Adam Morgan – on today’s show, Adam talks with Scott about challenger thinking and behavior. He wrote the book Eating the Big Fish – that popularised the term ‘challenger brand.’ For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
Introduction: A challenger brand is a company or product in an industry that is not a category leader. The term denotes the fact that such companies have to play from a position behind the dominant player or leader in the industry. This makes the process of marketing significant to attracting customers. Today, on the Uprising pod, I have an old and dear friend who is joining us. His name is Adam Morgan and he wrote one of the best books in marketing called Eating the Big Fish, the book that popularized the term “Challenger Brand.” He studies challenger behavior and works with business who want to become challengers themselves. Adam Morgan, welcome to the show!
Adam: Thanks Scott! Delighted to be on it.
Scott: So, you started your career as an ad man in the eighties in the UK, and then you moved to the United States. It seems that many of the best and brightest of the creative thinkers of the world in marketing came out of working in the 1980’s with challenger brands. You worked with Apple under Steve Jobs when it was the ultimate challenger brand. What happened then and there to explain that phenomena?
Adam: In advertising terms I think what was interesting was, and I would say this because I’m a strategic planner, but I think what was happening was the emerging intersection between the growth of strategic planning and really good creative agencies at a time when there were big budgets, when clients and agencies invested in the time to really push behind and explore big ideas. I think the culmination of that intersection between creativity and strategic planning meant that I worked for a series of agencies who, funny enough, never got the market leaders. They got the people that needed to try harder, that were relaunching four or five years later, who really needed to be really smart and do something really bold and imaginative to get out of the fact that they’re being outspent five to one. So I think it’s as much that as anything really. It was being a planner in a creative agency meant that I never got to work on market leaders, and my interest in challengers started right from the beginning of my career.
Scott: Do you think that at that time something was happening where, for example, technology brass were coming into the world for the first time in a big way and they needed to sort of shake things up, and they as a result became maybe among the first challenger brands?
Adam: I think there was certainly a lot of big monoliths, weren’t there? I mean if you look at the monolithic airline that was BA or Apple or IBM, I mean there were a lot of big corporate monoliths that just hadn’t changed for a long time, and a lot of fresh people coming in wanting to have a pop at them. And that lead to a lot of classic David vs Goliath behavior a lot of the time, which really shaped and consolidated that sense of, at the time, what it meant to be a challenger. I think you’re right, it did create a certain kind of narrative that we all kind of grabbed onto, because it was so fresh and exciting.
Scott: When you talk about that challenger mindset that has changed over time, what is it now compared to then?
Adam: Well it was interesting, I was reflecting on this because I’m sort of trying to rewrite the book at various times, and I think the first time I researched Eating the Big Fish, when you ask people what kind of brand they wanted to be in any category, they always said “I want to be the Virgin of my category.” So that was really sort of destructive brand tone and voice: it was younger, hipper, edgier. There were a few ideas along the way about, you know, that Virgin threw in that made it more interesting. It wasn’t really about product difference, it was about brand tone and attitude and getting a younger, edgier crowd. Now of course, people talk about “I want to be the Uber of our category,” so it’s actually less about brand tone and much more about genuine product differentiation. Very often in a completely unrealistic way since most people cannot be the Uber of their category, and shouldn’t want to be. But there is big shifts from sort of product to brand difference I think from that point of view. Challenging used to be about the little player vs the big player. Now, challenging is about culture or something about the category rather than the players. You look at Warby Parker or Toms shoes, they’re not really challenging a bigger player in their category, but just challenging our relationship with buying shoes or wearing shoes or thinking about glasses and how we buy them. It’s a different kind of challenge we’re making.
Scott: Are those brands simply disrupting the disrupters, or are they basically representing people who just came up with a nice idea and they’re just trying to make it relevant to a new generation?
Adam: I think that’s a great question, and there’s a really interesting question about what’s the difference between challenge and disruption from that point of view, which we spent a lot of time here at EatBigFish talking about, and my partner Mark in San Francisco talks about it really as saying challengers by in large have an ideology, and one exemplar of which may be a piece of disruptive product innovation, and its a big ideology that affects everything they do. It affects the internal culture, it affects the kind of people they recruit for and the kind of people they’re trying to speak to. So I think that sense of behind your question is yes, I do think that those other brands do have a bigger ideology that they’re inviting people to buy into. Whether you’re an employee of that brand or a retailer or a consumer, it’s bigger than the act of disruption they’re creating. I think a lot of them are starting to tear down how markets work and how categories work. I think they’re disrupters in the eversense of the word.
