Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 100 – 10 Lessons From 100 Leaders’ Letters

Dear leaders, it is the 100th leadership newsletter I am sending out, it is the 100-week streak, where I share lessons on company culture, ideas on leadership and frameworks to help improve your people and performance leadership. 

Today I wanted to share 10 lessons your feedback, questions and requests to collaborate. Here are the ten most popular alongside supporting content to help you make a difference to your career and those around you. 

  1. Leadership is getting harder 
    1. 7 great leadership traits 
    2. 21 leadership lessons
    3. Write your team a handwritten letter
  2. Management is getting harder but getting more rewarding 
    1. Record micro-moments to celebrate as a team
    2. Questions to ask to improve people’s performance 
    3. Three ways to connect with your department
  3. Many leaders were not taught the difference between strategy and tactics 
    1. Strategy is like baking a cake
    2. Strategy cheatsheet
    3. What mission, vision, strategy and tactics actually are
  4. Creating a long term vision is hard 
    1. What is company vision
    2. Why some people have vision and others don’t
    3. The future of business is community 
  5. Hybrid is hard work and many are unprepared 
    1. Hybrid work guide 
    2. Google’s Hybrid Manifesto – its ok manifesto 
    3. How to remove proximity bias (how to beat the managing in person is best)
  6. The great resignation is the great awaking for many middle to senior leaders 
    1. The 3p’s keys to winning business in 2022 and beyond 
    2. The 3 stages of your business, what it was, what it is and what it is going to be 
    3. Have you stepped too far away from your customer’s problems?
    4. Why it is ok to be on the fence for your company
  7. Meetings are taking over 60% of managements time 
    1. 25 proven recommendations to improve meetings 
    2. Would a Bill Gates get away week work for you
    3. Time to audit your calendar
  8. Communication is hard to gain any traction 
    1. Andy Jassy’s communication masterclass
    2. The first and last ten seconds is vital to winning communications
    3. How to kill constant internal noise and gain cut through
  9. Company culture is not given enough of a focus and is only ever an agenda item 
    1. Improve company culture with department principles 
    2. The 4f framework – Feel, Fascinate, Future, Flourish  
    3. Create management pods to connect leaders to company culture
  10. Team management is a struggle, especially in Hybrid or remote-first companies 
  1. Always re-onboard your teams to the office
  2. A simple game to connect with your team
  3. The hand over and hand back process

Have a great week and you can get in contact at any point by emailing me directly. 


Danny Denhard

BTW I am taking on a limited number of clients, do you need a coach? 

Other great helpful resources 

Be Inspired By Others 

Jeff Bezos’s business lessons 

7 business rules from Elon Musk

Stripe’s communication masterclass

Think Differently 

Time for a performance panel

Annual strategy playbook template

Two up two across framework for career development

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 97 – Your Infected Moat Is An Internal Disease

Dear Leaders, Over the last decade, a moat (business moat / economic moat) is what every business has been searching for and attempting to build. Believe it or not, it is a lot harder than most executives think. 

“A company's moat refers to its ability to maintain the competitive advantages that are expected to help it fend off competition and maintain profitability into the future.” - Source

As someone who has been an operator on the Product, Marketing and Growth sides, I have heard and used moat hundreds of times. 

In a recent coffee catch up, a couple of industry friends and I discussed an important area that goes unspoken, and what I dubbed “the infected moat”.

When the believed competitive advantage blinds your company-wide strategy, it infects your internal messaging and affects your company so much it starts to hinder the business performance and your company culture

Misleading and blinding your people is one of the most damaging aspects of company culture and can cause decay to the foundation of the business. 

You stop building, you rely on optimising the final steps of the funnel and you reduce your budgets and hiring based on infected beliefs and data. 

One of the most common infected moats is believing you have network size or quality of data which means you have the best product in the market. 

You rely too heavily on your data, you rely too heavily on the algorithms and you become a Blackberry (vs Apple), Yahoo (vs Google) and most recently an Instagram (vs TikTok).  

This comes down to the management of the company, the misunderstanding of the influence of the brand, the power of the product and the state of the market or a blind obsession with competitors versus being informed by your customers and competitors. 

Something I recommended is to audit your business, audit your product, audit your marketing, audit your growth activities and go deeper than reviewing just top-level insights and competitors’ actions. 

Don’t allow your moat to become infected, impact your people and performance and don’t develop a blind spot that is of your own doing. 

