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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POV*: Using your people to build a great brand

 

Using your people to build a great brand

When building brands, it’s common to think externally first and focus on customers to increase revenue. Yet the returns can come as much from inside the organisation as outside, through improved employee performance. Many of the brands we work with are now recognising this. We’ve seen that HR people are playing an increasingly important role in projects.

Research has shown that engaged staff are 44% more productive than satisfied staff.¹ The organisation’s brand is a key means of achieving this. Jim Collins, in his study of companies, Good to Great, observed: “That extra dimension [of great companies] is a guiding philosophy or a ‘core ideology’.” Doshi & McGregor in Primed to Perform find that: “[A strong brand identity] unites your team with a common objective, behavioural code, heritage and traditions. It feeds a total motivation culture.

Focusing inside the organisation first doesn’t just yield benefits in terms of employee performance. It’s also the right place to start for building the external brand. As Richard Branson said: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” This is truer than it has ever been. In the age of social media, what employees are saying about the organisation is more visible than ever.

Despite this, research has shown that 60% of employees don’t know their company’s goals, strategies and tactics.¹ Organisations are starting to recognise this, meaning that many of our brand projects now start with an internal focus. We’ve also observed HR people playing an increasingly important role in projects.

For those wanting to approach their brand in this way, we believe there are four principles that are vital for success.

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1. Engage the leadership
Many brand positioning programmes are led by the marketing department. These are often the people who are most customer focused. And they are responsible for much of the marketing communications activity that will build the brand. But the responsibility for leading the organisation falls to the chief executive. To engage the business in the positioning, the champion of it must be the person at the top.

Leaders need to be clear about the behaviours and actions they are to uphold, and need to act as role models for the organisation. They are looked up to, so if they aren’t living the values of the company then the wider team can’t be expected to.

Bo Burlingham in his book, Small Giants, looks at smaller companies who’ve chosen to be great rather than big. Burlingham notes the importance of vision to these companies: “If there’s one thing that every founder and leader in this book has in common with others, it is a passion for what their companies do. They love it, and they have a burning desire to share it with other people.

When a brand positioning has the buy-in and support of the leader, it becomes something more. It becomes a vision for the organisation. It becomes something that’s embraced by every department – from production and customer service, to marketing and HR. In this way, every aspect of an organisation’s behaviour is driven by the same guiding philosophy and the positioning becomes reality.

2. Align HR and marketing
Since an organisation’s staff are playing an increasingly important part in building the brand, it’s natural that the HR department’s ability to develop culture needs to be a central part of brand building. Work by Econsultancy found that: “As businesses transform to become ‘fit-for-purpose’ for a rapidly changing digital world, the HR function is playing a critical role in supporting change through a heightened focus on culture, learning and employee engagement.”²

One point we often stress to clients is that there is no separation between internal and external reputation. It is not possible to have an employer brand and a customer brand that are positioned differently, managed differently and built differently. Nicola Waring, Director of People at JW Lees, has found that the relationship between marketing and HR is one of the most valuable there is: “From a marketing perspective, you are trying to attract customers. From a HR perspective, you want to attract new recruits. If the key messages are inconsistent then how can you expect your teams to properly engage your customers?

The Foundation explored this topic at one of their Forum events³, posing the question of whether all this means that the HR and marketing functions should merge: “All of those [internal and external messages] are the same message, and to achieve a true integrity all have to be planted in the same soil and ultimately tended by the same gardener.” This is something that brands are starting to consider, with companies such as Pizza Hut combining the head of marketing and the head of HR roles into one.

Whether a dual role is right for all organisations is debatable. The day-to-day work and skills of a HR director and a marketing director are still very different. It’s entirely possible for the two functions to work closely together, and ultimately the CEO becomes the person responsible for uniting the two – in the same way that they should take ownership of the positioning. Whichever approach an organisation takes, the key point is that marketing and HR activities must be totally aligned behind the same brand vision. As Nicola says: “I would implore all HR teams to make friends with marketing. They are creative in their approach, fun to work with and can provide insight to improve communication and engagement.

3. Move people
Dan Wieden, co-founder of advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy, talks about the need for advertising to “move me, dude”. This is similarly important internally when it comes to brand positioning and vision. It must inspire employees. The key here is the way the positioning is brought to life – it must be real, human and emotional, not full of brand jargon.

