So you failed. What now ...

Failure is an experience that no entrepreneur wants to encounter, yet one that pretty much everyone will. On Monocle 24 Radio's The Entrepreneurs show I was asked what happens when your luck runs out and the best ways to bounce back, and boy I should know ... 

I'm Mark Jennings, the founder of Shaken Cocktails, a cocktail-subscription start-up. Shaken, however, no longer exists, we shipped our final box back in June. Shaken had a growing customer base, secured promising deals with spirits brands and went through a number of successful funding rounds. So what made the company go under? And what did I learn from the experience?

Listen here to find out.

Campaign Review – The Glenlivet Guardians’ Chapter

In 2013 one of my favourite engagements was to work on The Glenlivet account for Aesop, and on their biggest campaign to date ... The Guardians' Chapter.

In the role of Digital Director I wrote the digital strategy, advised on social media strategy, content curation and measurements and built up the development team. It was a great example of fully integrated planning and delivery, mixing the best of on and offline engagement to create a true world first.   


What is it?

When a whisky brand usually creates a new whisky it is up to the master distiller to choose from the aged casks which spirit will make the perfect dram. He does this pretty much alone and the customers’ only interaction is to buy the whisky once it has been bottled. We set out to change that.    

The objective?

Instead of the whisky fans being at the end of the process, switch it around and put them at the start. Give The Glenlivet’s fans the chance to choose the whisky that would be bottled, rewarding their loyalty and creating a world first along the way: appropriate for “the whisky that started it all”.


First, The Glenlivet’s Master Distiller Alan Winchester created three expressions: 3 different whiskies, all with their own characteristics, flavours and tasting notes.

Now, the hard part, how to get over the barrier of “participation inequality”. There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to taste the whisky, but unless we gave it all away for free, precious little of it to go around. How can you vote on a whisky you haven’t tasted?

The solution 

We created a personality for each of the three whisky expressions, relevant to their taste and ingredients of The Glenlivet’s history and brand: Classic, Exotic, and Revival. Read more about the specifics of each whisky here.

As well as Global Tasting events in America, UK, Canada, India, South Africa, Japan and beyond, we also created a content space online called the Guardian’s Hub where each of these three expressions was brought to life, with articles including the likes of Classic Bars, Exotic tailoring or Revival architecture, were regularly served up, giving those who might not get to actually taste the whisky, a chance to define their own taste. They were then able to use this journey to help vote on the expression that most represented them.

The Glenlivet Guardian Chapter - Voting.png

Through voting apps at events, and on the Guardian’s Hub online, participants could vote for their favourite expression, or change their vote if they were so persuaded, and with your vote being made public, you had added incentive to share with your friends to help support the dram you most wanted to see bottled.                

The Glenlivet Guardian Chapter - Home.png

The results

The campaign ran for 4 months and had massive interaction on the Guardian’s Hub, at the events and through social media. People voted in 39 countries around the world and at the end, celebrated the final winner ... The Exotic, in shops in March 2014.  



A good brief and client is one thing, but you need a great team to pull it off. On this project I was involved from the very start and worked closely with a brilliant planner. We gelled immediately and in one room over just a few hours managed to shape and reshape then define the core of the idea in a way that would both look and feel right, but also be technically profound. This ensured that everyone else involved on the project had a clear focus. I have to say was a joy to work on.        

After the campaign finished I was given a set of the three very rare Chapter Whisky Expressions as a momento

After the campaign finished I was given a set of the three very rare Chapter Whisky Expressions as a momento

Nice feedback from Ian, The Glenlivet's Global Ambassador

Nice feedback from Ian, The Glenlivet's Global Ambassador

I even appear at 43 seconds into this video

Things to know before hiring an agency for your social media campaign

"You don’t hire the agency, you hire the people"

I did a radio show entitled "Things to know before hiring an agency for your social media campaign" earlier this year, it went down really well.

For those who prefer long form, they transcribed it here:

Part One: Things to know before hiring an agency for your social media campaign

Part Two: What a Social Media Agency Shouldn't Do

Or, listen to the radio show here.



Never mind the book, does the bookshop have a future?

With the advent of e-readers, and an increasingly technologically literate public, do we really still need them?  Well, yes – if they want it.

A guest blog by Sara Thomas @lirazelf

There is a bookshop in the west end of Glasgow called Voltaire & Rousseau.  The shelves are stacked floor to ceiling, it smells of old paper, and there is a waist-high pile of books by the till upon which is curled a permanently snoozing cat.  I cannot see it as the type of place to offer coffee (although there’s an excellent tea house just round the corner) or do a 3 for 2 offer (although there’s a £1 section by the door).  The shop next door sells vinyl.  These are places which have found their niche.  Voltaire & Rousseau would certainly never launch their own e-reader, the event which sparked a conversation between myself and Mark on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, which led to this blog.

The Death Of The Book has been discussed endlessly, with a tiresome repetitiveness matched only by that which accompanies the assertion that Rock is Dead, or that it Wasn’t Like This In My Day.  I wonder how long it was after Defoe had finished Moll Flanders that some ragged urchin was telling him that it was all over, that the bubble had burst, that the market was forever changed and would no longer support the format.  With Borders gone, and Ottakers a distant memory, it’s the turn of the Death of the Bookshop.

As someone who worked in and studied popular music for a good few years, the eye-rollingly tiresome nature of the various debates surrounding e-books and the Death of [well, insert your chosen format here] is compounded because I’ve heard it all before.  The book industry could, I think, learn from the failure of the major labels to adapt to the changing marketplace.  For years they stood stubborn, presenting sob stories of falling revenue, piling blame for the supposed demise of the industry upon every teenager in her bedroom who didn’t want to pay £15 for an album mostly made up of filler material.  Sod that, she said, and went to the Pirate Bay instead, and spent her cash on gig tickets and merchandise.  The purchasing landscape changed, vinyl became a cult niche, the CD faded almost out of existence and the label-less musician managed fine.  The indie record shop didn’t do so well, granted.

