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What are some of the most common mistakes you see being made by brands?

1. Chasing volume

Too many brands chase volume today at the expense of the brand tomorrow. When I joined Maclaren they were making buggies for Mother Care. Why?! It was doing nothing for our brand and compromising our profit margins, so I stopped it.

Likewise Royal Doulton were producing tableware and glassware for M&S. It was generating £5 million of revenue a year but it wasn’t helping our brand, so I stopped it in the second week and found the £5 million elsewhere.

2. Having too many brands

Royal Doulton had far too many sub brands. It became confusing to the consumer and difficult to manage, so we stripped most of them out and focused on the only brand that mattered – Royal Doulton.

3. Making decisions based on short term tactical considerations rather than the long term interests of the brand

You must do everything through the one word and five year mincer – if we do this does it jar with the one word we want our brand to mean and in five years time will we be a bit ashamed that we did it? If the answer to either is yes, then don’t do it. Bentley uphoslter their cars using leather from Switzerland because even though Austrian leather is cheaper, farmers use barbed wire in Austrian fields and therefore the leather is more likely to have scratches on it. In other words, if a brand really means luxury, then don’t make any decision that compromises it.

4. They don’t talk about their one word enough

If you aren’t talking about it every day then why should your customers?

5. They forget that marketing is not an output solution

I have got up and left meetings without even looking at the final logo or copy because I’ve just known that it will be right. If you give the right people the right information they will reach the right conclusion.

Too often companies start with words, colours, channels and tactics but that is completely back to front. You must first nail the message you want to communicate, and then everything else comes out of that.

If you walk into a business you can usually tell within 10 seconds whether or not they’ve got their heads around what they actually stand for. Somehow the Saturday temps in Boots are all a bit friendlier, a bit smarter, a bit more professional than anyone else on the high street. They take pride in what they do and understand what the company stands for.

6. They undervalue personal appearance

In my opinion personal appearance is the most underrated part of branding. Brand is just a consequence of people and if those people don’t feel and behave in a way that’s aligned to your one word then the consumer will see through it. It might sound odd but so much of a person’s mindset and behaviour is a product of their personal appearance. If you feel smart and professional you will be inclined to act in a smart and professional manor. The opposite also applies. The Boots Saturday team ooze professionalism in their appearance as much as their knowledge. The impact of both together is far more than double as it builds a compound feeling of competence.


How do you help companies uncover their brand personality?

There are lots of activities you can use to help companies uncover their one word. Here are two of my favourite:
– Pick the colour and animal that they believe best represents the brand. If one person says white and a puppy and another says black and a snow leopard then you have a problem!
– Choose different associations for the brand. Where would the brand go on holiday, where it go for coffee, what car would it drive, what clothes would it wear?

These simple games can reveal far more than a complex questionnaire.


Sometimes it’s essential that a brand target multiple distinct segments. How do you cater to different audiences without losing the essence of the brand?

You can target as many audiences as you like as long as you remember that you cannot mean different things to different people. You have to find the common strand.

For example, McDonalds means convenience and can be sold to families, business people and students. After all, is there anyone in the world that wants an inconvenient meal?

The trouble that most brands have in flexing their brand to fit different audiences is that they’ve never actually nailed what their brand is. What did Woolworths or BHS stand for by the time they went into administration? I don’t know. What did Hilary Clinton stand for? No idea. What does Aldi stand for? We all know and we can all therefore shop there.


How much has the digital world changed the role of brand?

All of the really successful brands have realised that digital is just a tactic to drive your brand forward. The ones that have gone wrong are those that have tried to use it as the answer to all of life’s problems.

Digital has made it easier to build 1 to 1 relationships at scale and easier to track the impact of your activity, but fundamentally nothing has changed. Unfortunately very few digital marketers seem to realise that and spend far too long obsessing over the latest social media platform or Google update, rather than nailing the actual message they’re trying to communicate.


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