Marketers are embarrassed. It's an industry which has become ashamed to admit we influence behaviour and make businesses profit. It's why we call it "content" instead of "ads". Or worse, "films". It's why we set objectives for engagement, despite little evidence it does anything meaningful. Likewise building experiences, brand love and 'having a conversion' all fall under the same banner. On the other side, it's one of the endearing things about Russel Howcroft (Gruen panelist and my first boss). He bloody loves ads. He likes big ideas and big agencies. He gets off on advertising - from Cottee's-jingle-old-school to Koala-mattress-modern. He understands successful businesses grow the economy, keep people employed and fund the nation's retirement. Nothing embarrassing about that. Yet selling is dirty. https://twitter.com/robistyping/status/1029070601225478145 The lack of feel-goods in the industry has led to 2018's most dangerous word: purpose. (Here I use "purpose" in the context of brands aligning with and promoting social causes. Almost always seemingly out of nowhere.) We're offsetting this embarrassment by steering brands to fight for the greater good. We're putting our personal fulfilment ahead of sound marketing strategy. This may be controversial, but when Corona raise awareness for plastic in the ocean, it's off-brand. Likewise when Airbnb fight marriage inequality, it's a distraction. I am, of course, on board with the causes and don't mind either concept. But they do not deliver brand growth. The fad seems to driven by the likes of Simon Sinek, who notoriously said: "People don't buy what you do, they buy why do you it." But Simon is wrong. It's a claim made without substantiation. And with repeated reference to Apple, who he arbitrarily claims have the attribute of 'purpose' (rather than the more realistic 'good at brand building and product development'.) The often-quoted seminal research that goes hand-in-hand with the above suggests brands with purpose outperform those without. But this research is flawed, and Richard Shotton writes a good take down of it. Despite a few millennials claiming purpose is the biggest influence on their decisions (which is stated behaviour only), there are other ways to do brand positioning. Take Koala mattresses. They do not have a noble mission. They simply position themselves as challengers in a category run by old-school conventions. Which is why their ads take the piss. Yes, they donate money to wildlife charities. But this isn't their "why". They spend most of their marketing effort building the brand (reinforcing their positioning), or selling through product demonstrations and five star reviews. If you're doing brand communications, your job to create and refresh memory cues, then reinforce a long term positioning strategy. Anything else is brand noise. There's also the problem with conservative customers, who, while a minority, are finding their voice online which is echoed by the media. Byron Sharp says never give someone a reason not to buy your brand. But none of this offensive marketing - only potentially ineffective. Unlike what must be 2018's worst idea - Ikea's Say No To Bullying. This is more than brand noise. This is desperation to be on trend. And in doing so fabricating an experiment, presenting pseudo science disguised as research. This kind of irresponsibleness is why we have anti-vaxxers. I'm not a fan of the word "authenticity" but this lacks it, and is purpose at its worst. At the same time, don't confuse last week's killer work from Nike as purpose driven. (From the worst ad of 2018 to the best.) It might be progressive, but as seen in the follow up Dream Crazy ad, this is a campaign about self-belief, perseverance and sacrifice. Brought to you by the world's greatest athletes. This is not purpose, this is thirty years of brand positioning reinforcement. The best rebuttal for purpose is its ability to attract talent. When used internally, doing good in the world helps people not hate their job. But that doesn't mean it needs to drive your consumer-facing activity. Not every brand needs a social cause to fight for. In fact, when everyone zigs maybe it's a good time to zag. Andy Whitlock has good advice to keep your positioning grounded, which right now might just be the most effective way to be distinctive....