This week focus on reviewing your moat, auditing it and planning to evolve. 

Thanks and have a great week,

Danny Denhard

Essential Strategy Reading

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 95 – Time For A Performance Panel

Good morning leaders, a quick pondering for you today. 

After speaking at a conference pre-pandemic, I was asked if I could join a panel discussion around how to improve business performance. My “role” was from a Growth perspective as there was already a CEO and a COO on the panel and the original panellist couldn’t make the event. 

A theme of questions arose from the attendees, what do you do to improve performance or receive fresh ideas and perspectives when performance maybe stagnates. 

The others on the panel provided good answers and offered ways to trust internal staff and double down on what got them there. 

I recommended something different.

A performance panel

The panel is not too dissimilar to what you likely have internally, a group of people who analyse and discuss performance, review the data and make recommendations on the next set of actions. 

My difference, you introduce formal external advisors to your panel. 


  • Not stuck to doing it way its always done 
  • Not restricted by knowing details of the roadmap constraints
  • Help with getting out of the weeds 
  • External intel, often knowing what others are struggling with and if there are changes your internal team are unfamiliar with 
  • Less panic = less stress. Calmer environment to review and attack potential issues 
  • New ideas – fresh approaches often help 
  • If you are a department lead you spend too much fighting on behalf of your team, external assistance and expertise will greatly help support or guide 

This can work across the board, it can work from adding Operations, Marketing, Growth, Product, Technical, HR and company culture representatives.  

You will have to onboard the panellists, you will have to brief them well and allow access, the formal agreements can work like non-executive directors and can be formalised to a few days per month. 

For the existing department leads, ensure they are prepared to share insights, they are comfortable in asking for help, curious about what is recommended, and take some time to build the connection and trust, this will be key when they look to roll out the recommendations of your panellists. 

This week consider how you could improve not only performance when there is a dip but company-wide performance when there are opportunities to grow, hire smarter and develop departmental plans and your company-wide strategy with external advisors. 


Danny Denhard


The Mission, Vision, 5x Principles, Strategy, Departmental Plans, Tactics Cheatsheet  

The one word that confuses so many companies is strategy, what strategy is and is not and who sets strategy, plans and tactics.

In one of the most popular and most shared leaders newsletter, WTF is strategy we shared how you build strategy, simply: you have one company-wide strategy, departmental plans rolling up into the strategy and then tactical layers underneath.

Simple right?

Well, it should be, however, with so many demands to have longer plans and missions to complete, here is a free breakdown and cheatsheet to build the right framework for your company’s strategy journey.

The Mission, Vision, 5x Principles, Strategy, Departmental Plans, Tactics Cheatsheet  


The incompletable mission your company is on. The biggest of achievements.

Missions can be revisited every five to ten years or in big times of world change.
Set by leadership (founder + board)


The ten-year vision for the company, vision is what you will strive to become.

Vision is to be revisited every 3 years. 
Set by leadership and supporting panel

5x Principles

The guiding principles to make decisions. If there is confusion or your strategy is going off course, your principles make decisions easier and guide you into the vision and the mission.

These principles should be re-visited each year but stay the majority the same to keep the company on track
Set by leadership and supporting panel

Annual Strategy

The annual company-wide strategy, the things you are going to do and the things you definitely will not be doing. It should fit on one page and everyone in the business should be able to tell you what it is and what success looks like.

The annual strategy should be re-visited but rarely ever change significantly.
Set by leadership

Departmental Plan

No company should have departmental strategies, your department plans have to roll into the annual strategy. Your plans have to be cross-functional and understand the overlap and how you work together with other departments to make the company successful. If there are no cross-functional elements to part of the plan, you have to revisit.

Departmental plans can evolve and change but when they do it has to be known across the business.
Revisit the plans every month, these unlikely should significantly change quarterly
Set by the department (lead+) and their panel    


These are the number of activities you will take, including the channels and the levers the teams are going to pull to roll up into the plan, that rolls up into the annual company-wide strategy.

Tactics can change regularly, fortnightly/bi-weekly to quarterly. The more you change, the more you will struggle to keep everyone updated and believe in long terms plans.
Set by tactical discipline team

Supporting Resources

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 93 – The Role Of The Translator

Dear leaders, today’s letter will introduce you to the most important unofficial role on the leadership team.

In the 21st year of my career, I have seen the landscape move tremendously, the shift to tools and different ways of operating has impacted how successful companies are and be. 

