Formula to create six actionable new year’s resolutions

At this time of year my thoughts start to drift, as yours may too, to the year ahead. What should I focus on, how can I make life and work more fun, should I make a few resolutions to keep me on the right course? But I usually stop there. I’m so crap at keeping new year’s resolutions that I just don’t bother any more.

On Wednesday I was out walking the dog and I started wondering why this is the case. I’m a pretty focused person, I tend to make plans that are simple enough to deliver against, I’m not a lazy arse (often). So why can’t I make and keep simple resolutions that make life better?

When I got home I scribbled this:

new year's resolution formula


The premise is simple. For me, having a happy life means getting the right balance of excitement (wowser moments when you’re exhilarated or mesmerised); contentment (moments when you kick back, sigh, and realise how great life is) and aspiration (looking to what’s next and feeling positive about it). These are my main values; yours may be different so plot accordingly.

For these three values there are two simple variables: things that add to the state or detract from it; things that make me excited or block me from getting excited etc. If this is the case it’s possible to list them – these are my key metrics and I can do things to increase or decrease them to get the results I want.

For example, things that make me excited:

– going on multi-trip holidays where not every detail is planned

– taking on client projects where the ambitions are ridiculous

Things that block my ability to get excited (don’t be rude!):

– Focusing too much time on the detail

– Closing down discussions and getting practical too soon in the ideas process

Once listed, it is simple to set out clear, actionable (and probably measurable) resolutions. For each of the three key values choose to do one of the ‘makes’ variables and choose to desist from one of the ‘blocks’ variables. Clearly the more specific you are, the better. For example, one of my contentment resolutions is to do at least one 3-hour dog walk every week.

I’ve got 4 of my 6 resolutions sorted so far, and I’d love to know if any of this makes sense or works for you – just tweet me:)

Oh yeah , and Happy Christmas to you and all your loved ones. Hope 2015 is a tremendous year for you.

My week – with 2 interesting groups of north east tech folk.

Rather than referencing this week’s best reads, today I’m summing up my two best get-togethers of the week – which both happen to be tech-related and north east based.

1) Newcastle’s tech accelerator Ignite (guess the ‘100’ is dropped now?) welcomed their current cohort this week and I had the pleasure of meeting the teams and running a super-speedy session on agile. From fashion and photo apps to designer eyewear, drones, and price-matching plug-ins, there are some great businesses bubbling away in Campus North for the next 14 weeks. You should try and meet them.

2) I also went to my first Digital Leaders North East event this week – about 20 diverse individuals from the digital sector (private, public, third sector) gathered in the smarmy surrounds of the MalMaison for interesting presentations on the Lloyd’s Digital Index, Newcastle City Council’s plans to develop user-led digital services, and a run down of the digital capabilities of North East FSB members. Some interesting stats and chats were had, and will be interesting to see what evolves. Easiest way to follow developments is probs to follow them on twitter.


This week’s best reads – good habits, bad teaching & startup stories.

A quick round up of articles I’ve enjoyed the most this week:

1) Entrepreneur Magazine shares 7 insanely productive habits shown by a bunch of young entrepreneurs. Some to be believed; others a bit of hype perhaps, but a fun read.

2) Insightful summary of what universities are teaching their marketing students vs what they need to be learning – good article and cute infographic in Marketing Land.

3) And finally a refreshingly honest article about Blooie Founder Mark Ryan’s experience of surviving a startup incubator. Second in the series – worth a look if you’re interested in startups.



Interesting bits of the week – lessons in agile marketing, SEO in plain english, and multibillion dollar startups.

Most days I read half a dozen articles or posts that catch my eye, as you probably do too. Some are trash but others are inspiring, useful or funny. I usually share as I read, but thought I’d start picking my top three each week, and posting here, incase you like what I like. Here’s this week’s tipple, in no particular order:

1) Econsultancy does a great write up on the Airbnb & Waterstones mashup with cudos for Airbnb for their agile response

2) Moz gives us 7 handy tips for on-site SEO – handy if you do or want to do more effective website copy.

