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Straightforward strategy

A jargon-free definition of ‘strategy’

The word ‘strategy’ can be quite intimidating.

Its meaning seems to be pretty flexible – covering everything from a 20-page wordsoup and a series of unintelligible diagrams, to ‘absolutely everything that a company ever does or even thinks about doing’. A Google search for ‘What is brand strategy?’ or ‘What is creative strategy?’ brings up a few unhelpful head-scratchers too.

"Big words are hiding places and good strategy doesn't hide." Mark Pollard

So, for a recent talk to students and lecturers at Dublin’s Maynooth University, we took Mark’s words to heart and challenged ourselves to define brand strategy without using any jargon whatsoever. The result:

Strategy = Deliberately doing things in a specific way

It’s not profound, but for us that’s what it all boils down to. Strategy isn’t useful on paper. Its use is in the real world. In removing subjectivity and misinterpretation. In adding focus. In getting lots of people (with competing priorities and different skills) to do things in a specific way that adds up to a single coherent picture.

Ask your people to be ‘the best’ and you might find some teams try to be the fastest, some the safest, some the cheapest, some the most innovative. Suddenly some people are working to make the product better looking, some longer lasting, some more widely available, some more exclusive. Someone’s working on making the website more serious while someone else is writing jokes for the ads. It’s carnage on the inside so you can guarantee the signals picked up by your punters on the outside don’t make much sense either.

But ask your people to deliberately do things in a specific way – like being the simplest company in your sector, or the most creative, or the safest… and suddenly you’re united. You’re strategic. And no matter how bad a day you’re having, you know the right way to do things.

Bringing your brand home

As international tourism slides, stick to local.

Recently, Dave, our Head of Creative Strategy, hosted a webinar about ‘localism’ and what brands can do about the post-lockdown tourism downturn. Dave’s talk was so illuminating that we thought we’d give you a brief overview.

Since travelling is unravelling…

During the recent Time-That-Must-Not-Be-Named there was little choice but to turn to local amusements, amenities, and attractions. While this has been beneficial for the community around us, the downside – particularly for those in the leisure industry – is that the international tourism they rely on to survive has taken a serious downturn. So what do we do?

Let’s face the situation honestly:
1. International tourism will take time to recover
2. Recruitment difficulties are limiting what you’ve got to offer
3. Long term, sustainability has to become a focus.

If the numbers aren’t coming in from overseas, there’s only one way to turn. And it could be the silver lining to the long, dark Covid cloud. So let’s give it a bash.

We could try:
1. Driving up local and domestic visitor numbers to fill the short term shortfall
2. Making it easier to attract and retain capable, invested staff
3. Building sustainable relationships, from supply chain to sentiment.
And there’s already a name for it! This is the resurgence of ‘localism’.

Is it time to be a local hero?

– Michelle Heller, our office/finance manager and local hero

This goes wider than tourism – ‘localism’ is, ironically, a global, cross-sector trend. If you don’t believe us, maybe you’ll believe a little Californian start-up called Google?

“We’re witnessing a renewed commitment to local communities. To win hearts and minds, global brands are rethinking their strategies by adapting to a more localized approach. They’re finding community connections and embracing local pride and thinking, all while adding a hyperlocal lens to creative work.”

And the stats back it up. There was a 63.3% rise in the number of people spending at local specialists like butchers, greengrocers and bakers. So, what’s the problem? What’s stopping us hitting that potential?

Well, in short, the local community can often be turned off it they feel that:
1. Tourists are your priority
2. Profit is your priority
3. Your brand is notauthentic.

The only solution is to make sure you’re being true to your brand and your community. Not condescending, not over-selling, and always genuine.

Consider these two questions:
1. What do you want to be famous for? A single, sharp brand idea that underpins what we choose to say and do. Our equivalent of Harley Davidson’s ‘Freedom’.
2. How do you want to come across? A clear set of personality traits that shape the way we say and do those things. Our equivalent of Nike’s inspiring, powerful tone.

If you’ve got solid answers to the two prompts above, it sounded like you’re ready for…

Our sever springboards to being a local hero

With these Seven Springboards to refer back to, you’ll have no trouble winning over the local market. Keep these in mind and bringing your brand home won’t be a bother!

