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Levi Roots Has a Brand Message…

Sometimes I feel like officially complaining about the undervalued state of the branding and design industry.
Lament lament – every now and again the BBC does us a favour.
In the latest episode of The Apprentice – You’re Fired, Levi Roots explains that it was all wrong because of the marketing and the branding. Not just about the spelling mistake of the brand name, but about the visual messages not coming across.

Bellissimo Spelling mistake
Cringe factor. Wrong brand. Wrong brand message. - Photo from BBC

Levi nicely pointed out the importance of a professional image especially when dealing with other businesses in the trade industry.
They didn't get the message across.

Thank you Mister BBC and Levi Roots! Apart from the entertainment, it is very nice to be in a sector that once in a while is appreciated as a key factor in the success of a business. Made my day!

brand management, Branding, typography

SME Branding Lesson #13 – The Power of the Niche

Widely publicised in recent years, one of the most popular choices for entrepreneurs is niche marketing. Whilst I would be careful with the trend of ‘finding a niche and building a website around it’, I think if a business has established a differentiating factor that sets it apart, the targeted approach of a niche brand may be the next step in securing brand loyalty and higher profit margins.

What is a niche brand?

In simple terms, a niche brand is a brand that addresses the need for a product or service that mainstream brands don’t provide for. It is a very specific brand appealing to a subset of the market.
Niche brands often withstand market forces better because they have increased brand loyalty and a prime position within their market segment.
A niche could be a luxury brand, such as Rolex or Hermes who only target the richest consumers – or it could be a shop selling household products for people with dermatitis, e.g. catering for a very specific need.

Some niche brands on or off the high street

The following are just a few samples I would consider niche brands – though some have made the break-through into the mass market.

Under the Nile clothing brand
Under the Nile is an organic clothing company for kids. Niche and boutique.

Another niche brand that has grown to be part of the high street. After initial Dragon's Den disaster, Trunki is synonymous for bright, fun travel accessories for kids.

MeisterSinger is a super luxury niche brand. Don't ask how much it costs!

Hot Milk
Hot Milk lingerie is a refreshing maternity lingerie brand that is not afraid to put some humour into pregnancy...

Even Hotels
The hotel that is looking after your health. A niche with potential.

EO niche brands
Another niche brand in the beauty market

Ellas Kitchen
If you have children, you will probably know Ella's Kitchen. It's a regular in the supermarkets but an independent brand – a bit like Innocent.

Everyone knows Crocs now – but the brand started as a niche and perhaps still is...

Avene niche brand
Avene has a beauty reputation

How can you find a niche?

Start with market research. If you don’t have a specific product yet, you can use a variety of online search tools to find out what consumers are interested in and if there is a range of products or services that can cater for their demand. You can use free tools, such as the Google keyword tool, to find out how many people search for a specific keyword and to find related terms to give you more ideas. Find something that has a good balance of demand and supply, so you can easily become the market leader and have sufficient interest in your product.
If you already have a product or service, consider the following: Which market are you in? Who are your customers? Think about to whom your product mostly speaks. What problem does your brand solve? Is there a recurring customer profile that works for your business?
Without trying to please everyone, you can become a market leader in a specific sub group and compete through your expert knowledge of your customer’s requirements.

Why should you find a niche?

In terms of branding, a niche means you automatically target a very specific segment of your target market, and thus you will be presented with some great opportunities of engaging with a willing crowd of enthusiasts. I just remember my interview with Steve from phILOFAXY, which gave me great insight into the nature of those Filofax fans – you could not wish for better brand ambassadors!

A niche with continuing appeal – Filofax

Niche brands have the appeal of being expert and serving the individual, so you can benefit from better margins if your brand is right and from stronger loyalty if you fulfill your brand promise.
That also means that niche brands are often more resilient in a more difficult financial climate. And if your business is built on being profitable without needing mass sales, a drop in purchasing is not going to affect you as severely as mass product brands that suffer when the general public tightens their purse strings.
Building a niche brand also means that you have more opportunities within a chosen sector to become the expert, the market leader, the one to beat – and benefit from interest where big brands won’t bother because it is not worth their time and investment.

Any help out there?

There are a number of pod casts all around niche branding which are very interesting to listen to and who discuss a wide array of subjects relating to finding and marketing a niche brand. Of course you can always talk to me, too… 🙂
Internet Business Mastery
A lot of niche websites rely on internet marketing which both these pod casts address nicely. Any more gems out there, please let me know!

brand management, niche branding

A Brand Advert to DIY For

Just a quick one really. I am not a regular TV advertising watcher, but when I came across the recent B&Q ad, I thought it is a great example for the difference between big brand advertising and direct response adverts.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abU4PFYFeXI?rel=0]
The ad focuses purely on the emotional connection with the brand. Helping you say ‘I did that’ is such a strong summary of what a home improvement company can strive for. It works because we all know that B&Q is about DIY, about paints, wood, screws and wallpaper, about tools and garden accessories. If we didn’t, the ad may look pretty, but we’d be missing out on all those messages that describe what B&Q actually offers.

advertising, brand advertising

Getting the Hang of Standing Up – Progress for the Standeazy Brand

It’s been months since I last wrote about my Standeazy marketing journey. I tried a lot of different things and some are proving to be successful. Somebody mentioned on a podcast that starting a new business, it usually takes around 18 months for anyone to really take notice, but I think it also takes the entrepreneur or brand manager a while to figure out how to position the product, what marketing methods work best and which tools to use.

Airplane entertainment
Couldn't have flown without it!

After a stint of local networking, it became quickly apparent that Standeazy is going to need a wider reach than a local networking group can provide. Considering the time it takes to network ‘offline’, even after weeks of connecting with people it seemed that time was better spent to actually invest in some SEO.
So I embarked on the SEO journey and stumbled across a site that helps with back linking and gives you a free SEO report on your keywords with suggestions for on-site SEO. It cost about £10 per month and since following their suggestions, we have managed to appear on google for keywords we were on page 149 – now iPhone stand puts us on page 4 in the UK and page 6 in the US. There is more work to be done for sure but it shows it is possible. The final test for the SEO are sales from the website itself and they have gone up considerably since February so that’s something worth bearing in mind.
The site is called Clicksubmit and they have been very good with email response as well.
I started using PressKing for press release distribution and also created a page on our website with news and press releases. In December, we were featured in a Birmingham gift guide which again resulted in measurable sales from the local area so PR is a worthwhile time investment. As for the distribution services (I have tried GnosisArt via a special offer on GroupPrice and PressKing) I am less convinced.
B7Living Gift Guide
Getting some exposure

Far more (expensive) impressive are Vocus and PRWeb but they are unaffordable beyond the free trials.
Another great little tool I used to do some market research and to create content for press releases is Toluna.
On my list to try is social media platform roost – I am still unsure if it really is a good idea. I am trying to find someone who has used it and am still waiting back to hear from them why they need access to EVERYTHING in my FaceBook account. Why do they?
We set up a German outlet on amazon.de and the stands are selling there far better than we ever expected! I am now having everything translated to tackle the French market as well, but even just the German market has made such a difference.
What has been really exciting though is that we just completed our first corporate order! It’s taken a while but it is for Warner Bros promoting their UltraViolet brand to retailers at a trade show.
iPhone Stand for Warner Bros
Custom design and print for Warner Bros – the UV Standeazy

02 UV Standeazy iPhone Stand
The phone stand from the back...

We’ve also just had another review published and a video which is a great compliment.
Here is a video and the link to the site coolsmartphone.com.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4y2IUjagGs?rel=0&w=560&h=315]
So, I am continuing the hunt for a top spot on Google and I am hoping that by slowly making valuable connections in the media industry, Standeazy will go from strength to strength in the coming months.


Seeing Double – and More…

I like this ad. It’s very simple, very local and very clear. It’s the kind of direct response advert that tries to be a brand advert without being too clever and without losing the message. What I like most about it though – and I have no idea if this was intentional – is the fact that, as my dear husband pointed out, for the past few months there has always been a glasses ad there from Specsavers or Vision Express
Estate Agent Green
Whether it was an intended pun or just pure coincidence, it is still a good example of brand advertising that works. And whilst I am not saying that the colours, the type, the logo or the ‘glasses oval’ are the best this business can do for its brand, they have achieved a clearer message than a lot of ads I have walked passed on that corner.

advertising, Funny

Every Little Yelps – Add This to the List of Brand Extension Failures

“Couture” means dressmaking, sewing, or needlework[1] and is also used as a common abbreviation of haute couture and refers to the same thing in spirit.[2]
It makes me wonder if Tesco Couture ever had a chance. A value proposition so far removed from the ‘every little helps’ cheap and easy attitude the brand commonly projects has to work so much harder to gain the reputation and recognition it needs to become and remain profitable at the scale of this super market giant.
How do mass production and couture go together? Perhaps I don’t quite get their story, but it seems to me that by putting a high price tag on they appear to have thought they can elevate their fashion line into the realm of independent boutiques and the big fashion houses.
FF Courure
Surprise, it doesn’t seem to have worked. With some items on sale for less than 20% of the original price, consumers have shown that sometimes a brand just won’t connect. And with mass production quality not living up to the ‘Couture’ branding of the limited edition line, a Tesco spokeswoman confirmed that the supermarket had no future plans to run another range.

brand extension

SME Branding Lesson #12 – To Brand or Not to Brand…

… advertise that is the question.

I recently came across an article written by a marketing expert that suggests SMEs spending time and money on branding really are wasting their time. As I read on, I realised that he may have simplified the subject and based his conclusion on comparing brand advertising versus direct response advertising as parts of a marketing strategy for SMEs.
Pretty much all major fashion, lifestyle and consumer goods brands practice a mixture of both, but we probably mostly remember them for their brand advertisements.  Distinct imagery, a clever tag line, sometimes just an image and a logo – welcome to the very different sibling of  direct response advertising.

Miu Miu Advertising Campaign
Showcasing the brand. Then the product.

It’s an investment. It’s not instant gratification. It’s hard to track and hard to justify, but it seems to be working for the big boys. So why shouldn’t SMEs do the same?
Brand advertising is not meant to sell a product or service directly to a potential customer. Brand advertising skillfully nurtures potential buyers by keeping your name and what your business stands for in the mind of the consumers so when they eventually get to make a buying decisions, your brand is one of the few they will consider.
As such, it may take months for a campaign to show results. Equally, it will take repeated appearances of adverts – but in my mind most importantly, companies that successfully use brand advertising have spent years if not decades building up a public perception of their brand and their values so now they ‘simply’ have to reinforce this perception and introduce the next generation of customers to their brand.
I believe this is the major reason why it won”t work as effectively for local SMEs as a means of getting new business. Even if you had the money to place large double spread adverts in the local paper with little more than your logo and strap line on, chances are, people just won’t know your brand enough to understand.

A Case of Benetton

Benetton baby brand advert
Not seen before. In the 90s this had shock value. And it positioned the Benetton brand.

In 1993, clothing company Benetton launched a campaign for their new range featuring images such as a ‘branded’ HIV victim, a newborn, a guy on death row, a dying seagull bathed in black oil, soldier’s graves – basically anything you and I may consider boarder line fascinating / scandalous / tasteless.
Benetton HIV ad
Talking about tabu subjects when nobody else did. The Benetton brand had their own strategy for leaving an impression

Benetton have continued over the years to use their brand to raise awareness of social and environmental issues. They are doing it again now with their ‘UNHATE‘ campaign featuring politicians kissing. Somewhat easier to digest than those older campaigns, they still use shock to create attention for their brand.
Benetton UnHate Merkel Brand Advert
Just one of the series of adverts featuring kissing politicians. In Germany, we called it the 'Bruderkuss' and it was for real!

However, they don’t exclusively advertise like that. There are also specific sub brand advertising campaigns featuring clothes. Brightly coloured, fun and happy – a stark contrast to their other campaigns.
Benetton brand advert
Bright is beautiful. A lighter advertising campaign by Benetton.

What Benetton have achieved is to create an almost instinctual understanding within us about what they represent. This didn’t happen just by placing a series of brand adverts. It’s the result of lots of background activity to instill their values and opinions in the public mind – be it on the environment, RFID technology and Turkish child labour or denim sand blasting practice.
Without the strength and backup of a global advertising campaign programme that runs over many months and communicates your business clearly to the masses, your money will probably be better spent in a more direct approach to gaining new customers.

Creatively Direct

I guess one way to distinguish direct response from brand advertising is the more explicit connection between the advert and the product or service. There may be an offer or incentive, there may be a clear call to action, a listing of features or a value proposition and a strong emphasis on communicating the selling points/differentiation from competitors.
That does not mean it has to be or appear boring, with lots of copy and little ‘white space’ to let the brand identity speak as well as the product. There are some amazing direct response campaigns out there and the web hosts perhaps far more than print advertising at the moment because of the immediacy of possible reactions a mouse click away.
tontine pillow adverts
Dove Direct response ad

Tridos direct response ad

Out of the Question

Going back to the earlier statement of branding being a waste of time for SMEs, I think nothing could be further from the truth. (I have actually just recently written about why I believe SMEs should bother to spend time and money on branding.)
Whilst SMEs may benefit easier and more measurably from response-driven advertising, it’s the branding activities that do the heavy-lifting, that establish a business in the mind of the consumer, influencing buying and response decisions.
Relying on direct sales marketing alone is short sighted. You only need one new local player on the market who is mastering their brand management and without having invested in creating loyalty to your brand, they have every opportunity to take over your position.
A thought-through strategy to get your business present on the market and positioned where you want it to be is as important as the right mixture of branding and marketing activities. You may not be a global brand, but there are lots of local small business brands that shine and there is no reason why yours can’t be one of them.

advertising, Brand Strategy, Branding, SME

SME Branding Lesson #11 – Be Straight in Your Communications

Tesco Pet Insurance Brand Communications
Brand communications that lost them my loyalty and custom.

I received a letter from Tesco pet insurance about the renewal of our policy. The letter suggested an upgrade of the policy and mentioned just on the side the new monthly fee. It was more than double to what I signed up for. I did the ‘usual’ shopping around and found a cheaper offer – with the same or nearly the same benefits. I called and spoke to a chap to cancel the policy and he mentioned that I did have the ‘save 50%’ special offer last year. Sadly, by then my mind was made up.
Why do I mention this?
In my mind, the brand communication went wrong in a few ways. The letter of renewal arrived late and gave hardly any time to consider. It mentioned nowhere the reason for the dramatic increase – e.g. the special offer from the last year – or any reasons why I should renew. It was written in typical lawyers talk mixed with marketing speech and fact I had to hunt down where the actual monthly costs were displayed (ok, so I am blind to right hand column advertising on google and facebook) made the whole experience annoying.
The Tesco brand positions itself as great value for money – their policy communications did not get that brand promise across.
What would I change?

  • Be nice to your existing customers! They have no real reason to stay loyal other than being happy with your product and service – and with the way you treat them. Whether you are a small business or Tesco, customers today expect to feel valued and not just like sheep led along…
  • Be upfront! Explain your charges, why they occur, why they increase, what the benefits are. You can always use the psychology of feeling loss much more than feeling a gain and highlight what the client will miss out on if they leave. Most importantly though, don’t try to hide any money issues.
  • Be creative! How nice would it have been to have received a letter or some other form of communication from Tesco a couple of months before the anniversary, perhaps something pet related, telling me ‘thank you’ (especially since I never made a successful claim) and told me about the new fees well in advance with reasons why and future benefits of staying on. (No claims policy comes to mind!!!) Even some clubcard offer relating to pets would have made a difference and not cost them much.
  • Be flexible! With rate increases comes frustration. Try to find a solution that keeps the customer happy and keeps you as their service provider. Perhaps you can tailor the service to match their budget even if it means they lose some benefits. They may prefer that to moving company. It’s at least worth a try.
  • Stay nice. That’s the only thing I can’t complain about Tesco. The chap on the phone remained nice and friendly and did not try to persuade me as I have experienced with other insurances in the past. If someone has made their mind up and wants to leave, let them go. They will be more likely to keep you in good stead than trying to convince them with more sales banter.

