If Howies, Innocent and Rachel’s Organic are the star brands now, well what’s next?

Are all of our mega brand becoming a but samey?
Are all of our mega brands becoming a but samey?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and flattery will get you everywhere, perhaps that’s why all of the best brands of our age are all becoming a bit, well, samey.

And, If green is the new black, organic is the new everyday, and hybrid is no longer just for those who prefer to knit their own yoghurt, I have to ask, what will come next as the real differentiators for our current mega brands that we all look up to?

There is no doubt that any trend is just that, a trend. And trends come and go. I’m not even slightly saying that Howies, Innocent or Rachel’s have copied each other, it’s just that as these are at the front of the curve, the rest of the market will be following. Every new brand we are being asked to look at, needs to add a little hug here and there, a bit of planet kissing and some stout green nosing for good measure.

They are all drifting towards a level of sameness that will slowly see the current heroes be caught and potentially overtaken. Unless they move their own cheese and get themselves into a new and worthwhile position before the others even get there, they will no longer be the top brands in their own sector, let alone any other sector.

I think a change is a coming. I believe that brands grow so fast these days that they are likely to die just as fast. In the perfect market that we now live, where all of the people have all of the information a new brand can literally come out of nowhere and achieve the status of our current heroes.

So where will this brand come from?

A few pointers that have been gathered over lots of episodes of Trendwatching and lots and lots of reading around the subject.

1. It will be from the quality end.
This recession ain’t ending fast, so people will buy fewer things but better quality things, that give them the status they seek.

2. It won’t be needed, just wanted
Everyday is mundane. It will be a treat that is a little naughty and a bit of a backlash against the goody goody era in which a 4×4 is the work of the devil. Once we all survive the Swine flu myth, we’ll want to kick back and live a little.

3. They will restrict their supply
If you achieve worldwide distribution overnight, you kill the golden goose. Leaving them wanting more, works.

4. It won’t be green
Like any normal distribution curve, the green revolution will fall off and the responsibility for greenness will be thrown back to the manufacturers. The public will simply expect them to do the green worrying for them.

I’d love to know what people think this new brand or new market could be and whether they agree with my four points above.

Answers on a patent application would be most welcome.

Thanks for the image of his niece Sobrina to Corre Madrid. See more work here.

The cleverest ‘simple’ TV ad ever made?

I am totally captivated by this ad for Johnnie Walker. It looks so massively simple and yet has a huge production team behind it. Robert Carlyle is an amazing brand spokesman who hits every cue, every line and every nuance perfectly.

I’ve always admired the work of BBH (And we have one of their ex copywriters working at Purple Circle!) but this has to be up there with one of the best pieces of advertising I have ever seen.

Thanks to Tony Long at Cultural Exception for showing me this ad on the front of his site.

Where do ideas come from?

Brilliant ideas, graphic design and branding take work - not robotic systems
Brilliant ideas, graphic design and branding take work - not robotic systems

One of the things that has always amazed me when working with brilliant designers is where they get their ideas from. How do they rock up every day and create brilliant work that meets and exceeds the brief we set before them?

So I asked some of those in our team, and the answer seems to be everywhere and anywhere. Which is obvious I guess, but it is the main reason that we only look at designers who have a life outside of work and have done (and continue to do) interesting things when they are not at work.

If you stare at a computer all day, great ideas won’t come rolling out, but safe ones will. Ones that you are pretty sure will be good enough to get through, not those that are brilliant enough to really stand out.

So I started thinking about how we know whether it is a good idea or not. For me, that comes down to really making the effort to getting a brilliant brief in the first place – as you then have something to compare the results against.

There will always be two schools of thought about which is best. Dealing with designers directly, or account handlers doing the running to keep the designers designing. Neither is best as it depends on who the people are involved in the process.

Clients invariably get the work they deserve. Lazy briefing breeds lazy safe work. Spending the right amount of time to really get to the bottom of what makes the brand different, and what values it is to be built on, is never wasted work. No automatic branding system or $50 logo company in the world will generate brilliant branding, it will generate safe and possibly usable logos.

