“Lipstick on a Pig” or change the Animal?


To put “lipstick on a pig” is a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product. So, if you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig. Don’t put lipstick on a pig when no-one wants pork, sometimes you need to change the animal.

“If you digitise a pig, it is still a pig”

While there have been many, many laggards, now companies and indeed entire industries are grabbing the bull (pig) by the horns and implementing digital transformation.

I can feel my cortisol levels rise and that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I picture the mavericks within such companies battling with short-term minded CEOs and CFOs. The CFO is (often) used as the bad cop (often she is one) to quash any investment that doesn’t have a robust business plan and doesn’t follow the “rules” that got the company to where it is today.

When we are dealing with total shifts in business models, in human desires and consumption patterns it can be difficult to quantify. Many a maverick inherently knows “if we don’t do this we won’t have a company”.

Alas, after putting up a good fight, the maverick leaves, change stagnates and the old order is restored. The CEO blames new technologies, the shrinking market or some global competitor (who does cater for shifts in human desires, consumption patterns and new business models).

The board of directors question why did the maverick leave. She wasn’t a good fit, she was too disruptive or “She didn’t quit we fired her!”. Under pressure from the board there are some new “token hires” or new contractors, maybe with “Data” in their title, but definitely with “Digital” in their title. A new CDO or Chief Digital Officer perhaps?

Digitising the Pig


The ones I feel for the most are the ones who are in a rush to digitise the business.

These people work long hours, push developers and suppliers to improve user experience. They develop an app (often unnecessarily so) but no matter what they do, they have to justify their every move.

So, after much blood, sweat and tears the old, defunct, undesired product, business model or service is now digitised. The Golden Gate Bridge has been painted, now it needs another lick of paint and the process begins again.

There is finally lipstick on the pig and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The pig is digitised!

All Hail the Pig! (Rock Concert/Ballet)


“Either hold a rock concert, or a ballet; but don’t hold a rock concert and advertise it as a ballet.” Warren Buffett.

Next, an often out-of-date marketing function run social media campaigns (outsourced) and digital advertising to push people to their website/app/pig.

The next board report may as well be written in lipstick font 🙂 We achieved a huge CTR (click through rate, including fat finger and bot traffic). We achieved x% uplift of site traffic (and twice that in bounce rates) and some people will never come to see our pig again.

Almost everyone knows the emperor is naked, there are a couple who are ignoring digital until they make it to their retirement, but no-one calls it. Finally, the board put the foot down

Maintaining your percentage (or even a larger one) of a shrinking pie in face of disruptive, VC-backed startups becomes the story. The VC-backed startups hire some of your people and your best people go quiet. The VC-backed startups have a clear mission/goal/purpose, you have lost yours, if there ever even was one.

Changing the Animal!


When everyone thinks outside the box, it becomes the box within which everyone thinks.

In this world of disruption you need to question the box, the pig, the business model. Just like in life, if we do not constantly reimagine ourselves, we stagnate, we grow old and we die. Businesses need to continually examine the box in which they think, operate and produce.

To digitise a broken business model is simply accelerating demise. A better version of yourself is not better, incremental change is not innovation. Businesses need to be re-imagined and take into account more than just business models.

When you change your animal, you need to change not only your business model, you need to change your mental model.

Hence, telcos are not about telephones, they are platforms to connect people, taxis are not transportation companies, they are logistic and data companies and AirBnB does not enable room rentals, it enables experiences.

Changing your mental model means recalibrating how your company thinks, acts and behaves internally and externally. Don’t accept lipstick on a pig, change the animal, don’t think inside the box, change it.Thanks for reading please share this so others may see it.


On this week’s innovation show I talk to Joel Beckerman , founder and leader of MMM, Man Made Music, a strategic music and sound studio.

MMM score entertainment and brand experiences by creating and curating soundtracks and sonic ids.

Joel Beckerman is an award-winning composer and author and had the vision to set up MMM, when very few saw the value in sound. Fast forward to today and Joel is a leader in his field and his services employed by Global, forward-thinking brands. Joel is author of the great book ‘The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy’. We discuss the book, the main insights and how you can use sound to transform your brand and yourself.

In a world where the whole brand proposition is essential, sound is essential and Joel shares his insights on why this is.

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