During this stressful time there’s one over-riding priority: stay safe, fit and healthy. When us Crows face a danger, we hunker down, stay in our nests, keep a stock of worms and keep an eye on the Crowlets. They can fledge later after all.
If you are a brand builder and you’re working from home, we have published a blog underlining why this is a (counter-intuitively) unique time to build a rigourous, focused brand and brand plan. We have been gifted the one thing that is a rare and precious resource in this day and age: time.
And we’ve just published what you can do with that time here – most brand building tasks can still continue, moving either online (research) or remotely (strategy, innovation, planning, visualisation).
If you are one of lovely clients or just a Crow Friend – new or future – and if you are struggling during this time either because of the impacts on your business, your family & friends or if you’re just feeling a bit low – please pick up the blower. Talking things through is an incredible tonic. You’re not alone. The might of the Crow flock is here and with you.
Pull your brand through isolation and come out stronger
These are distressing times, unprecedented times and times when the needs of the community and those most vulnerable in it rightly have to be placed above those of businesses. Nothing supersedes this. For marketeers and brands however, this adversity presents opportunities to get brand and marketing plans in the best shape they’ve ever been. Planning can’t be rushed but that’s invariably what marketeers are asked to do. Few if any marketing teams are given enough time to develop, refine and sell their plans.
Proper time. Not the snatched moments between the multiple distractions of corporate office life. Planning sessions are squeezed in when a calendar gap allows. Instead, the focus becomes getting plans done, getting them sold in. It’s little wonder there are gaps and inconsistencies. It’s little wonder that there are different agendas pushing the brand in different directions post ‘sign-off’. We see six common issues:
Not all consumers or even business stakeholders fully understand the brand or really get behind it
There are too many different views on what the brand stands for and how it should be behaving
Plan activities spring out of nowhere. Ideas get their boots on before strategy has woken up
The plan tries to tick every box (& can’t). Everyone’s been appeased but the brand makes no impact
Different agendas. Plans are derailed by a lack of shared unity on the strategy or the focus of activities
For brand owners, the commercial world slowing from its usual pace means that there is a rare opportunity to stop the fire-fighting and get deep and strong brand foundations in place. Foundations, that link powerful insights to purposeful activation, focusing energy on activities that genuinely impact the consumer instead of endlessly discussing and tweaking.
Home working and isolation are a potential liberator. Working this way is more efficient and effective. It creates the time for you to delve into and reflect on the category, and to properly plot your competitive strategy and review your brand positioning. It frees precious time to get closer to your target audience, to review & refine your consumer segmentation or even test innovation concepts (research is alive and well incidentally, and consumers who would otherwise be unavailable or harder to recruit suddenly are more open to spending some time with you).
Don’t miss this opportunity, use it wisely and you’ll never look back:
Spend time understanding your consumers: don’t just re-read an aging insight report. Immerse yourself in their world, properly understand them, talk to them. Pinpoint your target audience, prioritise their needs and place irrefutable insight at the heart of your strategy.
Review your positioning: do consumers, customers, stakeholders and colleagues truly have a shared understanding of the brand, what it delivers & how it delivers it? Is it powerful, consistent and differentiated? If it isn’t, now is the time to make changes.
Create a brand plan that stands up to challenge: are the key insights clear? Do they run like a vein of gold all the way through to actions? Do they confront the brutal truths or address the differentiating opportunities? Look at what you’re planning: are you ‘salami slicing’ and investing too little in too many activities? Have you forced sacrifice to execute with scale?
Get innovative: you’ve finally got time to be creative, do so. You don’t need to be in groups to come up with ideas. Time to reflect is stimulus in its own right. Idea generation sessions can be held digitally, innovation frameworks can be agreed to focus efforts on areas with the greatest commercial scope, ideas can be tested, refined and prepared for launch.
