I've got embarrasingly tight lycra shorts and a merino jersey.
Recording rides on Strava.
Bascially I'm getting into it.
My legs don't scream bloody murder the day after a long ride now, partly because I've modified my technique and remembered to ride with the whole leg, not just the quads.
My hamstrings are no longer tighter than a piano wire.
It feels good, I'm enjoying it.
Better than good, it all feels new.
Because when I was a lot younger, I used to ride everywhere, to get to the swimming pool, to get to lectures, to get to tennis practise, to the pub (and back). Miles and miles.
Basically, riding for riding's sake is brand new to me.
I'm loving discovering something it seems my body can do, and seemingly, do pretty well. Finding out how far, how fast, what it feels like.
It's all unfamiliar. Uncharted waters. That feels good.
I'm going to do a 50 mile ride tomorrow, just to see what it's like. I'm planning a 100 mile race in September, just to find out what happens.
But I'm still swimming.
Not because it's fresh.
Because swimming feels like home. I've been doing drills, sprints, endless laps and stuff since I was 7. If there's anything that connects who I've been and who I am, it's this.
But age, time to train, work/life/sport balance all means coming close to swimming like I used to just isn't possible.
To quote Leanne Shapton, "Every session is like a phantom off the swimmer I used to be". The feeling, the freedom, the sense of doing something well, the joy in pain, they're all there.
The ghosts of that 7 year old in his very first training session
Of the teenager falling out of bed at 5am to go morning training, drinking a mug of hot milk in the car on the way, then eating a quadruple sausge sandwich while getting ready for school, red goggle marks beginning to fade.
Of the 14 year old training in the open air in Chicago, during the best summer of his life.
Of the 37 year old doing 3 hour sessions on a Saturday morning before his 1 year old boy gets up.
All those ghosts are there. They're welcome to join too. It's bittersweet though, feeling those people you'll never be again.
While it's simple joy to embrace the new.
The happiness (and challenge) of parenthood.
The comfort of nearing middle age and not having to try too hard.
To not only want to continue to search, to have a better idea of what you're looking for and the maturity (sometimes) to appreciate what's already here.
Somehow cyling and swimming embody those two sides of what it's like to be nearing 40.
Not quite resolving the gap between who I was, who I am and who I might be, but happy with the contradiction and realising that conflict and inconsistency are more true to life than coherence.
I suppose the one area of consistency is the realisation of the need to lighten up.
I don't know if I took to swimming because I naturally like rigour,enjoy overcoming obstacles and have a vaguely masochistic joy in the redemptive nature of pushing through pain, or swimming taught me to like these things.
I do know that when it comes to cycling, I'm already addicted to the feeling of molten lava in my legs, the chestbursting climbs and, well, white hot agony.
Just as I prefer 'hard books' music you need to listen to, banging my head against a brick wall to get quantum phsyics to make sense, to cook things properly from scratch, to never compromise on the day job.
I'm learning to to remind myself to just enjoy things for the sake of it.
To sometimes just do stuff without having to do things properly.
Perhaps, to know the difference between happiness and pleasure, and realising that sometimes, good enough is good enough.
I sent this tweet out, responding to this completeley untrue statement from Razorfish (most people don't even know why the brand they buy is different, let alone want to talk to it).
It got a little flurry of activity.
Nothing much, mostly a few planning and marketing types talking to each other.
It didn't make a dent it the universe, not in Twitter , not in marketing and not even in the self-absorbed planning community.
In fact, next to the 1,100 people who 'follow' me on Twitter, the number of followiers 'talking to me' about this piece is miniscule. Because I'm just another planning egotist amonst the hundreds they follow who thinks people care what I say.
Maybe a little reach, thanks to a couple of influential people engaging a little growth in penetration from a couple of new followers who saw it.
I don't matter.
But if I was a brand and believed the twaddle peddled by Razorfish and their like, I'd be believing that the planning community wants to have constant dialogue, that folks want to engage, that I've influenced the preference of planning directors and CEO's to hire me.
I would believe it mattered.
Beyond a few people who already agree with me, know me quite well and are wierd enough to care.
Like Razorfish (who I'm sure are ace at their job and know far more than a Northen Monkey like me) and the 'brand as verb' 'brand as conversation' witch doctors, I would be very deluded.
I was reading about Macguffins in plots, for something or other, especially for cinema.
"A plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) is willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to pursue, protect or control, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so important.
The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the
overall plot. The most common type of MacGuffin is an object, place or
person. However, a MacGuffin can sometimes take a more abstract form,
such as money, victory, glory, survival, power, love, or even something
that is entirely unexplained, as long as it strongly motivates key
characters within the structure of the plot"
A I strongly feel that most presentations should feel like well told stories.
While most brands need some sort of inciting incident or purpose, rather than an essence... perhaps Macguffins should be used more.
Stuff that provides a structure and narrative coherence, but also provides a framework for other stuff that matters more.
I've often though that a proposition or 'role for advertising' on a brief is like a Macguffin, or should be.
It sets everyone off in the direction of travel, but the journey and the ultimate destination tend to matter far more. You don't work TO a proposition, it's just the jumping off point.