I shall await the new brand experience offered by Tesco’s competitor! Perhaps it will make me stay another year.

attitude, brand management, Brand Strategy, differentiation, SME

I love this diagram – just wished I could include somehow the ‘unattainable triangle’ of speed, quality and price.

SME Business Lesson #10 – Be Patient and Grow Slowly

You are busy selling your products or service and business life couldn’t be better – or more exciting. It is at this point that it is tempting to expand your brand offering and to try and get more market share elsewhere.
Think twice before venturing into unknown territory. Your brand will be much stronger and probably more profitable if you concentrate on your core strength first. Make sure you achieve your branding goals, become the market leader or one of the major players in your sector and work hard on getting your unique selling point across.
Unless you like a risky gamble, only when your brand is well established and recognised by your target audience and has enough brand ambassadors to keep new and repeat business coming in, only then would I advise to look into diversifying.
There are bound to be implications for your core business –

  • Starting from the top, your business, brand and marketing strategy need re-thinking and adjusting
  • Not all your stakeholders will buy into your brand extension and may feel alienated
  • New infrastructure requirements will stretch your resources and challenge your existing and new brand
  • Your new brand will need some sort of investment – time or money – before it will be a revenue earner, so cashflow may be an issue
  • You will have less time to dedicate to a particular area of your business which may be detrimental to your existing client base
Brandingstrategyinsider.com has just published this article answering a question of an India based soap manufacturer and whilst it relates to large brands, but I think it is relevant for SMEs also.
“…one must first understand what brand associations are most closely tied to the brand in question. Any brand extension into a new product category must reinforce one of those primary associations without creating new negative, conflicting or confusing associations for the brand. If this rule is followed, the brand extension will actually reinforce what the brand stands for.” Brad VanAuken

You can read the article here: Can Brand Extensions Weaken A Brand?: Branding Strategy Insider. I had also posted an article back in 2010 about some of those weak or failed brand expansion attempts. And here are some more strange big brand extensions:

Donald Trump launched Trump Steaks
Donald Trump launched Trump Steaks

cosmopolitan brand flop
Cosmopolitan owned a yoghurt brand for all but 18 months

Stallone High Protein Pudding
Silvester Stallone gave his name to a high protein pudding. Yum.

barbie_golf_natalie Meyer
Barbie launched a clothing range (Image courtesy of Natalie Meyer)

In essence, businesses naturally need to expand or change to keep their brand and brand promise current, valid and fit for the future. But whilst it may be tempting to diversify early, time will be better spent establishing a strong brand identity and market position – and to truly understand how to apply your existing brand values to the new product or service.

brand extensions, SME

SME Branding Lesson #9 – Why Bother with Branding?

I keep writing about branding and how SMEs could approach the subject – but why should you in the first place? There are many business owners who are wondering why they should invest money into devising a brand strategy and building a brand when business is going well, they have a loyal client base who refer them onto new customers. Why bother changing anything?
1.    What remains of your business when you step out?
Not leaving your business vulnerable
Often, running a small business means you wear many hats, including that of the sales and marketing manager, the new business manager and the human resources manager. Your clients buy into you as much as your product or service. (Especially in the services industry). Imagine you are no longer there. Without a brand carrying your values, will they trust your replacement? Will they still perceive your business as a specialist?
Building a brand gives you the opportunity to transfer and establish your values and credentials into a larger organisation that can successfully represent you and strengthen your perception of being an expert professional.
2.    Differentiate yourself from your competition
Differentiate your brand
You may run a successful business without investing time and money on building your brand, but chances are, your competitor will be a step ahead of you if he does. If you appear as just ‘one of many ‘on the market, you may be seen as a commodity.
If your business has a brand which communicates a perceived value and a promise, it also offers an easy solution to a consumer’s problem without having to tediously find and analyse every other similar service. If they have to do that research, price will most likely be the deciding factor instead of quality, service and expertise and you are likely to lose out on business or on profit margin.
3.     Think ahead – and outsmart copy cats
Chase away the competition
If you have a great business idea, chances are someone will copy you to get a piece of the cake. Of course competition is healthy, but to be sure you stay on top, establishing your product or service as a brand will not only display its core strength, it will also mark your territory and your market position to businesses who have not yet built a brand reputation.
4.    Be consistent
Consistency in brand image
When it comes to building a brand identity, one of the main benefits is consistency. Consistency in how you visually present your company helps consumers and clients to recognise and remember your product or service when they come to make that crucial buying decision. It’s not just vanity, it’s an important part of marketing where you want to ensure that the right story gets told no matter where your clients get in contact with your business. Without a clear strategy and understanding about what that message should be and how it can be visually communicated, you run the risk of appearing undefined and forgettable.
5.    Be proud
Proud brand ambassadors
Building a brand is about ownership as much as about adding value to your business. If you and your team have a clear vision about what your company, product, service stands for, what you strife to do, who your ideal customers are, how you want to communicate with them, etc, chances are, you will all be a stronger team – in service, sales and marketing. When everyone sings from the same hymn sheet, you are well on the way to build a brand that has proud ambassadors among its staff – and businesses like Innocent, Apple, Google or The Co-Operative have shown the power of the people that are proud of their work place.
There are more reasons, some more business, some more design, some more marketing focused. I strongly believe though that whether you are a professional consultant, a small local business or a larger company, defining a brand strategy and getting a grasp of how you can create a lasting brand surrounding your product or service is an investment into your business’s long-term success.

Brand Strategy, SME

Homebase Rebrand – Rebel Without a Cause?

This week saw the launch of the new homebase brand, designed by Design Bridge. The result was received rather lukewarm with a hint of disappointment at least by the design community.

Homebase_logo 2012
"Initially the brief asked us not to change the logo, but as the project developed it became clear that the logo required an evolution to reflect the creative look and feel and tone of voice that we developed for the brand." (Design Bridge)

Most agree that it is certainly an evolution instead of a revolution – if rebrand is indeed the correct term for this logo development.
Homebase Logo
Flat and one dimensional. And now much better – apparently.

I wonder if we are missing some information here. Why did the company feel the need to change the graphics? Some speculate that Homebase is attempting to better align itself with the newly acquired Habitat brand.
If they are trying to position themselves as the duller, more conventional brand of the two, perhaps that’s a job well done – but I don’t feel that this logo change alone is going to actually change the perception of the brand sufficiently enough.
It was perhaps not the wisest move to make it a big piece of PR as the usual comments of those just looking at the result will inevitably be along the lines of ‘I could have done that in five minutes’ and ‘how can they spend money on this’.
Tropicana rebranded packaging
Where is the brand name? And what makes this look any different from supermarket's own brands?

Perhaps they were trying to avoid a branding disaster of the scale of Tropicana. Like so many others, the brand, owned by Pepsico, intended to bring their classic packaging design with the widely recognised straw-in-an-orange image into the 21st Century.
However, they seemed to have forgotten that a successful rebrand involves not just the design of a new logo or packaging identity, but includes re-evaluating and adjusting a company’s goals, brand message and, importantly, company culture.
Instead, they rolled out completely new packaging without any other evidence of re-positioning and with the added flaw in that their consumers did not recognise the new packaging as Tropicana’s because too many elements of the design had moved.
The original branding for the Tropicana carton
The straw, the orange, the brand name bang in the middle. It was familiar and it worked.

The packaging  was no longer familiar or easy to spot on the supermarket shelves. After lots of complaints and plummeting sales, the company did a u-turn and went back to the old design, proving the power of the consumer and that we are all creatures of habit…
Changing things too much certainly won’t be  an issue for the Homebase logo. Which brings me back to the question ‘Why do it at all and so publicly?’
Design Bridge says, ‘Across all touch points, we have injected depth and light to move from flat, primary colours to a more natural and optimistic palette.’
That may be so – but did they have to plop it in yet another circle? I really wished I could see the creative cleverness in this – but then again, retail has its own science behind its success and this may be just the right mixture of keeping the brand identity close to its past whilst adding some new elements to ‘play with’ in different touch points.
It remains to be seen how the brand is rolled out across the website and company literature and perhaps it will complete a new picture Homebase and is going to paint.
In the meantime, I am afraid it looks like yet another rebrand without a cause – be it because it was death by committee, fear of bold change or lack of inspiration. I wonder what B&Q will do next!

Brand Identity, Brand Strategy, Logos

No Feast for Fastfood Superbrands

No McDonalds or BurgerKing
"In our house, no meals from McDonald's or Burger King are allowed. We ask you for your understanding and to refrain from any consumption of the corresponding types of food"

McDonald’s and Burger King may be the fast food super giants that open new restaurants  here, there and everywhere (1,300 McDonald’s restaurants are planned for 2012 – see article in RTT News), but they are brands that are still culturally controversial and their acceptance is debatable.
Here is just one quite refreshing sign that family life and fast food don’t go together – Maxxi is Thuringia’s largest softplay centre with a lot of footfall from toddlers, school kids and their parents. What’s significant is that other food is allowed, so the ‘discrimination’ is clearly brand specific.
It will take more than adding some green and some poignant advertising slogans to change the perception of those businesses and their culinary value.

advertising, attitude, brand

SME Branding Lesson #8 – Be Great and Stay Great Especially When You Are Wrong

It takes a long time to establish a brand and to become publicly known to the extend of some of our high street retailers, such as Marks & Spencer, John Lewis or Habitat.
It’s also a known fact that it is hard to ‘stay on top’. But what amazes me is the amount and magnitude of schoolboy errors such incredible brands make on a branch level.

M&S Logo Reflection
Diffused Brand Perception. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

We went suit shopping for my husband a while back in one of the largest Birmingham M&S stores. Anticipating the quality and service the brand promises, we were disappointed to find a badly organised suit section without any mirrors and with badly displayed garments that did not look in any way cared for.
We went to the changing rooms and frankly, by that time we were so frustrated with the experience that we thought it may help to talk to a floor manager to point out a few things and to ask for some assistance. Behold, we did find someone – but the lady was chatting to her colleagues that she just rushed past us explaining she was too busy to talk to us.
We thought it was a glitch in the brand matrix… We did not get a suit.
A few days ago we went shirt shopping (slightly less sophisticated) and it was a repeat just in a different town. The shirts on display were no longer clean, fresh and pristine looking but instead covered in a sprinkle on dust (and it wasn’t sparkly star dust) which made them appear dirty and old. They were laid out like a thrown together pile and the shop floor appeared uninviting, abandoned and unloved. When my husband made a member of staff aware of the dust bunnies and the fact that you could not find any system in the display of sizes, they just pretty much shrugged their shoulders and left him to it.
He didn’t get a shirt. But this time, he lost something else – the trust and positivity about the brand. Next time he needs either a shirt or a suit, M&S will be very low on the list of shops to invest his time in.
Costa coffee cup
I had a similar experience in Costa at a service station. (Nothing to do with shirts.) It was the weekend and we were driving down to Devon on a Friday night. It was cold and rainy. We sprinted into the service station with toddler needing the toilet and baby not wanting to stay alone in the car. I ordered a takeaway decaf coffee and the lady took my payment with my card and only realised when she came around to fulfill the order that they had run out of decaf coffee. She then asked me to wait and looked around the shop for a while to see if she could spot any more hidden away somewhere. After an uncomfortable long wait she asked someone else to check. They confirmed that unless I had a caffeinated coffee they could only refund the money.
Fine – I can’t take caffeine – so I expected my refund swiftly and was looking forward to putting baby back in his seat. But no – a refund to a card can only be issued by the manager. Someone went to find out where he was and returned after another long wait saying he had some stock to look at (no kidding, start with decaf coffee powder) and would be around 15 mins. It is then that my acquired English politeness went out the window and in came the German resolute warrior baby held fiercely as a weapon. A short exchange of ‘this is unacceptable…’ and I was about to march myself to the manager.
What saved the day was a quick-thinking – well, he did have quite some time to anticipate this and figure it out  but nonetheless – colleague who had overheard the discussion and concluded the lady give me back my money in cash and they could sort out the paper work later without me hanging around.
This may seem a bit of a long-winded way of making a simple point but I hope it illustrates a difference in approaching customer complaints. M&S were clearly not trained or authorised. The guy at Costa might not have been either, but he did have the guts and the compassion to do something to help me out.
Especially if you are a small business, it is super important to try to react to a ‘crisis’ or mishap in a professional manner that will re-instate any damaged trust in your brand. It is often the case that only in a crisis or when something unexpected happened a brand has the opportunity to show its true colours, the brand values that matter to consumers and clients. And in a lot of cases, if the company reacts in a forthcoming, professional and just manner, they will find an increased sense of loyalty and appreciation from the customer.
It can of course go the other way.
Here are just a few thoughts to consider when dealing with a brand crisis – be it a simple error or a major PR disaster:
1) Be Fast
It’s no good starting to respond weeks later when you get around to a customer’s complaint or concern. Be quick and you stand a much better chance to be in their good books again.
2) Be Compassionate
We are all humans, despite being hidden behind technology at times. Put yourself into their shoes and see how you would feel if something went wrong for you. Even if you can’t offer an outright easy solution – and even if the fault may not at all be yours but ‘user error’, showing compassion gives your brand a human voice and helps the conversation.
3) Be Genuinely Honest
If it was your fault, own up to it and work on a solution quickly. It is usually much better to own up when an issue is still resolvable then to put up the defenses and turn it into a much bigger thing. Trust relies on honesty and trust is one of the cornerstones of a successful brand. Being honest about an error is as important as being genuine in  your response so be careful how you react especially if tempers start flying high.
4) Be the Solution Provider
You thought this may happen, so you’ve written a plan (a long time ago…). It’s no good having strategies written out about how to deal with customer complaints if nobody bothers to adapt them – or has the ability to act on them with confidence. Train your staff to deal with different situations. Think of ‘what if’ and of potential answers. Try to ensure your client feels his issue matters to you and you are working on a solution.
5) Be a Fast Learner
You’ve resolved the issue and all is well, your client or customer has stuck with your brand and the future looks great. Repeat the mistake and you may not find yourself in such a good position. Bad news travels fast – even faster with social media tools – and when something appears to be happening time and time again, your brand risks creating a mental divide between what it appears to stand for and what it actually does. Prevention is the best medicine. After that, it’s vigilance once a problem has been identified.
Hope this helps!

brand management, SME

SME Branding Lesson #7 – Start Branding From Within

My husband recently went to a client meeting and couldn’t resist sending me some images of what I can only describe as branding horror.

Branding disaster example 2
Experts behind these doors?

branding disaster
Perhaps they should get some business advice.

Looking at how this company, Business Advice Direct, presents itself to the public is either an experiment of a student group conducting a ‘how not to do branding’ experiment or the unfortunate display of a company that does not practice what it preaches.
If I walk into an office seeking business advice what I am probably expecting is the display of unbounded expertise, of energy, professionalism, an air of reliability and above all, confidence. And this is before I even step into the room.
This visual translation of your brand values is one very important part of brand management and reputation building and a brand professional will probably guide yourself and your team to discover what they think your clients experience when they first interact with your brand:

  • Does your brand appear professional?
  • Does your brand image evoke trust?
  • Does it reflect what you do?
  • Does it invite to engage?
  • Are you proud of it?
  • Are your employees proud of it?

