Tuesday 27 August 2013

Wish you were here

When I walked into my Motel One room last week, I was reminded somehow of the Pink Floyd song in the title, especially the line "we're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year".

Unfortunately the music to accompany the swimming and the giant aquarium wasn't Pink Floyd, but that ubiquitous "Chill-Out" music, on a loop like the film. Both got switched off after the second or third cycle.

I do think Motel One is one of the best new brands to come out of Germany recently. A true millennium baby, the company was established in 2000. The underlying idea, a low-price design hotel, is an excellent one. And I know that when I first saw those turquoise chairs a few years back, I was blown away.

And yet... that fish-bowl bothered me. Along with the chill-out music, the "Summer Feeling" place sets,  the flickering fire on the flatscreen, even the brown n' turquoise look - it's all beginning to feel of its time, the noughties.

Although the 'One Lounges' are more individualised with local themes incorporated into the look, Motel One is a very standardised experience, which has its good and bad points.

I just hope to see a little rebellion as the brand expands into its teens.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Perfect Planner

In those bygone days when I was responsible for recruiting and managing a Planning department, I was often asked by management what I was looking for in my new recruits. My usual answer was that I couldn't spell it out, but I'd know it if I saw it.

I read a post recently by Richard Huntington where he outlines his three requirements. All good things come in threes, so here goes:
1. Safe-looking people with dangerous minds
2. Crafty with the craft skills
3. Forward-thinking mother f**ckers (my asterisks, not his, or Julian Cope's either who Richard attributes this one to)

It's pretty well there. I also found one of those exhaustive lists in my file, which may be from the last century, but I still think it's pretty good. Unfortunately I don't know who to attribute it to. I'm sure it came from Saatchi somewhere and I'm equally sure it didn't come from me. Here goes:

Hiring A Planner?

Most CEOs look for someone who is “smart”, “cerebral”. Someone who is “well read”.  Preferably someone with a “psychological or anthropological background”.  Who understands human behaviour.  And who speaks in a “convincing” manner.

What is often forgotten are the qualities it takes to acquire true understanding. The qualities that are required to not only sound convincing, but to be convincing.  The qualities that allow a planner to stimulate, nurture and protect great ideas.

The following outlines 10 characteristics often forgotten when hiring a planner.

1.    X-ray Vision: The most powerful communication between individuals and groups is non-verbal.  And if your potential planner talks more than they watch, chances are they will miss 90% of what is actually being communicated.

2.    Sonic Ears: What people say and what they mean are often two different things.  Many planners can get caught up in the words, when it’s the tone and the manner in which the words are delivered that is communicating the loudest.

3.    Explorer:  Many planners base their understanding of consumers on theory.  What they have learned in research or from books.  What they don’t do is get out of their office, away from their books, and submerge themselves in the real world.

4.    Imagination:  A planner’s job is not just to understand human behaviour, it is also to inspire creative solutions.  And all the understanding in the world is useless to our creative people …if it doesn’t inspire them.

5.    Instinct:  Human behaviour is not always predictable.  A good planner will rely as much on their gut as they will on the numbers.

6.    Curiosity:  People change all the time.  And a planner who assumes they know the answers is a planner who has lost their ability to accept change.

7.    A Player: The result of creativity is not always predictable … essentially because of the huge unknown called human emotions.  A good planner needs to be able to accept when an idea may be bigger than what the focus groups or the numbers have told them.

8.    Open Minded: Understanding people means that you can’t judge them.  A good planner will see things from multiple perspectives … not just their own. 

9.    Motherly:  Brilliant ideas need to be protected and nurtured, not judged.  A good planner will discover ways of improving ideas, not killing them.

10. A Hunter: Being a planner is not about gathering information.  It’s about hunting down insights.  It’s about getting to the kill quicker.  It’s an active role, not a passive one.

I'm with most of that, too. But interesting that people ask what you're looking for. And Richard H mentions "safe-looking". A lot of the planners I recruited did bear some resemblance to Brains from Thunderbirds. 

