Move people with your vision

 

Move people with your vision

When Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool Football Club, they were a second-rate side, languishing in the old Second Division.

By the time he left in 1974, they’d won three First Division titles, one Second Division title, two FA Cups and one UEFA Cup.

Unrecognisable from the deadbeat side he’d taken charge of in December 1959 – even down to their kit.

Because when Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool, they didn’t play in their iconic all-red strip.

They played in white shorts and white socks, with white piping on their red jerseys.

But Bill had an idea.

Impressed by Real Madrid’s all-white kit, and using his gut instinct for colour psychology, he made a switch so powerful that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t always been that way.

One day, after training, Bill bounded into the players’ dressing room.

He threw a pair of vivid red shorts to one of his players.

“Get into those shorts and let’s see how you look,” instructed Bill.

Because he had a theory: red is for danger; red is for power.

And he didn’t just choose any player to model this new kit, he chose his captain, Ron Yeats.

The 6ft 2in fellow Scot he’d signed from Dundee United, a part-time slaughterman who was as strong as an ox and twice as wide.

The bemused centre-half duly obliged and donned the red shorts, with the addition of red socks.

As he walked down the steps towards the players’ tunnel, he could see his manager, and assistant Bob Paisley, in the middle of the pitch.

And as Yeats approached them, all in red, Bill exclaimed: “Christ, Ronnie, you look awesome, terrifying; you look seven feet tall!”

His stocky presence was made all the more imposing by the all-red uniform.

A move intended to strike fear and intimidation into the hearts of opponents.

Bill was happy.

And on the 25 November 1964, the man-mountain from the “Granite City” of Aberdeen, led out his teammates against Anderlecht in the first round of the European Cup.

All in red for the first time.

The art of theatre was not lost on Bill: he instructed Yeats to stand in the centre circle of the Anfield pitch.

“Walk around him,” urged Bill, as he invited a group of journalists to behold his rough-hewn granite obelisk.

Splendorous in scarlet.

The match was played at a cracking tempo.

Yeats the rock: a huge, defiant red-jasper sentinel in the middle of the defence.

Hunt, St John and Yeats on the score sheet: the captain’s forceful header, the skipper’s first at Anfield.

They shattered the pride of Belgium: 3–0.

And Bill knew that a red glow had been ignited at Anfield that night: one that burned fiercely for more than 20 years.

He knew the importance of getting people to sit up and take notice.

His symbolic move captured their supporters’ imagination, and that of the onlooking press too.

Projecting a very clear sense of who or what you are, and the purpose of what you are doing, is critical to success.

Connecting as much, if not more, on an emotional level as on a rational one.

Through the symbol of reevaluation: a red kit, Bill projected a powerful identity, not just a superficial image.

Bill was sending out a visual message to reinforce the changes he’d made to LFC’s training ground, training methods, footballing philosophy and ambition.

A move intended to amplify these changes.

And, in doing so, intimidate the opposition, inspire the press, captivate the fans and motivate the players.

He’d brought his vision to life so people could see it, understand it and get behind it.

And like Bill, we turn breakthrough thinking into real-world outputs that fuel action and drive change.

— DB

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Work like you’re making a movie

 

Work like you're making a movie

Toy Story 2 is one of the only sequels to outshine the original.

But it was nearly a very different story.

In 1997, Disney executives asked Pixar if they could make Toy Story 2, as a direct-to-video release – not something Pixar were used to.

But a very lucrative model for Disney.

A way to keep characters from successful films alive.

But something didn’t feel right for Pixar.

The creative benchmark for sequels was lower, but they still said yes.

Instantly, they realised that they’d made a big mistake.

Aiming low was unfamiliar territory for Pixar and bad for their souls.

They just couldn’t figure out how to go about it without sacrificing quality.

So while a proven A-team worked on A Bug’s Life, the unproven B-team picked up Toy Story 2.

