There are days when Alex really makes me laugh. I grinned merrily at her observation recently that if you really want to make significant changes as a brand, you should go all out and look for something … dull. That’s right, find something uneventful, even pedestrian – and poke it for opportunities.
And the reasons, on reflection, are simple. Chances are people do whatever it is often. So it comes with scale and frequency. And secondly, if it’s that tedious, frankly the only way is up. High energy, exciting activities already have high EQ by their very nature. And they attract the most interest from brands. So the chances of doing anything breakthrough are so much harder. Dull stuff is out of the limelight. It’s dull and it stays dull for most people until someone does something to change that.
So it’s actually a lot less difficult to make the boring better: to take something that people don’t want to do or don’t enjoy doing, and to inject new elements and ideas that surprise and delight. Wii made exercising at home fun by combining it with gaming. Obvious on reflection – but it sure the hell works. Apple makes shopping appealing (even for men) by giving even those who aren’t into IT something physical, fashionable and beautiful to fidget with. They understood that many people were completely turned off by computer stores – so they went out of their way to make shopping for their stuff feel as ungeeky (and yet as clubby) as possible.
What brands should be looking for, according to Luke Williams, a fellow at Frog Design, is not so much the big pain points as what he terms “tension points”: those things that are annoying or less than perfect but not big enough to be considered problems. He cites the example of Dutch Boy Paint which introduced a Twist & Pour container featuring an easy twist-off lid and a neat-pour spout. It did away with the need to pry open the lid with a screwdriver and reduced spilling and dripping. Read the article. It’s very good.
But often brands can take this further than answering problems. They can develop ways of thinking about what they do that challenge disinterest at every level – because that’s the real issue. That’s the brand-killer.
And the systemic question that gets you there is this: “What’s the most boring thing we do?”
Fix that. Find ways, using techniques such as those that Williams has suggested, to make whatever it is more interesting – for you, for others and most importantly for customers.
Then ask the same question again. And fix the next thing the same way.
It could be the way the phone is answered, or the state of toilets. It could be the fact that there are no plants in reception. Or the forms people need to fill in. Little things that everyone does that are boring but deemed necessary. Because dull is usually small. And the great thing about little is that it makes things do-able. Quickly.
Your goal as a brand is to be fascinating at every level for the people you are trying to reach. That won’t make you Apple or Diesel of Chanel necessarily – but it will make you a lot more attractive and compelling than your competitors. It will enable you to ‘brand’ an activity, however menial, your way.
So often companies look to achieve competitive advantage by building better things and making efficiency gains. But from a brand perspective, you don’t become more interesting or likeable through continual improvement. You can if you commit to becoming more exciting.