Scott: So you ended up launching a revolutionary firm, which you called EatBigFish. When you did that, what made your firm different and what was the emphasis behind launching your own company.
Adam: I’m a reluctant entrepreneur. I launched it because I started writing the book and the book itself was an act of frustration. I was just fed up with all the business books I read at the time about brands like Coca-Cola or IBM, where the idea was if you were a small player, then you just had to be a little version of the big player and that we can learn from these guys. It was quite clear to me that you couldn’t. If you were a Pepsi or something smaller, there’s nothing you can learn from Coke. You had to have a completely different set of tools, decisions, and strategies that reflected your distribution system and your lower marketing spending and so on and so forth. So I started writing the book and it took me 18 months, much longer than I thought. By the time I finished it, and I was writing it for an advertising agency team, by the time I finished it they didn’t want the book anymore.
Scott: Why didn’t they want the book? What was going on?
Adam: They decided at that point that they didn’t want to be about challengers, they wanted to be about market leaders. They wanted to pitch United and all sorts of stuff like that and they were fed up with being just a small little player.
Scott: But you made challenger into not about size. I mean a challenger brand could be a massive corporation.
Adam: I agree, look at Under Armour, still a challenger. Look at Fitbit, the CMO says we lead our segment in most areas and we still like to think of ourselves as a challenger, it’s just the most healthy way to think. So I never really thought about it that way at the time but I think a lot of what you talk about in Uprising and movements in affect was something that I was interested in doing while recognizing of course that it would be about influence, ideally, rather than size. So if I stayed really small I’d never be a big enough brand to capitalize on that in business. What one could do, which is great about writing books and more contemporary forms of social media, is that you could have a much greater influence footprint than your own brand footprint. In the end, that’s what we ended up trying to do.
Scott: So Adam Morgan, the challenger, the Eating the Big Fish man, didn’t have tattoos all over your body and long hair and the attitude that fit a specific mold. You were able to walk into board rooms, large and small, and really talk about this as an idea that’s relevant to really all sizes of companies. It’s not just a start up with a pocket of change and a modest budget, this is really about a mindset too.
Adam: Yeah, and I did get people in the early days who’d read the book and said “Hmm, I thought you’d be someone different.” I think they were expecting someone chippier and a bit angrier, probably, who’d have bold fits and shout a bit more but that just isn’t my style. I was interested in creating a framework that would allow people to move together at the same speed rather than simply something that was going to inspire one person, but couldn’t be able to inspire someone else. I’ve been in advertising agencies where I’ve been on the wrong end of consultants, and they’d come up with strategies that we just couldn’t implement and frankly didn’t want to because we hadn’t been involved. I wanted to create a way of thinking that could be inclusive and where agencies and clients could work together and go on a journey together whether or not we were involved, but it would actually progress the world in a small kind of way. You know as I do, there’s so much bad marketing and bad brand communications out there and so much wasted talented. If there’s is anything that any of us could do to lift that overall level, it has got to be good for the individuals working for those brands and also for the profession of branding and marketing, and I just really wanted to try and be part of contributing to raising the game.
Scott: So does EatBigFish mean that companies can actually eat a whale? I know whales aren’t fish, well actually I think there’s a whalefish. But a big, big, big fish? Have you been in that situation where you’ve consulted for firms that have really taken on the behemoths and won?
Adam: We worked for people who have taken on their behemoths and won. Little food brands that have grown from $3 million to $65 million and were achieving goals that they never thought they could achieve when they started. Size is always relative, right? If you’re an ant, your behemoth is a different size thing than yours and mine. So yes, I do think some take on, relatively speaking, very large competitors. Now I remember one thing that really struck me was when I was interviewing Jim Jannard of Oakley for the first book, and I was saying “What do we define as your competition?” And he said “When we started, we thought taking over Rebo, that would be really something. And then after a few years we did that, so we then thought who else could we take now?” They just reframed and reset what their ambition was until they got to the stage when they would try and take on Nike in a couple of categories. I think that sense of that you do it in bits and you don’t try and start by eating the whole thing, you just move through phases. I do think that that’s something all players can increasingly do. Certainly you look at a new generation coming out with what technology allows you to do; it’s more possible now than ever.