#1 – ‘For’, Not ‘To’

Look at your community’s needs, issues, and barriers. Where could your brand credibly make a difference? It’s not about charity donations or CSR initiatives, it’s about using your strengths and resources to offer something the community actually wants.

#2 – Community Isn’t Competitive

How could you collaborate with local people, groups, and businesses to create something better than the sum of its parts?

#3 – Let Them Behind the Curtain

Move away from the ‘fake’, polished exterior – let people see the real deal behind the scenes. Encourage and enable teams to create, share, and enjoy themselves!

#4 – Help Tourists & Locals Swap Roles

Locals are in the know – they find the unspoilt gems. How can you give tourists a taste of that insider experience? Tourists are carefree, on an adventure, discovering new things. How can you give locals a taste of that freedom? Weaving them together could be fruitful long term.

#5 – The Real Thing

Local audiences are in the know and thrive on word of mouth – you can’t pull the wool. Avoid over-hyping things, or just paying lip service to your community. Embrace realism – visually and verbally.

What’s unique about your community’s character? How can you embrace that to build a feeling of belonging?

If you’re going to reference local culture, make sure you know it well.

#6 – Go to Them

Going beyond your fence – how can you take your attraction out into the community?

#7 – Treat it Like a Pilot

From exclusive new offerings to targeted campaigns,‘local’ could be a great place to test new approaches. Capture as you go – in film, photos and interviews. Locals need to see other locals enjoying your attraction before they’ll realise it’s for them too.

Could bringing your brand home be the short- and long-term answer you’ve been looking for? Thanks for reading, we hope you’ve found something to chew on. If you’d like to see what we can do for your brand’s strategy, get in touch Andy or Dave:

Andy Gray | Andy@StudioLR.com | 07966 926 459
Dave King | Dave@StudioLR.com | 07742 212 593

Don't turn up. Tune in

DON’T TURN UP, TUNE IN

What do sound engineers and marketers have in common?
Firstly: Both insist on ‘testing, testing’.
Secondly: The good ones make things crystal clear.
But clear doesn’t necessarily mean loud.

“1,2…1,2…2,2…”

There’s a misconception in our world sometimes that volume = victory.
That the more you raise the noise, the easier you’ll be heard.

But getting your message across isn’t about turning it up – it’s about cutting through. Clarity isn’t achieved through sheer force of decibels. It’s about choosing what to amplify rather than just blindly turning the master volume to ten like seemingly all train station P.A. operators do. If you want the 0925 service to reach its final destination of the quaint town of Engaged Customer, you have to stop off on the way at Cleartown, Plainville, and the famous, bustling station known as Get Yer Pointa Cross.

Cut through the noise.

FACE THE MUSIC

You’ve got to hit the sweet spot between your frequency and your environment. To create harmony between your message and your audience. And this doesn’t require a raw power approach. It takes a deft touch. Balance, precision, consideration. You have to be self-aware enough to know when you’re going too hard or not hard enough. You have to listen carefully for feedback. You have to be keenly attuned to the room.

Have you ever been to a gig and it just…didn’t sound right? Maybe it was too bassy, too muffled. Or too loud and buzzy. Maybe the singing was too quiet or all the loud stuff felt like it was at one side of the room. Or it could be that the sound just didn’t have enough meat. It’s understandable – there’s a million things that could go wrong. So much equalising, balancing, counterbalancing. Not just anyone can squeeze magic out of four teenagers, two cheapo guitars, and a malfunctioning, three-stringed bass.

Balance. Precision. Consideration.

STRIKE UP THE BRAND

Yep, a lot can go awry. There’s only one way to get them screaming “ONE MORE TUNE, ONE MORE TUNE” – you’ve got to take the time to listen. To really open the ears, take in the crowd and get an overview of the experience of the gig-goer.

You’ve got to identify the nuances in the sound and coax out only the gooiest of bits. Because every brand has something sweet in its sound. An intriguing frequency or tone in there somewhere. This little nugget of interest could be anything – an element of how it’s produced, it could be a distinctive flavour, a feeling that you don’t get from anything else – it doesn’t matter.

