If you follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or pop by the site to read our Thoughts or News items from time to time – you may have noticed that we’ve been relatively quiet in our musings over the past 18 months or so. This is not because we’ve taken a nice long break after a successful but equally tough first few years of Telling Stories. It isn’t because we’ve become lazy about talking to the outside world, which is an integral part of our DNA as brand communicators…
And it really isn’t because we have nothing more to say or share, there’s been plenty going on in the world which deserves our two-penneth. We’ve simply been struggling to make the time.
Those of you who know myself and Faye will be aware that we’ve enjoyed and endured a roller coaster period in our personal lives.
Nearly two years ago we began the adoption process – which we soon discovered was a thoroughly intimidating and often painful journey coupled with profound lows and incredible highs.
What I’m about to say will feel very negative, but there is a happy ending so please bear with me.
Imagine being handed a checklist of the things you do and don’t want in a child?
The difficulty/guilt of making decisions based upon physical, mental or socially challenging issues was something we were not readily prepared for. Parents who conceive naturally don’t get to choose whether they’d like a boy or a girl, nevermind the myriad of other options which were presented to us.
This is just scratching the surface.
We attended numerous training days and workshops. Spent many hours completing paperwork. Our whole life stories were put under a microscope. The worst bit? Being subjected to several adoption panel assessments where the great and the good decided our fate. These felt like an interrogation in Room 101. Or worse, people playing God.
The process was exhausting, and for many good reasons I suppose it should be.
The detailed training, questioning and soul-searching all fell into place and our lives changed forever. One whirlwind year later, we were placed with a strong and sassy little girl who was far better prepared for her new life than myself and Faye ever were… She’s perfect. I’m welling up.
And so during the majority of 2016, such a horrid year for many – myself and Faye have been undertaking our toughest but most rewarding project to date – getting to know and love our new Daughter.
It all feels really normal now. So every now and then we need to remind ourselves of how we got here, because in many respects we are now a perfectly ordinary family. Albeit, a family who has been on an extraordinary journey.
So despite our hiatus we’re still Telling Stories – and in a few years, we may even be adding another family member to the Telling Stories team.
Written by David Thompson | June 2017
Everyone has their own take on this thing called branding. Across our industry, the great and the good seek to create their own distilled description and succinctly illuminate what can be quite a complex and muli-layered subject.
Jeff Bezos (Mr Amazon to you and me) describes brand as “…what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Rupert Murdoch (we’re not fans of his, but…) pinpointed the power of personality when he said “For better or for worse, our company is a reflection of my thinking, my character, my values.”
Paul Rand simply said “Perception is reality, reality is not reality, it’s only what people think.”
I love the work and graphic impact of Paul Rand – along with the witty way in which he really distilled big ideas down to their most simple, effective and iconic form. I don’t agree with his sentiment that perception is reality though. I mean, it is… but only up to a point. Branding for us is like an equation – perception, plus or minus reality.
Businesses spend time, effort and money to create a positive and perhaps unique idea of who they are. In our work as brand designers, we thrive on creating stories that audiences can feel curious about, enthralled even… but it is always based upon the truth, and here’s why.
A compelling brand will entice customers into experiencing reality, perhaps by walking into a store, talking to a real human, purchasing a product and then enjoying (or not enjoying) said product.
It is at this point in the equation that a customer can decide whether their perception has been enhanced or diminished by the real-world experience of a product or service. In essence, a strong but misleading brand can potentailly accelarate the demise of a company whose offering does not live up to the hype.
The act of branding is an evolving, fluid and never-ending pursuit to find and defend a distinct and hopefully truthful position in the marketplace, which is difficult to distill down into a pithy observation.
So if you’re still trying to get to grips with this thing called branding (and who could blame you) – here’s several more vox pops on the subject: What is your definition of what branding is
Written by David Thompson | May 2017
Social media can be an ugly place. I mean this literally. We share memes and gifs because they make us laugh, not because they’re about to win any beauty contests. A meme can be any idea presented online via a basic text plus image formula, often with anyone who fancies creating their own variant on a joke. Memes work best when everyone gets involved, so the rough and ready, homemade look they employ is not just inevitable but also encouraging to anyone who wants to give it a go – ‘good’ design is not a requirement.