In the famous book ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’, Steven Covey tells a story of two bosses. One who is totally prescriptive and tells him what to do by when and the other who says he is only there to help him open doors and remove barriers for him. He works considerably harder for the latter, who gives him the trust and the latitude to do great work.

The same comes true when you are briefing designers to work on your branding. If you work with them and trust them, you can deliver great things between you.

Great branding comes from great thinking and great graphic design. One cannot exist without the other. Whether that thinking comes from client, account handler or designer, is irrelevant – and needs to be seen as such by all parties – but get them all working together and you have the potential to create truly outstanding work.

Thanks for the Excellent robots shot to Neato Coolville who’s work you can see here.

Buildabrand – Automatically generated branding?

I noticed a huge number of Retweets in one of my followed areas about a new beta experiment called Buildabrand.

Buildabrand - automatically generated branding?
Buildabrand – automatically generated branding?

According to their own blurb, it’s ‘an online branding system that allows entrepreneurs, businesses and individuals to create, manage and apply instant and personalised branding to their business.’

Wow, that sounds clever. Maybe even too good to be true.

You tell it what your name and values are and then it automatically generates a brand for you.

So, referring back to my previous post about what branding was and what branding is, it clearly isn’t a system to build a brand, it’s a system to sell you merchandise with logos on it.

Ever the cynic about systems like this, I have registered to se whether it will generate a new brand for me or for Purple Circle, so I’ll let you know if I get ‘accepted’ into their beta programme.

It seems like it could be a progression from the plethora of $50 logo sites out there, but it certainly won’t generate you a brand or anything close to a brand using their automatically, powered ‘algorithms’. (A pseudonym for seeing which logo they have in stock which seems the least wrong when compared to your values)

Years ago, I was on a TV programme called Love at first sight, which was quite like a low rent Blind Date. The idea was that you said some comical things about yourself and then Cupid, the Love Computer matched you to one of the three lovely ladies in front of you. What actually happened was that you wrote down on a piece of card which one irritated you the least and if they picked you too, you won a prize.

I suspect that the Buildabrand algorithm uses similar technology.

Building a brand is far more than throwing a logo at a set of values. It’s about living them in everything you do and the logo showing people they have arrived at the branded experience.


I added a link to this piece on Twitter and it obviously got picked up by the people at Buildabrand, who posted the following reply.

Buildabrand - reply via Tweetdeck
Buildabrand – reply via Tweetdeck

I think they do have a point in that they are lowering the barrier to entry for start-ups in that they may be able to produce decent logo design on the cheap. What they will not be able to do however is build a brand. They can possibly do one tiny element of what constitutes a brand.

My issue with this as a service is that they are claiming they can sell you something worth many thousands of £££’a for a few pence. Anyone who thinks they can shortcut their way to a brand is deluded.

Branding takes time effort and consistency, not throwing a few values into a computer and seeing what pops out.


I have to give great credit to the people at Buildabrand in that they have clarified their position a little further in what is quite a brave piece directly responding to some of the criticisms that myself and others have levelled at them. You can read that here.

What they are now saying is that they are not trying to replicate what true branding agencies provide, but offering a low cost solution to those who need a quick and dirty logo for a project they are looking at but can’t afford to do properly. They say they have a bank of 1800 logo ‘solutions’ built up ready for the onslaught. Maybe I’m being unkind in saying that sounds remarkably like an adaptation of clipart (which is exactly what the likes of $50 logo do), but only time will tell.

I’ve applied for the beta, so lets see if I can get onto their scheme (now extended to 200 freebies from the original 50) and then set them a worthy challenge. I’ll let you be the judges, by sharing the results here – when and if I get selected. They are now following me on Twitter, so it will be a test for them to decide whether they want me as a customer.

What branding was and what branding is

When I started out in this industry back in 1990, I used to work on projects that were broadly in the area of corporate identity. This used to be about designing a new logo and then applying it to stationery and occasionally putting the logo on a jaunty angle on the side of a van.

This has slowly morphed into the black art of branding, which seems to have its hooks into every aspect of a business and its public face.

So whilst I was writing a presentation this morning about what branding now encompasses, I was surprised to see quite how far it had come in those 19 years.

