THE BLOG

12
Jun

Working like a detective

For a great professional case it’s important the expert sees beyond where other lesser professionals get fobbed off. In this case, in what is a classic twist from Murder on the Orient Express, the incriminating hankerchief bears the initial H. So it can’t possibly belong to Natalia. Or so you might think. However Poirot knows that in Russian an H is pronounced an N and so it could indeed be Natalia’s.

The premise of expertise in case history writing is that when nothing is quite what it appears only a specialist with raised levels of perception can ascertain what really is going on.

28
Apr

Creativity where you least expect it

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There have been many funky things you can do with the design of a bike stand, and I’ve had to lock my bike to quite a few of them. Some of them are really annoying because they allow a bike to topple over.

But this one I spotted in Islington is a breath of fresh air. And like all neat creative ideas, it starts by asking a question no one else had bothered to ask: What would bike parking look like if it were designed by someone who wasn’t a cyclist or a road engineer?

What if it were designed by a landscape gardener?

The ability create different answers starts with the ability to ask different questions. And follow them through to interesting conclusions.

05
Mar

Ask your subconscious

picture example
Lets say you are working with me or a partner to identify the deeper theme you’ve been struggling to nail. It could be a product, a phD, a new project, or a website for a thing.

You’ve approached it from lots of rational ways and it always comes out a bit left brain, a bit boring, on-the-nose and somehow not capturing the magic that you know lies within the project itself.

Thinking up more powerpoint charts isn’t going to cut it. Neither will adding more and more brand pillars or new types of positioning statements. You need to try to come at the project from an hitherto untapped area of your brain.

And the instructions for this exercise are simple. Imagine the book cover. Just the image that stirs you, not the title, which will come later. Create 15 of these images but don’t be too rational about it. Just locate the image that somehow satifies you at an emotional level.

Above is a good example of this. Someone conceived an open door. Why? Who knows at the intial stage, it’s just an open door seemed to say something to the brainstormer.

When we get to discuss the image and its significance, the open door reveals its true meaning. It’s about stepping into the unknown.

Because going into the unknown takes courage. And hence the title of this book which is about “Expeditions for the restless Christian”.

So if what you’re trying to write about is being a restless Christian, and your point of view is this takes courage than this might be a neat way to express this.

Now I don’t know if this was the process this book cover was designed by, but it’s a great approach when you’re trying to nail the title for your grand project. Work by picture first, title or rationale comes after.

Use the side of you’re brain that been twiddling its thumbs on your project. It’s dying to help you out, you just need to ask.

Good luck and enjoy.

15
Feb

Starting with a story

Masters of story don’t start with a simple fact or assertion, they weave a story that does the same thing.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks could have begun his speech by simply saying something like “all faiths have similarities, but they also have interesting differences.”

That would have been a perfectly coherent way to start a speech at an interfaith dinner. But by starting with a story that demonstrates the same thing, he does so much more than assert a first beat.

He demonstrates mastery of the story form, establishes his own character as a player at Government level, and also brings some laughs to the room. But the story is always in the service of demonstrating the first beat of the rest of his speech.

22
Dec

Breaking Bad, a la Mr Men.

If you want an example of a simple cleanly told story, look no further. Identify the beats here complete with refusal of the call to adventure.

22
Oct

The Apple five P’s

steve-jobsApple comes up so often in brand conversations, it’s easy to forget how many different elements work so coherently in its brand mix. So here then are the five P’s outlined.

Purpose and philosophy, personality and positioning, proposition, product and price point.

Okay, there are more than 5, but there’s plenty of overlap. The purpose and philosophy for Apple is the aim to be creatively disruptive.

Steve Jobs gave us many clues about this. From his early experience with calligraphy, in the days when typography and computing simply didn’t go together, one of his major creative disruptions to the industry was to make sure that they did. More disruptive messaging was to follow; When the computing world seemed to be at peak IBM architecture, he launched an explicitly disruptive message in the famous  Apple Super Bowl ad for 1984.  Here, a dystopian superpower, an embodiment of the IBM Gates axis, has their screen smashed by the newcomer.

The personality and mac-pc-colour4-tonewheeljobs-gatespositioning are creative and they sit very happily in the creator slot of the archetypes chart.

The strap line think different underscores this. The embodiment of creativity happens, of course, in many ways but one of the strongest was by contrasting the uncool of pc jacket and tie man against the more chilled guy with his shirt hanging out.

And this was certainly living the brand because Job’s own sartorial style had made it to the TV ads and the employee dress code at the Genius bar.

There is a dark side of a creative personality that sometimes comes up and you can see this present in the Apple brand estate too.

The Lemmings ad was what happens when a creative guru shows  too much disdain for their clients and their lack of cool. Effectively insulting their IBM audience, accusing them of blind moronic stupidity, the ad bombed, killing sales and Apple had to close three of its six plants. Steve Jobs left the company in the mid-eighties after this debacle. So much for the dark side of creative positioning.

But the rest of the brand estate has been an impeccable demonstration of how to position as creative.

