Category Archives: ideas

Fairy story beginning for a neat social campaign

Every now and then someone comes up with a really great idea that deserves a second look.

Not only is this commercial from the Guardian a great idea well implemented, its part of an integrated on-line campaign that is equally smart and undoubtedly destined to generate some big numbers.

It used to be that anybody with half an idea could generate a following in social media, but audiences, particularly in developed Western markets, are now so refined that being on-line is no longer novel enough in itself to get results, you have to have that big idea, just as you do with any other medium.

I’ve just launched an integrated grass-roots and social campaign and I know how tough it can be to overcome the expectations of businesses that simply doing something digital achieves instant success.  It takes good planning, hard work, the all-important “big idea” and time to recoup the investment in an initiative like this, but because The Guardian don’t appear to have skimped on any of these my guess is they’ll get their pay-back.

What do you think?


The very sad loss of Graham Rust.

Some days are just sad and today has been made so for me by the news that Graham Rust died in Prague yesterday.  You may have read the piece I posted here a few months back when Graham announced that he’d had enough of chemotherapy and was instead taking a trip … around Europe.  My feelings then were a combination of anger at the injustice and delight at the way he responded. I think those of us who knew him realised the inevitabilty of his all too early exit, but it nonethless leaves a hole in your life when someone you respect dies.

Tributes are already emerging from people who knew him longer and better than I, but at the risk of being as unoriginal as many of us look alongside Graham I just want to add my tuppence-worth.

I am sure there are many people around who met Graham without realising just how impressive his life has been, such was his humility.  A genuine mould-breaker he seemed to love what he did and did what he loved and it showed in the great ideas he has left us.

The agency he founded in Prague is a reflection of his personality and approach to life and work.  He achieved balance in most things that I particularly respect, tough and sympathetic, creative and organised – I loved the way he made work lists like an engineer, but tackled the problems they represented like the most liberated creative and he never lost his absolute glee for a neat solution.

We were the same age, but Graham taught me things that I am grateful for as he did the people who he took on and mentored at his agency.  There are many ad. people in Prague and elsewhere who owe their place in the business and their understanding of the work to this truly good bloke.

Aplogies to Richard Laurence Baron from whose blog I stole this great photo.  My only excuse being that I’m in Saudi Arabia at the moment and don’t have a shot of my own to use.

Need an illustration of integrated marcomms? Should have gone to Specsavers.

I realise that this campaign has been around for a while now, but I find myself eagerly awaiting the next commercial, which in itself is an indication of just how good it is.

“Should have gone to Specsavers” is, on the face of it not a particularly strong proposition.  For one thing it doesn’t actually make a promise, but what it lacks in directness it more than makes up for in the way it has exploited all the opportunities it creates.

The tag line is in the vein of the Tesco “Every little helps”, although I would suggest that Tesco’s is more of a promise, but Specsavers stick to the golden rule by illustrating why I should belive that message in different and highly amusing ways every time they wheel it out.

I like this because it is a big idea that they are exploiting to the full.  “Should have gone to Specsavers” may not be a smack-you in-the-face proposition, the promise is inferred rather than made outright, but I particularly like it because the individual tactical messages back it up with hard facts – discounts, deals etc.  I’m also confident that Specsavers’ data will show that the use of humour has transformed a boring commodity business into a desirable brand by giving it a clear and desirable personality.

In my opinion, Specsavers is one of the very few UK business right now that is producing efficient advertising and demonstrating to everyone how to get maximum bang for your buck by aligning tactical and strategic messages.  That’s integration!

In the retail – e-tail war detail could be the decider.

So, HMV is in a state of meltdown yet again and with today’s profit warning following a Christmas trading period that turned out to be more of a turkey than a gift, it all looks pretty glum for this once retail icon.

In fact HMV is one of two high street retailers that I feel deserve a kick up the arse right now.  Both are frustratingly short of a few tricks that would counteract the biggest threat to their future.  The other is no-brand WH Smith, whose stores are dismal, amateur, badly lit, over stocked, over-priced and poorly staffed.  There’s an irony somewhere in the fact that HMV’s sister business Waterstone’s is the one showing WH Smith how its done.  Smiths may be in growth mode right now, but it looks like the short-term market-trader kind of success that begs questions like “So what do we do for our next trick?”.

