Category Archives: Branding

Ten Things I’d Like To Be Normal Post-COVID-19


It won’t be long before the new normal retreats to the old normal post-COVID-19. Living this new life, what have we learned and how should we change?

Photo of London bus blasts to show significant London event in Breakfast Town blog on change post Covid-19

On the morning of July 7th 2005 terrorist bombs detonated in central London killed 53 people. Three of the bombs were detonated on the Underground and one on a double decker bus. I was at a client meeting at the time. We were locked down for hours, not knowing what was happening. It was a sickening day and, walking home, I remember thinking that things would never be the same again. For the next months I avoided public transport; travelling on the Underground was a nervous experience. Then life moved on, my fear subsided and I started travelling by tube again, albeit with a heightened sense of awareness. In this way, I expect London to re-shape and re-form to something like pre-COVID-19. It’s like pulling a sweater, or stretching a plastic bag – the natural way of things is to return to form, but never quite the same form. So, while I don’t believe that life will change as fundamentally as some people think, before the status quo returns we have the opportunity to see our lives in a novel shape. I’m lucky enough to work from home, in West London; from that perspective, here are my personal observations.

1. Work post-COVID-19
Can we re-define what work means? The general issue with work, as we knew it, was that we were always available and never ‘off’. Now, I really enjoy dealing with people in their comfortable place (albeit by screen), with maybe a toddler in the background or Amazon knocking at the door. I like doing work, then an online class. I feel like I’m working with real people, living real lives. Can we blur our lines between ‘work’ and ‘not work’ to find a third space that improves social cohesion and promotes personal physical and mental health? Can we find a relationship with ‘work’ that gives us flexibility to spend more time with family and friends, doing valuable things that make us more valuable people? Most people I know have been helping someone in their community in some way – social support like shopping or fetching prescriptions. Combined, those activities are a huge contribution to the economy, so why isn’t that ‘work’? The UK public has raised over £800m for charities – that’s ‘work’ isn’t it? Over half a million people have accessed an online suicide prevention course. Can we make ‘community support’ part of our working week? Could we end the ‘paid’ working week at 12.30pm on a Friday to accommodate this work ‘in kind’? Can the words ‘work’ and ‘kind’ ever be interchangeable?

2. Technology post-COVID-19
Like lots of other people, I’ve attended meetings and booze-ups and family chats and rugby seminars on Skype, House Party, Zoom, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams. My conclusion is that they are all rubbish. Please can someone take this seriously and deliver a service that’s 100 times better? I don’t expect the actual person to be transported to my home, but how hard is it to deliver, say, a hologram of the people I’m meeting into my kitchen? Like Star Trek or Total Recall, but safer.

3. Commuting post-COVID-19
I never liked commuting and since 2005 crowded tubes scare me. Cars feel more like a relic from a polluted past every day. Less commuting, please, in tune with less time spent in an office. And lets spend Government investment wisely. Cycle lanes are great, but they aren’t for everyone. In Tel Aviv, where I think the roads are broader than London, I remember the electric scooter is popular (rather than the hazard they are here). Maybe think of a commuter network that combines man–powered and electric-powered vehicles side by side?

4. Teaching post-COVID-19
I have never understood why teaching isn’t a more revered profession. Now lots of parents have had a go, can we recognise the skill teaching requires, and the positive effect teaching can have on individual achievement, labour market returns, generational development, economic growth and world standing? Let’s make it really hard to become a teacher, then pay them loads for doing an amazing job. I suggest they are worth as much as an MP.

5. Environment and Health post-COVID-19
Clearer skies, cleaner canals and quieter roads have been one result of our extreme response to COVID-19. However, according to one report by The Guardian,the expected cut in emissions…is still less than what scientists say is needed every year this decade to avoid disastrous climate impacts for much of the world.”

Who, now, can deny that there is a relationship between human health and the health of the planet? We are destroying the planet we rely on for survival and that doesn’t make sense. Can we now say that we’ve reached a place where the people who deny global warming are the extremist troublemakers? If we are ‘led by science’ in dealing with COVID-19, then science should also lead us in formulating policy to deal with the collapsing environment.

