CSR: A chance to differentiate?

Thursday, 15 January 2015
Dave Vann

CSR: A chance to differentiate?

For many years, CSR was considered the ugly sister of the brand family – given a place, but no ticket to the ball.

That seems to have all changed.

A recent KPMG survey of the UK’s largest 100 companies showed that 91% had a dedicated CSR function. In fact, it seems we Brits are more committed to CSR than either the rest of Europe (73%) or the USA (86%).

These headline stats point to a new reality: for both B2C and B2B companies, the fundamentals of CSR have now become the norm.

With everyone seemingly jumping on the CSR ship, a question we often hear from clients and others thinking about their brands is this: Can we really differentiate through CSR?”

At ABA, we believe the answer is ‘Yes, but…’ The ‘but’ involves avoiding some of the common misreadings of what is involved in venturing down the CSR path.

We've picked out three - all of which affect both CSR strategy and CSR communication…

MISREADING #1: It’s got be all or nothing
The old adage that it is better to under-promise and over-deliver is seldom truer than when it comes to CSR.

Once the decision has been made to ‘do’ CSR, it is tempting to try and go full throttle with a campaign to hit off each area, complete with promises of deliverables and KPIs. The risk of this approach is that any shortcoming only adds fuel to the fire of CSR ‘doubters’ both within and outside your organisation.

It’s worth considering which of the four remits of CSR are ready for you to truly deliver on what you promise:

  • People (How you treat your staff)
  • Governance (How you do business ‘right’)
  • Environment (How you use natural resources)
  • Community (How you give back to your locality/the world)

In 2014, ABA worked with one of our clients to help them venture down the ‘community’ path of CSR. Through research, we identified a previously unexplored connection between their products and children struggling with dyslexia.

From this insight, we helped them forge a relationship with a leading dyslexia charity – focused on sharing content, cross-promoting campaigns, and providing added-value resources to the companies’ core audience.

MISREADING #2: It’s got to be sexy
Sometimes CSR can be quite sexy, really.

Like when Innocent sponsors a nationwide knitting contest in support of Age UK, complete with knitted hats on bottle tops. Or when Google provides its employees with eye-catching perks like indoor play areas and unlimited free food.

But when it comes to forming a CSR strategy, a more helpful question than “what’s the sexiest thing we can do?” is “what’s going to be most consistent with our brand?”

One of our furniture-manufacturing clients donates its leftover raw materials and prototypes to local art projects that then get to work creatively repurposing them. It’s simple and non-fussy, yet it hits off both the environment and community strands of CSR. Best of all? It was easy to integrate into the everyday operation of the company.

When it comes to CSR planning, think authentic and consistent; not sexy and headline-grabbing.

MISREADING #3: It’s ultimately about PR
It’s tempting to dismiss CSR as what big brands do when they drop the ball (or know they are about to). Or what smaller companies do to offset negative perceptions or customer service glitches.

The reality is that well-conducted and well-communicated CSR can play a key part in how your brand is perceived.

Recent research conducted by The Marketing Science Institute amongst B2B companies revealed that engaging in CSR-related activities had a direct impact on customer loyalty amongst the most important audience – their buyers.

The authors of the research identified two types of CSR activities with different outcomes:

(i) Business practice CSR – activities within a firm’s core operations targeted at employees, suppliers, or external stakeholders. This was shown to foster customer trust.

(ii) Philanthropic CSR – activities outside a firm’s core operations targeted at external beneficiaries (such as local residents or charities). This was shown to strengthen brand identification.

The evidence is clear – the right kind of CSR activity, clearly communicated to your target audience, really can make a difference to your brand (and, ultimately, to your bottom line).

If you are looking for help with both your CSR strategy – and a plan on how to communicate it – then get in touch. We’d love to help you explore what lies beneath the surface of those three letters.

Culture & Behaviour: The final brand frontier?

Thursday, 15 January 2015
Sandra Bullen

Culture & Behaviours: The final brand frontier?

For over 30 years, we have been working on the visual elements of our clients’ brands – the part you see with your eyes. But in recent times, our clients have been asking for more – for brand to go deep into the organisation, not just wide across the surface of it.

It is a shift that has seen ABA deliver an increasing number of programmes incorporating staff workshops, leadership support and individual coaching – all with the aim of helping organisations embed the brand within their culture and behaviours.