Compare the two – On the brightest day a visit to WH Smith can make you feel like ending it all.  A bit like a church hall jumble sale, the mess of books, school equipment, magazines and sweets(?) and lord knows what else, trying hard to be all things to all people and succeed in being nothing much to anybody.    Waterstones, on the other hand, with their founder back at the helm, have single-mindedly established their authority in a sector where authority is everything.  These days Waterstones are ticking all the boxes, with knowledgable and intelligent staff and meaningfully stocked shelves (no pick n’ mix sweets in grubby pots here).  They have even mastered the trick of using their High Street presence to establish the authority they need to succeed on-line and with a million plus e-book downloads under their belt I have no doubt that both clicks and mortar numbers will follow.

Like Waterstones, WH Smith and HMV have both encountered the Internet challenge, but while WH Smith firstly buried its head in the sand, hoped it would go away, then muffed the response, HMV, like Waterstones, are focussing on doing things in-store that only in-store can do and using on-line as a sort-of take-away format – well almost.  And that’s the rub.  They aren’t getting down to the detail quite as I would have hoped.

For one thing, despite the live music elements they have added, they haven’t really mastered the brand community thing and they are missing some of the small practical things could make doing business with them easier and more fun.  Take for instance the art of the demo.  A focus of all record stores in the past and certainly a useful community building tool today.  Remember the Saturdays (That’s the day of the week not the band!) spent in the listening booth at your local record store listening to Friday’s releases and deciding what to spend this week’s pocket-money on?

When vinyl went out of the door, so it seems did the listening booth – replaced, admittedly by HMVs listening posts, which were fine, but then … silence!  Sure, they’ll play a CD in the store if you can get close enough to the check-out for your request to be heard, but it’s not the same as sharing a set of headphones with your mates in a sweaty booth.

Maybe they think they have that one covered with their in-store radio (Is it live? – I’m not sure), but they kinda’ come out of that looking like the guy who invented 6-Up – just a natz short of success – not enough interaction, which they could have built-in even with an AsLive solution.  They also miss the same trick on-line because, except for a few albums like Jessie J’s latest which features her brilliant Price Tag video, you can’t listen to even samples of selected tracks before you buy.  In the store they make great play (excuse the pun) of introducing new acts with short, on-shelf biogs, but if you can’t listen to the music, you have to risk £10 to buy the album blind (or is it deaf?) which, when we are all being austere, is a non-starter really.

To WH Smith I say, before turn yourself into a Moroccan bazaar, I suggest you don’t copy Woolies, because we all know where that gets you, pop across to Wilkinson instead and see how multi-category retailing is done cheerfully and tastefully (and with staff that you’d consider striking up a conversation with).  Oh and switch the lights on.  Reading in bad light is bad for anybody’s eyes.   HMV on the other hand need to write a thousand times “retail is detail”.  Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, get the little things right, tackle these and I’m sure you’ll find your days will be brighter.

When clever headlines are not so clever

Earlier this week I was eves-dropping at a seminar in Newbury where the speaker Steve Mills was dishing out marketing advice to hungry small businesses managers.  One woman, asked “What is the secret of a good headline?”.

The lady in question explained how she was organising an event and needed a headline for her advertising.  So far she had been checking newspaper headlines and trying to think up something “catchy” and “clever”, a play on words or something similar.

When I was developing my Full Effect Marketing programme I created a formula for an advertisement that I stand by to this day.  Creatives don’t always agree, but it works and it goes like this.

  • There are four elements in an ad. – Headline, body copy, call-to-action, sign-off.
  • The sign-off, or strap-line, is your “brand promise”.
  • Your brand promise is always supported by pillars that substantiate it.  We create these in my Brand Discovery programme.
  • The headline is the first thing a reader will see.  It’s job is to stop the viewer and it has about half a nanosecond to do so, so it has to hit the mark.
  • To do this it has to be relevant and direct.
  • A good headline makes a proposition that your target will relate to.  It doesn’t have to resonate with people who you don’t want to reach, so it can talk to your target in his or her parlance and it will be all the more effective for that.
  • If you have made a good job of your Brand Model your headline proposition will reflect one of your brand pillars.
  • The body copy substantiates the proposition and links it to the brand promise.
  • The call-to-action tells them what to do next.

