To celebrate the launch of our latest project, QIG, we sat down with their head of Marketing, Sarah Foss, to speak about how we bought their brand to life.
Read the full case study here.
To celebrate the launch of our latest project, QIG, we sat down with their head of Marketing, Sarah Foss, to speak about how we bought their brand to life.
Read the full case study here.
The Transform Awards recognise excellence in rebranding, brand development and the journeys brands make. We’re honoured to be included in this year’s winners. Find out more about the awards here.
About our winners:
Best visual identity from the professional services sector: Pascoe + Tew
In Pascoe + Tew’s world, the world of executive search, people often put their trust in a safe pair of hands. But, these firms don’t always have their client’s best intentions at heart. This doesn’t sit well with Pascoe + Tew, in fact, it goes against everything they stand for.
They came to Curious for a brand refresh that rallies around their purpose and clearly shows their distinction from their competitors. We worked with them to create a new brand strategy, visual identity and tone of voice that we then applied to a new website and brand collateral.
Our new brand is simple and bold. It’s professional but not cold, adding personality and tone to a rather dull world. It has none of the layers of complexity and corporate fluff that are all too common in the recruitment world; instead, the simple design and no-nonsense copy stand strong. Now Pascoe + Tew can be confident their brand tells clients and customers exactly what they stand for.
Read the case study here
Best naming strategy (rename): Aeria Apartments
This brand is still making its way through the studio, so we can’t say too much yet… But, keep your eyes peeled for the brand later this year.
Curious MD Nikki Cunningham recently wrote an article praising Patagonia’s decision to donate itself to charity. Their dedication to their brand values is admirable, and it got us thinking, which other companies put their money where their mouth is when it comes to purpose? And what happens when brands miss the mark?
Perhaps the ultimate example. We recently wrote about Patagonia’s decision to donate the majority of their shares to charity is only the latest in a long history of actions that aid their purpose. Patagonia proudly proclaim their purpose and because they consistently perform actions that support their pledge to save the planet, consumers with a strong environmental conscious chose to support them.
At the same time as Patagonia made their big announcement, Kourtney Kardashian Barker unveiled her new position as ‘sustainability ambassador’ at boohoo. In her own words, she admits that she ‘doesn’t have all the answers’ but believes any progress towards sustainability is ‘a step in the right direction’.
This is a nice sentiment, but it is hard to believe boohoo are genuinely committed to a more sustainable agenda. They add 700 new styles to their site every week (Source) and have a reputation for treating staff poorly. Even within the capsule collection that they have released to celebrate the partnership, not all the clothes are made from recycled materials. Less talk, more action needed.
Period product seller Bodyform are on a mission to dismantle taboos and shame around women’s bodies. They have a clear image of their audience and know what makes them tick: their bold brand communications speak directly to them and speak about issues they care about.
Bodyform will be well aware that acknowledging the complicated relationship women have with their bodies will offend and displease some who see their marketing material, but for their target audience, this frank approach is what might ultimately convert them to becoming customers.
In 2019, McDonald’s swapped their plastic straws for paper. On the surface, this seemed like a great idea; single use plastic was a big issue at the time. But, when it was revealed that the new paper straws couldn’t be recycled, whereas the plastic ones could, McDonald’s was left looking foolish.
The unfortunate (and let’s be honest slightly comedic) incident made appear to consumers that McDonald’s cared more about having green associations than reducing their environmental impact.
Do one thing really well. That’s what we can learn from toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap. Purpose has clearly driven the creation of their brand. Their way of generating income (loo roll subscriptions) is undoubtedly related to their core purpose of ending toilet poverty. It’s easy for their consumers to understand and link them in their minds.
They experienced exponential growth in popularity over lockdown but kept their activities simple. This has meant their purpose has not been diluted.
Knorr proclaim that wholesome, nutritious food should be accessible to all – an admirable goal. But when you look at their range which contains products like ‘Butter flavour’ pasta you have to wonder if their taste team might have let purpose slip their mind.
Looking at the examples above, there’s a lot we can learn from the way they approach purpose – both good and bad.
Purpose is your brand’s reason for existing. For it to be authentic, purpose can’t be something you arbitrarily decide on when starting your business. It needs to be true to you, and you need to be able to demonstrate continually.
To grow your reputation as a purpose-led brand may take time and will require commitment. One reason Patagonia has succeeded where Knorr has failed is that they have consistently completed actions that further their aim of helping the planet. Purpose comes through all aspects of their business, including how and what they make – not just in their marketing.
When considering purpose, it can be tempting to pick a popular issue, but you need to be honest about what motivates you and go from there. Not everyone will buy into your brand, and that’s okay. If you resonate with your target audience, that’s all that matters.
Bodyform’s success comes down to how well they know their audience. They know they might offend or put off some consumers, but they don’t care: if you’re offended, then you’re not who they’re talking to.
You don’t need to comment on every issue. If a topic something isn’t related to your product, purpose or business, you might appear inauthentic if you try to claim it’s important to you.
boohoo make fashionable products that are up-to-date and affordable. They are a fashion brand for a social generation and have their finger on the pulse of popular culture. However, their production model and attitude towards fast fashion makes them seeminsinsere when they comment on sustainability.
Building brand purpose is Curious’ bread and butter – we work with all kinds of brands to discover, verbalise and visualise their purpose. We’ve put together a guide on how to do it. But the SparkNotes version is, you need to start by asking yourself why. Why does your business do what you do? Not how you do it, or what you do, but why. If you can answer that question, that’s your purpose.
It can take a lot of thought and head-scratching, but if you can find your purpose (and stick to it), it can bring your business lots of benefits. Purposeful brands have credibility and respect from consumers and increased loyalty from consumers who share the values they represent. They also tend to have good brand recognition and high public opinion. So, what are you waiting for? Time to get to work.
For most of us, the run-up to Christmas is full of excitement, mince pies and cheer. But, this year, it’s hard to hard to ignore that things feel a little different. Worries about rising costs and an advent of strikes have made it harder to relax into the Christmas spirit.
For a Christmas like this, where spend spend spend is less likely to land than usual, we were curious to see how brands would respond.
Last year the focus was on kindness and optimism following another year of Covid troubles. Brands have had to walk a fine line this year. They want us to spend money, but times are tough, and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that in at least a subtle way risks damaging any brand loyalty they’ve built up.
As we conducted our extensive research, a few strategies kept coming up.
For some brands, it was business as usual. No pause to reflect on the situation surrounding the festivities: these adverts could come from any year.
One of life’s biggest what if’s – would Buddy the elf thrive in an Asda store? This advert is so skillfully edited it’s hard to believe it wasn’t purpose-made. Fair play to the creative team. By harnessing the appeal of one of the most loved Christmas films, they skillfully sidestep having to address the cost of living at all.
Focusing on the quality of its food feels like another sidestep from Morrisons. But, unlike Asda, their advert isn’t innovative and impressive, which makes it harder to forgive.
It’s a tough line to tread, acknowledging times are harder whilst still encouraging consumers to part with their hard-earned cash, but these brands trod the tightrope.
TK Maxx’s USP is surprising finds at low prices, which made it easier for them (compared to luxury brands) when thinking about this year’s advert.
The protagonist, Sam, is congratulated by her whole town for finding such marvellous gifts at excellent value. The positive reaction to the bargain-finding prowess tells viewers no one will look down on you for finding a great day. It’s silly, indulgent, and over the top in a way that contrasts with the more earnest tone taken by many this year. But, for TK Maxx, that feels right.
There was a subtle re-direct from Sainsbury’s. Instead of emphasizing the luxurious (expensive) nature of their Taste the Difference range, this year they’ve placed the emphasis on Difference.
In their advert, a chef is challenged to create a new dessert for a demanding Alison Hammond who announces she’s never really liked Christmas pudding (relatable). The result is a caramelised biscuit twist on the classic, which goes down a treat.
Whilst the cost of living isn’t hinted at in the advert itself, which has a royal backdrop, the change in tactic means this advert belongs in the ‘gentle nod’ category. A sensible decision from Sainsbury’s marketing team.
The third tactic we saw was going back to what Christmas is all about. By demonstrating a commitment to charity, family or quality time, these businesses took the focus off spending and promoted togetherness, kindness and compassion Ironically, doing this well will probably result in more sales for them.
As the title suggests, Amazon’s Christmas tale shows us happiness is found in the moments we spend together and the actions we take to make our loved ones happy. It’s heartwarming to see the dad in the advert go to so much effort to make his daughter smile – though he did order a few supplies on Amazon to make that happen!
Lidl’s new Christmas character is a no-nonsense, no-named bear that finds unexpected fame when it rocks one of their Christmas jumpers. After getting caught up in the lifestyle of the rich and famous, the bear ultimately realises what matters to him most is being with his family.
The plot of this advert might not be groundbreaking, but the actions that go along with it show Lidl’s good intentions. You can’t buy the bear in any of their stores. Instead of monetizing it, they’ve used it as a call to action for their customers to contribute to a toy drive instead. Which they are also donating to.
Every year the opening chords of a reworked classic song tell us John Lewis are about to pull on our heartstrings. So, this year, as the opening notes of All the Small Things played, we were ready. But, it was not a traditional John Lewis advert that followed.
Instead, we see the trials and tribulations of a man learning to skateboard, which we discover at the end of the advert he has done to bond with his new foster daughter. The advert was stripped back and understated, which makes sense in the current social and political context and highlights the work of John Lewis’s Building Happier Futures Programme that supports children living in care.
Tesco has not shied away from addressing the issues facing the UK this Christmas. In fact, they’ve formed their own political party to solve them – or some of them, anyway. It’s positive and fun. Tesco has sensed the current mood, and it’s refreshing they’ve gone down a less melancholy route than some of their competitors.
Being a supermarket with lower prices gives Tesco permission to take this path. They can promise the lower prices consumers need. Waitrose and Marks and Spencers could never make this advert – it wouldn’t match their brand.
When it comes to brand, it’s never as simple as a one size fits all answer. Despite a myriad of different approaches, almost every ad on this list is effective in its own way. As usual, it all comes back to strategy. The brands on our list have different audiences, purposes and personalities, which influence how they can best express themselves.
Brands that consistently have great marketing campaigns are the ones that know themselves well. Because ultimately, it’s not about finding the one approach that works but finding the approach that works for your brand.
Curious MD Nikki Cunningham talks about how Patagonia lives and breathes its brand purpose and how other brands should take note. (Warning: it’s not easy to achieve).
Last week, Yvon Chouinard, founder of outdoor clothing and equipment retailer Patagonia, made a surprise announcement that he had donated the company. The entire company. A move that means, after reinvestment, all of Patagonia’s profits will be donated to charities that will fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities.
At a time when trust in many forms is low, it’s refreshing to see a brand following through on what it says it believes in. Though that in itself is a problem – why is it we don’t trust what brands say, and what can they do to restore our faith?
Brand purpose is regarded with scepticism. Almost all businesses make grand acclimations about their purpose, and only a few live up to their promise. Too often, companies think they can fulfil their purpose by putting out official statements in response to current events. In other words, be lazy.
In normal circumstances, we’re big fans of communication; it’s vital for healthy, happy relationships. But, when you’re speaking for the sake of speaking, you do your brand more harm than good. Not backing up what you say with actions will make consumers doubt you mean what you say. Inauthenticity is far worse than if you said nothing.
