Slowing down fashion: a year-long experiment

I like clothes. Rather a lot. They’re beautiful, versatile, and help you be anyone you want to be. Or at least, that’s what they whisper at you from the mirror of the dressing room as you try them on.

Which is why the conclusion I came to last month, to try not to buy any new clothes for a year, felt like a dramatic one. And certainly left me wondering how many new hobbies I’d need to pick up the slack on all the time I used to spend shopping.

When I told my boyfriend however, he seemed nonplussed. This is the same guy who subsisted in the same pair of black skinny jeans for 3 years before I met him, so I may have been pitching to the wrong audience. While I am well aware that excessive shopping is not a vice that plagues everyone (and I salute you for it), it is a preoccupation of more than a few friends and family; and indeed a large chunk of the Western world.

So why the big gesture? Well, there’s no singular reason and it was not a sudden revelation. There has been a sickly feeling in my stomach whenever I’ve bought clothes for a while now. I know there will be some caveats and rules I’ll need to establish; what about special occasions like my brother’s wedding, or when all my socks inevitably have holes in?

So while I am still working out the details, the need for change is obvious. According to the Economist, global clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014. That can’t have been me doing all the buying. Every year more clothes are being made, and more are being thrown away sooner. Again from the Economist; Zara used to make do with a handful of yearly collections, now they have twenty.

When you compound that with another stat, from McKinsey – that simply producing 1kg of fabric generates on average 23kg of greenhouse gases – the sickly feeling gets a little stronger.

Must looking good really necessitate killing the planet?

I don’t think there’s a single answer to that question, and I don’t want to speak for others. Personally I get frustrated with clothes that are better suited to the dust bin after only a year of wear, and I get angry with myself for so easily falling prey to  promotion after promotion in the sales. But I don’t think liking clothes is wrong.

What about the confidence-boosting, the creativity, the buying power of fashion, which all bring immeasurable positives. Charities like SmartWorks show the difference a good outfit and the right training can do for women out of work. But there has to be a better way to do this. The opportunity is ripe for more brands to tackle clothing production and consumption in a profitable and sustainable way. Following in the footsteps of brands like Patagonia, and encouraging more people to make do with fewer, higher-quality items of clothing is surely the way forward.

This is after all a personal experiment and I’m doing it to learn. I want to understand what really goes into the process of making clothes; the environmental and the human cost. Yesterday was the anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, one of the most shameful days in the history of the fashion industry.  I’d like to better understand the psychology of it too; the reasons why new clothes have been so important to my self-esteem and why my choice of outfit is as important to some as the words I say in a meeting.

12 months from now I think I’ll still like clothes, but maybe I’ll respect them too.

Mind the bull: The importance of staying buzzword free in advertising.

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This is an article I wrote for FutureRising: a much needed initiative for those trying to break into the creative industries. Complete with a fantastic hub of advice and inspiration and opportunities to get involved with real industry work (like gold dust for many aspiring creatives out there).

Ah, you’ve landed your first ad job, congratulations! Pull up a chair for a moment; the champagne is on me. My first “real” job after graduating a couple of years ago wasn’t in advertising (I graduated mid-recession and was pretty chuffed to find any job which paid real money and didn’t expect me to relinquish any vital organs to the black market).

It was just a bog-standard office job, but I remember being enormously relieved on getting it as it seemed a blessing to get any job in that climate.
In the competitive world of advertising, that relief is only amplified. The going is tough. Many just starting out will be familiar with the grad gauntlet: the written application obstacle course, the interviews masquerading as Mastermind Hot Seats, and finally, the job. If only, on landing that job, you actually knew what you were supposed to be doing, everything would be just peachy.

Perhaps you just need to learn how to talk the talk, right? Well, not quite. It’s tempting to join in with the language you hear around you, even when you don’t fully understand it. Don’t. It’s likely you’re not the only one who isn’t really sure what’s going on, others may just be better at disguising it. Being new at a job means exactly that; you’re not expected to know what’s going on, just to be keen, listen and learn.