Every brand out there has some small ingredient that makes it worth listening to. That morsel must be identified, nurtured, and protected. It has to be balanced in the mix so it’s not overpowered, yet it can’t be out there by itself or it’ll sound isolated and maybe even jarring. Getting the balance right means you can put your best foot forward and create a harmony between your best tones and timbres and the ones you’d prefer be pushed to the background.

OWN YOUR WAVELENGTH

It’s a two-way street, too. Having your own frequency means people know where to go for a certain vibe. It means they know what ears to bring when they’re tuning in. If you’re clear about what you’re saying (and who you’re saying it to), you’ll find you don’t have to shout.

Own your wave length.

To be heard, you have to say your piece in a different way. A way that better resonates between both what you’re offering and what the customer wants. Finding the sweetest sound for your voice. Finding the frequency that puts shivers up spines. Owning your wavelength.

OVER AND OUT

So don’t just turn it up – craft a sound that’s uniquely yours. One that carries your voice clearly to the eardrums of the world. No pops, no fuzz, no distortion – just hi-res, 3D surround sound marketing.

And, like the bonus tracks nobody asked for, we’ll end with the duds – the sound production/marketing jokes that didn’t cut it for the intro:

  • What did the sound engineer say to the marketer who was making coffee? I’ll have one two, one two.
  • What did the marketer say to the sound engineer? Were you expecting that feedback?

What’s the difference between a good marketer and a bad sound guy? Whether the buzz was created deliberately or not.

The power of a single, sharp idea

The power of a single, sharp idea

In this game, we’re all professional attention seekers. We crave the public’s gaze more than a streaker at a cup final. The trouble with attention though, is it’s hard to hold.

Being disruptive and getting instant attention is easy. It’s so easy babies instinctively do it as soon as they board a Ryanair flight. But there’s a big difference between an instant ear-ache and a lasting memory.

The stuff that lasts – that requires commitment.

Think of how long Red Bull’s given you wiiiiings, or try to remember the first time Kit-Kat told you to have a break – these are timelessly ownable concepts that were achieved through timeless dedication.

The general public really don’t care about our brands. They don’t sit eagerly anticipating our ‘key messages’. They’re busy living. They’ll maybe catch half a TV ad on the way back from the loo, a glimpse of a social post while thumbing through Instagram, a passing slice of a billboard while driving home. If we haven’t thought ruthlessly about the big idea we want to be famous for, we stand very little chance of being famous for anything.

Like Guinness World Records.

Let’s say there’s a fella who tries a different record every week: most people in a VW mini, then longest toenails, then most tattoos, then highest freefall without a parachute.

And another person who just does baths of beans. They dedicate their life to beanology and bathonomy. They pore over different models and volumes, they become an authority on the bean-bath rules, study the different brands with different tins and who has the most beans per can, etc etc.

Who’s more likely to break a world record?

Did Michael Jordan spend his youth committing evenly to a bit of basketball, some crochet, a wee touch of theoretical physics, writing a novel about Louis XIV, and rehearsing the double bass for the big hoedown?

No, he played basketball.

He shot for the hoop again and again and again probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times until he was a master. He dedicated his young life to one idea. (Before becoming a largely unsuccessful baseball player and actor but he was already famous for basketball by then so we’re ignoring that).

Every ball that left his huge hands didn’t swoop through the hoop flawlessly. Some dinged the rim. Some banged awkwardly against the backboard. But he always aimed for the same thing. It’s a numbers game and you can stack the odds in your favour by having focus. By throwing all your creativity at one single, sharp idea.

So go.

Research your tins. Measure your tub. Slide in and let the cold, viscous tomato goodness caress your skin like an expensive balm…

Find your bath of beans.

More-ing is boring. Keep messages to a minimum

Why too much info is worse than not enough

The human brain. So clever it named itself. The most complex structure in the universe, some say (those people have obviously never been trapped in the ever-shifting maze of the IKEA shop floor).

Yep, the brain is a beautiful thing. Not aesthetically, of course, but in what it’s capable of. But one thing our minds aren’t so hot at is focusing on multiple things at once. Apparently “the brain can’t effectively handle more than two complex, related activities at once”.

