Wanting for nothing and why brands have a crisis coming

Brands have got a real problem coming. It’s also going to have a huge effect on some of the biggest economies around the world too.

We all have enough stuff.

Back in Spring 2008, my favourite brand Howies sent a card inside my quarterly catalogue asking if I’d fallen out of love with them, or maybe whether I just have enough clothes for the time being. It has been something that has stayed front of mind for nearly ten years now as I think we are at a stage where we probably all have enough stuff.

I just have enough stuff thanks
I just have enough stuff thanks

I have a newish computer, my car is fine (even with 130,000 miles on the clock) and I have quite a few watches. My Phone is reasonably recent and I really don’t need an Apple Watch, a new TV or another bluetooth speaker. In fact we have TV’s all over the place, bluetooth speakers all over the place and a lovely old valve amp for playing proper music.

I have outerwear coming out of my wazoo, at least six pairs of jeans, two gilets, jumpers, shorts, socks and shirts in every material for every eventuality.

I have access to almost every song ever produced with Spotify and every film ever made, with a combination of Amazon Prime, Netflix and a mildly chipped Firestick.

I adore Oxford United and should make more effort to see them home and away. That’s tribal, it isn’t about the brand. This is an opportunity for tribal experiences like football and they will be one of the few areas to do well out of this.

I love holidays, exploring new places and going to the pub. In fact, probably my favourite thing to do is walk to the pub with the dog, have a few pints and walk home again.

But in effect, I want for nothing.

Which is the problem that any brand faces.

We all have too much stuff.

There is no consumer good that creates real desire, real anticipation and a real need to have it in your hands.

New products are all derivations. Small but barely discernible differences that the brands create to try and make us want them. But the differences aren’t real enough. They don’t add value to our lives and as such, they just become normal, within a moment of owning them.

Social media makes things worse. You can now see that everyone owns everything and we are all bored of this. It’s why so many people are turning away from Facebook and it’s dying on its arse. No-one lives that perfect a life and we can all see through it for what it is.

Showing off.

But if everyone has everything anyway, who is there to show off to and what with?

It’s also why everyone needs to pay less than full price for anything. Why else do you think the outlet villages and discount sites are so prevalent? The only thing left to give you a buzz is the bargain, rather than the brand you’ve bought.

So what do brands do to overcome this?

The answer is to fulfill something deeper than a need to own something. My clever friend Leila pointed out that this is why there’s a huge rise in Mindfulness and Wellness. We are all searching for something more than just the diminishing thrill of owning things. I know with the challenges I’ve been through in the last year, I couldn’t care less about material things, I’m quite pleased to be vertical and pretty much pain-free again.

That’s one hell of a challenge and one thing I can say is that not all brands will survive this imminent crisis.

You can summarise it all very easily in just one line.

If there is no actual need, then the only way to sell is by creating desire.

maybe that is what marketing is all about. Creating desire. The issue I have is that we are all losing our desire for material things and therefore selling anything material is just going to get harder and harder.

It’s a self-imposed austerity that could run for quite a while. With an economy built entirely on buying such things and a Chinese economy built on making these things, I suspect things are going to get a little rocky in the manufacturing-based economies.


Real engagement for brands is more than just online engagement

I saw this video today by Gary Turk and shared it on Facebook on my personal account. Without any form of promotion, today it has been shared 40 times which is exceptional. If you watch the video it talks about real engagement.

Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on facebook Johnny Lyle
Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on Facebook

As a brand and social media specialist who shows real brands how to treat their customers and behave online, it is a very, very timely reminder that real engagement is about far more than likes, shares and a few extra follows. You have to be brilliant offline to allow people to get you online.

Real engagement is about getting inside people’s heads. It’s about becoming part of their lives, so they can’t live without you. It’s about building proper relationships where you give things as well as just take them.

Real engagement is real life and that’s what Gary’s film shows us.

Virgin are still living their brand

Virgin Trains Vs East Midlands Trains

I was in London for a very early meeting last week and chose to travel out of Grantham on the East Coast mainline that is now operated by Virgin trains. It was always a quick route, normally cheaper than East Midlands Trains and in my experience anyway, dead reliable.

I have always have had high expectations of Virgin and their brand. They promise a lot with their values, so they have a lot to live up to.

And they didn’t just live up to them, they completely exceeded them. Perfect service, genuinely chatty, friendly staff and a great choice of breakfast options delivered to your table at no extra cost. (my bacon sarnie was lovely thanks) and free wifi that was fast enough to be usable for work.

On the way home later, they added a choice of hot meals or a selection of (very tasty) sandwiches and wine or beer and teas and coffees, again all included in the price. It just feels like they are being generous in every respect, even though the actual cost must be tiny, the perceived value and the warmth this drives towards the brand is massive.