Yes, it’s a fast-paced industry, but if you don’t understand what someone has said to you that’s as much their responsibility as yours. Be sure to research what you’re not sure of, but it’s equally important to go back and talk to that person and make sure there isn’t a misunderstanding; even at the risk of looking stupid. You’ll probably save yourself a lot of time later.

There’s a subtle but crucial difference between industry specific keywords and shorthand which, with the assumption that everyone is up on the lingo, speeds up a conversation and buzzwords. Marketing loves its buzzwords; words that don’t really have a meaning, in fact they more often obscure meaning than aid understanding. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to know this stuff, but even better, know when not to use it.

What you say is important, but how you say it even more so. After all, advertising is all about persuasion and your choice of words in the workplace is vital. Not only is a lot of “marketing speak” lazy communication, it takes us further away from the very people we’re being paid to talk to.

David Ogilvy says it better than me: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.” That’s a lot harder to do when you spend your work hours communicating in “Advanced Marketing”.

Don’t forget that every single one of us is “the consumer” and we all deserve clear communication. As part of a generation that has been immersed in constant, pervasive advertising since we were born, we know this. We’ve learnt to be very cynical. We can spot an insincere product claim from a mile off. Despite that, they’re still endemic. Yet it can be strangely easy to forget all this when you have your “work head” on. You may find yourself saying things or suggesting ideas that you never would outside the office, I know I have. It’s because at work you are, by definition, isolated from the “real world”.

Obama’s old speech-writer, David Lovett, wrote brilliantly about this in “the culture of bullshit” (please take time to read the full article if you haven’t already): “[it] infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth and making it harder to achieve anything.”

Communication is the lifeblood of advertising. We shouldn’t just talk the talk.

Your brain on coffee: Taylors of Harrogate.

As noted by a clearly switched-on chap tweeting about this ad, “when an advert takes your eyes off your phone, it’s done right.”

Dual-screening is second nature to many TV viewers these days. Although that’s often seen as a cause for concern, it is an opportunity to make more creatively diverse advertising. One way of doing that is to use completely different audio and visual conditions from the majority of the ads on TV.

That’s the reason I want to talk about Taylors of Harrogate’s first TV advertising campaign, launched in May. Coffee brands tend to employ aspirational lifestyle marketing with stylish visuals, steamy cups and the undoubtable selling power of George Clooney.  I expect part of the insight behind the Taylors’ campaign was the knowledge that many coffee buyers are not particularly loyal to one brand and in such a crowded category there was a need to do something completely different, in order to stand out.

The idea of the ad was to express the journey of the brain ‘on coffee’ and to focus on the sensation behind drinking it, instead of the aftermath or events associated with coffee. No voiceover was used and the only text came at the very end of the ad to show the brand and tagline ‘Welcome to coffee’, with the aim of peaking curiosity in viewers. The soundtrack of the ad was an unusual 19th century composition, complete with birdsong. The effect of watching this, sandwiched between several ads with demanding visuals and loud voiceovers is pronounced and more importantly, memorable.

Crucially, the campaign wasn’t just a pretty TV ad. It was combined with a series of pop-up coffee rooms around the launch, a dedicated site created with social-sharing in mind and a series of useful how-to videos on YouTube. When I decide to comment on an ad on Twitter, I rarely find more than one or two tweets from other users talking about the impression the ad left on them. When I looked at #welcometocoffee, there were dozens.

Welcome to coffee, indeed.

Being Human.

Originally published on the Café Create blog. If you’re looking for a charming integrated creative agency outside of London, it would be an excellent place to start. 

Being Human: The Missing Element in Service Tech.

“It’s shocking. You actually stand there, waiting for them to bag your shopping and they stare at you like you have an unidentified tropical disease.”

…And so began another anecdote on the state of customer service ‘these days’. Apparently it’s now a bonus when someone does actually bag your shopping for you.

