Stand Out: the theme of last month’s Design Council conference. Location: the Brewery in Chiswell Street. So it is appropriate the remark that stood out for me concerned a drink – fresh, healthy, purely fruit and branded Innocent.
On the platform was Innocent’s brand guardian Dan Germain, who, according to the programme notes, ensures ‘the labels are always funny’. The trouble with ‘funny’ is that jokes grow stale. But, as Germain told the audience, ‘We change the labels constantly, to keep them fresh like the drink’.
That’s brand guardianship – making sure all communication reinforces the brand’s core message. Branding is about distinctiveness. Ask two questions of your brand. First, is it distinctive enough? Is there enough distance between it and the competition? The difference, tangible or perceptual, must be enough to claim a niche in the consumer’s mind.
Second, is enough of it distinctive? Does everything associated with the brand reflect, even enhance, the brand? Is it all of a piece, coherent? Would Innocent be the same drink with bog standard labels?
A brand guardian has to rethink every aspect of communication. And that means just about everything to do with the brand because everything communicates. I once worked on the global launch of a motor oil. We began by delineating the brand personality – the key trait was vitality. This determined the shape of the pack, the graphics, the thrust and style of the advertising. We provided guidelines for the regional operating companies. One manager in South East Asia was keen to support the brand with a forecourt promotion. He was tempted by a job lot of sun loungers but then he re-visited the guidelines. Sun loungers… vitality… how about exercise bikes?
Though the term may be recent, the task of brand guardianship has been practised for decades. In the golden days of Guinness, the top men, when asked to judge an ad or a design or a promotion, would utter three words ‘is it Guinnessy?’. They knew what they meant and what they were looking for.
Often, however, the brand guardian’s personal reach doesn’t stretch as far as his or her remit. Then the brand may be in the hands of those who don’t live it. I was waiting in the foyer of the export department of a well known UK company. There were magazines to read, all neatly and uniformly laid out on a coffee table. But the magazines themselves weren’t uniform. The Arabic language journal was – to any Middle Eastern visitor – back to front. What did that say about the company?
Brand guardianship, you could argue, is everyone’s job. Some companies seem to convey this. Pret A Manger is one. Is it distinctive enough? Yes. Is enough of it distinctive? Without doubt. And certainly everything communicates. The cup, sandwich pack, paper napkin, leaflets, the Pret Passion Facts on the wall, the recruitment poster… all tell the tale of good ingredients, freshness, care and attention to detail. And, like Innocent, Pret continually refreshes itself. New items on the shelves, new quotations on the napkins (from the likes of Oscar Wilde and Miss Piggy) and new giveaways.
Recently, you could pick up a 20-page booklet produced in conjunction with Time Out, a handbook of Bite Sized Adventures. Not just any old guide but things to do in your lunchtime – ‘a range of surprising breaktime activities’.
The introduction sets the tone and the agenda: ‘… instead of perching on the proverbial bench and staring at other office exiles, why not free up your mind at lunchtime in an enriching open space, discover a secret London spot, give your creative side the runaround with a quick cultural fix or just let a bit of love into your lunch hour…?’
The introduction also tells you that Pret knows its clientele. They lead full lives. Pret helps make them even fuller – but without intruding. No contrived linkage of the brand’s products with places to visit. No list of outlets. Instead, just the name, discreetly, front and back.
A lesser company would question such an approach. It would make the booklet a sales piece. That’s if it got that far. It would probably kill the idea at birth, having decided that London’s lunchtime attractions constituted competition. But Pret A Manger is bigger than that, more than a coffee shop, more than a sandwich place. It sees itself, I believe, as an aspirational part of urban living. And that’s what makes it stand out.