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BRAND STORYTELLING

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Tom Roach is a clever man.

He describes himself like this:

With 20+ years as a strategist in the world’s best marketing communications agencies, I’m driven by a desire to drive future growth for brands by harnessing the commercial power of creativity, and to prove its value for the marketing industry as a whole.

Tom very recently wrote a great article on purposeful brands.

Breaking purposeful brands down into three groups.

In a really useful way.

Because he doesn’t just look at the purpose itself.

But where it comes from.

So overall I think there are probably 3 broad types of brands that define themselves as having a purpose that we see in the marketing world.

Imagine three concentric circles containing three types.

At the bullseye we see brands that are Born Purposeful, often founder-led, often small, niche, usually founded with a societal purpose and where purpose goes across the whole business operation.

Toms and Patagonia are perhaps the most often-cited examples of this.

No one ever seems to argue about brands like this – very clear purposes, and business models designed to balance purpose and profit.

In the middle concentric circle we see a second type, which tend to be Corporate Converts – often larger businesses which have adopted the concept of purpose more recently.

They usually seem to genuinely want to make a positive difference to the world alongside making money, sometimes to correct past wrongs or just to become a better corporate citizen.

They’re by definition on a journey of transforming themselves and are often more complex businesses, and because of that they may have to make pragmatic decisions that favour profit over purpose in certain instances.

They may not have a business model that’s built around their purpose.

They may have certain voices internally who are more committed to their purpose than others, and they’re likely not to have a founder present who’s committed to keeping the business permanently in line with its purpose in all its decision-making.

So they’re naturally a greyer area.

Purpose often becomes a new type of business vision or Northstar for these kinds of brands – they will typically need to find a space at the top of their strategy pyramid for their new purpose.

And there’s a third kind, on the outer circle, which I would call Pseudo-purposeful brands – these are the ones for which purpose is just a new ad campaign claiming to try and solve an issue like gender or racial equality, or toxic masculinity or whatever the most resonant topic is that their social listening data says is trending with their demographic that month.

This is the kind of purpose that’s least likely to become embedded across every function of a business, it was probably cooked up in the marketing department, and so is far less likely to take root within an entire organisation, be taken seriously and gain long-term investment.

And so it’s far less likely to be profitable in the long-term.

I like this 3-way split.

I like how I am building my own clothing brand, Always Wear Red in the only way I know how.

The first way.

And the article has helped me to think more clearly about brands I try to help through my mychael business.

Because I love Born Purposeful brands.

And I can tolerate and explore with Corporate Converts.

But I really do have no time for the Pseudo-Purposeful types.

And that helps me to work out the projects I’ll love.

From those I just can’t work on.

More crisply than before.

Here’s the full article.

Ask good questions.

Here are three I ask about clothing.

Question 1. Why is it so Cheap?

This is the opposite of what most people ask.

And it’s a great question.

Because the answer to this question will.

More often than not.

Make you like the thing less.

Question 2. Why is it so Expensive?

This is good question too.

Because value is important to me.

But so are values.

And the answer to this question is an opportunity for the brand to make me like the thing more.

So yes, I want to know the materials are superb.

And the makers are talented.

But I am also interested what the brand stands for.

And I may also pay more if it’s been made sustainably.

With patience.

And care.

And with respect for the maker.

Question 3. How Does it Become Mine?

I’m late to the party with this.

Customisation.

Personalisation.

But I also mean how something ages.

How it wears in.

Not out.

As I use it.

I like how great clothing changes over time.

Good Questions.

These are good questions.

And I asking them a lot.

Question 3 reared its head recently, for example.

As I chatted to a friend.

About the Always Wear Red caps I designed and had handmade in Yorkshire.

But they did nothing for my friend.

Because it was his grandad’s flat cap that he wanted.

One day.

He said.

As he glanced down.

Eyes closed.

Picturing the oily, brown, many-times-repaired flat cap he later described to me.

And even though I spent a good year of my life mastering the design and overseeing the making of my Limited Edition satin lined, natural herringbone and blood red felt Always Wear Red caps.

I understood.

And I had to agree that.

For him.

Of course.

His grandad’s cap wins by a lifetime.

There are really beautiful things everywhere.

You just have to look.

Beautiful Beans.

