Blue-bearded brand thinking

Set sail on the waters of blue-bearded brand thinking, with The Pirate Inside.

By: Nicola Robey,   3 minutes

The Pirate Inside

Ten years ago The Pirate Inside, by  Adam Morgan was published. The second in the series of challenger tomes from the author of the best-selling Eating Big Fish, it armed all those keen to carve a different path with a bible to do business in a new way. And it caused quite a stir.

I was most grateful when I was tagged in a post by the folks at the Challengers Almanac, as part of their inspirational book give away. Which meant a couple of days later a copy of The Pirate Inside found its way to my desk right in time for a good hearty Feed.

The term ‘Challenger Brand’ crops up quite often, especially in the creative industries. It seems almost a given that conscientious consumers will gravitate towards brands that are trying a new tack; the companies that are actively changing the way people consume and interact with them.

But ten years ago, things were pretty different. And it’s the waves that shook the big cheeses that really opened the doors for challengers to take to the stage and make a verifiable difference – companies like Howies, the Wales-based denim company whose David and Goliath battle with Levi’s propelled them to challenger fame and became the precursor to the challenging forum,  The Do Lectures.

And whilst I’m no CEO of a multi-national, I am part of a writing agency that’s doing something really different through investing in creativity by Feeding. So what did I learn from a day with my Pirate manual?

Firstly, even pirates have rules.

It’s not about swashbuckling and stalking the seven seas looting, pillaging and generally being a little scallywag. No, to make a real difference, you have to be a ‘constructive pirate’.

Even the most infamous sea scavenging villains weren’t complete anarchists. And to make a real difference, challengers can’t be either. It’s about rewriting the rules so that you can carve out a new space that gets heads turning for all the right reasons.

Morgan defines these in nine different ways, with everything from ‘Outlooking’ to ‘Pushing’, ‘Wrapping’ to ‘Refusing’ and a whole load of insightful and intuitive lessons to learn besides. But it was in between the “non-business jargon” that I found some fresh insight for my day-to-day work.

So I climbed on board, got to grips with the pirate metaphor and spent a day learning all about how to think like a challenger.

First things first, it’s not enough to just think like pirate, you have to act like one too.

So I’ve whittled my learnings down, to share just two key examples of how I’ll be channeling my inner pirate.



This is all about taking one idea, and transposing a completely separate idea on top of it. Take for example taking a clothing company, and overlaying a completely arbitrary industry on top. Let’s say a clothing company wants a new way of approaching the customer experience. With overlaying, you could pluck something like a butcher’s shop from the ether and overlay it on top. So how can we make the experience of going to a clothing shop more interesting by doing this?

Well, perhaps you could look at all of the intricately tailored cuts of meat you can get in the butchers, the anatomical drawings on the wall, the butchers who are experienced in the very curvature of their produce and the way their goods are all organised neatly on display. Or we could look at the customer experience, the way things can be precisely tailored and changed.

Much like the way cosmetics brand Lush took the idea of a delicatessen and used it to invigorate the consumer experience. Perhaps there’s something in the butcher’s shop overlay.

I’m not saying that the next time you go into Topshop you’ll be piecing together each leg of your jeans, or getting your socks minced, but borrowing from alternative industries offers a fresh perspective on how to concoct new ideas. And it’s really quite exciting.


Whether it’s Ben and Jerry’s ingredient descriptors that use the words like ‘gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough’, or Sephora the cosmetics brand describing their staff as ‘priests and priestesses’; as a writer working to distill brands’ values, Morgan’s insight on ‘Wrapping’ shone for me.

Essentially it’s all about defining a brand’s language – and not just in terms of the words they use – but in a broader sense that encapsulates a whole sub-cultural way of communicating.

It’s all comes down to the little things that come together to build a bigger picture. It’s about staying true to your brand values, understanding how every little interaction your customer has, whether it’s a conversation with an employee, some copy on a plastic bag, or an email that follows up a purchase, with consistency and alignment to what sits at the core of a brand, who they really are or aspire to be, people will be able to build an emotional connection. 

Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t exactly need a kooky way of describing their ice cream, but the simple fact that they do shows how each and every aspect of their brand is truthful to their values.

And that’s where you get faithful followers.


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