True Vision: notes from two days of inspiration

Small Business Saturday

“I don’t like ads that say ‘If you drink our rum you’re going to be sexy’… I hate that artifice between the brand and the reality. It has to be real, honest.” Dan Germain, head of creative at Innocent, is telling a captivated audience at the annual Vision conference in Bristol about the power of stories in business. “If people like your stories, they’ll like what you do next… Ultimately you’re working with people, so it’s about connecting with them on a real level, in an authentic way.”

The Innocent story and voice in which they tell it has to be one of the most written about and talked about brand approaches in the last decade. If you write for business, chances are that at some point at least one client will have told you they want to sound like Innocent. What Dan is saying isn’t exactly a revelation now, but the honest, down-to-earth way he talks about Innocent’s journey and the things they’ve learnt along the way provides ample food for thought.

“It’s about being interested in the world, not just focusing on your product,” he says. Thinking about people and what makes them tick should underline every idea for trying to reach them – so many marketers feel that unless every bit of communication revolves around their product, they won’t make their sales. In fact, it’s often the opposite.

“Just create something that people really want to read, share, laugh at, be moved by. If it’s brilliant, you don’t need to worry about your social media strategy – your readers will do it for you,” Carla Buzasi, editor of the Huffington Post UK, says in her talk. “Do what comes naturally.”

Simplicity and authenticity are messages that come up again and again in the talks we see throughout the two days. “If you are who you say you are, word of mouth will spread quickly,” urges Rita Clifton, former chairman of Interbrand. Her fascinating keynote on the second day explores the real value of a strong, real brand that permeates everything you do and say.

“Just create something that people really want to read, share, laugh at, be moved by. If it’s brilliant, you don’t need to worry about your social media strategy – your readers will do it for you.”

“A brand is not a stick-on; it’s about organising your company to give your customers the best experience at every level,” she continues. “Brand strategy should be the alter-ego of business strategy; from the way you answer the phone to how you train and incentivise your people, it needs to show through everything you do, internally and externally… Use the brand as a transforming idea to get people to think differently about the business.”

Behaviour is one of the most powerful forms of communication, she says, giving the example of Ocado, who have really focused their service around customer experience – from the drivers they use to the way all the bags are carefully packed for store cupboard, refrigeration, fruit bowl etc – it’s all about making people’s lives easier and ensuring that every touch point they have with Ocado counts, impresses. “Don’t just engage – enchant. Go beyond people’s expectations,” says Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft, in another talk about something else – but for me it rings true as a general approach to everything.

At your service

This idea about how to make people’s lives better is at the heart of some of the most innovative and genuinely meaningful campaigns out there. “Do we need services more than stuff?” asks Contagious magazine’s Dan Southern. People like Patagonia have certainly led the way with this approach – their bold ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign on Cyber Monday and Common Threads Initiative (in partnership with eBay) have reimagined the idea of value – if you have one of their jackets and five years later it needs mending, you can send it off to them to repair for you for free.

80% of CEOs think their brand offers a better customer service.
8% of customers agree

People value experiences more than they value products – a recent survey showed that 57% of people preferred experiential purchases (compared to 34% products). The mission to create positive experiences for customers has sparked some of the most imaginative and effective initiatives out there. Identifying the things that cause pain or frustration in a customer journey and using them as a starting point for a new idea is a really good starting point. Creating better, more considered and unique services can be a powerful way of embodying your brand promise too. There are some truly inspiring examples of this idea in action in the films below:

The Dollar Shave Club – why spend more money than you need to on more stuff than you really need?

Small Business Saturday – a simple idea expertly delivered, which made a real difference in communities across America and even managed to get Obama’s support

Red Tomato Pizza – a clever widgit that truly makes people’s lives easier… and increased Red Tomato’s orders by 500% in the process

Barclays Pingit – Barclays may not be our favourite bank right now, but this hilarious advert and clever app is a genius way of helping people reclaim small debts owed to them by friends, colleagues etc – and 80% of people who received a payment this way then signed up to the service themselves.

>> Thanks Vision and all your fantastic speakers; we left fired up with new ideas and will be back next year!

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