Buyer Experience Design PSD

How to launch a school without talking about it or using digital (GTM Strategy)

In this digital age, it’s rare to find a marketing campaign that avoids the usual digital trappings where marketers are obsessed with SEO, organic or ads.

GTM with a twist.

My agency was tasked with launching a brand-new school, where we took an unconventional path, and the results? Well, they were nothing short of groundbreaking.

The Initial Brief: More Than Just a School
A decade ago, my agency was approached by a real estate developer with an intriguing assignment: craft an identity for their new school.

As discussions progressed, it became clear that this was more than just a branding exercise. This school was to be a beacon, elevating the entire neighbourhood’s appeal to families and thereby boosting local property values.

Armed with this understanding, I recognized the mission’s depth—it was about creating a community centrepiece.

Reimagining Competition: It’s About Parents’ Time
In a brainstorming session with the client leadership, I hit upon a realization that shifted our entire GTM strategy: our real competitor wasn’t other schools but rather the precious time of busy parents. To make an impression, we had to offer something invaluable.

Choosing to sidestep typical advertising routes, I recommended an out-of-the-box approach: host a drawing and painting competition, complete with appealing prizes, delicious food, and a mesmerizing magic show. This event wasn’t merely promotional; it was crafted to immerse parents and children in the school’s ethos.

We cleverly designed the experience and communication to make it easy for parents to choose the painting competition over other weekend activities.

We didn’t mention or talk about the school, building, staff, or curriculum in any communication. Get my drift?

We ran billboards and print ads in the local papers to promote the painting competition.

little girl holding white paper with rainbow drawing
Photo by RDNE Stock project on

The Result: Organic, Genuine Success
The day of the event was a testament to our strategy’s efficacy. Parents flocked in large numbers, experiencing the school’s environment firsthand, meeting with teachers, and genuinely visualizing their children thriving within those walls.

And by the close of the day, our enrollment for the inaugural batch was set.

The Lesson I Learned: Deep Dive into Your Audience’s Desires
This journey underscored a fundamental principle in marketing: the profound importance of truly understanding your audience. By focusing on what parents genuinely sought—a nurturing and enriching space for their kids—we were able to present the school in an authentic and impactful manner.

For marketers everywhere, my story serves as a reminder: be in harmony with your target audience’s needs and desires. When you craft strategies that resonate deeply, success often follows.

Buyer Experience Design PSD

The Stoic Coach: Stop talking. Start listening.

Coaching, within a stoic framework, is a journey of personal transformation.

At the core, both Stoicism and coaching thrive on introspection, self-improvement, and resilience. They foster a deep sense of understanding, empowering individuals to navigate their paths with wisdom. Both respect the boundary of control, focusing on self-development and facilitating others to do the same.

The Stoic’s pursuit of virtue aligns seamlessly with the coach’s commitment to unlocking potential, making them two sides of the same transformational coin.

In my journey, the principles of Stoicism and coaching harmoniously intertwined, creating a profound impact. Early in my career, each problem presented itself as a puzzle, which I, in my well-intentioned desire to control, felt compelled to solve. However, my perspective shifted under the guidance of mentors Aneesh Bhanot (Read this first), Ambar MehrotraEtinder Pal Singh and many more, including 📚 Michael Bungay Stanier‘s books, who embodied the stoic virtue of wisdom and the coach-like approach of questioning.

Understanding the Stoic Challenge

The challenge, borrowing from Stoic principles, lies in understanding that our role as a coach is not to control the outcomes of others but to guide them towards finding their own solutions. We must temper our “Advice Monster,” the internal force that pushes us to affirm our value through advice-giving, which is essentially a form of attempting to control the uncontrollable.

The Coaching Habit: Embracing Stoic Wisdom through Questions

“The Coaching Habit” introduces a series of transformative conversation techniques that echo Stoic wisdom. The seven key questions foster deeper engagement and self-discovery, much like a Stoic encourages introspection and self-improvement.

By asking questions such as “What’s the real challenge here for you?” or “If you say yes to this task, what are you saying no to?” we emulate the Stoic practice of inviting introspection and promoting self-discovery.

Here are all seven questions:

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?” This invites your coachee to bring forward their pressing concerns.
  2. The AWE Question: “And what else?” This question encourages a deeper exploration of the topic.
  3. The Focus Question: “What’s the real challenge here for you?” This narrows the scope, pinpointing the critical issues.
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?” This query clarifies the desired outcomes and goals.
  5. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?” This question facilitates a direct request for help, reducing assumptions.
  6. The Strategic Question: “If you say yes to this, what are you saying no to?” This question illuminates the trade-offs of every decision.
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful for you?” This question allows reflection and reinforces learning.

Consider a scenario where a team member struggles with workload management. Traditional advice-giving might involve dictating a new schedule. However, utilizing the Coaching Habit framework, you might ask, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” or “If you say yes to this task, what are you saying no to?” This facilitates self-realization and helps your coachee arrive at their own solutions.

The Advice Trap: Taming the Stoic’s Advice Monster

“The Advice Trap” resonates with the stoic concept of understanding what is within our control. Bungay Stanier identifies three types of Advice Monsters that we need to tame to become effective Stoic coaches:

  • Tell It: Always offering unsolicited advice.
  • Save It: Seeking to shield others from challenges.
  • Control It: Striving for constant control over situations and outcomes.