Branding is about everything, including the kitchen sink
Branding is about everything, including the kitchen sink

Branding is now about every aspect of the way an organisation presents itself, both internally and externally. You first have to win your staff over, to allow them to sell the message of what you do, and how you do it, to the rest of the world.

So this is a list of what we have worked on under the guise of a branding:

Brand strategy, naming, design, management and implementation covering all physical aspects such as signage, van liveries, staff uniforms, office and retail interiors, point of sale, packaging and exhibitions.

Literature, newsletters, annual reports, white papers, direct mail.

Advertising production, photography, image management, illustration, print management, copywriting, tone of voice and language guidelines.

Website design and production, social media marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO), email marketing, DVD and training film production, TV graphics.

Online PR, marketing research and brand insight, staff engagement programmes, public speaking on Brands and social media.

Merchandise management and strategy

Have I missed anything?

The real danger here is that working in a small agency you end up being mediocre at everything and many, many practitioners do (which is why you still see lots of dreadful work out there!), but I believe you have to have the confidence to hold the brand to its absolute core values and then work with close partners to deliver the specifics in areas you have less than expert knowledge.

Our role moves more towards the brand management and less to do with the specific deliverables.

Any brand that doesn’t cover off all its public and internal facing touchpoints is leaving itself open to problems of inconsistency from the outset, so it may be a good idea to use this checklist and refer back to your brand values.

Are all of them as good as they could be, or will a little bit of new brand thinking help get your brand properly branded?

To be a brilliant brand, you have to be brilliant at everything, not great at some and barely okay at others.

Thanks to Hoppetossen for the lovely Kitchen sink image. You can see more of his good work here.

WordPress is a brand that lives what it promises

Earlier today, I was helping a friend get a blog site set up, and as I have done before with my colleagues Mich and Abi, recommended that she do it using WordPress. I was telling her about how easy and foolproof it was to use and in the very best spirit of pride coming before a fall, I fell over. Big style.

I registered her blog, in her name, on my account.

That should be simple to move, surely all you need to do is delete it and then set it up in her name from scratch?

But you can’t. You have to contact customer services and I was dreading this. They were bound to be some faceless corporate who ignored my pleas for logic and common sense, who undid all my faith in their brand.

But no, just like all of their other brand behaviours, they were incredibly simple to use.

At 10.49 am I filled in the form, making it clear I was a bit embarrassed that you can see here. Even this is more nicely worded than almost any customer service contact form you have ever seen.

Wordpress customer contact form - showing my grovelling plea for help
WordPress customer contact form – showing my grovelling plea for help

13 minutes later, the very clever Hanni, replied back, having already sorted it, using the exact language you will find almost anywhere else throughout the WordPress site.

The helpful reply from the very clever Hanni at WordPress
The helpful reply from the very clever Hanni at WordPress

Any brand that can be this consistent in delivering its brand values, deserves huge success. I’m not just a fan any more, I’m a raving fan.

Thanks Hanni.


Many online brands are absolutely awful when it comes to working offline, but just to continue this story one stage further, WordPress have again proved they are the most human of online businesses. As is my usual trick, I let Hanni know that I had blogged about her and I even got a lovely reply. I am now a raving fan with bells and whistles on.

I've made Hanni's from WordPress's day
I’ve made Hanni’s from WordPress’s day

The etiquette of Twitter – That would be Twittiquette then!

I tweet therefore I am, but I listen too.
I tweet therefore I am, but I listen too.

Twitter isn’t that new to many people, but its scarily new to others and as such, the etiquette of how to use it is only now beginning to emerge.

But to understand the etiquette, I think you first need to understand its purpose – or at least what I believe to be it purpose.

I believe Twitter is for building likeminded communities. Groups of people from around the world who share some form of common interests. Those communities can be in many or any different areas.

1. In its most high profile form, this can be for celebrity watching. The likes of Britney and Ashton Kutcher, send out inane insights into their daily lives, that few but the most committed fans could possibly care about. The fact that these two have millions of fans between them, that hang off their every tweet, shows that some people must care. I’m not one of them.

2. For campaigning it works amazingly well. Barak Obama famously built his campaign and campaign coffers on the back of his connections he built through Twitter. No election anywhere in the world will ever be the same again. The people of Iran displayed their dissatisfaction with the voting system and twitter stayed open for them to give them a voice to the outside world.

