The increasing importance of business cards

A big pile of business cards
A big pile of business cards

In the old days, long before I was even a twinkle, when men wore ties and waistcoats, gentlemen’s calling cards were the thing to have to prove you were actually a gentleman.

In the late 1900’s they were an essential accessory for anyone who did not want to come across as a cad. According to the book ‘Our Deportment’ from 1881, where they summarise its place in society…

“To the unrefined and underbred, the visiting card is but a trifling bit of paper; but to the cultured disciple of social law, it conveys a subtle and unmistakable intelligence. Its texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of its leaving combine to place the stranger, whose name it bears, in a pleasant or a disagreeable attitude…”

For me, they are coming right back into fashion. As our entire world moves online, your offline presentation will come down to differentiating yourself with your card again. Unless people are actually interested in engaging, or even doing business with you, they will never see your brochure, they will never download your corporate profile and they may never even be engaged enough to see your website.

We are so bombarded by the different media channels where we have the opportunity to see people’s ‘stuff’ that the simplest becomes the most important again.

So as part of your overall, brand presentation, never underestimate the importance of doing the card part right. In the 1800’s, they talked about texture and so do we – constantly. A card that looks and feels right is essential for any gentleperson in business today.

It may be a very little detail in your mind, but if it’s all that anyone is seeing, it could be every detail in their mind.

As an addition. i’ve just been shown these which I think are brilliant!

A Kit Kat is NOT the same as an Aston Martin

Kit Kat is a chocolate brand that has a bit of history behind it when it comes to messing around with their brand and seeing how far they can stretch it.

Not all of it has been entirely successful either.

I was running through the various brand extensions in my head and could quickly remember orange, mint, dark, chunky, two finger, four finger, ones with noisette filling, chunky peanut, caramel and one called a duo.

They tried to aim them at the health conscious, with 100 calorie badging and they even tried marketing the bigger ones to people who thought the little ones were a bit too girly.

They are an example of a brand stretching policy that went too far. So far in fact that, according to Wikipedia, Chris White, the Managing Director of Nestlé Rowntree left his job a little abruptly in 2005 amid accusations of him damaging the long term health of the brand, by his watering down/stretching methods.

So I have to say, that I was more than a little surprised to see that Aston Martin are planning the launch of a City Car based on the Toyota IQ.

Aston Martin Cygnet - hmmmmm!
Aston Martin Cygnet - hmmmmm!

What a ridiculous idea. What a totally ridiculous pox of an idea.

They already know they are in the wrong as they are saying it will only be available to existing customers. Apparently they are worried that Aston martin owners drive City cars too. I would guess that most Aston Martin owners can probably drive pretty much what they want as second cars.

Are they worried they fly and may use trains as well and start building these?

You simply cannot own every bit of all of the markets. You can be brilliant at what you do and stick to it. When you specialise and you are brilliant at it, you make money.

Its taken twenty years for Aston martin to become a superb brand again. They’ve done this by building beautifully designed, beautiful quality cars that people would love to own. Those that can afford to, do. They haven’t gone just around banging a new grill on Jaguar.

According to the Piston Heads website, it may be more to do with Aston Martin needing to lower their overall CO2 emissions as a business to get around some new and rather nasty US/EU directives on average C02 outputs – which will save them millions in taxes and could effectively make the production a cost neutral launch.

But even taking this into account, if you water down your brand and try and offer something for everyone, you end up with MG badged Maestros – and look what happened to Austin Rover.

The magnificently awful MG Maestro
The magnificently awful MG Maestro

I hope they don’t launch this and kill it before I have a chance to own a real one, because I certainly don’t want a Toyota one.

Tango With ATtitude

Tango with added TWAT
Tango with added TWAT

I’m really not sure if this is on general release, but I spotted it on the blog of Carwyn Lloyd Jones and have been trying to find it ever since. It has either already been withdrawn, was never actually widely distributed or may be just a PR mock up.

It’s hardly subtle in the grand scheme of things, but in the steady move by Tango towards it being a more ‘attitudinal’ drink, this is a great stunt. I can imagine the Tango Man of old finding this gag vey amusing.

It feels a bit like the ‘slag of all snacks’ for Pot Noodle, that was eventually banned and must have had the creative team wetting themselves laughing at he poor account handler who had to sell it in.

But anyway, nice work – If you can find one, you’d be a twat not to try one today.

Christine the clever cleaner

I don’t often read the West Bridgford News. It’s a bit of a local rag that is full of badly written blatant ads with the subtlety of a psycho with a hammer, but over my breakfast cereal today happened to be flicking through the latest copy to land on my doorstep.

And then this ad jumped out at me. Christine the cleaner with one of the best ads I’ve seen in years, that was 100% out of place in such a low grade publication.

Christine the Clever Cleaner
Christine the Clever Cleaner

I don’t need a cleaner, but I had to ring them to find out more. Apparently business has doubled since it ran in another local magazine, but they still have space for more clients.

