When brands fight back: How to counter a rival brand attack in style

Whatever your business, whether it’s consumer-facing brands or b2b client work, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and getting an edge over the competition is essential. But what happens when the competition plays dirty?

 

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

1. Change the conversation

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.

2. Fight fire with the facts

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.

3. Listen and learn

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.

4. Remind the world

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.

5. Prioritise digital

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.

 

From the team: The importance of UX in digital design

Curious’ Digital Creative Director, Tom Windsor, speaks about what makes a great website and how Curious prioritises UX for exceptional results.

 

Have you noticed a change in the way clients talk about digital?

Our clients are now more aware of the importance of their digital offering. They recognise that it’s a vital part of their brand. Not that long ago, this wasn’t the case: clients would prioritise the visual design, and the website would be a second thought or seen as another bit of collateral to reskin.

Nowadays, there are a myriad of touchpoints where audiences interact with brands. This is an exciting opportunity for brands, but it also means they need to have more flexibility. They need to feel consistent while being able to adapt to multiple environments, audiences and devices. Within digital, brands need to adapt visually and emotionally across apps, websites, social media, tv, copy and more.

It’s an exciting time for digital but with increasing scrutiny, what needs to be focused on to create a great digital product?

It varies by project, but really UX is everything. Of course, there’s the visual element – people used to prioritise this when websites still imitated print – but now the focus has shifted towards users’ experience.

 

So UX can make or break a digital platform?

UX is about how the digital journey feels and how users interact with it. For us, it’s about tailoring design to be human-focused so that the end product is easy to use, focused on your users’ needs and goals, as well as looking great. And it can be applied to pretty much everything. Anything that someone will consume and make sense of should consider UX.

You can develop a fancy website that moves in an exciting way and looks beautiful, but if it’s not meeting your users’ needs or performing to your business goals, then it’s failing. Great design is about balancing the need for something beautiful, delightful and usable.

Figuring out where customers will land and what journey they’re likely to take through a website is similar to store ergonomics. Retail companies spend millions deciding on the best layout for their store, and stores will feel different for different brands. They consider where the customer is coming from, what they’re seeing first when they walk through the door and where they’re likely to walk next, ultimately predicting what they’ll go onto do. They do all this, all while providing a unique brand experience along the way.

By investing in UX brands can stand out from the out-of-the-box template websites that now exist. It’s getting easier for companies and individuals to build websites, which is great as that’s more access to information and resources for consumers. But it also means that websites all feel like the same format and churn out the same design. A good approach to UX can shake this up and make a brand experience feel unique.

Do you have any examples of websites where UX is considered well?

ASOS is a great example. Their website fulfils two key functions. It allows customers who are searching for a particular item to find it quickly. But, it also has a discovery function that allows customers to browse, similar to how customers might be inspired by the things they see whilst exploring in a shop. It serves multiple types of users.

They also do a great job of presenting their brand and leaving a lasting brand impression on their users through the content, language and experience. This is because they get their users and have invested in continuous research into their changing needs. The website is constantly evolving to adapt and the website components within their design system, allows ASOS to be hugely flexible.

How does Curious make sure they consider users in their work?

As an agency, our first step is always discovery. We do our research, and then we ask our client a lot of questions. It’s kind of our thing, and it’s where any good designer will start.

We have to think about both the users’ needs and our clients business requirements when designing any digital experience. Everything that follows from our initial discovery will consider how these needs can be met and be served by the same website in the simplest and most visually appealing way.

We start by developing user personas which are designed to tap into the needs, frustrations and anxieties of the users. From here we can map out their expected experience of the website by designing user journeys. User journeys help us to demonstrate to our clients where their users are coming from, what they are on the website to do and how they navigate through the content to get to their intended goal (and hopefully achieve it).

From here we can work on the architecture of the site by developing a sitemap that summarises the pages needed to achieve a great user experience.

We validate all our design decisions by asking whether it helps either the users of the website reach their goal or answers a business need of our client. If it doesn’t, then do we need it?

With all the attention paid to users, how do you make sure that your design will work with the brand strategy?

What is unique about Curious is that we run brand strategy and digital in parallel. We allow both to inform each other. It’s a great illustration of why we’re good at what we do.

Digital touchpoints need to be functional and facilitate the audience’s needs. So, you have to start with UX. But, what you don’t want is a website that provides a great experience but has no personality.

Brand and design need to be integrated to create websites, apps or other platforms that are tailored to their audience whilst also providing an authentic brand experience. If you look at the most successful websites, they do this wonderfully.

Could you argue UX is part of brand?

Over the last decade, the rise of quick and cheap website builders (Wix, Squarespace) and responsive grid frameworks (Bootstrap) have provided an opportunity for individuals and businesses to get their content online and brands visible relatively quickly. This is a great thing. Though, the downside is that many websites now follow the same format and look the same. We’ve lost what was unique about digital experiences when designers weren’t constrained to rules and grids.