Today i’m back on the slightly more expensive and slower East Midlands Train to Nottingham. Full priced menu, wifi that doesn’t work properly (It’s so slow that I can’t even load Speedtest.net to test how bad it is). The staff are still very friendly and I did get a glass of wine on the way home, so overall, i’m not particularly inspired to travel on this route again. It’s Grantham and Virgin for me.

So this proves that you can drive your brand values right through to your service standards and you can keep delivering them over and over again and find new ways to win over and delight your customers.

Thanks Sir Richard.

Norton Anti Virus – Getting it right on Social media

A while ago I laughed at O2 for trying to get down wiv da kids and getting it horribly wrong. What they did was try to speak in the voice of their audience rather than in the voice of their brand .

Norton, on the other hand have stuck to their script and still intervened with one of their customers. This is a far cleverer way of handling it and shows a great choice of strategy for social media. Nice one Norton.

Norton Anti Virus getting down wiv da kids

Amazon’s dirty tricks – Best Branding Books

Sick Life for Amazon - sit on their arses and watch where their traffic is coming from.
Sick Life for Amazon – sit on their arses and watch where their traffic is coming from.

You may have noticed on this blog that I have a list of the best branding books. It has been built up over the years by reading the books and deciding which ones are the most relevant based on 22 years of running a branding and design agency and being involved with thousands of different businesses.

Well for some time now, if you put the search term ‘best branding books‘ into Google I have been at number One. This is partly I think because it’s a good list and partly because I have been doing some SEO experimentation on this page to see what can be achieved by using social media, page titling and some neat URL rewriting.

What you may not realise is that if anyone buys any of the books from the list, then I get a small commission from Amazon (normally 5% or so). It amounts to a few quid a month, sometime as high as £20, so not big beer, but a great test bed for me and an interesting experiment.

Well Amazon have had enough of that commission and now forced their own list to the top of the search. It’s not very good either. Produced by a man called Nick Wreden from Atlanta, it’s more a list of general business books.

It MAY be a complete coincidence, but it does seem remarkable that as I have been doing more and more work on the page to get it to the top of the search and Amazon notice all the extra traffic from my domain on one specific search term and they want a piece of my rather measly action. Hmmm.

Picture by and © Ruby Lyle. Thanks Duck.

Brand experience by Disney

Selena Gomez and Mickey Mouse hugging
Selena Gomez and Mickey Mouse hugging and creating a memorable brand experience

As i’ve said before, brand experience is about caring enough to control the tiniest details of your brand and how it is perceived by your customers.

Well, I heard a Disney detail that I loved recently, which you may not have noticed before and it’s perfect and tiny. If  as an adult or child you hug Mickey Mouse, he will not let the hug go before you do. Think about it. It’s really clever. If a child gets the perception that Mickey needs to move on, they would be devastated. Mickey would then become a character, or worse still, someone doing a job and not their friend. They need Mickey to be seen as a friend for as long as possible and caring about the hug, could be enough to keep it going for longer.

There was another great detail I heard too, which was that if someone shouted ‘Andy’s coming’ near any of the Toy Story Characters they would throw themselves on the ground and play dead. This would have been massively open to abuse but perfect. Sadly it’s been debunked as a myth.

The future of branding is unbranded – ask Starbucks

CJ as a young corporate customer on his laptop in Starbucks
CJ as a young corporate customer on his laptop in Starbucks

In an article I wrote recently about place branding, I proposed that the future of branding is unbranded. You can read that here.

What I was arguing against was homogenisation. Standardisation being used as a byword for branding, that decreases rather than increases consumer choice.

And it would appear that Starbucks, in the US at least would agree with this sentiment. In a great article by Tim Haywards in the UK’s Guardian newspaper he savages them for drifting from Happy hippiedom to the same tired old corporate suit as everyone else on the homogenised high street.

For any brand to be able to survive, it has to evolve or it will die. Like dinosaurs did when they failed to build protection against meteorite strikes. Today’s meteorite strikes are coming from the upstart brands and from locally differentiated, welcoming outlets.

In Seattle, there is already a company calling themselves Seattle’s Best and who’s to say it isn’t? (my cup I had in a plane on the way to Seattle was absolutely horrid – see here) But that doesn’t mean its the most loved, by any stretch of the imagination.

With any brand the product is critical, but so is the tribe in which consuming it puts you. You have to feel good about it. You have to bask in its reflected glorious ‘brandness’ and you have to want to tell your cool friends about it.

I think this is a great move for Starbucks.