Don’t get me wrong, we love good design. It is our roots - we started life as a visual creative agency after all. But creative without substance comes to nought. It is like watching a film with beautiful cinematography fall down because of the absence of a plot.

Whether they be mass-consumer brands or more niche B2B brands, reputations are easily damaged – and hard-to-shift negative perceptions instilled – as a result of an encounter with a member of staff whose wasn’t living out what the brand stands for.

A few common themes
We’ve spent some time considering what it was during 2014 that drove a number of our clients to look at their brand and how it is worked out through culture and behaviours. We have spotted some common catalysts:

Office move/rationalisation: When organisations move offices, they are scaling up, scaling down, or simply adapting to changing work culture. We are working with two household name brands that are going through a complete overhaul of their working environments – having audited their offices and concluded some rethinking is needed to adapt to more flexible working spaces.

Business growth: Another client is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth, which in turn has brought huge pressure on business systems and the people that use them. In order to support staff through this period, the organisation recognised the need to focus on culture and behaviour as a means of ensuring its brand values remained in tact through the growth.

Management change: In another scenario, a client has a new management team who are leading the charge on an intentional ‘change-for-growth’ path. They are shifting gears and looking to do things very differently moving forward – from IT to Marketing to HR. As part of this process, they are re-looking at their vision and mission, their core values, and in-turn their culture and behaviours. What sort of company do they want to be, culturally? What sort of behaviours are part of that new-look culture?

The thread of similarity in all of these scenarios is that times when companies are going through specific change are often the times when your brand needs special love and attention – when the opportunity presents itself to get everyone buying into the DNA of the company.

Beautiful on the inside
There is a growing realisation that culture and behaviours is one of the final frontiers of brand; that a brand – however beautifully conceived and created – will ultimately live or die by the way your reps do sales, the way your receptionists greets visitors, the way your staff conduct themselves on the phone.

Whatever change your company is going through, ABA are here to help you care for your brand through the transitions, and ensure it comes out clearer and more consistently lived out at the end.

Brands behaving badly

Friday, 23 May 2014
Dave Vann

Brands behaving badly

Confession: I love toys. So when my son recently informed me that he needed a cars-doing-acrobatic-jumps toy and an outdoor basketball set for his 4th birthday, I didn’t hesitate to agree.

As I merrily commended these gifts to my wife, I was reminded of an experience I’d had at the annual Toy Fair at London’s Olympia earlier in the year. I was there helping one of our clients – The Green Board Game Company – launch a new product.

Chatting to one of the sales reps working across the industry, I innocently asked: “So what’s it like working for the big boys?”

The answer caught me by surprise. “I can’t stand working for them. They treat you like absolute [expletive]. I wouldn’t work for them if I had the choice – but they are the big players, so we have to dance to their tune.”

The harsh response of this sales rep was backed by the gist of conversations I had with others on the day: behind the carefully crafted public image of some of the biggest names in toys lurked the reality of some brands behaving rather badly.

Just because these brands operate in the seemingly fluffy world of toys, should we expect any more of them than the next corporate giant? Perhaps not. But the gap between my sales rep’s experience and the values that the two toy brands in question espouse is gapingly wide.

One of the company’s websites proudly declares “every employee is responsible for acting with integrity, treating others with dignity and respect, being honest and fair in all transactions, and consistently striving to do the right thing.”

Another of the brands singled out for criticism sets the bar similarly high, with their website announcing it “always has been a company where doing the right thing comes first.”

At ABA, we have a phrase for this particular phenomenon: brand disconnect.

It’s what happens when your brand promises one thing, but your audience experiences something altogether different.

You promise honest, they experience unscrupulous.
You promise sensational, they experience run of the mill.
You promise friendly, they experience aloof.

A brand disconnect can occur across any of your four brand vectors – the touch points where your audience interacts with your brand:

4 vectors of a brand

In the case of these toy brands, I was given a glimpse of a chink in their armour around behaviour (in particular towards their sales reps!).

But a brand disconnect can occur in any of these touch points when the reality of your customer’s experience is strikingly different from the promise of your brand.

Think Tesco’s promise…and the reality of beef products found to contain horsemeat.

Think Hamley’s promise…and the reality of a poorly designed online environment.

Think High Street banks promise…and the reality of mass miss-selling of PPI insurance.

Think British Airway’s promise…and the reality of their customer service fail on Twitter last year.