A while ago I saw a post on Facebook from someone who works for a large retailer. One Monday morning he arrived at work to find he had a new screen saver promoting the company’s new brand positioning. He posted a picture of it on Facebook with the caption “Ah great, a new brainwashing screen saver for a Monday morning.” Not only does this show the negative impact that an unengaged employee can have, it also highlights the need to bring the positioning to life in a meaningful way for staff.

Doshi & McGregor make a similar point: “A thoughtful organisation can create authentic purpose for just about any type of work. Yet one of the biggest mistakes a company can make is trumpeting a grandiose purpose that isn’t authentic. If a purpose doesn’t feel credible, it won’t improve your motivation.” As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

In an earlier POV piece on brand narratives, we touched on how we’ll often bring a brand positioning to life using a video. We’ve recently created films for the Westmorland Family, JW Lees and Vestey Holdings to turn their visions into moving stories that can be communicated internally and externally.

4. Don't just say it, live it
Enron had these values displayed in their lobby: “Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence.” The company went bankrupt due to fraud and its executives were imprisoned. Too many companies spend lots of time and money creating a positioning and values, but then neglect the most important part – embedding them in the organisation.

Jim Collins found that: “The point is not what your core values are, but that you have core values at all, that you know what they are, that you build them explicitly into the organisation, and that you preserve them over time.

A brilliant book for anyone interested in embedding a vision is Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing, which tells the story of how he built Patagonia, a business with an incredible vision that is rooted in sustainability and environmental awareness. His book details at length how they embedded the vision through a series of philosophies: product design, production, distribution, marketing, finance, human resources, management and environment.

When values and their corresponding behaviours are embedded in the organisation, they guide everyone’s behaviour and provide a solid foundation for action. They demonstrate to employees what’s acceptable and what isn’t. This requires a much more robust approach than simply communicating the values in reception. Organisations that do this well use a variety of techniques:

 

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Stories
Nike employs several senior executives who serve as corporate storytellers. They tell the story of how Nike’s co-founder, Bill Bowerman, decided that his team needed better running shoes, so poured rubber into the family waffle iron and created Nike’s famous waffle sole. Dennis Reeder, a Nike storyteller, says: “Every company has a history. But we have a little bit more than a history. We have a heritage, something that’s still relevant today. If we connect people to that, chances are that they won’t view Nike as just another place to work.4 Thinking about what the brand stories are, and how to share them within the organisation, is crucial.

Gatherings
Two of our clients have particularly strong cultures and both of them use events. William Lees-Jones, Managing Director of JW Lees, hosts a meal each month for everyone in the business whose birthday it is that month. Symbolically, this is held at the heart of the business, in a pub attached to their brewery. Boutinot are a wine business that think of themselves as a people business. They hold a wide range of events to symbolise the importance of people – from choir clubs and fitness sessions, to evening meals in their office kitchen. Bringing people together is always a valuable activity, but, if these occasions can be used to reinforce the vision and values of the organisation, they become much more powerful.

Policies
Recognition that is tied to core values gives 79% of employees a stronger sense of company goals and objectives.5 Embedding the core values in recognition programmes is vital for ensuring that employees who exhibit the values are rewarded, and that the culture is reinforced. The same is true of the entire employee journey. The values need to be embedded in recruitment processes, appraisals and inductions. L’Oreal recently highlighted the importance of this last point by creating their own app for use as part of their cultural “onboarding” process for new hires. It reaches up to 10,000 new hires a year, and is available in 11 languages.

Symbols
Patrick Hanlon in Primal Branding tells the story of Lego’s headquarters in Denmark. Visitors are greeted by a doorway into a fantasy world. Over the next hundred steps, visitors are led through the birth and growth of a child, and to a fork in the road as males and females head toward their adolescent destinies. Lego is a company that is all about imagination and recreating the world. Their reception area is a reminder to visitors to put aside their middle-aged perspectives and return to the age of a typical Lego customer. Using symbols within the fabric of the business is a powerful way to remind people of what the brand is all about.

There’s no doubt that brand positioning is now about the employees inside the organisation as much as the customers outside. This approach builds a more engaged and productive workforce. And it enhances the brand’s reputation among customers. It’s a win-win situation. But bringing it about requires an alignment between HR and marketing. And it requires a combination of strategy and creativity. Having a vision is not enough; it needs to be embedded in the fabric of the organisation in a way that moves people.

— RG

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What’s your question?

If this article has struck a chord then we’d be delighted to talk more. If you’re asking a question like those below, then we can help.

What’s our vision, purpose or why?

How can we bring our positioning to life in a way that moves people?

What are our values?

How can we align behaviour with our vision and values?

 

References and further reading

 

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