There’s many things that creatives and marketers alike will agree are at every industry-level brand conference; the queues for the name badges are never fast-flowing, small biscuits quickly become the rarest and most precious of assets, and everyone has sympathy for the hardworking people stuck on the sponsor’s stands who have to deliver the same sales spiel over and over again with an almost superhuman positivity.
But the other thing everyone agrees upon is that the best and most useful conference talks are those that offer genuine insight on a peer-to-peer level – the hows and whys, rather than reminders of the basics and the “I’d like to quickly show you our new showreel for the next 5 mins” advertorials. And after a lean & mean day packed with different speakers, it’s easy to say that Monotype’s Brand Talks was a great success by this metric.
“The role of Brand is changing… but Brand has never been more vital” was the soundbite of an insightful day at Shoreditch Studios, where creatives and marketers alike packed themselves in to hear from the great and good of the industry on the modern role of branding and brand engagement.
Monzo – Building blocks of the brand
After the usual introductions and a really interesting look into the recently released Helvetica Now (seriously, go and check it out if you haven’t heard about it already: monotype.com/fonts/helvetica-now), we had our first speakers of the day – the in-house team at banking disruptors Monzo.
Presented by designer Jacqui Browne and copywriter Harry Ashbridge, the talk focused on the roles both played in finding Monzo’s voice (Harry had a very entertaining aside about the amount of times he’d been asked in the past by clients to “give us Famous Brand X’s tone of voice”. Which obviously kind of misses the whole point of trying to find your own tone of voice in the marketplace).
Every aspect of the brand was tied into one another, even down to the T&Cs they carry – with Monzo claiming ‘clarity’ and ‘straight-talking’ as part of their brand, their T&Cs are actually just a couple of simple paragraphs, rather than the War & Peace most companies offer.
The approach was very much how it should be done – design, marketing and the product itself all informing each other in a very cohesive way. The duo explained that the key was consistency, uniqueness, and modification – keeping all the threads together, keeping them different from the competition, and keeping them adaptable to new directions and challenges that the brand could face.
‘Uniqueness’ was most telling; Jacqui explained that since they gained traction with consumers, the online-only banking competition has followed them wholesale in terms of style and presentation, even going so far as to try and follow the now-highly recognisable ‘hot coral’ debit cards. That then led into how a business’ brand team has to change tact somewhat once they become a leader rather than the cool new kid on the block.
Having a team work closely together across every aspect of the brand, and clearly one that gets on so well with one another, has paid dividends for Monzo, and it was really heartening to see such good work get recognised by both the industry and consumers.
Olapic & IKEA – Harnessing the power of UGC
Next was the agency-client pairing of Olapic & IKEA. Olapic have made their name in the industry in making the acquisition process of User Generated Content simple and clear for major market players. Their work with Ikea was a fine example of how to not just go about procuring UGC, but also how to use it effectively; showing how to present, tailor and adapt content.
Through the Olapic platform, Ikea sources and utilises UGC of its products in a relatable real-world setting, showing their audience that it’s not the well-produced product photography that makes their products look good, they just are good. IKEA’s Jason Black was at pains to say that this didn’t mean ‘the death of quality product photography’, more that there was a place for both styles, with the UGC acting in an important supporting role. Alongside the UGC, IKEA provide links to the products featured to let consumers quickly achieve the style on show for themselves.
An interesting point Jason made was that IKEA wasn’t afraid of showing other people’s products in the photos, going so far as to say he would be perfectly comfortable if there was only a single IKEA product in the mix of the shot, so long as it was a good shot that did a good job of highlighting that one product’s style or benefits. Good lifestyle product photography tends to include only products available from the client, but Jason rightly acknowledged that real homes aren’t like that; they’re a mix of products from all sorts of companies and it was important to show that in order to look authentic and earn trust.
Change is constant: How to future-proof your brand
One of the big feature talks of the event was a panel discussion between Monotype, fashion retailer AllSaints, AirFrance, and agency The Gate, about what brands and brand guardians at agencies need to do in order to keep their approach healthy, creative and relevant.
The message from all was actually quite clear – be adaptable and invest in your people, with the latter point drawing a lot of nods from the panel. “People make the work, and people drive creativity” as one said, and that requires a human touch with the workforce in order for the work to continue to look human and relate to humans.
One speaker shared an interesting story of how one company he was familiar with kept the staff happy and creative by switching to a 4-day week, after internal analysis showed the staff were most productive at the start of the week and least productive towards the end. He said by making Wednesday a day off for staff (effectively breaking the working week into two blocks of two days), they’d seen a major increase in both productivity and creativity which had led to better client procurement and retention without compromising on deadlines or output.
AllSaints: Monitoring the competition and investing in people
AllSaints’ Global Head of Digital Commerce, Dan Hartley, rose an interesting point of how his brand doesn’t just look to direct rivals in terms of competition; they know that customers also account for holidays, experiences and other lifestyle choices when making decisions on how to spend their money. AllSaints use this as a guidance when making creative decisions with the brand.
To measure their success with those creative decisions, they use a Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a KPI, as this tends to correlate with revenue growth. Bringing the discussion back to how it’s important to invest in your people, he said how fashion was “universally personal” and that required his staff to stay personal in order to maintain.
One of the final points made was to be agile, spontaneous and have the ability to react both internally & externally. With the nature of the industry being that change is the only constant, you can’t be reactive or proactive if you are too tied to process and schedule.
Interbrand & Santander – Simple, personalised and fair
If you’ve worked in the creative fields, you’ve no doubt heard of Interbrand, and today they were here to show us how they created a more unified brand for Santander.