Look at [Richard] Branson in the early days. He takes on [British Airways], which was the time was the behemoth of the airline business. He only has two planes. It is ridiculous for him to pretend, to the British public, that he and BA are the only two choices across the Atlantic. I mean that is clearly ludicrous. But that’s what he does, and look at where they’re at now.
Scott: When you launched your firm, you put your shingle up and what happened? Did phones start ringing off the hook? What was it actually like to launch your own business? You say you’re a reluctant entrepreneur. How long did it take you to get your first phone call? Do you remember when that happened?
Adam: Yeah, I mean I had a client who I worked with in Europe and they were kind enough to say “we’ll stay on and do some consultancy with you for three months” and I said well that’s okay, I’ve got a client I could stand working on. And then my friend gave me a project working on Ragu Pasta Sauce in New York, that was my first ever kind of workshop. I had this workshop in the back of the book but I hadn’t actually done it before, but I was very honest and transparent and they were kind enough to say “sure, go ahead and give it a go,” and it went really well. Then I was interviewed a couple of times on live TV. So I was on Sky News in the UK and on CNN in the states. A couple people watched that and got in touch afterwards. So I was really lucky because there was the internet at that point. I think I would have been actually hopeless five years previously because people couldn’t find me easily. But now actually it had become incredibly easily. I never thought I’d be a good entrepreneur because I couldn’t go out and pitch myself. But of course if I, like you, had got something I really believe in and a point of view about the really world that you think is important and will genuinely progress the client in that world then it is very easy to get committed and be an evangelist. And that’s what I found myself being and enjoy being.
Scott: So everyone who’s listening, we are the Uprising podcast and today we have the reluctant entrepreneur Adam Morgan, also known as the challenger brand visionary who launched the book Eating the Big Fish and were having an intimate discussion about challenger brands, his career, and how brands can basically think differently in order to grow quite rapidly.
So, a minute ago Adam, you mentioned you saw this and it raises a question to me, so you started the business in the UK, was there a big difference for you when you worked with US clients versus British clients?
Adam: That’s interesting, yeah. I had spent some time in the nineties working in Los Angeles and I did the North American role. So I’d come to love the US and the US attitude towards possibility. So when I started actually, I wanted my business card to have not just EatBigFish London but three different countries, and I had a friend in San Francisco and Madrid, so my first business card, even though we only had two full time employees, and Mark and Rob were kind of part time, said EatBigFish London/San Francisco/Madrid because I wanted to be international. And frankly I was still in denial about leaving southern California. So anybody who could put me on a plane and pay me to get there was just golden in my view. And so I loved it and I knew enough at that point about American clients to have some credibility since I’d done this kind of role. Mark came up with some prospects. I was very tied into the account planning group, which at the time was a very strong group in North America, so I came and presented at a conference in San Diego my first year and got some leads after that. Planners were very kind to me. It was a good, nurturing community and a lot of my work came out of the ad business initially. And then subsequently we got much more into working with clients. I’d imagine it was kind of the same for you when you started, right? It’s a mixture of friends in the business who kind of give you some leads and send them your way, and then clients you worked with in the past and then one thing leads to another and you’re off and running.
Scott: When you’re advising your son Louie, who’s a student, what advice would you have for him and other students who may be interested in forging a career like yourself?
