You don’t need to control the conversation to get people talking about you.

Breakfast cereal boxes are generally poor works of art and don’t really trouble the judges for annual literature prizes with their prose. However, I suspect that I’m just one of many people who sit at the breakfast table munching away, reading them over and over again. Last year Kellogg’s realised it could make its packets more entertaining, and guessed that people also had their phones to hand – anything beats talking to grumpy teenagers at 7am!

The cornflake maker put 2D codes, the squares of black and white patterns better known as QR (quick response) codes, on its Crunchy Nut Cornflakes boxes in America. When scanned with their smartphones, these took cereal-munchers to a video of dawn in some picturesque part of the world. The idea was to push cereal as an all-day snack: It’s morning somewhere.

QR codes have much to recommend them. They store far more information than plain black-and-white bar codes, for example, they can fit in web site addresses and logos. One reason for the increase in the use of QR codes is the rapid uptake of smartphones with high-quality cameras and the corresponding decline in data charges. It also took time for people like me to realise why adverts contained mutant crosswords.

By using QR codes and SMS on cereal boxes, Kellogg drove more than 40,000 QR scans and 6,000 texts during its Crunchy Nut cereal promotion. The aim of the campaign was to create more engagement with the brand via mobile. Utilizing the back of the cereal box is a highly engaging static media touch point that allows users an intimate setting to try mobile and turn the static media into a rich media experience said a clever marketing executive who obviously gets up earlier in the morning than I do to eat his cereal.

In the UK, Random House, a large book publisher, will begin testing a new mobile strategy on July 1 that will see them placing QR codes on children’s menus in 139 restaurant locations, including T.G.I. Friday’s. The four-page black-and-white menus contain various activities for children’s and include Random House content promoting the publisher’s award-winning picture book Wild About Books.

The back covers of the menus feature three different QR codes linking users to a mobile app for video, information about the author and illustrator of Wild About Books and to an interactive portion of the book. A whole new experience for family mealtime beckons for all amidst the flying ketchup.

For marketers, QR codes bridge the gap between offline and online worlds. Customers who use them are in effect ‘opting in’ and asking to be told more about the company, whilst he success of a campaign is easy to measure by the number of scans. Expect to see a lot more of those funny little black-and-white patches as we further embrace digital lives and companies seek to attract, retain and engage you in the battle for customer loyalty.

But let’s call a spade a spade. What most companies are seeking is not loyalty but repeat purchases from existing customers time after time. They may call it loyalty but it’s not really and today’s sophisticated customers see straight through loyalty marketing campaigns and customer experiences designed to get them to part with their hard earned cash.

Actually achieving customer loyalty is like trying to herd cats – impossible! Customer loyalty sounds great in marketing journals and business books, and it’s also big business – an entire industry of consultants and loyalty scheme companies convince their clients to spend millions each year to implement CRM systems and loyalty reward programmes. But don’t be fooled, these initiatives will no longer deliver loyalty.

Business strategist Dean van Leeuwen ( has researched customer loyalty based on the premise of ‘herding cats’ and identified the following insights:

  • Customers have changed, it’s not just the recession, there has been a values shift in attitudes towards business and consumerism, triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers on14 September 2008;
  • Top companies have a deeper understanding of values-focused marketing and how, by connecting with personal values, meaningful relationships with customers can be cultivated.
  • Social media is about creating relationships, not sales
  • Business needs to demonstrate a more human persona to their brand – businesses should be more personable, fallible and approachable
  • Understand that technology has given customers a sixth sense in their ability to find information, seeks user testimonies and comparison searches

Customers have a growing ability to determine seamlessly and in real time which company is offering the best benefits, price and experience. The combination of the Internet, social networks and mobile devices has dramatically shifted the balance of power in favour of customers. Companies are now more transparent than ever before. With a click, customers can compare your product offering and hear what other customers are saying about you and your competitors.

Leeuwen also identifies an interesting counter to all this ‘customer love’ -recognise that you don’t always have to delight your customers, in fact, sometimes you can even inconvenience them providing the real moment of truth delivers amazing value and creates a connection. He illustrates the point with reference to IKEA, the Swedish home products and lifestyle business that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture and home accessories.

Now consider the average IKEA shopping experience. You typically have to drive out of your way to a semi-industrialised retail park to go shopping. You enter an enormous, dusty warehouse and get corralled like sheep around a labyrinth of furniture. You have to contend with screaming kids, tired mothers and bored dads, and of course there is the quintessential stop at the hostel styled canteen for Swedish meatballs and chips.