A mate and I were working on a killer product idea. We'd come up with the concept, done renders, built prototypes and spoken to factories in China about manufacturing. We even had a killer logo and visual identity done. But all that took us two years - the way side projects tend to inevitably be side tracked. In the end, I killed it. We'd spent time and money getting to a place where we still didn't know if people wanted it. So for my next project, I'm trying something different. Feel Good Socks is an idea I've had for a while. Trendy AF socks, where every pair sold raises money for charity. They feel good on your feet and good in your heart. This time I'm following Justin Jackson's advice. He says before you do anything, prove (if only to yourself) market fit by getting 100 people to give your their email address. Even if it's your Mum, it's people taking action in favour of your idea. And when you launch it, you have an warm audience ready to go. So here it is. If 100 people register their interest for Feel Good Socks, that's enough demand for me to start design and production on the first pair. And if not, I've lost only an hour on the landing page and a few bucks for the temporary crappy logo. It means I'm giving away the idea. And I haven't even registered a domain yet. But at least it won't hang around for two years only to collect dust....

12 months ago I took a leap and decided to freelance. One year later, these are some of the things I talk about when people ask me what it's like. #1 Managing your own hours is a superpower. The ability to choose your hours, in terms of when and how many, does incredible things to your happiness. Early on I decided to work no more than four days a week in big agencies. This created time to work on other projects (paid and unpaid), chase new ones or just enjoy a sleep in on a Friday. The changing cadence also keeps you interested and interesting. I did everything from a three month contract to one project which was literally half an hour. You can choose to focus on one big thing, or juggle ten smaller ones. The latter meant I could do a 15km run in March, which was only possible because I dropped everything at 11am and went for a jog when I wanted to. You do need to be buttoned down on your calendar management. Even then sometimes things don't always line up. I've accepted a few days of work, then 10 minutes later had to turn down a bigger gig because you're already committed. Sometimes work just disappears too - I was three days into a month-long pitch which got pushed out by months. Annoying when you've already turned down two other jobs to be there. But that's freelancing life. The contracts always favour the employer (but you only get them from bigger agencies). It's why they pay you more. Despite being the master of my own calendar, my grand plans to work on side projects failed miserably. It's rather easy to take on more paid work or spend time meeting people for coffee while passion projects collect dust. #2 Choosing who you work with and what you work on, helps navigate your career. Freelancing allows you to pick the types of brands, agencies and people you work with. And the projects you want to invest time in. This year I worked with big agencies, small agencies, entrepreneurs, starts up and consulting my own clients. But you also have flexibility in the role you play in the work you say yes to. You can reinvent your job title (and yourself) with every new project, pushing into uncomfortable spaces to play around with. One of my favourite adventures this year was developing the marketing strategy to launch a gluten-free brewery. Not quite my heartland of creative strategy, but a category close to my stomach, and a rewarding project which has become ongoing. Throughout the year I picked up everything from writing content strategies through to delivering full service campaigns white labelling freelance creatives under Pigs Don't Fly. You get to flirt around and try on different hats. One year later I have a much closer idea of where the intersection is between what I like doing, what I'm good at, and where the money is. #3 The market for freelance strategists is good right now. I am fortunate. I have a good-sized network built from nearly a decade in two large agencies. This created most of my opportunities. I also have somewhat of an audience (you suckers) - writing here and on places like Mumbrella helps keep me top of mind as a potential resource. In two cases it also opened new doors which turned into work. I also realise I fell into an attractive role. I'd suggest large parts of my success aren't because of how good I am, but rather a lack of freelancer planners in Melbourne. If I was a designer, I'm not sure if I'd be writing such a romantic post. I also managed the whole year without using a recruiter. They eat a decent piece of your day rate. Without being arrogant, honestly my biggest challenge was learning to say no to work. Especially early when I wasn't sure what my income would average out to. Even still it's bloody challenging turning