Category

B2B

The Apple five P’s

By | B2B, Communications craft, content, Link, Mission statement, Tone | No Comments

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.

The bigger picture

By | B2B, Communication theory, Communications craft, content, Thought leadership, Uncategorized, What's out there now | No Comments

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.
individual snapsots

SEO. Things can only get better.

By | B2B, SEO, Uncategorized | No Comments

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, that is now actively used in SEO in Hong Kong. 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

From imagination to reality

By | B2B, Communication theory, Communications craft, content, Creativity, Strategy, Uncategorized | No Comments

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.
 

Moving a tone on

By | B2B, Communication theory, Communications craft, Strategy, Tone, Uncategorized | No Comments

tonewheel6leapcleantonewheel6 before
One of charts that really helps when you’re discussing verbal, or indeed any type of brand identity  is the one above. Based on Jungian archetypes and developed by Mark and Pearson, it forms a neat representation of different brand flavours.
The question you start with is the usual consultancy one: where are we now? The next question is where would we like to get to?
If an organisation product or service is say in the ruler section, maybe they want to transform and become a mate?
If they are a ruler, what sort of ruler are they? Bossy and aloof in a not good way or alternatively, aspirational in the way British Airways was, when it was at its best?
Or maybe the content is such a mish-mash it doesn’t really have any distinct tone you can speak of. Maybe it’s just a big pic’n mix nothing.
These are the issues that form the basis of an audit, and obviously you need to do this in some form, even if only in a very cursory way.
In the old days it was all about the branding agency auditing,  presenting and ultimately delivering a verbal identity, but my view is that doesn’t really wash nowadays.
Most organisations have scores of content marketing and corporate writers and there’s no reason to leave them outside the process.
This means that repositioning a company needs to be done with them in a collaborative training and exploratory way, rather than brought down from on high and ‘rolled out’.
Not that there’s anything wrong with ‘rolling something out’, it just doesn’t make any allowance for the way organisations usually work.
You usually find that it’s one thing for a verbal branding agency to blithely specify a few choice phrases, that amount to general good writing practice, but it’s quite another to work through the daily diet of communications the team actually have to put out.
It’s for this reason that training, facilitation, content and verbal brand repositioning are a great combination. And you can’t really substitute them for a few standard bromides about copywriting.
 
 
Jaguar tone book
Asthma UK
Anglian Water

Are you really getting your client's world?

By | B2B, Communication theory, Communications craft, Strategy, Thought leadership, What's out there now | No Comments


Chris Voss, an ex FBI negotiator is used to dealing with murderers, rapists and terrorists. Here he shares his biggest insights into communications.
Chris explains that being able to play back, almost verbatim, the exact argument of the other side, is more important than expounding the rationality of your own case.
When you repeat exactly what the other side has just said, and they reply, “That’s right“, you’ve achieved the first and most important part of a negotiation: Demonstrating that you actually get where they’re coming from.
Probably the most striking moment of the interview is when Chris describes how one of his team was called up by a hostage taker they had negotiated with a short while back.
“A bad guy called Sabaya. Head-choppin’ terrorist, rapist, real bad, bad guy.  Sabaya calls us up two weeks after the negotiation and says: ‘ Did you get a promotion?'”
“‘You should have. I don’t know what you said to me on the phone but I was going to kill Jeffrey. You  kept me from doin’ it. They should promote you.’ Then hangs up.”
And so it is with customers, stakeholders and prospects. Getting their worlds as they see it, not as you do, or your CEO does, is the first step to doing business with them. Most of the time we’re not talking to head-chopping murderers and rapists, just people who don’t share your corporate view on how effective your services are.
But like head-chopping murderers and rapists they have an alternative narrative on the way things are.
And the needle only starts moving when you’ve proved you’ve heard what they’re trying to say.

When was the last time you chilled with a problem?

By | B2B, Creativity, Uncategorized | No Comments

pencil2
Organisations often complain they don’t have enough resources to throw at a problem but you could argue it’s the abundance of the wrong type of resource that stops the job being done really well.
The perfect and well-known example of this: the anecdote about how the US and the USSR tried to create a pen that would work in space.
While the US technologists were running a massive project to design a multimillion-dollar pen that could operate in zero G, the Soviets had opted for something much simpler for their own space mission: a pencil.
This elegant, cheap yet effective solution was like many great masterstrokes of creativity. Just as with Picasso’s bull’s head, the concept is so simple you could be forgiven for missing it.
One of the interesting facets of this anecdote is that at first it doesn’t look the way we think creativity should look. But it’s got many of the hallmarks of smart creativity. Doing more with less, questioning embedded assumptions, and making something look effortless. There are lots of learnings here for many different enterprises – not necessarily looking to go into space, but trying to solve hard problems nonetheless.
The nature of things is that when a company gets involved in optimising a process, the momentum of the process often precludes creativity. The system is wired to do the wrong thing highly efficiently rather than going back to the original problem that needed solving – and chilling with the problem for a little while.
The creative process starts when you give up being too busy to think.
Chilling with a problem is a difficult thing to explain for a time-centred organisation. “I’m actioning X, Y and Z for next week’s status meeting” – sounds so much more businessy than “I’m chilling with the problem for a little while”.
In a recent project with some Bristol physicists, we asked them to create a project to sell to a James Bond baddie. The results were fascinating. Just as with any other form of creativity there was a majority of quite interesting workaday solutions and one that stood out which we can all remember many months after. It was more or less the equivalent of the pencil.
Perhaps amongst all the clever stuff we do on the course, the most valuable insight is that to see things differently you have to start by looking at your clock differently; do less, think less and chill a bit more. Like riding a bike it’s easy when you know how.

TED topics for Industry 4.0

By | B2B, Communications craft, content, Strategy, Thought leadership, What's out there now | No Comments

Thought leadership has been a buzzword for a little while now.
To do it well you famously have to be able to have thoughts and also to lead. Neither of those two things are particularly easy things to do. For many content producers, it may feel like a big mountain to climb. They way to succeed is to break it down and get a little help.
Imagine you have to create a TED talk for your product or brand. What would it talk about? What are the big themes that operate around your product or brand that you personally find fascinating? Still stuck? Ok, try something simpler, treat it as an exercise in curation.
Just make a list of existing TED talks that seem to discuss topics near to the issues close to the brand. Then, write a few comments or remarks that bridge any relevant issues that need connecting. Here are some of mine for a company that’s designing software for a modern business. They deal with what’s generally called user centred experience. The connecting comments simply need to answer the question, “What’s the relevance of this inspiring video to what these guys actually sell?” Even if it’s obvious, it’s good to make it explicit so you don’t leave your audience in the fuzzy further reaches of philosophy.