6. Stuff post-COVID-19
We can thrive with less: less money, less stuff. For me, shopping for food (planned and efficient) is different from ‘doing the food shop’ (random and inefficient). Companies will stop producing so much stuff we don’t need, society will stop promoting needless consumption. Post-pandemic, those with more will accept their responsibility in paying more towards the safety and welfare of those with less.

7. Economy post-COVID-19
I do not understand ‘the economy’ in as much as it doesn’t seem to be something I’m actually involved in. The economy feels like something happening ‘over there’, delivering huge profit to an elite few. What’s the point of a growing economy when the surplus we produce isn’t re- distributed to those who need it? I am confused that, after being told to tighten our belts for years, enormous amounts of money are now available. Surely we could have used some of that cheap money a while ago, to prepare the health service, to feed the hungry, to house the homeless? If we keep some transparency in economic policy then we can keep some kind of accountability. And I do wonder, if Labour had been in power, what the Opposition reaction would have been to announcing a similar, seemingly reckless and unaffordable financial support package?

8. Democracy post-COVID-19
I protect the right of journalists to hold Government to account – the daily briefings are a way for Government to earn (or lose) our trust. And, while history will probably not judge this Government kindly, as a democratically appointed Government I have to protect the right for them to get it wrong, too. I feel closer to politics than ever before (MPs have my sympathy as well as my aversion) and I think a more open dialogue between state and citizen has begun which should be continued. I expect that, if we had had six months of detailed, open debate about Brexit, we’d have accepted the referendum result (whichever way) and dealt with the consequences a lot quicker. Suppose, after COVID-19, we adopt a similar, urgent, open conversation about climate change?

9. Advertising post-COVID-19
The lockdown campaign, ‘Stay At Home’ scared us half to death and is proof that advertising can work. The post-lockdown ‘Stay Alert’ also showed us that advertising can be confusing and ineffective. I’m guessing the first was written by a professional in response to a brief, (‘they need to stay at home’) and the second was scribbled by an MP without a clue (‘they need to stay at home, except when they don’t’). Beyond this, we’ve seen brands aboard a bandwagon of ‘We’re in this together’ tosh, whereas directed behaviour (a form of advertising) has been so much more admired than empty waffle (another form of advertising). Commercial creativity based on iron-cast strategy is still a fantastic industry and something we’re very good at.

10. Brands post-COVID-19
I have been lucky enough to work with many wonderful global brands, and have always been clear that they not only have an opportunity, but an obligation to display a clear set of positive values and behaviours in everything they say and do. Individual countries seem to be becoming more nationalistic and divided (internally and internationally) throughout the crisis. Global brands can provide some kind of cohesion or moral compass, by going about their business with positive purpose – fairly, sustainably and transparently. If governments don’t believe black lives matter, a powerhouse of global brands saying they do, then doing something about it, can actually lead to positive change.

11. Perspective post-COVID-19
Finally, as well as seeing things about this new normal I’d like to keep, this ‘bonus’ point is simply something about myself I’d like to change and keep. For a start, I need to learn to see the world through others’ eyes. My perspective is so narrow, it’s irrelevant. The dumbest line I heard since COVID-19 entered our world is that the disease “does not discriminate”. Yes it does; it’s ageist, racist, sexist, classist and regionalist. Conversely, the wisest thing I heard was, “we are not all in the same boat. We are in the same storm, but not the same boat.” I need to learn to differentiate between the storm and the boat, and to understand that not all boats are the same.

Enjoyed this breakfast read? For a chat over coffee about your brand, visit Breakfast Town or call +44 7950 257802.

Starting A New Business? What About Your Brand?

If you Google ‘launching a business’ you can find top tips for success. These include solid advice about market testing, product excellence, consumer analysis, cost control and promotional planning. Few of them, though, place much emphasis on launching a brand.

Boy on ladder showing blue sky thinking in Breakfast Town blog on launching a brandI am in awe of people who launch new products or services – the hard work that goes into financing, sourcing, technology, staffing, business model etc. I’m less impressed by enthusiastic entrepreneurs who spend thousands on a new logo or website but haven’t considered their brand at all. A new logo does not make a brand. I see this as a distinct task from launching the product or service, so here are my ‘add-on’ tips which any start-up might consider.

