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How to Tell If Your Brand Is in Adolescence with Evelyn Starr

September 6, 2021
Episode 29
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

After an initial growth period of several years, it’s quite common for a business to hit an inflection point where they start to level off or even start to struggle. 

In this episode Evelyn Starr and Alastair McDermott discuss how this happens and what you can do about it. Evelyn uses the analogy of teen adolescence to help identify the signs your brand might be in this period, and how to course-correct so you can start scaling again. 

They also discuss the perils of working on a project without direct access to the client.


Show Notes

Guest Bio

Evelyn Starr is an author, brand expert, and marketing consultant. Evelyn uses her keen powers of observation and insight to help clients wow their customers and grow their businesses. She specializes in working with Brands in Adolescence, brands that have stalled after their initial success.


people, business, book, brand, consultants, clients, niche, alastair, marketing, talk, adolescence, problem, absolutely, skype, world, bit, guidelines, douglas, market, united states

Alastair McDermott, Voiceover, Evelyn Starr


Evelyn Starr  00:00

And so they embarked upon a couple years of research to see what their customers needed and how the customers were talking about the brand. And the result of that was already in the United States. We were shortening Federal Expects to FedEx. So they took the new brand name from the customers, which was really a great thing. And then they overnight rebranded everything, their envelopes, their planes, their trucks, it’s like a light switch here. And by doing that, they showed that they were really adept at logistics, they could execute things overnight. On top of that branding, and those sort of visual depiction of how they were leaders.


Voiceover  00:39

Welcome to The Recognized Authority, the podcast that helps specialized consultants and domain experts on your journey to become known as an authority in your field. So you can increase your reach, have more impact and work with great clients. Here’s your host, Alastair McDermott.


Alastair McDermott  00:54

So Evelyn, thank you so much for being with us here today. I’m really interested to talk to you because I heard you on Douglas’s podcast, and Douglas cost me a lot of money, because every time he talks about a cool book, I have to go and buy it. So yes, you were talking about your book, “Teenage Wastebrand”. And I just really like to dig into that with you about how did you come up with the title and what is it all about. Can you can you talk to us a little bit about that?


Evelyn Starr  01:18

Yes. The premise of the book is that brands, personal brands, and company brands go through an adolescence just like humans do. And the title of the book, “Teenage Wastebrand” is a play on a lyric from The Who’s song Baba O’Riley, which you know, it says Teenage Wasteland. I’m not going to attempt to sing that for your audience. But that’s, it’s a play on that title.  And the title is meant to do two things. One is to sort of grab attention, of course, but the other is that the way I’ve written the book is very much in a cultural context, and American cultural context. But I think that a lot of the references have become International. And so by writing a title that references the culture, I’m signaling to people that this isn’t going to be your usual business read, there’s actually going to be a my hope is a lot more fun.


Alastair McDermott  02:09

Excellent. He talked about how your brand can stop struggling and start scaling. And a lot of the people who are listening to this will be personal brands, they will be consultants with solo, solopreneur. I hate that word but people use it, solopreneur type businesses, entrepreneurial experts, those types of people, maybe with a very small firm. So can we talk about that adolescence, and that development? Like what what is that lifecycle or that kind of progression of the brand? Can you tell us a little bit about that?


Evelyn Starr  02:35

I’m defining brand adolescence a little less technically than Brad Farris did, because he’s talking about all the different stages. For me, it’s really that first point, after your brand has had lift off, and it’s been in the market for a while where it stalls at plateaus, you’ve reached a point where it’s not growing as fast as it used to, tapering off a little bit, maybe even declining a little bit. And the marketing or other things that you’ve been doing to attract business might not be working anymore. And that’s what usually bewilders people is, you know, for a while this was working so well, what stopped?


Alastair McDermott  03:11

So let’s dig into that then. So why does it plateau? Like if it was working, why isn’t it not working anymore? Because this is really infuriating for people because it was working?


Evelyn Starr  03:20

Well, it’s important to, in order to explain that I need to sort of talk about what a brand is, personal brand, people have an idea of it, especially like you, I’m a solo professional. That’s the term I use, because I also hate solopreneur it just,


Alastair McDermott  03:34



Evelyn Starr  03:35

It doesn’t rub me the right way. And as a solo professional, my personal brand is my business brand. But you still are not the complete owner of your brand. You’re not the complete creator of the brand, you go out into the world and are who you are and do business the way you do business.  But your brand exists in the minds of your audience. And every time you have an interaction with them, whether to direct interaction personally, where they see a post of yours on social media or they see you speak somewhere all of those experiences factor into their idea of what your brand is, it’s like they have a file in their brain and they file them over and over.  And so your brand is actually what they expect. They’re going to get the next time they encounter you based on all those experiences. The way that plays into brand adolescence is when you start your consultancy, you put out into the world, here I am, this is what I do. This is who I am. And you get that shot to define yourself after being in the world for a while though, and people experience your brand, the things that stick out to them and the way that they know you may not be the things that you put forth for yourself.  So let me be a little bit more tangible in that and say that my career prior to going out on my own was in the consumer insights business market research. When I went out on my own. I several years in I asked people to give me feedback was the first three words they thought of when they thought of me and my brand. And I expected consumer insights and research and organization and projects and those kinds of things I did. And what I got was radically different that attributes that rose to the top were trustworthy, reliable, intelligent, and yeah, so last one, I got there thorough. Okay. And those are Don’t get me wrong, Allister. Those are incredibly flattering, but I never would have come up with those in a million years.


Alastair McDermott  05:30

Yeah, absolutely. And, okay, so so we’re talking about the split between expectation and the expectation that you have set up with your marketing initially, and then what people are actually experiencing from your brand. So your brand does they experience it? Yeah.


