PUNK YOUR BRAND

Malcolm McLaren, one of the major forces behind the Punk movement died last week.

He’d probably hate this blog I’m about to write but here goes anyway – it’s meant as a tribute to the many things we can learn from “unreasonable” people like McLaren.

Malcolm McLaren was the marketing genius that propelled the punk movement into the spotlight and amplified its effect on our society and consciousness. He did such a good job that even now we all still hold a visceral understanding of the feelings and motivations behind the punk movement.

So how do you Punk your brand?

1. Be unreasonable.

Malcolm McLaren said: ‘There are two rules I’ve always tried to live by: turn left, if you’re supposed to turn right; go through any door that you’re not supposed to enter.”

It’s said progress is only made through the actions of the unreasonable. That’s the same with businesses and brands although sometimes it’s a little harder to see than black eyeliner and a mohican haircut.

But at the time it wasn’t reasonable for Henry Ford to say “I will make a car for the great multitude” or for Sergy Brin, founder of Google, to say “We had a simple idea, that not all pages are created equal. Some are more important,” or my favorite from Steve Jobs who said  “I want to put a ding in the universe.”

All the greatest businesses and brands have been built from unreasonable people fighting against the system, seeing a better way and creating something extraordinary. Malcolm McLaren wanted to fight back against the mainstream which he saw as pallid and restricting. His ideas and vision connected with what young people were feeling and changed their lives, it gave others pause for thought about the direction of travel. Above all it got him noticed.

How unreasonable are you?

2. Connect with radical ideas and people

True game changing insight doesn’t come from sitting behind glass listening to Mr and Mrs Average tell you why they want a new car or like an advert. The really different thinkers are, almost by definition, at the edges, in the fringes of society.

Malcolm McLaren found ideas that sparked his imagination at the art colleges of the Sixties including Harrow, St Martin’s and even Croydon. He connected with talented, wild thinkers. He married one of his most powerful connections a young Vivienne Westwood. This undercurrent of youth and ideas demanded an outlet which created society changing content.

Great business and organisations look for true diversity and seek out ideas in different places. They collaborate in new and exciting ways.

Have you talked to your local university or art college recently about what they are thinking? Have you stopped to get together with people who have radically different points of view from you or look very different?

Where do you hunt for game changing ideas?

3. Develop content that fires the imagination.

McLaren was an ideas man and he had an intuition for developing content which through its medium and message had an impact. When McLaren and Westwood opened their shop in 1971 on the Kings Road they first called it “Let it Rock” then “Too fast to live, too young to die” then finally “Sex”. The constant re-development as the shop changed allowed it to continue to be a magnet for punk and background to the formation of the Sex Pistols. McLaren knew that linking sex and subversion was both incredibly attractive to the younger generations and incredibly challenging to the establishment.

“God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb”

God Save the Queen, The Sex Pistols


McLaren understood the media as well as the message. The message of God Save the Queen was amplified onto a national stage when McLaren hired a boat and got the Sex Pistols to play it opposite the Houses of Parliament and then got the boat raided by the police. This was what ensured that it was a hit in the same week as the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

McLaren created and moulded content which truly captured the imagination and took over the consciousness. It was so daring in its conception that it demanded attention.

How about putting this as an example to emulate in your next campaign?

4. Social aims give you greater permission.

If you do put into action the recommendation above of emulating McLaren’s approach to creating and moulding content that demands attention – you are most likely to fail.

Why? Because if you’re a marketer or brand owner reading this you’re probably trying to sell stuff. What that means is that people will give you little latitude or room to maneuver. Punk, for all its aggression and bile against the state, and claims to anarchy, had the energy, naivety and pureness of a youthful desire for a different, and hopefully better way. A way that was more accepting, less controlling and more liberal.

This social aim lent Punk permission to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo.

The landscape of brand and business is rapidly becoming one where businesses that develop their social impact as well as delivering against their commercial aims will be the leaders. Adopting social imperatives starts a different conversation, it widens the scope of engagement, and creates space for new ideas and change to happen.