Well, let’s test that theory out – try to multiply 13 x 17 and remember the name of the guy who played Tony Soprano and envision the colour of your front door and conjure up what your high school gym teacher looked like…your beautiful brain just turns to a formless buzz of white noise.

Our brains filter out what they can in order to accomplish one or two tasks at a time effectively. That’s why when Derren Brown gets his cards out and starts to ask for your National Insurance number, you don’t notice that he’s nicked your watch.

Keep messages to a minimum or we won't catch them all

Throw us a ball, and we’ll catch it. Throw us three, and we will more likely than not (unless circus performers are currently reading this blog) drop them all.



This is exactly why we need to keep messages to a minimum in advertising. If a t-shirt says:

MIKE’S MOTORS of MUSSELBURGH
–– Best deals on old cars in town ––
‘We always match competitors’ prices’
£££ Get a quote today £££
“Don’t pay more than what you’re here for”

There’s no telling which message you’ll remember. If any. So even if you do remember something, it might not be the important part.

In the over-saturated world of advertising, it’s tough enough getting people to take in one message, never mind five. Keep your communications single-minded, straightforward, and as soak-up-able as they can possibly be.

Think of it like texting your ex – keep the messages to an absolute minimum.

Lessons learnt from Mark Ritson 9 top take-aways from his Mini MBA in Marketing

9 top take-aways from his Mini MBA in Marketing

We love to learn and in a normal year you’ll find us on a tonne of training courses. Whether it’s trying something new or just hearing a fresh perspective on something we do every day, training keeps the wheels turning. Last year was a little different. Neither us, nor our wheels, were going anywhere. So we committed to remote learning and four of us studied Mark Ritson’s Marketing Week Mini MBA in marketing.

It was extremely valuable. To anyone thinking of doing it – go for it. It’s quite a big time commitment on top of a busy work life but you won’t regret it. Here are a few little gems that have stuck with us…

1. Embrace the humility of marketing.

The second you take a job in the industry you lose your genuine opinion. You’re no longer a normal customer and your opinion is biased and dangerous. The trick is to know you’re not the customer and make sure you connect with them. Understanding your weakness becomes your biggest strength. Once you accept that you’re in the dark, you’re going to want to switch the lights on. Enter Market Research. One of the first things you’ll learn is that while your brand means everything to you – it means almost nothing to your customers.

2. Don’t take it out of the horse’s mouth

Research insights are most powerful when you don’t paraphrase them. Ideally present video footage or audio recordings… if not try direct quotes – ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’.

3. Kill the hypothetical customer.

The ‘hypothetical customer’ never surprises us, does exactly what we want, and somehow always has the needs we want them to have. They’re all basically the same so they make marketing plans very easy to develop. Unfortunately they don’t exist. And marketing plans built on them are doomed to fail. Segment your market based on real data not stereotypes. And remember they’re individual people. Never, ever try to average them out – the average person in the UK has one testicle.

4. Segmentation is making the map. Targeting is taking the hike.

Good market segmentation should be purely descriptive not strategic – it’s not about you, it’s about the market. Once you have the market segmented up then you can pack your bag and trek onto targeting – where you’ll be glad to hear it is all about you. You can’t please everyone though so think carefully about where you want to go. And where you don’t.

5. Don’t be in a rush to position your brand.

Be disciplined and make sure you do your strategy in the right order. Segment the whole market first, pick your targets second, and only then should you think about how to position your brand. Otherwise who are you positioning it for? And how could it possibly be relevant to them if you didn’t know who they were when you did it?

6. Don’t get carried away with all the brand fluff.

When you do come to position your brand don’t get bogged down by all the latest lingo (DNA, essence, promise, purpose, proposition, beliefs, values, principles, personality, voice – we could go on). Keep it simple and make sure you’ve answered the important question: “What do we want to stand for to our target customer? What should they think of when they think of us?”. Remember, this has to be clear enough to unite a tonne of people with conflicting priorities and different backgrounds and experiences. If your computer died just as you were about to save your positioning slide, you should be able to remember it word for word.