Adam: I’m very interested, first of all in how many of my friends are interested in advertising as a career, and it reminds me of my first boss in Los Angeles with Bob Coutman. Bob Coutman had been a creative at DDB in the sixties. He worked with Burnback on Volkswagen in the sixties but he was an art director. I read an interview with him before I joined where he was asked why he got into advertising as an art director, and he said because he was interested in conceptual thinking, which I thought was an interesting answer at the time and is an even more interesting now. In terms of Louie, I guess what I love about the business is I think it’s a really great discipline for teaching people how to frame a thought, how to get insightive a brief, how to really understand the importance of genuineness, how to explore the potential of an idea without getting too focused on one platform or another. I guess my advice for him is, because he likes working in people-based organizations but he’s also interested in communities and building communities. There’s a spine of thinking underneath all of that, which advertising is one of those professions for teaching you and I think I’m very keen for him and anybody like him to master early on. I think there’s a discipline to it and I’m not sure that all agencies teach that or train that in the same kind of way so you’ve got to find somebody who is naturally good at working in that way and learn from them. So therefore my advice is it’s probably less actually about the organization you work for but finding a small company where you can get quite close to the main players and learn from them. I think that small/medium sized nurturing companies is important in part because, I don’t know if you read that fantastically interesting google study where they looked at small teams and what made teams work and they analyzed everything google had and asked for five key factors. And the first factor, the most important factor in a really powerful team is psychological safety. And I think what small, family feel businesses offer is that sense of psychological safety that allows somebody coming into a business to really accelerate and move very quickly, particularly if you’re in the field of ideas. I’m not sure that large organizations care about that anymore, and I think that’s a shame because I think that leads to bad habits with how you interact with people early on. And once you learn those you find it hard to shake them. Small idea businesses is my advice to him.
Scott: From an economic standpoint, is advertising as we know it a sound business model? Or will margins continue to erode?
Adam: I should be asking you that question, really. Obviously, it’s about adding a different kind of value to the client. A value that’s more upstream and less down stream. I think there’s a lot of evidence that agencies have been trying to likely talk about how effective advertising is long term and prove that it’s effective. It doesn’t seem to be having any influence at all on clients margins or the desire to invest in the agencies. So the only thing you can do is migrate to a more upstream, higher degree of value. And I think one good strategy is what you’re doing, right? You’re actually becoming an authority in an area that nobody could touch you on. So if somebody actually wants that authority they come to you and pay premium for it, I hope. I do think that advertising has surrendered its authority. When I started out as a planner in 1982, all the stuff I was given to read about how brands work and marketing works were written by board directors at JWT because they’d been given the time and money and investment in it. Apart from individuals writing books like you, I don’t see big agencies really being authorities in that way anymore. Media companies are, but agencies aren’t, and that’s a facet of that damaged spire we’re talking about.
Scott: In the years since you published your book, Eating the Big Fish, have you had other theories, additional theories that you’ve developed or observed in regards to the challenger mindset and social movements?
Adam: Well I think that there’s lots of inevitability if you’re an ideas person, you have lots of stuff that’s half formed ideas on the edge of your mental work bench, but you’re exploring. So I’ve currently got a thing I’m exploring where I have three different kinds of innovators: fixers, preachers, and platform builders. And that’s an environment that’s getting a bit dusty and sometimes I’m afraid I’m not getting out to explore it. But I have to try to be focused because I’m trying to push it forward. So yes, I think what I’ve noticed about challengers is the conversations that my clients want to have with me is as much about culture as it is about strategy now. So we’re getting conversations from HR people rather than marketing people. That says that a challenger strategy is only as good as the culture that supports it. I think people understand that any strategy is only as good as the culture that supports it. I think it’s much more broadly understood now. But the question of how you can genuinely influence and effect and lift a culture to be more of a challenger mindset. Basically, around a small team or an individual, I think is fundamental. I’ve become very interested in constraints around challengers and how it’s interesting that challengers very much thrive often because of constraints. The constraints are beneficial, it propels them into seeing an opportunity in a different place than the market leader and building a sustainable position there. And yet we as the business individuals see constraints as a bad thing. Not you as a creative guy, because you understand you got to put a full parameter around a problem, you need a good tactical brief to have a great idea. But broadly speaking in business we think that a small budget is a disadvantage. We think that limited distribution is a disadvantage. We’ve got to change the way we think about that. So all that, I think around social movements, I mean clearly in your own work about social movements is very influential and important. The work the market has done, the herd instinct and copying is clearly an influential series of tones. So I think there is increasingly an awareness that there’s much more to it and the cultural context of behavior around a challenger mindset or indeed a social narrative, is really important. The two have got to travel together. You can’t separate the strategy from a cultural understanding.
Scott: Well you certainly inspired me Adam, when I sent out to create StrawberryFrog with the whole idea of the strawberry frog versus the dinosaur.
Adam: Is that right?
Scott: Yeah! The first statement I wrote when i was starting the agency is that our mission was to challenge the large dinosaur agencies who dominate and control the industry, and provide quite inadequate services to clients and make outrageous amounts of money. So that was sort of our challenger statement.
Adam: Nice, very interesting. So has it evolved, or are you still in that place?