The product and price point are premium. And the strap lines emphasise the personality not the product. It’s think different, not think premium. slide051984_big_brother

When you talk about strong branding, ultimately the strength is a reflection of the coherence of the P’s. It seems so easy when its done well.

11
Oct

The bigger picture

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-21-55-26article-2332079-1a092eab000005dc-128_634x417 screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-21-20-07 How do you tell a longer story in just a few web frames when there’s so much to say and so few words to say it in?

Do you squeeze everything in to your first sentence in a general way and hope people will telepathically understand the message? Or do you try something completely different?

How about the big picture route?

Obviously, you need to say something that speaks to what’s interesting topical and important for your audience. (That might take a little creative thought).  There are no limits to what it could be, but it has to sit credibly close to the main purpose of your brand or product.

Then, by giving snapshots of that central thought and related ideas, you can build a much more powerful idea up. This is the bigger picture  route and it’s the way you build classic campaigns. It enables you to interest people in what you’ve got to say rather than bludgeon them with standard issue clichés.

If what we’re saying here sounds a little abstract, think of the bigger picture and the sub message working like these pictures of the queen.  Both work on the fact that the human brain is always trying to distil meaning out of anything it sees hears or feels. You just have to have one eye on what that meaning could be. Try it, and you’ll find it amazingly liberating, because you’re working with your audience’s brains not against them.

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17
Sep

SEO. Things can only get better.

black-hats SEO

The days of black hat are numbered

Not so very long ago, when search engines started appearing, a rush began to stuff as many keywords into every piece of text as you possibly could. It seemed the obvious and only way to do things, was to brutalise communications and many in the copywriting  community shuddered.

Those who had known or worked for old school greats like David Abbott and Tony Brignull felt a mixture of sadness and anxiety. If SEO was the future of commercial writing, it didn’t look like much fun.

There was a new generation of expert, people who said things like: “The electronic screen means no one can read anything properly anymore, so just make it as short as possible”.

And there were other types of operators who were creating link farms to try and game the system, and fool Google into bringing their business up the rankings.

It seemed that the kind of intelligent, audience-based, information-rich copy with a touch of wit no longer had a place in a post Google world.

But that was then, and this is now. For the last few years SEO has been changing radically. Far from long form copy being the medium of dinosaurs, SEO actively encourages it.

Now Google will penalise you if it considers blog content “thin”, by which they mean less than 600 words.

There’s now a well established relationship between the number of links you earn and the length of text you write. Long form writing is back in business, with a vengeance.

Even the number of characters allowed in the meta tags have increased in length.

But it’s not just quantity that’s gone up, it’s quality too. The last 2 years have seen the Google algorithm is increasingly understanding the hidden meaning between the lines, using Latent Semantic Indexing, LSI. So you’re well advised to avoid keyword stuffing and write properly instead.

Link farming has died a death, keyword data no longer gets provided; the many ways of gaming the search engine system come with bigger Google penalties. Black hat SEO days are numbered.

It’s back to the USP or unique selling proposition. Or, its journalistic equivalent, the Unique Story Proposition. In either case the writer needs to be crystal clear about what they’re offering or what a page is about.

And at the top of the whole process and quietly guiding it, is the age old principle of putting your audience’s question first, not the search query ranking first.

It’s quite possible that contrary to a lot of indications 10 years ago, we could be entering a golden age of content.

Abbott and Brignull would be proud.

SEO and Language

08
Sep

Allenby said it in a sentence.

In front of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem stands another equally historic building, the YMCA, where if you look closely, you’ll find an inscription. It amounts to the mission statement of the building, put there by Lord General Allenby in 1933.img_1827

Eighty years later, the same building and related organisation still has a mission statement, which nestles next to the reception desk.

But this version is much longer, difficult to understand in many places, and completely wooly in others. Was it Allenby’s military discipline or the fact he lived in a less committee-based world than meant his single sentence conveys so much more that the committee speak of the later version?img_1835 img_1825img_1831 img_1828img_1835

17
Aug

From imagination to reality

creative-process3 Research is a topic that raises a lot of hostile feelings in creative people. Numerous campaigns have fallen at this point only to do really well in real life. Maureen Lipman in BT’s 1980’s Jewish Mother TVC campaign was a perfect example. But I think testing material is really useful, if only because it’s a great way to find out more about your target audience. Above is the general process and it can be iterative.

Although it’s really useful for creatives to go to the focus groups and watch behind the glass window, it’s not as common for this to happen as you might think. For one thing creatives see it like going to the dentist, an exam they’ll find painful and would rather avoid. Another reason is that an agency can be making more money from the creative when they’re chained to their desks rather than watching housewives in Surbiton.

One insight I remember getting from a focus group on women’s hair products was that this particular 40 something lady wanted to look great at times I’d never really considered. Not for her husband, not for the cocktail party nor the hen do, but when she was wearing jeans and a T shirt and the builder was coming round.

Obvious when you think about it, but only when you’ve heard from your actual audience. strategy5
Just for completeness here’s the bigger process that the creative sits inside. Many organisations short cut this, but this essentially is the ideal.