And what a great way to frame a presentation - "we set out to do this (your brief), but then came accoss these challenges along the way (what people really think, cultural context) and got to a core issue to resolve - eventually we got to here".
Perhaps Dudley Moore and his Tesco chickens is the best pure advertising example.In any case, this is one of my favourite collection of ads.
The problem with research is that most people, intentionally or not, don't tell the truth.
Sometimes they can't articulate how they feel.
Sometimes they tell you what they think you want to hear. Or what is socially acceptable.
For example, most pollsters think that in the 1992 UK General Election, when the Tories got a majority when all the research predicted a hung parliament, it was because lots of folks thought voting Tory was a social no-no and even worse, some couldn't say they wouldn't vote for a bald, ginger welshman.
In group situations, we tend to conform to the group dynamic, or the person with the loudest voice.
Of course, this mostly means not bothering asking questions and observing. As I've said before, go to the jungle, not the zoo.
But still, we all have to get involved in primary research in living rooms and hotels. Like it or not.
Clients tend to lie as well. Not in a bad way though. It's just that it's hard to disagree with self confident, pushy agency types. Even worse, if you have a close relationship, they sometimes don't want to make you feel bad.
Suits can be that way with planners and creatives too. In the spirit of keeping everyone happy, it's tempting to say what people want to hear then do something else.
So how do you get to the truth?
Jeff Hancock and his mates at Cornell University, ran an experiment where they got people to record all their conversations about the times they lied.
They found that people are twice as likely to have lied in face to
face situation as they are in an email. Apparently because emails are
recorded and your words can come back to haunt you.
In fact, he argues that it's possible the impersonal web might actually
breed more honesty from the permanence of writing stuff down.
Take this with a large pinch of salt, since, in the case of social media, in the UK at least, there's lots of evidence that our social persona is a lot more about who we want to be than we are. The Future Foundation found that a significant number of people agree, "I wish I was more like the image I maintain in social media" (but since this is research I guess you need to by cynical about that too!!)
But at least you're getting to the truth of how folks want to be seen, which is still massively valuable.
Meanwhile, in a face face to face situation, language becomes more impersonal more 'he', 'they' and 'it' rather than 'me' 'mine' or 'ours'. Also, they try to give shorter, less detailed answers to avoid getting caught out. This is far more common than 'body' language where good liars can employ a decent poker face, or even 'poker body'.
In short, if you want to be told the truth, as someone to send you an email. If you want to catch out a liar, close your eyes and open your ears.
So in research, get people to write down responses to stimulus, don't just get verbal responses. In fact, do as many written tasks as you can. In my view, pre-tasks that people know will be shared are particularly useful.
And try and listen to how people are talking, rather than watching. Record the dialogue and listen after, within the distortion of seeing the person.
In the job, get both internal and external people to confirm stuff by email. Look for those impersonal pronouns.
And learn to appreciate suits that religiously do contact reports, especially if they get clients to sign then off. It just might keep suits and clients a little more honest.
Maybe that's an advantage of being a planner. There isn't that much you have to write down apart from a brief.
And another reason to get out of your bubble and go and talk to people. Not only do ideas happen quicker that way, you can get away with murder.
When it comes to connecting with people, persuading them to do stuff for you, similarity works.
It doesn't matter if it's how you dress, speak, background, age, religion or what, we like people who are more like us and find them more persuasive.
Now let's be honest about the main challenge of planning. Planners have no power.
Maybe, they get to sign off creative briefs, possibly in some places, they need to sign of work before it goes to the client.
Honestly though, suits get to decide things all the time, it's their job. That includes strategy.
So do creatives.
It's they who really decide if the brief is right, by working from it or not.
It doesn't matter if God himself has signed it off, if they don't think the strategy is right, they won't use it.
Even worse, they might think it's right, but can't see any good work coming from it. So do something else.
And of course, client's decide everything.
So you, when planners have to persuade everyone, never tell, it makes sense to think about how you be more persuasive.
Because you certainly can't tell anyone, "Because I say so".
One use is that 'peas in the pod' syndrome.
That probably doesn't mean wearing suits because the client does.
I'm sure it means not putting on a Canadian accent to mirror a copywriter.
But look at every person you need to influence and work out what you have in common, or what you could have in common.
What they care about. What they like. What they're afraid of, what get's them frustrated. Their humour.
A quick trick is mirroring body language. In any meeting, don't copy people, they'll think you're strange, but try and subtly echo how they're sitting, what they're doing with their hands.
Lean forward when they do. Body language is an extensions of how we feel. Mirror somone else's and they'll trust you without knowing why, not realising you've made them believe you feel like them saying a single word.
But the reality is taking time to know people's motivations, their hopes, dreams and daily gripes. So you can share them and hopefully help.
That goes for the people we're all paid to influence- target customers.
It's really tempting for planning folk to try and look different. People need to want you because you'll add something different. But, perversely, you might get further if you make them feel you're not that different after all.
One of the problems with planners is their love of powerpoint. Scratch that, it's a problem with agency folk.