For instance, when you sit in a leadership meeting, you very often as a department lead sit there with your department hat on and advocate for your teams and you will use many abbreviations, industry language and your own lingo. Very rarely do you stop to think about how you make these nuances apply across the board. 

Defend: As the department lead you will often spend much of your time defending your team’s performance, much of the backlog and delays on external factors and go to great lengths to explain why but in the language of your own discipline. 

You will also go to a war of words with other department leads who have negatively impacted your teams’ performance. Alliances are created and battle lines are drawn. 

Adapt For The Room? Very rarely do you consciously change your language to make it land with the other members around the table (Zoom etc) and some deliberately do this as an ‘I know most’ tactic. 

I remember sitting in twice-weekly meetings where Product and Dev would almost deliberately go into the full technical mode to try and go over the room’s head to say they were late due to many technical reasons we may not understand.
The TLDR (too long didn’t read) was there were too many moving parts on old technology formats and needed more time. 

Sales would regularly blame ARR goals being missed and sales targets being impacted by Marketing’s failure to drive MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) and Product not releasing on time – all with adding how great their team were doing with a tiny headcount. I am sure you have been there and as it was this way when you were coming up, you likely continued the trend. 

Enter The Translator: 

There is a role within many functioning and highly functional management teams that is the unofficial role of the translator, someone who can and proactively does cut through the buzzwords and technical speak and explain what Product is suggesting or what the Finance team to trying to get across.

The translator often can be seen as the person breaking up fights and attempting to apply logic and bring teams together by positioning arguments differently and cutting through the noise and letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing. 

Do you have a translator? 

Do they step constantly and put the team’s performance ahead of their own team’s performance to ensure there is understanding and consensus?  

Does the business understand that this person exists and takes on numerous issues and enables the business to progress? 

If you have a translator, consider how you can support the translator in their unofficial and under-appreciated role and how you help them move the business forward. 

Have a great week and if you are the translator, congrats for being the unofficial leader of your business.

Danny Denhard 

The Other Unofficial Essential Business Roles

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 92 – What Questions To Ask This Month To Improve Your Performance For Your People?

Dear Leaders, 

March is often the most important month in the year to review how companies are progressing, how the morale and the performance of teams are going and preparing to review the five-year plan. 

Remember my motto;
Think 5 years aheadPlan 3 years aheadAction the year ahead.

So here is a list of questions you will want to ask internally and ask your fellow leaders, answer and then address: 

Strategy & Performance 

  • Do we trust the plan ahead?
  • If we were to change one part of the plan what would it be? 
  • Are there new market conditions we did not plan for or consider?
  • Have we returned to normalised seasonality? 
  • Can we ramp up our spending to accelerate growth? 
  • What would be the best investment to improve company-wide performance? 
  • What do the next six months look like if performance stagnates? 
  • What one hire would positively improve our leadership team? 

Company Culture & People 

  • How are our people doing?
  • How are our people reacting to ever-changing conditions? 
  • If we were to make one change to make people happier at work what would it be? 
  • How is our hiring going? 
  • Do we need to implement any company-wide training? 
  • Are our people in the right internal roles? 
  • Do we need more coaches and mentors?

Important Resources To Help You Answer These Questions 

I trust you work through these with your fellow leaders and consider how you could remove barriers for your performance and your people. 

Have a great week ahead and remember that your leaders should always think action, plan, think model to help address performance people issues alongside leading your business to success years for the next five years. 


Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 91 – The First 100 Days Plan

Dear Leaders, Recently I asked what leaders would like to read on leaders’ letters to help them specifically. 

Here is the first instalment, what should you do for the first 90/100 days or three months in a new leadership role. Thanks to the three leaders who asked this. 

As ever, this will be broken down into the focus mantra = performance (strategy) and people (culture).
If people and performance are not directly connected you will not win the short or mid-term battles.

In most leadership roles in most good businesses you will be onboarded before the first day, you will likely be supplied documentation and insights to help you shape your thoughts. 

