Basic Arts vs The News Media

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Basic Arts latest project sees us team up with the disruptive media startup The News Hub. Their unique model allows readers and journalists to take editorial control of the news leading to an unpredictable collision of topics and opinions.

Following a period of beta testing our two companies are working together to analyse the usage behaviour of The News Hub’s community, and translate the findings into a powerful purpose for the platform – helping to craft a new and provocative way of consuming news media.

Find out just what that is in the next few weeks…

The View From BA’s Office

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Basic Arts is delighted to be working with luxury tour operator Hartley’s, not least because it involves working together in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

We’ll keep you posted with more details on our first consultancy project, but in the meantime enjoy the view whilst we enjoy a couple of sundowners.

Forget 2016, Here Are The Trends of 2028

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This piece first appeared in Marketing Magazine

It’s predictions season. And as we read once again that this year really will be the “year of mobile”, we’re reminded trends don’t run on a 12-month cycle. Big cultural shifts tend to emerge gradually, over a decade or more, forcing trend spotters to confirm that things are pretty much the same as they were last January.

In fact, if you reckon that something’s going to take hold over the next 12 months, it’s probably already here. Let’s face it, none of these things we’re talking about are really ‘new’.

If we really want to talk about tomorrow’s agenda then we shouldn’t be looking ahead 12 months; but rather 12 years. Like gardeners studying the soil, the light, the humidity, the temperature, the neighbouring fauna, and predicting what might grow before the first shoots emerge, we too can look into the future through today’s market conditions.

So what are the trends we won’t be seeing in 2016 but just might have arrived on the scene in twelve years time?

Anti-marketing

Any time a seismic event occurs in the market, the ground shifts beneath our feet, and the changed conditions pave a way for something new. Last year’s Protein World scandal was just such an event, and as discussed on these pages before it accidentally revealed a whole new marketing strategy – working through your brand enemies rather than your fans.

To deliberately go out and identify the people with the exact opposite opinions of your target audience and attack them requires a ‘robust’ constitution. Even Protein World balked at this with its relatively soft new campaign. However, in an age where bad news has 10 times the traction of good, we may start to see a few more brands discover that making a few enemies isn’t such a bad thing. We may not see Peperami launch an all-out assault of vegetarians tomorrow, but such a tactic doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it once was.

Fundraiser products

As more and more brands start to elevate ‘purpose’ in their identities, a strange thing will start to occur. The centrality of the core product in their business will start to diminish, and in turn the sensation of buying it will take on a whole new meaning.

Take The Tate. Among other things, it sells postcards. You would, however, never describe it as a ‘postcards company’. You can buy postcards from it, but in doing so you get the feeling that the proceeds are going to something quite cool as a bonus.

The most progressively purposeful brands are starting to take a similar shape. Red Bull, for instance, now gives the impression that its drinks brand is more like a subsidiary of its business than the heart of it. The result is that buying a can of Red Bull feels like fundraising for the next Felix Baumgartner, rather than being the end of the transaction as it would feel with, say, Coke.

The death of pointless brands

The growth of this fundraiser principle will start to shine a light on the pointless brands within our midst of which there are thousands – brands that have neither a unique product (I would say, like Twitter), nor a clearly defined role within their market (like, say, Waitrose). They will be left with a choice: to either rework themselves internally to become intrinsically interesting or worthwhile (like the fundraiser brands), or to be slowly edged out of the market by a more savvy consumer base.

The retailers’ realisation that endless choice isn’t really helpful to customers (as exemplified by Tesco’s delisting spree) is accelerating this trend, so brands are going to have to move quickly to ensure they remain the right side of the divide.

The dissolution of marketing departments

The eventual consequence of this broad drive for brands to ‘have a point’, coupled with increasing transparency and market efficiency, will be for brands’ primary marketing tool to be the way they actually operate, rather than the campaigns they create. This will mean that rather than being just another department in a business, ‘marketing’ (as it won’t be known) will become more of an umbrella approach, with the responsibility held by everyone.

Whether or not this will mean marketing departments taking over businesses or being edged out will lie in the hands of the marketers themselves. Good luck!

Your business doesn’t deserve to exist… probably.

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This piece first appeared in freshbusinessthinking.com

Does your company deserve to exist? “Of course!” I hear you answer. But does it really. Because these days most don’t.

There are exceptions of course. That busy little coffee place down the road from you? They deserve to exist. They’ve answered a need. They’ve set up shop in a specific locale where no one else was operating before, people wanted them, and now they’re ticking along nicely.

Apple too. They also deserve to exist. They didn’t really answer any needs of course – no one was crying out for colourful computers, closed music platforms, or tablets – they created them. As Steve Jobs delighted in reminding us, they were ahead of consumers, not behind.

