Monday, 23 February 2009

The best time for branding

"Recessions force you to be more creative and mean that the fundamentals of branding can be rewritten. I think people will be looking very hard at their branding to position themselves post-recession."

So says Dave Allen, former Brand Union CEO and two weeks in to starting his new brand consultancy, BrandPie. There are a number of aspects of this comment that I rather like:
1. Changing the way we think about branding, being more creative is grist to our mill
2. Preparing for post-recession - an optimistic view is always appreciated
3. Branding is great value now - you can rewrite your brand now ready to be ahead of the game come the upturn
4. There is a wave of new brand consultancies starting with a few people offering real expertise and experience 

Creative thinking
One of the things that we have tried to stick to over the years is our creative heritage. We are trained as designers and use our creatively wired brains to help solve problems and communicate clearly. We have never embraced marketing speak and the complexity of brand valuation, but offered sharp minds that use the eclecticity of design thinking to add richness and common sense to brand strategy. At this time there is a re-evaluation of the value of branding; is it relevant, is it worthy, is it useful? What is useful is cutting through marketing-babble, getting a sense of 'the after-taste' of a brand, the commonality that triggers customers understanding and communicating this effectively internally and externally. Brand or be branded has never been more relevant. Have a look at this great soliloquy
on branding. But brands have to be managed creatively, innovatively, with customer empathy and with a real sense of how the business it represents fulfils the brand promise - and accordingly how well it is run to deliver a great product, great experience and a sense of good value. Indeed the idea of brand valuation is a vacuous idea if it is expected to have value despite the poor management of the business - the two concepts are completely symbiotic and that's why brand is so important to businesses - not because it's an intangible value that can be added to the balance sheet, bought and sold, or add pence to the share value.

Not much to say on this except that what we know is that recovery is all about confidence. The war time posters were all about a gritty resolution that would see out the rather grim reality all around, our current favourite of course being "Keep Calm and Carry On." It won't be long before "Dig for Victory" becomes even more relevant as the unsustainability of our farming/retail sysytems become ever more apparent.

Great Value - do it now
According to a report by The Survey Shop, commissioned by the Principle Group called 'Implementation, Rebranding and Design' this is a great time to consider rebranding:
  • 56% of marketing directors of blue chip companies believe that a downturn could be the best time strategically to rebrand 
  • 63% of business leaders agree that the act of launching a new brand identity in uncertain times signals a bold embracing of change 

  • 65% of business leaders believe that rebranding would help large corporate institutions get back on track 
What's more, I think most branding agencies will welcome your business, be particularly responsive, have an eye to the future of brand thinking and a new reality and be very good value for money. And when the tide turns, as it will, you'll be ready with a shiny, well-placed brand to embrace the new world order.

Small, close, independent and in control
The current wave of start-up consultancies with senior brand figures establishing small and personal businesses feels like  a trend that is finally catching up with us. We have stuck to our guns over the years, determined to be the people that do the work, the thinking in our case, and talk to clients rather than run a business. This hasn't always been fashionable, but is great for our creative juices, insatiable appetite for new challenges and inspiration, and our work life balance. Being essentially 'creatives' we are far more at home in a studio surrounded by art, crafty objects and living clutter than in an office with clean-cut lines and open-plan sterility. 

Michael Peters describes his new venture as a completely different approach to branding, "We will be working directly with clients around my kitchen table." Which is both extraordinarily refreshing and a convenient strategy to take in difficult times - I'm pretty sure he has a jolly nice kitchen table too. Smaller groups can offer well-managed costs and low overheads. Shaun Bowen, who has just left Pearlfisher where he was Creative Director to set up B&B, comments,  "Keeping it small, you can get back to having relationships with clients where it's just you and them. You can be selective about clients and have that intimacy - with big consultancies, constantly chasing big accounts, you're missing opportunities to work with smaller challenger brands that want to make it big." 

The other thing we have fiercely guarded is our independence. Here's a last word from Dave Allen (who gives some good do's and dont's here) that resonates with our philosophy, "There used to be loads of independent groups, but over the past 15 years these have all been bought by the big conglomerates," he says. "It's now very difficult to get independent advice, in my view. We've tested out this idea with clients, and it resonates." Us too.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Comfort Brands

Asda has reported a wave of nostalgia shopping. Sales of classic food brands such as Fray Bentos pies and Bird's custard powder are soaring as customers "shopped like their parents".