For those who don’t do this and those who are a little nervous, here are the steps I recommend you take 

The steps to take for a successful 100 day: 

Days 1-5 

  1. Get settled, onboard properly with HR, your direct colleagues and get comfortable for the first 48 hours. 
  2. Meet as many people as possible, remember one fact or snippet and note it down if need be. People first performance second in the first few days 
  3. Start to understand the tools the company uses, the cadence of updates and ask what are the most important tools.  
  4. Take notes and revisit every morning 
  5. Ask for the company wide strategy, not the strategies, be deliberate in understanding the metrics and the build of the strategy  
  6. Understand the company culture, what roles people play and what role leaders play here 
  7. Understand if the company is hippo led – if yes, build relationships around this
  8. Ask for a glossary of internal terms – if this doesn’t exist create one. Internal language is often so entrenched they do not know they are using it. Being able to speak the internal lingo is often a leap to success  
  9. Understand what communication works best within the business 
  10. Understand how the business actually makes money and what is the current state of play 
  11. Understand the known knowns and etiquettes, what behaviours are rewarded, which are considered negative and those which are just wrong inside the business. What is rewarded in your last place might be punishable in this. 
  12. Set out how you work with your department – how you like to work, how you like to communicate, how you best work, give a few strengths and weaknesses. Plan a speech if need be, often they are sprung on you 
  13. Find out if your company is in crawl, walk, run, stagnation phase. If you are entering a startup understand how mature they are, if you are entering a large company, understand if you are entering a business that is actually stagnating. If you are in a company at run phase from the outside but really is struggling internally the job is very different 
  14. Connect with HR and set up monthly meetings 
  15. Set up your 1:2:1 with your boss, set up what works for you both, monthly might hinder you if your first two months are not going well from their perspective 

Days 5-15

  1. Get to understand the unknown knows – what is the business hiding or is under the surface but not discussed or addressed 
  2. Ask for department leads to take them through their annual plan and performance so far 
  3. Get to know the people in your department, groups activities and one to ones. Make time, find time, don’t move these slots and meetings for others. 
  4. Set up 1:2:1’s cadence – be consistent, be there, be prepared and don’t cancel them! 
  5. Set out your expectations on meeting requests and how people want to use your time 
  6. Understand the team’s abilities and shortcomings and create a team SWOT (include your own), and then integrate into your 1:2:1’s and their grow plans
  7. Get to know how decisions are actually made with the business and within your teams. You will be surprised 
  8. Build a GANTT or equivalent to map out your first 100 days, this helps you stay on track and drive change. Evolve this for the first month 
  9. Understand what your department leads need from you, a coach, a mentor, a manager, a micromanager (yes some want micromanagement) and importantly if some need a fresh start. 

Day 15-50 

  1. Find out what has worked, what has not worked, what could work via the recent ideations sessions 
  2. Understand the current cadence of management team meetings, what format has worked and what hasn’t. If you are operationally smart you should look to optimise the meetings after 4-5 weeks / meetings. Never allow management teams to be a time drain or unproductive 
  3. Understand the performance of the business and the momentum and recent performing months/quarters/years. If there is a theme step up and discuss this openly. 
  4. If you go in a department leader develop your department hierarchy and build out your supporting team. Find your co-pilot quickly
  5. Understand if your role is a rebuilder role and build accordingly, understand the business need, the pain points and the problems you have to solve for the internal and as important the external customer.   
  6. Create grow plans for your team and the team members 
  7. Build your open-plan (open roadmap to all to see) – what you are going to be doing and the needles you will be moving 
  8. Plan the hiring budget and hiring business case, you may have been promised a number, however, these plans change quickly 
  9. Involve the existing team in hiring and the hiring plan. Bring into interviews and develop their hiring skills 
  10. Be proactive – Book time to get to know the leadership team. If they do not come to you, go to them, especially in leadership roles 
  11. Find out the internal influencers, the secret weapons, the hidden leaders and understand the dynamics at play 
  12. Befriend the CFO / FD, despite what you think this is often the most important relationship, trust by relationships and performance 

Day 50 +

  1.  Hire for the right long term roles not for the pain points or just the skills gap 
  2. Set up internal mentoring sessions for your team 
  3. Build cross-functional connections and arrange time slots for team leads and unofficial leads to collaborate (informally or formally) 
  4.  Look to invest time into other departments and the up and coming team members, this information shouldn’t be hard to find 
  5.  Gain feedback as often as possible 
  6. Develop out your longer-term plans, look to develop the 365 plan 

These steps should help you make the most out of the first quarter of your new business and will help guide you into the following quarters. 

Thanks and have a great week.

Danny Denhard

Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 90 – 3 Out Of The Box Ideas To Create Team Connection

Dear leaders, I trust you have had a good and productive week. 

This week I am going to offer three ideas for you to consider. 