But there were others who looked like Lady Penelope.

Friday 16 August 2013

P...pick up a Puffin

Which brands from our childhood have the most impact on our lives? In my case, Puffin Books stands out as a major contributor to my obsession with both reading and writing - and the way the brand was marketed in the late 60s and 70s is still a text book example of marketing to children - and getting it right.

For those not in the know, Puffin books was Penguin's children's imprint. In the late 60s, Puffin's  chief editor, Kaye Webb launched the Puffin Club, whose main medium was the quarterly magazine Puffin Post. This was packed full of book reviews and previews, interviews with authors, jokes, competitions and contributions from Puffin Club members. The whole package (including the envelope) was wittily and charmingly designed by the illustrator Jill McDonald.

Kaye Webb was a woman before her time when it came to marketing. She had a Mission - to get children reading, a strategy to do this - to connect children to authors and illustrators and held the belief that the world would be a better place if more children read books. She's even quoted as seeing her role to spread "Puffinness" - a most modern idea of branding!

So many elements of the Puffin brand and Kaye Webb's approach ring a bell for 21st century marketers: added value and brand extension, a social network, 360° marketing, edutainment - it's all there. Just from the top of my mind, I remember diaries, badges, bookplates, even a Puffin glove puppet to make yourself. And there were holidays, although I never got to go on those. That's on top of all the wonderful books with their brilliant cover illustration and design.

Now, that's what I call making a difference to someone's life.

P.S. For the Puffin nerds amongst us, have a look at The Puffin Club Archive for some wonderful memories.

Friday 9 August 2013

Avaricious Brands

When I first started in this game, the military metaphor was de rigueur when it came to talking about marketing. If you couldn't quote Von Clausewitz, you weren't anyone. And of course, old habits die hard. Although Sport metaphors made a brief appearance in the 90s, these have been more quickly consigned to the cliche bin than the more aggressive military terms. After all, why team up with someone or coach them when you can just shoot them instead?

Wars are usually fought with an aim - to gain something, such as power or territory. Or, ideally, both. And brands (or the people that speak for them) do tend to be rather avaricious.

Not content with owning the market, or a sizeable share of it, brands covet all sorts of weird and wonderful things, from the High Ground (whatever that may be) or the Heart and Mind of The Consumer (no one is terribly interested in bladders or bowels) to bizarre notions such as "family rituals" or "me-time" to the frankly absurd - Love, Happiness and Freedom.

The thing is, most of these things are not material, and no-one, let alone a brand, can own them. In the same way, you can "love" a brand all you like, but it can never reciprocate that love. It just can't. It's not human.

Even if all this ownership stuff is just a figure of speech, it is all about power, control and competition.

In the new spirit of generosity and cooperation, it would be refreshing to see brands (or the people who speak for them) giving something back, instead of pontificating about ownership.

Or maybe our brand could "own" generosity?

Monday 5 August 2013

Kentish Crisps or Crisps of Kent?

The regional card is one that's been played by clever manufacturers for a few years now, tapping into all those feelings of local identity and anti-globalism. Who cares if the handmade crafting pushes the price way up over that of the big boys with their economies of scale?

Just back from holiday and I've seen two examples of doing it right, both of which play cleverly with local pride.

First exhibit is Kent Crisps, "from the Garden of England" whose flavours include Oyster & Vinegar and Roast Beef & Spitfire Ale. Just the thing for a lazy afternoon in the sunny garden of the local pub.

Crossing over the Channel, we discovered Breizh Cola, although it's been around for the last decade. This is what is apparently known as an "Altercola", rather like Afri Cola here in Germany. No personalised bottles, though...

Maybe one day, even these regional products won't be specific enough. Can we expect to see Kentish Crisps and Crisps of Kent one day? Or even Finistere and Morbihan Colas? Or whatever the equivalents are in Breizh?