Evelyn Starr  05:45

Right, exactly. So brand, adolescence is where a gap has developed sufficiently between the way that you are putting your brand into the world and the way that it is being perceived to the point where your messages, your original messages aren’t resonating anymore. And you need that feedback from your audience. And you need to be in touch with your audience to understand how they perceive you to make sure that your messages are reaching them.


Alastair McDermott  06:05

Yeah. So you talked about brand as expectation. And I’ve heard within marketing, I’ve heard like a million definitions of what brand actually is, there seems to be a new definition from from every different marketing expert in the world. So I’ve heard brand as reputation. So brand is your reputation, or what people perceive to be your reputation when you’re not around. And my brand, is the story people tell about you behind your back, those types of thing. So that’s kind of what I’m thinking about. And so you in your, in your marketing, you were setting up one story, but actually the story that people are telling has split becomes something different. Is that, is that what we’re talking about? Yeah,


Evelyn Starr  06:42

Yeah, it’s evolved based on their experience with you.


Alastair McDermott  06:45

Yeah. And so if we’re, because I’m coming from a software background, so what happens is, we have two strands of the same software product, we need to take both branches, we need to merge them back together. So is that what you’re doing here? You’re kind of merging what your initial part of the brand is back with people’s expectation. And what people are actually saying is, is that how you resolve this? Or is it something different?


Evelyn Starr  07:06

It is part of how you resolve it, it’s about setting up certain brand guidelines for yourself that you know, resonate with people and that are also true to who you are.


Alastair McDermott  07:17

So we’re taking their feedback, and we’re bringing that back in, and I’m using that. Can we go into that a little bit, then do you have an example? Because I’m just thinking of people with personal brands, and you feel free to use yourself or use me or use anybody else that you know, that you can talk about. I’m just really interested to know, like, how, how deep was the split between the expectation and what people were actually experiencing? How bad was the adolescence?


Evelyn Starr  07:40

How bad was the adolescence. That’s a great question.


Alastair McDermott  07:43

Well, are we picking up the brand up at the police station, you know?


Evelyn Starr  07:47

No, no, it’s not necessarily bad from a you know, criminal or gone gone haywire point of view, it’s just that there’s a gap between where you are in your brand and where you need to be, you know, with consultants and fairly small businesses, that you know, gap is not usually operational button slightly busier, is bigger businesses, it can be it could be you outgrew your your office in your space, or you’ve your team is not aligned anymore, because you can’t be in every meeting that exists anymore to guide them.  So you need some guidelines that they can refer to, so that they behave and reflect your brand in the way that you want that to happen for consultants, or one person businesses, it’s still very valuable to set up those guidelines to help you guide your business. And that’s where I think a lot of consultants miss and spend a lot of time treading water or, or even falling back a little bit is that once they’ve gotten an entire portfolio of business unit for the first few years, they don’t keep their eye on exactly where they’re going and how that fits your Brad Farris call that staying in the lane. And so you can once you broaden your audience, get to broaden the kinds of engagements you’re accepting in the places where you’re marketing and advertising, you really need guidelines to be efficient, and consistent.


Alastair McDermott  09:12

Right. Okay. So when you’re talking about brand guidelines, you’re also talking about things like positioning, and things like that are all wrapped up in that. And so this is is kind of to help keep you on target. Yes?


Evelyn Starr  09:24



Alastair McDermott  09:24

Can you talk a little bit about what the makeup of those guidelines is? Like what, what, what’s in there?


Evelyn Starr  09:29

Yes. So when you were talking to Paddy Delaney, he talked about his purpose, what gets him up in the morning, and he has it as a tagline on his LinkedIn profile. He said,


Alastair McDermott  09:39



Evelyn Starr  09:39

Having a positive impact. impact on the world of financial planning, or I’m not quoting him. Exactly. But,


Alastair McDermott  09:45

No that’s that’s pretty much spot on. Yeah. Yeah.


Evelyn Starr  09:47

So he gets up in the morning and


Alastair McDermott  09:49

He’s very passionate about that. Yeah.


Evelyn Starr  09:50

Yeah. Yeah. And he, you know, he didn’t like the way things were going through his podcast. He saw a lot of things he thought were wrong. And so he launched a business to do it right. And then that’s valuable for anyone that’s, you know, in his case, it may be both a niche and, and a purpose. But his purpose in the morning is to do that. My purpose is to help business owners make confident marketing decisions. That’s what gets me up in the morning. And that’s the guideline I use when I’m looking at possible engagements and projects.


Alastair McDermott  10:18

Okay, yeah, I love that confident marketing decisions. If I was to try and put these brand guidelines in place for my business, say, and how should I go about it? Like, what should I be looking into?


Evelyn Starr  10:28

Well, the purpose often comes from the reason you started your company, just like what Paddy did. Often it’s a problem you see in the world that you don’t see a solution you like, or problem you have, that you can’t get solved to your satisfaction. So good place to begin is the founder story. What happened that prompted you to go into this in the first place, if it was just a money play, that’s not going to sustain you in the long term, it’s usually there’s got to be some problem you’re solving some contribution you’re making to the world. And then from there, you can also talk to your clients and ask them what prompts you to call me what happens before then, what is it that you get coming to me that you don’t get from someone else, and that’s where your audience feedback can be very valuable.  And that’s actually, Alastair, how I got to my purpose, it didn’t happen on day one, I found that every time I went into a client, most of my business owners I was working with did not have a business background, did not have marketing background. And they would sheepishly say to me, I hate marketing, I’m not doing it, or it’s sliding down my to do list. And when I probed further, it wasn’t a hatred of marketing so much as a fear that they would invest money and time and get nothing in return. And so after repeatedly seeing that situation, I saw that my value to them really was helping them put together these kinds of guidelines so they could make their marketing decisions confidently.