Most of us have worked in a service job at some point in our lives. Whether it was the pushy sales policy you never quite agreed with or the fact that you never actually wanted to be there in the first place, there’s two sides to the story.

Fact is many of the less helpful counter staff you come into contact with in your local coffee place are students; their motivation based around their demand for cash more than your need for service. And if you actually want the job? You still can’t provide great service because of the limitations of the job, whether that’s not enough support, resources or a misguided sales policy.

When I had my stop gap job in a bank, I knew I wasn’t going to be there forever but I tried to genuinely engage and help customers when they walked through the door. That was made a lot harder by the sales approach that required asking every customer whether they had a mortgage and did they want one with us.

 Regardless of length of transaction or apparent suitability, the implication was that the very small amount of positive leads uncovered this way justified the means… No wonder most of us dread going to the bank; we know they don’t see us as a real person, but just the series of digits that make up our account number and a sales opportunity.

It’s just another example of a human representative of a company, effectively being reduced to a machine in the way they are required to interact with customers.

 

 The human element.

We know how it goes: rising staff costs mean fewer people are hired so service levels go down. Revenue then has to be recouped through higher sales targets.

The WPP report ‘Service with a Snarl’ identified this downward trend over 10 years ago now. A key recommendation of the report was to implement more technological solutions to service problems and at times, cut staff out of customer transactions all together.

Question is, has technology really revolutionised the way we carry out our service and retail transactions in the last decade?

A growing number of offline retailers now find it hard to justify their existence alongside their online counterparts. Do you remember this Dixon’s ad from a few years back?

It perfectly captured the offline/online retail dilemma.

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Indeed, when online shopping can offer a targeted service, convenience, and the speed that it does, why would you ever set foot inside a store?

 

Return of the High Street.

Interesting then, that Dixons decided it wasn’t enough for customers to just go into other stores for the best offline experience retail has to offer and then wander home to their website.

Having decided they were missing a slice of the in-store pie they have since focussed on improving their own in-store experience and customer service over that of competitors. Judging by the profits revealed for the last year (which they’re crediting to this new approach), it’s working.

It’s a perfect example of not how, contrary to opinion, offline and online retail are doomed to work against each other with the physical high street becoming the obvious loser, but that offline and online must work together for both to succeed. Dixons recognised that the highly sensory, tailored and expert-service driven examples of its competitors (John Lewis, for example) was the ultimate in-store experience and perhaps the only thing that could reverse the decline of the high street.

 

A personal touch.

We’re more exposed to technology than ever in every area of our lives, and don’t doubt it, there are some big innovations on their way to the high street which will change the way we shop forever. Apple is championing the iBeacon, in the hopes of disrupting the in-store experience and there are finally several retail tech firms who seem to understand the balance between big data and consumer acceptance.  None of this technology will succeed however; not without a human touch.

Sure, we’re more immune to technology, accepting of it, but do we really trust it? I’d argue we crave the human element in a transaction just as much, if not more than we used to, because it’s so sorely lacking much of the time.

Dull, disengaged service staff can be a nightmare, but impersonal and unrefined technology can be just as frustrating. It’s easy to steal from too, according to the £1.6 billion worth of items stolen  from self-service tills in supermarkets every year.

It could also be why a Nielson consumer survey in 2009 -a time when online transactions were rapidly rising- showed that trust in word of mouth marketing saw the largest increase in a 2 year period over any other marketing method, an extraordinary 12% (rising to 90%). Yes, word-of-mouth is always going to be highly effective, but why the increase at that time?

Then there’s the new YouGov survey released in March, highlighting that customers trust brands far less on social media than they do traditional media. Not forgetting results from the recent Data Privacy Day survey, which revealed that an average of 56% of online users are worried about what happens with their personal data online. While some marketers may consider that catastrophic, it’s really more a warning that we have to use technology in the right way.

