Commonwealth Games Uniform or Textile Design Exercise?

At a time when all our eyes are focussed on Scotland, the design of the Commonwealth Games uniform has hit us right between them.

All of us who’ve had responsibility for a team of designers, no matter what the discipline, know that the design concepts submitted for the Games uniform, could not have been put through the commercial critique that the creative industry applies to any design proposal intended to have a positive impact upon the image of any business or organisation.

We must look beyond this inappropriate finished design solution and question both the brief and the criteria on which the final approval was based.

Design isn’t fine art. The visual manifestation of a completed piece of work must reflect a strategy that was developed out of a detailed brief – what was the brief and who wrote it?

Whilst I appreciate that design competitions have their place, I question the wisdom of such an important project being allowed to escape the rigorous challenges that design professionals subject their work to.

Perhaps a compromise would have been to invite the winning student to work with an experienced designer to produce an appropriate solution and in turn to learn about the realities of commercial design.

Creating a golf identity to allow a young PGA Pro to develop his brand

Without realising it, thirty or so of us gathered around Daniel Wood, the Scottish golf professional, the other night and witnessed a demonstration of not only how to hit a range of golf shots but how to line up the important components of a solid brand.

What Daniel also did inadvertently, at his inaugural golf clinic, was to demonstrate his own understanding of the importance of lining up the key factors that affect the success of a brand.

He explained to his audience what he planned to do and why. He executed a range of shots that every amateur dreams of being able to play and gave clear guidance on how the shots can be achieved. He communicated not simply what he is capable of doing personally but what he could do for us. His friendly, unassuming style, won us over and I’m sure that everyone present could see him as our coach.

We have worked with Daniel to create a new identity and a brand new website, which was launched recently. Daniel is young and progressive and we wanted the identity to project exactly that, as well as having all the usual attributes of being easy to apply etc.

His website is strong with clear navigation and the ability to quickly get to the information needed. Daniel has been great to work with and we believe that both the identity and the website, are a good reflection of his dynamic yet accessible attitude. He has a great setup and in our opinion the ability and temperament to both win professional tournaments, and to help us to get our handicaps down.

It’s refreshing to see a young golf professional with such a rounded attitude to his playing and coaching career – the Hirsel Golf Club is lucky to have him.


Two and Two Makes Five

It never ceases to amaze me, how the human brain is capable of tricking us into thinking that we have assessed people and situations correctly and that the opinions we have formed are an accurate representation of reality.

We are also very good at coming to the conclusion that the best and most effective solutions, are to be found in another place or at a much higher price. Well, on one count I’ve been guilty of all of the above in the last couple of years.

My golf club, the Hirsel at Coldstream, appointed a young PGA professional a couple of years ago and within weeks, I had assessed him as someone who would not be remotely interested in helping an ageing, mid handicap golfer like me and in any event, what could a young ‘slip of a lad’, setting up 500 yards from my house, possibly tell me about my ‘out-to-in’ swing, that some of the best coaches in the country haven’t already told me.

How wrong could I have been? The young pro has a fantastic attitude to people of all ages and abilities and has clearly dedicated himself to the ‘art’ not ‘science’ of communicating the technical information, in a language that we can all understand.

Apart from his obvious teaching ability, he pulls out all the stops to give the best prices he possibly can for equipment, footwear and apparel, which adds to the trust and confidence he has earned at our club.

I’ve moved from driving 50 miles for a golf lesson to walking across the golf club car park. I now spend my golf equipment budget at the pro shop, rather than surfing the internet, in an attempt to save a pound or two.

In all walks of life, individuals and companies seem to form incorrect judgements on ability, competence and value, based on either the wrong criteria or what they have been indoctrinated to believe.

As with all things, shouldn’t we try to get the balance right, by seeking out the knowledge and experience we need, as close to home as possible? We could be pleasantly surprised.

The Co-op Gets it Right

Watching Peter Marks, the CEO of the Co-op, deliver his reassuring explanation that former customers of Lloyds TSB, will be happier with his bank, prompted me to write about a localised example of how the Co-op is proving that it can get it right.

I warmed to Peter Marks, not because of what he said, which was believable enough but because of his slightly nervous demeanour which made me feel that we might actually have a human being in charge of this newcomer to the ‘big league’ of UK banking.

Actually, Coldstream, in Berwickshire is the real focus of what has greatly impressed me over the past couple of years, about the Co-op’s application of its brand values.

There is a lady that works at the till in the Coldstream branch, who gives the impression that she has been trained, to the highest standard, in customer service. She makes customers feel good about the Co-op and themselves, she inspires trust in the company and entertains visitors to the shop with her jovial yet respectful attitude to her work and her customers.

People like me can create a brand for companies and document in great detail how the brand must be applied externally and internally to be effective. What this lady does, day in and day out, is to apply a brand strategy that I’m sure that the Co-op believes in, simply because she has the right attitude to her work, cares about her employer’s customers and understands how important her role is, in the success of this historic brand.