Alastair McDermott  11:51

Right. I get this all the time. I even had an in a call earlier on today, where somebody was, you know, didn’t want to be salesy, and you know, it’s not salesy to to check if if somebody is a good fit to work with you, and it’s not salesy to see, do they have a problem that you can help solve? So I think a lot of people see the Hollywood version of marketing and sales. And think that that’s, that’s the way it is. That’s super, and actually, you know, I’ve thought a lot about my own purpose in what I’m doing. And I think that what my purpose here is, it’s very simple. It’s almost cliche, and it’s helping people like me who had the same problem that I used to have, which was, I didn’t know how to do marketing, I didn’t know how to do positioning and things like this. And I did not want to go down the road of having to consider making cold calls, for example, because that to me would be hell, I remember I went to a training with a with a guy who did outbound sales, and he said, My job is to get 79 nos every day and one Yes, and he makes 80 cold calls a day.  That would just be like, that’s a nightmare for me. So that so that’s what I’m moving, trying to help people do is move away from that. And also to move away from a dependence on referrals. Because what I found is you can tap out your network, or sometimes you’re an introvert, and you don’t have a big network or one big network, or sometimes your network or the wrong people, because you’re changing, you’re pivoting or something.  So getting away from that dependency on referrals. So that’s kind of my mission. So if you if that’s what you’re talking about, I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about here. So let’s talk a little bit about running with the wrong crowd, because I know you mentioned that in the book. So are you talking about but did your peers What are you talking about there?


Evelyn Starr  13:23

Running with the wrong crowd is one of two situations, either the market that you’ve targeted, is too small to sustain growth in your business. For one reason or another. The example that I talked about in my book, you know, maybe the consultants will indulge me here is actually a DJ who was went into business to target high schools for proms and was a high schooler at the time, he went into this business envisioned years and years of these schools becoming regular clients of his and calling him every year and then doing high school music, appropriate prom and everybody having a great time.  And the problem with that is that students, graduate parent, teacher organization members cycle in and cycle out. And so every year, it was like having a brand new client to pitch. There wasn’t repeat business that he envisioned that was coming in. He was working very hard to have a sufficient number of clients. And so he ended up switching to the wedding market, which was much stronger, happy couples are much more likely to refer you and keep you in mind. And it was a more lucrative market and the word of mouth was very strong there.


Alastair McDermott  14:35

Yeah, absolutely. I’m sure that there’s a bigger kind of referral network of people who are in the same space like florists and wedding photographers and wedding planners and people like that, who if you develop a relationship with those, I would guess that that’s probably bigger than the DJ kind of high school market. But


Evelyn Starr  14:53



Alastair McDermott  14:54



Evelyn Starr  14:54

And so the targeting to smaller market is one way you could run with the wrong crowd. The other Way, which is probably even stronger, or more prevalent in the consultant crowd is to have customers who are not a good fit. And by that, I mean, they’re, they could be toxic, they could be calling you hours of the day demanding things that are outside your area of specialty, looking to renegotiate established contracts, people who are not valuing you and your time and not respecting it. And those kinds of clients are really dangerous because they absorb a disproportionate amount of your resources, your time, your energy, sometimes your money, and they preclude you from taking on clients that are better fit.


Alastair McDermott  15:41

Yeah, absolutely. And if anybody’s been in business for a while, you can usually spot those the messages the way they write their inquiries, everything, you can usually spot them very quickly, but not right at the start. Right at the start. You generally don’t know what red flags to watch out for. But yeah, absolutely, I’m coming from the web design world, particularly, there’s an awful lot of those clients in the in the web design world, I think, because the barrier to entry in web design is is is quite low. And you know, there’s a lot of things like on TV, advertising, build your own website, things like that, which lowers the barrier to zero, effectively.  So we have running with the wrong class, a crowd, which is that like a smaller market, I was just thinking about the the DJ as well, I’m sure that prom time is like one time of year, I’m just wondering about, you know, the other 11 months of the year as well, this probably a time based thing there as well. And so we’ve got the market that’s too small or inappropriate. And then we’ve got red red flags. So what’s next on the symptoms of of brand adolescence?


Evelyn Starr  16:40

Well, particularly for often for larger organizations, but this could be true for consultants, there’s a symptom I call acting self-centered. And this is, when you’re in it for the money or what or, or for the way it’s going to reflect on you, as opposed to taking sort of service mentality, being in it to serve your clients to help them reach their goals and solve their problems.


Alastair McDermott  17:04



Evelyn Starr  17:04

And the antidote to that is to put together some values. And the values are both to protect your your client base, but also to protect yourself. So for example, I’ll give you a couple of the values that I’ve written for myself, my number one value is integrity, because without that, my consultancy is gone, right? You know, all I have is my credibility. And anything I do to damage that, you know, kills the referral network kills the word of mouth kills my reputation, but also, it’s because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, you know, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror. Another value that I have is clear, straightforward, transparent communication. I’m going to be very upfront with people. I’m not into mind games, I’m not into playing games. And I want that my clients to be the same way.  And you might think, Oh, these are really very straightforward. They make a lot of sense. Why do we even have to write them down, but I will tell you that your values, which guides you behaviour, help you choose who to work with, and how you work with them.  So for example, clear, straightforward, transparent communication also means I don’t ever want there to be a time where someone doesn’t pick up the phone and talk to me. So I very early on stopped charging hourly, which is a really tough way to go charging hourly, and I started charging by the package so that we had the money conversation once and anytime someone had a question or something changed, they would pick up the phone and call me and it saved everybody a lot of heartache. So that’s how that’s an example of how the value actually guide. What happens in your business.