The fact of the matter is the bigger you are, the easier it is to get away with brand disconnects like the ones listed above. A lone Twitter rant, food ingredient scandal, poorly designed website, or business miscalculation can often be ridden out by the big boys.

But what about the smaller players – like a growing SME or newbie in a competitive industry? Can they ride out the storm of a well-publicised brand disconnect in the same way their larger, more established counterparts can? Probably not.

In the age of globalised brands, the smaller you are the more valuable your reputation. In fact, reputation is often the one thing that stands between your customers choosing you and opting for the ‘easy’ choice of going with the big name in your field.

So take some time to look at those four brand vectors and ask yourself a tough question:
Is there a serious disconnect within any touch point of your brand?

Chances are, your business can ill afford to be featured in a blog entitled ‘Brands Behaving Badly’.

ABA strengthens its digital and marketing offering

Monday, 20 January 2014
Sandra Bullen

ABA start 2014 upbeat. A few natural shifts in the team enabled us to think about the strategic areas of the business that needed to be strengthened. At the end of this process it is with great pleasure that we introduce to you two new additions to the team - Dave Vann, an experienced marketer, and Lee Bennett, an experienced digital project manager.

Neither Dave nor Lee are strangers to ABA. Lee is an ex-client of ours when working at Affinion International. He has managed digital projects for the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Lloyd's TSB, pulling together expert teams, knowing exactly what a complex digital project requires (UX, UI, usability, etc).

Dave is an ex ABA'er. He flew the nest to go 'client side', working as a marketing manager responsible for the strategy and delivery of all marketing communications for an international development charity. He was also responsible for developing the brand for a mobile telecoms startup and taking it to market.

We know that Lee and Dave are going to add a depth to our work, which we are very much looking forward to our clients' benefitting from.

In 2010, ABA attended the Cranfield University School of Management's Business Growth and Development programme. Since that time we have been re-engineering the business to be focused on offering our strategic branding and marketing services.

While excellent creative has always been a strength of ABA, we now have the very specific outlets of brand and marketing services.

If you are the owner-manager of a business yourself, we cannot recommend the course highly enough. It has transformed the way we do business. We work with the School of Management on an on-going basis to help keep us on the straight and narrow. (Particular thanks go to Jerry Sandys, our mentor)

If you have branding and marketing needs this year you’d like some help with, we’d love to chat. Get in touch at

Trends for 2014 - An Infographic

Thursday, 12 December 2013
ABA User

Trends for 2014 - An Infographic

Like this infographic? Why not share it!
Use the embed code below or one of the simple social media share buttons...

The top 5 brand trends for 2014

Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Dave Vann

It’s that time of year where we don flimsy paper hats, pull on ridiculous jumpers and wistfully look back at the year that was 2013.

Here at ABA, it’s also the time when we do a bit of collective gazing into our Crystal Ball of Brand, suggesting an idea or two we reckon will flourish in the year to come.

So here are our top 5 brand trends for 2014 - including some real-life examples and even a few practical tips (we’re nice like that).

More reality, please

In 2014, brands will get serious about giving us a dose of reality. Consumers are increasingly eschewing sugarcoated versions of reality, which are too far removed from our own imperfect reality. Expect to see brands co-opting ‘real-life stories’ of people we can relate to (like Google Stories), capturing our hearts in a gritty and real way.

A great example… Sainsbury’s 2013 Christmas advert (‘Christmas in a Day’)

Where to start…Think about the little brand stories that remain untold within your organisation (whether products/staff/customers) and start telling them.

Can't stop the feeling

2013 was the year brands went functional, focusing on rational attributes ahead of emotional ones (think car adverts – less aspirational than they used to be). In 2014, expect brands to get emotional again and appeal more to our hearts as the economy starts to pick up. The big brands will lead a race to the top with brand messages packed with guts and glory. Smaller brands will follow right behind.

A great example… Red Bull with Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space

Where to start…Spend some time considering your brand’s emotional attributes and ask yourself: “Are we making the most of these within our current communication?”

Deliberately digital

Brands of all shapes and sizes have grabbed a seat in the new digital arena – Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google +. But now that they are there…what should they actually do? How can they be different? Moving forward, expect brands to be more deliberate - less doing digital stuff for digital’s sake, and more giving something of value to customers.

A great example… Betty Crocker YouTube Channel

Where to start…Do a quick assessment of your digital channels and identify any ‘deadwood’ that is taking up resource without any obvious purpose.

