Ben Little is co-founder of Fearlessly Frank, an innovation consultancy.
What better person to help us find harmony amidst the noise of marketing and tech in 2019.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I am co-founder of Fearlessly Frank along with my partner Wayne Guthrie. We’re an innovation consultancy, so we drive growth for existing companies as well as incubating up-and-coming businesses.
As co-founder, my daily workload could be anything from meeting with an exciting new start-up to figuring out how a big international brand is going to be making money next year, in five years time, and so on.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Wayne and I are co-founders, so we share executive duties, and work closely with our management team and chairman. But we operate a flat model. Good ideas can come from anywhere, so we don’t really think of it as “reporting in.” It’s an inclusive, collaborative process.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
There aren’t many businesses doing what we do so there’s no real roadmap for success. But the essence is helping to create new products and services to drive growth, so it’s a mix of entrepreneurial intuition and having the sensibility to understand our clients and what they do.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I have a young daughter, so I’m up early. I like to start the day by meditating, I’m a big fan of the Headspace app – we’ve worked closely with the founders since the very beginning. From there, it could be anything – there is no “typical” day.
Sometimes it’s heading out to investment pitches at SXSW, sometimes it’s hunkering down in the office, sometimes it’s meeting clients, sometimes it’s pitching in on the creative. It all depends, but we have a lot of exciting projects going on, so it’s never dull.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
It’s a cliché — but if you’re going to work for yourself you’ve got to love what you do. And I do genuinely love what I do — especially the eclectic nature. I have the freedom to go from the board of a huge FTSE-500 company to a round table at a start-up, all in a day.
It’s exhilarating to hear the CEO of a market-leading company say that you’ve changed the way they think about a certain issue. I wouldn’t say there’s any part of it that sucks, really. If something sucked I wouldn’t want to do it. Life’s too short.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
A successful business operates on four forms of capital. Economic — which is your cash-in-bank revenue. Social, which is your connections and networking ability. Cultural — are you representing a relevant sector? And finally, symbolic capital — are you building something meaningful?
I think it’s important to take a holistic view of a company. You can’t just get bogged down in financial growth. You have to be always delivering against multiple aspects in order to have a truly successful business.
Being able to deliver against all four is my main goal professionally. And my personal goals? To be a good husband and father.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
The most vital tool is a great team. I learned, in the early days, to always hire people that are better than me. Consequently, we’ve ended up building a formidable team, who don’t just get the job done but go way beyond that. And the results speak for themselves.
How did you end up starting Fearlessly Frank, and where might you go from here?
We saw an emerging space between conventional marketing and management consulting. There was nobody providing an end-to-end service in innovation, and very few people playing there at all. Most companies have business as usual down to a tee. But when you come to innovate you need totally different conditions. There aren’t many consultancies who focus on that, but we’ve made it a core part of Fearlessly Frank. And today we take our process across Europe, the US and Asia, for some of the world’s leading companies, as well as our own portfolio of start-ups.
I see the future of FF being twofold: expanding international reach, and building out our portfolio of start-ups. This would allow us to step outside of the conventional service-based model and into something even more exciting and entrepreneurial—hopefully, going somewhere no other consultancy has gone before.
Which brand strategies do you admire?
The brands I admire are the companies who live their brand philosophy through products and services that aid genuine customer needs, as opposed to wrapping their brand up in sexy comms. The conventional sales tack of ‘let’s do some branding and advertising and it will generate sales’ is dead.
What customers are looking for is genuine products and companies they can have a meaningful relationship with. People don’t buy advertising, they buy products and services. And those brands that live and die by what they create, not what they say, are the ones I admire. But I think we’re moving into a period of history where it isn’t even enough to just build good products and services. Companies will also have to create a meaningful difference to the planet and its inhabitants.
Now that Apple is the most valuable company that has ever existed, it has the power to do huge good in the world and with that comes huge responsibility. So the shift will be from companies that create successful products, to companies that create successful products but also do some good at the same time.
Do you have any advice for marketers dealing with all the noise in tech and media?
Marketing has somewhat lost its way in the last ten years. Once upon a time it was relatively simple. There were a few channels that we all understood. Now the options are endless. So my advice would be; there is never any silver bullet solution. Don’t be hoodwinked by the latest technology. Tech for the sake of tech will not answer your questions.
Good old-fashioned strategic thinking, understanding customer requirements, creating the products and services people want — that’s what ultimately grows businesses. Not the latest social influencers, gadgets, blockchain — whatever. Make sure you’re providing what people want, that your audience is well-defined and not generic, and that tech is the tool to implement thinking, not a replacement for thinking.