At Curious, we believe great digital design starts with no assumptions of what a website or app should look like. And no assumptions of its users. Designing from scratch and fully embracing the influence of users and brand is so important. Doing so will mean your website or app will feel tailored to your users and distinct to your brand.

Source: Zyte case study

 

Do you think UX continue to be an important part of developing a successful brand?

Yes. Even if Coronavirus had never happened, consumers are more digitally mature, and their expectations have grown with technological advancements. They rely on apps and digital products to drive their day to day lives, and therefore, they have higher expectations of a good user experience and advanced functionality. More on how this has affected retail here.

Covid restrictions have expedited our dependence on technology. They’ve driven many aspects of our life online and this has led to increased reliance on and scrutiny of digital platforms and digital brands. The restrictions have also forced those who might have avoided technology to embrace it out of necessity: even your Great Grandma uses Zoom. This means that brand audiences are potentially more diverse and mixed.

All this points to the fact that brands need to consider their users at every design decision they make. As expectations and audiences increase, brands that don’t think about their users will lose out.

Why sonic branding can be a lethal weapon for brands

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 question is, do people care about such things?

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.

What are the advantages of a strong audio identity?

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.

So, how does a brand go about creating an impactful sonic identity?

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 

How can charities rise from the ashes of Coronavirus?

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.

Rising from the ashes: 4 focus areas

Strengthen the brand

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.

Utilise the power of data

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.

Engage new audiences

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.

Harness digital channels

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.

From the team: Did you ever have a nickname?

MD Nikki Cunningham writes about the value in brands’ names and how you just can’t force a nickname.

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.

You can’t shake hands through Skype: How can you build trust online?

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:

  • What do we need to know about someone to trust them?
  • Can you trust someone you’ve never met?
  • Do we have the same trust with people as with businesses?
  • Is Sinek right to suggest that as a society we trust less than we used to?

What is ‘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.

Is it like Simon says?

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

Source: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00160/full

 

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.

Can we influence 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.

You can’t shake hands through Skype

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.

In brands, we trust

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. 

Source: https://eu.patagonia.com/gb/en/home/

 

The importance of following through

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.

Who does this well?

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.

Our verdict 

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.

From the team: Is resensitising a word? Because it should be.

MD Nikki Cunningham shares her thoughts on some of the extraordinary work that’s come out of this unusual time.

 

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. Comic Relief has done a brilliant job with their beautifully balanced, tonally true upcoming campaign:  

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. 

Curious appoints Nikki Cunningham as new Managing Director

Curious is delighted to announce the appointment of our new Managing Director, Nikki Cunningham

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.’ 

 

A new chapter 

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! 

The kids are online: The importance of brand in the digital space

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.

What’s been going on with retail?

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.

Will Covid be the nail in the high street’s coffin?

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).

What will shopping look like in the post-pandemic world?

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).

What’s it to us?

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.

What do you need to consider when looking at your digital presence?

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.

The receipts

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.

Award alert: Keeping our creative juices flowing with Graphis

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.

 

Covid-19: How to plot the right course for your brand

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…

Things are ch-ch-ch-changing

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.

Source: Uber

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.

How on earth do you keep up then?

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:

  • Consumer research
  • Competitor audits
  • Brand purpose
  • Brand architecture
  • Tone of voice
  • Brand messaging
  • Content planning
  • Scenario planning

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:

  • What was working before?
  • How does this need to change now?
  • What opportunities can we see emerging?
  • How do we use this situation to our advantage?

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.

 

So, what next?

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

Navigating a rebrand? How to build something that will last

“Change is inevitable, growth is optional”

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…

It all starts with why

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.

Source: Bulletproof via Brand New – Under Consideration

The main reasons to rebrand:

  • Your business has changed its offer
  • Your existing identity is out of date
  • An increase in competition
  • A shift in audience behaviour
  • You are entering a new stage of growth
  • You need to better reflect the values within your business
  • There is a market opportunity to take advantage of

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.

Working out your appetite for 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.

Always be prepared

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.

Here are a few steps that cover the basics…

  1. Brand audit – This is needed in order to understand everything you’ve currently got going for you and address any non-negotiables upfront.
  2. Research – Understanding the landscape in which you operate is essential. This should cover both competitors and audiences.
  3. Strategy – A fundamental step to working out how the brand should be positioned, this stage involves translating your business objectives and company culture into a creative brief for the brand.
  4. Creative –Sometimes referred to as ‘the exciting part’, this can only happen after the previous steps have been carried out. It involves exploring a number of possibilities in order to answer the creative brief in just the right way.
  5. Guidelines – We all need to abide by some form of ‘rules’ to make sure we don’t go crazy. The same applies to brands. The guidelines should be looked at as the most sacred handbook for your brand, mess with them and beware. (In fact, we think these are so important, we wrote a little more about them here)
  6. Implementation – At the end of every branding project, the question ‘what’s next?’ often gets asked. This is where every element of the brand toolkit gets brought to life and applied across the brand in any number of assets including website, brand videos, literature and other communication materials.