It's the customer, stupid

The cry for authenticity and transparency will continue in 2014, with brands responding by creating spaces where customers can see opinions, reviews, and questions posted by others like them. Consumers are no longer asking “What does Customer Care say?” but instead “What do other customers say?” Big brands will find creative ways of answering the question (check out MacDonalds ‘Your Questions’ in Canada). In this regard, brands will look a lot more like Trip Advisor, and a lot less like Facebook.

A great example… GiffGaff online support allows customers to respond to other customer’s questions before the Customer Care team get involved

Where to start…Look at your current customer touch points online. Is there a space you can begin to trial giving your customers a public-facing voice?

Even more of me

Consumers now expect to be to be addressed as unique individuals with specific needs (think eBay and Amazon emails and web ads). In 2014, expect to see brands using ‘Big Data’, social data and GPS to create messages that are personal – with products/services increasingly tailored to preferences and locality. The mass market will become massively specific.

A great example… Addison Lee’s cab app uses GPS to tell the driver where you are, and your account info reveals where home or work is

Where to start…What data do you currently collect from your customer that is lying dormant? Explore playing it back to the customer to help them on their purchase journey

If you’d like to explore any of these trends a bit more (or what the New Year looks like for your brand and marketing), we’d love to hear from you (

Winning battles, and winning wars

Tuesday, 29 October 2013
Ben Saunders

Winning battles, and winning wars

“If it’s not achieving its objective, it’s just vanity.” Three industry experts, two conferences, one take-home message. Dave Trott said it at the Professional Copywriters’ Network conference: 89% of advertising is not remembered. Not ‘not remembered positively’ – just not remembered. Wallpaper. It might win awards, but it doesn’t work. Andy Maslen was similarly blunt. Direct marketing is not primarily about words and pictures – it’s about numbers. Specifically, it’s about gross profit. Not about what works, but what works better. At the Inbound Marketing conference, Will Critchlow applied the same logic to websites. Optimising your conversion rate is fundamental; if you’re not running live testing on your website, if you’re not seeking to make it the best it can be, you’re missing a trick.

It got me thinking about winning. How do we define victory? A lot of the talk in the industry is about winning battles: you pitch for a piece of work, you deliver it, and the client is happy. You win the battle. The more work you’ve done – the more battles you’ve won – the better you must be. But that seems to me to miss the point. It’s not about winning battles, it’s about winning wars. Not minor victories, but decisive conquests. If the work we do for clients – brand or marketing – isn’t generating a good return for them, then it’s just vanity. Yeah, so that booklet you produced looked fantastic, was squarely in line with brand guidelines and showcased the talents of your lead designer. You won that battle – but are you winning the war? Can your client see the impact of your activities on his bottom line? Because if he can’t, what are you doing it for?

That’s what we strive for at ABA. We don’t always achieve it, but we do always aim for it. We rebranded Lloyd’s insurance syndicate Novae in 2010 – since then their share price has rocketed. Construction firm McLaren has grown hugely following their rebrand. We helped Barnabas Adventure Centres become Rock UK, and it radically altered their fortunes. And just this month, we heard from Jeremy Moodey, CEO of Embrace the Middle East, whose rebrand we masterminded in 2012:

“Our new brand and image has outperformed our expectations. We combined the re-brand with new charity products and a more proactive strategy in advocacy and campaigning. The result is that we are attracting hundreds of new supporters. We are not complacent about the challenge of building a relationship with these people and converting them into regular donors, but our fresh and relevant branding provides an excellent platform for future growth, something we never had with our old brand.”

These aren’t just battles we’ve won – they’re wars. Not just vanity projects that look good in a portfolio, but interventions that transform the prospects of an organisation. That’s what brand and marketing should be all about.

Curator or Creator?

Monday, 30 September 2013
Ben Saunders

curator or creator

When I was at primary school, we used to make up numbers. You know the sort of thing - a bazillion. A gillion. A zettabyte. Except one of those made-up numbers isn’t made up at all. Which one? A zettabyte. A zettabyte is a computer word denoting a trillion gigabytes, or 1 followed by 21 zeros – a staggeringly big number. In 2012, it is estimated that the internet was made up of 2.7 zettabytes of data, and it’s growing fast.

