Much has graced the news already about Standard Life Aberdeen’s rebrand, most of it derisory.

My viewpoint is normally one of making sure businesses move with the times and adapt to modern ways to survive. I do see that there was confusion around the brand, with different products with similar names. I can see and understand the rationale to simplify and streamline.

However, my concern is who this is aimed at. A few years ago an eminent American ad man wrote a pertinent article about agencies avoiding one of their biggest markets, the ones with real spending power – the older demographic. It is easier for young agency hot shots to pitch at their own age group, they understand it better and it is way cooler than the silver sector.

However, the older group can be savvy, financially secure and with more time to spend their disposable income. The pandemic has shown up this divide in even more sharp relief and the younger generation will be carrying a heavy financial burden for a long time.

A modern, digitally flexible new identity is a good thing, but did it have to lean towards such youth speak? I am well aware that businesses have to look beyond their older customers as they will literally die off, but this feels like they are ignoring completely their existing database in an effort to engage with a young audience who may have significantly less money to invest……


Staring into Space

I was fascinated by a recent news article that opened up with the question, “Were you told off at school for gazing out of the window during lessons?”

A forward thinking group, has decided to encourage children to do just that, in controlled conditions of course, as it has been determined that, in contrast to the long held belief that it was simply ‘day dreaming’ or lack of concentration, it is the ideal medium for creative thinking.

Ask any creative professional where they were or what they were doing when they came up with some of their best ideas and they’ll tell you, “I was walking the dog, I was ironing or I was half asleep at 4 in the morning.”

We used to call the lack of an idea, ‘blank layout pad syndrome’ but technology has moved on a bit since then. It was interesting to watch some of the best creative harness different ways of ‘staring into space’.

It was amazing how getting up from the desk, wandering around the studio or even going out for a short work, helped one award winning designer to return to his desk and start to sketch out a good idea.

Another design director, used to go home ‘stumped’ but would often phone the office a couple of hours later saying that she had come up with an idea whilst ironing.

One well-known Scottish double glazing company, refused to pay the advertising agency’s invoice, because when asked, “When did you come up with this great idea?” the creative director said. “Whilst I was digging my garden on Sunday.” The business owner said, “I’m not paying you to dig your garden.”

So, this concept is not new but it’s great to hear that it is now understood. I recommend to anyone who’s struggling to solve a problem, to take a break for a while, stare into space and see what happens. Do remember that once you have the germ of an idea or solution, you still have to knuckle down to the hard work of developing it to completion. It may appear to be a great idea but it must be checked against the brief or the practical constraints.

John Slater

10 things I’ve learnt.

  1. Gut instinct: it’s more often than not right. When that little voice says, this doesn’t seem appropriate and the client won’t like it, listen to it and act on it.
  2. That thought in the middle of the night – get up and check it or write it down, you may have forgotten it in the morning and that could be very bad news.
  3. Loyalty works both ways. Obviously there are exceptions, the clients who like flirting around and trying to screw down good deals all the time with different agencies, get found out.
  4. Mistakes happen, but how you deal with them is critical. We once sorted out a client’s big mistake, with no quibbles – he’s still a client 20 years later.
  5. An interesting or unusual name is a boost to a brand, but remember that people have to be able to say it easily, and everyone in the organisation needs to be in agreement about its pronunciation.
  6. Multiple colour brand identities are not just for the screen, think about signage and possibly embroidery….
  7. Space planning – ask an expert, drawings can be deceiving.
  8. Facebook likes are vanity, profit is sanity. Being popular on screen needs to translate to a successful business, and that takes real marketing.
  9. Copy needs to be professionally written, a picture is not always worth a thousand words, and the use of those words is a part of your brand.
  10. Broccoli tastes better cooked just beyond al dente…

One Size Does Not Fit All

Listening to the radio the other day, I caught the end of a programme about the civil service and ‘red tape’. The argument was that regulations were not as onerous as most people think they are, and that they benefit the country, on the whole. Michael Heseltine spoke and mentioned that two of our largest industries, the pharmaceutical and defence industries, are the most regulated and yet amongst the most successful sectors of industry.

It made me think. Both industries are very large, and both industries are well documented as able to make massive profits, so the time and effort invested in regulations and processes is well rewarded.

But, does this work for all companies?

This is where the one size does not fit all. I well remember when we ran our large design company and, during a previous economic downturn, we had to take the painful decision to make redundancies.

Prior to this, when this kind of action was required, it was able to be done quickly, minimising the pain to the majority of the staff. New regulations meant that we had to inform the entire workforce in advance of the fact that redundancies were going to happen.

We then had an upsetting time, whilst the staff agonised about who it was going to be, with people coming forward making their case for why it shouldn’t be them. A horrible, demoralising time for all. What might work for a workforce of over 200 people, did not work for an office with 50 people.

