THE Creativity Chronicles
Years ago when I owned an agency, I made a name for being able to transform brands. To take something that was failing or considered unattractive to the target market and to turn it into something desirable. I could clearly see what needed to be done and companies would hire me to implement my vision and turn something crap into something covetable in a matter of months.
It worked every time. The first place I ever did this with used to have an advert promoting their wedding venue and I still laugh now with an industry friend about the fact that their advert used to have a toilet on it. A pretty toilet to be fair but come on, on a wedding advert? That’s got to be taking the piss (pun intended).
Yet amidst all of the luxury wedding venues and amazing places they had as competition I worked to find a niche and get weddings up, smashing all of the targets and leaving them with an impressive record of sales and events and a stronger brand that didn’t discount because of what they didn’t have (old behaviour) but added value for what they did have and what made them unique (new behaviour).
I continued to work with many companies, usually finding the same scenario – brand is perceived as cheap/low value/Primark quality type brand yet selling Harrods type products and is attracting a client who can’t afford the prices whilst simultaneously not attracting their target customer because the Harrods customer doesn’t want to purchase what they perceive from poor branding to be a Primark quality product.
However, years down the line, looking back at many of the brands I worked with, what I’ve learned is that people revert to type. Gradually bit by bit, cracks begin to appear in these brands, the odd rogue word here, the odd stock image there, the font gets more elaborate, the sales start back up, I guess the truth shines through. And that is when I became aware, all I really did was apply a set of rules that although foolproof, need constant managing, it’s like I painted these brands with a veneer of luxury paint and then when the DIY slips, the original wall starts to show through.
That was when I realised, to be truly successful, you can’t just look amazing – the brand has to have depth. It is only many years later that I was acutely aware of this, after all I was getting amazing results but these results weren’t sustainable because they weren’t built on truth. Now my strapline is ‘courageous content for authentic brands’ because I now know, without strong, authentic foundations, that brand won’t be able to stand on its own without the glitter and gloss I showered over it like confetti.
So I packed away my confetti and I got intentional about who I was working with and that I’m not going to make them look glossier, I’m going to get them seen and known but known for who they really are. And I’m much happier and more confident leaving these brands as I’m not teaching them how to be sexier or be more luxurious, I’m teaching them how to embrace being true to themselves and quite often, to be imperfect. I don’t want to paint over those cracks anymore, I want to turn those cracks and imperfections into their feature, something that stops them being a cookie cutter brand and something with character.
Recently I’ve worked on a rebrand with a very long established bridal boutique. I had heard from everyone about this woman and had known her from the industry for a long time. The rumour about Elaine was that she was nice, wouldn’t hurt a fly, would never be a real competitor in the market, she was everyone’s friend but nobody ever worried about her taking market share because you know, she was just Elaine.
Working with Elaine has been the perfect example of taking the truth of someone and their perceived weakness (as the small guy, the one man band, the nice one) and putting a spotlight on it. So that’s what we did. We looked at Elaine’s cracks in her foundations and found the light that shone through them – she offered one to one service, brides built a real relationship with her, she never rushed her brides and always went over and above, she didn’t have junior assistants, customers always received her level of experience and expertise, she only ever had one bride at a time and she genuinely cared about her brides, she was never out to get a quick sale.
I realised that what was considered an industry weakness was clearly a customer strength so we focused on this and built her brand around that sense of vulnerability and truth. She is a petite boutique, she will never be big. She won’t have bright lights or catwalks or a six figure salary. She’s small and classy and with a customer reputation that I’ve never witnessed and it’s this truth that will stand her in good stead, long after I’ve finished working with her.
Because I’ve learned that if you create a brand around a luxurious ethos but it’s not built on a tangible truth then it will topple down, and you may be able to take your toilet out of the advert but you’ll flush away any sense of authenticity and brand longevity if you don’t build a brand that has substance over style. And that’s when the brand unravel happens. Slowly, bit by bit, thread by thread until all that’s left is the tapestry you started with.