This, in some way, is the easy part. It’s where you can work with a decent brand designer who is trained to translate brand values into a brand identity that will convey all those important subliminal messages that make your business special.
What follows, goes deeper. It’s about business mentality, about culture. In the case of Business Advice Direct, the shocking thing is not that they actually have such an uninspiring, unprofessional brand identity, it’s the fact that the employees sitting in those offices let it happen – probably helped throwing some Blutack at the doors to stick the sheet of paper on.
Why has the company not encouraged their staff to understand their business and to have the ability and conviction to prevent such a display? I recently listened to a podcast of Dave Young’s BrandingBlog with Michele Miller about marketing to women. She mentioned an experience at a hotel where  things went wrong – but where the staff had the authority to rectify their mistake and provide an appropriate compensation that more than made up for the initial lapse in customer service. It reminded me how important it is that a business looks at the culture, the attitude from within.
If everyone working for a business embraces the brand as theirs and considers themselves to be an ambassador that wants to succeed; if the staff are the brand as much as the brand identity and marketing material, then you have a much better chance that no-one will ever even consider it good enough for your business signage to stick a torn sheet of paper on a broken door and put your company name on it.

b, brand management, SME

Proof of the Pudding – Or is it a Bun?

The Santander brand identity has been a bit of a mystery to me ever since they took over our high streets in personal and business banking. In my mind, Santander are a baker, not a financial institution – mostly because their logo looks like a hot bun fresh out the oven, still steaming.
So imagine my joy when I walked passed one of their offices with posters advertising coffee and snacks. It must be true – they really are a pastry maker in disguise!

Santander Brand Identity Design
Someone's got a bun in the oven...

They are of course a major brand and their logo, strange as it may be, is well-recognised, but for me personally, the visual identity design of the ‘flame’ logo is weak and I curse it every time it triggers the thought of some lovely home-made bread which it then inevitably doesn’t deliver.
There is a local chippy that has a similar problem – though for a slightly smaller audience… in fact, probably just for me. They use red, black and white for their shop front and signage which has the effect of visually reminding not of the UK coastal fishery towns, but of Japanese restaurant exterior and from a distance the words even read  ‘sushi fish bar’ instead.
Being a great fan of sushi and all things non-battered, it has caught me out time and time again, filling me with disappointment that the promise of fresh, unusual, healthy fish dishes is in fact that of deep fried sausages, poultry and haddock with the Nation’s favourite potatoe dish.
And whilst I’ve got absolutely nothing against fish and chips when it’s the right occasion, I feel that they missed a trick in their brand identity design – why try and be something they are not instead of celebrating the British? Until they commission a new lick of paint, I shall continue to drive past and remind myself that it’s really not that important…

brand, Brand Identity, Logos

Hello to Jason Isaacs

Sometimes the unexpected little touches of being human do more for a brand than extensive advertising and media campaigns.

Those familiar with the brilliant Mark Kermode will probably know the somehow a bit of a cult  ‘Hello to Jason Isaacs‘ campaign that has been around for ages now and it is lovely to see how it spreads.

I did really smile when I realised that if you type into google search ‘Jason Isaacs’, it displays the term ‘Hello to Jason Isaacs’ above all content.

Just the little fact that google, master of search, is participating in this communal eccentricity lends the company an altruistic feel and the sense of not taking itself too serious. It’s a nice change from the patent waving, all-dominating super brand image. Image

Nice touch, google!

brand management, Funny

SME Branding Lesson #6 – Be Incredibly Credible

Nanoblur brand advert
Buy this… because 45 people have said so.

We are all just too familiar with the tempting voice of adverts and the seductive messages of point of sale installations that convince us to part with our money and feel good about it. This is one of the finest artforms of brand advertising and marketing – but there is also the danger to turn an incredible statement into a incredibly laughable one that could have the opposite effect.
I am not saying that nanoblur is not working or not flying off the shelves at Boots, but their small print had the opposite effect of reassuring and supporting their sales pitch. 45 people tested it and therefore it must be true that it makes skin flawless in seconds? Would it really have cost them that much to at least do 100? Better more? (I have no idea about clinical studies so perhaps it is unachievable for brands to do that but it seems such a small number of people, I wonder if they were better off making their statement a bit less incredible but not having to spoil it with ASA ruling copy that makes it sound a touch ridiculous.
The Vauxhall Lifetime Warranty adverts sparked off complaints about being misleading and were subsequently forced to change their campaign following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Quite a different area of ‘business’, the church of Nottingham had to change a claim they were making in one of their flyers.
Nottingham Church Leaflet
Claiming the un-claimable.

Dennis Penaluna from the Nottingham Secular Society said he was shocked by the leaflet.
“I couldn’t believe the overarching, ridiculous, unfounded claims they were making. They can’t be substantiated,” he said. “It’s a dangerous nonsense. People who are ill or vulnerable can be easily persuaded. They will grasp at anything.”
Read an article about this on the bbc news website.
Another brand that promised more than it could keep is Baby Einstein, a Disney product extension targeting babies and toddlers giving parents the idea that the DVDs are educational. “There is evidence to show that screen based activity is bad for the brain.” says Pippa Smith, founder of lobby group Mediamarch. The company decided to offer parents a re-fund for DVDs purchased in the last 5 years – certainly not a great indicator for success.
babyeinstein logo
Disputed educational tool

Nurture brand
Unsubstantiated claims of health benefits in formula

Similarly, Heinz was reprimanded following ‘ridiculous claims’ in their infant formula ads. They said that its product could support the growth of infant brains, bodies and immune systems. The ad voiced that each child needs a “special combination of nutrients to sustain the incredible growth in its brain, body and immune system.” It added that Heinz had produced Nurture specifically in order to “provide for those three essential aspects of growth.” The commercial concluded by saying that Nurture would help “nourish, protect and develop your baby.”
The ASA rejected Heinz’s claims and ruled that the advert falsely implied specific health benefits instead of general nutritional content. The ASA said: “We concluded, therefore, that the claim was unsubstantiated and the ad was unacceptable.”
So, it seems that whilst it is understandably tempting to use provocative and attention-grabbing headlines in brand advertising, there are a few things to bear in mind.

  • Be realistic about what you are promising and what you can deliver
  • Don’t rely on great statements without backing them up with great evidence
  • Don’t patronise your customers – respect their knowledge and experience even if you are the expert in your field
  • Use marketing methods, such as money back guarantees, as a way to instill confidence in a purchase
  • Be clear, simple and concise in your brand messages and offerings (KISS your Brand)
  • Be creative in your copy. In fact, be amazing. Use engaging details to tell your brand story and shine a spotlight on how your brand is different – but be honest

I may be on my own feeling like I am being taken for a fool with the ‘nanoblur 10 years younger claim’, but if I part with £20 for a small tub of face cream, I would prefer to be reassured by more than a busload of people. As it is, the product has settled as nanoblurb in my mind and makes me smile, but not buy it.

attitude, brand management, Brand Strategy, differentiation, SME

A Brand Extension from the 50s?

Sometimes it feels like the world is going backwards. Just when we think that women are gaining more influence and power, are getting higher salaries and more opportunities in areas not open to them in the past, there comes a brand that turn back to stereotypical patronising sales methods that is slightly bemusing, if not a bit infuriating.
Lego seems to finally have realised a brand extension proposal conceived in the 1950s where housekeeping and raising a family were considered the ideal roles for females and where products and advertising were geared towards this social attitude.

Lego Friends Packaging
A girlie stereotype coming from a Heartlake city near you

In December last year, Lego Friends hit the UK as a new range targeting young girls, featuring five Bratz-like ‘mini-dolls’. They have their own characters, hobbies, likes and dislikes, such as arts, invention and pets. Their home is ‘Heartlake City’ and sets represent the outdoors and urban areas.
There is more information about the brand, the new line and its past in this article from Bloomsberg Businessweek.
Just why Lego believes it has to change their long standing, successful range of construction toys and play sets into doll houses and domestic bliss scenes, I can not get my head around – I grew up with lego and never did it bother me that I did not have sauce pans or kitchens to build, but instead police vans, fire engines and helicopters. I spent many hours creating my own models and letting fantasy take flight without pre-conceived story lines aimed at my gender.
Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of Lego, argues that it would “breathe fresh air into a toy category filled mostly with pre-fabricated play experiences for girls”.
I can’t quite see how Lego Friends will be any different to Barbie, Bratz or Disney Princess – and I am curious if mothers will be keen to get their 5 year olds these rather too polished looking play sets with seemingly unchallenging assembly options and little room for creative diversion.
Quite happy I have two boys! Of course I may be completely wrong and this will be a huge hit, but it seems to be an unnecessary gamble with Lego’s current brand positioning and I wonder if they really could not think of any non-gender innovations to gain more market share.
It would be great to hear what you think about this new brand or similar developments in other areas of the toy/games market.

brand extension, Funny

SME Branding Lesson #5 – Define a Brand Promise You Can Keep

Trip Advisor brand logo
The slogan is promising:  “reviews that you can trust”. But following a host of media attention in recent months, it seems Trip Advisor has to re-think its brand promise following a ruling of the Advertising Standards Authority that they should not “major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear”. More information can be found in this BBC news article:
TripAdvisor rebuked over ‘trust’ claims on review site.
A brand promise is the brand’s essence – a single minded statement that sums up the brand. Phillips is ‘sense and simplicity’; Apple ‘Think Different’; Starbucks ‘the third place’; Volvo stands for safety and Coca Cola for ‘refreshment and happiness’. So if a company like Trip Advisor positions itself as the source of ‘over 50 million honest reviews’, it better live up to its promise or risks damaging both reputation and trust. It will have to be seen how the brand will react to the ASA ruling and if it can maintain its top position in future.
It takes a long time to instill a brand’s essence in the minds and hearts of consumers. It takes just one incidence to break it. Remember Gerald Ratner who in 1991 wiped out a 500 mio fortune with one speech?

Ratner said: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap.” And he added that his stores’ earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ was a challenging promise at the best of times but really came to haunt the oil giant when disaster struck.
During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, where 11 rig workers lost their lives,  an unfortunate remark made by CEO Tony Hayward (‘I want my life back’) added fuel to the fire of the actual accident and led to the company dropping out of the top 100 brands index because the difference between their strategy and reality became emphasised and highlighted the fact that it could not keep its promises.
So, when you define your brand essence, make sure you don’t make promises you can not fulfil. It’s easier to improve on an offering and to add value to customers than to disappoint and backtrack.
I guess a key factor is to truly understand where your value lies for your customers today and in future and to identify where you are different to your direct and indirect competitors to create a memorable brand promise that will live up to its meaning.

Brand Strategy, Brand Vision, SME

A brand extension that could be twisted: Listerine Total Care Zero

Hmmm. Zero Total Care?

I came across this new brand extension from Listerine – with total care and all the usual USPs – but I was wondering if their choice of name was the best one. It works for Coke, one could say, but Coke is not a sub line such as theirs ‘Total Care’ that is then followed by ‘Zero’.
Perhaps the graphic design could have helped with the label. I understand that they can’t stray too much from the other brand labels so they don’t confuse their customers who are used to seeing the brand name in a certain colour and size on the packaging.
If nothing else though, the brand name seems contrived, but I can’t help but twist it around and conceive their latest innovation as something I couldn’t totally care less than zero about.
Now I’ll go and wash my mouth out.

brand extension, brand management, brand naming, Funny

SME Branding Lesson #4 Be Current and Pro-active

We talk about reputation and how to build it. We know it’s nothing that happens overnight – unless one is lucky enough to get featured in the mass media successfully ‘Dragon’s Den’ style. It will take time and effort to show the world that you are an expert in your field and can be trusted with your products and services.
You should always try to seize opportunities though that present themselves in slightly more unusual circumstances. I have been working with a group of surgeons for a while now and we are developing their brand strategy and brand identity – so I am always on the lookout for what could be relevant and useful for their reputation building and the communication of their brand values.

PIP Implant
Image courtesy of BBC Newsbeat

So when the media is full of articles about the PIP breast implant controversy, what better excuse than to voice their expert opinion, give their clients information and reassurance, comment and advise in forums to answer questions and to differentiate themselves from the big corporates by being caring and bespoke.
That’s just a simple example, but if you look around, there will be those little gems out there that will address your market, your audience and give you the perfect opportunity to speak your expert opinion. A few resources for communicating with the media and for monitoring a brand are:

  • Muckrack – what do reporters write about? Muck Rack tracks thousands of journalists on twitter and social media.
  • HARO (Help a reporter out) – Tool for sharing your expertise with reporters.
  • ProfNet – Another expert sharing site
  • Naymz – Watch and grow you brand reputation
  • VRank – Monitor your online visibility

Being in tune with what the media is reporting and how your brand fares right now on the internet, especially in social media, you have the advantage of appearing current and to be proactive when it comes to showcasing your strengths.
I would love to hear about other useful tools for reputation building and managing.

b, brand management, personal branding, SME

After Kodak, Can Old Brands Survive by Re-inventing Themselves?

Kodak logo
Kodak is the latest brand struggling for cash and has filed for bankruptcy protection. The photographic pioneer has over 130 years history – and they seemed to have made a successful transition from old school film and cameras to digital when digital cameras started to go mainstream – with the Kodak gallery as just one example of building brand relations with consumers and offering new products and services online. The problem there is a crowded market – newer and more modern looking versions of online digital photo printing companies have emerged and even the rather dull looking Picassa seems to have much more appeal. There are the obvious competitors including snapfish, photobox, digitalab and bonusprint and of course the almighty iPhoto.
It seems that their aspiration to become the new digital printing specialist, and their strategy to sell printers, even without making any money on them, to later gain profits on the sale and servicing of inks and parts, seems to have over stretched them somewhat and they are now trying to shed assets they can spare.

Loosing that Kodak moment

It may now cost them dearly that they did not focus more on increasing their brand value – more than 10 years ago, branding specialist Interbrand ranked Kodak number 16 of the most valuable brands in the world, estimated to be worth around $14.8 billion. Since then, the Kodak brand has fallen in both rank and value. 4 years ago it no longer appeared in the top 300 list with an estimated value of only $3.3 billion.
I am also not convinced by their strategy to become a digital printing specialist – is this really a future-proof market? With the emerging tablet market, reading news, books, etc and viewing photos has become so much simpler and more accessible already, with progress in the digital market how much of a need to print will there be?
Would it not be wiser to use the brand value they still possess and team up with another company to create something innovative and different, still capturing ‘that Kodak moment’?
We will have to see what they do about it now and if this latest move will help them to re-invent themselves with a good enough market share to thrive once again.

An innovation race – can Filofax still compete?

Filofax still occupies shelf space at WHSmith – but will it last?

