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.