I don’t need to name the lady in question. The customers and staff know who she is. Perhaps Peter Marks should have a chat with her about making his philosophy and hers, meet in the middle of the Co-op’s customer-owned empire.

Golfing Pain or Pleasure – The Wave or Archerfield Links

Since playing the newly opened The Wave golf course in Muscat last December, I’ve had recurring thoughts about what mid to high handicap golfers genuinely feel qualifies as an enjoyable golf course to play.

I played the Dirleton course at Archerfield Links on Thursday last week and as a result, decided that I was ready to commit my opinions to paper.

There are very few mid to high handicap golfers that don’t aspire to get their handicaps down and even fewer that choose to visit courses that are not generally rated as ‘hard’ by great golfers. Having played some of the most difficult courses in the UK, Europe, South Africa and the USA, I have formed the opinion that we actually classify these top courses as ‘trophies’ rather than tracks that make us feel good about our golf. I’ve played Royal Lytham and St Annes three times, shot in the 90’s every time and although I enjoyed the atmosphere, it left me feeling that I’m really not very good at the game and shouldn’t have a handicap of 13.

The Wave, designed by Greg Norman, is impressive it’s true, but I had great difficulty getting my ball and myself out of the bunkers on occasions. The par 3, fourth hole, is all carry to a green surrounded by water, save for a narrow strip of land to access the putting surface. Visually impressive and no doubt exciting to see how top golfers handle it in the final round of a tournament but where’s the fun in putting your fourth ball down on the tee box and I must say that some players would never hold a ball on that green.

Archerfield, in contrast, is by no means an easy course but the layout and teeing options, give golfers of all levels, the chance to navigate its marvellous bunkers, immaculate fairways and true greens, without destroying their confidence. As with all top quality courses, club selection is key at Archerfield, because visits to the rough, make reaching the green in regulation, quite tricky, but that’s fair enough.

Amateur golfers are, in my opinion, guilty of following the lead of the professionals when describing a course they have played. “It was great, it’s a real test”, I hear them saying. I’ve concluded that I’d rather be saying, “ I really enjoyed playing the course, it was in immaculate condition, fair and above all, it didn’t destroy my confidence.”

My overriding feeling about playing The Wave and in fact most courses of similar difficulty, is that I wouldn’t mind having a go at them once or twice a year but give me courses like Archerfield Links every time, when it comes to playing them two or three times a week.


A Wedding Bar Challenge

“You’re a designer John, can you design us a big bar to link two marquees at the wedding?”

I’ve been designing temporary structures for exhibitions for over 30 years but there has always been a budget that would at least cover the cost of the materials and labour. Having said I would ‘give it some thought’, I started the usual process of elimination, to try to come up with a solution that answered the brief.

I dug pretty deep into my past experience but every idea I had, would have cost far too much for the one-day event. Then suddenly, I thought I had come up with an idea that had never been used before – I’d make the whole structure out of pallets that could be picked up for nothing at farms around the area.

After 30 years in the business, you’d think I’d have known that most things have been done before, in one form or another and this idea looked like it was going to be no exception.

When I researched standard pallet details on the internet, what came up was evidence that just about everything you could make pallets out of, had been made but I didn’t find a bar counter, which left me some work to do.

I then got lucky – The winner of the ‘Arable Farmer of the Year 2011’ award, Colin McGregor, came to my rescue. Not only did he give me detailed information on the different construction of European and UK pallets, he gave me a choice of hundreds of pallets that he had in stock at his amazing farm estate and even delivered them to the workshop where it was built.

The pallets were bolted together in sections, so that the bar could be transported, a simple MDF top was added and then the whole thing was painted.

The irregular shaped 4.5 metre by 2.5 metre bar was completed for the lowest budget imaginable and the bride and groom were thrilled with the result. Apparently, far more free drinks were served over the counter than at a normal ‘trestle table and cloth bar’, so the bride’s father wants a word with me to ask me to stay out of it in the future.


Feeding a Hungry Machine in Difficult Times

They say that in business, to stand still is to go backwards. They also say, if in doubt, do nothing.

In these frightening times of economic downturn, where every positive line of action to protect investments appears to be blocked, I firmly believe that doing nothing is an inherently dangerous course of action to take.

I totally agree with the financial advisers when they say that people should hold onto shares, if they can, until the markets begin their inevitable recovery. I also agree that people shouldn’t sell property for a while, unless absolutely necessary.

As far as the commercial world goes, this, in my opinion, is a time for action. The cake may be smaller but that is a greater incentive to want a bigger slice of it. Most businesses, whether small medium or large have hungry machines to feed, in terms of their staff, premises and equipment costs. Under this kind of pressure, companies will need support, they will need to join forces with ‘like minded’ people and they will need to think laterally about how they stay in business and go forward.