5 tips for launching a brand

1. Brand Strategy comes first: the quality of what we do depends on the quality of thinking that precedes it.

The world isn’t sat around waiting for a new beer, or a new supplement, or a new beauty product. Why should it care about you? What makes you relevant to your customer? In what way are you distinct from the competition? What makes you desirable? What are your core values? What is your vision and how will the world be different if you succeed? What things would you always do and what things would you never do? What is the idea behind your company?

Once you have a brand strategy, you have a foundation on which to build assets like name, logo, packaging, website, promotions. You can create a brand identity with the brand idea built in, to the greater glory of the reason you started this journey in the first place.

I recommend this strategic thinking to everyone, launching or launched, as it can galvanise the way you think about the business you’re in.

2. Exaggerated brand promise does not compensate for an average product.

I have seen brand strategies which promise to ‘shake up the market’ or ‘deliver for a new generation’, or ‘be unique in the marketplace’. Once you scratch the surface, these brands are usually based on a wing and a prayer and a flaky assertion that some funky packaging suggests genuine innovation. Get real – if you can’t find a relevant, distinctive, desirable reason why your product or service was put on this earth, chances are consumers won’t either. Maybe some time ago we ‘drank the advertising’ (see Are Today’s Brands More Truthful?), but nowadays your brand will be analysed and dissected on the great operating table called the internet and social media will publish the forensic report.

3. Be single minded and open minded about launching your brand.

Ideas have no value until they appear in the real world as a real thing. Your brand cannot be all things to all people, but it can be one good thing to as many people as possible. I have worked with clients who have a relevant, distinctive and desirable brand promise, who then also want to be all the other things that their competitors are. Relevance is blunted, distinctiveness blurred, desirability reduced. Do not do anything without reference to your brand and the vision you have. But do do. And be prepared to review and adapt as you progress. Babies change as they grow up, so I think we can forgive a brand for doing the same.

4. Your brand is a 3D creation.

I prefer not to think of the brand as simply ‘the clothes your product wears’. Imagine it as a separate entity that needs to be nurtured as such. Use every act as an opportunity to further define your brand in your customers’ eyes. Help people to see the brand from different angles, whether that is the product on shelf, the conversation with a call centre or an outbound email. Think of the brand as a whole story to be told – work out which chapter you can communicate in every customer interaction. Over time, the brand will emerge with detail, character, experience and uniqueness.

feet on pavement with wording saying 'Passion led us here' to illustrate teamwork in Breakfast Town blog on starting a business and launching a brand5. Inspire your team around the brand.

Hiring the right people is always one of the top tips for business success. People who believe in the product, who bring complimentary skills, and who get on, are really valuable. Connecting them is important and I would advise connecting them around the brand. A team that believes in the brand vision has a stake in the future; individuals become ambassadors for the company, are more likely to go the extra mile and are more likely to remain loyal (when times are tough or colleagues leave). I also believe they are more likely to become creative thinkers on behalf of the brand.

Enjoyed this breakfast read about launching your brand? For a chat over coffee, visit Breakfast Town or call +44 7950 257802.

The Use Of Nostalgia In Marketing

Barry Chuckle has passed away and 100,000 nostalgic tweets proclaimed him a much-loved part of a million childhoods.

If memory is fluid and remembering an active event, we can use positive reference points to ‘re-construct’ the past. If I think of the Chuckle Brothers, the catch phrase, or the TV theme tune, I connect them to childhood memories of banana sandwiches, spirograph, pogo sticks, Cor! comic, football and laughter. In fact, I was out of short trousers and on my way to college when Barry Chuckle became famous – so I’ve ‘edited’ the ‘brand’ of Barry Chuckle into a version of my childhood that suits me.

Photo of police and picketers in 1970s strikes a spart of Breakfast Town blog about nostalgia marketing

I grew up in the 70s. They were great, honestly

Brands help recreate positive memories

Brands that employ nostalgia marketing appeal to our natural desire for positive memories of the past. They are helping us to re-connect and re-construct our early experiences, creating a context for a positive relationship between the product and the nostalgic experience.

Communication that simply confirms a brand’s longevity (such as Lloyds 250th anniversary commercial featuring the black horse) may do a good branding job, but do little to re-affirm positive connections, or to force re-appraisal of the brand in a different context. With the best will in the world, how could banking ever create positive associations, at any stage of your life? “You remember that shitty treatment you received back in the day? Yeah, that was us then, too”.