That’s a vast amount of information – and we in the marketing community are partly responsible for it, as we jump aboard the content marketing train. But it raises an important question. Faced with this enormous haystack of information, how do we find the needle we’re looking for? 2.7 zettabytes is too much for us to simply rely on Google! I Googled David Beckham just now and it returned 99,400,000 results. I couldn’t visit all those sites if I sat at my computer from now until the day I die – and even if I did manage it, there would be several million more by the time I finished.

The answer? Curation. As one contributor to this helpful Vimeo video puts it, internet curation is all about helping people “to find the most interesting things in this massive onslaught of messy information.” It’s about passionate, informed people working their way through the haystack and gathering needles together into one place. ‘The best of the web’, if you like, drawn together by what Fast Company calls “the new superheroes of the web”. It’s only in its infancy, but it’s already hugely successful – as the astronomic rise of Pinterest attests.

This is an exciting development for marketers. The growth of creation means you don’t have to generate original content to be a thought leader. Web users are crying out for people with insight and authority to tell them which of the 99 million David Beckham links are worth clicking on, and which are just dross; to gather the interesting, valuable information together in one place and become an expert on it. This is the mission of When They Get Older (a brand that we created) – to be the port of call if you need any help with looking after your ageing parents. As well as creating some original content, When They Get Older curate the best of the web on elder care, and it’s working well for them.

But curation has serious implications for content creators, too. If you generate content, then it’s vital you cultivate links with the key curators in your sector. It’s no good creating content if it just gets lost – work with curators to make sure it gets found and used. The insight piece we produced earlier this year for one of our clients in the financial sector has been picked up by over 80 financial services websites across the globe, which amplifies its impact far beyond the 120 industry experts present at the launch event. Recognition is not an inevitable consequence of content creation – it’s something that needs proactive work.

So – curator or creator. The choice is yours!

The power of partnership

Friday, 13 September 2013
Sandra Bullen

KitKat Android

Partnerships. They’ve long been understood to be a good thing. You only had to watch the recent White Queen television series to appreciate how through the ages humans have looked to make alliances that bring benefit to them. It’s a survival thing.

In biology, it’s symbiosis. Two organisms that live together to the mutual benefit of each other.

In 2012 IBM undertook a global study of more than 1,700 CEO’s. The study showed that business leaders believe the 3 imperatives for business are: (1) Empowering employees through values, (2) Engaging customers as individuals, and (3) Amplifying innovation with partnerships. There it is again - partnerships. Partnerships, done well, can amplify our voice. Marketing is all about voice. It is all about being heard.

But what do they look like? And how should marketers work with this information to bring benefit to the organisations that are looking to promote? In my quest to bring continual innovation to my clients, I have recently been on a journey to explore relationships that will do just this. Symbiotic partnerships, where each partner gains a mutual benefit, where their voice is amplified. Last week we were presenting a range of partnership options to a B2B client, along with suggested ideas of how the choices would benefit each party. Preparation for the presentation involved idea generating, because at its heart partnership is all about creativity; all about new ideas.

So you can imagine the smile it brought to me when I read about the partnership between KitKat (Nestle) and Android (Google). Genius! But straight out of left-field – they’re in completely different sectors. What would a mobile phone operating system and a chocolate biscuit have to offer each other? Simple. Google benefits from its branding being stamped all over every KitKat wrapper, and KitKat benefits from an alliance with one of the biggest tech companies in the world, and it has given them a unique promotional campaign. It’s a masterstroke, and it should open eyes to the possibilities of cross-sector partnership in the future.

Just Do It

Friday, 5 July 2013
Ben Saunders

Just Do It

2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Nike’s iconic ‘Just Do It’ slogan. Amazing, really – a slogan inspired by the last words of a condemned murderer as he faced his Utah firing squad and only employed to bring a thread of consistency to an otherwise disparate advertising campaign, but which sums up Nike’s essence, personality and positioning so effectively that they’ve stuck with it for longer than their average customer has been alive.

That’s the thing with a brand essence – if you get that foundation right, then the brand house you build on it will stand firm. Too often businesses get their essence wrong – or don’t address it at all – with the result that the brand they build is shaky and forever being changed.

At ABA, identifying the brand essence is a fundamental part of our brand process. For us, everything flows out of getting that right. Jumping straight into creative before the essence has been nailed leads to ideas that don’t align with the fundamental identity of the business. Identifying a brand essence first gives us a firm foundation on which to build solid, flexible, enduring brands.

It isn’t just theoretical. Check out our Oasis case study for a great example of a brand essence driving brilliant creative.