When you link up the components of an ad. it should tell a cohesive story.  Some organisations like Tesco, M&S and Philips do this very well, but most press ads are pretty average and surprisingly few headlines hit the mark.

In this case the lady wanted to promote self-improvement classes, so I guess her headlines should be something along the lines of “Learn the secrets of your future success”.  (So give me a break! I’m not a copywriter. I’m just marking out the ground here.)  The point is, clever headlines are only clever when they get to the point and if they are a mental obstacle course they are not clever at all.  The priority is to get your message across, if you can, express your brand personality in the language you use, which should be the same language as your target. Be clever by all means, but never make being smart your primary concern.

Innovation – When less is definitely more.

I guess it’s the current climate, but I seem to spend a lot of time these days, talking to people whose businesses are struggling and very often they are in a mess because they are overstretched.

Nowadays, we are all having to achieve more with fewer people and one of the first things that tend to suffer is innovation or the product development programme.  However, if you are not working on your next big idea right now, you probably won’t be around for long.

Because acquisition is so much more expensive than growing your existing customers, you can’t afford to do anything that will reduce your customer satisfaction rating, in fact, you should be ramping up your CRM and innovation will play a central role in this.  So, how do you continue to innovate when you are already looking to do more with less, ?

The only way to go is to improve your prioritisation.  I was talking to a business recently that was very proud of its innovation.  However all they had were ideas, no marketing, so they hadn’t sold anything.  In fact last year they flushed the best part of a million euros down the toilet, developing a product on a hunch, only to find as they rounded the final bend, that nobody wanted to buy it.  Believe it or not, nobody had thought to research the market as when they first came up with the idea and before they started developing it.

By all means, talk to customers or dig into your competitors’  businesses, just be tougher on yourself, introduce more stringent criteria for taking an idea into development and if an idea passes the test, give it all you’ve got.  Your success rate will improve.  When, like now the business bar is raised, its far better to have a handful of great ideas than hundreds of half-arsed ones.

It doesn’t only apply to product development.  Innovate and prioritise in every area of your business and you’ll be surprised how efficient you’ll become. Design an idea development process, keep your objective firmly in your sights, establish criteria for every step in every innovation process and don’t waver.  It takes discipline, but if you stick at it you’ll come out on top.

Brand stewardship – what’s it mean to you?

Last week I was put on the spot when someone asked me for my views on “brand stewardship”. Apart from the fact that its like asking for my view on world peace – I could either just say “I’m in favour of it” or talk for three hours –  the term “brand stewardship” poses a question in itself.  I mean what is it?  What’s the difference between “stewardship” and “management” or “development” and, given that anything to do with a brand touches on every aspect of a business, where should I start (or end for that matter)?

Let’s begin with nomenclature.  My guess is that someone, somewhere, at some time in the past, came up with the “stewardship” concept in order to accommodate the fact that the closest we can ever get to owning a brand is in the role of minder.  But why not “management”?  I assume that this must be based on the belief that “management” sounds a bit too formal and structured for something that is very human and organic.  So far, even though I have a loathing of the terminology that marketing people think up to make themselves appear smart, but actually just confuses everybody, I can live with all of this and if I’m right, I guess I understand the question and whether you call it stewardship, management or development it’s all about caring for a brand.  I’m going to assume that a brand steward is like the steward of a golf club – he’s there to make sure processes are adhered to and everything is kept in shape but he/she doesn’t have an executive role. So, let me try to summarise my views on “brand stewardship”.

I must have explained my understanding of what a brand is hundreds of times, but to this day defining “brand” even among the “marketers” who participate, remains a critical component of most of my workshops and seminars.  Such are the vagaries and inconsistencies within the marketing business.  I view brands as communities, which, like any other is really just a group of people with something (or things) in common.  A large part of this is values and beliefs. Some members of a brand community create a product or services that reflect these beliefs and values and others buy and use them.

People buy BMW’s because Brandenbergischen Motorenwerke belive in things like quality, engineering excellence and innovation and the cars and motorcycles they produce are manifestations of that.  If you need a car and  these things are important to you, its logical that you’ll feel comfortable in the BMW community.  Similarly, Apple is all about innovation and style, so if these subjects are important to you, you’ll probably own a Mac., i-Phone or i-Pad.