When anyone first saw Twitter, I would suspect that there were VERY few people who would have believed that it could have such a huge impact on the workings of world politics.

3. Finding and learning from likeminded peers has to me, proved the most valuable way to engage with Twitter. My work is based on the subject of branding, innovation, marketing and business psychology, so I am actively looking for people who talk about these subjects anywhere in the world on the Twitter network.

I have open searches on Tweetdeck for these words (as well as Nottingham and Margate for other reasons) and can refer to anything that is written in these areas. It beeps at me every minute and can be hugely distracting, but eqally informative.

If I see something that I think is valuable or leads me towards an article I find useful, then I will follow the person who posted it and begin to build some dialogue with them, by Retweeting their good bits and trying to read as many of their thoughts as they care to share.

But what if they don’t follow me back?

Well, for me, this is the wrong way to use the system.

It isn’t saying you want to build a community, it’s saying ‘I am very wise and you must listen to me. I don’t actually care what you have to say though, as I am far too important and time poor to waste my time with your worthless tweets

Maybe everyone isn’t saying this, but certainly those who choose deliberately to not follow you back, are.

It’s like big business sending out emails from ‘donotreply email addresses’ They are effectively saying that they don’t care what you say, but are asking you to click through and buy from them. I covered this in more detail in the piece last week about Social media.

So, if after a week or two, people are still choosing to not follow me back, I stop following them. If they don’t care what I am saying, why should I care about what they are saying? Are they really so wise, that they have nothing to learn at all?

Not following is probably okay, or at least understandable for celebrities. I do think that it is a bit arrogant for them to only follow their fellow celebs, just to show how well connected they are, and to reinforce the fact that we are not in their ‘A’ list of friends.

So it comes back to the purpose of Twitter for the masses. Is it to build communities or relationships or just to shout about the fact you are on a train or eating your lunch?

If it is about relationships, then speaking without listening won’t keep you in a relationship for long. See how you get along for a day at work ignoring everything your colleagues say to you.

As Innocent Smoothies taught me in their book. If you’re talking you’re not listening.

So, do the right thing. Listen as well as speak.

Up Knob Creek without a paddle

Knob Creek Whiskey, So Scarce you can't get it until November 2009
Knob Creek Whiskey, So Scarce you can't get it until November 2009

Knob Creek isn’t a brand we see too often in Britain and now I know why. You can’t get any until November 2009, as they have sold all of their production for this year.

This sounds like rather silly planning until you hear that they actually made this years batch in 2000 and then had to throw it in barrels for nine years to stop it tasting like Austrian Antifreeze.

Planning what you are going to do next year is hard enough, but to try and take a guess on what you are able to sell nine years hence must be nigh on impossible.

But the people at Knob Creek seem to have had rather a clever idea. They’ve decided to do nothing. And then tell everyone about it to prove how incredibly scarce their product is. They’ve also built folklore into the fact that they won’t compromise their quality for anyone or anything – and I have to say that this seems like a truly brilliant strategy.

Our own English hero, Sir John Harvey Jones in his Troubleshooter series, tried to get the Morgan Car Company to increase their output in order to work their way through their enormous waiting list. The family owned Morgan were one of the very few companies to ever decline his advice and have continued to go from strength to strength ever since by building on this scarcity.

Cadbury’s Crème Eggs are another great example. Between new years day and Easter, they sell approximately £45m worth of the little gooey delights and have still resisted the temptation to make them available all year round. Good for them too, a rare piece of common sense in an industry full of brand extensions we don’t need, or even much like.

In effect, what they proved was that we all want what we can’t actually have and the more we can’t have it, the more we want it.

The temptation for all three of these brands would have been to cash in and capitalise on their goodwill and brand to create cheaper, less scarce copies, but instead, they have chosen to hold their production volumes down and keep the scarcity, and as an effect of this – the demand, extremely high.

In this age of brand extensions for the sake of it, leaving your potential customers wanting a little bit more seems like a remarkably clever strategy.

Is this the end of the road for Harley Davidson?