Build the big sell: an insight is nothing if it doesn’t grab people. A strategy is nothing if it doesn’t create action. Innovation is nothing if you can’t bring the ideas to life. A brand plan is nothing if it doesn’t inspire. Focus time on creating the tools that will sell your brand and your plan not only to customers but also internally, to stakeholders and sales teams. Buy in is everything, don’t leave it as an after-thought.
When we all return to offices and ‘normality’ you don’t have to return to a culture of justification and endless debate, you can return with a brand and business strategy that unites, inspires and frees you to focus your efforts on delivering it. It may feel odd to say it, but there’s rarely been a better opportunity to set up your brand with foundations of stone as good as this. Grab it.
As the situation develops with Covid-19, we’re keeping an eye on the implications of the virus on face-to-face qualitative research. Clearly, both participants, researchers and clients may feel uncomfortable about sharing the same space at this time. However, both the MRS and AQR guidance is that we continue to recommend the appropriate methodology for the research, which may be Groups or similar, until further notice.
A number of the precautions and extra steps we are taking are:
building checks into the recruitment process on recent travel to affected regions or potential domestic exposure to the virus
ensuring that all participants are aware of the exact nature of the environment the research is taking place in and are recruited on this basis
bringing antibacterial hand wash and tissues to sessions for the use of attendees and providing (a little) more space in the room, where that is practicable
Beyond this of course, there are many alternatives to face-to-face research. From telephone or digital depths, digital diaries, online bulletin boards, tele or video conferencing – please let us know if you’d like to consider these options more fully.
The Crow Flies undertook an in-depth look into the drivers of choice and influence for people when food shopping on behalf of our lovely friends at Soil Association Certification. The research was conducted amongst 58 people who are not organic ‘converts,’ but rather ‘potentials’ – those who infrequently buy a small number of organic products, but are open to considering more. We spoke to men and women from a wide range of ages and different life stages, and gained an interesting perspective on their shopping choices. It’s clear that we’re living through a time of real and long-lasting change.
The summary of the research is here and if you are a Soil Association Licensee, you can get the full report by e-mailing them with your licensee number.
A massive, massive thank you for everyone who has supported The Big Crow Adventure this year in aid of Footprints Orphanage – so far we’ve beaten our target and donations are still coming in. Please donate if you haven’t already – it makes a huge difference to the children.
As suspected, we weren’t blessed with the best of weather – 400km was a tough ask of 100k or 60 miles a day – and we left in rain and finished in rain. In between, lots of muddy towpaths, puddles and one or two steep, steep hills. At the end tired legs and aching bums, but the challenge is a big part of why we do it.
Here’s a little pictorial reflection of the ride – thanks again if you’ve donated already and if you want to know more about Footprints and the work they do, click here.
Our annual team challenge, The Big Crow Adventure – the Crows are riding this year 400km in 4 days, all off road, knobbly tired bikes, no flying or stealing performance-enhancing worms… in the traditional UK ‘dry season’ of October…
This year we’re doing the ride in aid of Footprints Orphanage – please take a look at their website to see the incredible work they do to help the children. In the UK, we have free health care, education and we don’t go hungry, but in Kenya that doesn’t happen. With your help we can continue to give these children a loving home environment and hope for the future. Every penny raised goes direct to the Orphanage.
Our route is roughly 100km or 60 miles per day:
Day 1: Crow Towers – Wirksworth in the Peak District, via the Trent & Mersey, Erewash & Cromford Canals
Day 2: Wirksworth – Sandbach in Cheshire via the High Peak Trail, Buxton and the Derbyshire reservoirs, the High Peak Canal to Marple near Stockport then down the Middlewood Path and Macclesfield Canal into the Cheshire Plain.
Day 3: Sandbach – Sandbach along the Shropshire Union canal, through the Beeston Gap to Chester, then up to the Bridgewater Canal and back down the top section of the Trent & Mersey via the Anderton Lift
Day 4: Sandbach to Crow Towers, along the Trent & Mersey through the Potteries and a much needed meal of grubs, dried insects and possibly twig sprinkles.