Alastair McDermott  18:37

Yeah, I have values too. So actually, one of my top ones is friendly. So because I really hate polite unfriendliness, that’s that’s something that really drives me nuts when somebody is perfectly polite, but is not friendly at all. So friendliness is a really big thing for me and integrity and fiduciary responsibilities that putting the client’s interests first. And, and humor is in there. There’s some other ones in there, but I also have no dickheads. And that’s, that’s a strict no dickheads rule.  That means both me and my expectations for clients, and you know, my employee, and people who this is coming from the world of rugby, and sport, and the team in New Zealand, who were the number one team in the world and have been for a very long time. That’s one of their strict rules. They don’t accept anybody who puts themselves out of the team, the team people who feel that they’re entitled, so I really liked that one. So that’s why I have that in there.


Evelyn Starr  19:24

No, it’s a great one. I have it too. But you’ve been much more succinct. I don’t work with anyone I don’t like or don’t trust.


Alastair McDermott  19:32

Yeah, we could we could put it that way too. But,


Evelyn Starr  19:34

Right, no, but you’re just you’re, there’s no mistaking that.


Alastair McDermott  19:38

Yeah. And actually, I decided to put that on my client intake form. And I know that’s gonna push some people away. But I think that it’s going to attract the kind of people I’m looking for as well. So,


Evelyn Starr  19:48

That’s an important point that we should make to your listening audience is that when you’re starting out, you’re afraid to push anybody away but pushing away the wrong people saves everybody a lot of heartache and a lot of time. You really want to attract the right kinds of people, the people you can do your best work with, and the people you can help the most.


Alastair McDermott  20:07

Yeah. And that brings me to another point that I’ve made before, which is, it’s very hard to push those people away. If you’re in a place of scarcity, which is like you right now you’re struggling for cash for income, you take every every kind of client that comes across the board. So it’s really important to try and get yourself out of that mentality and turn away business, even if you need money, turn away business that is wrong, because it will suck your all your energy all your time, and you will be able to do any business development and find the right people.


Evelyn Starr  20:33

So it’s actually a symptom for that, Alastair, that I’ve called suffering from FOMO fear of missing out, you know, just like everybody in adolescence who didn’t experience wondering if there was a better party going on, or what was going on with your friends that you didn’t know about, I call that fear of missing out. And the business translation is, I don’t want to miss anything, I want to be exactly like my competitors, so that no one will screen me out.  And the problem is, of course, that if you’re exactly like your competitors, there’s no compelling reason to work with you, you really need to take a stand and develop a niche, there comes that nasty word, right? Specialization. But you need that to stand out and attract the right kinds of people for you to do your best work and help them and also help you not attract people that are going to pull you so far away from your specialty, that it’s not going to be a good piece of work for you.


Alastair McDermott  21:28

Yeah, absolutely. Now, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you about specialization because that’s just what I do. So let’s talk about this. Because because I think you have one section the book is how narrow should your niche be? So can you talk about that a little bit? What what’s what’s your take on this?


Evelyn Starr  21:41

I actually put that in the book because so many people are afraid that they’re going to over niche themselves and precludes so many people that they will have no business. And I would advocate people that the more the narrow you can go, the more specific you are, the more likely someone will think of you when they see someone who has that need and say oh, you have to talk to Alastair, you need Marketing for Consultants, because he’s all about that, right? So the more specific and the narrower you can be.  And the other thing I tell people is that there’s a lot more running room there than you think Jeff Bezos, when he started, Amazon had envisioned an everything store. But he knew in order to get traction, he would have to start with one product. And he started with books, as we all know, he was three years in with Amazon before he went to any other product. And on books alone, he was making $203 million. So there are a lot more people out there in your specialty probably than you think.


Alastair McDermott  22:40

Yeah, okay. Yeah. And I love the the Amazon example, because it just shows you how you can become this massive company from such a tight niche selling only one type of product. Yeah, absolutely. Now, I’m cheating because I have your book Table of Contents here in front of me. So I know that that the next section is is needing to make new friends. So I guess this is kind of going outside you’re niche that is it.


Evelyn Starr  23:01

Yeah, it’s starting. It’s when you’ve sort of run the gamut with your initial niche that got you to where you are, and you feel like you’re not going to be able to attract more market share, or you’ve maxed it out, then it’s time to layer on a second niche. But you really want to establish the first one that I think we should talk about with a specialty is that it gives you a halo of credibility. You know, when you do Marketing for Consultants, well, people say, Alastair, he’s a really competent guy. So this problem I have is not quite like Marketing for Consultants. But I’m gonna ask him because it’s close, and see if there’s something he can do for me.  So there is this sort of broadening that naturally happens. And sometimes from that broadening, you can develop your second niche, something that’s tangential that’s related to what you’re doing at first, so that you can use the same sorts of expertise and knowledge. Sometimes it’s just going to another geographical area, depending on you know, where you’re located and the way your business is structured. Sometimes it’s going into an industry that has similar issues to the one that you specialize in. So it depends on what kind of niche you have.


Alastair McDermott  24:07

Yeah. And one other thing about that is there’s no specialization place. So nobody’s going to come along, if you say that your niche is one thing. And let’s say I say Marketing for Consultants, and an accountant comes along and says, Look, I’m not a consultant, but I think it’s very similar. And they’re right, it is very similar, that a lot of the problems are quite similar. And so I’m happy to work with them. But I’m not going to put them as a case study on my website. But that doesn’t mean that I have to turn them away. This is one of the things about positioning is positioning as marketing, it’s not actually operations. So you can if you really want to, you can take on somebody who’s outside that niche. So that’s kind of my view on specialization and niching down, but I think what you’re talking about here, then is is actually actively talking about that, you know, and developing the brand.