It serves as a key reminder that you can’t take the human out of the transaction, as the wittier, more personable brands on social platforms recognise.

This is not a simple case of brands plugging into social media or leading the way with the latest technological innovation to win over customers; the person behind the platform and their behaviour matters a great deal. As consumers we care about technology when it’s designed to help us, not marketers, and service when it’s exceptionally good or bad; we don’t even register the rest.

Yes we bang on about this a lot, but we think it’s often the missing ingredient. Advertising is about people; creating moments and genuine connections. Why would customers want anything else?

We’re only human after all.

Has Feline Selling Power Reached Caturation Point?

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Originally published on the Café Create blog. If you’re looking for a charming integrated creative agency outside of London, it would be an excellent place to start. You might even get a coffee made by me if you’re lucky…

Sex sells. That’s rule 101 in advertising, right?

In the past you could be forgiven for assuming that was the case, but times have changed.

Anyone working in advertising now can tell you, it’s all about the cats. They sell everything, no matter the product or category; fluffy little kittens will get your campaign more eyeballs and shift more product off shelves than a group of topless women jumping out of an airplane selling washing machines.

There is no end to the products that cats can push.  Milk (an obvious one), price comparison sites  (if it’s not meerkats, it’s just cats)  phones (tenuous at best) and now biscuits. With the new ‘sweeet’ campaign, Mcvities are the latest to subscribe to the school of catvertising. (Oh hold that thought, since originally publishing, we now have Three UK with ‘Sing it Kitty’).

The Mcvities campaign called for some serious research that was a year in the making. The problem? Own-brand was taking a huge chunk out of their market share and Mcvities needed to bite back. The solution? Kittens. Lots of them. Before I go any further, let me add a disclaimer. I like the Mcvities campaign. I’m a certified cat lover and have a chocolate biscuit habit that won’t quit, so I was always going to be receptive.

The part I have some difficulty swallowing, is how the insight of the campaign is being reported. “Inspired by the insight that identified the power of the biscuit moment – an intangible sense of reward and comfort, playing on big emotional cues of nostalgia and family. The campaign emphasises the feeling people have when they eat a biscuit.”

While I am pretty emotionally invested in my biscuits, I don’t think there’s a year’s worth of research in there. The beauty of the ad is in the execution; the cute factor. Kittens don’t have anything to do with biscuits, let’s not pretend they do. It’s really not that complicated.

Cats are cute. People like cute and it gets their attention. Add in the sharing aspect of social media and there’s more incentive than ever to make ads that double up as shareable content.

Still, as an industry it’s time to look ourselves in the eye and ask some hard questions. Do cats really make smart commercial sense or are they just a lazy selling shortcut? Are we close to reaching caturation point? If you’re toying with the idea of putting cats in your marketing, it might be wise to have a look at our handy catvertising flow diagram first. We’ve also profiled some other famous catvertising to get you started.

o2.

In my humble opinion, o2’s ‘Be more dog’ campaign fell short. There was no product connection. Cats and phones? Any cat owner can tell you that’s a dangerous combination. Too many chewable parts. If you didn’t see the original ad and just saw in-store advertising or posters on the tube you were likely left feeling rather confused. Not to mention, the cat in the advert wasn’t even cute!

Cravendale.

A trailblazer before its time. Cats and milk, inspired! Bar the slight niggle that cows milk is actually bad for cats… The recall rates for this campaign were high and it was considered a resounding success when it launched. A couple of years on and this is still probably my favourite cat ad. It was entertaining, memorable and helped differentiate Cravendale as a stand-out milk brand.

Beyond Catvertising.

It’s not just advertising either, the cat trend continues apace in the social world and the physical one. When cats aren’t busy bringing in the ad dollars they can be found setting up social networks like showmecats.com, billed as the facebook for cats. Yes, really. Or alternatively, gracing Londoners’ with their presence at venues like Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, London’s first cat cafe which opens later this year. It goes to show that on the occasions that they venture beyond the warm spot by the window, cats truly are an entrepreneurial species.