3) Atomico shares a brilliant interactive animation showing the top billion dollar software companies across the world – filter by region, year founded or sector.

Happy reading. More next week.


The life-giving capabilities of good content

I’m fully aware of the hypocritical nature of this post, based on the fact I last updated my blog almost a year ago; but I’ve had to get over this hypocrisy and write this post after stumbling across a site I built with my old agency back in 2008.

The site is – built for the languages department at Newcastle University. The idea was to enable students and teachers to create and curate their own content so it would keep their learning alive and ensure a continuous stream of engaging content for new users. And I’m super happy to see it still going – with over 4000 items of content spanning 50+ languages.

The fact that the site is still alive has nothing at all to do with its design, the way it was built or the skill with which the project was handled. It has nothing to do with the work my agency did, and everything to do with the attitude and commitment of the client.

I have often thought this, and when working with businesses on websites and content strategies, it is always something we talk a lot about; but do I go far enough to really encourage or enforce the discipline needed to keep on creating good content?

To help answer this question I’ve just looked back at the last 5 sites I’ve delivered, and here are the dates they were last updated:

1. 12th April (19 days ago)

2. 15th April (16 days ago)

3. 12th December (4.5 months ago)

4. 22nd April (9 days ago)

5. 16th January (3.5 months ago)

I’m actually quite chuffed with this as it’s better than I expected; but I’m more interested in what’s going on behind the numbers. Sites 1, 2 and 3 are all small private sector businesses with no full-time marketing or content people. The blogs are written by more than one person in the business, and mostly their skills lie not in writing but in the nature of the job. They write articles because they love what they do, not because they love writing. Sites 3 and 4 are both organisations born out of public funding and / or delivering public sector contacts. One is small and one is relatively big, but both employ people or consultants whose job focuses on marketing or communications.

So what do I deduce from this?

Content need not, and probably should not, be written by people who like to write; it should be written by people who love what they do and have a genuine desire to share this with people who are interested. Yes, help will be needed; and yes, time needs to be carved out – but as this post demonstrates (it’s taken me 11 minutes to write and re-read) if you really do have something you want to say, it doesn’t take long to write it down.

So don’t put it off any longer! Next time you think or come across something you think would be of interest to people, scribble it down. Immediately. Maybe get someone to take a look through for embarrassing errors; but don’t over analyse. Afterall it’s not the skill or panache of your agency or designer that creates the long-term value of your site; it’s the fresh content that you and your team create. Put that in your pen and smoke it!

The A-Z of Thinking Digital Awesomeness

I’ve attended TDC every year since its inception, and I’m always left with a strange mixture of emotions once it ends. I feel dizzied by the onboarding of so many new ideas, inspired by the amazing people I’ve met, slightly deflated by comparing myself to their awesomeness; but mainly challenged – to try and convert this amazing experience into something that makes me and the world around me a little bit better.

Key to this is finding an effective way to record and express the many ideas, perceptions, facts and stories that I really want to retain and use from the conference. I therefore set myself the constraints of a a simple A-Z list, and here we are:

A: Attention – @WilsoRob proposed that today we are not short of data, we are short of human attention.

B: Bletchley Park – we need to preserve and celebrate our past in order to inspire our future, as beautifully demonstrated by @dr_black.

C: Constraints are needed for creativity said @aza – they improve the scope of our perceptual and conceptual thinking.

D: DEO – Design Executive Officers are needed, suggested @mgiudice, to place design at the centre of business decisions.

E: Every country, no planes – an amazing account of what can be achieved through focus, dedication and bloody hard work, even if you ignore the usual paths like @everycountry.

F: Fear – @ihrobertson told us that the fear of being socially rated is the biggest source of human stress, so well done again to all the speakers:)

G: Gender Equality – TDC has a decent ratio of male: female speakers and delegates, but @maggiephilbin told us that only 8 out of 300 students at her last TeenTech event drew a scientist/ technologist as a woman.

H: Hope. With 15 year olds curing cancer, historical places, species and machines being rescued from extinction, and educators seeking new ways to inspire the next generation, surely our future is full of hope.