Evelyn Starr  24:51

Yes, and saying, okay, you know, we’ve, I have an example in the group in the book rather from a gentleman named Jay Meyers, who had a company called Interactive Solutions Incorporated. And they started doing video conferencing back in the 1990s for corporations, right. And so, and at a certain point in his area of Tennessee in the United States, they had sort of run the gamut with that. And so they started to look at telemedicine to layer that on and to continue to build the company and gain more business.


Alastair McDermott  25:22

Right. Okay. Very interesting. Yeah. I thought you were gonna say they became Zoom. So but yeah, no, absolutely. That’s, that’s really interesting. So we’re talking about now making friends and I love these analogies, because they just make it so easy to to understand. The next one I need a little bit of help with, and maybe our international audience will as well. You talk about defending your varsity teams, but I think varsity team isn’t something that a lot of people outside the US would would would understand. Can you just explain that a little bit?


Evelyn Starr  25:48

Yes. In American high schools, there’s often two levels of team in any sport, and the highest level is called varsity. That’s,


Alastair McDermott  25:57



Evelyn Starr  25:57

That’s our reference. And then there’s a junior varsity team. And so when you’re defending the thing that happens in American high schools that really underscores this for for my book is that often there are kids from many, many different schools coming to the high school and a lot of their extracurricular intramural sports opportunities have waned. So you have all these athletes in a particular sport vying for the few spots on the varsity team. They’re very coveted spots. And they require a higher level of performance.  And so the analogy that crosses over the reason I use this there is that for businesses that started out in their niche alone, or very early, where they found the business technical terms, they found some white space someplace that no one is serving the market. They had some time to run with that for a while. But if you’re really successful, you’re gonna attract a lot of competitors.


Alastair McDermott  26:50

Yeah, like like Yahoo. Or, or Ask Jeeves.


Evelyn Starr  26:54

Right. Right. Exactly. So at some point in your trajectory, in order to continue to own that niche, you have to reassert it, you have to go even deeper in it to show your leadership. And that’s what I’m calling defending your varsity team spot.


Alastair McDermott  27:10

Right. Okay. Can Can you dig into that a little bit? How do you how do you show that?


Evelyn Starr  27:14

So you serve you find adjacent concerns and needs your market has to what you’re doing, and you serve them even further. So I’m going to use a big company example just to start to make this a little more tangible. Federal Express, which is now FedEx. I think they’re pretty well known and internationally at this point. When they started in the United States,


Alastair McDermott  27:37

I think Tom Hanks has a lot to do with that.


Evelyn Starr  27:39

Yeah, right. That was a tough movie to watch, I have to bet that when they started that notion in the United States of being able to send a package overnight was just unfathomable. The United States Post Office was not doing a good job with that, but no one else was doing it. And so in the beginning, their original goal was to establish that this could be done and that they were the people to do it. And they were it was such a question that the Xerox company sent empty boxes for two weeks with them before they would even put documents in because they really didn’t know if they could trust them.  But by the time they were in business 20 years, they had shown that this could actually be a very lucrative business and so competitors like DHL and United States parcel and that you know, I don’t know what some of the competitors in your neck of the woods are


Alastair McDermott  28:32

DHL. DHL is here. We don’t have ups. But yeah, we I think we get we get that one. Yep.


Evelyn Starr  28:37

Right. So now if you want to send a package overnight, you have multiple options. That’s really the point. And so in the mid 1990s, or even early 1990s, Federal Express saw all this competition and realize that if they wanted to continue to sort of own the IP, when it absolutely has to be their overnight tagline. They were going to have to reassert themselves.  And so they embarked upon a couple years of research to see what their customers needed and how the customers were talking about the brand. And the result of that was already in the United States. We were shortening Federal Express to FedEx. So they took the new brand name from the customers, which was really a great thing.  And then they overnight rebranded everything, their envelopes, their planes, their trucks, it’s like a light switch here. And by doing that, they showed that they were really adept at logistics, they could execute things overnight.  On top of that branding in this sort of visual depiction of how they were leaders. They started launching tracking systems because they learned that their customers even though they knew was likely to get there overnight, they were still anxious, while their parcels were in transit and knowing exactly where their parcel was alleviated that anxiety. They were among the first to be able to send packages to China. So you see they took these sort of extra leaps to say we are still the market leader. We are still the ones to go to in this situation.


Alastair McDermott  30:01

Yeah, and what I think what’s really interesting there and what might be directly relevant to our audience today is they did research and that they talked to their customers did research, it sounds to me a little bit like they were doing thought leadership and creating thought leadership type content and research and things like that, which I think could be the consultant, the independent consultant equivalent of of this, if you want to defend your varsity team spot, if you want to defend your position at the top of the pyramid in in your small niche, doing research and publishing and creating that kind of content would absolutely be a way forward. At least that’s the way I would see it.


Evelyn Starr  30:37

Yes. And I would add to that, you know, or sort of build on that, that I think the number one way you stay ahead in your field as a consultant is to know your clients and your customer base better than anyone else. And that means being in touch with them on a regular basis. It doesn’t mean “Oh, now I need some information. I’m gonna go do research.” Talking to particularly your best clients on a regular basis can bring opportunities that you wouldn’t have seen before, you know, when they start to talk about tangential issues that they’re having to the one that you’re working on, or new things coming down the pike that gives you a leg up on your competition?


Alastair McDermott  31:12

Yeah, absolutely. I really like that one. I’m just thinking in terms of how consultants can do that. I mean, one thing that I think is really important is you have to actually make time for this. So you can’t be working every hour, which also brings brings you back to the hourly rate thing and disconnecting from hourly rate and moving to productize services and making time because if you don’t make time for that kind of research and reading, I mean, if you don’t have time as a consultant to be reading books in your field, how can you stay on top? I can’t imagine that you can. So you have to make that time.