I hope they have the nerve to debrand their estate, to give their customers the chance to fall in love with them all over again.

I hope they have the nerve to allow their local people to interpret their offer locally and create cool places for their customers to hang out. If that means they want to appeal to corporate wannabe’s then that’s fine, but design your offer accordingly. If that means they want their hippies back, then that’s just as fine – again, design accordingly.

The future of branding maybe isn’t unbranded, but it has to listen to its customers needs and be flexible as hell in delivering what they want or it will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Thanks to Jayne Wilson for the use of the picture of CJ on a Laptop in Starbucks. You can see more of her fine work here.

What are the eleven rules and three checkpoints for brilliant branding?

This is my checklist for starting to look at any branding project, in order to capture where the business and the brand already is.

As I’ve said in my work for Purple Circle Branding and on many occasions, branding is not about logos, it’s about a whole raft of ideas that come together to create an overall branded experience. Think of the logo as the marker to know you have arrived at the correct place and you’ll see its context. For me, the brand experience covers every aspect of an interaction or even a potential interaction – so therefore manage it.

In some particular order with the most important first.

1. What are its values and are they published for all to see. More importantly, is there evidence of them actually being lived throughout the organisation?

2. Is the merchandise/product/service supporting the brand experience and actually making it more positive or undermining it by not being as brilliant as it should be?

3. How does the brand speak and look visually? Is it on brand and consistent in every application that’s out there?

4. Has it defined its customers. Can you see from what you are looking at who it is they are expecting to engage with/sell to – and is it who they are actually targeting?

5. How does the website work. Does it look the part, publish the values and really live them?

6. Are the logos being used of a consistent feel. Not necessarily all in the same place and at the same size (as this is just consistent logo usage) but creating the same sort of effect wherever they appear?

7. Are they practicing CRM or MCR (maximising Customer relationships) by engaging with customers in every positive way possible?

8. Is there evidence of customer feedback. Do they use a product such as Feefo to ensure they are constantly engaging with their end users. In effect, are they engaging in dialogue or just giving them diatribe?

9.  Are employees engaged and leading at every level. Are they ‘chattering’ externally in a positive way using social media platforms? When you meet or speak to them are they brand advocates, or sales prevention officers?

10. Does the marketing collateral also talk the talk or does it drift towards the desperate in its sales message or continue to reinforce the brand, create the tribe and sell the dream.

11. Is the SEO on track too? A brilliant brand understands writing for SEO and is employing the best techniques throughout the experience.

This is all well and good. There are now only 11 things you need to manage to make a great brand but from this, you need to define three more final things.

1. What are the problems caused by low scores in any of these areas?

2. What does success in any of these areas look like?

3. Conversely, what does failure in any aspect look like?

These are obviously only rough guidelines and there ill need to be a variation for any specific sector but as a brand owner if you manage all of these well, you won’t be far off a great brand.

Here are a few examples of ones I’ve worked on over the years.

A stunning article on new brand thinking

This is a stunning article from FusionBrand in Malaysia, commenting on the poor year had by Ogilvy and Mather in China and the reaction of their chairman TB Song.

Read it here

What it says to me is that the future for branding and advertising agencies is a very uncertain one unless they begin to offer measurable ROI on what they do for their clients. This means measurability everywhere.

Rewarding advertising agencies by how much space they buy for you is a dead model. Rewarding them by how much sales revenue they generate will help sharpen their ideas in a massive way, but only if they are allowed to control more of the experience than just the televisual element.

As a design and brand agency it was traditional that we could change logos and create wonderful new design literature, websites, direct mail and all sorts of marketing ‘collateral’ that would win over clients the world over.

But those days are gone. We have to change the core of the businesses now, in order to change the brand.

Brands are born in the customer experience and not in the logo you choose to hang above it. The logo can only ever be a symbol that the customer has arrived in the right place to enjoy their branded experience. Change the logo in isolation and you change nothing. Change the customer experience and mark it with a new logo and you could indeed change the world for that customer.

Unless we have enlightened brand owners who allow designers to enjoy and subsequently manage the ongoing brand experience, one of us will disappear. The old adage ‘if two people in a business always agree, then one of them is unnecessary’ rings truer now than ever before.

Branding as topic that has been fiercely debated and that everyone has an opinion on (right or wrong). Done well, it changes the basis of a business forever. Done badly, it’s a poor old waste of money that brings the industry into disrepute and has been practiced by many since Introducing Monday and Consignia started the trend downwards with the most pointless and superficial logo changes masquerading as rebrands.

So, to all enlightened clients feel free to get in contact and I’ll show you the difference between a new logo, a pointless change and a really brilliant piece of branding that will directly benefit your business and its customers in the long term.