Sandwich Cream

I recently read the news that Heinz is considering changing the name of Salad Cream to Sandwich Cream – I find this fascinating!

I can’t say if I think this is a good thing to do or not, but I have to say that my initial instinct is that it isn’t necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in getting naming right and aligning brands to consumer expectation, but this feels instinctively ‘unnecessary’. Ok, so this is my logic, and let me just preamble with the fact that I have no background data on this, no surveys, polls, no qual research, it is only a feeling.

You see for me, consumers lived for years with Carphone Warehouse, yes massive mistake to leave their brand like that, in fact I told them 17 years ago it was a mistake, and they told be to bugger off I didn’t know what I was talking about… ahum. However, they did stumble on for 16 years before they completely lost any relevance to consumers. However my point here, is if Carphone Warehouse can stumble on with a name that has no relevance at all, then I can’t see that a name that has such a long standing history (114 years) with a product that changing it is going to be wise.

I have another issue, and it’s this; salad cream ‘to me’ has been a way of adding flavour and texture to something that can sometimes taste a little less interesting than our tastebuds have been trained to desire. It therefore has a emotional connection that has been deep set in our conscience. The two things, salad and cream, are a perfect combination. They bring an emotional match that tells us that flavour and texture can be added to something fresh and healthy, thus a partnership made in heaven.

The trouble with Sandwich Cream is that the match feels stodgy, it feels unhealthy, dirty, a match made in chips shops, and while I’m at it, many people cover their chips in it, should we call it Chip Cream?

I am all up for relevance, but please Heinz, don’t ignore all other context just for the flavour of the strategy day – relevance (pun wasn’t intended). The name was a positive thing, it encouraged people to eat salads, and yes it may not be healthy in itself, but in the same way dips are unhealthy, if a small amount can add flavour to a salad, then is that so bad?

So you are taking a name that has rich history, people know it and love it, and yes it isn’t the healthiest, but it does have a healthy benefit, and you change it to associate with something stodgy, unhealthy and in the process, encourage people to use it in an unhealthy way – hmmm… not sure.

Re brands and context

The resent Aldi re brand has lead me to write a piece about change and audience relevance, and how having a broader understanding on how brands relate to customers, in the process struggle of brand change, the important core is often replaced with fear induced waste.

Re brands all have their own boundaries, and it is understanding these that makes them stagnate, grow or shine. Take the recent Co-op retail brand, although I or Garden didn’t do it, I have to say that it is by far one of the best re brands I have seen for a long time. Its fresh view with its relationship with the customer is insightful, it elegantly manages to use its past – a ’touch’ of retro, with the future, through simplicity and colour. What this re brand manages to do is bridge its heritage with the future, it manages to retain its past loyal customer and grow its younger more progressive future customer.

All too often, no actually I would say almost always, the design process and client side fear stifle re brands. But it needn’t be that way, it’s all about context and relevance. For example, Mars has a loyal customer base, people know it, they know what to expect, and any change needs to understand the level of recognition that needs to stay, any sudden change in this would far out-way any rebrand benefit. But with high street supermarket brands, people don’t purchase on impulse, they don’t reach out their hand on autopilot and grab a Mars, they shop because of location, price, brand loyalty. Therefore the visual identity of a brand in these circumstances needs to reflect what the brand promises to offer.

So, in the case of the Aldi re brand, in my ‘humble’ opinion, they have missed an opportunity, they have almost religiously it seems, tried to stay loyal to its past, but simply modernise the font and forms, and yet the customer wont care about this, but what they could have done is create a brand that sheds some of the things that dated the old brand, shifted into a new and exciting space, and still captured the spirit of the original brand – like the Co-ops retail brand has managed to do. Imagine the Aldi symbol, simplified, cleaned up, similar but fresher colour palette – much nicer!

At the end of the day, it is all about context, and as I said earlier, understanding this context is vital, as it allows you to see very easily how far you can go, what you need to hold on to, and how much a customer is willing to accept. Get this right and you can create benchmark world leading brands, get it wrong and you run the risk of costly mistakes. I suppose an analogy would be, if you are going to play poker, it helps if you can count cards, if you can’t count cards, play a safe hand and you ‘may’ walk away with the same money you started with, the trick though, is to count cards.