I came across Filofax a couple of months ago when browsing through WHSmiths and I thought ‘must research what their brand strategy is as they have become largely irrelevant with the rise of smartphones and tablets as digital organisers and diaries…’ And just as I sit down now to look into it, I am finding press releases regarding their new strategy. It all sounds very clever and positive… but it does make me wonder if it is a short term fix without a long term vision for the brand.
Jon Morse at Filofax says in an interview:
“With so many working days spent at a computer, we have seen many customers crave the tactile feel of pen to paper. Filofax offers the user a quiet, private moment and a solid hard copy of personal information.
Our strategy is not to compete with technological advances, but rather, to position ourselves as a fashionable, luxury paper-based product for those moments away from the screen. We find many customers using both a smartphone and an organiser.”
Gordon Presly, CEO of the Filofax Group, comments, “Our collaboration with Temperley London for Filofax was a natural development given Alice has a real passion for Filofax and importantly shares many of the qualities of our customers, as a creative individual, successful business woman and mother with a busy and fulfilled personal and work life. We were intrigued to give Alice full rein to create a bespoke collection that would give birth to her vision of the perfect Filofax for others to use when juggling busy lives, yet with a desire to look stylish. We take a long term view to our partnership with Temperley London as part of a wider fashion focused strategy, positioning Filofax as the ultimate lifestyle accessory for creative and self-fulfilled individuals.”
It seems an interesting repositioning strategy to aim at the luxury market – and collaborating with fashion designers such as Alice Temperley is an interesting interpretation of that strategy and allows to set a higher price point to the diaries, creating desire and establishing it as a sort of fashionista insider must have accessory. If this catches on with the young generation, and if their business can be profitable within the luxury sector (perhaps they could where they may sell less but for a much higher price and more margin), it may all be just lovely.
But I am a bit doubtful about the longevity of this strategy. Smartphones won’t go away any time soon. They come accompanied by an army of accessories – some luxury, some tat, so the ‘bespoke’ need in smartphone users is easily satisfied among a lot of different market segments.

Finding a point of difference

What does a Filofax do that a smartphone or tablet app won’t (other than the feel of the paper that you will curse when you have left it at your favourite hangout or in a taxi after a champagne reception at an exclusive art gallery…)?
With applications such as Evernote, where you can collect voice memos, notes, photos, videos, anything really and it is synced to your computer, with those invited to share the documents, and backed up, I can’t shake the suspicion that Filofax is going to be a victim of technology just like so many other brands that have vanished from our high street.
It is amazing how the brand has managed (and keeps doing so) to cling on to the executive and gift market – one can hardly describe this with ‘by re-inventing themselves’. It is more of a sense of familiarity, tradition and safe choice for the ‘more mature’ generation, but if they are sufficiently enthused brand ambassadors to pass on that passion for a paper diary to the next generation is to be seen. This Filofax site gives some great insight into the passion of the brand followers.

Hesitation – for and against the brand

I can’t see myself carrying one around a Filofax as well as my smart phone. It used to be quicker to just leaf through a paper diary and jot a note down but the latest models of smartphones are so interactive and easy to use, it takes longer to find a pen that writes than it takes to instruct SIRI.
As for the ‘creative individual’ – I do not leave the house without one paper based product which I use for gathering thoughts and observations; my sketchbook. But it would be hopeless as a diary and I would not see the point in spending a premium on it as a fashion item. When it comes to a sketchbook, for me personally, it is content over form.
However, there is the element of social and business etiquette where it may be frowned upon to pull out your iPhone or Blackberry during a consultancy meeting or a presentation to a client, but it would be acceptable to scribble notes in a branded, leather-bound diary. This is where I still see relevance for the product, and certainly for the brand, given that they offer well-designed, bespokable inserts to the leather cases.

So, what could a long-term strategy be?

Could they bring back production to the UK and make it a true luxury brand that becomes an executive status symbol? Perhaps they should also re-visit their website design to create a more luxury feel and to better translate their current brand strategy.
Certainly the luxury brands have many advantages of premium and budget brands. They are less likely to be hit by economic fluctuations. They play with the human basic instinct – which include ‘envy’ in some shape or form. They become status symbols we use to align ourselves with a certain group of people we want to belong to – they are tribal and due to the price factor this can be a very exclusive tribe that is a great aspiration for those not part of it.
Linking to the fashion industry – and making it more about the ‘outside’ and working on the ‘inside’ to be extremely customisable and clever could be a good strategy after all.

Another thought for long-term innovation

The BlackBerry Porsche is just one example of a collaboration of brands

Whilst I would not invest in Filofax even with their new strategy, here is a thought that I find much more exciting (and challenging of course). Mr Letts develops a product with an Android tablet that is created to service future Filofax lovers – with bespoke diary keeping software.
That way, the leather bound, high quality, board room suitable tablet cases would be the link to the old. The bespoke software – it will need to be excellent – would be the link to the new. Bespoke collaborations are nothing new – remember SMART when Mercedes-Benz has not yet pulled out and the Blackberry Porsche is just a recent example.
It will be interesting to see where the brand is in a year’s time – and if they want to hire me, I am available from March onwards 😉

Brand Strategy, differentiation

Is Siri Really a German in Disguise?

Wondering if Siri is in fact German…
So, I’ve got Siri on my iPhone. It’s set up as English. I was super excited using Siri for text messaging or email – but kept on struggling to even get the simplest strings of words spelt out correctly. Now, I know that I have got an accent – German – but my husband is born and bred in the UK and struggles, too to make it work.
Recently I thought I’d just try for fun to talk to Siri in German and use it to email my family back in Thuringia and whehey – it just works a treat! Even the longest sentences come out without mistakes in them, it does the punctuation as requested and just rocks! My parents benefit from far longer emails – and this post would have taken a third of the time if I had dictated it to Siri in German – though my English readers will have struggled with that I guess…
I wonder if Siri has German roots or if it’s all a matter of elocution… Or maybe there is a setting for UK regional accents that would help. Any thoughts?

Funny, Standeazy

SME Branding Lesson #3 – Differentiate, Differentiate, Differentiate

This subject really deserves a much more detailed post, but sharing just one example of how a strategy can translate in the most unexpected areas of a business and aid a brand to stand out, here is a snapshot of a busy display at TK Maxx ‘showcasing’ a selection of kitchen utensils.

Circulon brand differentiation
Standing out amongst the crowd

Circulon, known for their non-stick cooking ware, are using aluminium labels embossed with their logo type instead of the typical card or paper versions from competitors. The result: Instant visual differentiation and recognition. But there is more to it – this little detail also strengthens the consumer’s attitude towards the brand and adds to their brand experience.
(Clearly, the guys from Circulon are all about quality and design if they pay that much attention to even just the label of their product. It must be trustworthy and reliable.)
Circulon Label
It's all in the detail. An unusual label design creates a feel of quality and reliability.

It will have added some costs to the production, no doubt about that, and in the volumes a company of that size this will be insignificant, so is this a good example for branding for SMEs? I believe so because the details don’t have to cost the world – but they can make all the difference. Whether you are paying particular attention to which paper you use for your stationery, what colour envelopes you send your invoices in or if the blinds in your meeting room reflect your brand identity – there are lots of ways to bring your brand to life and to share your values and beliefs.

Brand Strategy, differentiation, SME

Would you vote for this man?


Much has been written about personal branding and how important it is to grow and maintain a professional image especially when one is closely observed by the media and public.
So you’d think that a party leader would be extremely careful to show his brand as reputable and reliable. It seems as though Ed Miliband had a little snooze during the labour party’s brand management training and just woke up with a messy tie and weary eyes amidst a press conference with youngsters looking far more alive and professional than him!
It’s not like this was an unfortunate snapshot of an awkward moment caught on camera – it was an orchestrated photo shoot! It just beggars belief how he could ever have the stature of a leader.
Personal brands, just like consumer brands, evoke a gut feeling about a person, service or goods – sadly, looking at this little boy lost in the big world, mine is ‘not in a million years!’.

brand management, Funny, personal branding

SME Branding Lesson #2 – Know Who You Are

No matter how small or large your business and no matter how small or large your marketing budget is, one of the most important issues to resolve is finding out who you are – your brand essence.
One good technique to obtain an insight and a concise representation of your brand essence is by listing the product or service benefits and then ‘working up the ladder’ to arrive at a very concise word or statement that sums up the brand.

Innocent Smoothies
A brand that knows who it is

Innocent have been a great case study of a small business expanding into a multi million pound turnover venture without losing their identity, but rather building a strong set of brand values including:

  • Sustainability
  • Purity
  • Staff culture and support
  • Giving back to the community
  • Creativity

For Innocent Smoothies, the differentiating product benefit could be:

  • Pure, natural ingredients, from sustainable sources, without any additives or colourings, with recycled packaging – and targeted at children as well as adults
    –> for the consumer the benefits are
  • Worry-free consumption, guilt-free purchase, feel-good factor for health and environment – and the kids love it, too
    –> or in other words
  • Innocence

YMCA Rebrand
The Forest YMCA had lost its way a bit over the years and the brand needed to be re-defined.

I worked with a client on the re-brand of the YMCA in East London and remember during a workshop to scope the project, one member of staff answered the question ‘What does the YMCA mean to you’ with ‘What it is, is the red triangle staring at us from outside the window.’
It was a curious comment because that was not at all what most other people saw the YMCA stood for. In fact, they all felt something very different depending on which department they were from. And this was exactly the underlying issue leading to the need for a re-brand. Who are they really? What do they really stand for and how can they communicate this in a way that is understood by each and every member of staff and other stakeholders.
Together with the management team we interrogated their vision, mission and values and created a new brand identity designed to connect all the different aspects of the brand and to present it as a strong organisation that knows what its brand essence is.
Without quoting large brands and their brand essence, has anyone got examples of SMEs that have a strong set of values that makes them ‘the ones to watch’? It would be great to hear from someone with some thoughts.

Brand Identity, Brand Vision, SME

SME Branding Lesson #1 – Show the Right Attitude

You’ve spent months fine-tuning and testing your brochure copy. Thousands of pounds were spent on a new website with a new logo and brand identity. You have a new set of exhibition stands with the latest business information and how you differentiate yourself from competitors. Your brand strategy is clear and your marketing material is translating the strategy into a powerful and engaging message. Life should be good!
That is if it’s not just you that understands and believes in your brand promise, but all the people representing your business. No matter how hard you try and how much money you pay a professional to get your image right, if you have someone show the kind of attitude as captured below, you don’t stand a fighting chance against competitors eager to deliver a great brand experience.
At the end of the day, it is the customer that makes your brand and they will form their opinion not just based on slick marketing, but predominantly on how your staff represent your products and services.

Branding is more than a logo
What does a man reading a book slumped on a chair tell you about the brand he represents? Quite a lot – just perhaps not what the brand manager intended...

If you have any samples of a disparity in brand strategy and the realisation of it in some kind of visual format, please drop me a line, I’d love to include it here.

attitude, Brand Strategy, SME

Hanging in there – an eye catching brand advertising campaign by German magazine Wirtschaftswoche

Wirtschaftswoche brand logo
It certainly did make me stop and look twice. They were looking pretty realistic from afar. Two men hanging either side of a poster. On closer inspection it was revealed that they were of course just dummies, but it all tied nicely together and reminded me of the Economist brand ads, but taken to a more physical level.

Wirtschaftswoche Brand Advert
Roughly translates to: 'He who wants to stay on top, has to read'

Wirtschaftswoche brand advert two man hanging on poster
The posters themselves are positioned in view of business travellers

Just another lovely example of a brand not shying away from trying a different approach in their advertising and marketing. And with the posters positioned near the Lufthansa business class check in, they did everything possible to catch the eye of the magazine’s target subscribers. We like…


Brand Management Trends for 2012

If I could read a crystal ball that had the future of brand management embedded in it, I wonder what it would say for 2012.
Without making too wild a guess, and perhaps this year will prove me completely wrong, I have the feeling (or perhaps this is wishful thinking) that whilst a lot of things will stay the same, there will be some aspects of branding and marketing, businesses will wake up to in the next few months.

1. The Message is Key

The economy is not great. We may see another recession here or in Europe. China is starting to struggle and with the global market still coming to terms with the downturn of recent years, brands are ever more challenged to expand and dominate their sector.
And whilst traditional advice on marketing budgets and spend may have been good for the marketing industry, I hope marketing professionals do not forget one thing – it is not just about budgets and increasing marketing or advertising spend in this economic climate will not guarantee success. The message is key.
A business may not need to do the latest and greatest of everything – but instead it could re-focus its core abilities, re-evaluate its brand strategy, mission, vision and values and make sure that all those thousands of pounds spent on brochures, websites, SEO and social media actually tell the right story, differentiate the brand from competitors in the most memorable way and that it’s not just about producing something with the company logo on it but to infuse it with passion, dedication and expertise that will make the brand grow in reputation and likeability.

2. Using Local Knowledge

China mene
Global brand with local knowledge

HSBC have done it. McDonald’s are famous for it. Brands that show their understanding and respect for local culture are usually onto a winner. It may have to do with a tribal instinct, but ‘when in Rome’… does work in most circumstances. I don’t know how and who but it would be great to see some more brands using a localisation strategy to stand out from global competitors – perhaps even on a much smaller scale (Wales vs Scotland…)
If anyone knows of some more samples, please let me know, I’d love to learn more about this subject.

3. Identifying Influencers

Stephen Fry
Influencers as brand ambassadors. Image from geekosystem.com

This is not so much a prediction but an anticipation of which brands will rise this year and which ones will fall out of favour: Sometimes a brand suddenly reaches a boiling point without anyone really knowing what happened. Malcolm Gladwell describes different scenarios in his book ‘Tipping Point’ – and one aspect of it is that of ‘Influencers’.
It will be interesting to see which brand manages to find such influencers, not just it in the celebrity, sports, the arts and fashion industry, and to convert them into brand ambassadors that humanise and create empathy with large corporations.

4. Designing Brand Engagement

The world has woken up to mobile marketing and 2011 has seen more than ever before the rise of brand building via games, videos and other apps on smartphones and tablets.
And more often than not, brand narrative and storytelling will drive engagement with a company in traditional, social and mobile marketing. We love it when a brand shows its personality and makes us one of theirs, part of the ‘in’ crowd, and what better way to draw people in than by telling a good old tale that evokes emotions and invites to be passed on.
Maternity underwear designer HotMilk has created a series of adverts that are using humour and storytelling to spread their brand message in a fresh and entertaining manner.
Shangri-La used it with their campaign ‘To embrace a stranger as one of our own. It’s in our nature’.

5. Personalisation

I don’t mean custom printed envelopes and direct mail campaigns. I am more thinking of businesses understanding their customers and other stakeholders well enough to send different messages to different people – but creating the same ‘gut feeling’ about the brand by providing a very bespoke brand experience. Businesses could implement a strategy that talks not to different segments of their target audience, but to different individuals. OB Tampons did a great viral campaign following a bit of a disaster in their production line.
[vimeo http://vimeo.com/33449844]
Not a campaign but something that shows what’s possible has been the portable northpole – www.portablenorthpole.tv – which has been surprising for both grown-ups and those still believing in Santa.
It’s an opportunity to truly talk one-to-one to stakeholders and to react to trends such as twitter being used more and more for customer service enquiries instead of traditional methods of telephone or email.
I’ll be especially excited to see what will happen in the world of viral and personalised brand messaging. It’s a creative and technological challenge.
The year may prove me wrong – but if anything I will be very excited following the world of marketing and brand management to see what will come up on the horizon.

brand management

Hello 2012 – Bye Bye Adam and Jane

It has been reported that Adam and Jane are to be dropped as the characters of the BT commercials. The family campaign was launched in 2005 and the actors have since been part of 40 ads together – sharing life, move house, break up and get married.
A summary of the story so far…
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOmdapO7BME&w=560&h=315]
The first ad
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQ4LylqQ0_w&w=420&h=315]
Heart to Heart
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5bkniCUAow&w=560&h=315]
The little Surprise
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_tGduIg-S0&w=560&h=315]
The Big Day
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze6z9bY5790&w=560&h=315]
The Wedding Dance
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3VW5P93Uec&w=560&h=315]
Oooh, they will be missed! Back then, it was such a refreshing concept for a brand ad campaign. It evolved with new technology and social media to engage customers; quite a case study.
It actually reminds me of another all time favourite – from the Yellow Pages – though theirs was sadly just a one-off.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdnmiRPjcAI&w=420&h=315]

advertising, family campaign, heart to heart, wedding dance

Standeazy has a press clipping!