You finally make your way out of the maze to find stacks of heavy boxes each with their own confusing codified system telling you where your items can or can not be located, only to frustratingly find out that at least one or two of the items you hunted down in the labyrinth have already been sold out.

Too tired to head back into the maze to find a replacement item, you collect what boxes of furniture you can find and, wait for it, you have to queue up for a minimum of 45 minutes to pay. You then have to squeeze the boxes into your car, which seems to have shrunk so that you can take the boxes home and build the furniture yourself.

What is satisfying about that experience? Very little, and yet IKEA is now the world’s largest furniture retailer. And it’s not because of price either, because there are cheaper ready-made alternatives to IKEA. The reason IKEA is successful is that they understand intimately the emotional connection they have with their customers and have ingeniously recognized that one crucial moment of truth – the one that matters more than all of the other moments of truth put together – when they do need to wow their customers.

They are looking at that point when you step back and call in the family and go See, I am the man (or woman) who built this. Time and time again, IKEA delivers consistently at this primary moment of truth – their furniture represents the precision of DIY engineering. Once you get the logic of the build, every piece fits together easily and it looks really good. IKEA have identified a business model that goes against all customer experience conventional wisdom and yet still delivers happy customers.

They are not alone in this either. Have you ever visited an Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister store? You have to queue outside, sometimes for hours, and be prevented from going inside by bouncers. Once inside you have to contend with dim lights, loud music and an overbearing smell of perfume and deodorant. Now of course this experience appeals more to a certain younger generation but their business model works well because they understand the moment of truth is in wearing the A&F brand: feeling the soft material against your skin and knowing that the trauma you went through to get the top was worth it.

Compare this, for example, to the travel industry offering lower priced seats to customers, but then penalises the customer if they need to make a change. What happens if the customer is ill or has a genuine need to change the date of travel? Under their rules it is tough luck, the only way to gain flexibility is to pay an exorbitantly high price. The airline and rail industries believe this is the only way they can be profitable but is this policy fair? Contrast this to Zappos, which offers a 365-day returns policy, previously unheard of. This has won them a lot of happy customers.

Finally, happy customers become advocates of brands that are quirky or have a personality – it’s nothing to do with QR Codes, twitter or Swedish meatballs. My favourite example of this currently is Prufrock Coffee (

Prufrock is a successful boutique coffee shop in London, run by ex-World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies. He has come up with the world’s first disloyalty card. The idea is simple: you get a stamp on a card for visiting eight different quality coffee shops. After visiting the eighth ‘friend’, which of course are actually his competitors, he will say thank you by making you a cup of his own coffee for free. There is no catch. Gwilym just wants people to try different quality coffees and become as passionate about the different flavours of coffee as he is. And of course, your next paid for coffee is at Prufrocks, and you tell all your friends about this experience.

A sale is not something you pursue, it is something that happens to you while you are immersed in serving your customer. In business, you get what you want by giving other people what they want. Ignore technology and social media, simply be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to shock the customer, in the nicest possible way. Sometimes marketing folks get too smart for their own good: you don’t need to control the conversation to get people talking about you.

Take the Olympian spirit of Jesse Owens into your business

Not everyone is a competitive or sporting person, however there are lessons which we can take from Olympic athletes and apply them to our business ambitions, behaviours and efforts. Each Olympic athlete strives for peak performance and achieving a personal best, they have the determination and mind set of a winner, choosing to move forward even when it is uncomfortable – how can we emulate that in business?

Olympians are not like ordinary people. Let’s face it, most of us are not motivated enough to get up at 4am and practice our hearts out for six hours a day, seven days a week. Most of us couldn’t handle the pressure of having ‘the world’ watch us, carefully scrutinising our every move. But for the Olympic athlete, this is what drives them – competition, challenge, defeat and victory – and they come alive, living for that moment of opportunity to win.

Olympians start out as ordinary people who learn to take on traits that are extraordinary. These characteristics are the key to their power and ability to conquer fears, insecurities, physical and mental barriers, and bounce back in the face of adversity when things don’t go their way. Olympians have a drive to meet their goals, overcoming barriers with a commitment to themselves, a purpose where success becomes the focus. The clarity of what has to be achieved to win gets them out of the comfort zone, determined to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. We can learn how to take these traits and apply them to our business and become more successful.

There have been many great Olympians, but few can compare to Jesse Owens. This was a tough man who knew what he wanted to accomplish and set out to do just that.

The seventh child of Henry and Emma Alexander Owens was named James Cleveland when he was born in Alabama on September 12, 1913. A teacher was told “J.C.” when she asked his name to enter in her roll book, but she thought he said Jesse. The name stuck and he would be known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life.