Why? I am often creating ideas for others to implement, my iMessage and WhatsApp is often pinged with someone asking for a framework or idea or new concept to try out. 

Over the last few months I have offered three or four ideas for friends and business owners to try out, so I thought I would share those with you. 

Podcast Clubs 

You have heard of book clubs and film clubs, this is podcast club, I have actually seen this work and it really helps people form a connection, in and out of work. 

It is important to find a podcast you connect with the host and theme and discuss the episode together. Some approach it like a listening party, so all listen together, others use time like a book club do to listen separately and then come together to discuss. 

Importantly, works in person, remotely and hybrid

Story-based podcasts work best, I would recommend masters of scale if you are in tech. 

Team Wordles

Wordle became a phenomenon and is an activity some tend to do alone, one company I recommend this to actually tackled it together, it made one activity every morning something to collaborate on and work through together. It becomes a competition and one to bury the rivalry.
TriviaHQ was another app that was something I remember a previous team loved playing together and made 15.00 their time and importantly time they blocked out and stopped everything for. It was a joy to see them collaborate, laugh and create together. 

This idea also works in person, remotely and hybrid. 

Rock Paper Scissors

A few years ago I ran a workshop with a great brand, there was an issue, many of the team who attended the workshop didn’t know each other and had never really worked as a unit. 

It was a group that should have collaborated but the company were not set in the way to enable this. At the start of each session, we would have different objectives to hit and teams would swap over. 

At the beginning of each session, I would make the teams play a quickfire Rock Paper Scissors and the winner would be the leader of the group.
One factor of this day of workshops: All decisions had to be agreed upon before they moved forward. 

If a decision couldn’t be agreed upon, we would then make them play Rock Paper Scissors to get to the answer. It would show competitiveness but also it created a glue between them. You will be surprised by how a quick game will connect people, personalities shine through in games, you learn a lot quicker through games and stories. 

This idea also works in person, remotely and hybrid, just be careful of lag times and cheaters.

FWIW these ideas can help with teamwork, company culture and with tactical enhancements, but can also show the competitive natures, the cheaters (the win at all cost team members) and can identify those who just aren’t podcast fans.

This week why not consider using these or tweaking to work within your business. 

Thanks for reading and have a great week. 

Danny Denhard

Book me to improve your company culture today

Be Inspired About The Future Of Work

The Future Of Work

The Work Metaverse

Fixing The Broken World Of Work With Briony Gunson 🧘‍♀️ – Focus Podcast With Danny Denhard Fixing The Broken World Of Work Podcast

This episodes guest Briony Gunson ( is a business + mindset coach, meditation teacher + trauma-informed breathwork trainer, Briony helps individuals and businesses to improve.  Follow Briony across social – LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube.  The Links:  Briony's Introduction Video On YouTube Podcast: Aubrey Marcus – not about the world of work but psychology, spirituality, human potential + behaviour Book: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art  by James Nestor Newsletter: Brain pickings AKA The Marginalian has a free Sunday digest of the week’s most mind-broadening and hear Sign up to Briony's Friday Feels newsletter: – Briony archives them on her blog.  Listen to Briony's guided meditations on Insight Timer, e.g. this is a popular one: Briony also recommended Kirsty Hulse's work (Kirsty is great and gets my co-approval) Briony takes us on a journey of: Mental health and why it is so important to be aware of How mental health is evolving How your mental health can help to transform physical health Why early morning open-air swims have been so important Therapy and therapists role in peoples lives Why breathwork is so important Why our bodies are driven by our breath and controlling our breath Why Yoga is vital to so many of us Personal development starts with you Everyone is facing similar challenges – it's how you find the best course of action Why retreats are going to so popular and a necessary part of life and work You are the expert of yourself – why starting to listen to yourself and your body is so important
  1. Fixing The Broken World Of Work With Briony Gunson 🧘‍♀️ – Focus Podcast With Danny Denhard
  2. Fixing the broken world of work podcast with Colin Newlyn 🏴‍☠️
  3. Fixing The Broken World Of Work With Peter Hopwood
  4. Fixing The Broken World Of Work With Andy Reid
  5. Fixing The Broken World Of Work With Jo Twiselton

The Seven Greatest Leadership Traits 

The Seven Best Leadership Traits From Leaders Throughout My Career

This is the 21st year of my career and I have worked across the full spectrum of business. 