One size does not fit all in the world of branding too. I think back to sitting in meetings with slightly bewildered clients, as complicated branding ‘techno jargon’ was uttered and frankly feeling ashamed to have been a part of it. All very well for a savvy brand or marketing manager, but less so for a business owner who perhaps has never employed a design company before, let alone seen a brand dodecahedron.

If you create an ’emperor’s new clothes’ scenario, where the client pretends
to understand because of feeling embarrassed, you have failed, as an uncomfortable client is not the basis for a good relationship.

We are in the business of communication and as such, should ensure that the approach we take suits each individual client, rather than apply a formula to every client, regardless of size or experience.

Custom fit – not one size fits all.

Jaunty January

Why do we all describe it as depressing? The days are getting longer, the expense of December is over, everyone is making ‘fresh starts’, diets and exercise promises abound, surely we should be more positive?

Of course we are in midwinter technically, but I refuse to be downbeat.

We, for example, are on the cusp of so many new projects, that time is flying past – it’s late January already. Our golf resort project in Russia is waking up after a short hibernation, getting things in place for the new year. Our magazine projects are at the planning stages for spring publication and some of our past clients are talking about new projects. We’ll have to support some of them to help them to get off the ground but others will pay their way.

Interesting new projects are sliding into view and John is manfully engaged as the unofficial and unpaid marketing director of his local golf club, which has suffered, like most clubs, from the horrendous battering the course has taken from the last two winters and summers that were not a lot better.

So January will be over in a blink and the days will start to get noticeably longer. Spring really isn’t that far away – bring it on.

Brand Manners

You may or may not have been brought up to write thank you letters for gifts bought at Christmas and birthdays but in my case, I remember well, my efforts to eke out a few meaningful words to aged aunts, about presents I was distinctly underwhelmed by – ungrateful little soul that I was. I‘m the ‘aged’ aunt struggling to buy meaningful presents now, so the boot is firmly on the other foot these days.

Now that thank you notes seem to be sadly disappearing, even in this age of text and email communication, I’m glad that I had this drilled into me at an early age and still try to remember my ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’.

It’s actually amazing, what a difference those little words can make in business.

I’m sure that we all remember the letters and emails unanswered, when trying to get jobs/work/interviews. Companies can work hard at presenting themselves in the best possible light, but sometimes they forget that the way they respond to people, as either suppliers or job applicants, may ultimately impact adversely on their brand. The rudely ignored graduate could one day be a key player.

I can still clearly remember the time when, as a junior designer working on an annual report for the Bank of Scotland, a certain high-powered bank director made it obvious that he was just too busy and powerful to waste much time on us to be photographed, even though it had been scheduled in. The minute the banking crisis hit the news, his face rose to the front of my thoughts and you can imagine the level of my sympathy.

Some organisations have good manners drilled into all of their employees, treating clients and suppliers in the same courteous way. On the whole, we are very lucky with our clients, and the payback is that we go that extra mile for them.
Surely, this is good brand building at grass roots.

The way that individuals respond to emails, impacts upon both their personal and their organisation’s brands. We are all busy and can sometimes leave an email sitting unanswered. In my opinion, it really pays to review and pick up those emails that have slipped through the net.

It’s hard to control how your staff communicate day in day out but it’s a pretty essential part of a brand’s ‘tone of voice’. Well worth paying attention to, I would say.

British creativity shining amidst the gloom

We’ve had a lot to be miserable about recently, not least the worrying economic situation that remains in flux and the unremittingly bad summer that has eroded and dripped into our psyche. Being British has been really challenging this year.

However, there have also been some momentous celebrations that have, I believe, raised our spirits and made us feel not just good but great about Britain.

These notable occasions, have been united by the sheer scale of the ambition, the quality of the execution and the creative thinking driving their content and structure.

My favourites for creating this uplifting emotion, have included the Jubilee River Pageant that was so ambitious in its scale and yet so human in its inclusive nature, that it was to be applauded.

The documentary ‘Britain in a Day’, was awesome in the enormous editing feat it achieved, leaving the audience humbled at what a tolerant, eccentric and wonderful bunch of people we can be.

The BBC’s ‘The Hollow Crown’, was so well executed, so beautifully presented and so naturally acted, that it resonated for a long time afterwards, and left us thankful that Shakespeare was British.

And, most recently, the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics was simply stunning. Around the world, commentators have acknowledged that Danny Boyle pulled off an amazing feat in portraying the quirkiness and humour that makes Britain what it is.

The inventiveness and creativity, in the way it was executed and performed, and the technical skill in making it happen, showcased what is truly great about our nation and, whatever the outcome of the Games, we have certainly achieved a gold standard in creativity in 2012.

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.