Still, behind or ahead, both Apple and the local coffee shop are exactly what businesses should be: intrinsically worthwhile, enriching the world around them.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how most brands operate. Most brands are founded neither from a specific vision, nor from a desire to answer a need or a problem. Instead they arise from an exploitative mindset; trying to squeeze a profit from a market that’s already amply served.

Punters, of course, sense this. In fact, the famous 2014 study by Havas showing that the public wouldn’t care if 73% of brands ceased to exist is probably a fair estimate of the proportion of brands that are exploitative versus worthwhile.

This would be fine if they could just be avoided, but since they tend to play in highly competitive markets (the cost of unoriginality, alas), they also tend to advertise. Heavily.

Advertising, which should be a wonderful service informing you of things that will enrich your life, has become a battleground where pointless brands fight over Orwellian manipulations like “share of mind”, and try to shave percentage points of equity from their identikit competitors. Agency creativity, something that we instinctively cherish, is in fact often nothing more than a crutch for brands who can’t sell themselves on merit alone.

Little wonder that 84% of millennials “don’t trust advertising”. The more sophisticated it becomes, the more worthless the underlying brand must be.

So what about your brand? Which side of the divide do you sit on?

Here’s a simple test. If you were to make an ad that plainly stated who you are and what you do, with no embellishment or grandstanding, would it be enough to make people buy you?

If the answer is yes, then no doubt you’re doing just fine. You might have a unique product like Twitter, or an expansive vision like Red Bull. You may be synonymous with your whole category like Coke, or you may just be in the right place with the right service like the local coffee shop. One way or another though, you’re doing good.

But if you have any hesitation then welcome to the annoying 73%. You’re set for an uphill struggle with today’s consumer, who know a great authentic brand when they see one – and you’re not it.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom, you do have options. Your first option is to throw money at the issue. If you’re lucky your brand may be the child of a global mega-corp, who have pretty solid track records getting brands to fly by brute force alone. The problem with this approach however, is that if you’re successful you essentially degrade the market. You have the capacity to sink other better brands who simply don’t have the arm twisting power at your disposal. So for the sake of everyone else, this approach isn’t recommended.

Your second option is much better. Simply make your business worthwhile.

This may sound frightfully ambitious – the business is what it is right? – but it’s actually no more complex than taking some of your advertising budget and creativity, flipping it around, and applying it inwards. Rather than creating campaigns, create tweaks and builds to your core business which help distinguish it from competitors fundamentally and intrinsically; and which in turn make it interesting and worthwhile.

This might mean expanding the remit of what your business does beyond your core product, but in line with your brand strategy. Think about when Airbnb started connecting people to have dinner together, or when Pedigree in New Zealand created a platform to help find lost dogs. These initiatives may have simply been funded by marketing, but to the outside world they appeared integral.

It also might mean tweaking your existing processes. Think about Hiut Denim, who highlight their craftsmanship by having every pair of jeans they produce signed by the person who made them.

This broad approach is starting to crystallise into a new advertising discipline called “basic”. Its arrival is timely, as it’s becoming plain to see that the advertising battleground of the future is not on TV, or on social, or on mobile – it’s in the fabric and behaviours of companies themselves. Those who are interesting and worthwhile will thrive; those who aren’t will gradually, and expensively, die. Make sure you’re on the right side of the divide.

The Strategy For “Cool”

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This piece first appeared in the December issue of Marketing Magazine.

It’s common knowledge that advertising has an authenticity problem. As transparency increases and brands lose control of their message, the public is starting to notice the gap between brand ideals and the humdrum reality of the business that lurks beneath.

But what about those that buck the trend? From the inspirational usual suspects, such as Red Bull, to transformative newcomers like Patagonia, some brands seem immune to cynicism.

We tend to dismiss them as outliers; products of visionary leaders, outlandish creativity, or just dumb luck. We excuse ourselves for not reaching their heights. It’s alright for them; they’re ‘cool’, we’re not.
But what if what separates these brands isn’t actually ‘coolness’? What if it isn’t something subjective like creativity? What if it’s actually something quite technical – something as mechanical and accessible as moving your spend from, say, TV to radio?

There is, in fact, a common thread of behaviour running through the best modern brands, as obvious as it is rare: the advertising concepts they create don’t exist only in external campaigns; they exist in internal changes to their actual businesses.

Rather than isolating brand strategy to the marketing department, they extend it across everything they do. They use the kind of thinking normally reserved for advertising to design their distribution models, HR policies, product lines and everything else besides.

Take Bubblekid, a hair salon in Amsterdam with the proposition: “In creation we trust”. The idea is that its stylists are so creative that you should give yourself over to them to do as they will. The proposition itself is not groundbreaking, but the delivery is.