‘We appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We’re using the resources we have – our business our investments, our voice and our imaginations – to do something about it.’
From any other company this might sound like empty words, but for Patagonia, this sentiment guides everything they do. They don’t just talk about caring for the environment – they do something about it. They live their purpose.
1985: 1% for the planet was launched. Patagonia began to donate 1% of every sale to climate charities.
2007: The Footprint Chronicles is launched. It traces the social and environmental impact of Patagonia’s products.
2012: Patagonia became a certified B Corporation and registered as a benefit corporation in the State of California.
2017: Merchandise in good condition can be returned for new merchandise credits. The used merchandise is cleaned, repaired and sold on its “Worn Wear” website.
2019: ReCrafted was launched. It creates and sells clothing made from scraps of fabric from used Patagonia gear.
2020: Patagonia suspended its advertising on Facebook and Instagram as part of the “stop Hate for Profit” campaign.
2022. Patagonia is donated to charity.
And this timeline doesn’t account for all of the indirect effects Patagonia has had. From funding charities, helping grassroots groups, and the actions of individuals inspired by their films, books and articles.
Throughout its almost 50 years of trading, Patagonia has always been committed to producing good quality, long-lasting products that don’t cost the earth. They’ve used actions to back up their words. They’ve lived their purpose.
For Patagonia, donating themselves to charity wasn’t as rash a move as it might have initially appeared; they have a long history of action. It would undoubtedly be difficult for other companies to do the same as Patagonia. Their history, structure and employees who share the company’s vision all mean they can enact change much more quickly than a standard business. But, we hope that it encourages others to consider how to go beyond words and act on their purpose. What they actually believe in. Wouldn’t that be something.
A year on from the big quit (that period in early 2021 when absolutely everyone was looking for a new job), things in the world of employment seemed to have calmed down – with employers and employees both feeling more secure in their positions.
In February the UK saw employment rising and the rate of growth of vacancies continue to slow. But we shouldn’t resign the great resignation to the past. There were reasons why an extraordinary number of people decided there must be better out there. And, there are lessons employers would be wise not to ignore.
But, before we can ponder on its lessons, first we must consider why it came about. In early 2020, after almost a year of lockdown, the ‘huddle where you are’ mentality many of us adopted was beginning to wear off. As it became clear that life would indeed go back to normal, employees began to consider their lockdown experiences- and many were less than pleased with their conclusions.
A study by Personio in April 2021 found that 1 in 3 people were looking to move jobs in the following 6 to 12 months. This indicates a general mood of dissatisfaction with employment situations around this time. Those looking to change jobs cited work/life balance, pay freezes or cuts, toxic workplace culture, reduction in benefits and being furloughed as reasons for leaving their current jobs.
The finding’s in Personio’s study suggest there are numerous and interconnecting reasons someone might leave their job – and that salary is only one consideration.
It seemed that experiences of lockdown and worries about health made people more attracted to companies with a defined culture and values that aligned with their own. Companies that could articulate and act on their employment philosophy (we call this an employer brand (more on this later!)).
Earlier this year, Curious partnered with YouGov to test this hypothesis. We asked our panel to imagine their dream job and share the three aspects of it that most appealed to them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that many of us enjoyed the benefits of home and hybrid working over the past two years, work/life balance was the aspect chosen by the highest percentage of respondents. This might also have been due to a shift in priorities towards spending more time with friends and family. More recently it’s been interesting to see how the phenomenon of quiet quitting has become an extension of this idea.
Only slightly behind work/life balance, salary was the second most popular aspect. Salary will always be a vital factor in decisions around employment - it affects so many other aspects of our lives. And, with the cost of living increasing, it’s to be expected that salary will remain a key consideration. However, it is interesting to note that ⅓ of our respondents didn’t include it in their top three aspects.
We also asked our panel how important it was for them to work for a company with clear values and culture. Over 75% said it was important to them - and 30% included it in their top 3 dream job aspects. Though there were slight variations in how influential people think this is, our data shows it’s rated consistently high a
cross all of our demographics.
Our findings have shown that although some aspects of employment appeal to a broader section of the population than others, there is no one thing that employees look for. There are trends across ages and gender, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Employers need to know the kinds of people they are looking for and speak to them directly.
This doesn't mean that businesses necessarily need to change or enhance their offerings - though some might. However, they do need to define them. They must know their approach and be able to talk about it - and highlight how it makes them unique. We call this an employer brand - and a good one can provide many benefits to a business.
An employer brand can’t be rushed. Making a big gesture that wins you headlines and accolades is all well and good but it is a short-term strategy that is likely to fail: your employer brand must run through everything you do and say, and stand up to scrutiny.
Knowing what’s right for your brand requires serious thought as you must be able to live by the brand you design.
Authenticity is key. Curious works with brands to find what is important to you and your team - they are the most important element of your employer brand. All the elements will be there, but an outside perspective can help to draw out what makes you, you.
Once we’ve defined your personality and purpose we can creatively bring your employer brand to life, so you can share it with the world.
We’ve enjoyed our curious journey. From Poland Street to Floral Street to Shelton Street to Dean Street, only a mile radius but we’ve come so far. We’re immensely proud of our collaboration with brands local and global. Doing great work means a lot to us. We’ve put our achievements in a video.
What a difference a year makes. Regardless of age and gender, we all lived at a distance – relying on technology for socialisation, working, shopping and pretty much everything else. In fact, 80% of people agree that using technology has been a vital support to them during lockdowns (UK Consumer Digital Index 2021 ). But, the requirement to use technology for basic tasks was a daunting prospect for anyone not confident in their digital skills.
78% of people agree that the Covid-19 pandemic has escalated the need for digital skills (UK Consumer Digital Index 2021). However, it’s not just on consumers to up their skills: brands need to ensure their websites are consumer-friendly – for anyone who wants, or needs, to use them.
Recently, Curious partnered with YouGov to explore how people’s relationships with technology are changing and what this might mean for brands. We discovered that a large proportion of consumers plan to continue life, at least partly, remotely, even when all restrictions have been lifted.
This was roughly the figure we suspected: we’ve had almost a year and a half for new technology to work its way into our routines, and it’s done so with remarkable ease. So, it’s not unexpected that many people will continue to integrate it into their lives. Something that did surprise us, however, was how even intention to continue parts of life remotely was split between different age groups.
In retrospect, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as such a shock. There were indications that internet usage is increasing amongst all age groups – but particularly the over 55s.
There’s a stereotype that older people struggle with technology and while there is some truth in this, these figures suggest we should be giving them more credit – and brands should be paying them more attention.
It seems like online shopping addictions aren’t the preserve of young people after all. We found that a larger proportion of over 55s plan to shop online than 18-24-year-olds (30% vs 38%). And figures from the ONS show that in August 2020 65% of over 65s had shopped online in the preceding 12 months.
And, if that wasn’t enough to convince you:
What’s more, over 65s are a valuable market to capture. An ONS study found that 6% of them had spent over £1000 online shopping in the previous three months – the same as 16-24-year-olds.
‘Be yourself’ is a rule that people and brands should both live by. You shouldn’t change fundamental things about your brand, or its personality, to attract new customers – not if the changes you make aren’t true to your core brand idea (find yours here).
That said, there are practical things you can do to make it more likely that new customers will become loyal advocates. And, an excellent place to start is with your website.
Our research found that in the last year, a whopping ⅓ of consumers abandoned a purchase journey due to a bad website or app. That’s a lot of business that brands are losing over something that’s easily corrected.
For the over 55 group, having a good website is vital. 95% of those asked believe that it’s important for a company to have a website that’s easy to navigate – more than any other age group.
And, there’s evidence that more older people would shop online if websites were more accessible. One in five older people would be more likely to get online if websites and apps were easier to understand (UK Consumer Digital Index) So, there’s potential for this customer group to expand in the future.
Before you can have a website that’s easy to use, you have to understand both who your customers are and how they are going to use it. Consider where they will land, how they’ll move through the website, their needs, goals and frustrations.
However, while digital touchpoints need to be functional and facilitate the audience’s needs, they also need to have a personality. Brand and design must be integrated to create platforms that are tailored to their audience, whilst also providing an authentic brand experience.
Fewer steps: This could mean fewer forms or fields to complete, or shortening the journey between your basket and completing a transaction.
More visibility: Transparency around delivery dates and payments will reassure anyone unsure of shopping online.
Aesthetic Choices: Using legible colour palettes and larger typefaces will increase usability
At Curious, we believe great digital design starts with zero assumptions of how a website or app should look for its users. Designing from scratch and embracing the influence of users and brand is crucial and doing so will mean your platform will feel tailored to your users and distinct to your brand.
At what stage is the consumer in the awareness phase? The consideration period? When does the intent to purchase kick in?
Marketers quite rightly obsess about this process, so if new research is to be believed it is incredible to think that they are unwittingly falling at the final hurdle.
According to a consumer study recently undertaken by us here at Curious, in partnership with YouGov, nearly half of all consumers have abandoned an online shopping basket because of a poor online experience.
Whether shopping on a company’s website or via their app, 46% of people report having had such a bad experience that they have given up – a third of people reporting such an instance in the past year alone. Just think about that for a second: they had products in their basket that they had already decided to buy and even at that late stage in the funnel, they called it a day. They would rather start the whole process again elsewhere than spend another minute on that particular platform.
The message is clear: brands need to prioritise their digital platforms with as much fervour as their advertising, branding and all other elements of their communications mix.
Respondents to our survey, entitled ‘The Hybrid Consumer’ cited functionality and visual distinction as key drivers for a positive online experience, with as many as 93% agreeing that functionality is important when using a brand’s digital platform, with visual distinction next on the list of priorities, at 73% and just over one in four of those polled (26%) saying a unique experience is also important.
While marketers are on a permanent quest to seek visual distinction for their brand to ensure it stands out on the physical or digital shelf, this should not be confused with the appetite for an original online look.
Consumers do not want to be bamboozled by a complex or unusual digital experience. Take Amazon as an example: the king of simplicity and functionality, with a site that has barely changed in years, yet it has certainly not suffered from a lack of visitors. Likewise, TikTok – which has a fantastic design and UX – had seen a billion downloads by April 2020. In this instance they operate a powerful AI which quickly learns what users like and recommends more content, keeping people engaged for longer.
It is this balance between UI and UX that brands should have front of mind when designing their digital platforms. The two work together to create an overall experience, and good web design will take this into account; something perfect for a brand’s audience on paper can be hard to use if the UI is bad, while a good UI is something that looks great, aligns perfectly with the brand and is tailored to what the user needs.
For brands to succeed in this space it’s integral that they understand their audiences wants and needs when it comes to a website. User testing is a great approach to gaining this insight and will enable a brand to learn about how their site is navigated under realistic conditions. The process will throw up any areas which could cause a user to drop off, allowing the brand to improve their online platform, by smoothing out the consumers’ journey.
This all comes at a time when consumers’ have spent more than a year living largely online – shopping, socialising and working – and their reliance on technology is greater than ever before. More than a third of people will continue to bank (35%) and shop (36%) online (either partly or fully) with 65% of online consumers wanting to live a hybrid lifestyle in some way or other after restrictions are lifted.
And this is not just something that concerns Gen X; indeed only 3% fewer people aged 55 and over will continue to shop online post-pandemic than those aged 25-34, proving that brands do not need to attract older online shoppers but must understand what they want from their digital experience.