Scott: Definitely has evolved, I think at the start the challenger mentality was about us in the marketing world, and I think today it’s become much more about being the movement marketing firm. When we started movement was a part of our DNA, but it was not the front edge, which was the frog versus the dinosaur and about innovating within a traditional segment that has of course innovated quite significantly over the past twenty years. Being a frog versus a dinosaur is still relevant, but ultimately what clients are looking for as far as we are concerned is being able to help them figure out a movement strategy.
When you think about big challenger brands, you obviously look out into the world and you look at culture and where things are going. What are some of the big challenger movements, or even challenger ideas, that you see in the current environment, and how are they influencing the way people buy products and services or interact with companies?
Adam: I think one of the big themes of the world environment is that the establishment is rotten, and they’re all at it. Whatever institution or establishment you look at, there’s a scandal that essentially suggests it’s not confined to the small group of people that the establishment would like to pretend. It’s actually all pervasive, and everybody is at it in some kind of way. So I do think that has led to a push down into movements like you described. Themes like a small versus big, I think is huge in almost any category you go into because big has become bad again and small is beautiful and small is equated with craft and personable and authentic and side projects and all that other stuff. A micro-democratization, there’s a whole bunch of themes that come out of that that I think are really interesting. I think the other big movement, and I don’t know if you’d clarify this as a movement, but I think it’s a kind of the sheer unreasonableness of people. I think there’s a whole bunch of new brands that have taught us that we don’t need to make tradeoffs anymore. When you and I started in thinking about brand problems, we understood that basically a brand couldn’t be all things. You could either be sexy or a sensible family guy, you couldn’t try and be both those things. You could either be fuel efficient or you could be fast. Basically, you made those decisions as a brand and your job as a creative genius was to kind of roam that single hole of strategy. Now, there’s a whole bunch of people who said you don’t have to choose. You can rent the runway and you can have a hollywood gown without having to have Jennifer Lawrence’s salary and take it back the next day. There’s zipcar, those tradeoffs don’t exist anymore. As a result, they want more and they want it now. And I think that is a really big movement that brands are finding it difficult to respond to because they’ve got legacy and infrastructure that they can’t compete with. I think there’s a really big shift there that’s coming in more strongly that most companies are kind of in denial about. And I think that what’s interesting is that if you are a big marketing company and you sit down to plan what the next 2-3 year strategy is, unless you’re thinking about how you’re going to progress your category, you should be aware that there’s somebody else out there who is that they’re going to be moving at such a speed that by the time you realize they actually have a leg up in that category it’s probably going to be too late for you to respond. Because they’ll be satisfying the unreasonable consumer. So I think that sense of the big breakdown of trust, that big shift down towards small versus big again, and this celebration of leaning into the unreasonable consumer. I think these are kind of three big contexts for a whole bunch of movements that were gonna see a lot of in the years to come.
Scott: That’s fascinating. So Adam, how long do most challenger brands last? Are they on the same cycle as regular brands or is the implication that a challenger brand can actually be a longterm strategy?
Adam: That’s a really interesting question, isn’t it? I think in part it depends on what the original ambition is. So sometimes you get a challenger that never wants to be the market leader. Branson has always said “I never wanted to be Coke, I always wanted to be Pepsi.” They get their energy from being a number two, and I think what’s interesting is that there’s a lot of brands like that. I read a really interesting interview about Toyota when they took GM and became number one and they didn’t really know how to be a number one because they got so much energy from chasing GM for such a long time that it ended up being their focus. It didn’t serve them well to actually have overtaken them. And certainly Playstation, which I worked on the launch of in the states in the nineties. They did want to be number one, they were the opposite of Virgin and were open about wanting to beat Sega and Nintendo. When they did get there, they found it hard to stay there. They lost that challenger swagger and that sense of confidence. I think there’s a question about how the challenger brand lasts and how long the mindset lasts, and those are two different things interestingly. But there are a lot of long term players. We talked a little bit about Under Armour earlier on. Under Armour is a brand that has clearly been a challenger for a long time now and continues to explore how to challenge. I think as long as you are changing what you’re challenging rather than being focused on who you’re challenging, you can renew that sense of cultural challenge rather than simply brand challenge, than I think you have lots of life in you. But you constantly need to change to stay the same. People get used to even quite bold and brave ideas.
