Wednesday 26 July 2017


Three cheers for Sheryl Sandberg!A while ago, I wrote about how the harmless qualitative market research technique of 'brands as people' seemed to have erupted into a full-scale industry - 'people as brands.' I let out a quiet 'hooray!' as I read this article which quotes Ms Sandberg's answer to the question of how business people should manage their personal brands.

You don't have a brand.

She also added the expression made her shudder. Me too.

I have a number of reasons for rejecting the idea. First of all, I agree that stuffing yourself into a soap-powder-shaped box tends to be somewhat restricting:

When we are packaged, we're ineffective and inauthentic.

And human beings are so much more gloriously complicated and full of - emotion, conscious and unconscious thought, life, reason, intelligence - all those things no product or service can ever have.

And finally, because I just loathe all those snake-oil merchants who go around peddling their platforms and wares. Take an area I know a little about: authors. There are over 23 millions hits on Google in reply to 'author branding.' And so many of the articles and services offered include 'And Why You Need It' in the title.

So much time and energy is wasted by authors fretting about their 'author brand' and working with these charlatans instead of getting on and doing what they are good at.

Think about any human being who could possibly be considered 'a brand.' Einstein, The Queen, Salvador Dali, Che Guevara - take your pick.

Did they spend hours with a snake-oil salesman 'discovering their personal brand'?

Did they heck!

Friday 21 July 2017

Speed Queen

Procter & Gamble are still sending me Victoria magazine, with its yoga for the over 50s, handy household tips, myths about bladder weakness, menopause horror stories and patronising advice on how to use Facebook. I've blogged before about how dreadfully depressing this all is.

As a complete contrast, here's part of a smashing brand campaign from Renault celebrating 40 years in Formula 1. It features Irish rally driver Rosemary Smith, who is pushing 80 (years, not mph - she's way faster than that!). In the Swinging 60s, girls dreamed of being fashion designers and boys dreamed of being racing car drivers, Rosemary Smith did both - and in this film she fulfills another dream - and so becomes the oldest person to drive an 800 bhp Formula 1 racing car. There are some super photos of Rosemary in action in all her 1960s glory, and the film conveys her zest for life - past, present and future.

Bravo to Renault for this campaign, and standing up to the potential criticism that they make cars for little old ladies. I wonder - is this maybe a crafty admission on Renault's part that yes, they do - and they're both happy and proud to do so?

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Blimey, did I really say that?

I'm reading a delightful novel at the moment: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The story is that of a Russian aristocrat who is placed under indefinite house arrest by the Communists in the 1920s for writing a subversive poem. And that house arrest is in one of the grandest hotels in Moscow. The story rambles around the hotel with the Count, the eccentric characters he meets and the absurd situations in which he finds himself.

One such is the Second Meeting of the First Congress of the Moscow Branch of the All-Russian Union of Railway Workers. The Union's Charter is under discussion, particularly the 7th sentence of the 2nd paragraph, which concludes with what we marketeers (shhhh!) might call a Mission:

"... to facilitate communication and trade across the provinces."

And, oh dear, does the word 'facilitate' ever come in for some stick! Far too tepid and prim to suggest pounding steel and rippling manly muscles and shovelling coal! Some alternatives are suggested, such as to spur, to propel and to empower, which all come into hot debate. Eventually:

"... a suggestion came from a shy-looking lad in the tenth row that perhaps 'to facilitate' could be replaced with 'to enable and ensure.' This pairing, the lad explained (while his cheeks grew red as a raspberry), might encompass not only the laying of rails and the manning of engines, but the ongoing maintenance of the system ..."

And so, after more hot debate, the alternative is adopted.

If that one amused you, you may also find that this tickles your fancy, too. Perfect for collecting a few meaningless phrases to throw into the next strategy meeting. And I don't think many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say we've never used this kind of lingo.

I'm convinced that when researchers from the future find some of our strategy documents, they'll be as bemused as if those documents were in Russian - or Ancient Greek.

Talking of which ...

Friday 7 July 2017

Local (retail) hero

Now and again you think of a brand that gets it just right. A couple of weeks ago I visited the flagship store of a retailer just down the road from us, and thought: Jawohl!

Quite often, the shining examples of hero brands that get regurgitated again and again in Powerpoints are brands that we marketers blab on about about, but don't actually use or experience. Or they are from some funky new techy category, enabled by mobile blah blah.

Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG  is none of these. It's a German workwear retailer, a family firm that was founded in 1948 and still run by the son and grandsons of the original Engelbert. Norbert, Steffen and Henning, should you be interested.

The story goes back even further, as the great-grandfather Strauss was a trader in brooms and brushes. It was his son Engelbert who founded the firm and soon added gloves and protective workwear to his wares. In the 60s and 70s, he started mail order and a catalogue and there are still people in the local area who recall 'Engelbert Strauss in his van selling brooms.'

The 90s saw two giant leaps for the company - opening their headquarters and logistics centre and starting e-commerce in 1998. And in the 21st century they have come on in leaps and bounds to become the well-loved workwear/outdoor brand, successful company and award-winning employer that they are today.

It's maybe because Engelbert Strauss started in mail order that omnichannel thinking has come naturally to them. The workwear stores are a fairly recent development and these embody the idea of 'retail experience' at its best. Design is at the heart of the brand - look at the neat little details like saws on the end of the zippers - and this shows in the design of the stores.

Everything is themed around the joy of handwork from the installations of tools on the walls:

to the children's play area:

The company claim also comes to life in the provisions for co-workers, which include a fitness centre, Wellness area, their own trattoria, ice cream vendors and cafe complete with chill-out music.

What is the claim? Enjoy work. 

Well, I'll try to.

Saturday 1 July 2017

O Canada

I make no apologies for today's post being low on words and high on visuals and nostalgia. I've commented before that the Canadian flag is one of the best logos going, and what better way to celebrate Canada's 150 years today than with a parade of Canadian brands.

I visited Canada as a young girl in 1967, the year of the Centennial. It wasn't my first visit - that was as a toddler - but this was the visit where I think Canadian brands first made an impression on me. In these days of globalisation, it's very easy to forget that there were days when almost all brands were unfamiliar when you travelled abroad, and they were crucial in building up your picture of that country overall. The roadside signs, the posters, the packaging - they all seemed exotic and wonderful, even if they were commonplace for those that lived there.

I've subsequently found out that some of my original 'Canadian Brands' were more correctly 'American'. Those things that interest young children like popcorn - with a surprise toy:

Or sweets - sorry, candy:

Or diners serving Snoopy's favourite - Root Beer:

But there was another side to Canadian Brands - a sophisticated, grown-up dreamland of shiny locomotives and aeroplanes, with elegantly-dressed passengers clinking glasses, gliding over, or through, acres of breathtaking landscape:

And here are more wonderful Canadian images on the I.Am:Canadian Pinterest board.

Happy Birthday, Canada!