These brands and others have taken the time and trouble to drive awareness of what they stand for and as a result the brands themselves have become icons for a clearly defined set of values – you have YUPPIES driving BMWs and then there’s “white van man”.  Provided the reality measures up to the promise you’ll have the reassurance of knowing what to expect from a product wearing a familiar label.  It works the other way too.  Owning a BMW or a Mac is a badge of belonging to a community – a symbol of your beliefs – and because, as Maslow revealed, most of us are insecure, sales of many products are driven by people who have a need to wear a badge denoting our belonging to a group.  Why else would we wear clothing large areas of which are taken up with advertisements for their manufacturers?

However, this is a bit simplistic.  Few people, for instance, will find a single brand community that represents everything they stand for so most of us combine a portfolio of brands to represent different aspects of our belief system.  If you think of a brand community as a residential community you’ll recognise that you choose to live in a place because it is “your kind of place” but because the brand thing is not exclusive, when you move in you bring the trappings of your other communities with you.  In this way, while joining the community may broaden your horizons, at the same time, to some extent, you’ll enrich the community with the stuff you bring with you.  That explains why brand communities are constantly changing.

All truly great brands are like Marmite. However broad and diversified your brand community may be you are never going to appeal to everyone, and you shouldn’t want to.  Brands with broad appeal are inherently weak because, along with the need to belong we also have a need to express our individuality.  That’s where quirky niche brands play their part in life’s rich tapestry.  A strong brand is normally vivid or distinctive and while stark differentiation like this means it won’t be to everyone’s taste, distinctive brands will foster deep relationships with community members (I call these “Brandships”) and strong loyalty.  These factors are the keys to sales, profit and longevity.

Difference is very often synonymous with newness.  Its relatively easy to be different when you are the new kid on the block, but the success that your newness drives will take you ever closer to becoming “the establishment”.  The more successful you become the greater the challenge of maintaining your difference becomes.  A successful brand will recognise that it is the difference of the products it makes rather than the products themselves that is responsible for their success and as their products become familiar and competitors bring look-alikes to market, they’ll find new ways of representing “difference”, just as Apple have done by constantly changing their products and introducing radical new ideas.  Of course, some new products and ideas will fail, but failure is good because it is a product of innovation, change, experimentation.  While longevity can be a valuable and reassuring asset it is important to recognise that having been around for a long time may not count for much if you’ve not changed anything about your business in all that time.

Brand stewardship in many ways is just the same as any kind of management or indeed parenthood.  Its mostly about facilitation, providing the scope, tools and resources and opening the doors to opportunity, guiding where necessary, but avoiding imposing your own values or rules on your charge.  Its about providing opportunities for discourse, listening to what your members are saying both to you and each other, providing what they need to do the things they want to do (Which also means predicting what they will need in the future), offering up suggestions and being around to fix things that go wrong.  In other words, providing access, introducing communications like on-line or social networking, fuelling and being involved in discussion, collecting insights and data, analysing it and developing products and services that because of all of this you can be confident your community will welcome and generally policing.

In order to do all of this you first of all have to be absolutely clear what the brand and its community is all about – its that values and beliefs thing again – and to do this you’ll need a methodology to help you condense, what is a complex thing into as simple a form as possible.  My Brand Discovery programme introduces such methodology and using it any business can create an eleven-element Brand Model that will sum up their brand.  But that’s just the beginning.  You then have to apply it to your business, making sure that the actions you take on every level of the organisation reflect and support the essence of your brand.  That will take a brand Steward into every corner of your business where he/she will influence pretty well everything that is done.  This can be a risky job in organisations that don’t already have a team-playing culture, which is why Brand Discovery also provides an ongoing management system that engages everyone in the organisation, gives them the tools they need to ensure that their decisions and actions are aligned to the brand promise and ensuring they are fully involved in the process of keeping your brand alive.

Good brand stewardship drives things like Cupidtino the new dating service for Apple users, Saturn’s annual owners factory tour, Yeti bikes’ bashes, Harley Davidson’s HOG chapters and many other different elements of the communities of discerning brands around the world.  Good brand stewardship is the reason why innovative organisations innovate and efficient businesses are efficient, but, as I said earlier, it’s a very big subject and this is a very simple answer.  If you want the whole nine-yards we’ll need a much longer discussion.