Harley Davidson -  A brand that really shouldn't appeal to me
Harley Davidson - A brand that really shouldn't appeal to me

Harley Davidson is one of those brands you just have to have a bit of respect for. Kevin Roberts listed it as one of his Lovemarks brands, which are those brands that are apparently loved beyond all reason.

But then I started thinking about it and looking for more background reading. This great article here in the Central Penn Business Journal gives a lot more facts, of which the most fascinating to me is that the average age of their audience has gone from 38 to 46 in the last ten years.

And that’s the whole root of the problem. The reason I have got a bit of respect for it is that I have grown up at about the same rate. Ten years ago I was 33 and now I’ve got older too. They shouldn’t be targeting me as their core, they should be aiming at people ten years younger, so I feel slightly more uncomfortable with it.

Unless a brand manages to constantly innovate and find new reasons for new people to fall in love with it, it will just get continually staler and staler until the day that it eventually dies. There will always be the die-hard fans who love it beyond all reason, but as they age and die too, they get fewer and fewer.

So Harley Davidson needs to act fast and act very boldly or it is facing disaster. It needs to make itself cool for a younger audience again.

One way they could do this is by embracing social media, so I thought I would have a look at what was available on YouTube. The first video that Google threw up is here.

Great idea Harley Davidson, but when you get comments like this, you know your problems are more deep rooted.

‘WTF is this? A video showing ASIANS riding a HARLEY!? LOL! WTF! Well, this is a commercial video. BUT REALITY is: ASIANS don’t care about harley davidson motorcycles! ASIANS ride scooters and JAPANESE sportbikes! I am ASIAN, i personally ride sportbikes and dislikes american made harleys! Only old and fat ass americans ride those ugly cruisers! LOL!’

Backing Buell as their ‘new cool’ brand won’t be the answer either. For me, all this will do is split their marketing budget across two brands. Ultimately, this just makes your marketing more expensive. Buell isn’t a minor sub-brand, it’s a whole new name with a different set of differentiators and a different target audience.

So how should they do it?

For me, there are three simple ways, all of which use some form of social media channelling.

1. Get cool people riding them
Whilst not my cup of tea, getting a youth hero like Zac Efron, Ashton Kutcher or even Britney to get photographed riding one. Zac Effron is a bit of a nipple, in my opinion, but if you can buy ‘High School musical’ spectacles now, there has to be some huge youth power in their branding.

2. Get cool people Twittering and blogging about Harley
Ashton Kutcher is the most followed person on twitter, Britney is third, when they tweet, 5.65 million people listen. A little bit of their coolness would have to rub off.

A blogger outreach programme to find the most influential people in the blogosphere would pay massive dividends too and create a huge stir amongst the new younger target audience.

3. Stop fat old Americans riding them
Any of the previous role models need to be ditched. There must be a slash and burn policy for fat old and unhip people to get off their bikes. Start rumours they are too powerful for old people and make them feel like they are dad dancing with the wrong brand.

And then they have to get people like they have already, away from managing their brand. They have to get a young team to advise them on how to take it forward – even if it makes them feel very uncomfortable. There are certain things that 40+ year old men shouldn’t do. Try and be overtly cool is one of them. Harley Davidson is well into its 105th year and needs to start acting like an excited teenager again.

Good luck.


It would appear that Harley Davidson are indeed trying to capture a younger market by allowing their brand to be used in some fake ads in the youth Series True Blood. As has been reported by Rippin Kitten here. The great thing for me is that I was told about this article by Tony Long at Cultural Exception via Twitter. You can see his work here. This is what i love about Twitter. We can all learn from each other.

Not knowing the series, its hard to comment too specifically, but the look and feel is very Twilight and I know how much my 13 year old daughter loves this! Good work Harley, all you need to do now is get the fat blokes off your bikes.

The effective way for Margate and Derby to fight back

Empty shop in Margate - A chance for the independents
Empty shop in Margate – A chance for the independents

There was lots in the news on the BBC on Friday about the seaside town of Margate having the worst percentage of empty shops for any town in the UK with a 25% rate. This was closely followed by Derby, which for a major urban conurbation has an astonishing rate of 22%.

Now I know both of these places very well having grown up in Margate and have written about it both here and here, and I live within a few miles of Derby.