Evelyn Starr  31:45

Yeah. And and you can also systematize it a little bit. So for example, Alastair, I have tasks scheduled in my calendar, certain frequencies, depending on my relationship with the person to check in with them. And that check in doesn’t have to be an hour long thing. And it doesn’t always have to be a lunch or a coffee in the world when we can meet for lunch or coffee.  It can be an email that says, hey, I was thinking of you. Or if an article pops up, that reminds me of them, I’ll send them the article or the link and say, you know, this reminded me of that conversation we had. And those kinds of small check ins are really valuable because they keep you top of mind. And it’s also an opportunity for someone to say you know, well, I have you I was thinking about this. The repeat business generators.


Alastair McDermott  32:32

Yes. So long as they are the right kind of people and you’ve, you’ve brought those right type of people into your network, then that will always be a useful conversation.


Evelyn Starr  32:41



Alastair McDermott  32:41

Okay. This one is a big problem for me. We need to talk about oversleeping.


Evelyn Starr  32:46

Is it a problem for you personally? Or do you have children who are doing this?


Alastair McDermott  32:50

No, I’m not at that stage yet. But no, I am. I like to sleep. I’m very good at sleeping. Actually, I can sleep in a train in an airplane. You can you can just like put me in a closet or something. I’ll fall asleep. No problem.


Evelyn Starr  33:02

That’s a beautiful thing.


Alastair McDermott  33:04

I have a very good relationship and sleep. Sometimes we like to oversleep. Yeah, and particularly when we’re adolescent brands.


Evelyn Starr  33:12



Alastair McDermott  33:12

So. So talk to me a little bit about what what this is about?


Evelyn Starr  33:16

Well, this is a really great segue from the last thing we were talking about. Because it’s the opposite. It’s not being in touch with your audience, but also not paying attention to developments in your industry and to outside forces that could affect what happened to you.  You know, it’s an extreme example, I don’t think any of us had pandemic on our strategic plan contingency. But, but, but now, if you don’t going forward, you know, that’s, that’s a problem. You, you’ve been tied. But there are other things that are happening that way in terms of tools, people are using the way people prefer to communicate, and then any sort of developments in your industry best practices, those are things that you need to stay apprised of because your customers when they’re doing their research, or your clients when you’re doing your research about who to work with. Those are things that they will be looking for.


Alastair McDermott  34:07

Yeah. So Kodak was when I was thinking of. I can’t think of any in terms of actually in terms of consulting. Well, I don’t know about Arthur Andersen, it says, if that you could accuse of being oversleeping, but maybe it is, and the other one is Skype. I heard a million times during the pandemic. Let’s get on zoom, and zoom fatigue and zoom overload. Why didn’t nobody say that about Skype? What like, what did they do that little they How did they manage to oversleep on this one? So,


Evelyn Starr  34:32

I can, I can actually answer that.


Alastair McDermott  34:35

Oh, awesome.


Evelyn Starr  34:36

Yes, I can. In fact, I’m going to send you a link because I wrote an article about that last September, and it’s among my most traffic articles because so many people are wondering how did Skype miss this moment?


Alastair McDermott  34:47



Evelyn Starr  34:48

The way they missed the moment on the pandemic started way before the issue with Skype was that they were built on technology early on, and I’m not going to be able to recall the name so I apologize because I know you’re a tech person by It was, it came from from the way that music was transmitted.  And so early on, that was working really well. And the company got sold to eBay initially and E Bay, what they want is they imagined that their buyers and sellers would communicate on Skype to, you know, work out any questions or any issues. But it turns out that buyers and sellers don’t actually want that much disclosure to each other. They much prefer the anonymity of email or messaging. And so the eBay owners really did very little for Skype that it kind of languished for a while. And then they sold it to Microsoft and Microsoft behemoth that they are did not look at this as a whole brand. They wanted the cool factor from Skype, because so many people were using it at that point, but they didn’t invest anything in it. And so ultimately, years and years and years of neglect meant that it was really technologically behind and they waited so long, they waited too long.  Meanwhile, zoom was started by someone whose purpose when we were talking about purpose was to make communications frictionless. Literally, that is their purpose. And so everything they do in services to enhance the experience of their users. So the contrast when people were choosing between Skype and Zoom was really stark. And that’s why zooms, ease of use and accessibility not even needing to have an account to use that all those things when people over.


Alastair McDermott  36:28

Absolutely. That’s fascinating. And I could just imagine, you know, even if Skype was popular enough, I don’t imagine that their systems would be able to handle and that they would have been able to scale in the way that zoom did when they needed to because of that technical debt.  So yeah, no, it’s the same. We see this in a lot of telecoms companies as well, kind of decades of underinvestment in the core, because they’ve been sold and bought and sold. And so let’s let’s try and pull this somehow kicking and screaming back on track to consultants. So let’s come back to the last point, which is asserting independence. So can you talk about that a little bit?


Evelyn Starr  37:05

So I’m not sure how well the relationship to consultants for asserting independence, asserting independence is a very delicate topic. When I’m talking when I’m talking to companies that have multiple employees, what I’m talking about is a company that has leveled off because its leader either no longer has the skills to guide it, it’s gotten too big, and maybe they’re an entrepreneur, but they’re not really a manager or CEO, or their leader has kind of lost interest in doing it that that’s, you know, they don’t want to gain those skills, or that’s not how they want to spend their time.  So if you a consultant who’s either a solo professional, or in a very small firm, that’s unlikely to be the issue. But I do think the personal aspect of it, of making sure that you like what you’re doing, and that you’re still invested, it’s not unreasonable to think that if you have a consultancy for five or 10 years, at a certain point, after doing the same work over and over, yes, you’ll have some depth to it. But you may also need to do your own professional development and explore some new areas and new services to offer maybe to the same audience to keep yourself interested.