Of course re brands go much further than just the logo, let’s hope that the brand application shines more than the logo.

Why should I be brand loyal?

“You’ve worked even harder than we imagined you would – have some more money”.

“You didn’t use as much as we thought you would – have some money back”

I think it’s fair to say that we’d like to hear these types of things on a regular basis. Not because we are getting something for nothing but because it’s fair – it’s the right thing to do.

The key thing behind these two statements – and what makes them a little unusual – is that their main focus is…me…the customer….the end-use… (call it what you will). Quite often, brand messages focus on the brand. So, typically, “we are a great place to work because______” or “our service leaves the competition standing…”. Both of which are probably quite true but – in essence – these brand messages promote & justify the status quo. True enough there are implicit “user” benefits in there, but the primary purpose is for them to tell you how good they are (just in case you were feeling a little hard-done-by by paying too much for example.)

But, going back to the “me” focus for a while. It genuinely makes me take notice when a brand seems to be thinking about me – about what they can really do for me, what they can do to improve a service or give me a better product.

I got a text the other day from Orange. It read:

“Hi from Orange. Best Plan is our free service that reviews your mobile usage every 6 months to make sure you’re getting the best value. We’ve just completed your review and you could save money by switching to your recommended Orange talk plan. Visit Orange.co.uk/bp for details. Terms apply.”

I suppose the reason that this has some resonance with me is that it seemed to form part of a genuinely empathetic strategy: “they seem to be thinking about things from my perspective”.

It’s very common for people to shop around (especially in the telco sector) but the reality is that people probably don’t quite have the time. And when they do get round to it, the chances are they will leave for another provider (especially if they get approached by the other provider). But I think that this particular strategy will go some way into ensuring that their brand loyalty stays pretty strong. And one of the reasons for that loyalty/retention is down to simplicity: “they did the thinking for me”.

On a similar cost-saving note, my recent experiences with BT show that they can be quite flexible but I can’t help feeling that they don’t do simplicity very well. For example, it’s pretty difficult to email them if I don’t have my long account number handy (when I get the urge to email them, I generally don’t have a copy of my phone bill handy!) When I eventually get through by calling them, they are flexible inasmuch as they will reduce my direct debit amount down to the amount that I want to or should pay (which makes sense given that I rarely use a landline any more & I get a ton of credit balances). But somewhat annoyingly they do have a habit of increasing the amount arbitrarily again afterwards when you aren’t looking (apparently the computer does it). So you need to call them and go through it all again!

Anyway, just looking at these two scenarios, it’s pretty clear to me that brands can give themselves a significant advantage over their competitors when they can show clear empathy: think about me, do something for me, make things easier, make things cheaper. They don’t have to be big things. The example I gave above isn’t exactly ground breaking but it does go some way towards making me look at that brand in a slightly different light: a little bit of positivity.

Actually maybe it IS a big thing example. Orange apparently have 144 million customers worldwide. If this approach means they retain 5% of customers that they would otherwise have lost. That’s a hell of lot of business!

So, simple lesson here really: think about me and I will like you and I might stay with you. Make it hard for me and I won’t necessarily leave you but you’ll make it easier for me to do so.

Now, if only Orange would ring me with an offer to replace my BT landline and broadband…

Can you be TOO friendly? (branding and authentic attitudes)

Branding and authentic care has its place.

I got a call recently from my car breakdown people. I’d called them out recently so I assumed that this was a follow up. I don’t have a problem with follow-up calls in principle – feedback is always good, especially bad feedback. But as it turned out this was a sales call masquerading as a follow-up (so a slight ruse on their part really). To be fair, I don’t really have a massive problem with sales calls either: they may well be offering something that I could just need so, assuming I have the time, I like to keep an open mind.

In fact, I’d filled in their online questionnaire at the time of the breakdown, and with the exception of the time it took to get to me (2 and half hours!), I’d rated them as excellent throughout. So the reality of this calls must, logically, be purely sales. And it was.