We made it into the Christmas guide of B7Living magazine! It’s only a small feature, but it’s a start and reflects the feedback we get from those that have seen the phone stand in action – a nifty little gadget…
What was interesting to see from a PR point of view was that we had increased sales from within the reach of the magazine for about two weeks which enables us to put a value on to the piece and can become part of a marketing strategy.
Happy Christmas!

PR, Standeazy

More Typography

… another week, another ad. Referring back to my earlier post on typography used in a local brand identity, here is another example of a poster where typography makes me stumble.
T-Mobile chose not to separate or highlight in any way their product or package – and it reads rather peculiarly ‘You fix your kids’…

T-Mobile Brand Advert
You fix your kids - and other innovative products from the T-Mobile brand.

What difference a bit of type treatment makes to a brand message.


Give me some space please!

It jars – and makes me question the brand's accuracy in terms of hair styling, too!

Nevermind the name… ‘bad apple’ perhaps not my first choice to establish a salon and retail shop for hair – but I don’t know their target market so it may be just right. (Remember the worries of dying hair blonde which sometimes reacted with swimming pool water to create a green streak?!)
Why do I not know who they are after? I am just not at all tempted to venture into the shop simply because of the signage. How sad am I. It is clearly legible despite the incorrect use of the short hyphen between their strap line. Call me a typo nerd, but these things all add up to the whole brand image in my mind, and since the use of hyphens, n-dashes and m-dashes is not super clear these days, the overriding rule should be that of legibility and aesthetics. When I first walked past, I read hair-dedicated and was intrigued how they came up with that new word until (very shortly after) my eye had caught up with the rest of the sign and felt distracted by the poor typography rather than thinking about the content.
Even if you ignore the punctuation issue, I’d still ask for a teeny bit of space on either side (or to make it into a two-liner) to let the statement talk about the brand rather than shut up any interest.


You know you’ve made it as a brand if…

… you are part of this game from Drummond Park. It’s a Trivia board game that includes 400 cards with 1600 questions and has the aim to identify images and answer questions based on logos, products and packaging of the UK’s most well-known brands.
I’ve not been inspired to buy it to find out who’s in it – but from the packaging it looks like the major household brands are featured, including the likes of Heinz, Birds Eye, Walkers, Pampers, BMW and National Express.

Logo Game
Brands in a box - and the consumer's mind

It does make me smile considering how brand savvy we are these days – enough to persuade a games manufacturer to release a whole entertainment spiel surrounding brands. Are you in it? Should you be in it? Maybe it will have to go on my Christmas wish list!


Great Framework…

Whilst I will always be the first one to point out amateurish signage or posters in shop windows as detrimental to a brand, I did have to smile about this one. It’s nothing special, but somehow it just works being subtle and a bit ‘Smile in the Mind’.
I like!


Clever Dove Flies with the X-Factor

There’s been a bit of clever brand management last week following the press articles about Little Mix’s Jesy from the X Factor having been bullied about her weight. Dove posted a response on their FaceBook page and probably got a lot of brownie points for their brand strategy – campaigning for real beauty.

Facebook page for Dove
Posting an article to support Jesy, one of the contestants of the X Factor

It’s one of the examples where your brand strategy goes hand in hand with your brand’s actions and re-actions to what’s happening in the world. And this does not just apply to charities as Dove has beautifully shown. Simple – and clever.

Brand Strategy

Steve Jobs – And what we can learn from the master of brand management and innovation?

I am astonished actually how much Steve Job’s untimely death has affected me. I could explain it being due to a recent personal loss and that is probably the real reason, but the feeling remains that the world is a poorer place without him for he had vision and, without any scandals, loudmouth behaviour and eccentricity, he has changed the world.
Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of theatre and drama. As a brand visionary, he’s been a master of creating the substance behind those weaving the Apple cult. Without his innovations, the brand would probably just be another ‘Evesham Computers’ or (whatever is happening to) Dell?
His products made the brand happen. Not overnight, but year after year until suddenly not just those funny designers who want their own PCs knew of the name.
He has been a true master of brand strategy and I can learn a lot from him.
Eight brand principles inspired by the man behind the Apple.

1. Be True

… to your brand values. They are at the core of a brand and create the link to the brand promise. Ensure you have a rounded view on your brand, including knowledge of what stakeholders think of your brand and what you want them to feel when they engage with it. Once established, communicate these brand values consistently and with believable passion that reflects your belief in the brand. That way, you can inspire others to see the brand’s true values.

Be true
Is everyone drawing the same brand image?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” Steve Jobs

2) Be innovative

… and dare to take risks. One of the most talked about factors in the survival and thriving of big brands is innovation. Research and development has been vital for years and businesses like Apple have shown the real potential of innovation for the growth of a brand.

Be innovative
Focus groups may have called for a faster horse at the dawn of the automobile industry.

Be it via in-house teams or through ‘open innovation’ via collaborations, successful brands don’t rest on their laurels but keep pushing and changing their products/services. One aspect of R&D, the focus groups, have been debated for a while now. Especially in this economical climate, they seem to be the number one tool of marketers. People like Steve Jobs realised the foresight displayed by Henry Ford: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Don’t rely on focus groups. Dare to pursue your idea. See point 5 if it doesn’t work out.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Steve Jobs in Businessweek, 1998

3) Be creative

… but not just for the sake of it. In brand design, we don’t just want to be ‘painters and decorators’. The visual translation of the brand values and ultimately the brand promise goes deeper than a fancy font and some photographs from a cheap stock library (no offence meant, iStock!)

Be creative
Levis did something different...

If the brand itself is not creative in its approach to communicating with the public, there is only so much even a well-designed brand identity can do. Creativity goes beyond the marketing department and should, like innovation, be one of the foundations of a strong brand.

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” Steve Jobs Interview with Fortune Magazine, 2000

4) Be in love

… and share your passion. We all will have had an experience with a brand where we felt disappointed by the lack of engagement with the brand’s representative – a snotty reply from a sales person; a less than enthusiastic assistant; a form wielding ‘this is the protocol so there is nothing I can do’ manager… It sticks. But it will also be contagious to others within an organisation. A brand lives inside and outside – and those who represent the brand are the vessels that carry the life blood through the body. Make sure you infect them with your love and understanding for the business and that they understand your passion and can translate it in their own work.

Be in love
Innocent's brand message goes beyond the consumers.

Until a few glitches recently, Apple always had staff that were fans, they were happy and eager to represent the business and added their own personal passion to the brand we’ve all fallen in love with.
Finding and selecting the right people to work together within an organisation will always remain a challenge. But by injecting culture into the business, by ensuring the different levels of management and workers know what it’s all about, by caring about them as brand representatives, you can harness the power of word of mouth and add value to your brand’s reputation.

“When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself. They’ll want to do what’s best for Apple, not what’s best for them, what’s best for Steve, or anybody else.” Steve Jobs

5) Be defiant

… and don’t give up. A brand does not ‘happen’ overnight. The big players have been around for decades and it does not mean they are safe from failure (remember the loss of high street brands such as Woolworths, Adams, Northern Rock during the credit crunch).

Be defiant
The e-car that finally hits the masses. It's not the first - but the first one to capture the people.

But then there are those like Apple who innovate and inspire. It’s hard to think of other examples that have changed the way we interact with technology to the extend apple has but there are those that had breakthroughs – Google, Skype, Groupon, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Nissan
They all took time, caused controversy and perhaps doubt, but ultimately they kept going and have proven their worth.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” Steve Jobs

6) Be focused

… on your brand’s core strength. Brand extension may seem good in the books and a money saving exercise for marketers, but it can easily dilute a message and alienate consumers and the media.
Many have tried (and failed) to extend their brand – Jack Daniel’s mustard?Coca Cola’s water? Kellogg’s streetware?

Be focused
A brand extension that works. The good grip pen from OXO.

In the end, no-one knew quite any more what Woolworth stood for. And Dell is on a slippery path at the moment. It worked for Virgin, who have a whole host of extensions within their monolithic brand architecture. Oxo moved into the office supplies market with their good grips pens. It can work, but it’s not the easy way to get more ROI out of your brand.

“It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.” Steve Jobs, The Seed of Apple’s Innovation

7) Be different

… and embrace the mavericks. When everyone zigs, zag. Especially in larger companies, where the original founder or owner has been replaced with a board of directors, shareholders or a management team with a very different decision making process, it is ever so important to have a team in place that embraces change, that will take risks and dares to try something new. Brands evolve naturally, and they gain or fall out of favour with the changing market – but sometimes it takes someone different to shake it all up.

Be Different
A graphic showing brand attributes including those of Steve Jobs (courtesy of brandinstinct)

When Burberry struggled with the loss in brand reputation due to the chav stereotype but Christopher Bailey has brought the brand from strength to strength. In fact, they are the first fashion designer label to release a single. That’s a bit different!

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs

8) Be human

… cause that’s what branding is trying to achieve. The brand experience begins and ends with the people engaging with a company. Consider them in all aspects of your brand strategy and you won’t run the risk of alienating your clients because your actions are conflicting with your brand promise.

Be human
Being human and acting with responsibility should be part of the brand DNA.

Think about their culture, their acceptance of the product or service and the company’s capability. Tell a narrative people can relate to and follow. Invite them to become a ‘member’ of your tribe – but then be an honest like-mined partner for them. There is no point pretending to be something a brand is not because you will be found out – today’s consumers are experienced and not bedazzled by brand glitz. It’s easier to alienate them then to gain loyalty.
Of course there are exceptions to this, but in general, if you try your best to ensure brand stakeholders are king, they will keep your brand with them on the throne.

“Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply.” Steve Jobs

brand management, Brand Strategy, marketing

Angry Birds Blown Up By T-Mobile

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzIBZQkj6SY?rel=0&w=560&h=315]
Just came across this video showing a live version of Angry Birds being played in Spain in May this year. It’s promoting T-Mobile’s smartphone brands. Quite an interesting concept to position their brand with the popular game. Once again, T-Mobile appeared to be the front runner in the use of viral internet videos and both the phone company and the game producers will have felt the positive impact the connection had on their brands. This is one good example how brand reputation building can be a great big show of fun.
It does remind me of the hay days of Red Bull using crazy events such as the flying days as a vehicle to create a brand philosophy around their energy drink that has since spread far beyond the realms of special events deep into the racing world and kept Redbull on the supermarket shelves.
Viral is still a very effective way to get a brand talked about. It’s perhaps one of the most honest forms of communication because the idea has to be truly brilliant, crazy or otherwise different to stand out enough to be contagious.


A new chapter for Standeazy

Yesterday was decision making day with the team at Standeazy. We will test the waters with an expo in the local town centre in October. It is a gamble, of course, but the expo had some great results last year and attracted the Saturday shopping trade.
I am hoping to be able to make some valuable connections with local businesses for feedback and thoughts on the promotional gift marketing. We are getting more and more interest now in Standeazy as a promotional gift item and I am concentration on this area at the moment, working with a PR consultant I met on LinkedIn (and by now in person) to get us to the PR starting line.
I knew it would be a great challenge so I really value the feedback I have been given so far regarding press release writing. I slowly understand the mistakes I’ve made and this is good work in progress. To be honest though, the press release distribution element is a mystery still.
I am researching the trade press and how to get articles published in trade magazines, but so far not anything ground breaking has come to light.
So, in a nut shell, we are making progress and look forward to an exciting Autumn period for Standeazy.


A Stand for Standeazy

I am never quite sure about exhibitions but you have to try everything at least once I guess, so end of October we will attend a town centre expo to show the Standeazy phone stands and chat to local businesses and people about the stands as gifts or as corporate merchandise.
One element of design that does help with those sales are the price lists. Excel is amazing and a great tool for costings, but it does help customers to engage with the brand and products when a table is laid out within the brand guidelines and it is all visually following set rules. Branding doesn’t stop with the layout of stationery and brochures, the web and social media touch points – it runs all the way through internal communications and the ‘boring’ financial elements.
I had a look around the web but I can’t find a good collection of creative table designs (unless I am expanding this to furniture or web development tables) but I did come across this online CI portal that has a very eloquent attitude to tables.

Table guidelines
Tables within the ZF Identity Guidelines

ZF Colour Guidelines for Tables

I am trying to do some Christmas PR but magazines are swamped with eager product owners so I am not sure how successful it will be.
BUT we are getting more and more enquiries on the corporate gift front and a steady stream of consumer sales so can’t complain. I can see a new photo shoot coming along for the Autumn and Festive Season. We did take some in situ shots in a pub showing a toddler watching a video using the stand for an iPhone. They should help to demonstrate that angle.
If only I had some good relevant press contacts! LinkedIn is my new best friend – but networking takes time. Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day either so I am using this as a proverbial excuse to not rush.


I must, I must develop my… errr… brand

Brat and suzie
A fashion label without a strong brand

Another weekend, another Dragon’s Den. This week saw two rejections due to brand related issues. The blatantly obvious one was that of fashion duo Brat and Suzie. I am still not sure why they arrived with a rail of clothes and not much else. If they did want to use it as a publicity stunt even without getting funding, why not show the label, some of the PR coverage, some models – anything to make them appear as an upcoming brand? As it was, they showed their tops, informed the public that they only pay £20 per illustration and left both the dragons and the audiences thinking ‘why don’t we do this ourselves?!’
The problem? No brand gravitas. As the dragons eagerly pointed out, the designs could easily be replicated by others and there is no real established brand to keep customers loyal to them instead of another high street retailer.
brat and suzie brand identity
The visual side of the label - why did they hide it?

Their website actually gives a better feel of their business than their pitch and their logo is a kind of naive illustration – cute and visual – which makes me even more perplexed as to why they did not play with it in the presentation. Perhaps they could have gotten a few kittens in or something! It worked for Ted Baker with the dogs a few years ago.
Talking of animals, the other pitch that got the no due to danger of ease of copying was that of the fish spa. Again, it is was not enough to have a good and innovative product, they had to be established enough – and different enough – to withstand the dreaded copying factor once a product or service is launched into the market.
fish spa
The dragons didn't bite...

Still, we got to see Peter Jones’ feet being nibbled by fish…
I liked them both but wished they’d push their brand image more to get ahead of the competition. Good luck to them all!

brand, brand management, Brand Strategy

Today was sugar cone day

Every year, on the 1st of September, our little town would change into a blooming birch tree framed picture book scene – with ribbons, garlands and gift filled paper cones hanging from trees and bushes and trays of special cake being passed from house to house.
For my parents, my sister and a few generations after us, 1st of September was the first day of school – celebrated in enthusiastic GDR style by young and old but mainly to make it extra special for the little ones.
I do miss the ‘sugar cones’ in this country and – luckily they have survived the fall of the wall – will follow my sisters example and import some when first born reaches that age…
If the former East was a brand, with all its negatives and impossibles, it did have one wonderful core value – children, their education and health. I like to remember that; and how lucky I was to have had the best of it, really, especially on a day like this.

My dad on the 1st September 1956…


The end of an era, the decline of a brand?

