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  • Nicky

Here’s to never standing still

Updated: Jul 31, 2018

Sharks have to keep swimming or they die. We’ve all heard the saying. Have you ever stopped to question if it’s true? When it comes to analogising, the facts become secondary – borderline irrelevant – compared to the picture it conveys. In this instance, one of sustained effort, stamina and sheer determination to survive.


Funny, then, that it is the workplace where I have heard this quoted most. Aside from a select few jobs (typically in the medical and protection fields), “work” is not a life or death situation. The urge to “keep swimming” by virtue of moving forwards in a career is, more often than not, for personal gain such as a higher pay bracket, an important-sounding title, or to enhance one’s knowledge or skill set. It is not to avoid death.


Coupled with the notion that sharks must keep swimming, is the generally accepted belief that sharks cannot swim backwards. Ergo, their only option is to move forward in a continual motion in order to stay alive.


Herein lies the issue.


Whilst moving forward conjures up all sorts of positive connotations around progress and improvement, going backwards suggests the opposite. “One step forward, and two steps back,” “We’re back to square one,” and so on and so forth.


There is, however, a combination of the two motions that make for increased clarity, bigger opportunities and greater rewards.



When I joined Amazon in 2012, I was overwhelmed by acronyms. Not so much what the letters stood for, but the sheer volume of variations. Thankfully there was an induction course – aptly titled Amazon 101 – that I and around 20 other fresh-faced newbies were given the opportunity to attend within our first few months of employment. It was there that I first heard the sentence that forms the cornerstone of the company’s foundations:


Start with the customer and work backwards.

I was – and still am - in awe of what this simple statement achieves. At first, it seemed like a logical mantra of putting the customer at the centre of the business – “the customer is always right” et cetera – but there’s no mention of a centre, a core or any shape wherein customers could be placed in the middle. Instead the instruction is to work backward. To essentially reverse-engineer sales and marketing efforts; deconstructing the thoughts, feelings and requirements of potential customers first to extract knowledge and insights, which in turn inform vital strategies.


In my career to date, I would struggle to count the number of times that personal whim and subjectivity have dictated direction, rather than a considered and calibrated strategy. Whereby the rush to “put something – anything - out” takes precedence over the fundamentals of planning and performance.


What is the value in putting spend behind link posts and carousels on social media if you don’t know who you are targeting and why?


Likewise, why put resource and funding into an influencer marketing collaboration without first establishing “what good looks like”? What are you hoping to achieve? What are the benchmarks? Who are you targeting? What mechanisms are in place for optimisation? How will you measure success?

How will you determine ROI?


To execute a successful marketing campaign, or indeed run a business, is to first identify the end goal.


For Jeff Bezos and co., the end goal for Amazon was to establish customer trust and ensure satisfaction – to be “earth’s most customer-centric company”.


For me, the end goal of setting up H!LANDER was to achieve a healthier work / life balance whilst undertaking select projects that I truly enjoy and feel inspired by. Of course, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed (both canine and feline!), but ultimately my decision to go it alone was made on health grounds. Working backwards, it is easy to see that by working less (or different) hours on projects that I’m genuinely excited by will undoubtedly contribute to my ultimate objective of improved physical and mental wellbeing.

Marketing isn’t a game of survival – keep moving forward or you die… It is to live in a world where words and pictures can infer, inspire and influence. It’s an opportunity to inject life into campaigns, creative, and the hearts and minds of audiences all around the globe.



And I for one, am not a shark.

I may move forward, but I work backwards.

Now think on that….