To think that brands are failing to convert customers who are already on their website is not only astonishing but is something that’s both unnecessary and completely avoidable. With careful consideration of the online expectations of consumers across every age bracket, many brands will see a notable fall in abandoned baskets and the satisfying completion of that all important marketing funnel.
As featured in the New Digital Age.
We’ve been curious about how our relationship with technology has changed in the last year. Living from a distance and relying on digital platforms for all elements of our lives has shown us just how easy it is to utilise websites and apps to make our lives easier.
But as we spend more time online, there is nowhere for brands to hide when it comes to consumers’ digital experience. With 65% of UK consumers planning to continue living at least part of their life remotely once restrictions are lifted and a whopping 1/3 claiming to have abandoned their baskets out of blind website frustration, it’s clear there is a challenge that must be addressed.
Explore our full research report, conducted in partnership with YouGov, to find out how the new hybrid lifestyle has affected consumer expectations and to discover where brands are falling short with their digital offerings.
Just fill out the form below to get your copy of this consumer report.
For this month’s client spotlight, we caught up with Zyte’s Head of Marketing, Marie Moynihan to reflect on her experience of their recent rebrand from Scraping Hub, and what she enjoyed about the process.
We started to create our three-year strategic plan for the business and once that was complete, I started to ask whether the brand was strong enough to deliver on our vision. We went out to the market to find the right partner that could help us answer that question, rather than starting with “we want to rebrand”.
We were bringing a new product to market that would change how our customers would access data. The old name was very tied to the old solutions, so we wanted a new name that would support this new product and direction.
Probably bringing the whole organisation on the journey with us. It was clear to me why we needed to change the name but managing that change internally was challenging.
Once we had decided on the name, the most enjoyable part was seeing the brand come to life. The name is nothing without the brand. This was really fun as we got to build out the personality and look and feel of our new brand.
We did this with continuous updates along the journey. The rebrand had a regular slot in all of our town hall meetings, and we got Curious to hold a couple of sessions for staff, educating them on the process we were taking, findings etc. We also had a slack channel for any questions or comments anybody had.
It has really consolidated how we talk about ourself. One of our customers explaining extracting data from the web as ‘Zyting’ was really exciting for us. We also have solid brand guidelines that have helped give us one voice in the market. The rebrand was really well received internally as well which was super important for us.
Read the full case study here.
In our first Conversation with Curious, we introduced the concept of consumer archetypes, a topic so interesting we thought it deserved further discussion. We invited Dr Simon Moore from Innovation Bubble back to discuss; the four consumer archetypes, what motivates them, and how brands can use archetypes to their advantage.
Press play for intriguing insights into the way you think.
When it comes to building a strong business you won’t be able to position yourself without conducting thorough research into the competition. Your brand strategy needs to be stress-tested against rivals in order to confirm it is unique. You need to establish what’s in the market, what’s working and what isn’t and understand how your audience is responding in order to set yourself apart.
So, here is our five step guide to carrying out a successful competitor audit.
If you don’t carefully analyse your own brand you won’t have the full scope of what others are doing differently. Examine the core elements of your brand – your website, sales collateral, presentations – and work out what should stay and what can go. That way you’ll know what you’ve got to work with.
Consider where your company is heading in the next few years. Are you planning to launch new services? Develop any new products? Open an office overseas? The competitors you face today will change tomorrow. Keep these questions top of mind to ensure you capture everyone in your net.
When it comes to breaking down a rival brand, separate out all of the assets to analyse them more closely.
There are countless places a brand can show up, from logo and tagline to packaging, products and brochure via sales literature, ad campaigns, websites and apps. Ensure you are covering them all in your analysis.
Consider the brand from both verbal and visual angles: a brand may appear on the surface to lack good visual design, but their tone of voice can be quite powerful and hit the mark with audiences.
Examine both the top line messaging across a brand as well as the overall style.
This refers to everything from logos, colours and typography to iconography, imagery and video.
Once you’ve interrogated all the assets, match them up against each other and add yourself into the mix to see where you sit and where the white space is. This process is called brand segmentation.
A few things to think about as you do this final step…
Once you’ve got this down on paper, you’ll have a clear and objective understanding of not just the competition, but also your own strengths and weaknesses. You can then use this to create a unique brand positioning. Because the truth is if you don’t know what your competition is doing today, how are you supposed to know what to do tomorrow?
In the first of our monthly client spotlight series, we caught up with Emily Underhill, Marketing Director at The Kite Factory on her experience of the media agency’s rebrand from MC&C, what she found challenging and what she enjoyed most throughout the Curious process.
There were multiple factors that led to our decision to rebrand but ultimately, we wanted to create a clean slate for the next leg of our growth journey. We’d spent a lot of time developing our offering and building a new senior leadership team to drive the business forward, but were struggling to agree and communicate what made us different.
We also received VC investment for the first time, which allowed us to invest in creating a modern brand that captured the agency’s vision, personality & passion that could confidently go up against our competitors.
Our old name (MC&C) stood for Mike Colling & Company, after our Founder. The agency was founded in 2001 and given its evolution, we felt that the name no longer represented or championed our people and the collaborative nature of our business.
MC&C also had a heritage in charity advertising – a specialism we are still proud to hold today – but we wanted to diversify our client base and knew a new name would give us the springboard to break out of that pigeonhole and have new conversations with different kinds of clients.
Managing multiple stakeholders and their opinions is always challenging. Curious did some brilliant investigative work to combat this by getting under the skin of the business and understanding what our agency stood for from those that know it best (staff, clients, partners etc), which left little room for debate and gave us a clear direction.
I really enjoyed the naming process as it really felt like our brand was coming to life. Curious came up with some really clever options that all struck a chord, and we were pleasantly surprised at how aligned we were as a team – the ultimate decision was unanimous!
I personally love the psychology behind branding so really enjoyed watching the process play out and learning the different considerations and how they all link together. On the surface, The Kite Factory seems a bit of a random name (which does a job in creating intrigue), but I love that it feels considered and links back to our story in a really smart way.
We knew how important it was to bring our staff on this journey with us and celebrate this new chapter with them and our existing clients. We timed the relaunch to coincide with our move to our beautiful new office which gave us a brilliant opportunity to bring the brand to life from day one.
A personal note from our CEO explaining the changes went to our clients and partners, and we sent a branded box of goodies to industry friends and journalists to spread the word. Staff received a welcome box on their new desk with more information on the new ‘us’ and our new surroundings, and we did a big reveal around our gorgeous neon TKF sign in our reception. Launch week culminated with a very boozy party at the office to celebrate with industry friends.
The rebrand has been absolutely fundamental in our growth. Curious helped us to discover and develop an authentic proposition that truly represented our agency, along with a stunning new name and visual identity that has created huge interest with new clients, recruits and industry peers. This gave us the fresh start we needed and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since.
You can find a case study of our work here.
In the first of our In Conversation with Curious series, we delve into the psychology behind brand rivalries with brilliant psychologist Dr Simon Moore from Innovationbubble. Covering #caterpillargate, targeted Google ads, and why brand interactions should follow dating etiquette.
See our Curious Guide to Self Defence here.
We were recently approached by a business whose nearest rival had started a digital campaign against them, ensuring anyone who searched for the business online would find derogatory results, detailing why the rival company was apparently better. Borderline illegal? Perhaps. Immediate action required? Definitely.
While not a million miles away from the M&S and Aldi Colin vs Cuthbert conundrum, we thought it was time to put together a 101 on how to fight back when a rival isn’t playing fair.
When you’re in a position like this the temptation is to lie low, keep quiet and essentially hope it all goes away. But is that the right thing to do? Absolutely not. Doing nothing shows weakness – or at least vulnerability – and implies to customers and staff that you don’t care. It delays any action that’s needed to get back your edge, and quite aside from being bad for team morale it could seriously jeopardise your reputation long term.
We hope you won’t need this but, in the event, you need to fight back in style, here is Curious’s five-step guide to combating rival brand attacks
If the competition goes for your ‘weak spot’, flip the conversation and redirect people’s attention to your areas of strength. Laying down the gauntlet on your terms will give you the power. Pursue the competitor on these points single-mindedly and call out any diversion tactics as an inability to respond. You can do this with humour, you can do it with humility or you can do it with candour. The key thing is that it gets done.
If the competition attacks with supposed “proof”, then you’d be wise to put it under a magnifying glass. Now is the time to bring in your own specialists and create a counter-attack. Pick holes in their points, uncover their mistruths and exhibit their naivety. It’s important to stay calm and take them apart in an ice cold fashion.
Take note and acknowledge that the area of the business that’s under fire is potentially falling short. This is in fact the perfect moment to take a step back, re-evaluate the business’ offering/position in the market and regroup. From here it’s about developing these problem areas and turning them into strengths that can be publicised and offered to consumers.
To be in a position where rival brands need to take a swipe means you must have been doing something right. Remember what makes your brand great and remind the world about it. Communicate with potential customers why you’re such an important asset, whilst reaching out to your current customers to remind them about what you’ve done for them and the industry so far.
The world is digital at its core. And as consumers increasingly spend more of their lives online, it will become a key battleground for brands. There are two key opportunities to enhance your brand on digital. The first is to embrace social media and form a content strategy to help educate, entertain and engage consumers. The second is to improve UX design to create a truly seamless online experience for users; making them fall in love with your platform and keep coming back for more.
Even the most basic psychology will tell you that if you come under fire from a competitor then they feel threatened by you. Keep this in mind at all times and while it’s crucial you don’t sink to their level, your response will shape how strongly you come out of the encounter.
In their own words, “Graphis is committed to promoting the work of exceptional talent in Design, Advertising, Photography and Art/Illustration”, and we’re chuffed to be included in that category!
Following their rebrand in 2018, we were thrilled to work with TKF again to bring their new company values to life. Our original work was based on the insight that ideas lie at the heart of the agency. And not just any ideas, the sort that deliver measurable, tangible results. Ideas grounded in data-driven insights that are tightly connected to the real world.
The charming twist in the design was that the kite itself was never seen. Instead, the string that tethers the kite to the ground was the main feature. It was and is the perfect reflection of the brand purpose: ideas that take flight but are deeply grounded in insight. We used this thinking to inspire our new project.
We took the kite string focus even further with this series, extending it from the logo and twisting it into shapes that visually represent The Kite Factory’s values; ‘Aim higher, Think freely, ‘Win together, ‘Get involved, and ‘Stay smart’. The posters are displayed throughout the Kite Factory office to encourage their employees to aspire to these values as they work.
See our original work here.
To create a brand that felt different from other yoga companies, we stayed away from the spiritual, bowing, meditation and chanting, and focused on the ideas behind the creation of Fierce Grace. Founder Michele Pernetta believes that yoga balances strength, which is the masculine element (Fierce) with flexibility, the feminine element (Grace). This belief informed our approach to the design and allowed us to be authentic to Fierce Grace.
We used bold, contemporary photography and delicate typography to portray the balance between strength and flexibility that lies at the heart of Fierce Grace. The posters have been blown up and feature in all four Fierce Grace locations across London.
View the full case study here.