A good example of using nostalgia marketing is the Ford Fiesta TV ad starring Keely Hawes. In the commercial Ford takes us back in order to take us forward. The commercial portrays a Britain of Chopper bikes and BMX, bringing us up to date and the ‘all new’ Ford Fiesta. From the colour grade to the music track this commercial uses nostalgia to underpin the brand’s position as Britain’s favourite car for a generation, with a promise that the brand and the nation are ‘moving forward’. It reaches out to a huge target market of a certain age, cataloguing a period of our lives and enabling us to recast the past in a positive way. Almost 2 million views on Youtube suggest that this commercial clicked with its audience.

Established brands can reach back in order to push forward

The Playstation ‘Evolution’ commercial is a beautifully observed film that takes us through several Sony gaming generations, against an ever-changing London skyline. It performs the dual task of engaging an older target market with positive associations of home, family, and friendship, while also giving a younger target market permission to enjoy gaming today (and a demonstration that today’s games are a lot cooler). We enjoy a shared past, an air of continuity and a sense of a positive future. And Sony continues to enable the conversation amongst the Playstation tribe through #playstationmemories.

Photo of original VW Beetle in Breakfast Town's blog about past memories and nostalgia marketing

My first car was a VW Beetle. In my memory, it never broke down, ever.

More brands are exploiting their history with ‘nostalgia marketing’

Nostalgia marketing enables consumers to exploit the desire for positive associations. It’s probably one of the reasons why Thomas Cook re-adopted the ‘Don’t just book it…’ line, as it evokes a previous era when travel companies actually helped you go on holiday. Or why the Co-Op logo re-fresh stayed close to the original, with its local corner-shop associations. We live our lives in a series of repeated activities – like going on holiday or popping to the shop. Thomas Cook sends a thread back over 30 years as the brand encourages us to associate our first holiday experiences (exotic, precious, sexy) with booking a packaged holiday now. Co-Op returns us to a world of community – and encourages us to re-evaluate the significance of neighbourhood in modern society.

Is it possible to exploit ‘nostalgia’ without actually ‘going retro’? The latest Cadbury commercial ‘Mum’s Birthday’ takes place in the modern day, but seems to appeal to a generosity of spirit that belongs to another time. I may be wrong, but if you sent 1000 little girls into 1000 local shops and asked them to try to buy a bar of chocolate with two buttons and a plastic unicorn, I do not believe you would get much success. But Cadbury has the right to do this, because Cadbury has been around all our lives, and can be projected into that scenario of generosity. If ‘a glass and half’ proposition can be re-presented as ‘a glass and a half of good heartedness’, I’m all for it and I hope they continue with the campaign theme. The commercial reminds me of the best McDonald’s commercials, which tell stories of timeless personal and inter-generation relationships. They don’t portray the real world, as it really is for most people, but a world we’d like to remember and a world we long for – punctuated with positive roles for the brand.

Shots of photo film in Breakfast Town's article on the power of nostalgic marketing and brand connection

Happy memories

What about brands that have not been around for long – how can they use nostalgia when they don’t have a past? I think this is an interesting one – a brand’s credibility is at risk if it tries to appropriate a past it didn’t belong to. One example may be the sports channels, which appropriate the history and the timeless, shared values of football in order to promote their modern coverage.  Interestingly, Sky is now old enough to generate its own feelings of nostalgia, the perfect opportunity for Renault sponsorship to re-introduce Thierry Henri with a bit of Va Va Voom.

As the future becomes less predictable, our horizons looking forward become too hard to define and too close for comfort. It’s easier to look backwards and 42M posts on #throwbackthursday highlights this trend – and the opportunity for brands who can help us re-construct our memories for a positive outcome.

Enjoyed this breakfast read about nostalgia marketing? For a chat over coffee about your brand, visit Breakfast Town or call +44 7950 257802.

Bristol Rugby Rebrands To Bristol Bears: This Rebrand Is Personal

I have lived in London all my adult life, yet can’t wait to tell people I’m a West Country boy, from Bristol to be exact. By which, I mean NOT Bath, and not Gloucester – I’m from Bris.

What is not to love about a youth spent playing rugby on a weekend, while skimming the shadier sides of the Dug Out, Locarno, Bamboo Club and Trinity Hall the rest of the week?