So I thought I was in a good place to comment on both places from a branding perspective and from a common sense perspective. The two are often quite separate and for me, this seems to have been the case in both of these examples.

So firstly Derby. It’s a compact city that has built it name on the back of engineering with Rolls Royce, and latterly Toyota and Bombardier. It used to have a lovely friendly small city vibe to it but was always slightly ‘chippy’ about its relationship with Nottingham, just a few miles along the A52. It seemed to spend more time looking at what Nottingham was doing and trying to compare itself favourably to it, rather than looking at organising its own offer. It has been branded as the city of the future, Derby yes and I don’t know how many other silly place branding attempts. All have failed to capture what is great about the city, which, for an outsider looking in, is that it is easy to get around, friendly, very good looking in places and quite nice to live or even shop in.

So when they announced the huge new Westfield development, it was almost like they had got off with the best looking girl at the school disco. Nottingham and Leicester looked on jealously as to what massive wealth this new shopping mecca would bring them. But unlike with the retailer, Wilko’s you can’t always polish a turd.

I’m not saying Derby is a turd per se, but I am saying that what they did was built a huge great homogenous monstrosity in the heart of a lovely city that had no connection with the city itself. They built an out of town soulless shopping experience in the heart of a city that was full of soul. It had no connections to the outside world. They drew their best retailers from the streets into the centre and in doing so, pulled out its heart. They forgot what made Derby both different and great and with 22% of their shops empty, are now reaping the rewards of their greed, stupidity and short sightedness.

The story with Margate is remarkably similar. A lovely little east Kent seaside town that had lost its sparkle, become the home to bail hostels and low end living and with its obvious lack of investment over the previous few years saw huge ££££ signs ringing in front of its eyes when they allowed Land Securities to build the monstrous Westwood Cross between its main towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs.

Again, they dragged the heart out of the towns, Margate suffered most as it was already in decline anyway, but all saw their multiple retailers leaving in droves to create even more homogenised and soulless developments for us to travel to and endure.

But in recessionary times, we all seem to work out that you can only own so much stuff and then it has to stop. Well, we stopped.

I am convinced that brands have to fight back by being different, not by being homogenised. I don’t want to look like the next person in the street, I want to look like me.

The future of branding is unbranded.

So the towns and cities need to fight back. Not through another pointless rebrand that will just get the local people and the local papers baying for blood, but by deciding what they stand for and then offering real incentives to drive the right people to deliver that into place.

If you want independent retailers, then the councils have to be flexible. Why not offer them rent free periods or even licenses rather than onerous long leases that scare the start ups away. If you are thinking about starting a small business, would you feel comfortable about immediately signing a lease that commits you to five years of rent payments whether it works out or not? No me neither.

Business rates could help too. At present, any business pays 48.5p for every £1.00 of assumed rental value in its business rates. So if it’s arbitrarily decided that your space should be rented at £10,000 per year, you would have to pay £4850 in business rates over and above any rental or lease payments. But again, in recessionary times, this space is worth nowhere near what it has been in the past, so there needs to be a huge degree of flexibility exercised here. If landlords are having to take almost zero rent to get retailers back into spaces, surely the rates should be calculated on what they actually pay, rather than what they should be paying in some imaginary, ideal world economy?

Margate and Derby have a glut of retail space, so they need to make it incredibly attractive to independents to come along and give it a go, without the huge downside risk they would normally face, so that independently minded people will come back and begin to shop there. In my mind, only something as radical as this will get the spaces trading again. No amount of art in the windows will do this, but all credit to Margate for starting to make empty shops at least look more attractive.

Margate shop window art
Margate shop window art – an imaginative use of empty retail spaces

Empty spaces are self perpetuating. Fewer people will take the risks of setting up and as such, fewer people come to their to shop in the first place.

As with any recession, this is a chance for Derby and Margate to define their character. They have already sold their souls and found that it isn’t as great or profitable an experience as they once hoped. Lets hope they take this chance now to recover their fighting and independent spirit and maybe even save their souls.

Thanks to Melita Dennett for the Margate empty shop shot. More great work from her here. And to Maggie 224 for the Margate art shop  – More of her work here