It didn’t take long for them to realise that a direct-to-video model wasn’t going to work for them.

So they argued for a theatrical release.

And won.

They had a good initial idea for a story, but something wasn’t working.

The early storyboards edited together with dialogue and temporary music weren’t where they should’ve been.

And they weren’t improving.

Worse still, the directors and producers weren’t pulling together.

Months passed, but the reels were still bad.

Finally, with A Bug’s Life completed, the directors – including John Lasseter – had the time to sit down and watch them.

Emerging from the screening room, John summarised: “Disaster.”

Having insisted on rejecting the idea of a B-level product, they were making just that.

Drastic action was required to avert a crisis.

John told everyone to get some rest over the holidays.

And starting 2 January, they began to re-storyboard the entire movie.

A clear message was sent out to the company that to right the ship they’d need all hands on deck.

With a new leadership team at the helm, they set about solving the challenges.

The problem wasn’t the original concept, but convincing the audience that Woody had a genuine dilemma.

Woody the cowboy doll is kidnapped by a toy collector who intends to ship him to a toy museum in Japan.

Woody has to decide whether to go to Japan or try to escape and go back to Andy, the boy who owned him.

You know he’s going to end up back with Andy.

But if you can easily predict what’s going to happen, you don’t have any drama.

So the challenge was to get the audience to believe that Woody might make a different choice.

Something the B-team hadn’t managed to figure out .

So they added several elements to show the fears that toys might have.

Ones that people could relate to.

And Toy Story 2 became a critical and commercial success.

It was the defining moment for Pixar.

It taught them a valuable lesson about the importance of people over ideas:

If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up; if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something that works.

To make Toy Story 2 it required people at all levels to support one another.

It’s was all for one, and one for all.

Making any movie is tough.

Everybody needs to pull together towards the common goal.

Everyone totally invested in helping everyone else turn out the best work possible.

Egos are best parked: the cast, crew, producers, writers and director need a shared understanding.

If film-making were a solo pursuit, then no writer would hand their material over to a producer or director again.

We create and build ideas through collaboration – just like making a movie.

Building multidisciplinary teams around the problem; only working with the best in the business.

And clients are integral to its success, as part of that team.

We involve the right people in the process, maximising everyone’s expertise.

And use our strategic and creative direction to keep the story on track throughout the entire process.

— DB

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Work in permanent beta

 

Work in permanent beta

Jeff Bezos was working in finance in New York City when he had a great idea.

He came across the fact that web usage was growing at 2,300% a year.

He’d never heard of anything growing that quickly.

What if he could build an online bookstore with millions of titles?

Something that couldn’t exist in the real world.

He was just 30 and had been married for only a year.

He told his wife that he wanted to quit his job.

And do this crazy thing.

A startup.

That probably wouldn’t work.

But his wife told him to go for it.

So he did.

To start with Amazon sold only books.

Next, Amazon added music and video.

Then he asked his customers what else they’d like to buy from Amazon.

And an incredibly long list came back.

Of whatever people had on their minds when they responded to Bezos’ question.

And that sparked an idea.

People will want to use this newfangled e-commerce way of shopping for everything.

Today, Amazon sells almost everything.

Jeff Bezos’ willingness to think long term was matched by his willingness to think like it’s always “Day 1”.

The sign-off he concludes every annual letter to his shareholders with is:

“It’s still Day 1” of the internet and for Amazon.com.

Just as he did in his first annual letter in 1997.

Because Day 1 is startup.

The days when a new company is full of energy.

Ready and willing to move ahead with vigour.

For him, Day 2 is “stasis”.

Followed by irrelevance.

That’s why Amazon remains in a state of permanent beta.

“Beta” is a phrase used by software companies to indicate that the version of the product is not yet finished.

“Permanent beta” is the idea of constant adaptation.

It’s a time of perpetual experimentation and usage.

An imperfect product is released.

Feedback is harvested.

Bugs, problems and features are worked upon.