Will people start to cotton on to the commercial pulling power of cats or will just they keep going ‘aaaww’ and buying into it? Only time will tell. In the meantime, we say if you can’t beat them, join them. That’s why we’re no longer promoting on traditional social channels and will be bringing you further company updates through showmecats.com using the profile of Rags, the office cat. By all means, connect with him, he’s proving quite popular.

Happy catvertising!

Don’t be a fair-weather brand

Originally published on the Café Create blog. If you’re looking for a charming integrated creative agency outside of London, it would be an excellent place to start. You might even get a coffee made by me if you’re lucky…

A lot of people are attracted to the idea of advertising because it offers a chance to be involved in creating ideas and moments that go far beyond themselves. It’s a chance to influence, spread messages and effect change.

That’s a pretty powerful thing. By and large, those moments are commercial; the bottom line of advertising is always about ‘the sell’.

There’s nothing wrong in that, hey it’s what led to the creative industry contributing £13.9bn to the UK economy last year.  But despite the commercial aspect, or perhaps because of it, any opportunity to focus on a charitable or ‘good cause’ in advertising is often jumped on faster than you can shout ‘incoming bandwagon’. You know what I’m thinking… Sochi.

The intention to contribute to something positive is admirable. Not only that, with today’s focus on customer-driven communications, riding popular sentiment with your brand can be good business sense and a smart way to engage your customers.

When it’s done right.

Every brand for miles had something to say about Mr Putin’s unacceptable stance on same sex relationships. On the face of it, that’s a good thing. More dialogue on important issues raises their profile and gets people thinking.  All good for the cause, but let’s be honest, that’s not the only reason why brands are doing it. Customers aren’t silly; they know that behind every action a business takes there is a commercial motive. But where is the line and how do you draw it?

It was all summed up by a tweet I saw recently:

Unlike the days of old where brand managers would ask creatives if the logo on a print ad could be “just a little bigger”, it really is different this time. It’s about the moment, not the brand; it has to be.

This is beyond tweeting graphics about the royal baby. If brands want to get involved with civil rights movements they have to be damn sure that they’re sincere.

Take the brilliant (and well-received) spot from the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion: “The games have always been a little bit gay, let’s fight to keep them that way.” Obviously the message was well within their mandate and it’s a well-executed, genuine piece. The reason it has been so successful is because it resonates and people believe it.

Another ad that’s received a lot of coverage is the Channel 4 anthem, ‘Gay Mountain.’ It’s loud, fun and pulls no punches. But is it just me or is it also a little bit self-celebrating? The strapline at the end: ‘Channel 4. Born Risky’ shifts the emphasis from the message of inclusiveness at the games to, well, Channel 4 and how very daring they are to air an ad with a gay (presumably) Russian man dressed all in fur and hotpants. It may be daring, but it gives the impression it’s all about them.

That’s a dangerous message to give to consumers.  It turns brands into fair-weather friends who only help out for the greater-good when they have something to gain. The result? Consumers who are even more cynical and much less likely to engage.

I’m all for a world where commercial creativity is put to a good cause and brands can challenge prejudiced agendas and dictatorial governments, but people best believe them when they do it.

No one wants to buy a fake.

A good loyalty scheme is the best way to a girl’s heart

Originally published on the Café Create blog. If you’re looking for a charming integrated creative agency outside of London, it would be an excellent place to start. You might even get a coffee made by me if you’re lucky…

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I never thought I would say this. I am a loyal Starbucks customer. It’s true. That’s not to say that I don’t drink coffee elsewhere if the moment presents itself (it’s 2014 remember, customer loyalty isn’t quite as clear-cut as it once was), but given the choice between Starbucks or one of the other Big Three, I’d go for Starbucks. Perhaps If I’d been a regular for sometime that wouldn’t mean anything, but considering I didn’t let my feet darken their doorway for years, it’s pretty significant.