As a child he was boisterous, and used to go wild in the school playground, always getting into trouble. Then one day, the greatest of his life he said, the junior high track coach plucked him out of a playground scuffle and set him to work training for track meets. Owens attributes all of his future Olympic successes to that coach, Irishman Charles Riley

His promising athletic career began in 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio where he set Junior High School records in the high jump and long jump, set a new high school world record by running the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds and created a new high school world record in the 220-yard dash by running the distance in 20.7 seconds.

At the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor on May 25, 1935, he set three world records and tied a fourth, all in a span of about 45 minutes. Jesse was uncertain as to whether he would be able to participate at all, as he was suffering from a sore back as a result from a fall down a flight of stairs. He convinced his coach to allow him to run the 100-yard dash as a test for his back, and amazingly Jesse recorded an official time of 9.4 seconds, once again tying the world record.

Despite the pain, he then went on to participate in three other events, setting a world record in each event. In a span of 45 minutes, he accomplished what many experts still feel is the greatest athletic feat in history.

His 100-yard dash run equalled the world record of 9.4 seconds. Ten minutes later he made one long jump and cleared 26ft 8.25in, breaking the world record by more than half-a-foot. It was 25 years before anyone broke that record. Nine minutes later he slashed three-tenths of a second from the world 220-yards record and 26 minutes later he ran the 220-yard hurdles for his fourth world record of the day.

In the summer of 1936 Jesse owns arrived at the summer Olympics in Berlin. Jesse Owens, the son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave, achieved what no Olympian before him had accomplished – he became the first track & field athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympiad. This remarkable achievement stood unequaled until the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, when American Carl Lewis matched Jesse’s feat.

Although others have gone on to win more gold medals, he remains the best remembered Olympic athlete because he achieved what no Olympian before or since has accomplished – during a time of deep-rooted segregation and Hitler’s master race theory, he affirmed that individual excellence, rather than race or national origin, distinguishes one man from another.

Athletes didn’t return from the Olympics to lucrative advertising and product endorsement campaigns in those days, and Owens supported his young family with a variety of jobs. One was of special significance – playground director in Cleveland. It was his first step into a lifetime of working with underprivileged youth, which gave him his greatest satisfaction. After relocating to Chicago, he devoted much of his time to underprivileged youth as a board member and former director of the Chicago Boys’ Club. Jesse Owens died from complications due to lung cancer on March 31, 1980 in Tucson, Arizona.

There are many quotes attributed to Owens, here are a few which I think resonate into what we can take into our business lives, from his sporting life and achievements:

We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.

I always loved running – it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.

If you don’t try to win you might as well hold the Olympics in somebody’s back yard. The thrill of competing carries with it the thrill of a gold medal. One wants to win to prove himself the best.

One chance is all you need, a lifetime of training for just 10 seconds. It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it’s close. The purpose of the Olympics is to do your best. As I’d learned long ago from Charles Riley, the only victory that counts is the one over yourself.

To a sprinter, the hundred-yard dash is over in three seconds, not nine or ten. The first ‘second’ is when you come out of the blocks. The next is when you look up and take your first few strides to attain gain position. By that time the race is actually about half over. The final ‘second’ – the longest slice of time in the world for an athlete – is that last half of the race, when you really bear down and see what you’re made of. It seems to take an eternity, yet is all over before you can think what’s happening.

From the remarkable achievements of Jesse Owen, here some key Olympian traits to take into your business, and push to achieve that personal best.

  • Vision: Athletes have a clear vision of where they’re going, they are purposeful about it as a clear goal, and avoid distraction which saves time and energy.
  • Run Through: Olympians run through their events mentally before they even do them – this gets them in the ‘zone’ and gives them an edge; visualise your business success, and get this energy.
  • Discipline: Olympians may not love getting up at 5am but they know they have to put in the time – so must you be strongly disciplined.
  • Personal Growth: Athletes know they need to ‘push’ them when they want to quit. The key is clarity on seeking personal growth.
  • Never Quit Attitude: Olympians feel like quitting at times – just like us – but they push through and know they won’t win without tenacity.
  • They Lose a Lot: Olympians often lose more than they win, but it’s their strong, determined spirit that keeps them moving forward when others would quit. This makes them winners
  • Block out Negativity: Olympians may feel stress, frustration and anxiety, but they blocking these out with positive mind sets

When you run a business dealing with the Monday to Friday stops-and-starts, having the blue sky thinking of what you want to achieve and equally the washing the pots of some low level tasks filling your head, it can sometimes overwhelm you. However, it’s the people who persevere with determination and a plan and vision that will succeed.