Take beans, for example.

Baked Beans.

Have a look at the image with this story at 50odd: https://www.50odd.co.uk/beautiful-beans/.

And then the full story here if you like what you see.

https://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/new_master_brand_for_heinz_by_jones_knowles_ritchie.php.

I think these beans are beautiful.

Really beautiful.

I just sent an email to my mate Carlo.

We spar from time to time on Zoom.

(He’s bigger than me. 

So it’s safer that way).

We spar on the subject of business.

We talk about the brilliant people we both know that run businesses.

(I include Carlo in those brilliant people, as it goes).

And we fight a bit about brand.

The email.

Here’s what I wrote:

Hello Carlo

Here’s Dave Trott taking the piss out of brand people.

https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/answer-brand-whats-question/1687358

You might have to log in. You get to read 1 article each month for free I think. Unless you’re a member. In which case you’re fine.

I like Dave Trott and I work hard to absorb what he says.

And to not be like the brand people he’s referring to here.

I’m evolving. I understand brand. But it’s only ever part of the recipe of business communications. I actually spend an increasing amount of my time in (pseudo) advertising. I say ‘pseudo’ because I am not supposed to be any good at it. As I have no training. But I’m actually not bad. Because I love classic advertising approaches. The wordplay and the imagery and the photography.

Brand is the bit of comms that is most ignored and/or done badly I think. Therein lies the opportunity.

But it is not the answer to everything. I just think that those that do do it well have the potential to have the edge over those that do not. But again, only if the brand is run consistently well – and as a true brand (keeping things simple etc.)

Anyhow. I had 5 minutes over a coffee. So I thought I’d message.

Tarra!

And that’s it.

I said this to another friend of mine quite recently too

(Yes, I have two friends.

Just two, mind.):

Brand is important.

But it’s not nearly as important as people like me will tell you it is.

What I mean by that is that I love the science, the application and the cut-and-thrust of brand definition and building.

I am learning all the time and it is one of my obsessions.

So of course I am going to dive deep.

To argue.

To fight so that my brands and your brands are stronger and better run than their brands.

But I also know that brand is not the full story.

For example, if your product or service is shit.

Or even sub-optimal.

You’ll probably fail.

Important.

So yes.

Brand is important.

And it is.

For many.

One of the best opportunities you have to get the edge over your competition.

Brand.

Brand.

Part of the story.

Never the whole story.

I was asked by Hilary Dunne to write and deliver a Podcast.

Hilary runs a Global Speaker agency called The Brand Activators.

I addressed this subject:

Deep recession. Pandemic. War, even.

Globally significant. Thankfully rare. Landscape-shifting.

But if they do occur, what should business owners do regarding brand, PR, marketing and sales?

Here’s what I said.

5 Things.

First, I defined Brand, PR, Marketing and Sales.

(Just to make sure we were all chatting about the same thing).

Brand
Our DNA. What we stand for. Purpose. Belief. The change we want to make. What we’re most famous for.

PR
Schedules and targets messages, identifies networks and channels, targets content and readership, reputation management. Includes digital PR (how found, what for), measures reach, engagement and effect.

Marketing & Sales
Identifies markets, how to reach them, what to say to them and how to close and grow accounts. Identifies targets, opportunities, responsibilities, relationship building and sales methods for developing insight and selling. 

Then, I listed 5 things to do during the Pandemic.

Here’s an overview:

  1. Don’t crave normal. Crave better. This means, use the time to get those things we’ve just defined, amazing. Sort them out. Because there will definitely be work to do
  2. Storify your journey to better. Tell the world, via Social Media and great quality email marketing, about your journey to better.
  3. Invest heavily in generosity. Help people. Loads of them. Sincerely and without expecting anything back. Jump out of bed to do this, in fact. Commit to it.
  4. Look for inspiration-and to inspire. Take a look at what other inspiring leaders are doing. Soak it all up. Then do something inspiring yourself. Imagine that other people, just like I am advising you to, were looking around looking for inspiring leadership during the pandemic. Would they find you?
  5. The worst decision you can make is to stop making decisions. You’re a leader. So lead.

In summary:

  1. Improve.
  2. Storify.
  3. Generosity.
  4. Inspire.
  5. Lead.

So it’s pretty much what you should have been doing anyway.

