Tuesday 19 November 2019, Bristol

This November members of PM Forum South West gathered at Burges Salmon’s waterfront office for a packed-out talk on branding. The guest speaker was agency Mytton Williams’s MD Bob Mytton. 

Bob had come up with the idea for this talk at this year’s PM Forum conference, when no less than three people had asked him the very question in the title of today’s talk. What followed was a full hour of advice and thought leadership as Bob shared his 30 years of experience with the room. 

Bob began by questioning whether consumers even have the time to care about brands. There’s a lot of clutter around in this space. So to cut through you need your brand to be easily recognised, remembered and understood. 

Then, he identified some of the problems that professional services marketers face within their organisations: a lack of engagement and momentum, processes, risk aversion, compromise, timing and budget. 

In the next section, Bob recommended checking out a YouTube video of John Cleese on Creativity in Management. As well as an enormous quantity of lightbulb jokes, the Monty Python star talks about open and closed states of mind. Both are useful in marketing. You need an open mind to be creative. And a closed mind to get things done. To achieve an open mindset you need space, time, time, confidence and humour according to Mr Cleese. 

Bob linked these to the Mytton Williams creative process: Research (open); strategy (closed); ideas (open); craft (closed); and delivery. 

Getting started

On to the practicality and Bob spoke of the importance of getting buy-in from key stakeholders early. Creating a well-formed brand team is a good way to get this buy-in and build momentum. This should in no way just consist of marketing folks. Get a good spread from the firm such as the marketing director, managing partner/CEO, a business development manager and people from one or two different service areas. No more than ten people in total. 

With this team formed, start talking to people: partners, directors, staff and clients. The questions you ask are vital: 

  • What words do you want others to use to describe us?
  • How are we different from our competitors?
  • Who is our target audience?
  • How does our culture set us apart?
  • What behaviours do you not want to see?
  • What words best describe our personality?
  • What is at the heart of the firm? (Tip: it must be authentic!)

You’ll find that common themes quickly emerge, so you don’t need an endless list of interviewees. A useful tool at this stage is to plot a matrix with two axes. Put whatever is relevant to you on the axes, e.g. high street to high end, corporate to private client; it could be anything. Then map your competitors on the matrix and see where there is space in the market.

Bob highlighted the importance of defining and communicating your “purpose” compared to just a few years ago, and cited stats which reinforced this point.

Once you are done, write down your values and share them. Mytton Williams have used copywriters to craft these to ensure they are super inspiring.

Create distinctive brand assets 

Fonts matter. Name matters. Logo matters.

In a quirky example to make the point, Bob showed us how a rustic font on a sign selling brown eggs was perfect. While if you used the same font style to sell flying lessons it would most likely repel any potential customers. 

And in another example, this time to illustrate the importance of brand colours, he swapped those of Coca Cola and Tiffany to show how they jarred. You may not be surprised to learn that colour increases brand recognition by 80%. 

Copywriting and tone of voice are essential too (a point seconded by this author!). Bob praised First Direct for its use of tone of voice and shared a few of their adverts. He also told an amusing anecdote of a project in which he had commissioned a top copywriter to write an About Us page for a client. The managing partner of the client got wind of this and involved himself. After six drafts the copywriter walked away. The managing partner then lost interest, and eventually they went back to a version resembling the first draft which the copywriter submitted. 

There were more examples of good campaigns, with an emphasis on how strong brands are built and remain consistent over decades. Volkswagen, for example, where some of today’s advertising campaigns bear close resemblance to those of 60 years ago.

People connect with what they feel

More magic and less logic can be considered a secret ingredient to a good brand. Quoting Bill Bernbach, Bob made the point that if we all logically follow the same data, we’ll all end up with similar brands.

The idea was reinforced with a look at the simplicity of an old Apple iPod advert which tapped into a simple benefit rather than technical features: “Say hello to iPod. 1,000 songs in your pocket.”. And then with a look at the iPod packaging as it was then, compared to a hypothetical vision of what it might have looked like if the iPod was a Microsoft product. It wasn’t pretty! 

“Less is more” is the succinct way to sum it up: one message is better than trying to cram two, three, four or more. 

If you can connect with how people feel rather than what they say, then you are in a strong position. Bob shared a stat on brand immortality from Pringle and Field which showed that advertising campaigns with purely emotional content were twice as effective as those with only rational content.

Final advice and case studies 

We were nearly at the end of the branding masterclass. And we had learnt so much. Some final words of wisdom were:

  • Don’t go off air! Ensure you continue to get your branding out their consistently.
  • If it needs doing, it is ok to carefully tweak your brand assets if you don’t have the budget or buy-in for a full rebrand.
  • Consider all the different stakeholders that your brand is for. It is not just clients, but leads, the press, recruitment and staff for example.
  • In your messaging, consider a 40/60 split between sales activation and brand activation.

We finished with three professional services case studies. These demonstrated how simple brand messaging was developed by Mytton Williams and percolated through the brand assets to help firms differentiate themselves in their markets. 

There was plenty to digest by the end of the talk. But Bob stressed if you only took three points away, they would be: be distinctive, be consistent and be relevant.

Written by Huw Bendon, On Point Copywriting