Christine Dalby (the Christine in question) was lovely but her husband Bill, had to confess that as a young economics undergraduate, where they were studying advertising as part of his course, he was taken with a story from the deep and distant past in the history of Hoover.

Apparently a young Hoover employee in the advertising department was left on his own and being badgered for copy by the Daily Telegraph. With no line managers to ask advice and no obvious ad to hand, he ran an ad that was effectively a blank page with the words in the middle ‘Hoover cleaned this page’.

And the ad, took the market by storm.

Now, try as I might, I can find no trace of this old ad and would love to see it, so if anyone has any idea of where I could find a copy of it or knows any more detailed history, please let me know.

In the meantime, if you live in and around West Bridgford in Nottingham and you need a cleaner, please call Christine or Bill. If they clean as well as they write ads, they’ll do a thoroughly brilliant job.

Christine Dalby can be contacted on 0115 981 8310 or mobile 07796 660 076.

It’s not research it’s brand insight

I’ve spent all morning today with the extraordinarily clever Barrie and Vicky from Park Lane Research who have been teaching us all about Brand Insight.

In the old days, this may have come under the misnomer of market research, but it’s been rebranded and seems to work a bit better now.

As we start to work on bigger and bigger projects as a design and branding business, we are increasingly asked to justify our ‘gut feel’ and experience school of advice with some real figures and some data that is valid (rather than assumed).

The real difference between brand insight and research is twofold for me.

1. There’s no fence to sit on, no focus group to hide behind and no weasel to worm you out of a difficult question. You simply speak to your customers or perhaps those who aren’t your customers – and then find out what they think. You listen and then act. Not use them as a crutch because you’ve already acted and need a friend on your side.

2. The second and most exciting one for me is that brand insight looks to the future. Every example I’ve seen of market research seems to be retrospective. It’s taking an historical perspective on what has happened. Brand insight is far more about making a more informed decision about what is likely to happen in the future.

I am an avid fan of Twitter and believe that I learn something new almost every day, but yesterday was a bit of an epiphany day for me with one of the most remarkable comments I have ever read – that will genuinely change the way I look at branding going forward.

It came from someone I had never met before whose name is Joelle Nebbe-Mornod and can be found on Twitter under the name of ‘iphigenie’ and who is blogging here.

What she said was …

‘The perverse effect of branding is that it creates a need for control – control every bit of message, because a brand is so fragile’

I talk a lot about message management, and edged towards control, but had never considered a brand to be fragile, even though I have written about brands for years. This statement has made me think that if we are to protect any brand, any product and any organisation in what is becoming the economists perfect market economy – where all the punters have all the information they need to make the perfect buying decision, we have to be pretty clear on our facts.

Hopefully, with our new brand insight partners, we’ll move beyond simple control, we’ll move to freedom. We simply want to produce better products that we are happy to put our name, brand or mark to. The better we make the products, the stronger we make the brand. If it is cool, you love it, it makes you feel good and it is better at what it does than anything else on the market, surely everyone wins?

Except the cheapskate competition.

We can only hope. Thanks for the following picture from Patrick Looney.

We can only Hope
We can only Hope

Why Setanta failed

Setanta was always going to be a difficult launch for a number of reasons.

They were coming into a market that was already dominated by one really major player with massive financial muscle. Sky.

And they really failed to differentiate themselves. They presented more as a Sky wannabe than as a unique brand in its own right. Their initial advertising was more to do with people getting the name wrong than their unique content.

Was it Sultana, Santana or just Des Lynam being paid to add some much loved but misguided British celebrity? For me, it was a combination of all of them. A big boobed model chucking some pies down on a chuck wagon counter is not differentiation, its stupid, silly sexploitation that speaks down to its potential customers.

But worst of all, we were expected to pay extra for the privilege of being a customer. As Des says ‘Under a tenner a month and no annual contract – with games that Sky doesn’t have’.

By comparing themselves to Sky, they were introducing doubt into people’s mind straight away. Were they Sky? Were they as good as Sky? And what games or sports events do they actually have that people wanted to watch?

For me as an Oxford United fan, it was great seeing them all the time on Setanta in the mightily overblown Blue Square Premier. But I only got it as part of my Virgin Media package and I’m not sure I would have paid extra for it – even for the sheer joy of watching Oxford lose almost every time they played in front of the Sultana cameras.

So what makes a brand succeed?

It is clear in what it stands for – Setanta was not.

It is differentiated in the market – Setanta was not.

It is of exceptional quality – Setanta was not. (or they failed to sell this aspect by their marketing)

People can say the name without embarrassment – Cleary Setanta did not fall into this category – they had to advertise to people as to how to pronounce the name rather than concentrate on the content.

So, like ITV digital, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) – even with their squarial, the Betamax Video format, HD DVD and for me the whole concept of Freesat all failed or will fail because they have got one or more elements of a great brand wrong.

In my mind Setanta was always going to fail, it was just a matter of time. Lets see what ESPN do with the UK market?

And perhaps more importantly, lets see how the FA squirm out of the mess they’ve created by chasing the cash, rather than concentrating on the quality.