Endless stressing over the precise words that go into chart after chart, when, actually, a great presentation swings on people listening to what you're saying, not reading over-written charts.
For what it's worth, here's how I go about making presentation (when allowed to)....
Work on the three to five key points you want to make, rich hooks to hang your thinking on, stuff that's memorable. Make slides for them, mostly as great headlines and great visuals.
Then fill in the gaps.
But try and fill them with your personal script rather than more slides.
Or use props.
Create a new slide only when necessary, and never to help you remember your lines...rehearse, learn your script, so you're able to leave room for conversations and letting your audience in.
What's even worse in agency land is the way even simple meetings have to accompanied by powerpoint too.
When a conversation should do.When a conversation is much more useful than talking at each other. Presentations tend to sell, you don't sell in a relationship, you talk a bit and listen more.
A useful alternative to the powerpoint madness is the humble flipchart.
For a planner, there's nothing quite like jumping up, marker pen in hand, and drawing something to illustrate your point - looking as spontaneous as possible.
So people will continue to want you in the room for those sudden flashes of insight and interesting, graspable flashes of wisdom.
And flipcharts are interactive, or should be.
Interactive stuff was not invented when digital was. Making images jump up in keynote is not interactive, it's just polish.
Of course, spontaneity is hard.
So plan it.
Once when someone asked Churchill one of the great orators of all times, what he was doing, he replied, "Preparing my impromptu remarks".
Work out what you want out of a meeting, what you feel you want to say, what you want people to take out of it, and plan your killer points beforehand.
And prepare some killer flipchart points too.
In fact, prepare an arsenal just in case.
For example.........here's how you might talk about the fact that markets get more competitive the more they grow.
Iit doesn't matter if you're in a growing market or a mature one, a discussion about long term strategy eventually comes down to communications innovation or product innovation.
If you're talking to the average complacent marketing exec, you'll need to wake them up to the need for ads and stuff to be interesting and make folks feel stuff, rather than simply generating the right take-out.
Or remind them how un-special their product/service is in the face of the competition.
Or the fact that one day, it won't be.
So get up and draw them this....
If you're lucky enough to be in a new market, you have the luxury of creating communications that should stand out because you're delivering 'new news'. But over time, other players always come in and it gets harder to stand out, especially when everyone in a category says the same stuff.
So the best advice you can give to a new brand is to appeal to the heart instead of the head and try and build 'fame' with stand-out ideas that make people talk. The more you 'own' that category, but even more, you're seen as a brand people care about in general, the harder it is for another brand to come in and steal share.
Coming back to all that Ehrenberg Bass work, you need to make as many people familiar with you as possible to build and sustain growth. The more people have heard of you and know what you're about, the more likely the brand is likely to survive over time.
Innocent did this at launch. It's no accident that there are few smoothie brands you're heard of also. And making people care defended them against own label copies. Yes, they've reduced price recently, in the face of a more thrifty culture, yes they do promotions more, but the price cut is less deep than it might have been.
(yes this ad is product attribute but wrapped in oodles of quirky, memorable tone of voice)
And when you're in a mature market, you're in the 'crisis of attention'. Lots of brand banging on about themselves, connecting emotionally rationally, the whole lot. Stand out communications become a must.
Because of the need for salience and distinctive memory structures.
Now this is all well and good, but as much as many would love communications to the only solution to sustained growth, it just isn't.
Because when more and more brands enter the market, you end up with a crisis of quality. Your product just isn't special anymore. Yes, you can continue to build brand value, but that will only get you so far.
He rigorously shows that KNOWING the future and predicting what will happen in any complex system involving people - an economy, a market or even the dynamics of a local supermarket price war - is doomed to failure. There are just too many variables.
The only route to continued success, survival even, is continuous innovation.
Ahead of the curve.
Writing the future, not waiting for it.
In other words, doing nothing guarantees nothing but failure.
Look at the way Apple's star is on the wane. They have a long way to fall of course, but they haven't lost share because of lack of distinctiveness of brand value.
They're run out of innovation. While Samsung have launched a credible alternative with the the Galaxy. While others have successfully launched mid-priced mini-tablets.
While they've started to rely on incremental improvements rather than great leaps.
Look at Yahoo, or Microsoft. Both got caught out by doing nothing about social before it was too late.
First Direct were a barnstorming success when they were first to market with telephone banking, but didn't innovate with online banking and now with phones and social, franky, they're behind the curve.
Yep, eventually, you have to innovate in the actual business of what you do, not just what you tell people about it.
That's where planning really gets interesting, when you're able to help innovate the business, even advise that RATHER than comms.
Helping clients n new markets see that today's game changer is tomorrow's has-been, and helping them build the innovation pipeline and make the business case for it.
Or helping clients in mature markets see that perhaps the problem isn't 'brand' or 'advertising' it's that the product just isn't special enough to justify the price position - or they're in a market that's doomed to fail.
Imagine if someone had told HMV they needed to build an MP3 offering before Apple launched Itunes?
Now, look at all all that waffle from one, badly drawn little diagram. Imagine talking a client through this stuff as you draw it up.