwin Blumenfeld this lunchtime at Osborne Samuel on Bruton Street – Erwin Blumenfeld: From Dada to Vogue.
The exhibition includes some of his brilliant early work in collage as well as a wonderful selection of his experimental photography.
Above, Left:Nude, Paris, 1938
Above: Hitlerfresse, Amsterdam, 1933
Above:Shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Paris
Born in Berlin in 1897 Blumenfeld left Germany after the First World War, settling first in Holland, where he established a Dutch arm of the Dadaist movement, then Paris, where he made some of his most famous images, including Nude Under Wet Silk (1937).
Fleeing France in 1941 he settled in New York where he became one of the most internationally sought-after portrait and fashion photographers in the 1940s and 1950s. Remember his iconic Vogue cover of 1950 (not in the exhibition):
I wish I could say I had known all about and studied ‘legendary Memphis photographer’ William Eggleston before I read about the current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. But, I don’t think I had ever heard of him. And that’s a big omission because his work is extraordinary. An education for the eye.
The pin sharp focus and vivd colour of his portraits give them a stunning presence, combined with a certain mystery and, in some cases, dread. Like the shot of his friend, the strange Memphis dentist TC Boring (though on this evidence boring he most certainly wasn’t; except perhaps in his day job), standing nude in his graffitied, black and red bedroom; it’s as if the image prefigures the violent death of its subject – Boring was later murdered by locals and his house set on fire.
And this strange picture (above) of Marcia Hare in Memphis, lying on the grass and yet almost floating above the surface – an effect created by the sharp focus on just the small area of the buttons on her dress, her outstretched arm and the camera. Hanging alongside this image is another portrait of Marcia, this time dancing (as if no one’s watching) – with a very similar body configuration, as this photo of the exhibition shows, taken before I discovered no photography was allowed:
The portraits are not portraits in the traditional sense; frozen moments in time but not character studies. Most are ‘Untitled’, the name of the subject in some of the photos revealed for the first time in this exhibition.
Another stand out image, printed in grand scale, of the artist’s uncle with his assistant who unconsciously mimics his employer’s pose; the one open door lends a strange, uneasy air to the image.
Whatever your knowledge or interest in photography, if you possibly can do go see this exhibition. It’s a glimpse of the work of a master.
William Eggleston, Portraits. National Portrait Gallery, 21 July – 23 October 2016.