I: Inside the right box – this is where we need to be thinking in order to come up with creative, effective design. Awesome insight from @aza again.

J: Journalism is now about analysing conversations to find and verify meaningful content. Amazing demonstration of right place, right time from @markham.

K: Kick the ball. Wise words from @EddieObeng – don’t drag kids away from their ball to do maths. Let them kick the ball, achieve mastery – then to the maths when they’re full of energy and confidence!

L: Little slices of life – how @derekscobie described You Tube. And his advice – don’t try to invent the trends; identify and respond to them.

M: Minimally invasive education: ‘I don’t know, and I’ve got to go’ – empowering words from @Sugatam.

N: Naked. What our old friend @tomscott will be if he carries on burning his clothes like that!

O: Oslo – home of the awesome train ticket machine that made @aral feel like a superhero, not a baby! The power of great design:)

P: Pancreatic Cancer – 100% survival rate now possible thanks to a 15 year old guy who didn’t know what a pancreas was. Anything is possible with the internet according to @JackAndraka.

Q: Question. We must make sure we ask the right question if we want to get meaningful answers. A theme throughout the conference.

R: Record. @daveerasmus of Givey asked us to press the record button during the special moments in our lives. We must realise the value these hold before it’s too late.

S: Schizophonia – @juliantreasure told us how headphones are leading to a disconnect between what we see and what we hear. Slippy slope…

T: Time Travel – is what most people do when they leave their well-connected homes and travel to work. Why? asked @eddieobeng.

U: User Experience –  We need to think outside the screen implored @aral – user experience is your business plan.

V: Viewpoints – we need to absorb multiple viewpoints on our world in order to learn effectively – as shown by @dragonsinger57‘s crowdsourced homework marking.

W: What if our phones didn’t like us any more? Thought-provoking look at humanity through the eyes of a robot from @ArEbEnTweet.

X: Xenagogue. Ha – thought you had me on ‘X’ didn’t you! A xenagogue is apparently a guide – one who helps people through unknown places. I’d say @herbkim has done this pretty nicely for TDC – big thanks!

Y: Y-axis. So diverse was TDC  that the various y-axes on show were used to record everything from computer sales, to learning speeds, to volume of tweets, to locations of news stories. Pretty impressive.

Z: Zeal – the ‘enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal and tireless diligence in its furtherance.’ (Wordnik). I would say that every single speaker, and most of the delegates at #tdc13 were brimming with zeal, and I for one feel all the better for being a part of.

Thanks to everyone for making such an amazing alphabet of awesomeness. (Aliteration, so must be true).

But for now, it’s bedtime.

Taste Club – for lovers of great north food & drink

When North East Food & Drink Group decided to develop a consumer offering, they engaged Stick Theory to help develop the model and core proposition.


The core idea behind Taste Club is to promote the people, products and places that make food and drink from the north of England something to celebrate. The focus is an online store that allows foodies to buy direct from local producers, and get early access to specialist events and experiences.


When it became clear that Taste Club would focus on an online store, the decision to create a shopify site was easy. Even easier was the decision to engage shopify expert Ryan Foster. Together Ryan and Di worked closely with Taste Club to develop a style and approach that is unique and engaging, and a commercial strategy to help them grow both their retail and consumer memberships.


Early marketing focused on the release of pop-up shops for Christmas and Mothers Day, and a linked competition to drive membership. The pop-up shops achieved 1000+ social shares and the Christmas products sold out way before the delivery deadline. From launch in March 2013, the full store achieved its first month of sales within the first week.

Project Partners

Site design and responsive development by Ryan Foster and photography by Chris Auld.

Social Media World Forum Soundbites #smwf

As I await the arrival of my overpriced bowl of pasta, and commence the long wait for my train, I thought I’d scribble some of my fave soundbites of the last 2 days at the Social Media World Forum in London.

I’ll try to make these accurate and credited so you can steal them. Fuller post to follow. If you want.

