June 28, 2007

King Of The Castle

A colleague asked me the classic marketing question a couple of days ago: ‘What makes the Islandbridge take on Brand Direction different from the others?’. I floundered about briefly looking for the killer line, one that would leave our competitors trailing in the dust, before coming to my senses.

I’ve long believed that the search for a unique selling proposition can be a very distracting and costly wild-goose chase for a small business. When you think about it, we’d all of us struggle to sum up in a neat formula what’s different about the important relationships in our lives, whether with soul-mates, close friends or old friends. In our personal lives, we tend to resist hype and the superlatives that marketers use would sound cheap and empty in our mouths. Young children might argue with one another that, ‘My dad is the best footballer etc’, but we generally grow out of that.

I think the ‘What makes us different’ question can distract us from the business of building on a relationship with our customers and should be replaced with: ‘What role do we play in our customers’ lives and how hard do we work to play that role effectively?’. I do believe it’s important for us to have some sense of what we do differently from our rivals but generally suggest that we keep it to ourselves.

In our own case, I like to believe that the answer to my colleague’s question lies somewhere in our commitment to keeping the brand relationship real (and therefore more effective). But I also know that a trotted-out formula will only briefly impress a prospective client. Our typical buyer is much more likely to look for signs of a willingness to roll up our sleeves and get their brand working for them than to be charmed by the slick patter of marketing-speak.

In most instances, actions really do speak much louder than words.

June 19, 2007

Play It Again, Sam

I caught the tail-end of the game between local Gaelic Football rivals Dublin and Meath on Sunday and rushed to read all about it in the papers on the following day. Now, this isn't the first time I've caught myself doing this. What is it about reviews that has us turning the pages to see what someone else has to say about our experience?

Earlier today in a meeting with a client who's building a hotel here in Dublin, I was reminded of this and wondered again about the power of review. And not just the review of an expert but any skilful retelling by another of something I've just seen, heard or felt for myself. I think that this replay effect can be used very successfully in building up the story of a new brand, especially in prompting word-of-mouth to move at a quicker rate than usual.

A new business can't always afford to wait for things to move at normal pace and retelling the experience for a happy customer is likely to prompt them to revisit it for themselves as well as giving them something to say if they're inclined to tell someone else about it.

As a brand-owner, you might ask yourself what opportunities there are to review your own brand experiences and whether this is something you might use to good effect in driving word-of-mouth.

*Note for our overseas readers: Irish Gaelic Football teams play to win the All Ireland Championship and receive the Sam Maguire Cup, affectionately known as Sam.

June 13, 2007

On Your Marks

I’ve been amused by much of the uproar over the recently-unveiled (or unmasked!) brand mark for the London Olympics. Whilst I always remind my own clients that their own choice of mark is likely to be informed by a mix of the objective (‘that’s a well-made and distinctive mark) and the subjective (‘I like it!’), I find it difficult to see a case being made for either position in the London 2012 offering.

The suggestion by the design team that the mark somehow stands for something and that we must wait to see it animated before we rush to judgement seems to me to be patronising at best. The people of London, in particular, as ‘client’ must be able to see some design merit in the mark in order to like it – otherwise, it is going to be difficult for them not to feel like the stark-naked emperor of the old story setting out on a marathon whilst the world watches on and waiting to hear the incredulous cry from one small boy in the crowds that line the route to the finish-line.

Confidence in a mark is everything. The last thing we need when presenting our credentials is to feel in anyway undermined by them. Given what we’ve seen so far, I can’t imagine that Londoners will be able to escape that sinking feeling regardless of how well other aspects of the Games are delivered or presented.

June 03, 2007

Come Out To Play

Game on?

Over the past few weeks, Contagious Magazine has reported on a couple of highly successful promotions by Orange and Red Bull in the UK that invite the audience to come out and play.

Whilst games of one kind or another have always been used by brand-builders to raise awareness and have customers engage with the brand, these particular games seem to me to tap into something elemental in the human spirit. Orange are offering tickets to the Glastonbury festival for those who predict where in the field a real-life bull will be on a particular day at a particular time - a sort of Spot-The-Bull update on the once-popular print game that's now played courtesy of video cameras and GPS.

Meanwhile, Red Bull have taken up the invitation of Facebook (what Contagious call "the clean and intuitive alternative to MySpace") to offer their variation on the traditional game of Rock Paper Scissors which they call Roshambull.

Why do these games in particular strike me? In large part because I can see our long-dead ancestors playing something similar around a campfire to while away the time whilst dinner was cooking: 'I can foretell from which part of the forest the hound will come' or 'Bet my shadow-animal will best yours'.

There is something about play that we sometimes ignore, particularly in the business-to-business (B2B) space where we mistakenly believe it has no place. The play that happens between a customer and the brand makes for a powerful connection that seems to operate at a primitive level and reaches deep to lean on what market research guru Clotaire Rapaille refers to as the "reptilian hot buttons", the part of us before the contrived and intellectual, the place from where our decision-making comes.

Rapaille argues that as a researcher he looks beyond the intellectual and the emotional to find that place where it all began for us, and suggests that brands that speak to the instincts of that place are the most effective.

We have seen something similar (although I don't like to see it in terms of 'reptilian hot buttons') through our own Smile Conference where we make much play on the word 'smile' and where delegates respond to our feedback form 'Smile or Frowns' with word-play, pictures and smilies of their own to let us know whether they found the event useful or not. This playfulness seems to allow for a frank and affectionate exchange that I don't believe would be possible if we were to take a more sensible, 'businesslike' approach.

What do you think? Which B2B brands do you know that successfully invite the customer to come out to play?