Zyte opens a smooth pathway to web data, giving businesses a competitive advantage. This is visually manifested with the striking use of the ‘Zyte Z’ and supported by the headline, ‘Is your business missing out?’. We wanted to create a series of posters that were bold and exciting and captured the brand’s energetic approach while signalling the arrival of a new game changer.
The Zyte poster campaign encapsulates an energetic new approach for a brand who believes in free-flowing channels of information for all. In a sector that is often dry, this bold approach stands out from competitors and the clean design demonstrates Zyte’s ability to cut through the mysteries of the web and talk to businesses on a personal level.
View the full case study here.
Find out more about the awards and browse the other winners here.
Sound is immensely powerful. It has the ability to transport you back to a certain moment in time or take you somewhere you never knew existed. It can make you feel alive or even reduce you to tears. It’s a sense that enables communication and facilitates the greatest language of all, music.
Sound plays a huge part in people’s lives and is increasingly important in the modern-day world. According to Statista, there are currently 155 million Spotify Premium subscribers, a 25% increase since 2019, whilst the smart speaker market is set to be worth $35 billion by 2025. On top of this, entertainment formats such as podcasts continue to thrive, with Spotify recording a doubling in podcast listening hours in Q4 2020, and the music based social media platform TikTok goes from strength to strength.
You’d think based on information like this, audio would be one of the first considerations for brands when it comes to creative execution. And yet all too often sound design is treated as an afterthought and given minimal consideration or budget. The result, a piece of branding or communications that looks incredible, but is compromised when it comes to audio.
But what actually is a sonic identity? It’s essentially an audio logo. A soundbite, no more than a few seconds long, that can either complement a visual logo, enhancing overall brand recognition, or work in isolation on audio-only media such as podcasts, streaming platforms, radio or even apps.
The simple answer is yes. A staggering 60% of consumers believe music used in marketing is more memorable than visuals (PHMG). Whilst recent research by DLMDD and YouGov uncovered one in three adults under the age of 35 (33%) feels more favourable towards brands with a sonic identity than those without. Incredibly the research also revealed that one in three adults (32%) associate no brands with having a sonic identity. In a world that is increasingly full of communications, an engaging audio identity could be a game changer for brands wanting to stand out from the crowd.
Consumers’ affinity towards brands that utilise sound is no coincidence; it’s based on science. People react faster to audio than any other stimulus. In fact, it only takes 0.146 seconds for a human to react to sound (Made Music Studio). On top of this, music has the ability to evoke powerful emotional responses in listeners spanning from chills all the way through to thrills (Psychology Today). All this points overwhelmingly to the need for brands – particularly those with a strong digital presence – to ensure as much consideration has gone into their sonic branding as their physical branding.
Audio is vital and brands that invest can expect to create a number of advantages for themselves. The first major benefit of sonic branding is an increased level of stand out. Consumers are bombarded with communications every day and can end up switching off to brands. Effective sound design can gain much needed cut through, helping capture consumers’ attention or even enter their minds subconsciously.
The next advantage is enhanced mental recall. Just like other distinctive assets such as logos, brand mascots, colours and slogans, sonic branding can help build memory structures. This essentially increases the likelihood of consumers remembering a brand, which is particularly crucial when it comes to the consideration phase in the purchase funnel.
Brand personality is also an area that will benefit greatly. Just as a strong tone of voice on social can humanise a brand, or a consistent visual style can become warmly familiar, sound can also enhance a brand’s character. Fleshing out a brand’s DNA into the world of audio will help create a deeper and more authentic entity, which will help build trust with consumers.
Focussing on audio is also an opportunity to have some fun as a brand and experiment creatively in a whole new arena. Developing this area can boost consumer engagement and has the potential to become something they enjoy listening to and even recreate.
Begin with research: Conducting a review of the competition will allow brands to avoid any crossover and help produce something truly ownable. It’s also a good idea to analyse any previous audio that has been used for the brand historically, which could act as inspiration.
Know the audience: Consider your target consumers and what will resonate with them. Key questions include what kind of sounds will appeal to them most and what platforms they will be using when they engage with the audio.
Pin down an emotion: This all stems from the brand’s personality and how it wants to make consumers feel. That could span from pure excitement or happiness, through to a feeling of calmness and serenity.
Blend simplicity with originality: The key to success will be down to creating something that is unique enough to stand out in the market, whilst being stripped back enough to be effortless, catchy and, most importantly hummable.
As technology evolves and humans become increasingly plugged into it, sound design is going to become a huge part of creating authentic media experiences. As this shift takes place it is vital that branding is viewed as a multi-sensory platform that appeals to consumers in a multitude of different ways. Brands that embrace this approach and invest in audio will find themselves centre stage, with an audience that wants to listen.
This article was originally featured in Shots
‘From the ashes, a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring’ – J.R.R. Tolkien
The pandemic has changed the world as we know it. Industries, from travel all the way through to entertainment, have been severely affected by Coronavirus. But none of these have been tougher to witness than the impact on the charity sector.
What has been so concerning is that as the pandemic has worsened, demand for charity services has increased but overall income has fallen. A vicious loop which has led to charities in the UK losing an estimated £4.3 billion (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) already, whilst 60% more people are now dependent on essential charity donations (Charity Today). In short, charities have never been so needed and yet they have never been so vulnerable themselves.
However, sometimes out of the darkest moments comes the brightest of lights. The British public never fails to support a good cause and donated a staggering total of £5.4 billion to charity between January and June 2020 – an increase of £800 million compared to the same period in 2019 (CAF). There was a surge in volunteering and inspirational figures such as Captain Sir Tom Moore stepped up to raise money for NHS charities.
In spite of these heroics and the kindness of the nation, the situation has unfortunately remained bleak with analysis by independent charity Pro Bono Economics predicting that out of the UK’s 170,000 charities, one in 10 could face bankruptcy, with smaller charities being most at risk. Even high-profile names such as Children In Need and Royal British Legion’s annual poppy appeal have been hit, with both experiencing declines in overall donations.
In uncertain times like these, dramatic action is needed. Charities must be hard on themselves and identify even the smallest of weaknesses that could be holding them back. Weaknesses must be turned into strengths and used to help them grow. If a charity can rise out of the pandemic, it will never stop.
The way a charity represents itself to the public is crucial. A strong brand positioning creates differentiation in the market, enables a connection with consumers and ultimately helps build trust. It also helps increase income as consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23% (Forbes). A brand DNA consists of everything, from the personality and tone of voice, through to distinctive assets such as a logo, typeface and sound design that will build mental recall with consumers. By re-evaluating their brand make up and ensuring consistency across communication platforms, charities will have a strong foundation to build upon moving forward.
According to a recent survey carried out by Loqate and Acevo, a shocking 66% of charities aren’t confident in their own data. Areas such as analytics, consumer experience, campaign management and reporting all risk being damaged, which can directly impact an organisation’s efficiency and reputation. With data decaying by 20% year on year, it is integral that charities implement a data driven culture to ensure they don’t damage their brand, infringe on GDPR regulations and lose out on revenue. The key is to identify what data you need, then establish how to collect it and ultimately how to use it effectively.
For brands, targeting the correct consumers is fundamental to success both in terms of engagement, but also profit. One tactic to increase profits is to diversify when it comes to audience and look outside the box for future donators. Charity target audiences have traditionally been made up of older demographics. However, a report published by Blackbaud revealed UK Generation Zers and Millennials are in fact the most generous givers. Charities would be wise to open their arms to younger potential donators and explore how to appeal to them moving forwards.
The world is digital, and for that reason, it is crucial that charities utilise key touchpoints to engage with their audiences. The website is an important place to start as it’s seen as the hub. Simplicity wins in this domain particularly when it comes to the donation page, with over a quarter of web users (26%) dropping out if there are too many fields to complete (Loqate). Email is also a key channel and still ranks best for ROI. Emphasis should be put on email engagement journeys, using compelling imagery and the power of personalisation. Social media, on the other hand, offers charities the chance to experiment with content such as Instagram stories to communicate a narrative and drive donations.
Embracing these areas will allow charities the chance to strengthen their brand for the future and rise once and for all.
Last week consumer goods giant RB – formerly Reckitt Benckiser and owner of brands such as Dettol and Cillit Bang – announced it was changing its name. Again. Back to Reckitt, in recognition of their founder, Isaac Reckitt. Why? Because nobody knew what RB meant or stood for. The nickname didn’t stick.
So that got me thinking…where do nicknames even come from? And what makes them last (or not)?
I’ve always wanted one, but the fact that my actual name was already viewed as a nickname made it a little hard. I suppose I wanted one to feel cooler. Obviously, I couldn’t pull that off and I accepted the fact that my surname was never going to reap the sort of street cred I was after. I moved on.
But I’m fascinated with how nicknames even come about. One boy at my school somehow managed to get the nickname ‘Fish’. Even the teachers called him it. I don’t even recall his real name. There’s no logic as to how this guy got the name in the first place, but that was his label forever.
And that’s the thing with nicknames. They sort of just…happen. You can’t force them even when you try, as I discovered. An episode of First Dates was on the TV the other night and a guest on it said she was desperate to be known as GiGi. Her name was Genevieve. But she so desperately wanted GiGi to be a thing. She introduced herself to her date stating her name was Genevieve but ‘you can call me GiGi’… *holds breath*
“Hi Genevieve, nice to meet you”
Oh, how disappointing.
Why is it that sometimes, despite your best efforts, names just stick?
The apparent need to get the ‘cool nickname’ doesn’t stop with myself or Genevieve. Companies too, seek out that gratification of being known in shorthand. A few years back there was definitely a trend going around for brands to do a ‘name drop’. Dunkin’ did it. So did HuffPost. Or should that be HuffPo?
But the trouble with this tactic is that brands are still held accountable to the same rules as people. If it doesn’t feel right – if it’s not an acknowledgement of how they are perceived by their customers – it just won’t happen. KFC is KFC because that’s what we all called it anyway. Same goes for Apple (Apple Computers) and HP (Hewlett Packard). But name drops or adaptions can only really be a reaction to a widely held view of the brand before it changes. It can’t be forced.
So going back to RB and the move to revert back to their old name. Why didn’t it stick? The reason is pretty much the same as why I never managed to get one. It was too forced. It wasn’t a natural evolution. The adoption of the initials was based purely on the fact that the original was “a bit of a mouthful”, according to former CEO Ranesh Kapoor. But that just isn’t a good enough reason. If the equity of the brand is in its heritage and you remove that label in the name, you’re removing value from your brand. And the fact that most people familiar with the company still referred to it as Reckitt after the change to RB, kind of solidifies the point. Just like GiGi, it wasn’t convincing enough.
Names aren’t everything when it comes to brands, but they do hold a particular amount of power if you treat them right. Acknowledge what you’re known for and play into that. Don’t try and leap ahead because people won’t buy into it. Instead, listen to your customers, recognise when a change is needed and react.
I am, however, still waiting for the day that McDonald’s changes its name to Maccy D’s.
Our favourite Brand philosopher, Simon Sinek, has suggested that trust requires a uniquely personal touch that cannot be replicated through technology. His firmly held belief in the need for in-person interactions led Sinek to assert that the video call would never replace the business trip.
In 2021 this is not our reality. With all travel more or less cancelled, not only has the video call replaced the business trip but also the 9 am office meeting. Which makes now the perfect time to revisit his argument and ask ourselves some difficult questions about trust:
For the sake of simplicity, we will use Sinek’s own definition of trust: a feeling that comes from a set of mutual values and beliefs which allows us to be able to be vulnerable and take risks.