Memes are incredibly popular with regular web users because they’re cheap to make, require no expertise and can spread like wildfire. And for bigger fish who could benefit from looking like the man on the street, they’ve become the perfect disguise.
Gaining our trust is a real incentive to companies tempted to pass themselves off as an “average Joe” online. When we interact with friends and family on social media, our guards are lowered. By taking on a DIY aesthetic, memes avoid the jarring that we feel when social browsing is interrupted by something obviously corporate or with an eye on our wallets. We are much more receptive to ideas we assume to be posted by a friend of a friend, someone like us, to make us think or laugh. L’Oreal have had a large degree of success telling us that we’re worth it, but no amount of encouragement from Cheryl is going to go as far as a good friend telling you that yes, that really is your colour. Our friends have spent years earning our trust. They have a clout that advertisers can only dream of.
There has been a predictably queasy reaction to Facebook’s Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s admission to donating $10K to a group that makes anti-Clinton memes. Although many Facebook users objected to seeing themselves so squarely in the food chain with a Donald Trump supporter group, much of the criticism was aimed at the ‘dishonest’ use of memes rather than his personal political views.
Wealthy people trying to exert influence by pouring money into a chosen media outlet is nothing new. What’s different here is that memes can be severed from their creators with the click of a button. Authors used to rely on a polished looking publisher to lend them credibility. Now homogenous, lo-fi styling allows memes to fly anonymously under the radar while those responsible keep a neutral public profile. Since Palmer Luckey has gone public, many developers have dropped support for Oculus.
The last thing most brands want is to lurk in the shadows like this – they want their identities out there. But that doesn’t mean they can’t also take advantage of our willingness to share online. Last year, Starbucks released a collection of somewhat surreal gifs that can be downloaded and sent to friends, and MTV’s entire “I want my MTV” brand identity encourages two way engagement with audiences. Both looks are much more design savvy than your average meme, but still steer wide of the aspirational imagery that we usually associate with marketing. While their approaches are very much more transparent than Luckey’s (logos abound) the goal is very similar – to spread the word by becoming a part of your social life.
When it’s done well, encouraging consumers to share branded items like gifs gives consumers something to play with – it’s like putting a toy in the cereal packet. Successful designers have always adopted the look that consumers feel most comfortable with, and pseudo-home-made is just one in a long line of trends. This only becomes a problem when the goal is to deliberately mislead – which may not be obvious. There will always be a few people online posing as something they’re not, and a homemade design aesthetic (or doublespeak by design) is another tool in their arsenal.
Written by Alice Worthington | December 2016
With time and tenacity, people have developed evermore sophisticated ways to enable long-distance communication. Smoke signals crossing the plains and whistles reverberating across ravines gave way to modernity – and now a plethora of gadgets and apps keep us connected 24/7.
The steady pace of carefully considered media output has evolved into a maelstrom of opinions, comments and quips – succinctly shooting from the hip in 140 characters or less.
The ability to hastily put our two-penneth out into the ether for all and sundry to enjoy, ignore or recoil from is exhilarating and instantly gratifying for many of us who, until recently – hadn’t previously been afforded the luxury of such an immediate and powerful outlet.
As a species, our ability to adapt to the changing world around us is arguably our most important evolutionary trait. Humans have not been designed to travel at 70mph, and yet (for the most part) millions of us do this on a daily basis. An ability which has been developed over mere decades.
Like the invention of the automobile which was (and still is) a monumental but perilous stage of our industrial progress – we shouldn’t be suprised by the hazards associated with our ability to quickly and anonymously communicate en-mass through the vehicle of social media.
Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
Written by David Thompson | August 2016
Charles Caleb Colton said “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Umberto Eco said “every story tells a story that has already been told”. Pablo Picasso said “good artists borrow, great artists steal”.
Milli Vanilli did exactly that (they stole voices, in fact), although I don’t think they’ve gone into the history books as great artists, and people who blatantly half-inch your creative ideas probably won’t either.
I wrote about our experience of losing a credentials pitch several months ago in this very section (have a read if you’ve got the time), and the disappointment of putting so much effort into a client that we knew we could make a big difference for, but in the end it wasn’t to be.
Little did I anticipate that the feeling of disappointment would turn to a feeling of injustice though, now that the brand project we missed out on has recently been launched… and ouch, it’s like a poke in the eye.
I know what you’re thinking, this is just another rant from a sore loser, and it is… a rant I mean, but not necessarily from a sore loser. In a way we are winners here; we ended up contributing to the resultant project anyway, without lifting a finger.
That would be an impressive feat if it wasn’t for the fact that said client and the ‘winning’ agency took a large dose of inspiration from a previously launched brand project we had talked them through (as part of our credentials pitch).
Because this is what we do in a creds pitches – we get a handle on a business’s problem and demonstrate how we’ve solved similar-ish problems in order to convince the client of our ability to take on the challenge.
The prospective client was impressed, “I like that” he exclaimed as we showed him the idea and how it worked to communicate a difficult technological solution in a very simple and engaging way (making difficult things look simple is usually very difficult).
He must have liked it an awful lot, because now he’s using it!
Or a big part of it anyway. But actually he’s not using it, he didn’t get it at all. It’s a graphic style that has some relevance to his business, but it isn’t telling their customers anything, it’s not highlighting their strengths, it’s not showing-off their skills, or services, or intelligence, or determination… it’s just there, existing for it’s own sake… blandly, and obviously – a watered down version.
So it’s a very poor interpretation of our original idea, and that’s almost more annoying than being ripped-off. As Pablo suggested, if you’re going to steal – at least do a great job of it.
But what about the designers who ‘created’ the work? I haven’t mentioned them yet, why am I pushing my ire on to the client and letting the designers off the hook?
Well, I know that the client has seen our work, but I don’t know for sure that the designers have – so maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt. There are many ways in which similar work can be created, I’m sure we ourselves have unwittingly created work that has a similar idea to something created before. Like Umberto said,“every story tells a story that has already been told”.
Maybe the client suggested the idea without even realising that they had seen it somewhere before, we all do it I suppose.
Perhaps the designers were struggling with a very difficult brief (it was very difficult) and were happy/relieved for the input from the client when it arrived.
This stuff happens in our world. It’s not worth calling our solicitors about, it’s not worth worrying our own clients about, and it’s certainly not worth picking up the phone to the designers either… I guess that they’ll not be feeling much pride about their/our achievements anyway.
I also imagine that in the near future they’ll be rethinking their solution, because it won’t help them solve their problem… If they even know what their problem is.
That was a proper rant actually – I feel better now, thanks.
Written by David Thompson | February 2016
While driving through a street with a friend, each bar we passed was followed by “Remember when…? Yeah, that was rubbish”. The street felt like a graveyard of disappointing nights out. Everything looked great from the outside, but always fell short of the mark. The gulf between fancy furniture and not quite cooked chips was just too wide…
We’d long since found a scruffier street to go out on, and stopped feeling like we had anything to complain about. Had everything just been too sparkly for its own good? Can it really be considered a problem if a brand is “too good” for what’s being sold?
In a perfect world, every company’s branding would be broadcasting what they do well, without fibbing. When branding tells the truth, it helps people find what they like faster and saves companies from the ire of customers who were never really after what was on offer to begin with. “That’s exactly what I’m into” customers would swoon (potentially subconsciously) before falling into the pub of their dreams. Managers would gloat over pages of loving comments on social media as they divvied up the wads of cash tips. For companies and consumers, branding should be the ultimate matchmaking service. But when a brand is punching above its weight, customers are left feeling cheated.
