November 24, 2007

Walk This Way

I took a walk on the wild side during a visit to my client, Temple Country Retreat & Spa.

Each morning, Temple's Declan Fagan leads a short stroll around the working farm, which is very popular with guests. During the walk, he likes to point out things of interest and remind us to notice what's going on around us - from the steaming pats and flattened grass where the cattle lay down for the night to the sudden flash of colour on the ivy leaves as they catch the sun. He gently encourages us to walk more naturally and return to the easy roll from the heel striking the ground through the ball of the foot to the toe and on again.

Once we're walking again with our eyes at the natural level of the horizon and our shoulders loose and easy (rather than in the hunched-up, head-down style that we city-dwellers seem to prefer), he calls our attention to what's beneath our feet and invites us to feel the difference between walking over mud, loose gravel or fallen leaves.

As he described on Thursday how the feet gather information and the body makes adjustments as it receives the new intelligence: a tweak here, a nudge there; it struck me that we need to find a way for our brand to walk more naturally in much the same way. We often walk rough-shod over the ground in our business, and are so intent on getting to where we're going that we're unable to meet the eyes of our customers or pick up on the market intelligence available to us as we cross the terrain. To our unthinking feet, mud, loose gravel and fallen leaves are all the same, and we march on without a thought for what's going on with our customer.

I like Declan's observation that the body knows what to do based on what it senses and his suggestion that a more natural walking-style puts us back in touch with the raw intelligence that can guide our actions. As brand-owners, we can ask what we need to do to feel the ground beneath our feet and walk again with the rolling gait of the countryman - even as we make our way through the crush of the marketplace.

November 18, 2007

A Bridge Of Sighs

What is it with little boys and trains?

Those of you who are familiar with Dublin will know that our city has been one great building site these past few years, with diggers burrowing into the earth and cranes stretching above us wherever you look. Just now, I was travelling on the motorway which encircles the city and came to the place where our light rail system, the Luas, is being extended further into the suburbs.

Workers at the site are at the delicate stage of building the new bridge which will span the motorway and, as I passed underneath, I was surprised to find myself thrilled at the sudden image that came into my head of the glittering Luas tram racing across the motorway on its impressive new railway bridge. Now, even as a boy, I was never as heavily into building things or playing with trains and cars as others so I was quite taken aback by the depth of feeling which the image prompted.

I often find myself thrilled by something in which I apparently have no great interest and it can be puzzling to catch myself hanging on to every word of a lively radio discussion on a topic that seems irrelevant to me.

I shouldn't be surprised though. When I was cutting my teeth in branding, I was lucky enough to work with one of the great figures of Irish advertising, Bill Felton. Like all enthusiasts, Bill liked nothing better than to chew the fat around his favourite subject and often declared how advertising works best when it talks not only to the person who has an obvious interest in what's being advertised but to the part of everyone of us that thrills unexpectedly to the beauty or speed or grandeur of a thing.

Bill calls this part of us 'the place in the heart' and his iconic ads spoke emphatically to the part of us which is carried away by the sight of a pint of Guinness settling or the Budweiser Clydesdales heading for home through the snow. Now, I'm not an obvious candidate for publicity around building or transport but the partly-constructed Luas bridge spoke somehow to a place in my heart and surprised me with the intensity of both the image it conjured up and the sense of delight that followed.

I think we often underestimate this depth of feeling when we come to build our brand. When I meet clients who are enthusiastic about what they do, I'm always moved by the images they paint and the places they describe in their more unguarded moments.

When we talk about what we do with the same intensity as children bring to their activities, we can find ourselves speaking to that place in the heart of others where our passion is shared, if even briefly. This can be a very powerful place in which to make our pitch. I believe it's a place that can be found in pretty much every business activity and one where we should be taking our customers if we're serious about building real rapport.

November 07, 2007

Two Bald Men

When I was a child, it was common to hear a certain type of argument dismissed as being like 'two bald men fighting over a comb'. With my own hairlines receding faster than the Sahara desert, I'm not laughing quite as hard at the image that conjures up as I once did.

It came to mind recently as I read KZero's intriguing 5 Rules For Virtual Brand Management, where I learned that avatars in Second Life, the '3D online digital world imagined and created by its residents', were vying to purchase expensive virtual cars to park in their online digital driveways (Second Life's residents sadly haven't yet imagined or created virtual highways on which to really open up their new machines). Meanwhile, real-life brands such as Adidas, Nike, Oakley and the other usual suspects are doing a roaring trade in that other world.

I've heard people in the last couple of weeks marvel at what they see as the foolishness of those who would pay top Linden dollar (Second Life's currency) for simulated brands to sport in their second life online. At one step it seems foolish, but when I recall the games of make-believe that we all played as children, it begins to make sense. A writer once noted that there is nothing as serious as a child at play and it's not unnatural that we want to bring that same seriousness to our play as adults in the make-believe world of Second Life.

In fact, you could argue that once any object moves beyond mere function and we shell out the premium required to wear this branded shirt or drive that branded car, whether on or off-line, we are anyway behaving more and more like those two bald men scrapping it out over a comb.

November 03, 2007

No Branding Required

Recently, a colleague in my business network (let’s call him Mike) came to me and suggested that as my regular pitch to the group made sense, he would like to hire us to work with him to build his brand. I was delighted. Like anyone else, I love a new piece of business and the opportunity to work with a colleague that I greatly admire was hugely appealing.

But as we teased out his reasons for branding, it quickly became apparent that he had no real need of our services. Mike has built a successful business around his very personal delivery of a professional service. For his customers, Mike is the brand. They love the way he does business. They trust his personal touch, his obvious commitment and attention to detail. They feel safe with him, which is terribly important when it comes to the nature of his work. Given the choice, they would deal with nobody else.

For many business owners, this state of affairs would leave them feeling trapped and unable to grow the business. But it suits Mike down to the ground. He likes working alone. He wants to grow his business piece by piece and has no wish to hire someone else to work alongside him. He has secured the financial future of his family by taking out insurance against serious illness or death. He is largely irreplaceable but that seems to work for him.

I quietly wondered whether his being irreplaceable worked as well for his customers as it does for Mike (what if he falls under a bus and they are obliged to deal with someone else?). He agreed that, as extra insurance, he would identify a colleague who might make a very good ‘second-best’ and could pick up the pieces in his absence, if the unthinkable happened.

Apart from that provision, we agreed that it made no sense for Mike to go to further trouble and expense to build his brand. The truth is, he would get little return on his outlay. It would probably amount to a vanity project.

There’s little point in investing in branding services if yours is a business best delivered by you personally and you have no wish to grow beyond that. For your customer, you are the brand and it is likely that you, and you alone, know best how to deliver it.