A great one of my clients used to be Harry Winston himself, the king of diamonds in New York as you know. He used to have a great thing that he said. There’s a very famous about Harry Winston. He loved big diamonds, loved big stones. And he used to carry this big square cut diamond around in his pocket because he loved it so much. And it eventually got bought by the Russian wife of a hotelier. And he cuts it into a ring for her, and she comes into Harry Winston’s to try the ring on for the first time. And he puts it on her finger, and it’s so large that she gasps when she looks at the size of it on her finger. And he says “Don’t worry Mrs. Byfield, it will get smaller the longer you wear it.” And I love that! That’s the thing with challengers, they get smaller the longer we wear them. The thing that amazed us about them first of all, we get used to it really quickly. So the point is you’ve got to keep refreshing and renewing and I think very often you’ve got a founder that becomes to wedded to a particular angle or set of copy, and you get smaller and smaller and eventually you get eclipsed by someone who’s bigger and shinier and a bigger square cut diamond appears next to it. So I think they can last, but they have to change to stay the same.
Scott: Fascinating. As a marketer, as you look at the political issues we’re seeing in the United States and obviously in the UK with Brexit, how would you advise those that want to challenge the Donald Trumps of the world or the Theresa Mays in a way that’s going to be effective.
Adam: I mean Theresa May and Donald Trump are obviously very different challenges. We had a long debate in the office, in fact we wrote two different articles from two different points of views on our website on whether Trump was or wasn’t a challenger. One of my partners Mark said he wasn’t a challenger at all, while one of my strategic directors Nick, who is a brilliant guy, made a very clear case that Trump was a challenger and it was clear what he was challenging. He was challenging a broken system, he really understood who he was championing and he saw himself as a people’s champion. He was unapologetic about himself, he was a force for change that many people were rooting for and he made it really simple.
Mark’s counterpoint was that all that may be true, but he’s making promises he can’t deliver, and a challenger has to have a challenger that delivers on its promise. So I guess if I was to be a counterpoint to Trump, I think I would want to be, I don’t mean patient but I think recongnizing that you’re in it for the long game, certainly for the first 6-12 months. He’s made a lot of very specific promises, some of what will be almost impossible to keep, and therefor holding accountability to those promises. I think it’s going to be absolutely key. Here’s somebody who loves being on stage in front of the media. So merely being rubbished by the media is not going to work. So I think having a very simple thought, and probing at a very simple weakness that is palpably proven and measurable, is the point in which I’d get active on. I think the danger is that we fight a war on too many fronts and you’re always going to lose. So I’d pick one front and go low on it, that’s the Trump view.
Scott: I noticed your voice dropped an octane when I asked you about this political question. You’ve become very serious now!
Adam: You know, it’s funny, the serious thing. My son Louie is in New York as you know. He said he’d be there a couple weeks but he got taken along by a friend to an improv theater thing called “Drunk Shakes” where what happens is this group performs a Shakespeare play, but the lead actor who rotates between the cast, drinks five shots at the beginning of the veneing and introduces a few unexpected elements into Shakespeare that the audience helped kind of make up. And so everybody is enjoying this thing, getting into it, it’s great fun, a lot of laughter and a lot of improv. And the guy on stage goes “I’m going to introduce a new character into the play, so let’s have a new name for the character” and somebody in the back shouts “Trump!” and Louie said that it sucked the life and energy out of the room. All the fun died, all the laughter died, and the cast had to work really hard to get it back up there again. So I guess it’s in that context that my voice drops an octane. It’s hard not to feel bowed down slightly by it. But the point is as a challenger you need to be inherently optimistic, and I think it’s about having a strategy, a coherent strategy, and resilient optimism.
Scott: I was reading yesterday that Tony Blair declared himself to be the challenger brand. He wants to lead a movement to keep Britain in Europe.
Adam: Which is madness.
Scott: Do you think that there’s any chance that he’ll be able to? I guess on the one hand he might be able to resuscitate his political career, or do you think that people will follow him?