Before.

During.

And after.

When I delivered a podcast recently.

About what a business should do with its Business Communications during a pandemic.

I summarised with 5 points.

A story about that podcast is here: https://www.50odd.co.uk/5-things/.

Anyhow.

When I was chatting with the viewers at the end of the podcast.

I extended the list by 4 more points.

Quite spontaneously.

On the subject of what to do inside your businesses during the pandemic.

Or anytime, really.

In order to progress and improve.

And here it is:

  1. Don’t moan. Focus on what you have got and what you can do. Instead of what you haven’t got and what you can’t do. Find the opportunities (they are definitely there). Start that side project.
  2. Compartmentalise your time. It’s easy to drift when the world feels like it is pausing. And some of the pressure is off. Keep your discipline. Block out time to do this thing. And that thing. And stick to it. Also, turn your phone off. And your email. And focus. (And by the way, I think that compartmentalising time to do bugger all is just as important as compartmentalising time for work).
  3. Create a mini tribe. You plus 6 people. Zoom weekly. See how you all are. See how you can help each other. Tell each other how you’ve discovered something useful to pass on. Keep to the schedule. And get the mix right. The tribe should contain people that are better than you. And people that are not.
  4. Run your business and your brand as you know you should be. We can all be better. So describe what better looks like. Plan. And close the gap.

I like that list.

And since I am definitely not doing all of them myself.

I’d better get cracking.

I really do mean it.

When I say that I can’t.

Quite.

Fathom.

The media.

The Media. 

Arguably, I work in (or at least ‘with’) the media.

I rely on certain aspects of the media as channels for the delivery of the carefully crafted brand messages I create.

Yet I really do mean it.

When I say that I can’t.

Quite.

Fathom.

The media.

My Businesses. 

This, for example.

When I founded and ran 4 businesses.

Concurrently.

For 15 years through the noughties and after.

Winning 70 awards.

Selling millions of pounds worth of Brand, Marketing and Design Consultancy.

All of it intended to help my fellow businesses.

All of it intended boost the Regional and National Economy.

All of it meaning that I had to employ over 100 people to help me on my way.

The local newsroom never rang me.

Local Newsroom.

I rang the local newsroom a lot of course.

Encouraging clients to spend money with them as appropriate.

And working with great local PR Companies to help spread upbeat and positive news as it happened.

Through the local news channels.

Yet as I say.

The local newsroom never rang me.

For 15 years.

Until the summer of 2014, that is.

When they did call.

And they asked for me by name.

2014.

Hello

Someone said as I was handed the telephone.

Michael Owen? The MD?

They asked.

And I replied.

Yes.

That’s me.

How can I help?

The reporter continued.

I’m calling from The Chronicle. We hear you’re sacking 30 people. How do you feel about that? That’ll be quite a hit for the region. Would you like to tell us about it? Your side of the story I mean. Before we print anything.

I paused.

I had a strange swimming feeling in my head.

Just for a second.

Not an out-of-control feeling, you understand.

But the adrenaline was definitely pumping.

It was a busy time you see.

I was in the process of closing three of my businesses as calmly, as humanely and as sensibly as I could.

Taking on personal loans to cover redundancy payments that reserves could not.

Encouraging clients such as Virgin Money and Sage to, if possible, take the best members of my team on.

So the call threw me a bit.

Especially one of the words he used.

…sacking…

I didn’t like that word.

Sacking.

And as I say.

I really do mean it.

When I say that I can’t.

Quite.

Fathom.

The media.

The Pause.

But I didn’t want to keep them waiting on the line too long.

So after the pause.

Which extended to a full 15 seconds or so.

I worked out what to say.

Fuck off.

I replied.

As I gently popped the phone down.

And that was that.

My very first business plan.

Was for my very first business.

Design Status.

In 1990.

Life of Brian.

Brian was a business adviser I had back then.

The Life of Brian collided with the Life of Michael as I was invited to enter a business competition.

The LiveWIRE Awards.

The entry deadline was Monday.

And the conversation I was having with Brian.

Was on the Friday before.

The entry criteria was the business plan.

Right.

Said Brian on the Friday.