From a branding perspective, trusting a brand often means choosing to spend your money with them over the competition. The risk you take is financial, and you are vulnerable until the company has completed their part of the transaction, hopefully to the standard you expected.
Sinek’s definition is built on the idea that shared values bring about trust. He talks about trust as if it is simple. Something that, if all the conditions are correct, almost naturally occurs. However, the truth is that trust is not as rational as he makes it sound.
People make subconscious decisions about whether to trust others based on irrational signals. Psychology experiments have shown that people tend to agree on whether others look trustworthy. But there is no evidence to suggest that those who ‘look trustworthy’ are more trustworthy than average. Read more here
And, Sinek underestimates the amount of underlying trust people have in the world around them. Without even thinking about it, we trust pilots to be sober and alert, drivers to stay in their lanes, and your alarm to wake you up in the morning. It is often not until this trust is broken that we start to question what, why, and who we trust.
Think about it, when you were a child trusted implicitly; you had no reason not to – and it suited your parents and teachers if you believed everything they said! It’s not until people begin to let you down or betray your trust you became wary and sceptical about where to place your trust.
Even if trust is illogical, there are still ways to influence it. The psychology behind trust is evolving, but one theory suggests that possessing particular attributes make it more likely that others will trust you, such as:
Ability; can you do what you are promising? This is situation-specific; you might trust your accountant to do your tax return but not to babysit.
Benevolence; do you have our best interests at heart? This attribute might explain why you keep trusting unreliable friends.
Integrity; do you have a set of values you live by? And do we share these values with you?
We don’t explicitly ask ourselves these questions when deciding whether to trust someone. We do not often consciously consider trust at all. Instead, we pick up subconscious signals that result in the gut feeling we can choose to act on.
If we accept that these attributes can encourage trust, then we need to look at the situations in which they can arise. For example, can you get a sense of someone’s integrity through a video call, and can we sense them in non-human things such as businesses?
There will always be some element of human interaction that doesn’t come across online. Although, as we get more used to online calls, we will improve our ability to be authentic online. This will help us to read the people we are talking to and build relationships with them.
Besides, you don’t need in-person interactions to pick up on attributes that influence trust. Ability, benevolence and integrity can come through in actions as well as conversations.
Just as with people, we get a feeling from brands about whether we can trust them. Strong brands, guided by purpose, have distinctive personalities, tone of voice and values. If their marketing and communications teams are doing a good job, their audiences will pick up on these and build closer relationships with them.
Patagonia is an excellent example of a strong brand. Visit their website or scroll through their Instagram and it’s immediately clear, sustainability is at the heart of what they do. Their whole brand is built around letting people enjoy natural environments in a way that doesn’t hurt them. They talk about this more than they do their clothes and, importantly, sustainability is something that they practice as well as preach.
Both brands’ rhetoric and their actions contribute to trusting relationships with their customers. Saying ‘you can trust us’ is not enough. Companies need to demonstrate their values and allow them to guide their decisions. If their actions do not match up with what they say, it can damage their reputation and the level of trust their customers have in them
Take McDonald’s as an example of this not going to plan – when people learned that their recyclable straws weren’t in fact recyclable, they lost that trust from their audience that they were trying to ‘do good’. Though they talked about reducing their environmental impact, McDonald’s’ actions showed this was not something they truly cared about, which damaged their integrity. However, other brands have been more successful in demonstrating the characteristics required to encourage trust.
The finance sector is reliant on trust. Unless you’ve channelled your inner pirate, and have buried your valuables, your money is looked after by financial institutions. This is a risk because the decisions they make could cause you to lose a lot of money: you are extremely vulnerable to them. The level of trust required to deposit your life savings with a bank is much higher than that needed to try a new restaurant or buy a new TV. This means that businesses in this sector need to put more work into being trustworthy.
When Cashflows’, the payment solution company, asked us to develop their new identity, we knew that we had to build a brand that their customers would trust. A brand that shows they can deliver the simplified solutions they advertise. And that clearly explains the benefits of their services to their customers. The visual identity we created, focused around creating business flow, helps to develop this. Read the full case study here.
It’s up to Cashflows to maintain their brands’ integrity. They can do this by being consistent in their offering, putting their customers first, and continuing to let their purpose guide their actions.
It’s not as simple as Simon says. Trust is a complicated concept, many factors influence it, some of which are out of our control. Having said that there are things you can do to make it more likely that others will trust you.
Sinek’s suggestion that business will never move online has been disproved – in a way none of us predicted. But decreased human interaction doesn’t have to result in a decrease in trust. People, and brands, who continue to demonstrate ability, benevolence and integrity in a manner that is authentic to them can maintain trust without in-person communication.
Google: Did you mean desensitising?
The other week I shared the stunning masterpiece that was the new Macmillan advert and as I searched for a way to express the reason why everyone needed to watch it immediately, I found myself googling whether ‘resensitising’ was a word or not.
Turns out, it technically is (you’ll get 14 points on Scrabble) but given the little red underline as I type it out, and Google’s insistence that I mean desensitising, I guess it is a word but not one that’s regularly in use.
Here’s the thing: it definitely should be. In fact, it should be up there with the very best words. You know the really good ones that are just lovely to use. Like sumptuous or miraculous. Something that immediately captures what you feel in that particular moment.
But it’s not, and that’s probably because its older sibling is too busy throwing itself around.
Desensitisation isn’t a difficult concept to understand. In a similar way to tuning out your mother remonstrating against your untidy teenage bedroom, anything repeated too often without adding any value – i.e. an interesting thought or a different opinion – the inevitable effect will be that it no longer holds attention. It becomes unimportant. Uninteresting. And just all round ineffective.
In the worst cases, it actively works against you. A good example is the plinky plonk piano soundtrack that must have been purchased by every major corporate brand back in March who just weren’t quite sure what on earth to do. The Zoom mosaic was also a personal favourite, as was, of course, the ‘now, more than ever’ rhetoric we all know and love so much.
With every appearance of one of those elements, our minds switch off. Why? Because we’d had enough of it. And that was just two weeks into it. Enough of the disingenuous claims of care. Enough of the lacklustre efforts to pull at our heartstrings. Enough of seeing brands pop up who hadn’t spoken to us in years and suddenly exclaim their love and support of ‘us’. It sort of felt like an ex-best friend sliding into your inbox to ask how you were doing, only to follow with the usual request to stay at your flat for their long weekend in London that they didn’t tell you about. It was lazy. And above all else, fake. And that’s a curse I wouldn’t wish upon any brand.
So how do you combat that? How can you keep your message of the moment…interesting…fresh? How do you stop the desensitised state of the world post-pandemic?
It’s simple – do what MacMillan did. Resensitise. Breathe life into the screen. In that advert, every moment counted. Every note of the soundtrack was thought about. For goodness sake, even the microwave ‘bing’ gave me chills because it was so accurate. So horrifyingly true. And so effortlessly simple to convey.
Brands need to think about something that for some reason felt alien to a lot of them up until very recently. Be a little braver. A little more honest. Maybe a touch more human.
Remember who you’re talking to, and most importantly, remember what you’re selling. This isn’t about going for Braveheart emotion if you’re selling sofas. There are other ways to engage on a more human level. Don’t insult audiences with false messages if you don’t mean them. We’re more sophisticated than that. Give credit to them and be a bit bolder in a way that makes the most sense.
Try to make resensitising a thing.
Nikki joined Curious as our Strategy Director in 2018, taking the lead on new clients for the business, developing outstanding strategies and overseeing our marketing function.
Founder and Executive Creative Director, Peter Rae says, ‘Nikki brings a passion and commitment to doing the best work possible for every client, and this has been reflected in her growing success professionally. She has a natural curiosity that opens up new thinking and creativity for our clients. I am thrilled we are able to promote internally and that we are championing talent that truly reflects who we are as an agency.’
Nikki’s promotion signals the start of a new momentum for Curious. Nikki and Peter will be working together to ensure that Curious is in the best possible position to deliver on our exciting plans: to grow into new sectors, expand our creative and digital offerings, and enter new territories.
Peter commented, ‘this is the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Curious and I’m confident Nikki is best placed to guide the agency forwards to reach new heights.’
Her new role will see Nikki take the lead in developing Curious’ people, investing in learning and development and helping us be the best version of ourselves. She will also be driving wider initiatives to support the ongoing growth of the business.
Nikki is excited about the challenge her new role will bring. She says, ‘since joining Curious, I’ve been so impressed with the agency’s ambition and creativity. I’m happy to be stepping up to a role that will allow me to play an important part in shaping the agency’s future – I can’t wait to see what we can achieve’.
We’re really excited to get going too!
Through the lens of retail, we take a look at how advancements in technology have shifted business online and what this means for brands going forward.
We’ve been hearing about the declining footfall for years. It’s on the news, and it’s in the boarded-up shops of our local high street. Improvements in technology have meant it’s now so much easier to buy something online than to go to a shop to find it. Even before Coronavirus forced us all indoors, many of us were choosing online shopping over popping to the shops.
Non-essential shops have been closed for much of the last year. Any items that can’t be found in supermarkets, garden centres or hardware stores had to be bought online. This has forced people who wouldn’t normally consider online shopping to rely on it. And, now that they’ve tried it, many people will continue to shop online. According to BrandWatch, 73% of people who bought clothes online during lockdown will continue to do so in the future.
But before we condemn in-person shopping to the past, we should consider why it has survived up to now. There are two main reasons people still visit stores.
The first reason people might prefer shopping in person is if they don’t feel comfortable shopping online. Those of us who didn’t grow up with the technology for online shopping might not feel confident using it.
The second reason is simply that people enjoy going shopping. It’s fun. And sometimes we want to see the items we’re considering in real life before we buy them. Even though Gen-Zers are twice as likely as millennials to shop on their phones, two-thirds of them still prefer to shop in person (BelVG).
We predict that, when they can, most people will go back to physical shopping (always or occasionally). After all, we saw how busy the shops were before Christmas.
But, online shopping will have won new converts as more people than ever have tried it. After the initial wave of excitement of the relaxation of Covid restrictions dies down, highstreets will once again see a decline in footfall as the convenience of online shopping wins beats the excitement of shopping in person.
In the medium to long term, we predict more closures. The casualties will be shops that can’t turn shopping into the experience that consumers crave. Retail parks and shopping centres that offer other activities alongside shopping are better placed to do this. Even pre-pandemic, they had a higher footfall than high street shops (British Retail Consortium).
So, the internet is going nowhere – that shouldn’t be news to anyone. The increasing reliance on the digital sphere in business will affect all industries, not just retail. To be competitive, companies are going to have to grow their digital offering. But it’s important to remember that technology won’t be what sets them apart. Everyone will be able to offer similar things. What will make companies stand out is how well their online experience encapsulates their brand. This is where we come in.
On top of a seamless UX/UI experience, companies need to make sure their brand is consistent and optimised to every platform the consumer interacts with. There should be no disconnect between how a brand feels and presents itself online and in person. A bad experience with either could mean a consumer completes their purchase journey elsewhere.
Interested in finding out more about what makes a great digital experience? Read our interview with Curious’ Digital Creative Director.