Alastair McDermott  38:12

Yeah, absolutely. And the only thing that I’ve seen in this scenario is where you either bring somebody senior in, or a new partner or something like that. And I’ve also seen people, like there’s a company called Gravy who are on LinkedIn. And the the CEO was looking at LinkedIn and said, I’ve got to get everybody on staff. And I don’t know how many people they have on staff. But I think it’s somewhere between 50 and 200, some something like that number, and I said, I’m going to get everybody, literally every employee is going to get on LinkedIn. And it’s going to start posting about their passions about their thoughts. And this massively grew their company. And they weren’t necessarily always posting about business and kind of client facing problems.  But they did enough that it just it rose the whole ship because of that. And so maybe there’s something there for consultants, if you are I have an assistant Aiko who will be doing the graphics and things like that. And I’ve talked to her about getting onto LinkedIn and posting posting up stuff for her, which will also reflect back on on the business brand. But also it helps, it helps those people when they’re moving on in their careers, because nobody will work with you forever, you know, so they’ll be moving on and so so so maybe there is something there where you can help people who you’re working with and help them to develop themselves.  This is something I’m not a big Gary Vee fan. But this is something I’ve seen Gary Vee talk about, which is, you know, if one of your staff comes to you and says, Hey, I want to quit, I want to go off and do my own thing. What do you say? And it’s you say, brilliant, that’s awesome. What can I do to help you? You know, so? Yeah, I know that this is maybe not totally on topic for what we’re talking about. But I think it’s fascinating. So and it’s my podcast, so I’m gonna put it in there anyway.


Evelyn Starr  39:49

Well, that’s great. But you know, another thing, another angle on asserting leadership and I think that’s what’s really important and I’ve included this in the book is it’s, you know, the self knowledge if you have been successful. While growing a consultancy, and it’s gotten to a certain point where it’s no longer in the entrepreneurial stage, and you find yourself less interested, it might be time to let go and start something new.  And that’s what Reed Hoffman did. He’s the founder of LinkedIn. And he published an A letter on LinkedIn very publicly, talking about why he walked away and what made him walk away. And he said, You know, I’m the building strategy guy, I, when we got to the point where meetings and benefits packages and those kinds of things, were taking up more of my day, that’s just not me. And I knew I needed somebody who thrived on those. So your self knowledge is really important.


Alastair McDermott  40:38

Yeah, absolutely. I really love that the progression that you take us through in the book and the analogies that you using here, it’s really fascinating. And I haven’t actually received my copy yet. I’m looking at your, your table of contents here on Amazon. Thanks, Amazon. But it’s on the way, because, as I said, I heard on Douglas’s podcast did this cost me an absolute fortune? That’s the marketing book podcast for anybody who’s not familiar with that. And Douglas reads and reviews and interviews every every author, I think he’s up at number 300, at this point, but it was it was a really great interview. And I don’t know how Douglas uses the audio clips from movies and stuff. I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that. So I probably need to check. But what I will say is that episode was so fetch, and you need to go listen to that. You need to go listen to Douglas and I will link to that in the show notes.  I have a couple of other questions I do want to ask you. One is about business failure. And the reason I ask that is because particularly here in Ireland, it’s a cultural thing. People don’t like to talk about failure much. It’s usually it’s fine to talk about failure after your success. But not before that, you know. So I just want to ask, Is there a failure that you can talk about and tell us like what happened? And what if anything, you learn from it, that occurred during business?


Evelyn Starr  41:48

Yeah, I’m gonna share a colossal failure. just popped into my head, probably because I repressed it so much. This happened when my kids were,


Alastair McDermott  42:00

Suppressed failures are the best.


Evelyn Starr  42:01

Yeah, see, right. Right. early on. In my career, before I got to the idea of brand adolescence, I was not only working for myself, but I was part of a network that I’m not going to name here, because that’s not really necessary. But it was a network of marketing consultants and professionals and the head of the network kind of farmed us out and took a percentage of that and we did the work. And one of my former work colleagues reached out to me and said, Hey, do you want to do a project with me for this major newspaper, it’s a research project.  And I looked at it and I said, short, it was a summer long project. And this was like an everything that possibly could go wrong did go wrong. Because we had that sort of once removed situation from the client, it was the head of the network, who was most in touch with them. I never talked to the client. And my colleague did talk to them. And she said, No, no, they don’t want to talk to more than one person. So and then my colleague went and got became ill that summer.  So long story short, I ended up doing probably 60 or 70% of the work, but was not given access to the client, I was just going on what I was being told. And so we get to the presentation after an entire summer where I literally, I hired a sitter every day after my kids day camp to watch them because I was working, working working on this. And I get into this room, and we do the presentation. And it’s totally debunked by the people in the room. They don’t believe us. They’re questioning our information. they’re proposing their own information. And I just felt like I had been led into the lion’s den. And so and I also felt like I’d lost a summer, you know, wasn’t the best paid job I was getting, you know, my portion of the 80% that was left over after the person who made the connection.  So I took several lessons from this last summer. One is I’m not working through anyone anymore. I don’t take any project where I can’t have direct client contact, because I’m very good at observing things and talking to people and understanding them. And not everybody’s that good. And I don’t want to rely on that relay of information. And what could go wrong there.  That was the first thing and that was probably the biggest lesson. And then the other thing is that I wouldn’t do a project where there isn’t some sort of interim testing of the results, right? We should not have shown up at the very end with the final product without having a real run by somebody getting their feedback having them test the waters.


Alastair McDermott  44:34



Evelyn Starr  44:35

You know,


Alastair McDermott  44:35

You want them bought in along the way.