We are all holding our breath in the apple user community at the news that Steve Jobs has resigned.
The news have resulted in apple’s shares falling. Despite that, I hope that the brand will keep to its core values – a bit of a challenge since they broke into the mass market with their revolutionary iMac, iTunes store, the iPod, iPhones, iPads… I’ve had my ups and downs with their brand since they’ve ballooned to occasionally the richest company in the world, or a business richer than America as it was reported the other day.
When they were still much more niche, creatives aspired to own their own mac, the OS was so much more intuitive and slick that it became part of the design process. Being a designer and having well-designed work tools hit a mark and their engagement with the creatives clearly worked and it became the brand of choice for agencies and home offices within the design and marketing industry.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore my iPhone and the iPad is pretty cool, too, but the rise of the brand has had some ‘customer support’ downsides. Dealing with the iTunes help team when my account was hacked was a frustrating ordeal to say the least. After days and days I finally had a decent support chap on the phone who not only helped me re-instate my account but also showed a bit of  sympathy and apologised for the bad communication (I have yet to use the song credits I received but it was the gesture that counted.)
My husbands’ iPhone stopped taking phone calls – and since it was out of warranty the best they could offer is a reduced replacement phone – something tells me that if this was ‘the old days’ they would have replaced and investigated it just purely out of pride.
Perhaps we have just been unlucky, as charts like the below (screen shot from the BBC article) show the rapid rise of the brand.

chart for apple growth
A brand on the rise...

We hypothesised for some time now ‘what if’ and when the news hit, I think we were both mainly sad. There are not many people who have revolutionised the way we work, play, think, see, capture and share the world – and do so by creating truly high quality, thought-through products. And despite the above-mentioned reservations I have regarding recent dealings with their customer service and niggles with their products, compared to other equipment they remain much-loved and superior as a brand.
Typing away on my MacBook, I will hold my breath and await the next move. Steve Jobs leaves some big shoes to fill. Should Apple subsequently lose out, perhaps they will address their core market again; it was certainly a winning strategy to target those that appreciate good design and sell them well-designed products at premium prices. It also works as a brand extension strategy where the same people will have no problem spending money on things like iPhone apps where others, such as the Android marketplace, struggle. Statistics show the monetary value of the app store –

  • Android users spend 1/7th of what iPhone owners spend on in-app gaming purchases
  • Android users have an average of 17 apps on their phone vs 28 apps for iPhone users
  • Android users pay for apps much less frequently than iOS users.
So, for the past, thank you, Mr. Jobs. It’s good to hear he’s still around as chairman and we will excitedly await what’s coming out of Mr. Cook’s kitchen. 


Press releases that are being read

… and for today’s Standeazy revelation? Having just written a press release for Christmas and how the stands are a perfect little stocking filler, it did occur to me that perhaps I need to take a different approach to let people know about the product.
It has bugged me for a while now that the only seasonal variation is that of the ‘occasion’ you may want to buy the phone stand for, so I am now going to explore writing about the people behind the product, the process of how it existed and issues surrounding the use of stands – perhaps this will add some variety and interest to the releases and attract some journalist to discover just how clever the little cards are…


Dragon’s Den and the value of a brand

Catching up with the latest episode in the den, I was surprised just how much those dragons have become branding ambassadors. Not of a specific one, but of the value of an established and thought-through brand.

The mexican brand was not strong enough for the investors

Monterrey-born Marcela Flores Newburn pitched her Mexican food range but whilst she was complemented on her achievements, getting her product into Waitrose one by one they all said the dreaded words  ‘I am out’.
Peter Jones summed it up just nicely – “I actually think you’ve gotta go back as a start-up again because you need that brand. So I would go back to the roots and find that name.”
Once again we are reminded of that big hurdle any blossoming SME has to jump at some point – to start to create a communication / brand strategy that will allow them to compete with the big boys and to evolve their brand identity and marketing material accordingly. Budget is usually the show stopper, which is such a shame because it means eventually they will have to invest much more than if they started perhaps with very basic brand collateral  – but with a plan behind it.
I admire what Marcela has done – and I am sure after this show there will be hundreds of brand strategists and brand identity designers knocking on her door so I’ll watch this space!

Relax – Without a Seatbelt.

Jo Frost would stop the car and explain to the dad that this is unacceptable. The ASA would be on their backs for displaying dangerous driving. If anyone other than my very observant husband noticed that the child in this Holiday Inn Express brand advert is no way wearing a seatbelt, this may even become another notch in the belt of banned advertisement enforcers in our PC state… Made me chuckle.


Ecademy and How to Write a Pitch

So what does a product need to go to market? A brand analysis. Tick. A strategy for its brand positioning in the market, its proposed dialogue with stakeholders, its social media engagement. Tick. A brand identity that captures the essence of the brand in a visually engaging manner. Thick. A website to start the dialogue (and sell the product). Tick. Packaging, a system of distribution and after sales care. Tick. The list goes on and there are more ticks in place – but also some big gaps appear on the scene.
A PR strategy. A way to contact buyers of B2B and B2C outlets. Search Engine Optimisation. Presence in relevant forums. Independent reviews of the product. And all this with no budget. Meet my Monday morning task list. No point in trying to run before I can walk , so this morning I concentrate on asking questions relating to approaching buyers.
I have long been a blackstar at Ecademy and the community has always been very helpful and professional, so off to the forum I go and ask my question. The answers are useful as always. There is a series of videos by Mike Harris talking about how to structure a pitch. I have a skype conversation lined up for Tuesday to chat to another blackstar about this – she did mention she thinks it’s a brilliant product so that is very encouraging.
Another reply from the owner of a merchandise business suggests that it will be very hard to pitch the product (the Standeazy phone stand that is) because the market already has a lot of different phone stands. So without having been able to view the videos talking about how to structure and develop a pitch, here is my attempt to explain why Standeazy is perfect as a promotional gift:

Proposed Sales Pitch for Promotional Gift Buyer

Standeazy phone stand abstract design with iphone and samsung
It's great for displaying a brand or message on the tab (here featuring the standeazy name)

What is it? Standeazy is a universal phone stand for smartphones or devices such as the iPod Touch with a special mechanism that makes it stable, yet portable and very easy to set up wherever you are. (Patent pending.) Standeazy is manufactured in the UK, made from Priplak® Polypropylene and is identically sized to a credit card which makes it easy to keep in your wallet.
Why should you care as a promotional gift seller? There are thousands of promotional products for the technology sector, at different price points and with different branding opportunities. However, Standeazy provides a unique credit card sized flat surface ready to carry the message of small or big brands – and because it fits in the wallet and is used time and time again in public, in the office or at home, this message gets maximum visibility.
The tab holding the phone provides a prominent place for a key message or brand identity.
When folded flat, the Standeazy acts as a business or marketing card.
It connects a brand with the ever-increasing smartphone market, and with a sense of clever, customer-friendly, innovative thinking.
Standeazy is not just a gadget a client may brand as their own, it is a marketing tool that is as cheap as a well-made business card and as practical as an expensive standard phone stand for hands-free use of smartphone applications.
So what is that smartphone stand stuff all about? Smartphones are becoming more and more part of the consumer and corporate lifestyle. Standeazy holds smartphones with or without protective cases in landscape or portrait mode.
This means, for instance, that hands-free video conferencing via Skype or FaceTime is possible wherever you are – without any expensive or time-consuming set up. In the office, apps such as Air Display greatly benefit from the phone stand, enabling users to shift toolbars or selected applications to one side without the need for a second monitor.
We’ve had mums and dads feedback that the stands are now an irreplaceable part of toddler entertainment keeping the little ones occupied with some kids’ videos whilst recharging the parental batteries – with the phone safely placed on the table, away from curious fingers.
We’ve seen our stands being used by patients in hospital watching videos as a diversion without having to hold their iPod – and by business people on the train watching movies on their iPhone to pass the journey time.
Being useful for both males and females, for professionals and families, young and old, Standeazy is an ideal promotional gift that is not seasonal and, unlike the majority of conventional gift items, displays a company’s brand/message ‘on the go’ rather than being left in the office or at home.
Solving a growing need of smartphone users for an ultra-portable phone stand, it gives your client a unique platform to address their stakeholders be it as a giveaway at an exhibition, a direct mail item or a ‘welcome’ gift.
———-the end———-
I am bracing myself for much appreciated feedback. I am not sure if this is too short, too long, too inconcise, if I need to mention the costs, the reviews, order times, etc. Curious to see what comes back…

marketing, PR, Standeazy

Cision and that Christmas Press Release

Cision is clever. They are a huge PR platform – but they do give you some freebies that make their brand talked about even by those (like myself) who can’t afford the subscription service.
They also run an interesting site that shows ‘journalist tweets’ – www.journalisttweets.com which can be useful if you can answer their questions or comment on specialist subjects.
Their Christmas guide is a nice little helper to hopefully get some coverage for the phone stands as a great stocking filler for the festive season.
I’ve written a press release introducing Standeazy as a gift, but next is creating a good image to go with it.
Standeazy Stands Up And Out From Dull Stocking Fillers
There is an easy choice for clever Christmas and party gifts.
Anyone owning a smartphone will know the abundance of applications from video chat to TV and movie streaming that benefit from hands-free use; but where is that fancy stand when one needs it out and about? Discover Standeazy, the credit card sized phone stand designed for smartphones and devices such as the iPod Touch.
When it comes to Christmas shopping, loved ones (and what to get them) can quickly turn into a dreaded nightmare. Another bundle of socks? A funny mug? Slippers? When it comes to not wanting to spend too much on a nifty gift, the choices become quickly limited and frustratingly dull. And all too often, the latest gadgets are already around the house anyway, so it’s a big head scratching season ahead of the festive one.
Holding a phone can be as simple as this: a credit card sized piece of Priplak® polypropylene engineered to work for different viewing angles in both portrait or landscape. It’s suitable for devices with or without protective cases.
And what’s really neat about this clever phone stand? It fits into any wallet so it’s right there to unfold – wherever the phone (and owner) may be.
Standeazy currently comes in eight different designs and with prices starting at £3.50 there is a stocking filler to be had that is clever and fun for every smart phone user in the family.
So now I have to start working those editorial calendars, create a good image and try to knock on some doors. Never done it, but we’ll see. It might be the best Christmas for this fledgling brand yet!


The one that got away…

… not from the ASA, just from my earlier blog post of banned ads.
Paddy Power

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEmA_QF30GI?rel=0&w=560&h=349]
And for good measure, a Mercedes Benz E-Class commercial.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l38blGqVeHc?rel=0&w=425&h=349]


ASA – Death of the Ads?

I am certainly not an every day advertising viewer, but when I do watch programmes that feature commercials, I rather enjoy the good, the bad and the ugly. Having (a long time ago) studied advertising and art direction myself, it is still a bit of a secret passion of mine so I like to remember our crits at Central St Martins taking apart the latest TV and movie ads and separating the ‘death by committee’ ones from the ‘created by a genius’ ones.
I guess we could have introduced another category – Death by ASA (or selected UK complainers).
So, here is a small selection of recent(ish) ASA victims. Does being forced to be ‘pc’ take the spice out of being creative? It certainly adds some strange flavours!
Vauxhall Lifetime Warranty
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2GpJDtiSfg&w=560&h=349]
“The ASA requested that a small number of amendments to the advertising creative should be made to clarify the terms and conditions. In line with this ruling, the Vauxhall Lifetime Warranty Advertising creative was amended in line with ASA recommendations prior to Christmas and this very successful campaign continues to run on all media platforms.”
Well, I wonder how Bill Nighey reacted when he was asked to re-record those lines to conform with ASA guidelines. I can almost hear a smirk in his voice. Probably just me…
Ladbrokes Shark Ad
Another one that got the chop was this Ladbrokes betting ad. You can read about the tragedy of this award-winning ad here.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtKC0b2SReM&w=560&h=349]
“We believe the ads are compliant as they are funny, humorous ads and no-one would aspire to the reckless behaviour seen in the ad, because it is so ludicrous. ”
Cactus Kid advert
32 complaints halted the commercials for Oasis fruit drink because they are “offensive” and “irresponsible”. Viewers complained the adverts condoned teenage pregnancy and under-age sex. The BBC article can be read here.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygernzmjcG0&w=560&h=349]
Spot a Ginger in the Dark

Virgin media ad banned by ASA
ASA sees Red of Ginger advert by Virgin Media

I missed these and I can only find the press ad or still – if anyone has the video, please let me know! The Guardian article features a shot from the campaign that was deemed insulting to red haired people.
An Oldie – Mr Kipling “nativity”…
The old BBC article describes the issues surrounding a Mr Kipling ad back in 2005.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tus8s2mKGME?rel=0&w=425&h=349]
More than 800 people objected to the advert for Mr Kipling which Christians claimed mocked the birth of Jesus.
And a Newbie…
Last week, the ASA banned the latest ads from Loreal due to too much photoshop work. This one is certainly not a funny one as such – or a creative one – but more of a political controversy with MP Jo Swinson making a stand for the rest of us wrinkly ageing beings…
Loreal Ad banned
Brushed up a bit too much for the UK public

So here goes a short collection of more or less funny banned adverts. And I didn’t include the most complained about ad in 2010 (the one with the blind footballers and that poor cat) simply because whilst no animals were harmed, it does make me wince…
Would I have complained about any of them? Not really. Do the work for the brands? We’ll never know – but they have certainly got the publicity banned or not…


Alan Sugar Rants and Builds Brands

The PR and brand management department at Lloyds TSB must have had a great morning. Lord Alan Sugar (will I ever get used to this title?) is on good form and discussing a variety of topics on the Chris Moyles show. He mentions that his money is with the ‘bank with the black horse’ which he is not allowed to Lloyds mention… oh and then there was Skype… but we are at the BBC so no brand name dropping.

Lloyds brand identity
Horse Power

Unless people are innocently confused about a brand image, this is a great example of the power of simple and descriptive brand identities. In an environment where we are bombarded with logos, symbols and brand visuals,  if all it takes for a company to be recognised is the mention of an element of the identity, the branding team can be congratulated. ‘The bank with the black horse’, ‘the swoosh’, ‘the apple’… just a few examples of uncomplicated, recognisable and versatile brand identities in the consumer market.
Nike logo
Ticking all the right boxes

Brand identity of Apple
What you hear is what you get... an apple for an apple

There is perhaps just one that can go right in with the Bradford and Bingley post and that has caused me confusion ever since it emerged on the British high streets – Spanish bank Santander.
Santander brand identity
Is it a bank? Or is it a baker? Will your money go up in smoke? I am confused.

It may be just me, but I’ve always associated them with being bakers and the logo looking like a bun fresh out of the oven.
Actually, looking at the 2010 best global brands on interbrand, there are not many that would be an easy subject in charades. But then again, we don’t usually make our brand choices based on Lord Allen describing his favourite companies and products on breakfast radio…

graphic design, Logos

Secrets of the Superbrands

I watched Alex Riley’s second part of the BBC series ‘Secrets of the superbrands’ and it is a fascinating programme that spells out a lot of the findings of brand practitioners.
This episode was about fashion brands and whilst it all pretty much hit home as expected, I did wonder about one aspect of the research: They did a scan of the brain of a student that is into fashion and checked how her brain reacted to images of handbags by different brands.
It first shows the cheap brands and measures the response to the images in the brain scan.

Branding Test - Primark
Cheap but not too stimulating...