To deliver a consistent experience, businesses will need to know themselves and their customers. Understanding their purpose and personality will influence how they use technology and present themselves in the digital space. Doing this well will set them apart from the competition. Learn how to uncover your brand purpose here.
Tech is already changing retail. If the trends we’re seeing continue, retailers will rely more on online sales and have fewer physical stores. There will be less opportunity for in-person interaction which means digital touchpoints will need to work harder and embody the brand in a more meaningful way.
As companies continue to explore what technology can do for them, they must not lose sight of who they are. Not all companies will use tech in the same way – and that’s a good thing – differences create interest. The companies who understand their purpose and harness technology in a way that amplifies their brand will be those who benefit most from the opportunities technological advancements provide.
With this in mind, now is the perfect time for companies to reflect. Ask fundamental questions about their business and consumers. Go back to basics and consider why they do what they do. With a strong sense of identity and purpose to guide them, businesses can harness technology in a way that is authentic to their brand and feels natural to their customers.
Winning isn’t everything.
But when you do win it sure feels good! We’re delighted to have won not one but TWO awards for the 2021 Graphis poster annual competition.
Our clients Crossborder and iQ both took home some bling for the rather bright and colourful poster designs we created. We loved the challenge of using a traditional medium to bring the brands to life and show how visually they can stand out against the crowd.
In their own words, “Graphis is committed to promoting the work of exceptional talent in Design, Advertising, Photography and Art/Illustration.”
…we’re chuffed to be included in that category! You can find out more about the awards and browse the other winners here.
Now, off to go and find some champers to celebrate – socially distanced in our slippers of course.
Ever wondered what life would be like if you had a crystal ball? Or what about just a simple genie in a lamp Aladdin style? Us too. But alas, despite staring into our snow globes over these past few months we haven’t had much luck predicting what might happen now things are opening up again. That’s ok though – if we’ve learned anything in 2020 it’s that nobody can really know what will happen.
But there’s something else we’ve learned. And that is, despite a reasonably murky time ahead, it always, always helps to be prepared…
We’ve all had to do a lot of adjusting. From the days of not being able to buy toilet roll ANYWHERE to having to set a reminder on your phone to take your handy face mask with you every time you leave the house, it seems to be a continual rollercoaster.
And while the general public has had to cope with a great deal of change, businesses have had to try and do their best to keep up as well.
From Uber thanking people for not using their service to gyms launching online workout platforms, it’s safe to say this year has tested brands to their limits. But the reality is, we’re very far from being out of the woods yet. Although life has adjusted and will continue to adjust, unfortunately brands will need to constantly play catch up for the foreseeable future. And even though people might be slightly more forgiving given the circumstances, the truth is consumers will still expect the same level of experience from the brands they use.
Even though the game has changed, the crowd still expect to be entertained.
Ok, we know technically we just said we don’t know what will happen, but we’d like to circle back to our favourite Scout motto – Always Be Prepared.
Even though there is very little we can control in terms of the ongoing situation, we still need to work out what we can influence. After all, the businesses that stand still will fall over eventually. In order to keep your brand front of mind for your consumers, companies need to keep moving and working out how to pivot their onward strategy to get ahead.
When we’re faced with uncertainty, the best idea is to look at what you can control. And when it comes to branding, that means this:
Taking the time to invest in the above areas will only make your brand stronger. It will give you a solid platform from which you can build your next course of action. By focussing on these aspects of your brand, you’ll be able to start pinpointing what is right for your business – and also what your customers will be motivated and excited by.
You can then ask the questions that will naturally come to mind as you start to work out how to keep moving things forward:
Turning a negative into a positive is one of the most valuable skills a company can have. But you need to have a solid brand to achieve this. It requires a deep knowledge of not just your sector, but also your audience and what permissions your brand has to capitalise on whatever opportunity is out there.
We’re so very glad you asked. We’ve been helping brands find their purpose and bring that to life for over 18 years, so you could say we know what we’re talking about. We’ve been thinking about how we could share our curiosity, and, after quite a few Zooms and the odd Hangout, we’re ready to launch something we’ve called The What’s Next Workshops.
Read more about the What’s Next Workshops here…
Nobody likes change. It makes most of us feel uncomfortable. But it’s not the word itself that troubles us – it’s the idea of the unknown. We’re creatures of habit. It’s a universal trait that we all share. Imagine if, for example you suddenly switched to a new brand of toothpaste with no prior warning, or someone sat in your seat at the kitchen table? Or, even worse, you were asked to add the milk in before the hot water to your cup of tea (yikes). The world would simply end, wouldn’t it?
And yet, as the well-used saying goes, change is the only constant in life. It’s unescapable and it will always, always happen. There’s no doubt about it – like it or not, we all have to embrace change.
When we apply the subject of change to branding, it’s no surprise that at one point sooner or later, the question around whether or not your brand might need to change will come up… Is it still fit for purpose? Will this new offer change how we need to speak about ourselves? Or the one we all tend to dread…how do we compete with these new competitors that have suddenly appeared? The list goes on.
So, how on earth do you go about answering these questions?
Here at Curious we spend our days doing just that – answering the questions that surround the changing world of brands. And interestingly enough, there tends to be a pretty robust approach to dealing with these upfront questions.
Written below are the key questions and top tips we’ve gathered over the years to help ease you into the process…
Do we really need to change?
Acceptance is the first step toward change. But it’s also often the hardest step to make. Unless there is a clear and urgent need, it’s far easier to sweep things under the carpet. We always know when something isn’t quite right, but if we can’t easily fix it, it’s forgivable to admit to crossing your fingers and hoping everything magically becomes ok.
Businesses experience the same issues with their brand. The first question people will ask is “why change?” if they are comfortable and things are going smoothy. So spending time understanding the reasons behind needing to rebrand is without a doubt the first hurdle to overcome in the process. But sometimes it can be hard to pin it down to one thing – often companies sense a change is needed, and sometimes that’s steered by a very obvious shift, but other times it can be a whole host of small updates that add up to something needing to happen.
Although the above list isn’t exhaustive, it certainly covers the majority of issues a brand needs to address. You can read more about these reasons here. From the above however, it’s possible to group the reasons to rebrand into two categories: proactive and reactive. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what separates the two, but it’s worth clarifying in order to understand the initial motivations behind undertaking a rebranding project.
Proactive branding is driven by opportunity. It happens when a company realises a gap in the market that a new brand will help to fill.
Reactive branding occurs through necessity. Either because of a merger or acquisition, a shift in offer or a need to rebuild a reputation.
Both are valid initiations of change, but they take the form of different degrees of change.
How much do we want to change?
So, you’ve identified that your brand needs to change. That’s a big step in itself. If we’ve guessed right, chances are it’s likely because of one (or more) of the reasons listed above, and it’s either a proactive change or a reactive change. Either way, the next question to ask is “How much?”
Picture this. You’re in your local hairdresser. They’ve offered you a tea or coffee and you’ve even lucked out with a nice biscuit. Hooray. Next up is the classic question: “So, what are we doing today?” You take a sip and contemplate.
Will it be just a tidy up? Or are you feeling more adventurous?
Switch back to the world of branding and it’s a similar scenario. A full rebrand or just a refresh? Working this out might be very straightforward, depending on how you answered the previous question of why you need to rebrand. But getting an agreement on how far you want to change from all stakeholders of the brand is imperative. After all, nobody walks around with just half their head shaved off. Unless you rock a mullet. In which case, we salute you.
Where do we begin?
When it comes to carrying out a rebrand, your level of success will be dictated by how robust your planning is. Diving straight in and cutting corners without taking stock of what it ultimately needs to achieve won’t do anyone any favours. Think about it in the same way as going on holiday. In order to enjoy that cocktail on the sun lounger, you’ll need to spend a bit of time sorting everything out before you take that first sip. Unless you like to plan your holidays similar to Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach that is.
What do we need to know?
Turns out your teachers from school had a point. As with any investment, undertaking solid research before ploughing ahead is essential to know what lies in store…
What’s already out there? What’s performing well? Change to ‘Which of our competitors are we envious of and why? How are our customers behaving? Is this likely to change in the next few years? What is driving that change? How can we get ahead?
These are just a few questions we hear from clients on a regular basis. They naturally come up at the beginning of projects and if they aren’t fully investigated then, when it comes to further down the line, issues will likely arise. If you spend the time to carry out consumer research, you’ll ensure the new brand speaks directly to the intended audiences.
But above this, keeping an eye on the competition is just as important. Beyond the obvious need to avoid anything that could be considered ‘too close for comfort’ from a visual perspective, identifying what the opposition does well can be just as beneficial. Instead of letting this annoy you, why not work out what it is that they have going for them and find a way to use this to your own brand’s advantage? After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, hey?
What’s the big idea, anyway?
We’ve touched on how important getting the right approach and doing the research is for a successful rebrand, but what needs to happen between that and doing excellent design work?
The answer to that is simple. We need to work out why you exist in the first place.
…ok, so perhaps it’s not so simple to answer immediately – it is a pretty big question. But while most companies wrestle with the latest way to describe ‘what’ they do, it’s the businesses that can articulate ‘why’ they do it that ultimately win.
The reality is, until you can answer this, you won’t have a meaningful brand. Because that is fundamentally what your clients will be asking of you. They need to know why they should buy into your offer, instead of the countless other companies they could choose from. And they need to get this message translated to them fast – unfortunately we as a collective aren’t naturally blessed with patience. So, the brand proposition needs to be sharp enough to get their attention.
The good news is, it can be relatively easy to reach the answer. By working through the overall goals of the business, assessing the research, understanding where you’ve come from and most importantly where you need to get to, it’s possible to define an incredibly strong brand positioning.
Reaching this does require a level of open mindedness and ensuring you involve the right people in the company, but with the correct approach it will become a very effective piece of work which can then be used to guide the creative process.
How do we know what’s right?
The question on everyone’s lips. Knowing what the finished brand will look like is always the thing you will be most anxious to find out. But the truth is this won’t be revealed until the creative stages start to shape it. However, so long as the previous steps have been followed and we have a strong brand positioning, the creative will fall out of this. All of the work that will have been carried out leads to this point so that your business objectives, client messages, company culture and future ambitions are translated into a visually compelling and strategically sound brand.
However, there’s never one approach for the visual identity. When you enter the creative stages of a rebrand, the aim should be that you’re spoilt for choice. Multiple ‘levers’ need to be pushed and pulled in order to test and examine the right tone and direction of the brand. As well as taking guidance from the previous strategic stages, the visual style will also have a lot to do with those closest to the brand – the internal audience. So, cultivating a close relationship between branding agency and client is crucial. After all, how can you expect to get a brand that taps directly into the heart of your company if you don’t believe the people attempting to do so ‘get you’? Like walking into a new home, it has to feel ‘just right’.
As much as the creative output is the main deliverable of a rebrand, it’s merely the result of a long stream of steps leading up to launching it – get these wrong and risk having a brand that just doesn’t hit the mark. But, get it right and you should have a brand built to last.
If you’re thinking of taking another look at your brand, why not get in touch. We’d be curious to learn more.
Okay. So remote working is nothing new. Skype popped up circa 2003 and since then we’ve had a whole host of technological advancements that means we can basically have holograms of our colleagues in the same room to host a meeting (we made that last part up but who knows what Elon Musk is up to now). The point is, working from home was never unthinkable pre-lockdown, but like most other businesses in the UK we hadn’t yet found the secret recipe for remote working.