It’s always great when work that impacts the market gets recognised and one of The Crow Flies long-standing clients, Whitworths, has had just that. We’re delighted to have played our part in the wider team that helped turnaround the Whitworths brand – we’ve partnered with them on research, strategy, innovation and planning . Read more about it in the Telegraph (below).
This was a great example of brand building – a team effort working with great partners (a big call out to Springett’s and Chapter), consistent focus on consumer and commercial insights, and then making some tough choices to free up the space, time and resources to impact the market.
If you’d like to chat to us about your brand building challenge, be it strategy, research, innovation or brand planning, we’d love to talk. And well done to Big Phil and the team at Whitworths!
One of the most difficult aspects of brand building is delivering a consistent experience. It can be tricky because perhaps yours is a product-based brand where the experience feels like a less significant touchpoint; or it can be tricky because you’re maybe a retail brand where controlling all the variables seems nigh-on impossible. It can be tricky too to define which aspects of the brand experience should be focused on: the process of consideration and buying; opening; using; consuming? It’s complex… yet crucial.
This was brought home to me recently when I went for a coffee at a local café for a business catch-up. This is an award-winning café in fact, with courteous staff, a chilled ambience and thoughtful product selections across both drinks and food. The groundwork of their offer had clearly been thoughtfully considered too – the foundations to build a powerful brand experience all in place. The coffee, for example, is delivered in signature crockery, with a biscotti and sugar that looks like rock-salt, served to one side. You know, all a bit la-di-da, yet enjoyable all the same; little touches that justify the premium.
I ordered a coffee which was shortly brought to the table but… wait. No biscuit. ‘First world problems‘, I thought to myself and let it pass – it was, after all, just a biscuit. I put it out of my head and carried on with my meeting. Two or three minutes later, a waitress came to the table and apologised for forgetting the biscuit before placing them, unprompted, on a small plate in front of us. Mild disappointment swerves through 180 degrees to delight. They spotted the problem, then over-corrected. All good – a little slither of positive brand equity is accreted into the brand ‘goodwill bank’.
Sometime later, a second coffee was ordered. Again it was brought to the table a few minutes later, and again, no biscuit was brought with it. Only this time, no corrective action was taken. And you might think that ultimately, it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s only a biscuit. It’s not even a particularly posh or special biscuit.
But in truth, the biscuit is a vital part of the mix. Indeed, it’s not really a biscuit at all. Rather, it’s an essential strand of the delicate web of expectations that weave together into a fragile whole that makes up the brand experience. It’s one of the small, yet disproportionately important, parts of the brand which together add up to more than the sum of their parts. And like a spider’s web, removing just one thread can weaken everything.
Would I refuse to go back to the café again because they forgot the biscuit? Of course not… but here’s the thing. This small, almost imperceptible mistake creates a much bigger seed of doubt. It opens up a chink in their armour such that next time you’ll be less forgiving and be much more open to going elsewhere. One reason politicians worry about tactical voting is because they know that when a voter does it for the first time, they’re much more disposed to doing it again.
What does all this mean for brands? Well, for one, brand experience isn’t easy nor forgiving. “A brand is a living entity, enriched or undermined cumulatively over time – the product of a thousand small gestures” is how ex-Disney CEO, Michael Eisner put it. Be thoughtful and rigourous in defining what is critical to your brand experience. Don’t overlook the small details if a consumer perceives them as vital to your delivery. Build up a clear picture of what is core to your brand experience and focus your resources, your time and your training around delivering that, time after time, and especially when you’re bored of doing so. And experience isn’t just about experiential brands (like retail). How a brand is presented; the materials used; the tone of copy; how it is opened, or used; how it feels; how it sounds… everything matters in the web of sensory touch-points that makes up the brand world.
Yes, brand experience can be difficult, yet consistent delivery is one of the big prizes of brand stewardship; one of the golden threads that runs through your brand and connects with your target’s emotions.