We're not all Innocent

Thursday, 4 July 2013
ABA User

We're not all Innocent

There was a time when supermarket shelves were catwalks of dormant packaging. Now walk into your nearest Waitrose or Sainsburys and you're bombarded with chattering menageries of 'friendly' cartons, declaring sentiments like "Lot's of goodness inside!" and "I'm really tasty!"

This trend for chatty packaging is largely due to one organisation - Innocent. When Innocent launched 13 years ago, they invested heavily in writing copy for their packaging. With a limited marketing budget to play with, their bottles and cartons had to be the voice, as well as the face, of the Innocent brand.

And it worked. Innocent now sell over two million smoothies a week. Their ability to leverage what they call 'house media' has helped them grow into one of the UK's most recognised food and drink brands.

Unsurprisingly Innocent's success has led to businesses outside of the FMCG sector adopting this way of speaking. Nowadays it's not uncommon to open a letter from an insurance company or a bank and be greeted with forced declarations of personality. The world of business, it would seem, has discovered it's friendly side.

And it's not just big businesses that have been drawn in by this conversational marketing. The number one request we hear from small businesses on The British Library's Innovating For Growth Programme is 'we want a brand like Innocent's'

But when you dig a bit deeper into the rise of Innocent you soon realise it's not just about copywriting. From a playfully designed HQ (named fruit towers), to their emphasis on personable staff training, Innocent's personality drives all four vectors of the brand. Their success isn't due great copywriting, it's about building trust through a consistent brand.

The lesson to be learnt isn't how to talk like Innocent, but how to be genuine to who you are.

Brand intuition

Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Rory Muldoon

Since we started lecturing at the British Library, I've noticed something that I guess has always been right in front of me. Some people intuitively do brand and others don't. This isn't a musing on good branding vs bad branding but more of an observation about people. Whilst many business owners are happy to pour their personality into their organisations, others - by nature - are more reserved.

It made me wonder how often this 'brand intuition' skill is overlooked when assessing business talent? We all knew someone at school who was good with numbers or planning, but what about those kids who made us believe in something?

Training is a Three-Legged Stool

Wednesday, 20 March 2013
ABA User

Just as the advent of desktop publishing has made home printing easier, and sites like wordpress and cargo have strived to make creating websites accessible to all, training is going through a bit of a DIY resurgence.

With just bit of googling, the uninitiated can find themselves with all the tools needed to produce workable training programmes. Training made easy right?

Well no, not really. Training programmes are like machines. The product is only as good as the raw materials that you put in. To put it another way, training is a three-legged stool.

three legged stool

Leg one – Educational specialists.
Any training materials, whether they’re complex, interactive e-learning sites or more straight forward printed manuals, should be helmed by an educational specialist. Human beings aren’t computers. The way we learn is not dictated by logic or value, it’s dictated by attention. Lose someone’s attention and your training has already failed. A good educational specialist can help you structure training in a way that keeps candidates enthused and attentive.

Leg two – IT systems that work
When you’re trying to get someone to learn something, it needs to be as accessible as possible. If you know that your candidate only checks their emails on a phone on the train home from work, then make sure your training work on mobile devices. If you know that your candidate is going to engage with your training programme in a busy office, then make sure there is an option to mute sound and have subtitles. Are your audience kinesthetic or auditory learners, or both? (A good learning specialist can help you work this out).

Leg three – User-friendly design and communication
Good design is one of the most powerful forms of communication we can employ. Information should be displayed in a clear, easy to digest format, that draws your candidates in. Maybe your audience is tired of being bombarded with dry corporate literature. An interruptive training programme can puncture this inertia and stand out amongst the crowd.

If one of these legs is missing (or shorter than the rest) then the stool falls down. Our approach to creating training materials is to always ensure the stool is sturdy. 15 years of working on e-learning and training tools with clients such as FT Knowledge and then Pearson Education, Commerz Bank, The British Bankers Association and more recently The London 2012 Olympics has taught us that three legs are always better than one.

Brand and The Pale Blue Dot

Friday, 22 February 2013
Rory Muldoon

Pale Blue Dot
Great brands draw us in

In 1990 astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan was working with NASA on the voyager space programme. The Voyager 1 spacecraft had travelled about 6 billion kilometres from earth and, having completed its primary mission, was on a one-way trip out of the solar system. Keen to get one last image from the mission, Sagan urged NASA to command the automated vessel to turn around and photograph Earth.