And then we were all plunged head-first into it. Yikes.
Like most of you, we began studying all of the thousands of resources out there sharing insights and words of wisdom to help organisations navigate through their new home set ups. And while there were some more helpful than others, we started to notice a pattern about how the fundamental idea of an office was changing. And we started (as we tend to do) to ask questions about it…
Do we need one? What is it there for? How do we use it?
The truth is, we bloody love our studio. In case you didn’t know, it’s right slap bang in the centre of Covent Garden, London. And apart from the slight issue of trying to ignore all of the lovely shops in an attempt to rescue our bank balances on our lunch breaks, it is hands down one of London’s best spots. Our studio is a buzzing mix of creative workshops and questionable Spotify playlists. It’s where we think about the different ways we can bring brands to life and how we can keep surprising our clients. We’ve been there for nine years and we like to think of it as our home of curiosity. And biscuits. Lots of biscuits.
But working from home has its perks. So what’s the right step forward now that we’re emerging from the necessary to the voluntary?
People want to do it
It’s no secret that the entire British population has discovered that commuting sucks. In fact, 86% of people said in a poll that they’d prefer to work from somewhere other than their office at least once a week. There are of course, a lot of other benefits ranging from more family time to increased productivity. So, once you add all of this together, any smart business will need to take all of this into consideration.
The talent pool turns into a talent ocean
Remote working basically means you can have an unlimited amount of office space. And although most of them may not have a Pret nearby, it means you can pull in talent from all corners of the globe. This is something we’re not a stranger to – last summer we were jumping on video calls with one of our designers living in Spain for the summer (we weren’t jealous at all. Not one bit). So it’s pretty exciting to think we could be working with people from all kinds of time zones – hopefully that doesn’t mean calls at 4am though.
Flexible working means trust
One of the biggest apprehensions companies would have had against working from home before all of this was the issue of trust. It’s true, the responsibility to manage time and productivity relies on the individuals within a team much more so than in the office. But if you have a strong culture whereby everyone is working towards the same goal, this should be easily tackled. And if it’s not, then there are probably bigger issues to address.
No commute means no pollute
Okay, we tried our best to avoid that rhyme but we couldn’t help ourselves. Sorry. But you get our point – with less people clogging up roads and transport links, the planet should in theory have a bit more breathing room. Not only do our bank balances look healthier because of it, so too will the environment.
An office is the hub of culture
No matter how many funny Zoom backgrounds you can fit into one video call, it still doesn’t quite match up to the buzziness of a good office environment. From Monday morning all-hands meetings to Thursday afternoon Lunch and Learns (notice how it tends to revolve around food and drink) our office is the place we can really build our agency culture. Unfortunately, screens do get in the way of this when we’re all working from our bedrooms.
It’s where your brand comes to life physically
Aside from the famous Curious branded T-shirts we store in our studio, we also use it to host a whole range of activities from naming workshops to mood board sessions. Trying to do this all remote is possible of course, but we do miss our trusty Post-It notes. Not to mention our lovely Curious Wall of Fame (see photo above).
You get to see real, live people
…In case this wasn’t obvious, in an office, you get to actually chat in person! Mad right?! But it’s something we genuinely miss. Catching up over a coffee in the kitchen or enjoying a well-deserved drink at the end of the week is a lot better when you aren’t speaking to yourself.
Work is work, home is home
It’s a lot harder to relax and unwind after work when you’re sat on the same sofa trying to watch Gogglebox that you were sitting on when you did that important client phone call earlier. Entering the physical space of an office – and then leaving it at the end of the day – is a real signal to our brains to switch on and off.
Here’s the thing. We know that it’s pretty difficult to plan for anything right now. But we do know that all of the above points need to be considered.
We definitely don’t want to lose any of the good bits of working from home that we’ve all enjoyed over the last few months. But equally, just because everything changed so dramatically as we went into lockdown doesn’t mean we have to rush to go back to a long-term plan. We’ve got time. We can really think about what options there are and what will work for our business. Because everyone is different and what works for some companies won’t work for others.
Our ideal scenario would be to see our office as a place we can come together to share and create brilliant ideas, and our homes (or wherever we feel most inspired) as a place to bring these to life. Creativity can happen anywhere, so we want to encourage that wherever possible, and at the same time provide opportunities for our team to come and share their thinking in a space specially designed for all things Curious. The best of both worlds, hopefully.
We’ll continue to adapt and learn from the things we test out, but our ability to create the best work possible for our clients will always be our focus.
We all love some retro Kelly Clarkson, but probe a bit deeper and there’s much more to learn from the pop ballad classic when it comes to your brand. Read on to find out more…
Like it or not, competition is all around us. Whether it’s landing that dream job or getting the last seat on the tube, we all have to deal with it at some point. And when it comes to businesses, with constant advancements in technology and changing buying behaviours, the reality is we’re going to have to live with the fact there will always be someone competing for a piece of the pie. So, besides ensuring you have the best product or service out there, how can your brand help you stay ahead of the game?
Well for starters you’ll need to make sure it’s unique and own-able. Having a clear brand purpose is key to achieving this (don’t worry, we’ve written more about this here). But besides that, there’s actually a lot to learn from your competition. Think about it in the same way professional athletes study their opponents – they do this to understand their strengths and weaknesses in order to beat them. And while we aren’t suggesting you need to start training like a pro tennis player anytime soon, you still should be reading this and wondering what else is out there.
This question should be asked not only at the start of your company’s journey, but on a continual basis. If you aren’t aware of the latest businesses operating in a similar space as you, this will need to change. To put it bluntly, inward looking companies will never move as far forwards as those who look beyond just themselves. And when it comes to branding, there is a lot we can learn from those who we tend to come up against the most…
What message are they communicating? Are they focusing on a particular audience? How does their brand translate onto their website? Are they consistent?
Any of these questions ring a bell? Congrats if they do. By asking any of the above, you’ll start to look at yourselves differently. But it doesn’t stop here, the real way to learn from the competition is to dive deeper, and get to the core of what they’re about. Remember what we said about Kelly Clarkson? Time to get a little more scientific about how you start assessing who you’re up against…
As much as you might’ve hated this at school, without putting in the time to plot out where your key competition operates, you simply won’t be able to position yourself. And the way to do this is by carrying out the proper research. Your brand strategy needs to be stress tested against what your competition is saying in order to confirm it is completely yours to own. Without doing this, you’ll be making decisions with no real way to judge whether it is unique or not. Launching a brand without checking what’s already out there is kind of like telling the same joke your friend said ten minutes earlier – and nobody wants to be caught doing that. You need to establish what’s in the market, what’s working and what isn’t and understand how your audience is responding in order to set yourself apart (and make sure to tell better jokes).
Sound simple enough? Let’s make it even simpler for you with a few areas to focus on…
1. Clean out your closet
Every research project should start close to home. If you don’t carefully analyse what you store in your own brand you won’t have the full scope of what others are doing differently. Spending time unpicking the resources you have to hand will allow you to paint a good picture of where you’re starting from. So, now is the time to look at the core elements of your brand – your website, sales collateral, presentations – and work out what should stay and what can go. That way you’ll know what you’ve got to work with.
2. Create your ‘hitlist’
Everyone will know a handful of competitors who continue to crop up and generally get in the way of you ruling the world – if you don’t, well lucky you (we don’t believe you though). The world is getting smaller and smaller and with so many different companies out there ‘changing the game’ it would be fairly naive to think you were the only ones. (Sorry.) But creating a robust list of competitors often requires a bit more thinking. There will be the usual suspects of course, but in order to have a truly representative landscape, you’ll need to consider where your company is heading in the next few years.
Are you planning to launch new services? Developing any new products? How about opening an office abroad? Has there been a big shift in the way you deal with customers? Have you upgraded the technology you use?
All of these questions should help you realise that the competitors you face today will most likely change tomorrow. Keeping these questions top of mind as you map everything out is important to ensure you capture everyone in your net. At the same time, you can’t possibly deal with everyone. So, once you’ve covered all the bases, you’ll need to do some prioritising. We’d recommend 5-10 key competitors as a good range to stick to with a mix of locations and sizes. That way you can get a broad understanding of who you’re really up against.
3. Break it all down
Once you’ve got your list of competitors, it’s then time to start analysing how their brands actually work. This isn’t as straightforward as saying you like the shade of purple they’ve used on their website – it needs to be a structured process. Think about approaching it in the same way you’d approach tackling a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Only a maniac would start trying to fit together the first pieces they pick up – you need to sort through the whole box, find those trusted corners, get all the blue pieces for the sky and only then do you tear your hair out trying to find the right piece to finish off that pesky tree. When it comes to breaking down a brand, it’s all about separating out all of the assets and putting them into buckets to analyse more closely.
A few questions to help you compartmentalise:
There are countless places a brand can show up. Here’s a list of some of the assets we’d recommend including in your list:
4. Diving deep into enemy territory
Now is the time to pore over websites, scroll through social media pages, read the latest articles on Google – we don’t have to tell you that the more thorough you are, the better results you’ll get. This will all build towards getting an accurate picture of what the landscape looks like. It’s a good idea to consider the brand from both verbal and visual angles. This is because quite often a brand may appear on the surface to lack good visual design, but their tone of voice can be quite powerful and hit the mark with audiences.
When you look at the verbal language a brand adopts, it’s all about tone. Not just what is said but how it comes across.
You’ll need to consider both the top line messaging across a brand including headline copy and taglines (if they have them), as well as the overall style – is it consistent? Is it relatable to audiences? Is it ownable?
When you analyse the materials you gathered in Step 3, you’re looking for how they convey their overarching strategy. And because we do like a good question, here’s some to start you off when you look at brand language:
Ok so the title gives it away, but when it comes to the visual identity, we’re thinking about anything eh…visual. Logos, colours, typography, iconography, imagery…that sort of thing.
Again, it’s worth asking a few questions for each of your competitors…
5. ‘X’ marks the spot
Ah hoy there matey! Time to put everything you’ve learned down on paper and map everything out. Once you’ve collected all of the assets you possibly can and interrogated them to work out how their brands work, you’ll need to match them up against each other and add yourself into the mix. This process is technically called brand segmentation. But we prefer our pirate metaphor.
This step is about bringing everything together so you can see quite clearly where you sit and where the white space (opportunity) is. And while some competitors might be bolder and more confident, others might be slightly more reserved and cautious. Some might be positioned as high end; others may take a mass-appeal approach. Although these are general buckets, you can tailor them to your sector with different signals on the axis and see how things pan out.
A few things to think about as you do this final step…
Once you’ve got this down on paper, you’ll have a clear and objective understanding of not just the competition, but also your own strengths and weaknesses. You can then use this to create a unique brand positioning. Because the truth is, regardless of whether you work in retail or finance (or even hot yoga…we’ve dabbled in that sector before), if you don’t know what your competition is doing today, how are you supposed to know what to do tomorrow?
(Cue Kelly dropping the mic)
Hey, you. Ever wondered where the phrase “beat around the bush” actually came from?
Ok, perhaps you haven’t, but we have. And it turns out there’s an entirely logical reason behind it. Originally a hunting term, it was used to describe the act of hitting the undergrowth to flush out birds. However, beating a bush directly could prove risky because of the unknown dangerous hidden within (a nasty bees nest for example), so people did their best to avoid it.
