What’s in a brand?

roseWhat’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet

So Shakespeare said tongue, I suspect, in cheek.

 The advent of Brandless, however has made me wonder, what’s in a brand?

Launched in July this year, Brandless is a range of grocery and healthcare products, exclusively available online. All foods are non GMO, and a majority of products are organic. Every item, from honey to handsoap, costs just $3. The company can offer these savings, it argues, by eliminating “Brand Tax”: “the hidden costs you pay for a national brand”.

Commentators were quick to announce the death of the brand (again).  Yet Brandless, ironically, has the hallmarks of a powerful 21st century brand.

A simple and compelling sense of purpose: Everyone deserves better.

A purpose enabled by the power of technology to disrupt supply chains, distribution models and customer relationships.

An elegant and distinctive brand identity; it’s easy to imagine these products becoming minimalist status symbols.

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The imperative of hope

rainbowA version of this article first appeared in The Guardian, 18th October 2016 

Back in July, Barack Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention and ended perhaps the last great speech of his presidency by going back to the beginning: to “the audacity of hope”.

Stark dividing lines have been drawn in the US election contest between hope and fear, between a yearning for simpler times and a belief that the best is yet to come. It is not hard to draw a parallel with some of our own political challenges; the tension between those excited by a more global and connected future and those who fear being left behind in this brave new world.

Much has been written about how to make globalisation work for all and a solution remains elusive. A challenge we can meaningfully wrestle with as an industry however is how we make an increasingly connected society work for the many, making technology a source of hope not a source of anxiety and exclusion.

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Why women should know their place-at the top

This article first appeared in The Drum on 5th October 2015


In a world of increased competition and diminished attention, breakthrough ideas are an agency’s only source of sustainable advantage.

But breakthrough ideas don’t come from hiring the same old people to work in the same old ways. Steve Jobs (the child, lest we forget, of Syrian immigrants) didn’t build the most valuable brand in the world by urging people to “Think Homogemous”. Yet there are more men named John (or Dave) leading FTSE 100 companies in the UK than there are women.

Embracing difference has never been more important to our industry. The days of the solitary genius are gone. Creativity today is about the collision of different disciplines: artists and technologists, fashion designers and data architects, behavioural scientists and product strategists. It is about hybrid talents and hybrid teams, working in nimble and collaborative ways.

Beyond the creative industries, senior executives across all industries are beginning to understand the business value of a diverse workforce. In a Forbes survey, 85 per cent of senior executives agreed that diversity is a key driver of innovation. Continue reading

Brand Building in the age of invisible technology

This article first appeared in Contagious Magazineon 31/07/2015


One of the founding principles of technology is Zuboff’s law: “Everything that can be automated will be automated” 

One of the most beloved principles of technology is Clarke’s law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

We are seeing both these principles hold truer by the day-the more advanced technology becomes, the more invisible it becomes.

Ever smarter algorithms are building more dynamic, contextual understanding of where we are, what we’re doing and what we might do next. Today, Google Now knows where I am and where I need to be. It knows the weather and the traffic conditions. How long before, without asking, it hails me an Uber right when I need it? Continue reading

Forget eCommerce, the future is Brand Commerce

A version of this article first appeared in Marketing Magazine, 7/5/2015 

Breaking technology stories in early April is a challenge. The pace of change is so extreme, the advances in blurring the boundaries between real world and online experiences so extraordinary that it’s difficult to tell innovation from April Fool. So when Amazon Dash launched its buttons product late on March 31st, the confusion was understandable.

Physical “Buy Now” buttons for all your favourite brands, conveniently located around your home and synched to your Amazon Prime account seemed like an obvious-if well executed-prank.  Of course so too do delivery drones, a Google store on Tottenham Court Road, a bank account you unlock with your heartbeat and an Argos “concept store” that looks like a boutique hotel. In today’s retail environment, truth really is stranger than fiction.

The reality is an audacious play by Amazon to seize control of the grocery shopping experience. It’s a move that brings in to sharp focus some of the fundamental changes happening in the world of commerce. Continue reading

The winter of our discontent



There’s been a reflective mood in the industry of late. A recurring theme in many end of year roundups was the need to stop, to look inwards, to step away from the perpetual motion of the stream. I was relieved in many ways to read it, to realise that I wasn’t alone in finding that the noise was increasingly drowning out the signal.

Like many others, I was struck powerfully by Alexis Madrgial’s post: “The Year the Stream Crested”, where he laments the rise of “newness” as the sole organizing principle for the web:

“The Stream represents the triumph of reverse-chronology, where importance—above-the-foldness—is based exclusively on newness.”

It’s a fascinating read, that touches on any number of interesting themes, from the polarisation of our attention span (from 7 second Vine videos to “bingeing” on House of Cards) to the pursuit of disposability as a response to surveillance culture.

In response both to this post, and to an overall sense that enough is enough, lots of clever folk- from Mel Exon to Andy Whitlock to Toby Barnes-have come up with their recommendations for stepping back, for finding islands in the stream. I wonder though if there’s more at play here than simply feed fatigue. If the problem isn’t just the stream but the same-ness.

Like many of these commentators, I found myself feeling that what seemed exhilarating and dynamic just a short while ago was feeling not just overwhelming, but somehow stale-dulled by sheer volume and ubiquity. It was harder to get excited not only about the next post or list but about the next big acquisition or the next social sharing app-and I say that as someone who is deeply passionate about the power of technology to transform.

So what lies behind this broader sense of ennui? Continue reading

Why Big is still Beautiful

A version of this article first appeared in Campaign magazine on September 5th 

In recent years, the “Big Idea” has often seemed to epitomise everything wrong and backward looking about our industry.  As Joseph Jaffe, author of “Flip the Funnel”, put it:

“I’m sick and tired of this notion that there is a singular BIG IDEA out there…Big ideas are equated to expensive ideas…hence the word Big. Big ideas are similarly, full of hot air, fluff, inflated with self-importance, exaggeration and hyperbole”

How much more compelling the lean manifesto or the Agile movement have seemed – trim and nimble versus the bloated “Big” idea. We have been encouraged to develop minimal viable products, to test, optimise and iterate – all extraordinarily useful approaches when it comes to making things.

The danger is that we apply this approach to our thinking – that we start to think small.  There is huge benefit to making small. The challenge is to think big while making small.

Thinking big remains critically important for a number of reasons: Continue reading