Bubblekid asked: “Is the way we operate, the way we actually are, in accordance with this ideal, or is it just an empty piece of posturing slapped onto a generic salon?”

Its response? Removing all mirrors from its premises. If you go for a haircut at Bubblekid, you simply sit opposite another client, and give control over to the stylist, only ever seeing the finished product.

By doing this, Bubblekid made its brand and business synonymous, in effect rendering the concept of a “brand-building campaign” redundant.

Or take Google. The target audience it needs to impress are marketers. Safe to say it has done a great job. Most in our industry now view Google as the world’s most progressive and intelligent company, but it never launched a campaign to make us feel this way. The primary brand builder for this image was its HR policies. Google’s perks are now almost folkloric, inspiring even a Hollywood movie (The Internship), and have done more to shape brand perceptions than any other single act in its canon.

Google, like Bubblekid, demonstrated that, as far as it is concerned, brand-building is not an exercise of creating interesting campaigns that rub off on the company, but building an interesting company; the brand follows naturally and authentically, and transparency becomes a weapon.

What about ‘normal’ brands? How do they get in on the act? What we need to make this behaviour accessible is the creation of a discipline. Think about social. Initially, only the most experimental brands bothered with these channels. But, over time, this approach developed a name, a definition, some rigour, and suddenly it became as easy to buy as yelling: “Give me something social!” Codification is the tipping point between radical and routine.

The same is now happening with this process. After many industry discussions that circled around it, it is starting to crystallise under a clear definition: communication through altering or extending the internal elements of a business, rather than creating external campaigns. With this definition comes the opportunity to get brands and agencies on the same page, and make progress practically, not just theoretically.

It’s early days and the ramifications of the approach (especially for the expanded remit of marketing departments) are yet to be felt, but brands should dip their toes in the water. Just 5% of their marketing budgets redirected inward will produce profound results – and send ripples throughout the marketing world that will grow into waves of change.

The Y Plan Test

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The London based events and ticketing service Y Plan are currently running the above ad campaign. In one simple poster they have managed to both skewer advertising as it exists today, and show other brands the path to success in the future.

Quite simply, in today’s connected world, a good business shouldn’t need “advertising”. Awareness? Yes. Naturally you need people to be aware you exist. But advertising, where you try and argue people into using your product or service? No. A well positioned business, that does something genuinely worthwhile in the world should be able to sell itself – just as Y Plan seek to do here.

All the iconic brands of today are “worthwhile”. They inherently do things that make them valuable, without the need for spin or trickery. Google, as well as providing a much valued utility, use their billions to experiment widely with a number of future building concepts. Red Bull, whilst at their heart manufacturing “just another energy drink”, provide inspiration and entertainment to millions through their pioneering contributions to extreme sport and human endeavour.

Following this thread all the way down to the more humble end of the scale, where brands don’t necessarily have world changing ambitions, the same principle applies. The Happy Egg Co, the UK’s largest egg brand simply provide eggs from hens with lovely living standards. Lidl provide a supermarket which is simply dirt cheap. One way or another though every one of these companies is doing something worthwhile, something that the market either needs or wants. They are not “me too” brands, or consortiums trying to exploit a market trend. They matter.

Because of this, all of these businesses would be able to take the same advertising approach of Y Plan – to simply state, in plain English what it is they do and why, and collect customers because of it. No funny business, just great businesses.

So I would implore every brand to take the Y Plan test: spell out in the same manner what what it is your business does. Is this alone unique? Is it ownable? Is it interesting? Is it necessary? Would this alone be enough to make you successful?

If the answer is yes, then congratulations, you’re ready to face the future. If not, then you know it’s not your advertising that needs tweaking – it’s your business itself.

So let’s talk.

contact@basicarts.org

Hello

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Welcome to Basic Arts, a community of people changing brands and culture through a new advertising discipline called ‘basic’.

Basic is at its heart a technique of building interesting and meaningful companies, rather than interesting and meaningful advertising. It’s something that the most inspiring businesses today do instinctively, allowing them to not only create powerful brands, but also to influence society for the better.

By codifying this behaviour, giving it language that all businesses can share, we seek to make it accessible for all brands – not just the radical few.

Over time, our goal is to see the £500,000,000,000 that companies spend annually in media making brand promises be, at least in part, redirected to making those promises a reality.

Here are some things you can expect from us over the coming months:

  • Thought and ideas through our friends in the media and academia
  • Education programs for brands and agencies through independent trade bodies
  • The creation of some unique and inspiring businesses

In the meantime we here at Basic Arts are always on the look out for new opportunities to inspire people with this better way of working – so whoever you are, do get in touch as we’d love to see what we can do together. We’re based at Second Home in Shoreditch, London, and you can reach us at:

contact@basicarts.org