And the product evolves and improves.

Permanent beta can be an outlook on life.

And it’s how we approach our clients’ problems.

Failure isn’t something to avoid.

It’s a deliberate part of the process.

Working out what’s working and what’s not.

Failure isn’t an indication of capability or potential.

It’s simply an evaluation of progress.

Being in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge the bugs.

There’s always something to learn.

Something to adapt.

It’s a continuous commitment.

We’re always open to new ideas and iterations.

For us, the launch is the start, not the end.

We don’t just hand things over, we stay with our clients, watching, learning and refining along the way.

Amassing knowledge and experience while always retaining the energy, vigour and open-mindedness of Day 1.

— DB

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Are you selling a brand or a product?

 

Are you selling a brand or a product?

Whether to focus on promoting a product (or service) or the brand is a question that often comes up with clients. Is it better to focus on the attributes and benefits of the product? Or the ethos and values of the company behind it?

In many quarters, the latter approach has a bad reputation. It is often seen as lofty and idealistic; not rooted in commercial reality. Yet there are plenty of examples that prove otherwise.

In 2002, Honda launched a bold new approach to their advertising, starting with a television commercial entitled OK. This was followed by their Perfume and Banana press adverts. And then in 2003 came their Cog television advert. These talked of a company philosophy, not the features and benefits of Honda's cars. Yet by December 2003, less than two years later, annual sales had risen by 22%¹.

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John Lewis have just launched a major new advertising campaign focusing on the partnership structure of their company. This strategy has served them well. Between 2012 and 2015, following the introduction of their now-famous Christmas television advertising, sales increased by 37%².

Focusing on the brand isn’t right for everyone and therefore people are right to question the commercial validity of this approach. Many have had their fingers burned. So when should you focus on the brand and when should you just get on with selling a product? Our work is often about finding the right question to answer. In this case, the question is: Is your brand anything more than your product or service?

To understand what I mean, let’s return to Honda. The agency team that worked on the campaigns said this: “We’d never encountered a corporate culture like it; maverick; feisty; inventive; still behaving as though their unpredictable engineering genius of a founder was stalking the corridors looking for engines to tweak. They were frustrated that this fantastic culture never found its way into the advertising. They really wanted a positive engagement with society. The Power of Dreams was true. It sprung directly out of their culture, not from a series of global focus groups, and that kind of human truth about a company was a powerful weapon.”²

When people try to promote their brand and fail, it is often because they lack authenticity. A purpose or why has been invented in a workshop, but it’s not a truth that permeates through every corner of the organisation. A wonderful image can be projected through communications, but if this doesn’t ring true when people deal with customer service or experience the product then it will quickly fall apart.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was on the brink of collapse. One of the first things he did was create an advertising campaign, which he launched internally, saying: “Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for. What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. Apple’s about something more. Its core value is that we believe people with passion can change the world for the better. What we’re going to do in our first brand marketing campaign for several years is to get back to that core value.”³ The campaign they launched was Here’s to the Crazy Ones. And it worked because it was true. It encapsulated the values Steve Jobs stood for. It was the vision he pushed through the business. And it was something every Apple customer knew to be true when they used one of the products.

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Patagonia are a more current example. They’ve recently launched a campaign called The Dam Truth4 about how damaging dams and reservoirs can be to nature and the environment. This is far from a token CSR initiative. Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, details the lengths he goes to push his vision through the business. He details at length how they embedded their ethos and values through a series of philosophies: product design, production, distribution, marketing, finance, human resources, management and environment.

Promoting something bigger than a product or service can be immensely powerful. Honda, John Lewis, Patagonia and Apple prove this. But it has to be authentic. If it isn’t, then it’s far better to focus on the features and benefits of the product or service. But in the meantime, start work on building a vision internally. This will take time; it won’t deliver results overnight, but one day the company might just be able to advertise like these great brands, and experience the same commercial returns.

— RG

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