BeWILDerwood the Movie – Part two

Some of you may have seen this before, but I had to remove it because it had the wrong music on it and I was in danger of breaching someone else’s copyright.

Have a look and see what you think.

If you want to take your kids there, it is officially the best Children’s adventure park in the world!

Fine just isn’t good enough

This is not a Beef Roulade, this is an M&S beef roulades filled with spinach and Buffalo ricotta
This is not a Beef Roulade, this is an M&S beef roulades filled with spinach and Buffalo ricotta

Marks and Spencer have been fighting back over the last few years with their strong campaign that says “its not just a thingy, its an M&S thingy” and it has felt like its been working. I only say this, because a brand essence has been really embedded when you hear kids and adults alike using the expression in everyday conversation.

Now M&S have been trying to help us in these recessionary times by reducing te price of the ‘Dine IN’ menu from £15 to £10.

But I have often argued on here and in other places that it will only work if the product your are peddling is actually as good as you promise.

Father’s Day yesterday and after a nice walk, what could be nicer than popping into our local M&S for their ‘Dine in for £10 deal’? Great idea but incredibly bland (at best and horrid at worst) food and that for me, is the start of the decline for the whole of the M&S brand.

We decided to start with the Beef Roulade.

mmmm Sounds nice.

It’s not a normal Beef Roulade remember, its an M&S beef roulades filled with spinach and Buffalo ricotta, served in a sweet vine ripened tomato sauce. (random capitalisation followed exactly from the packaging).

Unfortunately it wasn’t nice. It was pretty horrible and had the texture of a rolled up beefburger with some tangy cheesy peas stuffed up the middle of it.

The pudding was fine, the wine was fine and even the new potatoes were fine. But that’s it, they were just fine.

Fine is just not good enough. Fine is failing. Fine is forgettable and fine is feeling like I won’t bother next time.

To maintain or even grow a brand you have to do brilliant stuff, over and over again.

In the paraphrased words of Tony Parsons from his book Man and Wife, you have to allow your customers to fall in love over and over again.

When you make brand promises as big as M&S have been making, you have to not only wine and dine them, you have to be the perfect date, who brings flowers to you, says nice things to the future in laws and remembers all the little brothers and sisters birthdays. You have to be perfect. Not fine. Perfect.

My dine in for £10 meal was far from perfect. The main course wasn’t even fine.

It wasn’t just a meal and it wasn’t just an M&S meal, it was an entirely forgettable M&S meal.

Hit the Hut, or hit the depths of desperation.

Branding is a relatively simple discipline.

Come up with an idea that is different, is clear what you are about, clear what you stand for and then keep doing it well.

So when Pizza Hut – which is about as clear as you can get for role definitions – decided to rebrand to become ‘The Hut’ is this brilliant branding or death by a thousand cuts?

Well, in my opinion it is the sign that they have reached new depths of desperation and are scrabbling around in a vain attempt to not offend anyone. In doing so, I believe that all they have achieved is to lose the reason they may have actually attracted anyone in the first place.

With Pizza Hut, you knew it stood for (horrid) pizza and a big central thing of crap salad that students use for competitions that drift into engineering challenges where they use lettuce to cantilever as much onto their plate as possible, cover it in bacon bits and thousand island and then promptly leave the whole lot, as they are totally podged out on their bloaty fat based pizza.

And in these terribly right on times we know we should eat more salad and much less ‘Pie’ – But it was a treat. An occasional treat hopefully. You weren’t meant to eat it every day, unless you wanted to end up like Mr Creosotes fat brother.

So blanding it down to ‘The Hut’ won’t fool anyone when you are still serving up student friendly salad, selling pizza by the square metre and throwing in a few lonely tomato pastas for the salad dodgers to look at and decline.

Look at the logos. They are the same but the Pizza has hidden under the roof, or it’s got so fat it can’t even get out. At least the old logo had some token greenery in it. The new one proclaims a communist state for crap food and lazy branding.

The art of blanding in action - Welcome to the Hut
The art of blanding in action - Welcome to the Hut

This is not a brand evolution, it’s a last roll of the dice for a brand that’s dying under a weight of right on-ness and continuing to produce lazy food that is more about mass blanding than creating mass desire through devoted followers.

Last time I ate in one I was on my way back from a football tour with three hungry eight year olds. Even they left the salad.

I won’t be hitting the Hut in a hurry.

There’s a different way to look at everything

I don’t normally read ‘jokes’ that are sent via email, but this one made me think about us having preconceived ideas and about looking at things differently. Often the simplest answers to any branding problem are right under our nose, but we overlook them because we are looking in the wrong place, or even looking for a solution we would expect. So here’s the ‘story’….

An old Italian lived alone in  New Jersey. He wanted to plant his annual  tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,  
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.
Love, Papa

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Don’t dig up that garden. That’s where the bodies are buried.

At 4 a.m. The next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.

That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.  
Love you,

Okay, I know its a bit of a cliche, but it is a nice little ditty to remind us that obvious things aren’t always the right things, and coversely, the right things may often be obvious if we look in the right way.