Evelyn Starr  44:37

Exactly. That’s, that’s so well stated. And so it was devastating to me, because it didn’t reflect well on the person who had given us the project. It didn’t reflect well on the client point person. It made us look bad, and it didn’t help anybody. You know, that’s what really probably a,


Alastair McDermott  44:54

Waste of time and energy and yeah.


Evelyn Starr  44:56



Alastair McDermott  44:57

Okay, that’s it. That’s a really great learning experience. And I’m sorry that you had to go through that. But I think you probably have learned a lot from that.


Evelyn Starr  45:04



Alastair McDermott  45:05

So yeah, I have, I have a business failure that I consider my MBA, because it cost me about as much time and money, so, but I got about the same amount of learning from it. So you may say it’s a fair trade off. So then the other thing I want to ask you just is about books. Because I’m a huge book fan, you’re an author, I can see books behind you, I can see your book behind you and the dictionary. So let me ask you about business books in particular, there any of that have inspired you or that you think are books that people absolutely must read?


Evelyn Starr  45:32

There are some I have to tell you, Alastair, that I’m a voracious reader. And so when I knew this question was coming, I had to call when I would say, but, but there are a few books that I would recommend that maybe aren’t the usual, I don’t know, one book that I love so much is “Made to Stick” by Dan and Chip Heath because it tells you how to convey your ideas in a way that’s both memorable and helpful to your audience. I just love their and their explanation is really straightforward. It’s not very technical. So that book is really helped me another book is called “Finish” by John Acuff, and that one people haven’t usually heard of as much. “Finish” is—


Alastair McDermott  46:17

I have heard of “Made to Stick”. So yeah, okay.


Evelyn Starr  46:20

So it’s, it’s really great for people who feel like they’re never getting enough done. Or they’re not achieving their goals fast enough, because there’s research behind what John Acuff writes about in it, basically, that humans are terrible at estimating how long things will take them. You know, when if you’re, if you’re building your consultancy, based on the time it’s going to take you, you know, this is a good book to read. And the recipe for success includes, among other things, either doubling the amount of time you allowed or halving your expectations – “halving” meaning “cutting in half” what you think you’re going to get done in the time that you have.


Alastair McDermott  46:58



Evelyn Starr  46:59

And then there’s, there’s one other book that I really like, which is “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek because I think that it’s, it was very helpful for me to figure out my personal life and see how that related to my business purpose.


Alastair McDermott  47:11

Yeah, okay. Yeah, I’m big fan of that, too. I have to I have to read “Finish”. That sounds interesting. And then “Made to Stick”, that that’s on the bookshelf behind me. So let me ask you, then a bay. What about fiction? Do you read? If you’re a are you as voracious with fiction?


Evelyn Starr  47:26

Yes. I probably read 45 or 50 books a year?


Alastair McDermott  47:33



Evelyn Starr  47:33

And there’s a certain


Alastair McDermott  47:35

Same as that by the way!


Evelyn Starr  47:36

Right. Right. So there’s just there’s a split between the you know, the business and the general interest and, and I read nonfiction too, that’s not business related. Just wherever things take me. You know, whatever


Alastair McDermott  47:48

Was nonfiction that was wasn’t business related.


Evelyn Starr  47:52

Well, yeah, there is there’s some I’m reading right now on that just a tangent for a second, “The Invention of Miracles”, which is a sort of behind the scenes story about Alexander Graham Bell, and what was really driving him and it wasn’t the telephone. So it was a quest to erase deafness, which is a whole nother issue. But but back to the fiction book, you asked me I really loved “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusac. That’s a great book.


Alastair McDermott  48:18

I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that in bookshops. And it looks interesting. Yeah. I’m sorry, the one I’m sure you have more.


Evelyn Starr  48:25

I did. Well, you know, the thing about I love about fiction as a writer, and as a consumer of that is when I can learn about experiences that are different than my own. So for example, “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones is just a gorgeous book. It’s an intersection of things that happen kind of in any marriage, and a look at what it’s like to be black in America, which is not an easy thing. It’s it’s really, really difficult. And, and so that’s a way that she tells– I’m sorry?


Alastair McDermott  48:56

That I can well believe.


Evelyn Starr  48:57

Yeah, right. And,


Alastair McDermott  48:59



Evelyn Starr  48:59

I think that’s probably good for now.


Alastair McDermott  49:02

That’s, that’s probably good for now. Yeah, you and I could probably talk books all night. Excellent. So let’s just wrap up with where people can find you online, where they can find the book and everything else.


Evelyn Starr  49:13

My website is first place I would recommend it’s EStarrAssociates and Starr has two Rs like Ringo, which is why Douglas Burdett keeps calling me Ringo Starr’s daughter! So – there they can find information about the book there. And they can also take a look at my blog and sign up for my newsletter, which is just basically my blog article sent out I write only once a month. I don’t stuff anybody’s inboxes. And then my book can also be found on Amazon or It will soon be on a lot of other actually, by the time this airs a lot of other ebook sources other than Amazon.


Alastair McDermott  49:52

Excellent. I haven’t heard of that one before.


Evelyn Starr  49:54 Oh, you know, I’m trying. I’m hoping they’re going to become International. They’re a nonprofit in the United States that got started up to help independent bookstores and so you can buy online from them and designate a particular bookstore like the one in your town and they will give them 30% of the proceeds. The other thing I wanted to mention is I would love for people to follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter, I’m active there.


Alastair McDermott  50:19

Yeah, absolutely. And all of those links will be in the show notes. So Evelyn Starr, daughter of Ringo Starr, according to Douglas Burnett, thank you so much for being on the show. And I really do appreciate it.


Evelyn Starr  50:32

Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. And I had fun.


Alastair McDermott  50:35

Excellent. That’s always the goal.


Voiceover  50:39

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