I grew up watching Bristol play rugby, before professionalism, against the best England and Wales had to offer. I saw Alan Pearn digging for victory, Pomphrey on the charge and Morley scoring for fun. My proudest sporting moment was pulling on the Bristol shirt for the Colts team. Rollitt and Rafter are names that make my heart skip a beat.

So it should not be a surprise that I take the re-brand of Bristol Rugby to Bristol Bears very seriously. And as a branding consultant I couldn’t let this significant event pass without asking myself how I really feel about it.

So, how do I feel?

Personally, I feel let down by the re-brand; it feels lazy, flabby – like someone said ‘well, the falcon, shark and tiger are gone, what shall we be? Bears? Yeah, they’re cuddly, yet fierce, like us. That’ll work.

Sports teams are special brands
Sports teams are special brands because they are so important to the supporter; Bristol Rugby represents the place where I was ‘made’ and therefore the memories and experiences of a lifetime (or in my case, my first 20 years). I am part of Bristol and Bristol Rugby is part of me. I am a part of the brand and the brand defines a part of who I am. Being removed from Bristol by time and distance actually makes my connection run deeper; that’s why it counts.

The timing of the ‘rebrand’ is good. It marks a new chapter in the history of the Club; it suggests confidence in the latest regime and confidence in the future. It says ‘this time won’t be like the last time’.

The line ‘together we rise’ suggests tribal strength and potency.

The graphic logo is fierce, yet open and likeable.

It’s just the name I don’t really understand.

I have nothing against bears. They are strong, protective, ferocious but not wanton. But what do they have to do with Bristol?

The strongest association I can make is that Bristol Zoo used to have a few polar bears in the days before it became a ‘zoo-alogical garden’. The concrete floor was painted blue, as I remember, to make a it resemble the Arctic; the poor animals went crazy and spent all day swaying from side to side.

Maybe it’s the association between bears and hibernating, or a policy of ‘Winter lethargy’ as it’s more accurately described. I definitely associate Bristol with some dopey moments over the last few years, more usually in the Spring play-offs, but think this is a pretty negative springboard for a re-brand.

Perhaps it was a tribute to Johnny Morris and the Animal Magic programme made by the BBC in Bristol?

I’ve been trying to find out who came up with the name. It wasn’t the branding agency, who are clear on their website that the name had already been decided by the time they were brought on board.

It wasn’t the people of Bristol. A poll on Bristol’s Post website found 74 per cent of more than 700 voters were unhappy with the transformation.

It wasn’t the core supporters and in fact “I’m not best pleased,” Bristol Rugby Supporters Club treasurer Mike West told the BBC “I’m absolutely puzzled why they didn’t consult the Bristol Rugby Supporters Club, which represents a majority of fans.”

I feel Mike is holding back how he really feels.

Is there a better way to rebrand Bristol Rugby?
Do I think I could have done any better? I’m not sure, but I would try to start with something that is undeniably ‘Bristol’ and create the name from there. I would also have involved the people of Bristol earlier in the process.

For this re-brand, don’t think of the public as your consumer, think of them as your staff and key ambassadors. A sense of ownership will help generate loyalty and commitment. Beyond the ‘what’ we call our team, we need to know ‘why’.

What do we have to work with?

  • Icons like the Suspension Bridge and SS Gt Britain
  • 130 years of top level competition
  • A huge and supportive combination league (biggest in England)
  • 1000 years as a major port, with a rich trading history and our role as a gateway to the world (and a role in slave trade)
  • Brunel
  • Cabot
  • Creativity – music, art, literature
  • Social and ethnic mix
  • Attitude (including an enthusiasm for rioting)

I’m not a creative, so not sure where this would lead. But for starters I offer:

  • Bristol Traders – to honour our history as a port
  • Bristol Voyagers – to reflect the adventurers who set out from our city
  • Bristol Combination – because we are proud to represent the rugby family of Bristol
  • Bristol Bonds – because from the Suspension Bridge to the multi-cultural strength of Bristol, we are a connected and united city
  • Bristol Nails – to reflect our trading history and because, well, we’re hard as…

Enjoyed this breakfast read? For a chat over coffee about your brand, visit Breakfast Town or call +44 7950 257802.

