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Brand Works: storytelling through design

Garry Blackburn, of the multi award-winning Rose Design, talked about inspiration, cut-through, and placing the audience at the heart of your design executions at our Albert Hall Brand Works seminar.

Rose Design have been nurturing commercial and charity brands with award-winning designs since 1999, so we were delighted they could talk through some of their arts achievements at our London Brand Works.

Garry Blackburn and Simon Elliott count among their many clients BAFTA, Design Museum, Harper Collins, King’s College London, Mediacom, the Roundhouse, Royal Mail, Tate, Unilever and the V&A. With Substrakt they’ve worked on websites for English National Opera and for Norwich Theatre Royal, and more recently for Birmingham Rep.

Emphasising the importance of consistent messaging around a brand belief that audiences can relate to, the Rose approach differentiates clients’ promises along a structured path:

  • familiarisation
  • strategy
  • concepts and artwork
  • guidelines and implementation

Whilst ‘no strategy is better than bad strategy’, rushing to pre-conceived conclusions helps nobody. Garry commented on ‘the curse of lazy words’ (‘innovation’ and ‘professionalism’ were two howlers) and the risk that poorly considered brand reviews can, like failed organ transplants, result in ‘tissue rejection’.

Rose’s work for ENO built on the mould-breaking Carroll Dempsey & Thirkell designs dating back several decades. This confirmed the opera company as a new voice for a tricky genre with more than its fair share of positioning and comms headaches. ENO’s financial and PR pressures of the last few years (well documented in the media) had forced a rethink, and Rose’s respectful reboot celebrated that famous passion for a new generation.

There are many stumbling blocks in the approach to marketing opera.

Potential audiences feel overwhelmed by the scale, the potential cost, the fear of feeling stupid or lost, the language barriers, plus lots of other real or perceived deterrents. There are so many reasons to give up before really beginning. With this in mind, targeting newcomers and those with limited experience needing reassurance and light-touch encouragement, Garry explained how Rose worked with copywriters to condense the essential sales information to 30 words or fewer — no simple task!

A few lines of witty copy, the title, a sub-head (to confirm it’s all in English), dates, clear pricing, venue. That’s it. For the stop-you-in-your-tracks imagery, Rose worked with talented photographers on a range of bold graphics across print, online and especially outdoor.

‘Social proof’ is a behavioural influencer. As tribal pack animals, we’re interested in things simply because other people are. So, quoting audience comments on ENO advertising from people ‘just like you’ proved very effective. But Rose went further and boosted internal team appreciation by, for instance, printing positive opinions about the stagecraft on T-shirts worn by the props department.

Brand is way too valuable to be left to the marketing and PR teams alone.

Garry also summarised Rose’s work for BAFTA (delivering a 48% sponsorship increase), The Old Vic (propelling them into ‘Coolbrand’ status), and Tate (40 exhibitions and counting) before outlining the intriguing Bletchley Park project. The brand is built around WWII code-breaking, and it was compelling to see this reinforced in engaging signage, merchandise and publications.

Having worked closely with Rose since this Brand Works session (for Birmingham Rep), I can confirm first-hand that they are one of the best marketing partners you can find.  Here’s a few top tips when starting to work with your branding agency:

  • OPEN UP THE ARCHIVE: Give them access to as much information as possible about your organisation.
    • historical archives are gold mines,
    • anything to do with the founder’s original intentions can really drive unique creative ideas.
  • AUDIT INTENSIVELY: Do a proper joint audit of your competitors.
    • Look carefully at your primary territory and identify what’s the same and what’s different.
    • Colours, fonts, styling, layouts, copy, tone, formats, channels. What is working, and what is not?
  • HEADS UP: Look further afield for inspiration.
    • Firstly outside of your target area, who is doing what you do really well? Identify how and why this is cutting through, what principles are being applied that you could adapt relevantly in your territory.
    • Secondly, look at different categories outside the sector where you can see strategic overlaps – what are Netflix and Sky doing for drama? How are political parties or religions or sports clubs attracting new customer/supporters?
  • LISTEN TO ALL THE AUDIENCES: your core supporters are hugely important.
    • Get an up to date survey about motivations, inspiration and blockers – essential.
    • But think further afield – how can you get insight from those not on your database? (Clue: call Impakt)
  • CHOOSE YOUR STRATEGY: once you are focused on your core segmented target markets…
    • settle on your positioning,
    • set up your progress trackers and let it run.
    • Stick with the strategy (you got this!)

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