Summary, Products and Services, Marketing Research, Marketing Strategy, Operations, Finances. The usual. Cash flow. P&L. Balance Sheet. List startup costs too. Break them down. Say where the money came from to start this. And a Sales Projection. Do one of those.

OK?

Now I like a challenge.

I had all of this stuff.

Somewhere.

On bits of paper.

In the pages of books I owned.

In my head.

So I smiled and said:

No problem Brian.

I can get that done for you.

Monday Morning OK?

Brian leant forward.

Paused.

And said this:

Michael.

I don’t give a shit whether you do it or not.

You’re not doing it for me.

You’re doing it for you.

Two Things.

I took two things from that.

Two things that I still remember today.

In 2020.

30 years later.

  1. I had to stand on my own two feet. This was it. The spotlight was on me. Brian was much cleverer than me. Much smarter. Much more experienced. But he was not stood where I was. He was behind me. I was leading. I was 21. He was (I don’t know) 30-odd. But I was leading.
  2. I started to write the document not in a way that I thought Brian wild want to see. But I wrote it in a way that was best for my business. I was totally focused on that. And, of course, that’s a good thing.

The Life of Brian collided with The Life of Michael as I was invite to enter a business competition.

In 1990.

And I’ll never forget it.

This really is a thing.

Lynx Body Spray.

With Marmite.

Brand Buddies.

I like this.

Because Lynx and Marmite as ‘Brand Buddies’ tickles your brain.

Because of the parallel brand strategies of the two brands.

They are, in fact, very similar.

And they know that a Marmite smelling body spray is going to get noticed.

And talked about.

And they know that you’re going to either love it or hate it.

And they know that you’re going to talk about whether you are a lover or a hater.

Seduced enough by this strange idea that you might.

Just.

Buy it.

The Point.

And that’s the point.

Getting noticed and talked about is the only way to begin as a brand.

Because if you don’t have that bit.

Nothing else matters.

And do the words lover, seduction, love and hate resonate and point to both brands?

Whether they are alone or whether they are together?

Yes.

Of course they do.

So there is a strange and quite lovely logic to all of this.

And I really like that.

All Lovers.

The product is playfully being described as being, ‘For All Lovers’.

And Jamie Brooks, Lynx Brand Manager commented.

(In a carefully constructed, tongue-in-cheek statement, I might add):

By combining two iconic legends that have shaped dating and breakfast culture across the nation, we have created a product like no other that is sure to get lovers and haters spreading the news.

Get noticed.

Get noticed!

Because if you don’t have that bit.

Nothing else matters.

Converse allow you to customise sneakers online now.

Which is great!

It’s great that they have developed this.

And that they’ve launched it.

But what’s not great.

Is that they’re not ready.

Converse.

I actually really like Converse.

As a brand and as a product.

So the opportunity to get a pair of Chucks.

A design and a quality that I know already.

With Izobel’s name on the side.

And the ability to customise the shoe design.

That sounded cool!

So that’s what I did.

Here’s how the experience went.

Experience.

  1. Converse.com is a funky place. It looks good. And that’s fine.
  2. The customisation engine is imperfect. Some customisation shows as-you-go. Some doesn’t. It seems that some customisation cancels out another kind of customisation. So you can’t have both. But I am not sure. And it wasn’t clear to me exactly how the name would appear on the side. So all of that is a bit crap. It’s not been user tested properly. So I didn’t actually know exactly what I was going to get. Nevertheless – on I went.
  3. The product. On arrival from China. Is literally stuffed into a brown outer package. No inner. So converse are giving me a  higher level product, with a much lower level experience. They are reminding me that these shoes have been spat  out of a factory. And this is such a shame. It feels like they are user testing on customers. And that’s not right.
  4. A final point is that the email correspondence from China (I chased the order) was quite nice. Responsive. But not well written and contained spelling mistakes. I don’t want the customisation arm of a business to write to me with spelling mistakes. It makes me uneasy.

Guinea Pigs.

‘Go before you are ready’.

We hear the a lot in business..

And you know what.

I agree.

But as with all things.

There is a line that defines a level of quality above which it is acceptable to take money off people for products and services.

And that same line also defines a level of quality below which it is not acceptable to take money off people for products and services.

Business owners have to know where that line is.

And Converse.

Because they are treating customers like Guinea Pigs.

Do not.