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.

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