It was a masterclass in showing how far brand evolution can go without stepping into the realm of revolution, and that the little touches can have a big impact on the overall impression of a business. Starting with a brand new custom typeface for the wordmark, IB went on to develop further typefaces for headlines and body text, and then allowed the design choices made for those to influence the production of a tweaked version of the Santander icon, one that was more effective for online and small-scale usage with a deeper negative-space cut. The specific angles of the curves used were then the chief influencer of spot illustrations and iconography, again aiding in the development of a more unified appearance for the bank.
Just how essential this was became apparent when they showed the huge difference in how the different regional versions of Santander had been operating in their local markets. Message presentation could be entirely different from country to country, so the work they did brought an appearance for their messaging that was more balanced for different markets, more adaptable, and inclusive of more online and motion aspects.
Isobar – What is experience-led transformation?
As any conference begins to wrap up, fatigue can set in and concentration can begin to wander. But Simon Gill from Isobar very quickly made sure that wasn’t going to happen by delivering one of the best talks that we experienced all day. His talk was all about how the experience a brand gives someone leads to some of the most important feedback on how that brand needs to adapt, change and continue.
By starting with how a brand is experienced by its userbase, a brand can adapt and build up in a way that keeps the userbase interested and engaged, often in a very natural, human way. “Brands are what others say they are” said Simon, and it’s important to understand what people believe you to be in order to remain authentic.
He cited a great example where a piece of signage from one company’s office that was written in a very affable tone, but right round the corner was a sign from the same company in an incredibly authoritarian tone, warning of car towing if permits weren’t displayed. “Which do you think is the REAL voice of this company?” he asked, and all agreed it was the latter, showing that even in this microcosm it’s important to retain the same tone throughout every touchpoint, because if the mask slips, people tend to pick up on the odd-one-out as the ‘real’ voice, which then creates a mistrust of the brand’s presented voice.
He highlighted this through really engaging output they had recently done:
- A dedicated microsite and design & marketing choices for Aston Villa FC that actively tied into the local community (https://www.isobar.com/gb/en/work/pitch-side-innovation/);
- The utilisation of Amazon’s Alexa assistant for the world’s biggest spirits manufacturer Diageo, allowing users to produce the best cocktails using Diageo’s products (https://www.isobar.com/global/en/work/diageo-voice/)
- The production of location-specific audiobooks for children to be used in VW’s cars that would activate on car journeys, encouraging kids to stop looking at their tablets and phones and start looking out of the window (https://www.isobar.com/global/en/work/volkswagen-road-tales/).
This last one piqued the interest of many parents at Adtrak when we told them about it.
Each of these went beyond sales messages and fancy visuals, and gave something that really speaks to the modern consumer – an authentic experience, and something that leaves them feeling a residual benefit which can lead to better customer loyalty and retention in a world where people don’t have favourite brands anymore.
Alibaba – Application scenarios and design in a Chinese tech company
Although it was only briefly touched upon, Chinese megacorp Alibaba’s creative team offered one of the most fascinating insights of the day. Their talk was mainly about the new custom typefaces the company had developed for themselves, and what they had to take into account delivering them for use in very different languages. These fonts were ultimately released for free to anyone who wanted to use them, with the vendors who use Alibaba’s platform as the main target audience. The company did this as they wanted to promote inclusivity for those who use them to sell their wares, but it was the differing reactions to the release from both the Western and Eastern audiences that really stopped a lot of people in their tracks.
The predominantly-Chinese Eastern audiences lapped them up. The feedback they gave noted how they saw the use of these fonts as adding legitimacy and authenticity to their own marketplaces as they could tie them more closely into the Alibaba brand, and the gratitude they showed was overwhelming. However, the Western audience reacted in a drastically different fashion, questioning the decision and claiming that this release helped to limit the unique identities of the multitude of vendors. Although the conclusions you could come to from this were left open-ended, it raised a fascinating question of how to go about engagement from audiences with very different reactions to the same thing.
BBC Studios – Why imagery matters
To close the day out, we heard from Tom Hind, Director of Photography at BBC Studios on the role of imagery in (essentially) purchase decisions and content selections.
Tom noted how the BBC’s marketplace has become crowded even further in the past decade with the rise of online streaming platforms such as Netflix, and that the differentiation of content in such a crowded marketplace has now become vital to the success of content. Within spaces where a ridiculous amount of products are all trying to gain a user’s attention (Tom cited 13 milliseconds as the average time someone spends looking at a product before moving to the next product in view), the difference can be most easily established through targeted and creative visuals.
Through a series of A/B test breakdowns, Tom showed how the players in their field have learned that images featuring people making direct eye-contact with the viewer are among the most effective. Also, how they’ve learned to display different images for the same content depending on if you’ve interacted with that particular piece of content already or not (if you’re familiar with a show already, then you’ve already made your mind up if it’s something you’re willing to engage with again. Those who’ve never seen it demand a different type of ‘sell’).
Ultimately, it’s the balance between meeting expectations and playing against those expectations that is key to convincing someone to watch a piece of content or make a purchase decision.
As the final round of applause finished and attention turned to both networking and jostling to get to the free wine first, it was time to reflect on a really interesting and entertaining day in Monotype’s company. The overall message of welcoming change and the role brand plays in a changing world is something that has been repeated for some time now, but the way this was elaborated on and the examples of execution shown were of great benefit to everyone in attendance.
The only thing left for me to do is figure out how do I go about justifying the cost of Helvetica Now and a 4-day working week to my CD. Hmm…