One of the main differences, of course, is that we’ve been pirating books for years, in the form of library lending, and far from vilifying these institutions who brazenly lend material – for free! – to the general public, we declare them to be centres of cultural enrichment.  (Even the ones that have the bloody Twilight series on their shelves.)  We fight to preserve them.  When it comes to words, we seem to have understood at one point at least that reading begets reading.

One thing that the e-reader/e-book could maybe offer is a resurgence for different formats.  The short story lends itself perfectly to the hardware.  Whereas I resent paying £8 for a downloadable book, I wouldn’t at all mind paying 50p or £1 for a short story.  Word for word, the writer gets the better deal with the latter.  With Neil Gaiman recently lending his support to the tweetathon to save the short story, in reaction to Radio 4’s declining support for it, it seems that we have a renewed interest in the form.

I’d like to see a branch of Waterstones where I could wander amongst the physical books, then either download them in the shop onto an e-reader (cable? QR code?), or buy the physical copy.  There is something about (and I do hate this word, but it does get the point across) the element of discoverability which a physical bookshop offers, which is (as yet) unavailable online.  Shopping for a present for a friend recently I looked (in vain) for something about darts (it seemed like a good idea, she plays), but wandering from shelf to shelf, from floor to floor, I found myself looking at a book about film theory and then at the eventual purchase; a gloriously packaged hardback dedicated to creating the perfect vintage tea party.  “People who bought this also liked…” has never produced similar results, in my experience.  All nostalgic paper-junkie longing aside, there are genuine advantages to the real life bookshop – and I wonder if the key to the survival of that experience is the embrace of new technology in a way that the music industry didn’t manage quickly enough.

Sara Thomas is an iPhone owning paper junkie who used to work in live music venues, and has a PhD in American Popular Metal 1994-2004.  She now works as a charity fundraiser, and writes poems and short stories.  She can be found @lirazelf ranting about something or other. 

The man who pushed at doors – a look at pseudo systems.

When I was 14 my family and I holidayed in America. We were in the airport on the return journey heading to the departure gate when we reached a closed door. There was a huge sign saying that an alarm would go off if opened so we stopped and waited. There were a few people also waiting but it did not feel right. We were not at the gate and the time was ticking down.

Eventually, without announcement, my father got up and walked through the door. Alarms went off, and even a warning light. I remember clearly that the nearby guard reached for his gun. I was mortified.

I thought of this yesterday for the first time in years but now I see it entirely differently. You see my father had decided that we needed to be beyond the door and that was where he was going – sign or no sign. Against the potential embarrassment of setting off an alarm, and the admonishment of his teenage son, he had made up his mind.

In Aberdeen where I grew up there are two shopping centres opposite one another. During a busy Saturday there is an almost constant stream of people going between the two but something strange happens. Of the 8 doors on each people are cramming themselves into the 2 or 3 that are open. There is no problem with the other 5 doors, just that the crowd intellect decides that attempting to open them may lead to embarrassment.  I love watching this for longer than I really should. It is human nature personified. The crowd have adopted a pseudo system that is unconsciously unchallenged.  This system is adopted from years of fearing embarrassment from standing out, from failing in front of their peers.  

Given the choice I would sooner push at the closed door.


The concept of a brand as a veneer is dead but are we expecting too much of brands, as they explore social media, to allow them to fail?

At Likeminds I asked the second session panel whether we are expecting too much of brands using social media to allow them to fail? My premise is this: we descry a brand when it doesn’t engage in the social space, but shoot them down when they try to engage too fast and fail.
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The power of FREE: Would you use the word on your website?

This started off when I advised a friend to remove the words FREE from their website: because he is in the consultancy game and I felt that this devalued the whole offering if anything was FREE.

After I sent him that rather forward email I started questioning my own reasons for the advice and what had led me to feel that FREE was not right for him. In fact, why is FREE not something he should shout about? FREE sounds amazing. We all love something FREE. Surely anyone looking at the site would want to phone him immediately?

Is it because it has the potential to look more ‘desperate’ than one is meant to, is it because you mostly see FREE associated with products in spaces where the overall value is low originally e.g. supermarkets, or it is my own cynicism of the true value of FREE such as "buy one get one free" - a great device to sell you the product you didn't aim in to buy yet you came home with 2 of them, and still felt it was a good deal. We are all guilty of that one.

I think it is a combination of all of these but it is linked to another favourite of mine – how strategically important that first value you pay for something is in centring that value in your brain as a kind of barometer of cost. It is always easier to come down from a value, the minds needs to want to do this naturally but raising a value - much harder. Take buying petrol, because we can all remember roughly what it cost when we started driving we will always feel that it is expensive, and even a penny increase causes widespread grumbling. If my friend centred his business value at FREE for part of the service, what is the maximum value he could hope to charge when FREE was used up? By the opposite contrast I have a friend who has a fixed day rate of £4000. Would you imagine pay that? People do: to them his value is worth it, and he can always decide to lower it as required. It means he only needs to work on selected projects, or things that interest him. But never FREE.

This is of course not intended to drive the point home to my friend, nor to criticise businesses where FREE is a core part of a successful sales promotion, but really to challenge you to think of the value placed on FREE and especially how we use that initial value to gauge whether subsequent purchases are cheap or expensive, and how this centring affects our own positioning.

Do you agree, am I wrong? Make your voice heard below and with me on Twitter @markofrespect