Doing your homework

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?

Getting to the heart of the matter

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.

Bringing it all to life

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.

Two Brand Guidelines

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’.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

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.

Flexible working: Why we’re having our cake AND eating it too

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.

Source: &Walsh

The good news is we’re coming up for air, and we’ve got a few things to say…

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?

Benefits of working from home

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.

Benefits of working from an office

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.

So, what are we thinking of doing?

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.

Building a hub of creativity

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.

What has 18 years of being curious taught us?

What did you do when you turned the big 1-8? Serve on a jury? Treat yourself to some fireworks? Get that tattoo of your mum’s name? Or maybe the memory is a little hazy thanks to the first legal hangover…

However you ended up celebrating, there’s no question that it’s a pretty big milestone. So, when we looked at the calendar and realised the day was soon upon us that WE were about to blow out 18 candles on our very large cake (there’s quite a few of us after all), we obviously had to take a trip down memory lane.

Take a look at some of our top favourite moments here…

 

From working out how chalk explodes to getting the most perfect drip of chocolate to stay on the end of a spoon (harder than you’d think), we’ve been curious about a lot of weird and wonderful things. 2,196 projects to be precise. But who’s counting?

Thanks to all of our lovely clients for letting us do the best work we possibly could – we couldn’t be prouder.

Now, we’re off to go and steal a slice of that cake…

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: The benefits of a competitive audit

How do you learn from those around you?

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?

Channel your inner Nadal

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.

Source: Alberto Carrasco Casado via Wikimedia Commons

So, where else are your customers going?

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…

Do your homework

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…

 

How to conduct a competitor brand audit

 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:

  • Which touchpoint demonstrates their brand best? Is it their website? Or maybe they have an excellent customer service process?
  • Which asset best illustrates their visual identity?
  • Where do they best demonstrate their verbal language?

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:

  • Logos
  • Products and services
  • Taglines/slogans
  • Brand guidelines
  • Sales and product literature
  • Brochures
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Websites
  • Apps
  • Blogs
  • Videos
  • Events and awards
  • Packaging (if applicable)
  • Retail store visits (if applicable)

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.

Analysing verbal language

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:

  • What position is it taking? Is it passive or proactive?
  • Who is the primary audience they’re targeting?
  • If their brand was a person, what sort of personality do they have?
  • What words would you use to sum up their style and tone of voice?

Analysing visual identity

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…

  • What grabs your attention?
  • What feeling does it give off?
  • Is it consistent?
  • Does it embody an overarching idea?
  • Is it unique?

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…

  • What area is each competitor trying to own? Price? Capabilities? Process?
  • How much does their brand tie into this? Do they try to own multiple areas?
  • Does their messaging convey their positioning consistently?
  • How does the overall experience of their brand support this? 

Summary

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)

 

 

Creating a strong brand purpose: Don’t beat around the bush

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.

Source: Henry Thomas Alken / Public domain

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.

How do you avoid beating around the bush with your brand?

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.

Working out the core idea

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?

Simon says

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.

Source: thedigestiblebrand.com

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

What happens next?

 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.

 

 

 

From the Curious team: How to avoid ‘Greenwashing’ your brand

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?

The time to step up is here

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…

Oatly

oatly sustainability report
Source: Oatly

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.

KeepCup

KeepCup, a certified b corporation
Source: KeepCup

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

teapigs packaging breakdown
Source: teapigs

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

danone sustainability model
Source: Danone

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).

Put your money where your mouth (brand) is

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?

Creatures of habit: How do you keep things consistent?

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?

Source: Pxfuel

Building brand consistency

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?

It’s all about the familiarity

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.

The Swoosh

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.

Get some decent brand guidelines under your belt

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.

Pure Brand Guidelines

It’s all about the detail, baby

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:

  • Look and feel including logos, design elements and a colour palette
  • Tone of voice and editorial guidelines
  • Image style and photo library
  • Templates
  • Social media guidelines

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.

The truth is, we’re all creatures of habit

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.

Keen to distinguish yourself from the herd?

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?

How do you inject humanness into robots?

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:

  • Is it different?
  • Is it better?
  • Is it changing something?

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?

The tech world needs more meaning

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.

Yikes.

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.

Source: Slack via Brand New – Under Consideration

Creating a purpose-driven strategy

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.

Six questions to help define a purpose-driven strategy:

  1. What exactly are you trying to achieve for your customers?
  2. Why should you be their first choice?
  3. What are you changing?
  4. What do you want people to think of you?
  5. What would the world miss if you went out of business?
  6. In the future, you’ll be known as the people who…

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.