7. The only difference between a brand and a commodity is meaning.

Both have a function, and both have a price, but brands add meaning where commodities don’t. Deviate too far from the meaning you’re trying to build and you’ll erode your brand back into a commodity – which is, of course, a race to the bottom.

8. You’re more likely to be too cheap than too expensive.

Pricing is tricky, with risks of going too high or too low. But if you’re on the fence take heart in knowing where history stands on this: 80-90% of pricing errors are underpricing.

9. Look at the job before you choose the tool.

A plumber who arrives at the job with only one tool is a bad plumber. A good plumber looks at the job and goes back to the van to get the right tool. The same is true for creative. An open-minded, output-agnostic approach will always beat a prescriptive, fixed approach. All media plans take into account your audience, but the best ones take into account your brand and your idea too. A brand built on being ‘big, bold, and untamed’ might suit outdoor more than editorial. While a brand built on being ‘discrete and personal’ should maybe only be seen in private – like on mobile ads.

Embrace the mess of good ideas

Why creating and editing should be kept separate

Imagine a football coach marking out areas for exercises. He’s whistling away as he innocently lays out those cheap, plasticky little UFO-cones. But, with every cone he picks from his mesh sack and lays out, one of the annoying little kids sneaks behind him and puts it back in the bag. Cone after cone he places delicately on the astro, cone after cone the kids pick it back up. After five minutes of graft, he looks up to get the lay of the land, and he’s got nothing. Not a marker on the ground. Everything he put out there – gone.

This is what happens when you have a ‘nae sayer’ in a brainstorm. The aptly-named devil’s advocates may be trying to help, but ideas, especially freshly-born ones, need space to breathe. They’re barely formed, and someone’s already saying they’re not right.

These delicate little ideas need to be nurtured, cultivated, and actively grown in a safe place – a creative greenhouse where nothing is thrown away.

Editing while you’re still coming up with the ideas is a very dangerous game.

Imagine opening your Lego pirate ship set and throwing away bits that don’t immediately look useful. Then, when you get to the end, you realise you needed all those unassuming little pieces to actually hold the mast up and set the sails.

It might not be immediately clear why an idea is relevant, or where it’s going to go, but even if you’re taking a line from that idea you were gonna chuck, or a word, or a ghost of a whisper of a rumour of a thought. It still deserves its place at the table.

Original ideas are messy. They don’t arrive the right way up. Quite often they don’t even have an obvious start, or end, or shape.

Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull described them as “ugly babies” that “are not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be. They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete”.

But with an open mind and a little patience, an idea can go anywhere.

John Steinbeck said “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.” And this guy won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Whatever you do, don’t be the fireman at the BBQ dousing the glowing coals before we even get a sniff of a sausage.

Stay positive and let ideas do their own thing. You’ll be surprised where they go.

Introducing our Better half: Better Company

Introducing our Better half

When Andy and I started StudioLR 18 years ago, we had no idea how many inspiring people we’d meet along the way. From our agency team-mates, to our clients and collaborators, we’ve worked with so many talented and creative people over the years – many of whom we’re lucky enough to call friends.

From our early days in a little basement room to our recent international brand development for the likes of Volvo and Jura Whisky – the work, the team, and the business have all gone from strength to strength. Andy and I are both so proud of how far we’ve all come.
 
And the journey’s far from over.

As many of you will know, I’ve always been motivated to make a big impact on society, especially with an emphasis on collaboration and inclusive design. This social purpose is what really fires me up, and over the last few years I’ve focused more and more on this kind of work.

In that time I’ve been lucky to lead some incredibly inspiring projects – from co-designing signage that helps people with dementia live more independent lives, to working with The Promise, set up to transform the wellbeing of Scotland’s young people, to most recent commissions with the teams developing Scotland’s Covid Memorial and the new Women’s Facility at HMP&YOI Stirling.

Now I’m launching my own exciting project – StudioLR’s new sister business Better Company – 100% dedicated to making the everyday better for people from all walks of life. A creative studio built on collaboration and co-design, working exclusively on projects that make society better for people.