I have a pretty good memory but the only problem here is that I can’t actually remember what the call was about now. All I can remember is the caller constantly referring to me as “mate”, “bud” or “sir”.

Now I know all good brands have guidance in terms of how they should speak. I’m guessing (and it is just a guess) that the above probably doesn’t really fit with that guidance. I mean it’s good to be approachable, it’s great to be friendly and a little familiarity can be quite useful but I can’t help thinking that this one was slightly overdone. I mean in a scenario where I really need them then I may put up with it and even think it’s a little quirky. But if the scenario is reversed then it’s irritating at best and downright annoying at worst.

Maybe I’m overreacting here but the reality is that odd or inconsistent behaviour will get talked about much more than good & consistent behaviour: it’s much more likely for someone to say “I spoke to X company’s customer services the other day – can’t get over how rude/arrogant/patronizing (delete as appropriate) they were….” than “I called Y company last week, what a nice bunch they are…”. Clearly that’s the case here as I’m writing about it!

What’s the lesson here?

A brand doesn’t want or need a bunch of robots at the other end of the line, speaking from a script – that’s as off-putting as my “mate” at the other end of my call. But what it does need is a consistent approach. Being friendly for example, is open to interpretation but it shouldn’t veer into over friendly. But regardless of your individual brand values, the most important approach is honesty. If my caller was honest & simply courteous (which is clearly the safer option) then I probably would have listened on. I might even remember what it was he was trying to sell me!

Don’t waste my time – People don’t have time for brand fluff; talk less but talk smart!

You know what’s really annoying? People who talk too much!

And not just people but things in general. For example, you know when you watch a film that lasts for hours and you sit there and eventually stumble out of the cinema nursing a sore behind and you wonder “so what was the point of the 1st hour? It didn’t really tell me that much. OK, maybe we could have kept some of it but definitely lost a good 20 minutes. And come to think of it, they really dragged towards the end there.” So in the end, you could have ended up with a great hour and a half rather than a long and drawn out 3 hours. OK, I’m not saying everything should be purely practical and functional – there is and should be scope for the artistic for the sake of it – but there’s always a limit.

The point of this piece is pretty simple really: we live in an age where time is at a premium – we want to know what something does and quickly. What’s the benefit to me here? Will it improve my life? Will it entertain me? What does it cost?

Recently I downloaded an app called AppGratis – a brilliant concept for those who – like me – don’t like parting with money. The idea is simple – get a paid app for free every day. The people behind AppGratis negotiate with the app developers, feature their app for 24 hours and move on to the next. Like I say, a brilliant idea and it’s definitely one that I refer to regularly.

The only problem is this. It’s completely mysterious at 1st glance what each and every app actually does. Any meaning is buried under a vaguely tenuous and wooly intro paragraph (or 2). Usually buried even deeper somewhere in the middle of the 2nd paragraph is where you’ll get a clue as to what the app is actually for.

I suppose it’s pretty clear on the law of averages that not every app is going to appeal to me, but surely that makes a functional and practical intro even more appropriate? Or just get to the point!

This brings me to one the best things I ever heard in relation to brands – what’s the point? A simply brilliant question. And one every brand should ask itself. What’s your purpose? What are you trying to say? Why are you saying that for? Does this improve or detract? Are we talking to the right people?

If brands constantly asked these types questions, I reckon life would be a lot simpler. And isn’t simplification a good thing? The best and most lauded inventions tend to do just that, simplify; the computer, the plane, the wheel…All these things make our lives easier, more efficient and even more fun.

Maybe the pointless wording only takes away 20 seconds from my life everyday. But it’s an annoying 20 seconds. And I remember it and I’m not getting it back! And the more a brand communicates fluff the least likely that that will then turn into a brand experience.
Perhaps it’s just a question of time. The more brands think, the more they understand what they are about, the more they understand what their audience is about, the less they have to say. Or as Blaise Pascal once put it “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter”.

