After a brief post-school stint in a number of restaurants, I got my desired job in an advertising agency as a commercial artist, after my mum, who worked in Jaeger, persuaded an agency creative director and customer (through the curtain of a changing room) into meeting me. Over the next 15 years I worked my way through every agency department and moved from Leeds to London. In the late 90’s I found myself, along with 4 other guys from Yorkshire, running one of the largest brand agencies in the world, working with Nike, Virgin, BBC, MTV, Sony etc. It was fast and demanding and I mainly learned how not to do things. In the midst of huge success we failed repeatedly all the time. In the early noughties I quit the Agency world, fearing for my health and sanity, and started work as an independent consultant, helping businesses understand the ingredients of a great brand and how to build one.
I'm sure many of you will sympathise with this view, but I often think back to meetings I had in my 20's and 30's. I was dispensing supposedly right, proper and professional advice to clients of some stature, regarding their brand and what they should do with it and I now feel a bit sick! I don't think I had a clue what I was talking about! I guess even then I knew a lot more than most about it and I always tried very hard to be good at what I did. I've always considered my work to be my craft (that doesn't sound anywhere near as pretentious when I say it to myself in my head) so I'm interested in branding and how we as people engage with products and brands. It's my hobby as well as my work. But let me get onto the real subject of my blog. There is the popular notion sparked by Malcolm Gladwell that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something and I doubted this until I realised it's taken me about 60,000! Maybe I'm just a bloody slow learner, or maybe I became an expert ages ago but my self deprecation won't let me claim it.
This has all come to the front of my mind because it's only very recently that I began to feel completely comfortable billing myself as an expert in branding... I don't wear a t-shirt or anything, I've not completely lost it, but I've realised I know what I'm doing, OK really know what I'm doing. Nothing in branding phases me any more and I don't have that awful dread that I'll end up in front of a client that knows more than me. I hope, in the face of wide spread BS and pretence, this puts me in a good place.
My thinking has been fortified by a quote I heard from Simon Rattle earlier this week (yes, I listen to Classic FM now and again) that you're not really a conductor till you're in your 60's. He's just turning 60.
So, it has taken me 30 years to learn and really understand what makes a great brand and what it takes to build one. I now know it’s actually remarkably simple. It’s not complicated, it’s just hard work. The only things you need are a great product that people want or need; a big idea about your business, (an idea that's bigger than your product) and the confidence and conviction to bring your idea to life in everything you do. That's pretty much it.
'Where do most businesses fail?' I hear you ask. Well it's at the final hurdle. The great brands are much better at turning their idea into real action with utter conviction. So we see it... we believe it... we get it... we buy it. Too many 'ideas' are languishing in a powerpoint presentation somewhere on a memory stick or printed out and lying on the shelf of a marketing department because activating a brand idea is bloody hard work and it can often be a war of attrition. Convincing colleagues of the importance, strength and potential of the idea.
That's what it's taken me 60,000 hours to learn. If you want to be a great brand you have to activate your brand idea.