I am not advocating throwing massive budgets at marketing communications but I do feel that, with a little creative thought, companies can open up new opportunities or make more of existing ones.

Business plans are useless if they are written and then confined to a desk drawer to gather dust. What I advocate, is an ‘action plan’ that lives up to its name. A plan that identifies what the company needs to do to feed that hungry machine and to ensure its growth and prosperity. It must have clearly described objectives, action deadlines and clear lines of responsibility for each individual action. Everybody in the business should be encouraged to sign onto the plan and it should be re-visited at regular intervals to ensure that it is being implemented. If the plan is not working – change it.

Mary Queen of Shops FIX IT FACTORY name

Mary Portas changed the name of Lightwater Homecare to The Fix it Factory and after 2 months, the client changed it back.

It's obviously difficult, in a one hour television programme, to cover all elements of the proposed transition in detail, however simply declaring a new name to a client and saying "trust me it is right', misleads people into believing that new name generation and in particular re-naming, can be successfully achieved without the input of the business owners.

The conclusion that the existing name of a business is 'wrong' must come through discussion and analysis of why it is wrong and it must involve collaboration with the client.

Getting the name generation process right and bringing the client along with the development stages, is critical to the creation of what will ultimately be the foundation of a new brand and more importantly will promote acceptance and ownership of the brand, within the client team.

The FIXIT Factory name was ultimately rejected and it is a matter of opinion why that was. If the client had been involved in the important stages of the re-naming process, I believe that he would have either signed onto it and stayed with it, or the team would have generated a different, possibly more appropriate name that answered all elements of 'the brief', which may have been written by the consultant but would have most certainly been signed off by the client.

Brand name creation is not an 'add on' to a retail or other business concept it is a fundamental part of the business plan.

Saga Home Insurance, something odd is going on

OK, I admit it, I am old enough to have Saga bombarding me about holidays,
savings products, financial planning, motor insurance and home insurance.
My first reaction to an event this week was – this could seriously damage
the Saga brand. When you read about my dealings with Saga, I am sure you will
agree that this has the potential to be far more important than its impact upon
a mainstream brand.

This time last year, I took up Saga's offer to insure my flat. I paid the 387.75 premium with my debit card and relaxed in the knowledge that my building and contents were covered for another year.On the 16th November this year, I noticed that Saga had taken 540.76 (my renewal premium) from my current account and on the 17th and 18th, my wife and I had telephone conversations with them about it.

The renewal date is the 4th of December and using my debit card details retained from last year, they had taken the 2009/2010 premium, 23 days early, without giving me the opportunity to decide whether or not to renew.When challenged the first time, they simply apologised and agreed to credit my account with the 540.76 taken. Incidentally, the renewal documentation arrived on the 18th.

There are two issues here. They had processed a renewal that was a 39.5% increase from last year, without discussing it with me and taken the funds early, potentially putting me in an overdraft situation. What worries me, is that this could be a deliberate policy of the company to both improve the cash flow position of the company and, more importantly, to commit 'older people' to inadvertently renewing their policy, which could go unnoticed until it is too late. And at a 39.5% increase in cost too.

To compound the problem, when I put Saga under pressure to explain why they felt they could take the funds, as they had, they said that on the 9th November, they had discussed the renewal with us on the telephone and that we had been happy with it, No such telephone call took place.

I have asked Saga to arrange for the person who says he/she called us on the 9th November to call me again. I am still waiting for the call and the refund.

Please warn your parents and your grandparents that Saga may not be all that it claims or seems.

It is a brand manager's nightmare though – isn't it?

Don't Let the Tail Wag the Dog

You would not be in business if you didn't believe that you could offer something better than or at least as good as your competitors. You may have structured your business to be price competitive or you may have a 'unique selling point' for your products or services.

You will, no doubt, have delegated responsibility to someone within your company, to drive the plan to get your messages to your potential customers. The person appointed, will either be a director or employee that has a track record of success with 'special projects', has a marketing or business development background or worst of all, is a person with the time to do it.

Whichever one of the above routes you choose, the secret is to form a team of people, with relevant skills and experience and to make sure that the 'tail is not wagging the dog'.

Identifying the best team for the job, can be time consuming but getting it right at the outset, is the key to success. A mix of in-house knowledge and external expertise is the usual way forward, however the first mistake often happens when a strategic stage is missed out of the process and the team is launched into discussing a range of visually stunning ideas.

You cannot blame the creatives for this happening. Once they feel that they understand what the company is about and what messages it wants to get over, they are often the most pro-active when it comes to putting forward solutions.

It's easy for the team to get caught up in the excitement of great ideas, especially when they can report back to the board or the boss, on tangible progress. If there is someone on the team that is charged with the responsibility to ensure that there is a direct link between the company's objectives, the strategic plan and the brief to the creatives, then the chance of the 'dog' staying in control will be vastly increased.