Adam: I’d love to know what he really thinks is possible. So yes, you’re right, the cynical view is that he is standing up. One of the classic challenger strategies is standing up against the monster. So how do you stay on the right side of the public and boy did he get on the wrong side of the public and has stayed on the wrong side of the public after Iraq. To get on the right side of the public you champion the public against a monster. At one level if I’m his strategic advisor, I think this is a fantastic strategy Tony. Absolutely right. Sure there are those who’s gonna say “Hmm, I don’t know what I think about Tony Blair but I do agree with him on this position” so it’s a great way to get on the right side of the public. But, that actual strategy, surely madness. It’s never going to happen. It can’t happen. It’s not the right way to spend our energy. What we should do and what the government and people should be doing is saying well look, there’s two different issues here. One is, given that the public has voted and we respect the democratic vote, how do we extract ourselves from Europe in the best possible way politically? The second question is, what does Britain mean now that we’re not a part of Europe anymore? Part of what we stood for was tolerance and inclusivity and a number of other values that were thought to be particularly British, that’s all been blown up! I’ve got clients in Sweden that look absolutely baffled at me as a representative of Britain, because they don’t know what Britain stands for anymore. And I think that’s the beef I have about Theresa May, which is I don’t only beef about continuing what she’s doing, because she has to do that from a political point of view, but she’s only focusing on the political implications. She’s making no attempt to redefine what Britain means and what it needs to mean and what’s exciting about what it means in this new world. And without that, it’s going to be a disaster.
Scott: So when you’re advising clients to think about their own marketing strategies, how do you put this current political and social reality in that context? How do advise them now and moving forward?
Adam: First of all I think what’s really interesting is this. Let’s look at Brexit. If Theresa May was the CEO of a large organization, and this had happened to that organization, some seismic shock that showed that they really didn’t understand their consumer base in some kind of way, what is the first thing you would do? The answer is the first thing you would do is get back to your consumer and do a deep research study amongst your consumer base of exactly what happened, of why people voted the way they did, of what people’s expectations are and what needs to happen next. And on the basis of showing that you understood that, you would then set out your plan for what the future should be because it’s based on robust evidence and data. Has that happened? No, of course it hasn’t happened. No sense of that at all. They’re laying out of a plan for the future without having really shown either, that they’ve gone out and understood what happened and why it happened, instead there’s lots of banding around what happened and so on and so forth.
And secondly, they’ve made no real attempt to reconnect with those roots again. So what is the learning? I think the learning is that there’s a distance between leadership and the people, the consumers that they serve. I think that’s partly because leadership has come to assume the people that they serve are the shareholders. And that the only thing they really think about and are concerned with is maximizing shareholder return and shareholder value, which means courtly results these days. There’s no sense of long term ownership anymore and there’s no voice for long term ownership anymore as a complementary way to think. But secondly I do think that the need for the organization to spend much more time with their consumers is greater than ever. And that’s not about reading research reports, but getting out there and spending time every month with a person who’s living paycheck to paycheck and buys your products, and understanding them.
Scott: Adam Morgan, thank you for joining us, I have one last question for you. Are you happy with your career choice and if you were to do it all over again, what would you choose?
Adam: Yeah, I’m very happy with my career choice! I genuinely think I have the best job in the world. Constant variety, interesting clients, fascinating problems, all wanting to make progress, I love that. I think the other thing I love is that I love having my own business. I love having a platform to explore other ideas and energies. I think working for oneself after your early forties is actually key for most of us and I guess you’d probably agree. If I were to do it all again, what would I choose? Funny enough, my sort of fantasy job would be an oral historian. I always loved Studs Terkel and I always loved that sense of sitting down and capturing voices, often unheard voices. I’d love to be an oral historian. But, frankly there’s no money in it and I’m not Studs Terkel, it’s too late but one day! Maybe one day I’ll go back and do that type of thing.
Scott: Well as a man of letters and a man who speaks at conferences and has written extensively about marketing strategies and challenger brands, I was pleasantly surprised you’ve become quite active on Instagram, and there’s this sort of introspection and artistry that I never knew was there with you. Your images are really extraordinary!
Adam: Well thank you, I’m very new to Instagram but I’m absolutely loving it in part because it means that people like you and I intersect much more than we otherwise would do given our transit lives, so I’m really enjoying it. I find it very stimulating it. I love the idea of capturing beauty and joy in the every day.
Scott: It’s beautiful. What’s your instagram handle?
Scott: Excellent. This has been wonderful, thanks for joining us Adam, really great conversation. Have a wonderful day in London!
Adam: I really enjoyed it. Thank you very much.