Branding Test - George-Handbag
The 'cheap' end of the handbag brands

After that, the girl is exposed to the luxury brands – and as expected the scans lit up brain areas connected to excitement.
Branding Test - Mulberry
Branding Test - Gucci
I am, however,  wondering is how much of this was actually the brand identity reflecting the brand’s reputation and values and how much the product.
Branding Effect - Raised Brain Activity

Would the girl have identified the brand by the product alone (exclude Burberry chequers)? Is the brand reputation as important as the product? If there was no logo but they would have said the name of the brand, would that have had the same impact? (I would imagine so because after all the brand identity is a reflection of the brand and visually translates the brand values, connecting the consumer and the product).
I obviously can’t ask Alex Riley to conduct this research for me so it is going to remain guess work, but it seemed that the visual representation of the company was very much part of the value of the brand.
So once again I can only stress to any businesses reading this that it is such an important part of brand building to spend time (and thus money) on developing a professional and long lasting brand identity that can grow with the product. A brand is not just a product – and not just a logo.
The scans will prove the success!

brand management, Brand Strategy

Belfry Misfires Billboard Ad

The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield has a bit of a name in the leisure industry – Golf tournaments, fine dining, beautiful surroundings…
However, something must have gone terribly wrong when someone in their marketing department signed off this billboard ad.

Belfry brand advert misses the point
Truly uninspiring. On any occasion...

No matter how cheap they got it – it looks like a waste of time. Even as a small newspaper ad this just isn’t good enough for a brand name like the Belfry!
The ad is not only positioned badly (perhaps excusable if they had a special deal), the type is way to small to be read by the drive-by traffic (this is on a busy stretch of road with only a few pedestrians), the layout is more than awful and the message – well, the message reads ‘this brand does not care to communicate in a sophisticated way with its customers at any occasion’.
Sorry Belfry, but whoever commissioned and signed this off, do you not have aspirations for your brand? Is there no brand management in place? It’s a typical showcase for missed opportunities. Let’s hope this was just one occasion. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

brand management, graphic design

BBC plugging blackberry? What is it about product placement?

blackberry on the BBC apprentice
Was it blatant or just a prop? And do we care?

So “The Apprentice” is back and back are those much-loved shots of the best British business talent holding their smart phones like an alien tablet in front of their face as if holding it by the ear is impossible (perhaps someone can explain this to me at some point!) But hey, what’s this? A new controversy of the BBC apparently plugging the blackberry phones. I am swaying between ‘who cares’ and ‘hey, finally a brand other than apple managed to get themselves featured in a show!’.
The history of product placement as we know it
According to the historians, product placement has existed for centuries in the publishing world. Modern product placement has been around since the late 80s and and in the US this unconventional way of advertising has been used for more than 15 years.
The name is Bond. The watch is Omega.

Probably everybody will remember the blatantly set-up promotional scenes for brands in James Bond. GoldenEye promoted BMWs new Z3 model. Sales of the Z3 surged as the movie shot up to the top of the box office. There are lots and lots of other examples, some more artistic (or tasteful) than others…
House has branding inside.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away?

Apple laptop in twilight movie
In the light of the apple...

Could it be any more obvious?

There is a great YouTube video on the history of product placement.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wACBAu9coUU]
Until recently, product placement was not allowed in UK productions, and brands that were featured as props had to rely on the enthusiasm and goodwill of the production companies. (Apple never seemed to have a problem being featured anywhere and I personally have used their laptops as props in hotel photo shoots just from an aesthetics point over other brands.)
Brand / product placement logos from Ofcom
Do the UK public need brand placement alerts 'health warning' style?

In February this year, Ofcom set out the rules and guidelines and have thereby potentially opened the doors to a whole new advertising industry. The logo that TV channels must use to signal to viewers when a UK-produced programme contains product placement “must appear for three seconds at the start and end of programmes, and after any advertising breaks”.
Why would a brand consider product placement?
Product placement is clearly an investment for brands and gives them access to niche audiences to subtly ‘bond’ with products, to associate them with subjects they are interested in naturally and to increase brand awareness without the blatant ‘this is an advert and we are trying to sell you something now’ stigma.
It has worked for brands such as Absolut Vodka, VW, Hewlett-Packard (who have taken over from Apple in the IKEA office display areas), actually, the list is endless and includes probably pretty much every top brand in some shape or form.

Five Reasons for product placement
1. It’s not an advert as such
2. It’s exclusive and sought-after
3. The TV/film characters themselves become associated with the brand
4. Global audiences that stay ‘tuned in’
5. Fits in with the overall marketing strategy of a brand
You can track its success with basic quantitative and qualitative systems used to determine the cost and media value of a placement. Rating systems measure the type of placement. On-screen exposure is judged by recall rates of the viewers. There are different levels of exposure – from hardly identifiable to being linked to the main character – all important factors for the success of this method.
It may seem like a ‘revolution’ in advertising and marketing, but we have been exposed to product placement and brand integration in shows and movies from the US for such a long time, I am a bit surprised that Ofcom enforces the use of a ‘warning’ logo.
I wonder how this will benefit us viewers – or if we might just become blind to it and let the producers and actors have their way with us to turn us from observers into consumers (unless of course we only watch BBC shows who only use props)…

brand management, Brand Strategy, product placement

When the image compromises the message

They say a picture says more than a thousand words. Once more reason to pay extra attention that an image does not drown the message of a communication piece.
Anyone who has ever watched the series ‘My name is Earl’ will remember “Darnell ‘Crabman’ Turner”, innocent and fun, and very involved in the hilarious stories Earl recounts.
Oh, here is a picture.

image of the crabman from the series My Name is Earl
Has crabman started a new career in modelling for the 2011 Census?

So when the 2011 Census posters went up in Birmingham, I was amused by the choice of model and the effect it had on not just myself – rather than re-enforce the message of the Census, it did quite the opposite and those asked about the content of the poster could all but remember Crabman and his part in the American series…
Census poster for 2011 campaign
The message was drowned by the resemblance of the male model and a character from a tv series

A perhaps even bigger shame is the use of the concept of ‘paper’ changing the UK – the stethoscope just doesn’t visualise this message the same way some of the other posters and materials do. (Not sure about the football, either.)
It made me once again realise what a fine line we tread as design practitioners when choosing the right images to support, not hinder, the message intended. Especially for organisations in the public and charity sector, images are often a visual nightmare rather than a visual aid. Is it PC? Is it featuring all ages, sex, ethnicity, (dis)abilities etc without looking staged?
Some organisations I’ve worked with do prefer not to show people at all but rather use illustration or abstract images to avoid these issues, or they rely on their own photo shoots, which is usually the better option but requires a substantial amount of investment, dedication and vision. Images, like fashion, date with the seasons and mastering the delicate balance between a message and a picture working together instead of distracting from what they are trying to say.

Brand Strategy, Funny, graphic design

Special Offer! Spend £10 on Marks & Spencer food and we’ll give it to this woman who is clearly starving!


Picture of ultra skinny marks and spencer model
Does M&S not pay its models enough to eat?

Is the M&S brand painting the wrong picture?
This poster really made me laugh – especially since my husband pointed the ridiculously skinny looking woman out to me – and, after all, attracting men is one of the subliminal drivers to buy into brands, fashion and, well, shapes.
Is this M&S answer to rising food prices? Or is it a funny twist on asking you to buy more food to then look better in lovely lingerie?
Whatever the thinking behind this poster, I hope they paid the poor woman enough so she can tuck into a (of course) healthy meal…

brand management, Funny

Building Brand Reputation

You are working hard on your products and services, management, quality, workflow, customer relations etc. Inevitably, this will build your brand’s reputation, but it will take time and news spreads slowly unless you use the technology at hand.

Here are just a few sites and thoughts about how you can use them to increase your brand reputation:

Why should you have to?
There was a time when the marketing department had the power to tell a brand’s story – and they alone had the majority of influence over what was communicated to the public via different media (advertising, print and DM etc.)
It all changed with the rise of social media and the readily available gadgets that support it (iPhones and other smartphones, free wi-fi in cafes and shops, tablets and laptops to name but a few.) Suddenly, ‘Word by mouth has become word my mouse’ (or touchscreen) as Lula Jones said so nicely. The new order is transparent. People can review, comment, share, debate, celebrate and ditch brands all from the palm of their hand.
So looking after a brand’s reputation is not just vital from the point of trying to increase its value but also to protect it from false statements or accusations of poor performance that can damage your brand.

Brand dialogue before and now with social media
Alina Wheeler’s Brand Dialogue diagram shows the changes at a glance.

Useful sites to start your reputation building
This professional networking site has a few bits of technology that let you shine… Firstly, you can set up a company profile and even add products or services in a portfolio. You have plenty of space to let people know about what your brand stands for.
Then there is your own personal profile, detailing your education and employment past and connecting you to other professionals you’ve crossed paths with. It is an online CV that supports your business brand as a professional, trustworthy organisation.
Better still, you can get recommendations from those you have worked for or with in the past.
This is a powerful tool as it is as close to the truth as you would imagine – a bit like product reviews for people.

Brand product reviews
We are used to comments and reviews of products, from sites such as Reevoo or Amazon, but the same applies to businesses and individual professionals.

Another online networking portal, a bit like BNI, but very web driven with different membership options and networking tools such as virtual boardrooms. It is encouraged to network offline, locally and online in combination with ‘giving back’ to the community via blogs and articles. Again, pretty good for marking out your territory in the SME business world.
It is, unlike LinkedIn, fee-based if you want to benefit from the more useful tools, so it does require some commitment to actually use it on a regular basis.
Obviously there are hundreds of other online networking platforms out there, such as XING, UK Business Labs, UK Business Forums or the American FastPitch – but with all of them it helps to have a strategy to push your brand as otherwise it can be a big time investment for not much in return.
Twitter, Facebook and Co.
Twitter is a great broadcasting tool for quick updates, links you want to share and be associated with, and it has become very much part of the social media landscape and can be used for brand building.  I personally find twitter easier to use for business than Facebook, which still has a far more social side to it, but some will disagree and swear by Facebook. It will very much depend on who you are trying to talk to and what your business is into. And then there are of course whole armies of social bookmarking sites, from delicious, Digg it, stumble upon and Technorati to sites like YouTube and MySpace.
Your social media strategy will reveal how to best utilise any of these platforms and sites so it is not just all a big time investment, but a vital part of your overall brand strategy.

Reputation building and social media tools

Brand Image/Brand Identity
With all the chatter about online reputation building and networking, one thing that can easily be forgotten but should not be missed remains the actual brand image, derived from and supported by your brand strategy, mission, vision and brand values. They may seem idle terms, but if you try to note them down, it will make you realise how important they are – and if they are in fact communicated in your brand image/brand identity.

  • Is your message consistent throughout different brand touchpoints?
  • Is your message clear?
  • What is the ‘big idea’ that communicates your brand?
  • Is your marketing plan and design material in tune with the brand’s vision and values?
  • Is your brand understood internally and externally in the same manner?
  • Are you and your staff proud of your brand?

It may be a bit bamboozeling to take all these aspects in, but it’s by no means an ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ scenario. The public today is media savvy and they will pick up on the details – especially of anything to do with your brand identity. Remember the scandal a few months ago with the new The Gap logo and now the mixed reviews and opinions surrounding the Starbucks brand development?
Image is not everything, but a picture speaks a thousand words and how your brand is visually presenting itself plays a major part in how your brand’s reputation is perceived.
What else?
Brand building is of course not just about reputation. It is about trust, loyalty, professionalism and of course the fulfillment of the brand promise. Your reputation will only ever be as good as the products or services are that you provide. So that’s where it’s over to you as the expert!

brand guidelines, brand management, Brand Strategy, graphic design

A Brand New Start for 2011

These days, brands are constantly exposed to external market forces, consumer opinions, loyalty issues, competition and trends – and most of those household brands have dedicated teams of brand managers, consultants and brand agencies constantly crafting, exploring, analysing and implementing to accommodate all those changes.

Brands can be re-aligned on a variety of levels. It may be purely strategic to start with, getting internal communications up to speed, auditing and understanding stake holder opinions and devising a communications/marketing plan to engage better with the target audience. You may never know from a visual point of view, but rather feel a change in attitude and media exposure resulting in a well-implicated action plan.
More likely however, a company will choose to show any internal changes with an updated brand identity design and thus gain the first bit of exposure as part of a new strategy. Usually, it’s either ‘Revolution’ – a complete re-design of the old identity – or ‘Evolution’ – a crafted update that adapts the design to new emerging communication channels, applications and emerging visual trends without completely changing the look and feel and thus potentially alienating customers.
Here are some of both from 2010.

Strapline and Sparkles
Wembley stadium revealed their new identity middle of last year. It introduced a strapline and a far more ‘flamboyant’ logo design geared to work with the ever increasing opportunities in digital and social media.
“The new identity is an important part of our long-term strategy to drive even greater engagement with our Club Wembley members, commercial partners and huge spectator base” says The FA Group Head of Marketing Simon Freedman.

“We are moving into a new stage in our lifecycle and the new identity is more reflective of the dynamic and multi-purpose nature of the stadium” says Wembley Managing Director Roger Maslin

Wembley Stadium Re-brand
The old and the new brand for Wembley Stadium

Never mind the Gap
US clothing retailer Gap introduced its new brand in October – and it went down like a lead balloon.  After more than 2,000 comments were posted on the company’s Facebook page on the issue the new logo was scrapped. Focus group testing gone badly wrong? Misjudgment of the target market’s taste? Or simply a clever marketing plot to get the brand back in the headlines? Anyone got any sales figures following this re-branding exercise?!

Gap Re-brand
The old and the new – and back to the old again for Gap

GMTV becomes Daybreak and night falls on the ratings
Curious. It was hyped up, promoted and prepared with the arrival of new presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley. Yet, just before the end of 2010 the press reports that ratings have plummeted to an all time low. ITV has apparently been left ‘shocked’ by a recent set of ratings.
The GMTV brand was launched in 1993. Off air, it has disappeared as a corporate entity, with the company GMTV Limited being renamed ITV Breakfast.
One can only guess whether the re-brand itself caused the problems the show is now facing or whether it is a combination of the show’s new setup, the presenters and the loss of trust from the original GMTV audience who may feel sold out for the sake of publicity.

GMTV Re-brand to Daybreak
More than a logo, this re-brand is about the programme itself and seems to have it not quite right yet…

Oil of Olay
Not apparent on the UK website, Oil of Olay have had their identity and ‘cameo’ changed last year. The changes are subtle enough to create a fresher visual appearance without changing the general mood of the brand. It seems ‘tidied up’ and more flexible in its use.

Olay Re-brand
An brand identity evolution with some distinct type features


Press kit image featuring the new brand identity applied

Maybe it was about time that the brand dropped that drop shadow. Being all about clean, functional and simple design when it comes to their applications, this seems to be a logical visual conclusion to express the brand’s values without rocking any boats.

Google Re-brand
Coming out of the shadows – the new google identity design

Dell revisited its brand positioning “while analysing why the brand value had been declining (most notably) in the past five years.”
The visual result of the re-positioning is subtle, but as their Creative Director says:  “The brand redesign was not intended to be a radical revolution, but rather a practical evolution based on our established equities and alignment to the repositioning of our brand.” Tommy Lynn, Dell CD

Dell Re-brand
The old and the slightly new brand identity design

A curious one in my mind as I am not sure what to make of it in terms of progress in style and communicating any brand values. Apparently it is a clever visual aid to reflect the ‘my space’ philosophy but I am not sure about the execution.

Myspace Re-brand
The old one wasn’t super – but does the new one say it all?

Price Waterhouse Coopers
It was a bit of a mouthful – and now it’s changed. The emphasis on a new brand reflects PwC’s desire for a more unified representation across its global network. “Our decision to make this change now is because over the last decade PwC has continued to grow and evolve and a concise consistent Brand position makes it easier for people to appreciate who we are, what we do, and how we operate across markets,” said Moira Elms, PwC’s global leader of brand and communications.