The result is a grainy, barely visible pixelated image of our great planet. With so many high-resolution images of the earth at our disposal, the 'Pale Blue Dot' image (as Sagan coined it), seems at first glance scientifically pointless.

But it's the very nature of Earth's insignificance that makes 'the pale blue dot' interesting. This is our homeworld as if seen through the eyes of a visitor. Our sprawling oceans, great rainforests and expansive cities are invisible. The feats of mankind and the beauty of nature are intangible amongst the smattering of pixels that make up the planet we inhabit.

Just like the Voyager 1 looking back from the edge of our solar system, it's stepping away from what we do day to day that helps us to see the bigger picture on brand. Great entrepreneurs understand that good branding is about taking what you're passionate about, and packaging it in a way that draws casual visitors in.

Because at the end of the day we're all just pale blue dots waiting to be discovered.

Does branding need a re-brand?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Sandra Bullen

Does branding need a re-brand?

This year, in my opinion, has been bad year for the branding industry. How can you say that? I hear you say. Surely London 2012 was one of the best examples of in branding this country has seen? Having had the privilege of being part of it, I completely agree. My hypothesis about the bad year comes from many observations elsewhere, but I give just 2 reasons for now.

Reason 1; in May of this year James Dyson announced that he does not believe in brand. For someone who probably has one of the most iconic British brands this is quite ironic. Having read the accounts of the famous interview where he declared that brand is a banned word at Dyson, it appears that what he hates is when branding is a façade for shoddy product. The product must always come first. Well, we believe that too.

Reason 2; there seems to be a trend for every kind of creative agency (and graduate graphic designer) to say they do brand. There is no problem with this if you ‘buy’ in specialists to do this task. Indeed we do the same. We are not specialist in film, or research, and so we use specialists. But the trend we see is the word brand is being swapped for other things, corporate identity, logo etc. And people are selling a lesser product for what brand really is. For us brand is so much more. It is about your behaviours, your environment, your communication. It is about your tone-of-voice, your promise. It’s what is in people’s mind when your name is spoken. The following diagram represents how ABA sees brand.

The 4 vectors of a brand

The 4 vectors of a brand

We hope 2013 begins to re-define and clarify what branding is.

Is it time to think about your brand? If you’ve done all you can do to get your product/service to be its best, and you now want to consider the behaviours of your organisation, your environment and take a closer look at how all your communications hang together, then call us. Brand is our specialism.

Hello digital marketing, meet brand strategy

Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Sandra Bullen

Hello digital marketing, meet brand strategy

It is almost 2 years since ABA attended Cranfield University School of Management’s BGP course (Business Growth and Development Programme). We met some amazing businesses that we now consider friends, and a few (like all good friends should) challenged the very thing that makes us who we are.

I'm talking of course about brand. The thing that ABA hangs it hat on and confidently proclaims that every business must have to grow and prosper. These new friends of ours were shunning brand in favour of out and out digital marketing.

Hardcore brand specialists sell brand and hardcore digital marketers sell digital marketing, and never the twain shall meet. Or so it once was. Over the course of BGP, we found ourselves saying 'wouldn’t it be amazing to seamlessly merge these two great disciplines'. Since then ABA has been on a mission to widen our offering to make sure we do just this; To bring brand strategy to sound digital marketing techniques. We’ve added those digital marketing practices to our brand strategy melting pot, refining a 10 year old methodology into something we believe to be truly great.

I don’t think we are alone in this merger of disciplines either. The industry is moving closer together and lines are blurring. Marketers and brand strategists are becoming more aware of each other, and this is only going to pick up speed in 2013.

At the end of our BGP course we all present our business plans to a group of experts. These experts critique the plans in front of us all. To my amusement, the experts were unanimous in their advice to my friends’ business, “The next stage for you, is you must start to pay attention to your brand if you want to move to the next level”. I smiled.

If you don’t know ABA for our digital marketing expertise and you have a challenge in this area, give us a call, we’d love to work with you.

Trends for 2013; The continual rise of B2B inbound marketing

Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Sandra Bullen

The continual rise of B2B inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is the phrase the industry is using to describe the closed loop of bringing all elements of digital marketing and branding together to lead generate, lead nurture and then convert into sales. Inbound marketing is based on 3 basic tenets; (1) Getting found (not just going out to look for people), (2) Earning people’s interest (a shift from telling and selling to giving something of value and interest) and (3) Analysing and refining (that old marketing chestnut, getting ROI from activity).