So, the moral is THINK MORE > LEARN MORE > THINK SMART > SPEAK LESS

And that lesson is truly universal and shouldn’t purely be restricted to brands. I started on a film analogy and I will (sort of) close on one. Many years ago, I believed that the key to delivering a good & effective presentation was to build slowly and get to a big (maybe even “audience- surprising”) finish. What I neglected to realise at that time was that I wasn’t there to entertain: I was there to deliver a solution. So, the approach changed to: 1) 1st tell your audience what you propose, why & how they are going to benefit and 2) then tell them how you are going to do it.

Put simply: if you believe in your solution (which, of course, you should!) then you have the audience with you within the 1st couple of minutes. If you bore them with peripherals then you lose them and you may not get them back. If you don’t believe in the solution then maybe you should start over…

(Oh, I’m aware of the irony of me including an analogous pre-amble here by the way!)

Branding in a connected world

The world we live in today, and far more so into the future, is super connected, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc … The list is endless. And with this connectivity comes challenges, certainly in the world of branding. The challenge is huge, after all, it wasn’t that long ago that a disgruntled member of staff could at best go to the press, see if anyone was interested, and probably only be able to warn their friends about any wrong doing. Or if a customer was dissatisfied with their purchase, they may use some word of mouth to spread their pain, but other than that, they all too often couldn’t do much at all. But times have changed, and now people have hundreds of channels to spread their opinions, sentiments and before long those words will spread, and very fast.

What this means is that companies now can’t just state what they are, preach their vision and mission and their values to their customers, or make unfounded statements about their brand messages – how they are there for their customers, or how the quality of their products far outweighs that of their competitors. These days they have to make sure that their brand is lived right through to the end result, so that people can see for themselves that their product IS better than their competitors, or that they ARE there for their customers. Therefore branding has a different role, well in honesty it is the same role, it’s just that the values and strategy that they define now has to be honest and true, and they have to be lived by these companies, not just mantras to sell more products.

What this does today, is mean that your average decent branding agency needs to go further than what they have in the past, not just create brand strategies that give a company a clear brand direction, they need to help them build their future, define strategic brand pathways, knowledge sharing, reward programmes. Sure, most larger companies have these in place, but I rarely see these working in harmony with their brand strategy, and intertwining these with the overarching brand and what that brand is telling its customers is imperative.

So, given that the task for branding agencies today is far harder than it has been in the past, what else is there to think about? Well, the challenge is knowing how a brand is looking in the actual world, building and reading measurement tools, and effecting channels, such as social media, direct media, advertising, product etc.

So the average agency these days needs to know what channels to understand, that could be Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pintrest, Tumblr, all kinds of forums and blogs, it’s getting tougher, more complex and more challenging, but I suppose that is the nature of branding, for every new tool that makes life easier, comes something that makes life harder, and we are starting to understand that knowing ‘us’, knowing our ‘customers’, ‘where’ our customers ‘talk and share’, ‘listening and learning’ we can build better companies through better branding.

The brand of a Nation

Recently I was kindly invited to a 40 year celebration for the UAE held at the Millennium hotel in West London.

The event for me and my eldest daughter seemed at an outsiders view point, abstract and maybe a little strange, but only really because we didn’t get sub titles with the speeches, and as it was a celebration for the nations 40 years since creation and uniting of the Emirates, it may have been a little strange to even have Westerners there.

However, I have to say that both myself and my daughter really rather enjoyed the experience, unfortunately cut short due to other commitments. Its hard to say why or what made it so unique, but I suspect that it was that we was actually getting a rare glimpse at the genuine way people feel about their country, and in simple terms – passion.

I have spoken on the issue of nation branding a few times, and it is always a fairly complex subject, but this actually made me think about what it is that the UAE has done to create such a great difference to nation branding compared to so many other GCC countries (not all, but many). So what HAVE the UAE done so differently? and why are their people so proud and content?