Price Waterhouse Coopers Re-brand
Long name no longer – a new brand identity for PWC

There are many more – and uncountable brand identity changes happen on a more local business level.

What I find interesting is the choice of brands to opt for either evolution or revolution and the consumer reaction to the outcomes. Interesting to see what will happen in 2011! Re-brand away…

brand, brand management, graphic design

F’ART and Giggle

I stayed in London a few weekends ago and leaving through a magazine left me literally in stitches. A glossy lifestyle magazine (Indulge) had an article about Food Artistry – and whilst the headlines seemed like nice copy writing playing with words, one of the quotes pulled out of an interview with Sam Bompas is just too good to be true!

Indulge F_art
Is it just me or does that not read very appetising?

Indulge article
A glossy lifestyle magazine with beautiful photography and interesting copy writing… what could possibly go wrong?


Stuart Bags A Brand

So he’s out. Stuart Baggs kept watchers of BBC’s The Apprentice entertained and annoyed for weeks now, but I guess we are all quite relieved he’s gone to leave the job to someone who can. The strange thing is though, from a brand perspective, he has been a great showcase for how branding ‘happens’. By announcing himself as ‘Stuart Baggs the Brand’ he took a perhaps incidental yet very vital step to actually create ‘Stuart Baggs the Brand’, kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

He’s either knowingly, or by chance, transformed his name to a phrase, a colloquialism even for ‘over the top confident and a bit silly’. People started using his catch phrases and thoughts of wisdom – remember the sheep? –  and basically despite varying opinions about his value and expertise, pretty much everybody who’s ever watched The Apprentice has both heard of him and has formed an opinion. It’s what brands dream of! Recognition and engagement with their audience.

Looks like Stuart may have failed on the interview side, but bagged himself a brand that may well outshine any apprenticeship Lord Sugar can offer.


Shaver picture Shaver picture Shaver picture Shaver picture Shaver picture

Am I missing something?

Whilst having a stroll with my husband and son through the isles of Boots (yes, strolling with a 22 month old toddler does get that exciting) Steven points out an advertisement to me that made us both wonder and ponder. Could it be a hidden message? Did we misunderstand the product? It just made us laugh, so here it is, a strange decision of art direction and design – apart from the fact that the model looks like he will only need to touch a razor once in a blue moon…

Wilkinson Shaver
Did I misunderstand the concept of how to hold a razor all those years?


What is a brand audit and why should you have one?

Whilst we are all familiar with the terms ‘financial audit’ or ‘tax audit’, there is some confusion and mystery surrounding a brand audit. It is quite a simple concept if you accept that your brand has a value that can and should be managed and increased over time – an asset of your business just like your production facilities, finance and human resources.

The trickier bit is the actual execution of a brand audit.
A typical cycle could be described as this:

Typical cycle of a brand audit

It may seem a bit daunting how to start the process. I like the analogy my friend Maria Ana uses when she talks about how to start a brand audit, comparing it to planing a trip.

So here is a quick picture journey describing the first step. Once all this information is collected, a brand consultancy will be able to scope the project costs, tools and timelines and get the ball rolling.

What is the destination

Who will join you

What are the time scales?

Economy, business or first class?

What’s in your suitcase?

There are many components of the actual audit, which brandingstrategyinsider describes as the following:

  • Advertising and promotion materials
  • Other brand marketing elements: pricing, packaging, merchandising, distribution, direct marketing, sponsorships, flagship stores, etc.
  • Press kit
  • Press releases
  • Sales collateral materials
  • Internal communications
  • Business cards, letterheads, etc.
  • Website
  • Intranet site
  • Employee training programs
  • Employee orientation
  • Manager training
  • Sales force training

I would also add (this list is a few years old now) the whole subject of social media and how the brand is exposed via social marketing and even phone apps.

  • Competitors’ press releases, advertising and promotion
  • Industry analyst reports
  • Customer comments
  • Business partner comments
  • Marketing vendor interviews


  • Organisation charts
  • Department mission/vision statements
  • Department objectives
  • Common objectives
  • Recruiting criteria
  • Individual competency dictionary
  • Succession planning criteria
  • Planning and resource allocation systems/processes


  • Business plans
  • Marketing plans
  • Brand positioning statement
  • Brand plans
  • Creative (or agency) briefs
  • Media plans


  • Brand positioning research
  • Brand asset studies
  • Brand equity measurement system (awareness, preference, usage, value, accessibility, relevance, differentiation, vitality, emotional connection, loyalty, associations, personality)
  • Brand extension research
  • Product/service concept testing
  • Logo recall & recognition testing


  • Corporate officer interviews
  • Marketing employee interviews
  • Sales force interviews
  • Customer service employee interviews
  • Front line customer contact interviews
  • General employee interviews


  • Brand asset research
  • Brand equity research
  • Brand positioning research (qualitative and quantitative)

PHEW, what a list! It is complex and it quickly shows that a brand audit is a process that will take time – but Rome – and those big brands we all know- were not built in a day and not by one single person either.
A brand consultancy will guide you through a program that is tailored specifically to your objectives and will give you the insights to define and deploy a strategy for change.

So why should you do it?

Typically, a brand audit will:

  • give an insight into your brand architecture/business structure and portfolio
  • help to connect your visual communication efforts with financial returns
  • discover and assess your market positioning
  • define your brand stakeholders and competition
  • improve brand management and marketing
  • assist in securing and enhancing the value of your brand

I think that these days the value of increasing brand equity is much more apparent and thankfully so is the need for keeping track of your brand performance as much as you keep track of all other important aspects of your business.

brand, brand audit, Brand Strategy, Branding

KISS your brand

A friend asked me to review their first draft of a new website launching their business. A difficult task (since it is a friend) by all means, but my professional opinion quickly dominated the eagerness to compliment – I’d rather blame some blunt criticism on my German heritage and hopefully raise some questions that help the business.

What struck me most was that the business was trying to be everything for everyone. Words like ‘whatever you want it to be’ or ‘could be anything’ made me feel like they perhaps didn’t know themselves. It made me understand why so many successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common – their brand proposition is simple, their product or service offering clearly defined and ‘what you see is what you get’.

It is fascinating how an unclear vision, be it in terms of business or brand strategy, reflects on the visual impact a brand makes when the strategy is implemented online or in print marketing material. So once again, the KISS comes in very eloquently and gives a good basis for future expansion.
It worked for Subway who keep sticking with what they are good at despite the temptation to sell people other goods whilst they are in the shops. It is also a good recipe for niche companies such as Hotel Chocolat, Bravissimo, Innocent and Ella’s Kitchen.

Starbucks struggled when they expanded the number of their shops in 2007 and added much more than just coffee to the once clear offering; thus watering down their brand (with some consumer reports concluding Mc Donalds coffee tasting better!).

Lost brand values
Woolworths alienated customers by trying to please everyone

Woolworths lost its brand identity pretty much completely prior to leaving the high streets of Britain. They tried to be everything for everyone and instead as a consumer you ended up being unsure what they were actually good at.
Their brand position was quickly snapped up by Wilkinsons who seem to successfully fill the gap selling budget household goods and so far not venturing into too many other product lines.

Coca Cola Water
Bad publicity or just a bad idea? The Coca Cola water.

It is always tempting to use your brand reputation to expand – but being successful with one target market does not necessarily mean any new product will be a success. When Coca Cola introduced water instead of coke, it went down like a lead balloon.

Consumers didn’t like the healthy Pepsi drink

Similarly, PepsiCo experienced its own fall from grace when it launched Crystal Pepsi in 1992.

Jack Daniels Mustard. It didn’t last.

Jack Daniels Mustard never quite made it onto supermarket shelves as a favourite.

Off the menu. The Arch Deluxe didn’t have enough bite.

Equally important is to stay true to your core customers – as Mc Donalds found out when they tried to gain new customers by introducing the ‘Arch Deluxe’ as a sophisticated burger to set them apart from other burger bars. It’s no longer on the menu.

Whilst I am by no means promoting a ‘one trick pony’ approach to brand building, I believe that as a minimum, the brand proposition has to be consistent and clear. Companies such as Virgin, BMI, Apple, Tesco and even Ebay, Amazon or Google thrive despite their many products and service offerings.

Something worth a big kiss on the ego of the brand strategists behind their success!

Brand Strategy

Branding – and when you have to let go…

I am not sure that you really should have to, but once you have completed your part in the branding process, there inevitably comes the point when the new brand spills into an organisation and gets absorbed by their own marketing department – for better or worse. Guidelines, you say, yes, guidelines are there for exactly that reason, but, as I found out last week, no guidelines can prepare you for the pure shock and horror induced by the ‘creative’ approach from the budget saving ‘small man down the road’.
I’ve been lucky in the sense that our client discovered what was happening in one of his departments when they outsourced some new promotional item to be designed by a cheap local design firm. Every rule laid out in the brand identity guidelines had been not just stretched or slightly twisted but torn apart and broken in an unfixable manner. How whoever designed this (neglecting all the blatant inconsistencies in grammar and type) could look at their draft 1 and find it a good match to the client’s brief I do not know – but I really am appreciating that we had the chance to take this over and start from scratch.
Branding doesn’t just happen, well, it does, in a sense, but not necessarily how you want it to. It’s a slow, delicate process and it needs time, resources and money to re-brand an entire organisation that goes beyond the initial consultancy and creative process.
We never shut the door but think that an ongoing brand management relations ship is of most value to the client, but of course budget restraints cause situations out of our control. I am not sure yet what the solutions are – we can’t lower our rates paying for highly professional and creative talent to compete with those who don’t even deserve the title artworkers – so once again it seems to come down to educating the clients to realise a false economy.
On this occasion, our client had the insight and understanding of the importance of a consistent design approach even if only for the first of each publication to set a standard to be followed, but I despair at some others who ‘diy’ with our identity designs and do more harm than good. You have to just hope their brand is resilient to the apparent drop in quality of their communications material. A very similar problem happens when a client does the internal communications themselves but outsources the externals. The discrepancy is drastic and often you wonder how bad a customer must feel when they have been called in with great looking designs to receive forms and information on site that looks more like they just started their business with a comic sans flyer template and have no idea what they are doing.
There is the argument that ultimately it is the product and service that sells and not the presentation but if we think of brands as people, we are all very much relying on our judgement of the first impression a person gives us and we continue to observe if what they preach is what they do – only then do we start to trust someone.
Anyway, I could go on… but have to actually go back to the design of above mentioned piece… so I will let go – for now.

brand guidelines, brand management, graphic design

Brand Guidelines – Why?

We looked after our neighbours’ kids’ sunflowers whilst they were on holiday – and as before we managed to actually keep them alive during the absence of their prime carers. They had intact, if perhaps slightly tainted by worry, plants back in their house and so it continues.
It made me think that brand management is perhaps a bit like handing over the carefully nourished sunflower pots when you personally can’t always be around to tend to the needs of the brand. We managed to guess the requirements of a healthy sunflower, but for brands that is most certainly a more complex issue.
It is also one little step to ensuring the success of the continuous nurturing are the brand guidelines. You’ve just been through the process of analysing your brand, establishing the mission, vision, values and associated strategy and have completed a branding design project; out came a new visual identity supported by your organisational brand implementation and methods of internal brand communication. Then there comes the point when you have to delegate the use of the brand, the further shaping of the brand, and brand guidelines simply help to manifest the core of those values and ensure the visual, the language, the brand experience does not get individually (mis)interpreted by stakeholders dealing with it.
I quite like the analogy of a watering guide for your brand. And hopefully, with decent guidelines, you have every chance of returning to visit and finding a blooming brand instead of the results of something that was ‘tinkered with’ with the best intentions but with ill effects. Just a thought…

brand, brand guidelines

brand strategy in the making brand strategy in the making brand strategy in the making brand strategy in the making brand strategy in the making

Enter The Thinking Hotel

I’ve been to London on Saturday to take part in a prototype day for ‘The Thinking Hotel’, an initiative to develop a brand strategy business model run by Maria Ana Neves and her colleagues.

Hidden away in London’s busy West End is ‘the loft’, a friendly, trendy meeting space that hosted the event. We checked in midday and went through a series of mini workshops to define The Thinking Hotel’s brand personality, typical character of a customer, the actual customer journey and the influences of trends based on the current state of politics, the economy, social behaviour etc.

It was creative thinking and collaborating at its best. Sharing thoughts with other makes you realise how many different angles there are to even the most basic problem or task. How important in terms of branding it is to really dig deep and understand who you are talking to and what you are trying to say. How if there is no clear strategy behind a brand, there is no real substance and the whole identity becomes a house of cards ready to be blown over. Equally, how powerful a business can become by employing a design-led, creative strategy to engage with their customers/clients and thrive by having a holistic model of communication.

I was very much focused on the actual ‘container’ the name suggested, eg you arrive at a proper physical building, check in, go to your room and through a series of events pre-defined to take you on your journey.
What I learned very quickly is that as a model it can work a much more varied number of ways – a collaboration portal that you enter online? A mixture of online and offline meetings? Something from creative thinkers for creative thinkers? Or for corporations who are stuck in their ways? A spa for the mind? Or an adventure day out for the mind? Something you pay for? Something you pay for with ideas?

It will be great to see the outcome of the workshop, what the other participants made of it and how The Thinking Hotel will take shape as a business.

Congratulations to Maria Ana for once again pushing the conventional practices of brand strategy and developing new tools to help both creative thinkers and business owners keep up with the 21st Century.

Brand Strategy, Branding, creative collaborations

Why Bradford & Bingley don’t make bread

My husband was making Scotch pancakes for our little one, which is always an event in itself, when he remembered growing up with the belief that Bradford & Bingley also made flour.

Why? I asked. Well, it’s because of the man with the bowler hat!
So I had a look at comparing the two brand icons and it is quite sweet, seen from the eyes of a child… It also reminds me how important it is to think about the brand icon in light of what other companies are using even if it is a different business.

Homepride vs Bradford & Bingley

Anyway, just a quick story that made me chuckle… and look out for any other brand mix-ups.


YMCA US – New Brand Lacks Decisiveness and Vision

… well, in my mind, anyway. Having just worked myself on a new brand vision and brand design for the Forest YMCA in East London, I had heard about the ongoing re-branding exercise of the US equivalent, and was eagerly awaiting their approach.

Now that it’s here, I am somewhat underwhelmed. Yes, it is more colourful, thus easier to work with in a brand management sense. Yes, the shape is more pleasing and gives a sense of direction rather than a warning sign.
The approach of treating the ‘Y’ as the main icon flew out of our concepts pretty much stage one lacking the spirit, drive and innovation the Forest YMCA in East London wanted to be associated with. That may not be relevant for the US branch, but typographically the new visual looks like  a compromise that is not quite working on the web when the logo is a small size. Why is the organisation not confident enough to do what it says in the press release and be ‘The Y’ without including the original initials YMCA on the side of the logo? They look out of proportion,  like an afterthought, and they shift the balance of the logo to be bottom heavy.

It seems an odd decision that may well be due to ‘death by committee’ – and may have caused the designers involved to tear their hair out in despair, or it may be a very different vision and understanding of the brand this side of the Atlantic.
Whatever the reasons, I personally think it is a shame that an organisation of such statue, history and positive drive has shied away from a truly innovative brand strategy and has decided to use a design that is pushing the identity merely into the 90s (of the last century that is…)

Brand Strategy

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