Rewind 17 years. I’m in my first week as a Marketing Assistant at a liberal, left-leaning newspaper. I sat in the canteen with the rest of the marketing department awaiting the speech of a big brand consultant to tell us about Brand Innovation.
“What is a brand?” he asks. There is stunned silence. I wait. Then risk a sideways glance. Does no-one know? Is he going to ask me? He repeats the question. A long silence. “Come on, you’re the marketing department, you’re the ones who should really know.”
I learn two things from this. First of all, in a group of experts, the fear of being wrong outweighs the glory of being right. Second, is what follows- a brand is many things to many people. It’s an intensely personal thing. A mixture of rational and emotional thought. A seemingly random pile of pre-conceptions, history, direct experience, what your friends think, response to advertising, logos, design, where your audience is that week, that year, that month.
Now, the best I can come up with is that a brand is a story. And brand innovation best starts when you have new stories to tell. It’s why interns – people with no preconceptions of what your brand ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do or stand for – often come up with some of the best ideas for where your story could go next.
So here are a few ingredients I’ve learnt to get your brands innovating:
You need that confidence and innocence to follow through an idea. The innocence to strip away an internal viewpoint and tell simple stories to the world. Before you know it, people will tag along, and your idea will gain its own momentum and energy. It’s why I love the oath of RYOT, our content studio: “Be the story”. They’ve just created some fantastic interviews for us for our Sport and Finance brands, a way for us to tell very personal stories of our fans, working seamlessly between editorial and marketing to create brand defining content that we’re really proud of. Amazing personal stories from fans and entrepreneurs that we’re distributing across all our channels.
One of the best pieces of advice I got was the more time you spent talking (or laughing) about an idea in a meeting- the better the idea was. My favourite thing we did in 2017 was our Catwalk to promote Yahoo Style- real cats walking up a real catwalk. It was essentially a great pun that made us all laugh in a meeting- and got a huge response on social, not just from cat lovers.
The personalised Coke cans and Marmite jars simply remain great ideas. Making iconic brands and packaging much more human and individual. We got a similar response when we opened up old original Yahoo email addresses “firstname.lastname@example.org” back up to the public. It can quickly go stale though- I don’t need Facebook continually congratulating me for my friendships
All in all, it starts and ends with the story. What do you do all day? What are you going to do next? At Oath, we have some of the best stories around. AOL gave access to the internet for the first time, Yahoo was the original digital start-up, a global brand built out of a motor home. I’m lucky enough to be part of where we take these brilliant brands next. What a great responsibility.