I cant really say exactly, neither am I (or is anyone really) qualified to, but I am going to offer my opinion:) – They are a nation that has grown out of wealth, one that has in a sense a form of democracy, or rather a constitutional federation as opposed to a dictatorship, and as a nation it has mostly seemed to look after and listened to its people. It’s oil wealth has been invested back into the country and thus shared among its people, plus having low income tax has been a big advantage to its people. I think though what is also at the heart of this is not only the wealth that they have achieved and shared, but also that they have managed on the one hand to embrace Western design influence, but on the other encourage and evolve its own rich history and culture, keeping hold of its roots.

Nation branding, like any other kind of brand, comes down to a few key areas, the most important is that it needs to start from ‘inside’, it needs to start with what the nation stands for, what’s important to hold onto, and how the country is actually run and the decisions it makes, therefore how a country treats its people, how it deals with its growth, what events it sponsors and celebrates, all have an impact on how a nation feels about its own brand.

I think a way of summarising what I am saying here is that hearing people speak proudly about what their country does for them is the biggest and most powerful way to build a nations brand, and the only way to get people to do that is to invest into that country, either via education, support networks, a health system, events like F1, football etc and essentially leading by example, showing people that the way a country is run is an example of how people should act.

Well thats my thoughts on it anyway, happy to hear people’s views.

Brand revival and the art of nostalgia

Is it unusual that companies in recent years have started to roll out older brands that have for some reason been scrapped, or ‘parked’?

Well not really, there is apparently a hark back to the past in times of austerity or harder days, for some reason people look back to the ‘good ol’ days’ for that feeling of well being. While at the same time, companies are looking for newer cost saving products to launch into the market, having to fork out less marketing spend whilst targeting the nostalgic purchaser, plus lots of potential free PR! why wouldn’t you?

I wonder what would happen if penguin started selling classic books printed and produced from a press from the 50s?, ok right now with the mass growth of Ebooks it’s possibly the wrong time, but in 5 years time I wonder if people will start to tap into that nostalgia buzz? Restaurants have been relying on this from the earliest of times, it’s called atmosphere, people like to dine in elegant and beautiful locations, take for example Les Trois Garçons, a rather special restaurant in East London that manages to mix nostalgia, with art, abstract connections and even the grotesque. Somehow it works, for some reason people love to reflect and wonder. I have even found it mixed in office environments, where offices start to build spaces with interesting antique furniture, bringing together the past with the present.

I do really enjoy moments of nostalgia, it’s a strange feeling, bringing back feelings from yesteryear, reflective, retrospective imagination, theres something in there somewhere, and maybe there should be some new and really exciting brand revivals that work really well in this arena.

Lets think of some brand revivals in recent years shall we – the Fiat 500, the VW Beatle, the Mini, Triumph motorbikes, the Chopper bike, the Whisper chocolate bar, Golden Nougat cereal, Air Jordan, Converse, Biba fashion house, Puma and Adidas trainers, Arctic Roll!, the list goes on, and all have some feel of nostalgia, or at least something magical that people connected with in the past.

As is I mention above, I am a bit of a lover of nostalgia, in fact over the years I have collected vintage packaging, from the Tufty Club government safety awareness campaign (something for the older UK reader), to Airfiix, to Prince Albert cigaret papers, to Matchbox, and some other less known brands. Personally though, although I love many of these revivals, and many have managed to connect the past with the future, certainly when it comes to engineering. I do wonder what it would be like if someone was brave enough to bring back a product from the past and use the same visual brand approach to shelf based packaging that it started with back in their ‘hay day’. There are some cereal based brands that do this ‘ok’, or at least get close, although I do wonder if they miss the mark a little, I’m referring to say something like Scots Porridge Oats – close, but could be better I think.

I sometimes also wonder if cinema has missed a potential opportunity, after-all, if your over 30 you only have to hear the Pearl & Deal soundtrack to get those memories flooding back! Imagine if we went back to making cinema a ‘night out’, having the interval, people selling ice cream, the whole atmosphere of the traditional ‘great night’ of cinema – where has that gone?

And finally, do people remember the following brands – Clackers, Wantney’s Party Seven, Ford Capri, Action man (yes, still around I know), Pearl & Dean, Top of the Pops?

So… what brands do you miss, what would you bring back?, why? and how would you do it?