It’s debatable how much of a problem this is for the companies in question. On a busy street where you’re trying to steal foot traffic from your neighbour, being eye catching is always going to help. If you’re not relying on return trade, it could work in your favour. But broken promises annoy people. “This looked great, and it wasn’t” is always going to leave a bad taste in the mouth and you can safely assume those customers won’t be back with friends.
Designers can’t control whether their clients are doing a good job or not, but making an effort to find out about a business, product, service and the people who make it work (the research) should quash the need to make anything up. Being creative is one thing, but being creative with the truth is another – where misleading and inappropriate branding will only lead to problems further down the line. Any designer would find it difficult to create an enticing (and honest) brand when the gospel truth is “we’re super trendy, but you might get Salmonella”.
Branding should reflect the promise and can only be as successful as the business, product or service allows it to be. So when branding aims high, it’s even more important for a product to keep up its end of the relationship.
Written by Alice Worthington | October 2015
In the last eighteen months we’ve been fortunate enough to win every credentials pitch which we’ve taken part in. Reading that back, it does sound impressive and also perhaps a little bit boastful (for us), but our progress certainly hasn’t been a cake-walk and there’s several reasons why we’ve being doing pretty well.
Firstly, we don’t do many pitches really, perhaps seven or eight per year on average…
In many respects we’re a relatively young company, we don’t aggressively target potential new clients and our growth so far has relied mainly on recommendation and word-of-mouth. We like the romantic idea that producing good work will attract good clients.
So we don’t chase the numbers and we aren’t happy to adopt a one in three mentality, meaning we can commit quality time and effort into a new pitch opportunity because if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing your best.
Secondly, we’re quite choosy about the projects that come our way. We’ll listen to opportunities, do a bit of research on the people and the challenges of the company in question, and do a lot of chatting before we decide whether they would be a good fit for us and ‘the thing we do’. As we progress, we’re finding that there is a certain personality and ethos in a business which we are really attracted to, and in turn – the feelings are often mutual.
Finally, having the right ‘fit’ with a potential client’s personality doesn’t mean that we need to have had much (or any) past experience in their particular line of work. We are constantly looking for, and thrive on, new challenges – we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into a certain type of work and we absolutely do not want to be seen as ‘market experts’… if you’ve been there and done it, time and again, you’re less likely to bring anything new, fresh or surprising to the table.
So, if we’ve not got too much on our plate already and the timing is right, if the personality of the business fits with the way we see the world (as people), and if there’s a really toothy problem to solve – we’ll jump in with both feet.
The caveat to all of the above is that we don’t participate in creative pitches, but that’s a different conversation all together.
Why are we losers?..
Well, we’ve just lost one…. a pitch I mean. We’re pretty philosophical about the competitive nature of what we do, lovers rather than fighters, that kind of thing. But, it’s not an enjoyable feeling to lose out on a project that you’ve put so much effort into. Perhaps this is why a lot of agencies take a pragmatic approach, play the percentage game and don’t get too tied-up in the emotion of it.
But we’re emotional people, and we don’t like the feeling at all.
Why did we lose?..
After some very attentive and well-considered feedback, in the end it came down to not having sufficient market sector experience and being pipped to the post by a competitor who had (more) experience in the client’s sector – and of course we sent our heart-felt congratulations to the winners, as it’s nice to be nice after all.
So whereas recently we’d been winning work based upon our fresh approach and our overt commitment to new challenges and new ways of approaching those challenges, our ethos became a bit of a barrier in this instance (for this potential client anyway).
We respect their decision even if we don’t really agree with the reasoning. We don’t agree because we can apply our approach and thinking to any brand and comms challenge, developing our knowledge by using thorough research combined with our own creative intuition to become (in a small way) experts in each market sector we explore.
And don’t get me started on all this B2B marketing nonsense. Businesses are run by and for real people, not machines – so why would the people in a company who construct oil rigs be any less emotional than the people in a company who sells flowers? People are people, you’ve just got to get under their skin and find our what makes them tick, whether that’s the aroma of crude oil or fresh lilies.
