July 26, 2008

Troubling Times? Consider This...

Some time ago whilst visiting London, I passed by a construction site which had the usual mix of safety signage and notice-boards affixed to the hoarding. But one notice in particular stuck out for me. It announced that the building company at that site was a member of the 'Considerate Constructors Scheme'.

A member of the Considerate Constructors' Scheme?

My first reaction was to laugh at the idea, as it conjured up images of burly brutes in safety-helmets and high-viz vests outdoing each other with 'After you! No, after you...Bill, I insist you go first' and 'Sorry son, is that draught bothering you?'

Not to mention steaming mugs of tea in great paws with pinky finger delicately crooked.

But the notion has stuck in my mind ever since and once I stopped smiling long enough to think it through properly, I've grown convinced that it's a great idea.

Someone, somewhere, has clearly recognised that builders have a reputation for thoughtlessness and instead of pretending it wasn't true or hoping it would go away, decided to grasp the nettle and publicly tackle both the problem and the perception.

Intrigued, I investigated further and found a Considerate Constructor Scheme website which didn't feature a weather-worn and tattooed Miss Manners but did include a How To Be Considerate section, which in turn had a Code of Practice and Checklist ('How have those affected by the site's activities been identified and have they been informed about the site's activities?'; 'Are road names and other existing signs still visible?').

How about if this were extended to other trades and professions: The Good Listener Taxi Driver Scheme; The Plain Speaking Politician Programme; The On-Time Service Engineer Plan?

Seriously though, pretty much every line of work comes with its own baggage in the mind of the customer. People working in communications like me often have a well-earned reputation for spinning: gilding the lily and employing smoke and mirrors to mislead or manipulate (not to mention mangling metaphors!). Perhaps we need our own Tell-It-Like-It-Is Scheme?

In these challenging (OK, OK, troubled) times, there's a great opportunity for each of us to tackle whatever perceptions undermine our customer's confidence in what we do and make a real virtue of our courage. In an environment of great change and upheaval, the seller who doesn't hide from the truth is hugely attractive.

Money-back guarantees work in this way. So does Java Republic's resistance to the "pressures that see most roasters mass-producing crap coffee with no regard for growers, roasting techniques, or flavour." How about a property developer that admits to the sharp practices that dog that particular sector?

Ask yourself: What are the fears that niggle in the mind of my customer?

Rather than pretend they don't exist or hoping that the customer doesn't notice, why not grasp those particular nettles and uproot them in plain view of your customer? And then publicly commit to being the exception they can trust.

That's a powerful message in these troubled times and one that would truly set a business apart.

July 20, 2008

This Brand Is Our Brand

A recent article on Brand Channel remarks on the links between the values of New England writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and some successful brands from that part of the world. Ben & Jerry's, Stonyfield Farm, Burt's Bees and Tom's of Maine all reflect the concerns of such writers with nature, simplicity and stewardship of the land.

I'm not sure you can trace similar links between the writers of Ireland and the brands which have emerged in recent years. I know that various promoters have borrowed lines from our writers to use in marketing material from time to time. For example, Aer Lingus used to have lines of poetry woven into the fabric of their seating at one stage, whilst it seems that every other restaurant in Ireland likes to echo GB Shaw's "There is no sincerer love than the love of food." But that's not quite the same thing. Our popular brands seem to draw on other sources of inspiration.

When you consider the popularity of Irish writing in all parts of the world, it's remarkable that more brands haven't emerged from the tradition. Maybe the breadth of Irish writing doesn't reflect a world-view in the way that the writings of Thoreau and Emerson seem to?

Or maybe these brands are yet to come? Given the easy eloquence of our tradition, perhaps the recent development of a highly-socialised world of brands means that Irish brands will meld local and global in a way that few others can (with the probable exception of Indian brands which might draw on a similar tradition of celebrating the universal in the particular)?

For businesses working in places where communication is king, this would seem to offer a real opportunity to build brands which might enjoy the same kind of popularity as the brands of New England.

Maybe you know of some that are already headed that way? If so, why not let us know about it.

July 13, 2008

For All You Are

Alistair McBride of Cultural Capital, who regularly corresponds with me off-blog, sent on the latest Sunday Times advert, which features Peter O'Toole and suggests that it's "clever and touching without being schmaltzy or sentimental." He also wonders aloud how it fits with the Sunday Times brand.

I agree with Alistair's take on the ad. I also think it sits well with the Sunday Times' branding overall.

News reporters in many shapes and forms set out to determine the significance of an event. Serious newspapers naturally aim to cover events of truly epic importance in the great scheme of things whilst the tabloids are often accused of inventing significance for minor happenings.

As Patrick Kavanagh observed, "Gods make their own importance", and the serious papers, thanks to their preoccupation with 'the facts', are often accused of being stuffy and boring.

Like its readers, the Sunday Times sees itself as a serious paper, and O'Toole's tongue-in-cheek attachment of epic importance to events in his own life is quite charming. Naturally this works because O'Toole is seen as a serious actor and there is a nice play between the dramas professionally acted out on stage and screen and those played out in his own mind and in his own life. Here is a god who is making his own importance and comes across as anything but stuffy and boring.

For me, this is very nicely done.

July 06, 2008

Nothing But The Same Old Story?

At Islandbridge, we like to say that we work with brands that ‘live happily ever after’. That talk might seem a little naïve or clumsy in the current climate when much of the talk is of unhappy endings. What place is there for the storyteller in a world where the monsters under the bed are just waiting for us to turn out the light?

Driving on the gridlocked streets of Dublin in the early July rain with the radio bringing news of economic gloom, doom and echoes of the dark days of the 1980’s, the classic Paul Brady line popped uninvited into my head: “It’s nothing but the same old story”.

There’s more than a touch of gleeful spite in much of the “We said it would all end in tears” commentary which suggests that the sins of the greedy and the insatiable are inevitably visited on the children of the boom economy.

But, as we see it, it’s anything but the same old story. It’s easy to forget that the opening lines of many of the success stories of the past twenty years were heard in an Ireland that had been in a deep economic sleep for hundreds of years. They were dismissed as fairytales, the never-neverland imaginings of the naïve and the foolish who needed to open their eyes to the harsh realities of the grown-up world.

They said it would all end in tears. But, of course, it didn’t.

It’s true there’s a certain naivety in every entrepreneur and small business owner. We still believe in happy endings. And then we work hard to make belief come true.

There are other narratives at work besides the self-pitying one of the naysayers. Lots of them. So let’s switch on some lights and chase those monsters out from under the beds. This is the time when strong brands come into their own. We may be sitting a little uncomfortably right now, but I invite you to stand tall and tell your brand story.

And where to begin? Like all the great stories: ‘Once upon a time...’