Branding agency to change the world

Branding agency changes the world? ok, so its a big statement, and let’s face it, no branding agency is going to change the world single handedly, but maybe it isn’t as silly as it might sound.

Many people view the branding agency cynically, and why shouldn’t they, after all, it has been the branding agency that for many years has been used by many people as a method of selling products full of rubbish to children, products that have clogged up the countryside with litter, clogged up peoples arteries with saturated fats, in fact to many it would seem that the branding agency is the weapon of the larger corporates to tell lies to the masses.

The good news is that this isn’t going to happen as much as time goes on, at least not as long as Google isn’t controlled by governments, Twitter is the voice of the people, and Facebook is the home of global communities, and any other new platform. And let’s face it, there are ever more ways to communicate with the world, with newer platforms for sharing and talking.

In the past it was too easy for larger companies to retain their stake and control their revenue by controlling the market, if anyone had anything bad to say, their voice would soon be stifled. But with so many open platforms, and so many people getting instant access to the masses, means that larger companies have no choice other than to hear their customers, and change accordingly – or face pretty quick losses of share value and dwindling profits.

We have seen this phenomenon, at first I wasn’t sure how effective it would be, but after watching many publicly raised issues, and watched these corporates value drop, you start to realise it works, and that the public do have power, the kind of power that is natural, as opinion is like a ship, it takes many voices in its sails to move, but once a breeze of change hits and it starts to turn, it’s impossible to stop, no matter how great the work by a branding agency.

So how does this relate to a branding agency changing the world? well, in my view, branding and what a branding agency does is still the only thing that people can use to tell one product or service from another, and what the values of that brand stands for, so in reality, it’s not just how great a logo looks, but actually deeper. It’s what’s behind the brand and what a branding agency does that counts, yes of course a brand needs to be exciting visually, but more than that, it has the power to change companies from the inside. In fact, branding is the best way of doing this. Yes it does take internal communications, campaigns, training, recruitment etc. but who knows more about this world than a branding agency?

So from my view, branding is about making organisations right from the moment it brings someone in, from the inside to the surface, from the surface to the customer – joining all the dots. It can only operate in this way, any other way will only mean failure, and this is fundamental to what a branding agency brings.

A branding agency for today

The typical branding agency from the past (or at least a more professional branding agency) have focused on the standard mission, vision and values approach. And yes, this works well as it understands what a company stands for and aligns the brand around this. However in practice over the years, I have noticed a few things that happen, firstly, the client starts to feel engaged in the process, they get excited and start to get more involved (all good), however, in some cases I see that as they start to get to understand our processes and get more involved, they stop focusing on the end result and start to refer back to the work, aligning to what are they are today, or what they want to achieve, and the client gets more and more drawn into the process. And while it is good to get the clients attention and involvement in the branding process, it isn’t so good for the branding agency to loose grip of the end result.

It’s interesting when I look more holistically at the results of the bigger and more established branding agency – I wont mention names, you start to see that once they become well known for what they do, they start to be trusted by companies and brand managers, who acknowledge that they don’t actually need to sculpt the end result for themselves, they trust the branding agency to make recommendations, and then from here reap the rewards of this. The result from these branding companies is more arresting, vibrant and produces braver brands, and once these brands are out there in the world, they start to grow and form new brandleaders, brands that others can only hope to follow.

So, to be a really great branding agency, the answer is in the branding process, making sure that you educate the client in how brands work, how his brandworks and how his demographic will be inspired by a new brand. The branding agency I work for today, Garden, in my opinion, has been educating companies in this way for many years now, it’s in recent years that clients have seen us as a more conceptual branding agency, with strong strategic anchors. In fact one of mybrand strategists often refers to us as being creatively driven and strategically anchored, and I like this description as it is accurate and what I would suggest otherbranding agencies should aim for, after all, you should never be different for the sake of being different, or so strategically aligned and ‘safe’ that you loose anybrand personality.

In summary – be brave creatively, take care to align your brand to the demographic, educate the client, don’t let go of the brand. Oh yes, and of course all this happens if you have a great design team – a branding agency for today.