So, a pretty straight forward, slightly interesting fact. But the reason it’s more interesting for us is how it has changed over time to mean something entirely different. Nowadays we use the phrase to describe avoiding a question, or stalling. Not getting to the point. And when we consider the application this phrase has in branding, things get more interesting.
The truth is, we only have a matter of seconds to get a message across. And it’s only when the message is articulated effectively that it inspires action – whether that’s buying a product or signing up to a service. Communicating complex information to potential customers is difficult enough, but try doing it when you only have a matter of seconds to grab their attention? Even harder. So, if you focus on messaging that doesn’t get to the heart of what you’re about, or you create a visual identity that is lacklustre in grabbing people’s attention, chances are you’ll be wasting precious time.
In the simplest terms, the way to focus on what will grab the attention of your audiences has to come from the brand itself – this is the mouthpiece of the business. What you’re selling, why you’re better, how you’re different, what makes you special… all need to be communicated within the brand framework. Not only does this dictate how you speak to your audiences, but it also clearly lays out who your audiences are in the first place.
When it comes to the work we do, half the battle is figuring out what the core idea of a brand could (or should) be. Once we have this, we then use our creativity to bring it to life. Sounds simple, right? But just as it was more appealing for the hunters to avoid hitting the bush directly, so too is it for businesses avoid tackling the big questions head on – what is it that needs to be the focus? What should stay? And the hardest…what needs to go?
All of these questions are important (and we do enjoy a few well-thought-out questions), but if you were to choose one question for your brand to answer, one that captures it all is summed up here: Why is it that you exist?
Working this out isn’t as straight forward as you might immediately think. Sure, you can say what you do and how you do it, but explaining why you do it is fairly challenging – thank you Simon Sinek. This is where the hard work comes in. Looking deeply at the competition, brands you like, brands you hate, brands you don’t think much about, understanding your audience, understanding your people… It’s all about identifying the gaps and then creating space between you and them. Having a purpose that sets you apart from the rest is ultimately what a brand needs in order to be successful. After all, great design only gets you so far without a compelling reason to be.
If you can get the answer to this question correct, you’ll very quickly unlock what the brand needs to become, because it forms your brand purpose. And remember, not everyone needs to buy into your purpose. It just needs to attract those who have a real connection with what your brand stands for. These are the people who will come back time and again to get the experience they’re looking for. And that’s called brand loyalty.
“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe”
– Simon Sinek
With your purpose as the starting point, defining how the brand needs to work becomes a lot easier (and enjoyable) to figure out. Things like brand values and tone of voice all stem from this central core idea, communicating everything that you need to say. The visual identity then brings everything to life.
So, when it comes to your brand, remember that beating around the bush is never a good idea. Get to the point, get to the heart of it all, and watch it grow.
Curious designer Emma Clarke takes a look at what being green really means when it comes to branding…
Creating a sustainable brand is no longer a niche topic. No matter where you look there will be something that mentions either climate change or sustainability. Finally people are starting to realise that our impact is becoming a significant threat to the planet. But if we don’t start actually addressing these issues now, will our planet still be around in 50 years time?
Most consumers in the past few years have started to incorporate sustainable practices in their day to day lives. This includes providing things such as reusable coffee cups, reusable straws and avoiding single use plastics (take note McDonald’s). And this has opened up a whole new marketplace for brands to grow into and for new brands to fill a gap. Consumers are becoming more clued up on where their products are coming from and the process behind how their products are made. There’s a rise in consumers seeking out brands which are more environmentally friendly. Companies are being forced to step up, listen and be more transparent. Brands who are failing to address these issues are losing out on a whole group of consumers.
Over the past few years, more and more sustainable brands have been popping up and growing in popularity. And a lot of these brands have been joining the market in a very disruptive way.
Here are a few that have been leading the way and making a positive impact…
Although Oatly has been around for years they have really started to dominate the sustainability market. Take their disruptive and playful slogan ‘like milk, but for humans’ as an example. They get across their message of doing everything they can to produce a plant-based milk in a way that’s the least harmful to the environment as possible.
For years Oatly has been releasing an annual sustainability report. This sounds like it would be a very dull, filled with pages and pages of technical jargon but Oatly has put their unique spin on it. Although the report is very informative, the pages are filled with illustrations and key stats pulled out in Oatly’s quirky tone of voice. This has made a document which would probably just be skimmed past into something which is actually enjoyable to read. Not only are Oatly producing a product which aligns with many consumers’ beliefs, they are educating people on ways in which brands should be stepping up and listening to those consumers’ beliefs.
Another brand which has been pioneering the sustainable marketplace is KeepCup. Nowadays when you walk into a coffee shop you’ll almost always see someone getting their coffee in a reusable cup. KeepCup has created a product which makes having a significant environmental impact a very simple task. But their goal isn’t just reducing their consumers’ environmental footprint. KeepCup has a very detailed responsibility section on their website outlining all the ways in which they are trying to be as environmentally conscious as possible. A large part of this is how they manufacture their products. They have made a real effort to try and manufacture close to where they are selling, thereby reducing their transit footprint – “The savings are not financial; they are environmental.”
Teapigs is another great example of a brand really doing their bit for the planet. Their whole brand was built off trying to make every product they create either recyclable, compostable or made from recycled materials. With tea bags being a generally non-recyclable product, Teapigs have taken it upon themselves to create tea bags which contain no plastic. Their tea bags even come in a bag which looks like plastic but is made from wood pulp, so is also compostable. They were the first tea company to be certified plastic free. Even though they are no longer the only certified plastic free tea company, they led the way. Other companies, take note.
The new environmental changes and breakthroughs shouldn’t just be down to challenger brands popping up, the large corporations have a role to play too. Consumers are becoming more interested in knowing what large brands are doing about their environmental responsibility.
Danone is a large corporation making big changes to adapt to the new sustainability conscious world. They are learning and growing from how their production journey impacts the environment, and ways to improve this. Over the last few years they have made a real attempt on reducing their emissions, from the very beginning of their production line all the way through to delivering to consumers. They’re even telling everyone when they believe what they’re doing isn’t enough for goodness sake! But this shows consumers that the brand is honest. It’s also a great step forward to show other brands that it’s okay not to get it 100% right first time (after all, we can’t all be perfect).
Consumers are paying more attention to which brands are addressing the sustainability issues and which brands aren’t. If brands want to survive in today’s world, they’re going to have to do more than just talk about environmental issues. They are going to have to really work on them. Consumers want to see dedication to the plan. All these new businesses popping up have really helped to educate people on what can be done. But is this causing other companies to see what people want and start to greenwash? Or will consumers become savvy to this giving smaller companies the chance to keep proving themselves?
Indulge us for a second. If we asked you to think about some popular brands, what comes to mind? A big tick? Some golden arches? Or maybe a Santa Claus driving a train? But what do they have in common? Simply put, they present a coherent message to their customers. This includes everything they do from design and words, through to product development.
How do they do it? And what’s the secret to unlocking this potential?
Nowadays it’s not just all about the price. Purchasing is often more of an emotional experience than a practical one. A Target audiences trust their favourite brands and return to them again and again. They know what to expect and they reward that with loyalty.
Your most valuable business asset is your brand – but we’re guessing you already know that since you’ve landed here (and we’re happy you have!). The question is how do you capitalise on it? Developing an understanding of your organisation’s vision and values is the first step. You can then focus on building clear brand guidelines. In turn, this gives your team the tools they need to create a clear identity and deliver your core message. Again and again and again…
But why is this so important? What’s the value to the business?
By developing your brand presence and making sure people know what to expect from you, you’ll be able to turn random consumers into regular shoppers. And engage them. And retain them. You’ll be able to build relationships with both existing and potential customers. Then they’ll start to identify with your brand and enjoy the experience.
Consider Nike. Their loyal customers know what to expect when they hear the name, see the advertising or just spot the Nike logo. Their brand is embedded in everything they do. So, Nike can retain their status as the leading – and most recognised – global sports brand. They just do it.
Want to share some of the glory? Great. Time for the hard work.
In order to create and present a cohesive brand to an audience, a certain amount of rigour has to be applied behind the scenes. Here’s the practical bit.
We’re not talking any old guidelines – they need to be pretty robust so that everyone who reads them can understand the brand. Why it’s this colour and not that, how to use the logo (and how not to) and even the different tones your brand should adopt. They’re basically the Holy Grail of your brand. Brand guidelines are the foundation of brand consistency standards. They ensure that all communications are on-point and consistent. They’re the rules. They guarantee that regardless of the format or touchpoint, anyone engaging with the brand will enjoy the same experience.
The guidelines are core to the way the company presents itself – being flexible enough to allow for creativity but prescriptive enough to keep your brand recognisable. Here are five tools you can add to your armoury:
What benefits will brand guidelines bring to the business?
Consumers trust the brand they know. Creating a brand with personality goes a long way to developing and cementing that vital relationship between brands and their customers.
We’re reassured by consistency and knowing what to expect (however adventurous we like to think we are). McDonalds are a good example of a leading global brand which embraces the benefits that this behaviour can bring. Customers know what to expect from McDonald’s wherever they are in the world. Their branding and products are consistent across the globe.
On the flip side, less successful brands can alienate their potential customers. They’re inconsistent. They’re unpredictable. They send out mixed signals. So, as consumers, we don’t remember them.
It’s time to create a compelling and impactful brand to ensure that today’s customers know what to expect. Steal a march on your competitors. By creating consistency throughout your brand you’re giving your customers what they want and they’ll be back. It allows you to build a stronger identity. It ensures you deliver a more cohesive message. It builds on the trust of your target audience. Time to dig a little deeper. How you can help your customers build a relationship with your brand?
Brand is a hot topic for tech companies. It’s not all that surprising, given that tech companies have now taken over the top brand charts. Last year, six of the top ten global brands reported in Interbrand’s Top 100 Global Brands were technology-led businesses. So, what makes a successful tech company? And what role does branding play in all of it?
It’s worth rewinding to five years ago when branding wasn’t the main priority. Getting the right product aimed at the right consumer was the thing that mattered. Technology companies were successful based on the answers to the below questions:
If the answer was ‘yes’ to any of the above that would have been enough.
But fast-forward to today and things have changed. It’s no longer business-as-usual in the tech sector. Suddenly there are seven other tech companies offering the same thing. How do you win the odds if there are others doing the same thing for a better price? What happens then?
We’re finding ourselves in a situation where having a product or service alone isn’t enough. Just like traditional products had to have more than just a great taste or usage, tech companies need to add more value.
Simple? Sort of.
The issues flare up when we start thinking about how to give tech companies ‘meaning’. For consumer products it was a walk in the park. They had a physical connection to the people buying their product. It fed right into their lifestyle, it had human interaction. With tech however, there is none. In fact, the whole purpose of a tech company, you could argue, is to remove complications that arise from having something done by a human.
So, how do you inject humanness into something with no humans in it? Well, that’s where a well thought out brand strategy becomes very handy.
By truly understanding the needs and wants of people who will use your service or product, you are better able to see your business from their perspective and pinpoint the purpose your company serves.
The answer to these questions provides the platform upon which an effective purpose-driven brand strategy can be built. And this strategy informs not only why you exist, but from a creative perspective, it’s what guides your whole look and feel.
It’s what makes your brand mean something.