From running two of my own consultancies, tiny three-person businesses, family-run businesses with multiple interests, startups at different phases from post sell through to IPO and seeing the exec team ring the opening bell, through to working in M&A and acquiring other businesses and integrating them into the organisation, and I have worked within large listed businesses that operate so differently to all of the other business.

I wanted to share the best leadership traits and lessons from my experience. 

Time Management ⏰ – Ruthless prioritisation over time blocking, time management and being able to remove time as a barrier or being able to move projects and campaigns on with managing time. 

Those in back to back meetings and not owning their calendars often struggle with other core leadership traits. 

Knowledge Retention 🧠 – The best execs and leaders work at an incredible pace and retain important pieces of information alongside deadlines as if it is the only piece of information provided to them that day. Being able to handle and remember important points per project to keep colleagues accountable. 

Very often driving a project forward with the information provided and understanding so well they can discuss at many different levels. 

Knowledge retention helps with time management and communication. There is a correlation between those who retain knowledge and keep their own notes. 

Communication 🗣 – From handling how to communicate clearly in every situation especially when in writing and in person, to having objectives around each interaction. Poor leaders are bad at communicating and putting across their vision to teams. The highest 1% of leaders work hard on communication and continuously improve their communication skills. 

Communication is very often the difference between those who buy into the leadership and those who don’t. 

Objectives & Interactions 🥅 –  Something that stood out from one incredible COO of a listed company was their ability to understand and retain information from many different technical departments and she was able to create clear objectives and interact with numerous stakeholders. This particular COO learnt from every interaction to big moments in QBR’s.  

Many exes struggle with interacting with those they do not work with regularly, the best have a great way of talking to anyone from any level and create objectives from these conversations. 

Objectives are often the best method leaders have to keep their people accountable and drive interactions. 

Organisation Design 🕸 – Org design is often the most challenging for startups and upstarts, building out the organisation and hiring the right people to develop these departments challenges even the most experienced and often is the difference between short and mid-term success. Don’t hire and build an org on a pain point or skills pain point, build around sets of problems. 

Org design is often seen as a way to build more hierarchy and grow (or reduce) headcount but also is a way for leaders to reshape trust, organisational health, culture and develop people in the business and those around them. 

Cutting Through BS 🔪-  Even the best leaders within businesses are often so busy they struggle to manage direct reports and cut through BS especially with long term colleagues. The elite leaders can cut through excuses, misdirections and very often drive change by cutting through others BS, particularly underperforming department leads. The elite also from experience drives change, from not accepting weak and vague answers. This often results in loyalty not being rewarded but change and growth being rewarded instead. 

Being able to cut through BS at any level is essential, if your BS radar does not improve with experience you are likely not learning lessons or losing important political intelligence battles around you.  

Long Term Vision 👩‍💼 – The very best leaders show they understand where the business is going, how their industry will change and be focused on the long term, they ensure departments action 1 year ahead, they plan 3 years ahead and plan for the 5 pending years. They are almost unwavering in the vision and allow others to build into the vision while trusting those around them and beneath them to plan and deliver the plan.   

Without a focus on long term vision and being in the driving seat, often executives, founders and co-founders lose their influence and can often misalign the departments. 

Learn From Successful CEO’s

Learn From Jeff Bezos

Learn From Elon Musk


TikTok’s Strategy Breakdown – “Entertain Everywhere” 

TikTok’s Smart Strategy Decoded – ‘Entertain Everywhere’

You may have noticed in the in-person conversations you are having, in the shares received in your iMessage or WhatsApp groups, embeds in media articles and the super quick trends within your workplace, the one common theme – TikTok. 

TikTok has had an incredible journey from an unknown app to a lip-syncing app (Musically) to an entertainment powerhouse, ever since September 2016, it has been the app that approached usage differently and created a product that entertained segments of time. 

TikTok Product / App Breakdown

At the end of December (2021) Cloudflare announced that TikTok has now overtaken Google as the most popular site online. 

TikTok’s strategic steps are fascinating to trace and is the shining light into the modern world of time and the desire to remove boredom and turn creative people into creators. 

Musically: By creating a new app that enabled you to lip-sync with your favourite song and share, the simple shift from photo first to video first proved the use case in the East and the West and generated the use case would work across multiple cultures. 

Advertising: The TikTok team famously spend $1b in 2019-2020 to market the app in the US, this is almost unheard of. 

Once critical mass was hit TikTok could reduce the high advertising cost. 

