“Remember, no one can taste what you taste”

Michael Millar

Co-founder, SmplCo

02 Dec 2022

Meet Michael, our Head of Marketing & Brand, as he talks about the wisdom of wine, the biggest mistake you can make with your marketing, and going to war by mistake.

A life lesson from Bollinger

When I was a journalist, I got myself into all sorts of trouble (including going to war by mistake… more on that in a moment).

But one time I found myself truly out of my depth was at the launch of a new Bollinger champagne, which I’d blagged an invite to by claiming I was a wine expert. I was not.

In the private room of the exquisite London restaurant, I got my comeuppance when the President of Bollinger announced we would go round the table with each expert (that included me) offering their thoughts on this top-of-the-line Grande Année.

In a panic, I turned to the (fully qualified) Master of Wine next to me and told him I was a charlatan and in deep water. What on earth would I say?

He looked surprised at this and replied: “Remember, no one can taste what you taste. Just say whatever it is you think is right.”

It occurred to me much later that this advice was a great life lesson. Back yourself. Or, to use another well-worn phrase, ‘You do you’.

If you really believe in what you’re doing (or, indeed, tasting!) don’t take no for an answer. You don’t have to accept other peoples’ truth, particularly in relation to you and your areas of expertise.

Stand your ground, tell your story, sell your Big Idea.

After all, no one can taste what you taste. It’s just up to you to convince them that whatever you’re offering tastes great.

Screenshot of Smpl's Michael Millar reporting for the BBC
Michael telling stories, back in the day.

Life is made of stories

Another piece of wisdom I cling to is the maxim that ‘Life is made of stories’.

On your death bed, all you’ll have is the stories you created or were part of. So, you’d better make as many as you can in the time you’ve got.

But the true power of stories comes not just in making them; it comes from being able to tell them too.

This is as true professionally as it is in your personal life.

However clever you think your new product or service is, you can be sure that someone somewhere is doing something very similar. The one thing that can set you apart – every time – is your story and how you tell it.

That’s why stories must be at the core of how innovators and entrepreneurs sell their ideas to whoever needs to hear about them – be they investors, colleagues, bosses, or customers, or whoever. (I’ve written about how to master storytelling here).

Everything you do can (and should) have a narrative that creates value for your audience. And if you have a narrative, then you have a story.

If you apply storytelling correctly then even the most challenging and potentially mundane marketing tasks (creating a set of automated email follow ups, for example) suddenly become interesting to you and – more importantly – to your audience.

So, in a world of fantastically complicated algorithms, programmes, platforms, and channels, always remember that, at the end of the day, people want good stories. (Oh, wait, did I mention you can buy my books here…?)

Accept that NOBODY CARES

This is my favourite meme:

Toot toot

I show it to clients all the time to remind them of the biggest mistake people make when designing, developing, and marketing their products and services.

That mistake is to presume people will care about what you are doing.

Audiences are selfish, lazy, and ruthless. If you aren’t solving a problem, easing their pain, or fulfilling some need then they won’t care about your amazing, shiny, spinning widget thingy.

Always ask yourself: how does what I care about align with what my audience cares about? Your success lies in the sweet spot where those two things intersect.

If nothing else, ask: “Will this pass the ‘So What?’ test”.

If that’s the response you think you will get, or are actually getting, from the audience, then re-watch the meme and be honest about who your product and your messaging is really for.

Is it your audience? Or is it really to make you feel good?

Smpl's Michael Millar when he was a journalist, in body armour and helmet
“Hello? Yes, I wonder if you can help me. I’ve gone to war by mistake.”

I once went to war by mistake

Everyone has stories about waking up after a big night of partying and regretting what they’ve done.

Well, I once woke up and realisated I was going to war.

As a journalist I’d been invited to a PR firm’s office bash by an old friend. It turned out the company represented the British Army and after plying me with whisky, one astute PR exec got me signed up to go to Iraq.

I went, but not before learning the Arabic phrase: ‘la tutliquu alnaar, ana sahafi’… don’t shoot, I’m a journalist.

The time I spent there was quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, in both good and bad ways. War is horrible… and now I know too much about kill zones. But the people I met, the places I saw, the stories I heard, and the things I felt are an indelible part of me now.

There’s probably a lesson here about the importance of an inquisitive mind, taking risks, embracing new experiences, and getting the rewards.

But that’s lesson is for another time. I’m just here to tell stories… and this is a good one.

If you like to find out how you can define and tell the story of your brand, product, or service, get in touch.
You can email our MD Andreas, or leave us a message here.

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