As business professionals we must choose to meet each day with the knowledge that our path holds both obstacles and opportunity. The competition will be tough and the conditions unpredictable and unforgiving, but that’s what it takes to turn a vision into a reality.  So dig deep and unleash what drives you – not for money or fame, but for the pure joy of doing what you do best, and doing it to a new standard – aspire to be a Jesse Owens and achieve a lifetime personal best every day.

From Ian Curtis to John Peel, the unknown pleasures of creativity

It was Monday, 19th May 1980 and the John Peel show started at 10pm on Radio 1. Sat in my bedroom, I was thinking to myself, hope he plays the new Joy Division single, Love will tear us apart.  After the iconic Pickin the blues theme tune by Grinderswitch, which introduced the show, faded, the customary ten seconds of absolute silence before John’s deadpan voice.

A few seconds later, the shock news came onto the air. Bad news lads, monotoned Peel solemnly. Ian Curtis, of Joy Division, has died.

I didn’t know whether to feel sad, angry, shock or cheated or what. Joy Division had been my favourite band for the previous year, part of putting Manchester on the map. Their bleak, stark, atmospheric experimental sound had carved a place for them into the record collections of many in 1979, including my own. Living just outside Manchester, they were big news for me and my mates.

May 18th, 1980 Ian Curtis ended his life, aged 23. The driving force behind Joy Division’s dark vision, he hanged himself in the kitchen of his Macclesfield home. It was not his first suicide attempt. Curtis ended his life before he could feel the range of his influence. As the singer/songwriter for Joy Division, he wallowed in his own deep despair, peering into the dark underbelly of human existence. He wrote stunning lyrics from the pictures in his head, until he saw no purpose in living.

Factory released Love Will Tear Us Apart in April, and as a piece of music it has stood out years, surely everyone recognises the song immediately the first throws of the incessant, hollow drumming with pace launches the humming, driving guitars in the intro, before Curtis comes in with the vocals?

So for me, an anniversary of the death of someone who at 17 was shaping my life, still resonates today with 95 digital tracks on my iPod and the Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Still albums safely stored in the attic, and all their Peel Sessions performances saved too.

Joy Division’s appeal has far outlasted their tragically short life because, if they were miserable, they did miserable differently. Curtis’s baritone voice and lyrics about personal anxiety, pessimism and intensely dark memories, combined with his intense, wide-eyed stage presence was unique. Curtis was an innovator, a creative genius, and at the same time John Peel was a pioneer too. Both played a major part in changing the music industry in terms of their ideas, influence and how to connect with an audience – it was all about what they did, and being different.

If I think about creativity and what innovation looks like, the same slideshow of images clicks across my mind: that photo of Einstein with his unkempt hair all over the place, Edison with his light bulb, and in business terms, Steve Jobs onstage in his black turtleneck jumper introducing the latest iThing device.  For Curtis and Peel, their creativity and originality was in a different form. Who can ignore Atmosphere or The Festive 50?

For all the innovators who have impacted our lives, it’s not just about that romantic Eureka! moment, it’s about the nitty-gritty work that comes after the idea in terms of getting it accepted and implemented. For Curtis and Peel, they may have been the creative driving force, the catalyst that had the original spark, but successful innovation is frequently about the team too, being surrounded by like minded people with complimentary talents.

Forbes Insights recent study How entrepreneurial executives mobilise organisations to innovate identifies five major personalities crucial to fostering a healthy atmosphere of innovation within an organisation. Some are more entrepreneurial, and some more process-oriented – but all play a critical role in the process ( Thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need number crunchers to tether them to reality.

Then again, the risk-takers and the risk-averse must co-exist otherwise an organisation veers too far to one extreme or the other, and either jerks all over the place with the push-and-pull, or simply moves nowhere at all. An effective and productive culture of innovation is like a good homemade vegetable soup – it needs to have the right mix and balance of all the ingredients, otherwise it’s unbalanced – and downright mushy.

The Forbes Insights study surveyed more than 1,200 executives in Europe. Using a series of questions about their attitudes, beliefs, priorities and behaviours, a picture emerged of five key personality types that play a role in the innovation cycle.

Movers and Shakers. With a strong personal drive, these are leaders where the major incentive for innovation is the idea of creating a legacy and influence over others. These are the ones who like being in the front, driving projects forward, they provide the push to get things done. On the flip side, they can be a bit arrogant, and impatient with teamwork.

Movers and Shakers tend to cluster in risk and corporate strategy, in the private equity and media industries. From the research they comprise 22% of all executives.

