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The Nando’s black card, Cockney Academics and the mystery of infectious ideas.

There are numerous questions in my life I’ve still yet to find satisfactory answers to.

Questions like…

How did Boy George end up making a guest appearance in the A team?

How can I get a Nando’s black card?

and, the one I’m contemplating at the moment….

Why do certain ideas, and in turn content, really spread?

Whilst I might have some ideas the reality is that the range and type of ideas which really spread seem to range from the educational and inspirational (Ted Talks are a prime example) all the way through to the massively silly (for instance the Youtube comedy due Smosh who have 20 million YouTube subscribers and who on this Monday  had 70 million video views in one day) all the way though to the seemingly mundane (Sophie, my 2 year old, loves watching a video where they make Play Doh lollipops – I thought it seemed boring – with 3.7 million views many disagree!)

Even when I write, although consistency, a degree of novelty and a pinch of niche has helped me build a decent audience who return to read my stuff, there’s certain articles which result in a spike in readers. The reality is that I’m still never sure which ideas will result in this spike.

So, I’m confused. I really can’t put my finger on why a particular idea or a bunch of ideas spread?

However there’s another question I’ve got some firmer ideas on….

Not Why.

But How ideas spread, and in particular in our profession.

Before I kick off with this let me say that I’m not a ‘marketing expert’ (if these actually exist), I haven’t got any marketing certificates and I might be wrong….but  let me share with you my idea.

Traditionally in our profession, and with the odd exception, ideas have been spread through distribution channels.

Historically these distribution channels have been via product providers, usually via adverts, sponsored seminars and stalls at industry events (basically anywhere where providers can buy ‘eyeballs’).

Now, whilst massively expensive, this approach obviously has an impact (if it didn’t these providers wouldn’t carry on doing it would they? would they?) it also has a couple of massive downsides.

Let’s talk about number one…

I ignore most adverts, never attend sponsored seminars (unless I’m speaking) and walk past and pass on the freebies at industry events (I really don’t need another cuddly toy for the kids or stress ball!).

It doesn’t help that the adverts and freebies are mostly the same (maybe not in style but mostly in content) and although there are a few renowned provider speakers who I like and respect, sharing ideas and sparking engagement, many just give a marginally disguised product pitch wrapped up in a dose of tedium.

Increasingly I’m finding that most of the people I’m lucky enough to talk to in our profession aren’t that interested in talking ‘product’. They’re more interested in genuinely sharing ideas, actively finding solutions to their clients problems and discussing innovation. Therefore the ‘product’ pitch is never going to work, especially if it’s thinly veiled as something else!

So, why do most providers think this is going to work? and how much money is spent taking an identikit approach when most people just stroll by and even if they do engage and have grabbed a free pen, had a quick chat and moved on?

However there are some providers who are sharing genuine ideas and engaging experts who really know their stuff.

One of the providers who currently do this at the moment is Aviva.

Which brings me onto my second point…

The content Aviva have been producing with Professor Paul Dolan (Prominent Social Scientist, funky glasses wearer and the only Academic I know with a cockney accent – for numerous obvious reasons I’m a fan) has been relatively good.

However I believe that all of the large product firms, including Aviva, have an issue.

Only a few short years ago many advisers looked for the best ideas from providers.

Due to both commission, the assumed connection between size of company and level of expertise (which doesn’t and has never existed) and a bunch of other reasons the relationship between adviser and provider was paternal. Due to this paternal relationship certain providers had access to the ear of many advisers and therefore could share their ideas regardless of whether these ideas were good, bad or indifferent.

More often or not these ‘ideas’ weren’t about delivering a better service, or how to run the business in a smarter way but how to sell more of their particular product.

Many providers seem to find it tough to move away from this approach….

Even though the Aviva stuff is among the best I’ve seen one of their videos contains the phrase “Selling Pensions”.

I’m sorry Aviva, but you’re shouldn’t have done that.

I’m Sorry Aviva, but I don’t care about selling pensions but actually care about helping my clients to achieve their financial goals. That usually means talking about pension issues however it doesn’t mean “selling pensions”.

I’m sorry Aviva but our clients don’t pay us to sell pensions. Our clients pay us for professional advice.

Now Maybe it  was accidental, maybe it was a Freudian slip, or maybe it was intentional. However hearing that phrase put me off immediately and counteracted a lot of the good ideas these videos had explored.

So, if paternalism is over, and I’d suggest that if it isn’t there yet it’s on the way out, how do ideas spread now?

I reckon ideas now spread more quickly not from the top down, but side to side.

I reckon (and this is a danger for large providers) that an idea, if a good one and if the advocate is committed enough doesn’t need buckets of cash, or adverts, or stands at exhibitions to make it spread far and wide.


I reckon ideas now spread in like minded communities. Not through advertising but through genuine sharing and engagement of ideas.

There’s a few ‘provider’ people who seem to get this.

They write relevant good quality content, they engage and share ideas.

They show themselves as interesting, engaging people.

They don’t pretend that because they work for a ‘big provider firm’ that their perspective is always right.

So, I might not know why certain ideas spread…but I reckon I do know how.

They spread from one interesting, engaging individual to another.

What do you think?

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