Anyway, I digress.
I suppose this is me making myself feel better by writing about our loss, like some unrequited love. We could have been great together, I know we’d have enjoyed a great adventure and perhaps a really prosperous long-term relationship, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
Yes, there’s plenty more fish in the sea – but we’ll miss the one that got away.
Written by David Thompson | August 2015
Recently I’ve been thinking about the time and effort that it takes to make a brand project happen… and when I say ‘make happen’, I mean get it out there, living and breathing in the real world and not just sitting in a beautifully presented document in your client’s office.
On the one hand, time is usually against us. We have the urgency to complete a job once the button has been pressed to avoid the cost of delay (which costs)…
There’s also budgets to meet (we’re a time recovery business after all) and the reality that there’s only so many hours to be squeezed out of the working day. In the end, whatever you do to earn a living – we all tread a fine line between burning the midnight oil and burning yourself out completely.
On the other hand, I’ve always felt the need to submerse myself in a client’s problem and take my time to get under the skin of it. The ‘business’ of managing the process; meeting, scheduling, researching, creating, planning and implementing – all take time. Even the time away from our desk is golden. Thinking about a job while washing the dishes, walking the dog (which we do a lot) or the old cliché of simply ‘sleeping on it’ can really help my subconscious mind to get to grips with a problem. Although I wish that I woke up with the answer a bit more often than is actually the case.
Although simply giving yourself more time doesn’t always lead to a Eureka moment, and we can’t always afford it – but for me, it helps. This isn’t a particularly dynamic observation of my working process, it isn’t cool or profitable to admit that you need more time, but there it is, I stopped trying to be cool (or rich) a long time ago.
And in terms of a brand project, having too much time can be dangerous for a whole host or reasons. It allows room to stray from the path, it allows doubts to creep in, stakeholders to lose focus and chip away at the big idea. So, how do we defend against and manage not just the monetary cost of delay, but the emotional cost of delay too?
I’ve boiled it down to three things…
In late 2010 I visited Liverpool to hear Michael Wolff’s D&AD talk on ‘Branding The City’. There was a Q&A at the end of the talk, and amongst a distinguished group of design peers I plucked up the courage to ask Michael a question which was roughly along the lines of; “With the current state of the economic climate [which was pretty bad at the time], how can we convince clients to continue investing in their brand?” I asked this because in tough economic conditions, usually the first thing to be cut-back is marketing and comms.
At the time, his answer confused me. He said that “in order to convince clients that they should invest in your ideas, you need to keep talking to them until they see your point of view”.
‘Just keep talking’… I didn’t get it then, but after running our own business for a few years since, I do now. He was talking about persistence, and staying true to your vision despite the obstacles that are put before you. If at first you don’t succeed, try again – and keep trying.
Allowing more time for the conversation can be beneficial, if you persist and keep sight of your original aims. So you keep talking, discussing, defending, justifying… But what about your own motivation? This is where many a creative battle has been lost; the danger in increasing the length of a conversation is that it opens up the opportunity to dilute the conversation too.
Being able to stick to your guns, regularly reminding yourself of the strength and purity of a singular proposition, and not allowing anything to be diluted through round upon round of conversation and deliberation. The more stakeholders are involved, the more opinions that are heard, the more likely you are to need that endurance to stick to the path.
Finally, once persistence and endurance have put you in a position to realise your vision (and God knows it can be a herculean effort to get to this point) – you’ll need to summon-up one last push to deliver the project with the same enthusiasm as when it was first conceived, which could have been quite a long time ago. They say ideas are cheap and it’s action that counts in the end, so after all the hustling, cajoling and corralling, it’s time to make sure you finish the job as well as possible and make all the hard work worth while.
Ultimately, our time is divided by persistence, endurance and deliverance – and then if it’s all worked-out, maybe a few drinks in the pub.
Written by David Thompson | May 2015