The best things are about one thing

Saying one thing well is always more interesting than a rag bag of non sequiturs. Even if you’ve got lots to say, the trick is to bring it all under one singular theme. This man makes a bunch of observations about how we use just one word in the English language.


Story change and communication

From zero to hero. The classic log line for a Hollywood storyline. Why? because there’s lots of change implicit in zeros becoming heros. A perfect example of this would be the log-line for Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Where the filthy rich meet the dirty poor. You can almost see that there will be change for both the two main characters. Without change there can be no story and without story there’s no communication. These three things go together and if you’re going to understand any one of them you need to understand them all.

Another way of looking at this is by investigating what happens when there’s no change. And by that we also mean no change in expectation.

If you were to try to build a story around visting a vending machine: You go to the a vending machine in some big building. You select, say a Kit Kat, put your money in, and a Kit Kat duly drops onto the tray. Well, there’s no possible story that can come out of that because in no way has any expectation been thwarted or extended. However, if a Kit Kat didn’t drop down, but something much more unexpected did, say a packet of class A drugs, you have the beginnings of a storyline.


Tone Wheel

In any highly competitive market, where there is a surfeit of products all competing for the same proposition, then inevitably, the propositions become hard to distinguish. In these cases a sort of exclusion principle applies, which is that once one successful brand occupies one slot, the next successful product to compete in that space will have to occupy a different tonal slot. This is where brand tonality and personality becomes important; When price, product, promotion etc are all identical.

To understand this graphically it helps to see tone in terms of the following wheel. It shows how brands connect to the idea of archetype, and idea originally conceived by Jung.

If you’d like to read more about the role of archetypes in brands and organisations try The Hero and the Outlaw, by Margaret Mark and Carol S Pearson.

tonewheel6 before


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.


Creativity where you least expect it


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.