Selecting Influencers: The TikTok team hand-selected a number of everyday young American’s using the app daily and promoted their content into the feed of millions of users, turning them into international superstars overnight. 

Over 14 of the most followed stars have over 50m followers. 

Many of the TikTok specific stars now post a lot less and entered into other pursuits, which suggests the power TikTok offers. 

Product Rethought: Removing The Need For Follower and Friend Graph: Something that TikTok moved towards that many others are now following is the removal of the need for you to bring your contacts to the app and reducing the friction of needing a network to share your content to first. One of the biggest shifts in social media is removing the friction that you need an audience, whereas, TikTok serves content to the relevant audience based on usage. This is why the “For You Feed” is the default feed vs discover on other apps. 

Remix Culture: TikTok’s remix culture is in my opinion the most powerful feature, enabling users to duet and remix others content natively on the app drives huge engagement and creates sharing loops and collaborations from its newest users to the celebrities joining the app. The remix culture is something so many other networks have struggled to enable and support safely. 

Removing Boredom: Eastern apps are designed around time and time slots, not around traditional use cases, this allowed TikTok to capture specific times where they could serve different content and push different content to the users at different times of the day, morning commutes, lunchtime slots, evening commutes and endless scrolling at night. 

Trump Bump Aka Potential Ban: President Trump famously wanted to ban the app in 2020, this was a cultural war that dragged on and was ultimately banned. Was this something that actually aided TikTok’s growth, likely and paired with how it created fear in the younger generation, it helped to create a fresh set of eyeballs on the app.  

Timing: Coinciding with covid and lockdowns, TikTok really had the opportunity to reshape entertainment. TikTok allowed a creative outlet for all of its users and become an outlet for many expressing their views, whether that was positive or negative against corona, vaccines and lockdowns. 

Sound As The Hero, Video As The Superhero: Unlike other apps, TikTok understands that the sound of the video creates trends, sounds are the magic ingredient to help start quick turnout trends and drives a huge cycle of content creation, in turn, this powers a huge amount of the videos being created. 

Brands Pay From Day 1: Pay to play is almost unheard of from day 1 of an app’s popularity. Brands always look for ways to leverage new platforms and for free. Unlike other apps, TikTok understood that if you want ‘reach’ and engagement you pay for it in the form of hashtags and advertising.  

Start Short Then To Longer Form Content: When others zig you are taught to zag, with stories content it has a short form time limit, while TikTok had everything between 15 to 30 seconds, it pushed to 3-minute content while the other apps pushed to shorter form content to copy and recycle their model. 

Sponsoring Large Sporting Events: TikTok has become the brand that becomes the default sponsor or preferred partner, particularly making smart moves into football (soccer) and offering different challenges and look behind the scenes.

@england Reply to @alisarhan11 Jude Bellingham thinks he’s the king of FIFA 🤔👑 #AskEngland ♬ original sound – England

Becoming The Screen Of Choice: TikTok has sponsored large football (soccer) events, and large rugby events and now homing in on cultural calendar events like the Eurovision song contest. By partnering with such a big calendar event and becoming the screen of choice for the watchers, usage increases, users will log in and engage and there will be large coverage of the event across the world.
This move highlights the importance of being the canonical screen or the first screen.

Copy, Share, Download: What’s the secret sauce behind TikTok, knowing internally they do not have to be an app downloaded on the phone to know you are experiencing TikTok, being shared across Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, iMessage, WhatsApp etc while not having to leave that native app while the timestamp is on said content.

Many people know what TikTok is and can view copied links within the browser and highlight who the specific share came via highlighting the account that shared that video on the bottom left-hand side. 

How sharing off-platform works differently enabling a better personalised entertainment everywhere

Everyone As A Creator & Influencer: TikTok worked out there should be a potential of any video to gain views and enable you to become a creator or feel like an influencer. On other platforms, this felt exclusive to the top %, on TikTok with one video it can make any of its users feel like an influencer. 

High Profile Users: TikTok became the new platform for many high profile celebrities and artists to join and be part of trends.

Ed Sheeran became one of the most popular TikTok celebrities, using the app to announce numerous launches and campaigns

Status: TikTok’s removal of needing an audience of friends has created a whole new status game unlike on other platforms. Creating new a status create a new set of rules to play in and creates new (potential) opportunity for creators. 

Allowing anyone to feel like an influencer or expert has worked for TikTok (however many companies have struggled under the pressure of driving eyeballs to footfall.