StudioLR is the strongest it’s been in 18 years and the new leadership team will take the business on to a whole new level as the world’s most gutsy creative agency. I’m thrilled to start this next chapter of my career collaborating with the most inspiring, diverse and creative minds to make a big impact for better.

So, if you want to do good, why not get in touch and do Better?

Lucy

www.bettercompany.uk

Caution paper cuts ahead

10 razor-sharp reads to whet your creative whistle

Towards the end of last year, we took the leap and decided to overhaul the office. Before we got the sledgehammers out and started knocking down walls (fun!), we finally had to sort out the bookshelves (no fun).

What started as a boring task quickly became a pleasure. Sifting through pages we hadn’t seen for years, we found a few favourites to share:

Marty Neumeier – The Brand Gap

The brand-building bible. A sermon on substance. Marty closes the gap between business strategy and brand strategy – making it easy to see how all the parts fit together. Thousands of us have tried to explain that a logo is not a brand, but never quite as well as this…

Razor-sharp reads: The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

David Crystal – Words Words Words

If you like words you’ll love this book. Where they come from, what they mean, why we enjoy them, how they evolve, how we play with them. It’s just a lovely little book packed with great anecdotes and guaranteed to rekindle your love of language.

“Words aren’t harmful. They are, after all, only mouthfuls of air, handfuls of marks on a surface, or clusters of pixels on a screen. It is the people who control the mouths, hands, and screens that are the problem.”

Matthew Syed – Rebel Ideas

This one’s a real eye-opener. From the CIA to Johan Cruyff, via the Google HQ and an Everest rescue operation – Syed shows us how diversity can help remove blinkers and reveal blind spots. It’s a warning against building a kowtowing culture – and a little glimpse into the power of diverse teams who have the freedom to disagree.

Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace – Creativity, Inc

A must-read for anyone building a creative business. Half handbook on running a creative company, half behind-the-scenes exposé on life at Pixar. Packed with a tonne of useful little nuggets and funny stories.

Alan Fletcher – The Art of Looking Sideways

The heaviest book on the list, this is one to keep handy – in case you ever need a weapon, or just a little boost of imagination. 530+ hardbacked pages of playfulness, this self-proclaimed ‘primer in visual intelligence’ reads like a giant scrapbook of ideas, words and visuals. All jumbled together and bound into a paper soup. In a good way.

Razor-sharp reads: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

Les Binet & Sarah Carter – How Not to Plan

There’s no shortage of thought-leading nonsense in the world of strategy and planning. This book is the perfect antidote. A myth-busting guide, each chapter takes an often-repeated, seldom-worthwhile slice of ‘wisdom’ and rips it up. Challenging assumptions, using evidence, and setting out a better way of doing things. You’d be hard-pushed to find a more practical and useful planning book.

“Anyone could be called Les Binet or Sarah Carter. But over time our names accrue meaning. And we grow to own them. So let’s stop ducking responsibility. When next presented with a potential end-line, the right question isn’t ‘Is it own-able?’, it’s ‘How can we own it?’”

Dave Trott – One + One = Three

A collection of immensely readable anecdotes of creative thinking in all walks of life. The book’s philosophy and content can be summed up in this one quote from the intro: “The more varied the input, the more unexpected the combinations, the more creative the ideas.”

Jeff Tweedy – How to Write One Song

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s book of songwriting tips serves as a great little intro to any creative pursuit. He strips away the mystery and fear, and gives away practical tips to get started, to make creativity part of your everyday, and to keep going despite the tricky bits.

“We have a choice – to be on the side of creation, or surrender to the powers that destroy.”

John Hegarty – Hegarty on Creativity

A collection of 50 provocative little thoughts gleaned from decades at the top of the ad industry. All the advice you could ever need is in these pages.

“Inspiring people isn’t a mathematical process. You’ve got to surprise yourself as well as your audience. There is a randomness to creating that must be celebrated not scorned.”

James Webb Young – A Technique for Producing Ideas

Just 48 tiny pages. And with big writing too. First published in 1965, you can dust this one off in an hour or so but it’ll be a really valuable hour. A step-by-step guide to coming up with new ideas. Love the notion of the ‘mental digestive process’.

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