  • Matthew Pritchard of Kellogg’s: Mobile users generate 5x results of desktop users.
  • Carl Barkey of AMEX: ‘Likes don’t buy you love’ … and another one … ‘social is the vehicle for great content, and great content is the vehicle for SEO.’
  • @oldstriker of Engage Sciences: It’s the top 4.7% of fans that drive referrals. They are 176% more active.
  • Dom Burch of ASDA was a real star with lots of soundbites: ‘We should be connectors not collectors’ … ‘If it doesn’t work on mobile, go home.’ …  and my favourite:  ‘We had to get over ourselves. We sell baked beans. We’re allowed to ask what our fans call a bap.”
  • Prelini Udayan-Chiechi of Lithium Technologies: less than 2% of people who like a facebook page ever return … and … 90% of people trust peer recommendations, 14% trust advertising.
  • Shauna Causey not only has a great name, but made an awesome point: customers should have a seat at the board. Totally agree with this.
  • Great anecdote : channel 4’s internal social media guidelines are written on their wall: ‘don’t be a cock.’ Love this.
  • Jon Bedford of Just Giving – 1 Facebook share is worth £5 in donations. That’s great knowledge.
  • Can’t recall who said this, but it’s good: Mobile websites are for customer acquisition, mobile apps are for loyalty. If you need something quick you search for the info, not for the app.
  • Bruce Daisley of Twitter opened day 2 with lots of good shit: ‘We’re an information network not a social network’ … ‘twitter is Darwinian – the best content surfaces no matter who posted it’ … ‘80% of twitter users in uk access twitter via mobile’ …  and again, my favourite … ‘ twitter rewards the discipline of real time planning – agencies can no longer craft a campaign at leisure.’
  • Random titbit: Heineken paid £45million in product placement fees for James Bond to take a swig whilst naked in the bath in SkyFall!
  • Another highlight was pink-haired Adobe chap @mblinder who shared some gems, inc. ‘click through rate on mobile sponsored stories on facebook is 12x that on desktop’. Also check out FB’s custom audience and dark post features.
  • A few good social TV soundbites: ‘Social TV is not new. My mum and sister were on the phone to each other when Charles married Diana.’ said @slupowski and a nice stat from same chap: 60-80% of TV viewer use second screen, and 1/3rd are doing something related to the show they’re watching.
  • KLM had a great social tactic: ‘do little acts of kindness.’ … and I loved The suitcase principle – don’t forget the simple things that are really important i.e ‘darn, where’s my suitcase?’ They also have 3 useful social principles: service is sales, be cool to hang out with, don’t push – create stuff worth sharing.
  • Swiss Retailer @migros concluded with an important statement: ‘customers want to buy stuff they want’ … crowdsource your new product development, because crowdsourced products have a story to tell.

My fave soundbite from the whole conference though, was in a video from a young American kid, on the question of ‘what is social media?’. Her answer: ‘If people have a pet, you can see their pet.”

Conclusion: Social Media is still a spotty teenager of an industry. Few people are prepared to commit to or reveal quantitative results (captured most of them above), and people are still pronouncing ‘content is king’ like this is something we don’t know already. There are some brave, interesting, creative things happening but also a lot of fluffy kittens.

So, let’s indeed share our photos of pets. But let’s try and do a bit more too. I’ll start by turning my relic of a website into one that’s fully responsive at last. What will you do?

Playtime for data – launch of data visualisation products

Global software house Scott Logic used their years of data visualisation experience to launch a new product – a set of iOS controls for the interactive visualisation of large commercial data sets.


The central idea for the launch of this product was the creation of a strong visual brand with an emphasis on speed and agility; and the application of this onto a simple product webpage to drive users through understanding, to trial and purchase.


The brand came first: Shinobi – from the Japanese term for ninja – conveying the speed and power of the product, plus the ‘stealth-like’ nature of this power – as a set of components that sit behind the skills of the developer. To support the brand, a full logo set was developed with associated illustrations fitting across the individual sub-brands (charts, grids…). The website was developed around a clear call to action to trial, and an effective tour to demonstrate key functions and benefits; and a full suite of exhibition and marketing materials were developed for the product’s launch at Mobile World Congress 2012.