Product Breakthroughs: Whether this was deliberate or something the algorithms enabled was specific products and cooking recipes went viral in certain Toks (bubbles).

Serve Skippable Ads: Once TikTok hit critical mass and north of ~300m worldwide users they added a skippable ad as soon as you opened the ad. Great for views data and great for brands who need a large number of views of their brand for awareness of a product or service.

Next? Appearing In Google Search Results: Something Google struggles with walled social networks is surfacing the content within their search engine result pages, Google is plotting to surface TikTok videos right inside of Google result pages. This move for Google is smart but this plays into the ‘entertain everywhere’  mission TikTok is on. Serving trending content within one of its indirect rivals is a critical play in a distributed play. 

TikTok On TV: In the US TikTok is now a TV app, enabling TikTok to be enjoyed on the bigger screen, a genius move to connect more devices and a device that still controls the shape of the shared living space. TikTok’s biggest win is becoming a platform that multiple eyeballs enjoy at once, this may seem like an older approach to distribution however building connection and affinity around its app is a strategically smart and creative move.  

Pre Built For Scale: Many apps and websites struggle with scale, not TikTok. TikTok doesn’t suffer from outages, it doesn’t suffer from lack of content, it can serve content from many different Tok’s (self-selected subcategories within the app) and learn from your entertainment levels. 

As of the start of 2022, TikTok has 1b users (The Chinese version of TikTok is named Douyin and works slightly differently), the average time spent is the highest of all apps and despite only having around 10% of users as creators it is driving 90% of passive (aka lurkers) to spend more time and engage more frequently. These elements are core learnings for many new companies and existing businesses needing to step up and grow their usage or user base.

If you are looking to take inspiration from TikTok’s strategy “Entertain Everywhere“, here are 12 elements you should consider:

  1. Culture: Understand the new cultural element you can provide – understand the cultures you are going in to and the news cycle in those markets. For instance knowing TikTok’s mechanics would have worked in the Western world, whereas many of the Chinese features in Douylin would not work.
  2. Hold Firm On Vision: Entertain everywhere is something I created as a guiding principle (vision for the company to build around), if TikTok had changed their vision they would have been shaped far more and would have become a very different offering in 2022. By playing in SERP’s, by serving content across different platforms (away from walled gardens of Facebook & Instagram) and on TV TikTok becomes the entertainment void for many instances.
    1. Evolve Don’t Pivot Quickly: Unlike other entertainment and social networks TikTok evolved from short to long form, they didn’t pivot or restructure their app or mechanics. Longer form helped shift metrics from time to engaged attention
  3. Easy To: Make the app consumption = easy to learn, easy to use, easy to share, easy to personalise, this allows users to work out if the app is for them on the first two uses. Learn that your site or app has to be sticky and serve entertainment or use cases.
  4. Rethink To Reshape: Look at rethinking the x of you business vertical. In TikTok’s case; they rethought entertainment in time slots and developed out content to serve and worked out what entertained you
  5. New New: Rethink the core concept of serving content in the way everyone else does – reframe it or offer it differently. Instagram is slowing and becoming less used because it just cannot recycle product features from all of it competitors.
  6. Duet & Remixing: The web moved from reader mode (access to content), to writer mode (anyone can add content with a low barrier to entry), to creator mode with video (and importantly, ease of editing) remixing and editing other people’s content was vital, a copy and paste approach works for most products, learn from behavioural economics, something that is started already is far more likely to be completed.
  7. Spend On Marketing & Advertising: Look to advertise across the board and be smart in targeting, TikTok took a huge bet on mass advertising (to everyone, everywhere) knowing it would pay off as the product was sticky enough and served the right content and learnt from it users to make it something important
  8. Social Proof 2.0: Use social proof from your users to enforce or approve the content shared. Know that your users will want to share content across where their network is, why not add the stamp and their profile name and imagery. Think about how products and services actually spread.
  9. Hero: Consider how you help to make every user the hero of the product, whether they are a creator (poweruser) or a passive user (lurker)
  10. Sidekick: When users decide to share help them to appear as a sidekick – TikTok made the content become the hero and the sidekick is the person who created it or shared the content
  11. Partnerships: Partner with brands that naturally resinate with your target demographic and customers. Be proud of the partnerships and ensure you gain traction and positive association from said partners.
  12. Plan & Centre Around Long Term: Have grand long term plans – think 5 years ahead, plan 3 years, action 1 year, TikTok has delivered important updates to its app continually since it’s inception