5. Success is a consequence of your strike rate.

Malcolm McLaren produced ideas most of which didn’t work but he had endurance and a belief in himself and what he was doing. Even the Sex Pistols, perhaps his most successful idea, crumbled because he didn’t realise the talent and opportunity that he had created.

But he got up and gave it another go. As the state re-established control in the 1980s and, as a consequence of the result of the social breakdown of the 1970s, the free market mantra of Reagan and Thatcher emerged, he continued to be disruptive and flamboyant. He worked with new bands and artists including Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow. He was responsible for the infamous “See Jungle” album cover where an underage Annabella Lwin posed nude in a recreation Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. In 2006 he even co-produced the film Fast Food Nation.

McLaren was comfortable with failure and just kept on developing ideas. Punk was about keeping the energy and momentum of change alive.

It’s only those businesses that embrace failure and keep swinging that succeed over the long term. The creative process is not easy, it’s not smooth. We’ve all read the books and analysis – most products and new launches don’t work – accept it, move on and keep creating. Until you do, you won’t get to your success.

May Malcolm McLaren rest in anarchy…

What do you think? Got a view on Malcolm McLaren and punk – leave a comment below – its easy and I reply to all of them!

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Justin

Mail me: justin@basini.com
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….and stretch: How far will O2 be able to stretch it’s brand?

Last week Ronan Dunne the thrusting CEO of O2 UK proclaimed a bold vision to create a lifestyle superbrand selling financial products, health and education as well as just plain old mobile phones.
I love a good vision, even more than the next man, but it’s always an idea to keep one’s weather eye alert when a CEO makes these sort of proclamations.
Stretching a brand convincingly and with commercial success is a real challenge. Many attempt it but few succeed. Those that pull it off usually have a powerful structural source of competitive advantage that they can use to ensure that the stretching delivers value to the customer. Rarely is this competitive advantage the brand.
Tesco have a retail distribution network that ensures that customers get a significant convenience benefit from the co-location of goods and services. Add their now legendary scale and they can provide aggressive pricing. The Tesco brand helps because it promises the customer these benefits but, to be clear, it isn’t the reason why the customer buys from them. 
Apple have created technology platforms that have allowed them to develop lucrative content delivery businesses in addition to the hardware sales. These revenue streams are based on providing access, integration and ease of use benefits to their customers. Their brand surely helps but for most of us the reason we use iTunes is because it’s easy rather than Apple.
Virgin is somewhat the exception that proves the rule. The Virgin brand has stretched across multiple products and services with the brand promise of something different, younger and more entertaining. Oh and Richard Branson to carry it through. These benefits create stretches that work for them in the service space where the customer gets a better experience: Virgin Atlantic, VirginMedia, to a certain extent VirginMobile, and even (when they work) VirginTrains. Many of Virgin’s stretches haven’t worked; VirginVie, VirginBride, VirginWine, VirginBooks are much less convincing.
Stretching too far has even taken the scalps of some of the best management companies in the world. Anyone remember Saatchi’s red balls falling onto shopping baskets that heralded Procter & Gamble’s stretch of Olay into Cosmetics? That lasted only a few years and made no money.
So where does that leave the Mr. Dunne’s superbrand vision? Well I think O2 are still searching for their stretchable competitive advantage. The best they’ve come up with so far is “the mobile phone is the remote control for your life”. What this means is a bit of a mystery to me apart from a dangerous throw back to one of the worst movies of 2006 – Adam Sandler’s Click (no -don’t see it).
Maybe they mean that the mobile phone is a portal to other aspects of your life. Well that maybe true but that doesn’t provide a compelling reason to buy home insurance from my mobile phone provider.
Given it’s sounding all a bit unconvincing so far Mr. Dunne then tries to persuade us that O2 is (or will be) a trusted brand; that in a world of low-trust brands this will have us flocking to buy health and education from O2. This is dangerous territory – a word to the wise – anyone, CEO or not, who tells you “trust me it will be alright” is almost always, car-salesman-like, clutching at straws. Trust is built within a specific context of delivery and doesn’t easily transfer to other non-similar product categories.
However on the plus side the move to introduce member rewards such as free concert tickets at the O2 arena starts the notion of O2 being a “members club” which enables the stretching idea. The significant £5m investment O2 is making into social innovation in local communities through the “Think Big” campaign is also laudable and has the potential to add another dimension to the brand.
But are these advantages enough? I doubt it unless O2 can go back to the basics and clarify for their customers what real, tangible benefit O2 can consistently deliver as it moves from phones to finance to education.
Do you want O2 to stretch its brand? What risks and opportunities do you think they should take?

