Cards On The Table

I recently spent a really interesting day at my local college on a “Preparing for Professional Practice’ course. The day was full of good ideas, and I may well blog a summary at some point. For now – I want to focus on one particular question raised, that being ‘What’s the most important part of your marketing strategy?’

Much discussion about websites, flyers, and galleries ensued. Once we were all talked out, our tutor asked, ‘Who here has a business card?’ There were seven of us in the room, and only one of us could answer this question positively. Our tutor suggested that the humble business card is that most important part of the marketing strategy.

Initially I felt underwhelmed. I can’t remember the last time I ordered business cards, they’ve become somewhat unfashionable in many business circles I currently move in. The idea stuck in my head, and over a few weeks, it stayed stuck – niggling me. I decided to explore the niggle, and found myself looking through loads of my work, searching for images which might look good as a business card. I chose, rejected, rechose, rejected, again and again and again. In the end, I settled on five images, each of which tell a story as well as making a visual statement.

You’ll find all these images, and a variation of the one on the bottom right, elsewhere on the blog, so I won’t retell the stories here and now, but next time you see me, ask me for my card, and I’ll happily tell the tale behind the image.

I used Moo to print the cards which are made with super thick 600 gsm paper with a lovely blue seam sandwiched in between the layers.

Will the humble business card become the most important part of my marketing strategy? Time will tell.

Be Stiff – A Genuine Tale of Disruption

A review of ‘Be Stiff – The Stiff Records Story’, a genuine tale of disruption

In 2015 the word ‘disruption’ is fast becoming what ‘engagement’ was to 2013, and authenticity and mindfulness were to 2014, much hyped, overused and often misunderstood terms. Disrupt, disruption, disruptive, everything cool seems to warrant the disrupt tag. Here’s how the dictionary positions this currently popular term.

disrupt – verb

interrupt (an event, activity or process) by causing a disturbance of problem, ”flooding disrupted rail services”, throw into confusion/disarray, play havoc with, derange, make a mess of, drastically alter or destroy the structure of, “alcohol can disrupt the chromosomes of an unfertilised egg”, distort, damage, buckle, warp.

Pretty heavy stuff huh? While the overuse of engagement in the world of work felt like the equivalent of sneaking sleeping pills into a board bored meeting, taking the definition above, disruption is more akin to lobbing in a couple of stun grenades under Any Other Business. It’s still only February, and I’ve already had enough of the business word of the year. Or have I?

I’ve just finished reading ‘Be Stiff – The Stiff Records Story’. Written by Richard Balls, Be Stiff is a fantastically well researched and written headlong dash through the chaos, and dare I say it, disruption, that was Stiff Records. Despite being over 300 pages long (not including the all important discography, Stiff Tour Dates, notes and research), this book conveys the pace, urgency and in your face attitude that epitomised the Stiff Records way of life.

Stiff Records emerged on to the music scene in 1976, founded by Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson. Right from the start, they championed musical underdogs, and the way Stiff Records marketed their acts using badges, coloured vinyl, promotional stunts and more, left the established music business staggering in their wake. Click the badge montage photo to see all manner of unconventional promotional items that Stiff Records used to announce new signings, releases and tours.

Stiff Badges

It was as if the rest of the industry was completing the final plodding lap of a marathon when Stiff Records shoved them all out of the way in the last 100 metres as they sprinted for the line, before nicking all the medals, sticking two fingers up at everyone and jumping in the back of a beat up transit van to head to the pub and celebrate.

I first became aware of Stiff Records when they signed The Damned, and released New Rose (catalogue number BUY 6) as the first punk single in the UK. The Damned weren’t the first punk band on the scene, but whilst the like of Malcolm McLaren and The Sex Pistols dithered over their rehearsing and recording, Riviera and Robinson shoved The Damned into their own cramped recording studio, and beat everyone else to the punch, even going so far as to include a cover of The Beatles song ‘Help’ on the B side, just to piss off the establishment. The Damned also gave Stiff Records their first album release, Damned Damned Damned (catalogue number SEEZ 1), and among the first ten album releases you will also find artists such as: Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich and Jona Lewie.

