Inventing a past for a brand of the future

There’s an excellent interview in the FT Weekend [requires registration, but worth it] with restaurateur Jeremy King. He’s about to open his first hotel, and during the interview he displays an excellent approach to brand and experience building.

The Beaumont Hotel is a new name and a totally new build, but by imagining a convincing backstory, he’s got a tool he can use to explain to everyone else in the project what the vision is. It’s a great technique and I’m sure will lead to an appealing and coherent customer experience.

He tells me the story he imagined for his new hotel, complete with fictitious founder James “Jimmy” Beaumont. Jimmy, an American mid-westerner from farming stock, was working as the general manager of the Carlyle in New York.

“One day he is chatting to some guests, bemoaning that there he is in New York and it’s 1926, prohibition’s really taken hold and the only people having fun are at the speakeasies. New York’s getting violent, the hotel is quiet and incredibly boring because you can’t serve a drink and he says to these ladies, ‘I’ve had enough. I want to get out of the business’ and they persuade him not to. They say, “Go abroad, everybody’s getting excited about the Caribbean or Cuba, go somewhere else – Paris? No, the language. Well, how about London?”

King imagines the “original” hotel was peopled by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, legendary CBS reporter Ed Murrow . . .

“Of course,” says King, “you’d never know this but the photographs, the art in the hotel . . . they all tell this story.”

 

 

The power of understatement

I’ve read articles about the classic FedEx logo before, but this interview with the design team about the power of negative whitespace is worth a look.

The key to success was subtlety. When you’ve got a genuine bit of magic in your hands, don’t push it at people. Let it happen.

FedEx’s PR firm immediately wanted to supersize it. They wanted to make it obvious, fill it in with another color. They wanted to feature the arrow in other brand communications. They didn’t get it. It wasn’t about the arrow. An arrow isn’t even interesting to look at. It’s only because of the subtlety that it’s intriguing.

What if Microsoft was cool?

Minimally Minimal have an interesting branding thinkpiece re-imagining Microsoft as cool. I don’t like everything they’ve done in the execution, but the idea is thought-provoking.

They’ve been the naff whipping boys for nearly  ten years now and it would be fascinating if they could take the design and product momentum of Kinect, Windows 8 and Metro and package them within a cohesive narrative that really caught people’s imagination.

Is Ballmer the man to do this though?

Noted

Nice touch: personalised notebooks at today’s Think Google event.

No big “come and get yours” sign, but subtle self discovery. I was the first person to arrive and it took me a few seconds to twig why so many names were on the bookshelf.

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Brand death by a thousand cuts

Brands don’t usually die because of some apocalyptic event/mistake (though it can happen), rather they suffer death by a thousand cuts, each of which seem innocuos enough, even sensible. But they chip away at the magic and by the time sales have suffered enough for someone to notice, the negative brand equity momentum has long become unstoppable.

This post by Seth Godin today summarises this point terrifically, where he explains the magical, intangible elements  that make for great marketing, and how easy it is to kill them. Referring to a great little restaurant, he says:

…it’s the hand-fitted gestalt of thousands of little decisions made by caring management out to make a difference. Usually, when a business like this gets bigger or turns into a chain, marketers make what feel like smart compromises. The MBAs collide with the mystical, and the place gets boring. “Why do we need 14 free salsas when we can get away with six?”

Amazing Johnny Walker advert

This extraordinary ad/short film from Diageo makes for compelling viewing. Aside from the green screen magic (presumably?) and great choice of actor in Robert Carlyle, it is notable for two other reasons:

  • Use of story
    Appreciation of stories is hard-wired into our beings, and this is a good yarn with arcs, conflict, ambition and resolution. We’re being fed a brand story, but in such an engaging way that we accept it.
  • Breaking media format
    They’ve made an ad that is six and a half minutes long. Up until recently, such a length would have been laughably prohibitive, and indeed the days of 60 or even 90 second spectaculars seemed to be on the wane. But of course nowadays, good content spreads on digital channels where media cost is free and not constrained by programming breaks or convention.

thanks to the excellent Word magazine for the spot

The Guardian TV ads 1980s/1990s

I’ve just uploaded these two collections of The Guardian‘s TV ads that cover the 80s and 90s. The first set pre-dated my time as Brand Manager, but I was responsible for the second reel.

The ‘points of view’ (skinhead) ad from the mid 1980s remains the most famous ad from any newspaper and often appears in those lists of top 100 ads. However, viewed as a collection, I think they show the evolution of the brand, becoming notably more sophisticated, entertaining and inventive.

It was a critical task to modernise the paper, shake off the beardy, worthy image and fight the price-cutting Times and the newly-launched Independent. Good marketing, editorial vision, investigative journalism and investment in the product itself combined to strengthen a much-loved media brand and give it a strong platform to compete in the digital era.

Will people pay for content? Wrong question

Far better to ask – will they pay for my brand?

Are you thinking hard enough about what you really provide to them – rationally and emotionally?

Is it really only news you sell, or is it reassurance? Or a signal for other people of your status? Is your magazine selling entertainment – or is it a way to pass the time? Or feel connected? Or feel good about yourself?

How can you take these underlying values and translate them into other product forms (guide books, insurance services etc)

I’ve previously written about my view that people will pay for content if you make it easy. But if they won’t pay for your brand, you really are in trouble

True Blood poster – truly bloody awful?

The task when launching media products is clear: get noticed, generate trial.

In True Blood, the FX channel have got an awesome property. Now in its second season on HBO, the vampire series is dark, sexy, supernatural and sophisticated.

Sadly, I fear this poster does not convey any of that; it’s aiming too low and simply lacks, umm, bite.

Do watch the programme though – it’s excellent.

world in motion

Too often mission statements are glib, interchangeable and soaked with avarice. Businesses might as well use a website to generate one.

Great ones are simple, positive and rally everyone behind an idea. Twitter appears to have one of those. Techcrunch reports, as part of the controversial leaked documents haul, that internally they are shooting:

to be the pulse of the planet

I think that’s great – memorable, audacious and benevolent.