So what led to my conversion? This is not an ode to Starbucks or a cunning scheme to ensure a lifetime of free lattes (wait, hold that thought…). There was no one moment or transaction that sealed the deal; in a sense this is a case study of the different factors that can affect loyalty and perhaps a reminder that there is no set recipe for it. If there was ever a time where customer loyalty could be created and controlled through one aspect of a business alone, those days are certainly gone. Who says that’s a bad thing? Demanding customers -who will let you know though one of the many channels available to them, when something falls short of their expectations- provide an unprecedented opportunity to create products and brands that people really care about.

Where it all began.

The holy tenet of marketing; product differentiation. Does it still mean anything? It’s true, all of the major coffee chains have similar if not identical offerings in terms of drinks. I know what you’re thinking, in such a saturated market is differentiation even possible? And yet Starbucks is the only one that makes a Caramel Macchiato in that particular way, that reminds me of cafés in Seoul, South Korea, that served a particularly sweet but unusual coffee that I haven’t tasted anywhere since. Granted, that is about as personal and emotive as you will ever get when it comes to customer expectations. Trying to predict that particular combination of circumstances alone is going to end in an unhappy journey; it’s like pursuing a nonexistent holy grail of retail. Yet it goes to show that it is always worth the continued effort of focusing on producing exactly what a customer wants in order to create an emotive connection. The rewards are worth it when you do.

Service please.

There’s no escaping this one. Sure, create a bad experience and you’re far more likely to hear about it than when you create a satisfactory one. Create an excellent one though, and the odds start to move in your favour. I can probably recall on one hand the times that I’ve experienced excellent, stand-out customer service. That’s a wasted opportunity right there. We can’t keep pretending that we still live in a time where the day-to-day customer experience can be segmented and removed from the overall impression of a brand; it’s just too important. So how do you make those moments? In the case of one Starbuck’s employee that meant giving me a coffee free-of-charge on the day I lost my purse. He certainly wasn’t supposed to and I’m not advocating breaking the rules to make everyone happy, but I won’t forget it all the same. In that instance I felt relief, gratitude, and yes, you guessed it, loyalty.

Business (not) as usual.

This is all powerful stuff, creating those moments and connections with your customers can override objections they may have with other aspects of your brand, if you only give them a reason. But it also needs to be easy; easier and more enjoyable than anywhere else, for them to walk through your door, and purchase your product.

Companies are often preoccupied by new customers. There’s nothing wrong with that on the face of things.  I like meeting new people too, who doesn’t? But I’d be a poor friend if I abandoned all my friends for the tall dark stranger in the corner every time we went to a party and the same goes for brands.

Here’s my card:

Enter the beleaguered and often misunderstood customer loyalty scheme. A brilliant opportunity to attract and retain customers and yet I can only think of two customer loyalty programs (outside of the supermarket realm) that I actually value and use on an almost daily basis. Boots -because their scheme is older than time itself and offers a better points to purchase ratio than competitors- and…Starbucks. Because they have combined innovation, user experience and branding in a way that’s unprecedented.

If you create a loyalty scheme that offers nothing different over your competitors why would you expect your customer to take the time to enquire about, acquire and join or register for your program? Getting a customer to start using the scheme is much harder than convincing them to pick up a leaflet in-store. Once they do, it’s a habit, it’s easy and there are incentives to keep up. Before they’ve registered, it’s just another piece of plastic (please say it’s plastic, I think most of us have enough little scraps of card floating around in coat pockets and bags to last a lifetime) in the bottom of their purse that has failed to gain any significance to them.

I’m certainly not the first to praise Starbucks’ mobile payment strategy and it’s easy to gloss over the incredibly advantageous position that allowed them to experiment and implement such a strategy in the first place, but the result is a customer loyalty scheme like no other. And that means I’m unlikely to pick up a competitor’s card any time soon… until they catch up and give me a reason to take notice.