Stiff Records put out more than its fair share of duff material too. Does anyone remember Pookiesnackenburger, The Astronauts, or Viva Vagabond? Thought not – but these unknowns were all part of the mix and all contributed to the colour and the chaos and the creativity that made Stiff Records the disruptive influence it was. Alongside the forgotten, you will find acts such as Madness and Tracey Ullman who generated the all important sales needed to keep the good ship Stiff patched up and sailing hurriedly through uncharted, dangerous waters.

The beginning of the end came when Robinson agreed to run the then failing Island Records in addition to running Stiff. It was too much for one person, and in particular, the kind of person like Robinson, who wanted input into everything. After eleven years of excess, fights, hit records and an approach to packaging and marketing that truly shook the industry, Stiff finally stiffed.

Stiff Records was brought back to life in 2006 and has generated some income for its current owners through reissuing elements of the back catalogue, but it’s not the same disruptive Stiff Records I, and many of you will remember. Despite its current popularity, disruption is a rare beast, and even when it works, by its nature it has a limited lifespan. If everything is disruptive, then nothing is, so if disrupt you must, then please use sparingly. If you have any interest in rock, punk and pop music and what real disruption looks and feels like, I recommend you read Richard Balls’ excellent book. And remember:

‘If It Ain’t Stiff… It Ain’t Worth a F@#!’

Anchors Away!


The minute you are exposed to a piece of information, the price of a product for example, you are very likely to base your future thinking on that price. Your thinking becomes anchored to what you now know, and as much as you may not like to admit it – there’s not much you can do about this.

The Anchoring Effect

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnemann talks about the anchoring effect in a number of ways, here’s the essence of one I like:

Two groups of estate agents were asked to assess the value of a house after visiting it and reading some detailed sales blurb, which included an asking price. One group were shown a much larger asking price than the other, and all were asked what would be the lowest price they would be willing to sell the house assuming they owned it.  They were next asked what factors had influenced their decision making. The estate agents maintained that the asking price was not one of these factors, rather that they took pride in ignoring it.

The test results showed they were wrong, and that the anchoring effect (the ratio of the difference between the lower and higher groups of prices expressed as a percentage) was 41%. A group of business school students were also asked to carry out the same task, and whilst the anchoring effect percentage was similar at 48%, a key difference was that the students acknowledged the influence of the starting price on their thinking.

Working Without an Anchor

Earlier this week I was invited to pitch a product idea to a networking group and to get feedback on three things.  The things I chose were:

  • How do I promote this product?
  • How do I improve this product?
  • What is a fair price for the product?

The group listened to me talk for about three minutes and read 200 words of sales blurb I’d put together. They were then invited to scribble down ideas for the first two questions and put them on a wall where we could all read them. I invited everyone to remain silent on their answer to question three, and to write down their suggestion and hand it to me. Why did I do this?

Based on my understanding of the anchoring effect, I was concerned that once someone posted a price on the wall, other people would be influenced by it and indeed, may choose not to contribute an answer. They might have thought – well that’s close enough to what I was thinking so no point in adding to the mix. They might have thought – wow that price is nowhere near my idea I’ll keep quiet, don’t want to embarrass me or Doug. I’ve seen versions of this play out in numerous meetings where a more assertive member of the team will forever put their views forward first, and it dampens and biases the views of others. What I hoped to gain was an unfettered source of independent perspectives. How did we get on?

Suggested Product Prices

I received 18 responses, nearly everyone contributed. The range was considerable, from £25 to £1,500. Five responses landed at £200 and below, six at £500 and above. The average was £414. Clearly I can’t go back in time with this group and redo the test with an anchor price included, but if I could, then based on Kahnemann’s research I’m confident I wouldn’t have gained such useful, unvarnished feedback.

So why does this matter to you?

Well I guess that depends on whether you want to avoid the anchoring effect like I did in the example above, or, put it to another use, perhaps like Chris Brogan does via this interesting blog post written by my smart friend, Paul Hebert. Either way – I think it’s important you are aware of it so that next time you are looking for feedback on an idea or you’re positioning something, you do so a) with the knowledge that you are applying an anchor, or not, and therefore b) that you are aware of the likely bias in the responses you get.

Kudos to my friend Vandy Massey, who suggested the idea to me of working without an anchor.

photo credit