people down - knowing the opportunity cost and wondering if you can find time after hours to make it happen. Even to this day I wonder if I got lucky and am still in a honeymoon period, and should be making more hay while it shines. With the ebbs and flows you do sometimes find everything crashes at once. I'm doing more weekend work now than in my permanent life (which my former colleagues will tell you wasn't much). Other times it's quieter than you want it to be. I got some advice to make the most of those days - get out of Melbourne and spend time at your beach house. If only I had a beach house. #4 The money is great, but you have to learn how to earn it. The money is really good. I finished the year 36% up on my old salary. But it takes time to learn what you're worth. And even longer to be confident enough to ask for it. I sold myself short for at least my first two gigs. To this day still need to stop negotiating myself down unnecessarily, often before the other person has even responded. Never has your imposter syndrome screamed louder than when someone looks you in the eye and asks your day rate. At least these conversations happen frequently, so you get good at it fast. You learn to throw your number out there and then stop talking. Eventually I worked out to be stupid and arrogant enough to ask for what I thought was a stupidly high day rate. And they said yes. And keep saying yes. I do wonder how this dance impacts men versus women. If you're thinking of freelancing, my advice is to add at least 25% on top of what you think you can get. Push as far as you are comfortable and then a little more. Remember you are covering down time, your own expenses, equipment, annual leave, sick leave, training, work beers, etc. I unsuccessfully gambled with remuneration. Twice on pitches I cut my rate in half, adding 50% on top if we won. Neither paid off (although I did help win other pitches!). I also did one job for cryptocurrency - right now it's down 60%. This year I'll stick to cash. Along with good calendar skills, you also need to run a tight ship with your bookkeeping. I manage mine through an unnecessarily detailed Google Sheet, which works for me. I also manage my own quarterly tax statements (it's easier than you think). Paying your own superannuation and tax annually does take discipline - eventually I created a separate account and moved the money out of sight. The cliché of chasing invoices actually wasn't too bad. The big agencies sometimes drag their feet, but 90% of my invoices would have been paid within three weeks. #5 All big agencies are the same, but some have better culture. Most agencies look and smell the same. The people who work there are kinda the same too. They tend to dislike their clients, work longer-than-healthy hours and think the chaos is unique to their agency. But they are good people who come to work every day wanting to do good work. Culture is distinctive though. You notice it particularly as a freelancer where you see lots of it fast. It's most evident in how much an agency encourages you to get among it or put your head down and work. It's a bit like gravity - you can feel it immediately but it's harder to see the cause. Sometimes you can tell in the first ten minutes, particularly when someone in IT tells you they don't allow freelancers on the WiFi. I didn't realise it until this year, but in my permanent life I was spoiled with access to coffee machines. Seriously agencies, sort this out! #6 It's not all fun and games. Not having a work crew sucks. I miss the daily banter. Having worked in bigger planning teams in the past, it's also tough not having another strategist to throw something around with. Working from home for too many days in a row isn't heathy either. Especially in winter. For my next stint at home I'm going to find a temporary coworking space. Unfortunately you rarely get to see work through. You come in, do your piece, and you're out. You don't often get the opportunity to nurture and help ideas grow. Last week I saw an ad for a strategy I wrote six months ago which I thought got killed. It wasn't a very good ad. It's also challenging not working toward something bigger. Freelancing is constantly short term. You need to be comfortable with not knowing what's happening next week, and not relying on fulfilment from big career-defining moments which take time to build up to. You'll be tempted into permanent work. I had a few full time and part time offers, one including equity. But while it's not all sunshine, there's still plenty to love because...

Last year I missed a connection at Heathrow Airport. I sourced the needed documentation, filled in the forms and submitted my $201 travel insurance claim. Four weeks later I got a cheque in the mail for $1. When I enquired why it was so little, they told me there was a $200 excess. I suggested some feedback: Me: You should consider putting a reminder at the start of the process. It would have saved us both a bit of time. Them: It's in the fine print of the Product Discloser Statement. Me: Yeah...