As a primarily B2B agency, we have seen a big shift in the importance of this kind of content marketing. The day of the corporate brochure is (nearly) dead. Giving something of genuine interest to your audience is the thing to watch out for. This means more quantitative and qualitative research, looking for insights that your industry is desperate to gain. This means data visualisation, info-graphics and other useful data that helps you understand complex subjects.

If you are a B2B brand and you are looking to explore more how to implement a content marketing strategy, we’d love to talk.

If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough

Thursday, 22 November 2012

This is a quote that’s been on my mind a lot recently, and to be honest, I can’t shake it off.

As some of you may already know, next week I will be leaving chilly England to embark on a journey that will hopefully change my life. When I joined ABA at the beginning of this year, I asked if I could be released for a period of time to go on this trip, and they (very kindly) said yes! Alongside my husband Nathan, I will be spending just over two months in Thailand, supporting and helping 2 close friends who left the UK 5 years ago to build an orphanage. They started with nothing - left their grown-up children, grandchildren, sold belongings and moved over there knowing that this was what they were meant to do. We visited briefly last year with a team, and helped them with a few small projects… and we loved it so much, we had to go back! (The images below show a little of what we got up to).


The Glowing Life Foundation is based in Chiang Rai, the most northern city in Thailand, near the border of Burma and Laos. They seek out the most vulnerable children in the surrounding villages and hill tribes, in order to give them a safe and caring home, feed them, educate them and love them. Some have been born into unfortunate situations, some have been subject to violence and abuse, some neglected, some malnourished, but every child is a little life that can be turned around, if given the opportunity.

So what will we be doing? That is a good question! Our main reason for going out to Thailand is to support Andy and Val, our friends; to free them up to do what they do best – connect with people, create relationships, love the children and their staff, and ultimately give them a break and chance to recuperate. It’s taken them this long to build the orphanage, and they received their first child last year – now they have 7, with the space to look after around 25 children. There is still a lot of work to do on the land, so we’ll be helping to speed up the process. This will include building walls, making concrete pathways, laying turf, erecting fences, planting fruit trees, helping the children, teaching English, and basically doing anything that they’d like us to! It’s not all that bad… after all, we’ll be having a BBQ on Christmas Day!

So what has this got to do with dreams? I absolutely love my job, but a more personal dream of mine has always been to care for children who are in need, in some way or another. This trip is a step closer to my dream. It was a very easy decision to go, but a tough sacrifice to make – especially in the midst of a comfortable life when things are going well. We are both fortunate to be employed by such great companies who support us, but after all, making a sacrifice of time and finances isn’t easy. However, laying down comfort for a while, in order to help add another piece of the puzzle to a very extraordinary jigsaw, is absolutely worth it.

We all have dreams and ambitions for our businesses, jobs, employees, friends, families, and if you don’t… I suggest you find yours. Where do I want to be in a month, a year? Then ask yourself, is it big enough? I know mine’s not… yet, but be encouraged that a small step closer is better than standing still. You’ll be surprised how far you can get.

See you in February!

Practice makes better

Monday, 13 August 2012
Rory Muldoon

'Practice makes perfect' is one of those overused, desensitised phrases that often follows a failed endeavour. As a tangible piece of criticism, it falls under the "better luck next time sport" category of utterly useless feedback.

It's particularly unhelpful in the fluid world of creativity, where perfection is arguably an unobtainable goal. As commercial creatives, we create in the hope of meeting the expectation of our audience. There is no such thing as perfect creative.

That doesn't mean we should be ignoring practice though.

When we create we research and we absorb. We learn about the subject and we draw upon previous experiences. That information doesn't suddenly disappear when we move onto something new. It stays with us and adds bulk to our creative muscle.

The more we do, the more that muscle builds. Great creatives leave hundreds/thousands/tens of thousands of projects in their wake. Some that have succeeded, and many that haven't.

In the world of creativity it's less of practice makes perfect. More, practice makes better.

practice makes better

Congratulations London 2012

Friday, 27 July 2012
ABA User

torch animatedAfter 4 years, 100’s of ideas and 1000’s of pages, walls and surfaces covered in creativity – it's here! The ABA team send their best wishes to all our friends at LOCOG and the ODA as London 2012 begins. Thank you for such a great opportunity and so much fun along the way.

Enjoy the Games.


    Older posts