May 29, 2007

White Smoke & Mirrors

A recent mail from Brandchannel included news on a charity, Habitat For Humanity, and a piece on some of the branding issues facing private military firms (old-fashioned mercenaries to you and me).

I'm not sure whether the juxtaposition was deliberate or not but it reminded me of one of the things I almost always have to address with a new client: the notion that branding is somehow a cloak and dagger activity, some machiavellian art practised behind smoke and mirrors.

Whilst it robs my craft of some of its mystique, I'm quick to point out that branding is a tool like any other in business and one that can be put to work selling deep-fried food to overweight children just as readily as it can work on behalf of a homeless project. In the right, or the wrong hands, it's a powerful tool for positioning and for change and whilst I'm against the NRA on issues of gun-control, I do believe that brands are a generally a good thing (they make our choices simpler for one thing) and that every business-owner should have one.

But then, you'd expect me to say that!

May 20, 2007

Love's First Kiss

I met with new colleague John Austin of eBrand for a coffee during the week and we got talking about the importance of that first meeting with a prospective client or supplier. We agreed that too often this first encounter sets the stage for an unequal relationship that doesn't do either partner any good in the longterm.

If the client sits back with arms folded and says, 'Impress me!', the chances are that what follows will take the form of a beauty parade and a relationship in which the one finds it difficult to unfold those arms and the other struggles to come down off the catwalk. In the same way, if the supplier sets out to seduce the client into a relationship, that liaison is always likely to have undertones of insincerity and manipulation.

It always seems to me that the 'first date' in any relationship is hugely important and that the savvy buyer and seller should set out to make it a meeting of equals. The smart buyer in particular should look carefully at the overtures being made by the brand seller and ask, 'Is this the type of relationship I'm after?'. A seller who dangles glittering incentives in front of me is always likely to take me for a dupe whilst one who seeks to lure me from another relationship that works is unlikely to have my best interests at heart.

In the same way, the buyer who flits from one brand to the next according to this introductory offer or that giveaway is not likely to stop with me for long.

So whether we are buyers or sellers, we should ensure that we get to behave on our 'first date' as we'd like to go on and that we set the stage well for the relationship that might follow.

May 11, 2007

Marrow Envy & Other Stories

I went along to the marvellously-named exhibition of Kevin McSherry's illustrations at the Alliance Francaise here in Dublin yesterday. The pictures included two which we (Islandbridge) commissioned - one is the signature image for this blog over to your right whilst the other was our new year greeting card for 2006 - and I enjoyed the buzz of seeing them displayed as part of a collection that celebrates (and often pokes fun at) Irish business life and culture over the past number of years.

I also heard with dismay that the Irish Times, which has featured Kevin's and other great Irish artist's work over the years, is to largely discontinue using illustration.

I think this is a great shame. In addition to capturing difficult ideas that might otherwise escape the reader, illustration provides for great warmth and humanity, something that the great newspapers and magazines of the world have long recognised. What a pity that our national paper of record is abandoning this classic art-form in favour of the often-humourless and two-dimensional graphs and stock imagery that now seem to grace their pages.

May 05, 2007

Reds & Blues

As I write, boxing fans the world over are being whipped into a frenzy by the make-something-out-of-nothing fight between De La Hoya and Mayweather. Of course, there's nothing new in this. Sport has always been about much more than the game being played out on the park.

Watching the European Champions League soccer match between Chelsea (owned by the Russian Abramovich) and Liverpool (recently taken over by Americans Gillette & Hicks), I was struck at how the game played like one of the bad Rocky movies of the '80's (yes, there was a good one - the first).

Once upon a time, we loved to pit the doughty American against the remote Soviet. Mind you, there is a glaring weakness in the analogy in that Chelsea wear blue and Liverpool red; nevertheless...

Chelsea, under a manager who grows more and more isolated by the day, seemed to approach the tie with a bleak and humourless contempt both for the opposition and the game of football itself, whilst Liverpool sought to box above their weight and rely on bottomless courage and energy (and precious little skill, if we're honest) to overcome the grim leviathan. Viewers were once again presented with a classic confrontation which drew on the earliest storytelling.

This seemed to prompt an untypical bias amongst the TV pundits at RTE (who can usually be guaranteed to offer a fairly even-handed analysis of the game) and they were adamant as the game progressed to a penalty shootout that each of them wished to see the plucky underdog win.

This power to oblige us to take sides is what makes story so very powerful and is something that brandbuilders might weave into their own framework if they truly wish to influence the viewer.