On the run up to launch, some tech blogs posts were created to stimulate interests, announcements were made to iOS user groups in the UK and US, and a landing page with product video helped to convert early interest into a database of 200 leads. The main product was launched at the Mobile World Congress, alongside a dedicated content campaign that sent launch releases to the tech and mobile sector. Sales started immediately post-launch and exceeded all sales targets.

The same process of brand refresh, and effective product site was then applied to Visiblox, and again an instant sales spike was achieved, leading to a higher level of sustained trials and conversions.

Project Partners

The creative direction and UX was led by Di Gates, with logo design by Simon Wilson, supporting illustration by Laura Bohill, and site design by Ryan Foster.

Highlights of 2012.

It’s the time of year for a bit of reflection on what the year has delivered. It’s been a pretty good one for Stick Theory – here’s a few reasons why…

  • I worked with some great North East clients, like Scott Logic, on the rebrand of their data visualisation software Visiblox and the launch of their awesome iOS component range ShinobiControls. Great to help an established service company pivot and achieve great things in the world of products.
  • Also great to work with real products for a change – like brush manufacturing giants Cottam. Nice to be in a factory-type environment, and a change from the start-up scene as they’ve been around since 1858!  Really enjoyed the challenge of helping such an established company update their brand and digital strategy to a level that would lead many tech start-ups into jealousy or shame.
  • Talking of start-ups, this year has had a big focus on working with regional start-ups like MyMoneyPA and CustomerSure – both awesome tech companies led by experienced guys looking for a new entrepreneurial challenge – and great to see both doing so well.
  • But most of my start-up work in 2012 has come from mentoring on Ignite 100 last year. One highlight was working with Torunn on the messaging and launch site for Usable – which is generating a conversion rate of 33% so far – not bad!
  • As well as Usable, I’ve had great fun being part of the team at Blooie – developing the market proposition and growth strategy. This really is an awesome platform that is starting to gain traction amongst big content publishers – and exciting challenges and opportunities ahead for us next year.
  • Givey has also been a massive part of this year – an amazing team with an inspired leader. It’s been a brilliant journey so far – with our social giving platform starting to power a host of amazing events and experiences with charities and businesses. Again, exciting times ahead for 2013, as we seek world domination – well, America to start with.
  • Other regional client highlights included a major re-positioning and digital strategy for social enterprise TEDCO and a super-exciting foodie project with Taste North East – which achieved total sell-out in its first 10 days, and will be fully unveiled in Spring  next year.
  • 2012 also contained a flashback to my old days of running big national enterprise campaigns, as I worked with the £60-million start-up programme, Ready for Business – refining messages, developing core programme materials – and setting up the digital marketing strategy for next year.
  • This has also been a great year for working with some amazing creative talent – including Ryan Foster, Nat Glover, Andi Farr, Laura Bohill, Lee Simpson, and Torunn Skrogstad. If you like the way any of the above projects look, feel and work, one of these guys is the reason why.
  • It was also a pretty good year for learning and personal development. The mentoring I do is always 2-way and I easily get back as much as I give; the Thinking Digital conference was as inspiring as ever, and I took part in leadership programme Common Purpose – which was a really enlightening process.
  • This year was also pretty good on collaborative events – Freelance Romance was quiet with just one event in April then a corker last month for national freelance day; and in October I worked with Narelle from Gentoo on #TechTogether, hosted by Digital Union, to help match up a few big regional businesses with the cream of north east tech talent – more of both events planned for 2013.
  • And finally, despite being frantically busy most of the time, I can honestly say there hasn’t been a single project that I haven’t found really fun, engaging and bursting with potential. So far Stick Theory is indeed enabling me to chase what makes me happy – and long may it continue!

There are of course some things I didn’t get right – my own site is now embarrassingly old and unresponsive in its design (new site early next year);  I still sometimes take on too many projects and end up feeling a bit under the cosh (will probably never change); I definitely want to squeeze more holidays in (skiing in Jan!) and I should learn to dress myself a little smarter (although recently bought a new smart jacket).  But overall a pretty good year – hope yours has been too – and all the best for 2013.

Awesome North East Marketing Clients
Awesome Clients