Experimenters. Persistent and open to all new things, experimenters bring a new idea through the phases of development and execution. Where there is a will, there is a way is perhaps the best way to describe them. They’re perfectionists and tend to be workaholics, most likely because it takes an incredible amount of dedication, time and hard work to push through an idea or initiative that hasn’t yet caught on.

Experimenters take deep pride in their achievements, but they also enjoy sharing their expertise with others. Because they’re so persistent, even in the face of sometimes considerable pushback, they’re crucial to the innovation cycle. They tend to be risk-takers, and comprise about 16% of executives – and least likely to be CEOs or COOs.

Star Pupils. Do you remember those kids at school who sat at the front, whose hands were the first in the air anytime the teacher asked a question? Maybe they even shouted out Ooh! Ooh! too just to get the teacher to notice them first? This is the segment of the executive population those kids grew into. They’re good at…well, they’re good at everything, really. They make things happen. Unsurprisingly, CEOs tend to be Star Pupils.

Controllers. Uncomfortable with risk, Controllers thrive on structure, they prefer to be in control and like to have everything in its place. As colleagues they’re not exactly the team players and networkers, more likely insular, and tend to focus on concrete, clear-cut objectives where they know exactly where they stand and can better control everything around them. They comprise 15% of executives, the smallest group overall.

Hangers-On. Forget the less than flattering name, these executives exist to bring everyone back down to earth and tether them to reality. On a dinner plate, Hangers-On would be the spinach – few people’s favourite, but extremely important in the completeness of the meal. They comprise 23% of all executives, they cluster in the CFO role. Someone has to remind everyone of budget and resource constraints.

No one group can be considered the purest entrepreneurs, the most creative or best innovators, but Movers & Shakers and Experimenters may be the closest. Younger, more innovative firms generally need Movers & Shakers at the top, channelling the energy of Experimenters into a vision that can be implemented. As organisations grow and become more established, they need Star Pupils who can translate that vision into a strategy and lead it forward, Controllers who can marshal the troops to execute it and Hangers-On who can rein it in. You need a team who between them can do the blue-sky thinking and wash the pots. Creativity should be applied or considered in everything we do, simply by asking the question how could we do this differently? Throw creativity at new ideas not money.

Everyone is born creative, everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take away the crayons and give you books, on algebra and calculus (which I liked better than crayons, but that’s a different story). Suddenly years later when you get the creative bug, you want your crayons back.

So you’ve got the itch to do something. You don’t know where the itch came from. You don’t know if you’re any good or not, but you think you could be. Go ahead and make something. Make something really special, something amazing that will really blow the mind of anybody who sees it. If you’re creative, if you can think independently, if you can articulate passion, if you can overcome the fear of being wrong, then this is your time to sing in your own voice.

Ian Curtis didn’t have the greatest singing voice or vocal range, but that didn’t stop him, right? So I guess the next question for you is, Why not?  Don’t let a new dawn fade, I’m sure you’ll find some unknown pleasures in your creativity and make your mark.

Ian Brookes is dna people, a consultancy and advisory business working exclusively with entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovative high-growth businesses.

I operate as an external advisor, non-executive director and investor, providing thought provoking business growth advice, insights and practical guidance to help you achieve breakthroughs in strategy and performance.

I guide and mentor exceptional entrepreneurs and help take their innovative ideas and disruptive technologies and turn them into successful high-growth businesses. I help people generate and then capture new ideas to drive growth and create shareholder value. I help people reach beyond their expectations.

In working this way, I apply my own business thinking and experience, alongside proven models, analysis and tools to help elicit new strategies. I don’t just sense-check ideas, I inspire individuals by enabling them to reach beyond their expectations.

Besides growth-wish organisations, I also work with companies who have got ‘stuck’ in their thinking and need an external catalyst to either stimulate a new direction or create breakthroughs. These interventions have resulted in new and focused growth strategies, new products and services and often result in 100% growth.

Based on 25 years experience, I would summarise my style and approach as a ‘thinker and a doer’, I help the ‘blue sky thinking’ and also ‘washing the pots’ in terms of bringing discipline, clarity and focus to their strategic thinking, planning and execution.

I build trust and enhance value through the application of dna people’s unique discover-nurture-accelerate approach, which underpins everything I do. I deliver in an authentic, personalised and highly energised manner, aiming to make a sustainable difference.

dna people bring discipline, clarity and focus to the thinking and execution at the heart of your growth plan, working collaboratively to identify the critical steps you need to take to achieve your next phase of growth.