This is great news. One thing that breaks my heart is the loss of some of the most iconic and beautiful packaging over the years. A trip to the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill generally just goes to prove that packaging tended to be a lot nicer. Some of the brands that have been sidelined over the years have managed to keep their rather idiosyncratic packaging - like Tate & Lyle's Golden Syrup and Atora. Maybe now their time has come. Their deeply nostalgic outfits and their reassuring contents, delivering in the case of the trinity above the perfect dessert of treacle suet pudding and custard, are perfectly matched to the mood of austerity, make do & mend and home-bound cocooning. 

Other packaging that needs to stay as it is come-what-may include: Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Biscuit, Potter's Catarrh Pastilles, Fillipo Berrio Olive Oil and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. There's a delightful set of drawings of packaging here to mull over. Meanwhile Bird's could do with a bit of retro-designing...

Monday, 16 February 2009

Spring flowers - brand buds

Counting the types of flowers as they appear has always been a staple spring ritual of my mother - bringing a reassurance that spring will eventually come and wipe away the long, grim winter - even if it's in fits and starts. I've been counting a few positives in the rather grim economic landscape.

Number One - It's heartening to hear that Austin Reed has come in to buy Viyella, a brand about which I waxed lyrical. Nick Hollingsworth, CEO, said, "It is a great brand but it had lost its way. It was like a crumpet that was missing the butter." I'd very much like the brand to re-examine its rich history and tradition, dig up its innovative moments and develop an authentic offer for the current customer. I'm not sure that Mr Hollingsworth's desire to "reinvent the brand for today's 50-year old" really does justice to the heritage of the actual fabric that bore the name. Unfortunately the fabric, the innovative mix of wool and cotton, is long gone - but with the trend towards self-sewing and thrifty fashion this may just be the time to re-invent it.

Number Two - Another branded fabric that seems to have become merely a fashion brand is Aertex. Once the pride of every school kid's PE kit, I discovered the apparent demise of the material in a quirky and charming copy of "The Evening Post" from clothes people Old Town. A Miss Willey reports, "I rang my order through as usual - 50 metres of white, 50 metres of eau de nil, 50 metres of pale blue - only to be told the devastating news. No more blue.....Turns out they haven't woven the fabric for the last 25 years. They've been sitting on old stock that has finally run out." If someone would like to order 2,000 metres they might crank up the machines again. Austin Reed interested? Or perhaps Paul Smith might do something interesting with pale blue Aertex? (By the way the positive here is reading "The Evening Post")

Number Three - Another well reported story is the new Wellworths store in Dorchester. The new owner manager, Claire Robertson, has chosen a name that cleverly links to its ancestor, Woolworths, and evokes value and humour. I haven't done the legals so I hope she's not infringing any of the existing Wellworths trade marks but, I believe, she has been canny enough to register the .com and for her new brand. The opportunity she has is to create a local high street brand that can be sensitive and responsive to what the people want. She can stand in the store, talk to customers, put things on the shelf to try, offer testers and tasters and develop a genuinely useful brand. And again the ability to be on trend by stocking cooking pots, haberdashery and, obviously, pik'n'mix. 

Number Four - Stories of improved sales in fast-food are maybe less heart-warming but are nevertheless significant. KFC, Domino's Pizza, Subway and even McDonald's are doing well. They are remarkable 'good value' in as much as they don't cost much and are tasty but are inevitably stoking a health time bomb. Their familiarity, accessibility and instant gratification are things that will all help them as recession busters. Any chance of a sense of social responsibility slipping in?

Number Five - The other great recession buster is the special offer. My favourite, and most stylish, of the moment is Boden's Catch of the Day - they're taking 25% off one item, for one day, everyday. Clear, tempting and with a sense of urgency. And it sounds as though it comes with chips... Yet another example of a small treat to get you through the grey winter of gloom.

Photo from Old Town website

Monday, 2 February 2009

Some brands continue to deliver - even in the snow

Some brands are still delivering the brand essence that have made them the icons they are today. The warm feelings that were ignited in me today were for the lovely John Lewis. 

In the spirit of the times, and being 'on trend' in renewing my zeal for homely cooking, I was on the look out for the perfect pudding bowl. Having seen a couple of pricey ones I had a look at John Lewis's website and found the perfect item - in the sale - with free delivery. So on Friday I ordered two pudding bowls. On Sunday afternoon I received an email to say my bowls were on their way. I 'tracked' my parcel on Monday morning to find that it had been put on the van in Wembley at 8.10 am. And almost no traffic was going anywhere as we were experiencing the biggest snowfall for 18 years. What hope for my puddings?

But fear not. At around 1.00pm there was a ring at the door. Despite the crisp, white and even covering my pudding bowls had got through. Happy day. Good snow, no school and a warm feeling about John Lewis. Simple, wholesome and reliable. Just like steamed pudding and custard.