What do you think? Please comment below. 

Justin

Mail me: justin@basini.com
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THE PIZZA OF INNOVATION

I'm a huge fan of Pizza Express (for those non UK readers Pizza Express was the first sit down pizza restaurant chain in the UK established in the 60s). Both my sons were born soon after Pizza Express visits!

And despite now having a growing family we still love Pizza Express because over the past few years they have stepped up their innovation and much of it is based on really good insight into their customers.

After a recent visit a few lessons struck me on what pizzas reveal about customer led innovation:

1. Understand the desired experience not just the product attributes. My wife and I still like to spend an hour or so in a restaurant having a simple dinner. That hasn't changed now we have three kids. We've learnt, as many parents before us have, that the art to keeping that hour pain-free is keeping the kids occupied. Increasingly kid-friendly restaurants dole out the crayons and paper but Pizza Express have taken it to another level. They have tailored their kids menu to be multiple small courses over the space of an hour. So you quickly get garlic bread or dough balls for the kids to munch, then comes a small pizza, then an ice cream, then a really cute idea – the Bambicino – which is a frothy cappucino style milk. This means whilst we eat a starter and pizza the kids meal is paced to keep them occupied. Pizza Express have understood what I want and, more importantly, what my kids want so that we all get a good experience.

2. A well tried foundation is the best starting place for new ideas. Why is the pizza such an enduring food? Because it is a solid foundation from which to add and adapt. This is true for much innovation (and indeed solid incrementalism) – start with a good process or product, understand what is great with it, and then improve. A strong foundation also allows you to engage the customer through customisation…

3. Customisation was, is, and always will be a powerful way to engage. From its earliest origins the pizza has been a customisation engine. One of the reasons almost everyone can enjoy a pizza is that the solid foundation allows personal expression and the adaptation to personal taste and creativity. This is what I love about Apple products, a great base product facilitating creativity, for example, through the music you put on them or what you create on them. Dell were the masters of mass customisation but on attributes that were intrinsic rather than 'tasty'. Only now are they realising that allowing customisation on the surface is as important.

4. Innovation isn't always about adding things – it can also be about taking things away. Most companies that I've worked with start from a foundation of their current product or process and then think about features or benefits that can be added in order to innovate. This isn't a bad path to innovation but it can be illuminating to think about what to take away from the product. Pizza Express have a new product called the Leggera. This is a pizza with the middle taken out with salad replacing it. This fills a need for those who want a lower calorie option. I admired Vodafone when they launched their Simple proposition. A simple phone and tariff for those that wanted just a phone that worked like a traditional phone not a computer. Dyson took away the vacuum cleaner bag for a better experience. You don't always have to add.