These Advice Monsters embody our misguided attempts to control what is not within our control, disrupting our effectiveness as Stoic coaches.

As a leader, if you find yourself jumping into problem-solving mode the moment a challenge arises, you might be dealing with a “Tell It” Advice Monster. Identifying this helps you recalibrate your approach and nurture a more facilitative role.

Building Your Stoic Coaching Habit: Actionable Steps

To cultivate an effective Stoic coaching habit, consider the following steps, each resonating with Stoic principles:

  1. Identify Your Advice Monster: Reflect on when and why you resort to giving advice.
  2. Practice Active Listening: Focus on understanding, mirroring the Stoic emphasis on perception overreaction.
  3. Incorporate the Seven Key Questions: Habitually use these questions in your conversations, embodying the Stoic practice of introspection.
  4. Allocate Time for Reflection: Post-conversation, assess what worked and what can be improved, in line with the Stoic practice of evening reflection.
  5. Extend Your Curiosity: Resist the immediate urge to advise, reflecting the Stoic principle of maintaining control over your impulses.
  6. Embrace Mindfulness: Develop self-awareness around your triggers and responses, a fundamental tenet in Stoicism.
  7. Solicit Feedback: Seek feedback actively, mirroring the Stoic focus on continuous self-improvement.

Remember, transitioning from an advice-giver to a Stoic coach is a journey of learning and unlearning. It requires patience, practice, and a deep commitment to helping others find their own path. As we embrace Stoic principles in our coaching journey, we become facilitators of discovery, growth, and empowerment, truly embodying the Stoic virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation.


How to design like a writer

Dear design leaders,

I invite you to adopt a new perspective – design like a writer. Intrigued? Allow me to explain.

In the whirlwind of user personas, journey maps, and frameworks, we often forget to zoom out, losing sight of the story we are trying to tell. So engrossed are we in the function and form of our designs we often lose the thread of narrative that binds everything together.

So let’s momentarily detach ourselves from the practicalities and look toward a field known for its storytelling mastery – screenwriting. What if, like screenwriters, we transform users into protagonists and interfaces into compelling narratives? And what if we could inspire our teams to harness this narrative power, fostering deeper connections through our designs?

As design leaders, our role is akin to that of a screenwriter and an editor. Our audience, the users, are invited on an emotional journey. They aren’t mere spectators; they’re active participants immersed in a narrative that elicits empathy, fosters connection, and caters to the human need for understanding.

Let’s take the example of the 1994 film, “The Shawshank Redemption,” a paragon of screenwriting and editing that invites viewers to experience the life of Andy Dufresne, wrongfully imprisoned and fighting against despair. The audience feels Andy’s fear, hope, and ultimate joy of freedom through this journey.

Psychology tells us humans can attribute mental states, beliefs, desires, and perspectives to others through the Theory of Mind. This theory is instrumental in our understanding and empathy toward Andy’s experiences, despite never having been in his shoes. This capacity to understand and empathize is the golden key a screenwriter uses to unlock a compelling narrative that connects with the audience on a profound level.

This notion resonates with the Socratic approach to learning, built on the foundation of observation and curiosity. Prolific screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino are a testament to this, drawing inspiration from their surroundings to create strikingly human narratives.

Similarly, Charles and Ray Eames, design legends, transformed ordinary objects into iconic designs through their powers of observation. Dieter Rams’ principles of good design are a testament to his meticulous observance of the world around him.

So, how can we channel this observational prowess and narrative magic into our designs? Here are a few critical steps inspired by the principles of storytelling:

Uncovering the Subtext:

Much like how Tarantino uses the unseen contents of a briefcase to create intrigue in ‘Pulp Fiction,’ we can employ subtext in our designs. Identify the core motivations of your users, subtly express these motivations through interactions, and align your subtext with the tone and expectations of your product. Share my password feature, anyone?

Stirring Emotions:

Just as Christopher Nolan takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions in ‘Inception,’ aim to create an emotional journey for your users. Structure your flows to guide users through emotional highs and lows, using design elements to evoke these emotions at the right moments. In banking, for example, one has to introduce friction when a user is trying to send money.  

Creating Your Product’s Dialogue:

Your product’s copy is its voice. Understand your audience and craft clear, concise copy that embodies your brand. Use action words to guide users. Write in terms that your users use. Avoid jargon and technobabble. 

Stepping Beyond Sameness:

Sorkin never sticks to conventional screenplay structures, so why should we rely on design templates? Instead, understand your users, challenge the norm, embrace the uniqueness of each user and product, and iterate based on feedback. Work & Co embodies the right approach to redesigning the Virgin America website.  

In conclusion, remember, we’re not merely arranging pixels on a screen. We’re crafting experiences, telling stories, and creating emotions. 

If you have yet to figure it out by now, it is not just about the function. The form is equally important, like a body with a soul. So, let’s weave some cinematic magic into our designs and craft narratives that genuinely resonate with our users.

Your advocate for humans and great design experiences.

A fellow designer.