I’ve always been fascinated by maps; I can lose myself in maps just as easily – and perhaps as ironically, as losing myself in the landscape. The detail, the contours, conveying 3 dimensions in 2 dimensions; the sense of personal discovery, even knowing that there’s rarely anything new to discover. Maps, unlike books, which as you turn the pages leave what was written behind as a memory, lay everything out in front of you to see. The past, the present and potential futures, right there.
But we tend to manage brands like we’re turning the pages of a book. The past is there, vaguely remembered, but as soon as the page is turned its tangible form, its vividness is lost; it’s not visible today as it was yesterday or 10 years ago. We plot the future with the past as an indistinct and selective memory. This is why with the churn of people that modern businesses have it’s very easy to justify changing a new course for a brand. Individual interpretation of what went before becomes more justifiable when the facts of what happened aren’t mapped out clear to see.
Maps then are a better way of thinking about how to build a brand if you are bothered about building a sustainable brand for the long term. Why?
A map shows the past. You may notice that a ‘weather forecast’ is often more of a ‘weather hindsight’ focusing most of the time on explaining what had happened rather than telling us what is going to happen. And it would be easy to think that a map merely shows the lie of the land today – in fact, they show the past and the present. They show the marks of man and the marks of nature.
And as we look at a brand today and we audit it’s various touch-points and assets, so too is it easy to forget the marks of the past. Yesterday’s brand custodians ran activity that built the franchise. Today’s brand custodians should look for those foundations and build from there. Sure, as you dig, there will be a lot of detritus to sweep away but buried there will be the foundations, still strong, still supporting the brand today. Part of stewarding a brand is to log the activity; the learnings and reveal it, share it – ensuring that tacit individual knowledge becomes organisational learning. The brand’s past becomes a tangible asset deployable by the brand to its future advantage.
A map illuminates today. Like a map of the landscape, categories and brands have a terrain that can be mapped too: that of competitors, customers, consumer, the company and its context (shopper dynamics, legislative changes and so on). Cognisant of the past, a mapping approach builds more certainty and confidence over where you are today and how that is perceived relative to other factors. Mapping the past makes your future brand strategy more likely to be distinctive and defensible.
A map points to the future. Look at a map of some mountains and put yourself on a summit. On a map you can see the routes of descent, the options open to you. A couple of ridge routes, a few longer but less challenging descents, or the ‘direct descent’, vertically off the edge. It’s the same for brands: you have options and often options create inaction. A mapping approach, where learnings from the past are published and shared; where the situation today is clearly laid out narrows the options for the future. It helps you to choose between the real contenders and the cul-de-sacs, which sap resource for no benefit.
There’s something else too. Maps connect the senses. Maps are perhaps the original infographic. They uniquely combine words, imagery and dimensions. They’re labelled in a common language that decodes complexity, quickly. More than this, in their own way, they are eye-catching, arresting and simply beautiful – to paraphrase Terence Conran, a perfect example of form and function coming together to produce something that not only works, but is also aesthetically beautiful. For brands they can be anything you want them to be: an illustrated story; an annotated flow chart; a potato stamped visualisation. The point is bringing to life the outputs of your strategy or plan in ‘map’ form engages, educates and informs in a way that few other media can. Too often, we stop at a PowerPoint presentation and hope that our voice over will do the rest.
But what is a ‘brand map’? In truth, it’s not some rocket-science new invention. I’m not even professing that it should be a term you use. It’s not a brand plan but a brand plan plus. Too often, brand ‘plans’ aren’t that. So many suffer from being a random assemblage of fanciful opinion – justifying data snippets that don’t build into a clear narrative. An effective brand map isn’t that. It’s an purposed plan that is clear on how the past has informed current status; that shows the context of the brand today and evokes the senses to flow, logically, unerringly through to the commercially exciting possibilities of the future. It’s a story laid out so that everyone can see how it builds on the greatness of the past to make a future consistent yet even greater.