Nearly 12 months ago I quit my job and started freelancing. With the opportunity for a fresh chapter, I stopped calling myself a Digital Strategist and updated LinkedIn to Creative Strategist. Here's why. 1. Digital Strategy has changed. When I started my career, "digital" was a blurry word. It was a grey area you could carve your own definition into. I've been lucky for most of my career, in agencies where I largely got to shape the kind of work I wanted to do - finding opportunities for ideas on digital channels. But increasingly, Digital Strategy has nothing to do with ideas. It's more "transformation" and "enterprise solutions". These days the role requires a strong understanding of specific technology tools and data platforms. You have a seat at the table, but it's not necessarily with marketers. The consultants would say that's a good thing. And more profitable. But I like writing briefs and working with Creatives. Unless you love CRM or DMPs, there's no longer room in agencies for Digital Advertising-ish Strategists. (And rightly so, see below.) 2. Digital is just a tool. Why do we have Digital departments in agencies? Or Digital Creative Directors? Digital Strategists belong on the same list of obsolesce. Digital is just a channel. Usually for hosting an experience or distributing a message. But it's not always the best place to host an experience or distribute a message. Yet if you have Digital in your title, you have a natural bias. Not making that recommendation makes you less relevant. But Strategists are problem solvers, and they can't have predispositions to certain tools. To a hammer, everything looks like a banner ad. 3. "Digital" makes me feel a bit sticky. There's too many snake oil salesmen out there. And yes they're mostly men. With oil comes their greasiness. Too many entrepreneurs selling courses for Facebook ads. Too many videos of Gary Vaynerchuk telling you to hustle. Too many digital marketing influencers without any influence (or something to say).  Of course, I generalise. There's plenty of legit digital thinking legends out there - it just feels like they're getting harder to find. 4. You can charge more. There's more demand for Creative Strategists, and fewer in supply. A Planner who "gets" digital seems to be the sweet spot, more so than a Digital Planner who considers brand or a proposition. People don't like talking about money, but from what I've gleamed, day rates are better for the agnostic problem solvers. 5. I'm finally starting to understand how advertising works. I've worked in advertising for nearly decade, and am only now just starting to feel like I get how it works. And every time I read more, the way brands use digital pulls in the direction opposite of effectiveness. My (ever forming) philosophy is guided by the likes of Byron Sharp, whose work suggests brands grow through mass reach of potential buyers by building and reinforcing memory structures to increase mental availability. Even if there's too many buzzwords in that sentence for my liking - that's not  how most brands invest in digital. Likewise I lean toward the notion advertising works because it is a signal. It's an investment received socially. Traditional ads work because they are perceived to be expensive, collective and seen in unison. Digital is the opposite: cheap, individualised and sporadic. As Rory Sutherland says, "We make our wedding vows in front of a large number of people simultaneously." Presumably at an expensive wedding. Generalising again, but it would seem most of the people flogging digital thinking don't have a philosophy on how advertising works, or even believes that it does. --- I don't think we can attribute this one to David, but Ogilvy sum it up best: Digital is dead. And so, I ditched the word from my title. Although you'll still find plenty of mentions in my bio for SEO. You can't take digital out of the boy!...

If you think for a living, you should write more. For obvious reasons, like to share your wisdom. And build your street cred. Even if you don't have wisdom or hate the phrase 'personal brand', you should spend more time writing things down. Capturing thinking, yours or someone else's, publicly or private, forces you to process it. For me it also takes it out of my head to make room for something else. Thoughts, ideas, frameworks, tools, quotes, presentation material - anything worth remembering. Or stealing. Last year I started freelancing and got organised. Here's how I capture thinking by writing it down: Moleskin Notebook In the past I'd capture all notes in a Moleskin. To Do lists, client data, doodles. But these are almost always disposable. Now I write everything on a white A4 piece of paper, folded in half. At the end of each week I throw it away. The good stuff, I transfer into a single notebook, the front page you can see above. Doug Kleeman calls it writing your own textbook. It's for the timeless stuff - lessons on how advertising works or how to be a better problem solver. Things you might refer to in five years. Strategy Library I have a folder on my MacBook that houses every good report, framework, paper or case study I read. It includes pieces of work from other people/agencies, even well designed decks for inspiration. All of which is carefully filed, building up over nearly a decade in advertising. Strategy Cellar It's an online version of the Library, kind of like my personalised version of Julian Cole's Planning Dirty Cheatsheet. It's a toolkit, with resources and tools I refer to. A Google Sheet works nicely. This Blog Of course, there's this blog. Even if no one reads it, it's where I can distill and build on thoughts. And identify themes in my own thinking. I can't tell you how many times I've done presentations only to later realise they're repackaged blog posts. You might argue Twitter plays this role for micro thoughts too.   Where do you write things down?...