Q> In the context of our industry, what does strength and clarity mean to you?
George Roberts> For us, the concept is simple: it’s about creating the strongest brands possible. How you measure that will, of course, depend on who you’re speaking to. We need to ask ‘How is that brand valued? Is it shareholder value or maybe brand equity?’ We believe that brands should be meaningful and having clarity plays to that. The question focuses on strength but clarity plays in tandem with it.
Clarity is understanding who you are as a business and then staying true to that. Clarity gives brands a purpose. It's important that brands understand how they can make the world a better place. While we're not necessarily talking about saving the world, it’s understanding why you matter to your audience, that for us is purpose. Then it’s about communicating it in a way that will make people stand up, take notice and act.
Q> Speaking about purpose, what is the connection between these elements? Is it the case that if you don’t understand your purpose, you’re never going to achieve clarity?
George> Absolutely. Clarity is all about understanding why your brand exists and matters and that I would argue is purpose. I appreciate that “purpose” is a very overused word in our industry but that’s because it’s often seen as a marketing initiative when it is in fact business strategy and it should be operationalised as well as communicated. There is also the thought that purpose is about saving the rainforest or tackling world hunger, and whilst these are extremely important issues some brands just don’t have the right to go there and nor should they. Acknowledge it but don’t lead with it. Be authentic, be clear on your purpose and be the best human brand you can.
Q> In your role as client services director, what are you generally looking for in new clients in terms of their attitude going into your partnership?
George> The first attribute we look for is ambition - if there's genuine hunger to grow the business and an appetite to do things differently. This doesn’t matter whether they’re a startup or an established brand because we have created different operating models and processes to cope with both.
Startups need to be quick, agile and have lean budgets, but they are often the most ambitious so we created a product, Accelerate, so that we didn’t miss out on working with these fantastic businesses. We use a combination of design thinking methods and agile principles that enable us to develop brands and campaigns at a fraction of the cost, within a fraction of the time.
And for established brands we have developed a product that builds purpose from the inside out. This requires huge commitment from the business because (as mentioned) it’s business strategy so it covers every facet of the business and it’s a long term commitment, which also requires bravery - so we look for that too!
In the past I’ve worked with some iconic brands that on the surface are really attractive, everyone wants to work with them, but they’ve got zero ambition - they’re quite happy treading water and doing the same stuff they’ve always done. COVID gave a lot of brands who might’ve rested on their laurels in the past a kick up the backside. Take alcohol brands for example. In the past 12 months they’ve had to look at themselves and their customers, who haven’t been in bars and drinking their products, and figure out what role they play in their customers’ lives. COVID is forcing many brands to think this way, which can only be a good thing for them.
Q> We’ve talked about the link between purpose and clarity. Is there a similar link between ambition and strength? Does one stem from the other?
George> When we talk about strength we often link it to bravery. You have to be brave to stick to your purpose, in getting alignment at board level and in your communications - so you can easily draw a line from bravery to ambition.
None of that is easy, it requires determination, so if you aren’t ambitious you won’t see it through and your communications will just end up looking like everyone else and over time they just won’t be effective.
Q> Internally at Five by Five, what role do you play in creating an environment in which strength and clarity are encouraged or nurtured?
George> There are numerous ways. Being on the leadership team, it’s about practicing what we preach. We’re very clear on the fundamentals of the business and our vision for the next five years. We realise that we may need to change and move with the times, but we’ve got an ambitious vision which we make very clear to everyone in the business. As part of that we have also defined purpose. Again, that is made clear to the whole agency and we make sure it’s embedded in our operation, how we act and behave. When managing my teams, I make sure everyone is clear on their objectives and how they impact business performance and their career goals. This gives them total clarity. We then have a very healthy Learning & Development budget which we use to give them the tools, confidence, and strength to fulfil those objectives and their potential.
Q> Can you give an example of a piece of communication, either one you've worked on or not, which you believe encapsulates those qualities, strength and clarity?
George> IKEA has a very clear understanding of why they matter to their audience. They have a brand purpose and it’s beautifully surmised for consumers in a brand platform, which has now been in existence for many years. Some brands can be forgiven for thinking that having a platform can limit creativity and versatility but IKEA and it’s agencies are a shining example that this isn’t the case. Time and time again they bring out refreshing brand and sales campaigns that all bring the platform to life in different ways. The Christmas ad from two years ago still does it for me. It was phenomenal.
IKEA might be a common answer in this context, but they’re very clear on why they exist, they’ve had the strength to stay with it, and they bring it to the market in a fun, distinctive manner that leaves a mark. A lot of the competitors are striving to do what they do - they’ve set that benchmark.
Q> To what degree is authenticity vital to the mix?
George> It’s extremely vital. There’s no point promising the consumer something you cannot deliver. Consumers are cynical and they see straight through this stuff; they've done a great job calling many of the brands out. Trying to stake a claim to something you're just not is doomed for failure, right from the get go. We talk a lot about customers, but it extends to employees as well; people want to work with authentic brands and without authenticity, you won’t get the best people coming to work with you.
Q> Finally, what are the risks for marketers if you don’t tick one of those two boxes?
George> I’m showing my age here, but I think of three words here: they become Woolworths! Basically, you just become meaningless and could disappear from existence. If a brand doesn’t know why they exist, what chance does their audience have! Woolworths didn’t have clarity on what they were about. No one understood the part they played in society or why they mattered, which inevitably contributed to them disappearing from our high streets. Despite being an iconic and loved brand, it fell into irrelevancy.
Q> It goes back to what you were saying about brands resting on their laurels. I can’t think of a better example of a brand that went south so quickly...
George> Exactly. They had all this brand love without translating it to profit. There’s a lesson in that for any brand. Brands with strength and clarity will exist for the long term and remain valuable.