Are Today’s Brands More Truthful?

Are Today’s Brands More Truthful?

Is it true to say that 20 years ago the role of ‘branding’ was to create a buffer between perception and reality? Was the role of advertising and PR to ‘create’ the brand which customers, staff, commentators, politicians, journalists, pressure groups and regulatory bodies consumed? And is it possible that this creation might have had little to do with the reality of the product or the company behind it?

I wonder if the brand existed to compensate for the performance of the product or service, or the reality of the organisation behind it?

Imagine a company as a three-layered entity
First, there was the brand, represented by the advertising we produced. In the alcohol category we talked about ‘drinking the advertising’ and consumers recognised, chose and recommended brands based on the latest slice of entertainment. The brand lay like a cloak over the reality of the product or service. The headline, or endline, or punchline, was all you needed to become familiar with a brand. A successful brand campaign created love, loyalty and a premium price.

Second, behind the brand lay the product or service – read here to see many examples of advertising claims that simply weren’t true to the reality.

To my memory, the actual functional delivery of the product or service wasn’t that relevant. You didn’t buy Sony over Phillips because their products were better. They just seemed more switched on. Heineken and Budweiser were seen at all the best places in all the best hands. Honda was clever to the point of being like a wizard or a philosopher. J&J understood a Mother’s love for her baby in a way that made any other purchase seem like negligence.

I think we accepted that most products or services in a category were similar – so we created difference in the brand and we believed that how a brand made someone feel was their justification to buy. Or, of course, we might have preferred to see things that way, because it was profitable for agencies.

Third was the unseen part of the equation – the organisation behind the product or service. This felt like an inner sanctum, a secret. Who owned the company, where did they invest, who was in charge, where did they manufacture and – the Achilles heel for many companies – how did they treat their staff?

I am sure I helped create campaigns for brands that espoused honesty, service, quality and love for all humans that were, in fact, rotten to the core.

Brands have become more transparent
For me, those layers are now as close as three wet sheets, clamped together and translucent. Customers scratch the surface of the brand and they can learn anything they want about the product, service and the company behind it. There is no hiding place and that has to be a good thing.

We used to say tell clients that a brand existed in the hearts and minds of its consumers. I think that’s still true, but it also exists in the unmanaged knowledge reservoir of the internet and the real-time collective conscience of social media.

I hope this means brands can’t lie, bad practice gets found out quicker and shared more widely and that, ultimately, people are held to account – most recently the emissions scandal at VW.

It’s why so many clients want ‘Authenticity’, ‘Honesty’, ‘Humility’ and ‘Partnership’ included in their brand model. Did they really think they would thrive by being ‘Fake’, “Dishonest’, ‘Arrogant’ and ‘Divisive’ (does that remind you of anyone?)?

Open scrutiny drives appropriate behaviours. It also becomes a challenge to strategists, because we are now working within the limits of reality.

Identifying a relevant point of difference is hard. But then, it was never meant to be easy. Expressing the brand in an inspirational and desirable way, takes discipline and sensitivity. To my mind, this process has never been so important and potentially valuable to commercial success.

A ‘value’ is now more than an adjective we might use to describe what happens in the advertising. It goes to the very heart of what a company stands for – a template and reference point for everything the company does or says. The product delivery, but also the manufacturing process, the recruitment policy and what colour the walls are.  What you stand for as a brand should mean as much to the staff, suppliers and business customers, as it does to the end consumer. These are no longer discrete audiences; they are all judge and jury of the single brand.

Here’s to the brands that have never seen it any other way – like the Co-operative Bank, who created a brand based on product truths and a code of ethical practice  which dictated what they would and would not do.

One final question to consider, in a ‘new world’ of truth. Why is it that in 2017 polls so many of the top brands for ‘authenticity’ are tech brands?

Is it that these companies are dedicated to delivering on their promises, to acting in tune with their brand and coming up smelling of roses under scrutiny? Or is it that they have greater expertise and more opportunities to control and manipulate their consumer interactions? Is the old ‘truth by managed perception’ now replaced by a new ‘truth by managed interactions’?  Is that the new branding buffer?

Enjoyed this breakfast read? For a chat over coffee about your brand, visit Breakfast Town or call +44 7950 257802.