5. Different occasions are sources of new volume, canibalisation can be a red-herring. In the last few years Pizza Express have launched a line of retail pizzas. I bet this gave them some sleepless nights. I can hear the discussions now: surely this would canibalise their take out business or, even worse, their core restaurant business (especially in these more difficult times as people trade down)? Perhaps it would damage the brand because they couldn't gaurantee product quality? Overall I think it works well and from what my friends in the supermarket industry tell me it has been a hit. It has provided a new occasion for loyal users to use the brand and allowed those who don't visit the restaurants to buy into the franchise in a different way. I bet frequency of consuming a Pizza Express product is way up since their introduction. Starbucks are now launching into instant coffee with their VIA product. I suspect they had lots of similar debates. If the product is good I bet it will slowly creep into the Starbucks loyalists' non-Starbucks coffee consumption and potentially open the brand up to non-users.

What do you think? How do you innovate? Got any lessons to share? Please comment below. Feel free to share this post with other innovators (or pizza lovers!)

Justin

Email me: justin@basini.com
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WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE VIRGIN BRAND?

I’ve got a confession to make. My grandmother, who I loved dearly, was quite a fan of Mussolini. She was an Italian who emigrated to the UK in the 1930s when Mussolini was seen as “the only benevolent dictator in Europe” (this quote was taken from a 1930s Geography text book printed in England). And the thing she credited him with most was “he made the trains run on time”. This in her mind was a seemingly impossible feat that he achieved.

Which is one of the reasons why when Richard Branson and Virgin stepped into his train ventures I thought to myself if he can make it work then maybe we will all be looking back in our dotage and saying, “that Branson…he made the trains run on time”. And hopefully he could do it without all the downsides of Mussolini.

We all know that with Virgin Trains that he hasn’t been that successful so far and the Virgin brand I think has been tarnished by the bad publicity and bad word of mouth that this business often creates. But overall I am a fan of Virgin. I love Virgin Atlantic and am a devotee to Virgin Media. Even the few trains rides I’ve had on Virgin Trains have been ok.

However yesterday’s Metro made me stop and reconsider the brand given that the hollowed pages of this freesheet contained no more than 7 pages of Virgin adverts.

Firstly there were two Virgin Media placements on consecutive double page spreads one for Broadband and one for Mobile. Functional, response based, well branded:

Then there was an ad for Virgin Holiday’s new lounge at Gatwick:

Then a double page spread for Virgin Trains:
and then finally a promotional offer (run by Metro) for Virgin Balloon Flights:
This leads to all sorts of interesting marketing and brand questions:
1. Can the Virgin brand extend to anything / everything?
2. Aside the logo is there enough clarity on what Virgin stands for?
3. Is there a danger of Virgin overload?
Strangely enough they all sort of work in my mind (and as I admit I like the brand). They are all visually similar and have a similar tone (despite the Balloon one which I think is probably created by Metro rather than Virgin). They all have something of the razzmatazz about them and offer something tangible to the reader – even if it is just price in the case of VirginMedia.
But I do worry about the seemingly infinite extendability of the brand. The brand licensing of Virgin now extends from Money to Wine to Health Insurance to Gyms to Books to Holidays to a Green Fund. Its clearly an opportunistic strategy.
I’d love to see the books for these businesses. My strong suspicion is that the business where the Virgin brand actually adds value – travel, entertainment, maybe even communication – are the business that sit most easily and make, or have the potential to make, the most money. I think there is a strong spirit to the Virgin brand that is about a business built on customer experience.
This spirit is captured in an old Virgin Atlantic commercial which I often play when I talk about brands and marketing – it is a great example of taking a category which used to be all about functional benefits (the BA commercial at the time was talking food/drink and seat pitch) and competing on new emotional dimensions.
Virgin at its best is an experience brand: the limo that picks you up if you fly Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic and has you in the lounge in 10 mins from arriving at the airport; a dedicated lounge for Virgin Holiday customers at Gatwick; being able to choose your hold music when you call VirginMedia; the way they handle complex disclaimers and information when you apply for a credit card. These touchpoints bring the brand to life – can they really apply this endlessly to health cover, the purchasing of wine or books. In those areas where the brand doesn’t provide a unqiue and fun experience they take the opportunity for cross sell but at the risk of tarnishing the brand perception.
Please feel free to comment and share!
Justin
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