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The 2015 thoughts archive

Be Part of The Furniture

Earlier this year True North moved into a brand new office space. Ahead of the move, the team were asked to think about how the agency could create something beyond the traditional ‘change of address’ card and instead develop something that would engage and be remembered by clients, collaborators, colleagues and friends.

Following discussions, it was agreed that the purpose was not only to alert people to the move, but also to showcase the new space. Each member of the team was asked to contribute an idea with a vote being taken on the one that best fulfilled the brief.

The winning idea not only allowed us to share the news of the relocation and showcase the space, but also enabled us to do some good. We decided to give our stakeholders the opportunity to literally become part of the furniture by holding a charity auction, letting people place a bid and put their name on an item in the office. All the money raised through this auction would be donated to Manchester based charity Mustard Tree, who work with the City Council, the Probation Service and the NHS to provide life support and promote sustainable solutions through (amongst other things) the provision of food, clothing and training to those in need in Manchester.

The new address would be 24 Lever St and so, 24 items were carefully selected, each one with the potential to hold a plaque baring a name.

Creatively, we wanted to make this auction as realistic as possible and so created an auction guide, which would be mailed to potential bidders ahead of the auction. Taking inspiration from the publications of well-known auction houses, the Be Part Of The Furniture guide combined traditional features with the True North Brand identity.


Copy was an important element in the creative as it needed to sound authentic and traditional whilst maintaining personality. The copy style was inspired by descriptions in auction guides, however it was important to combine this with a tongue in cheek tone that felt humorous and approachable.


As this was a campaign, the creative and tone of voice needed to be flexible enough to sit across many different touch points, such as the eBay page where bids would be held as well as through email correspondence which would guide people through the auction.


When the auction ended and all bids were in, we had managed to raise over three hundred pounds for the charity. And we’ve now made our new home as much yours as it is ours.

Book and Cover

To coincide with Manchester Literature Festival, Artwork Manager Ed Dunsdon celebrates the power of book cover design. 

Can the electronic tome offer you a visual hook in the same way as it’s printed adversary? Surely, clicking through icons is a less enticing experience than gazing at cover designs before you on the bookshelf.

The intrinsic value of the book jacket design is that it stirs your imagination even before you turn a page. It is what will always keep the book lover or “book fetishists” buying the printed, instead of the pixelated.

Despite the proliferation of the e-book the printed page still attracts the reader, and the importance of the jacket design is as significant as ever. The skill of the designer to interpret the text and to produce a visually captivating and intriguing frontage is highly regarded by both author and publisher alike. The task of the ‘translator’ (as Associate Art Director at Alfred A. Knopf, Peter Mendelsund prefers to be called) is to select a “unique textual detail that, as the subject matter for a book jacket, can support the metaphoric weight of the entire book.”


With the march of the e-book, designers of physical books have to raise their game “I absolutely think we should seize the initiative and make the best books we can” says Suzanne Dean, the creative director of Random house - the only designer to be included in The Booksellers list of “100 most influential people in the book trade”.


When conceiving an idea for any design, the creative must reduce the complexity of a Brand or a story into a bold, concise, visual statement. To appreciate the simplicity of a well designed, minimalist cover is to understand and appreciate the simplicity of the logotype. To stir the mind until the light comes on and the pieces fall into place is the desired aim of any logo creator or book cover artist. “By holding back information and being quietly suggestive, readers are invited to fill in the blanks and interpret for themselves” said designer David Pearson.


When designers find themselves, as consumers they very often make the judgement on the aesthetics of the cover before ever reading the introductory blurb. With the advent of the electronic page the purpose of the printed book has gone beyond that of merely a story to be told and instead the book itself has become a possession to be cherished and displayed as if it were a painting or a photograph. The cover also helps us to define ourselves, in a similar way to the album sleeve, evoking nostalgia and reminding us who we were and how we want to be perceived, consciously or subconsciously. It is a projection of our own personal tastes and aspirations.


This is very evident in the appeal of the book series, the collectables and the matching sets. As soon as we become conscious of the material and the autonomy to consume we collect ‘stuff’. We collect stamps, game cards and tea towels, things that match or go together. Publishing is no different and a series of books will gratify the reader as consumer and collector.

The brief for the designer is to produce an effective series that is true to the classic brand and identity whilst enticing the reader to connect and collect. The cover design affords the opportunity for the publisher to re-release and repackage popular books. A novel that hasn’t changed its tale, but can become a blank canvas for each generation of designers, who can use their own visual interpretation to breath new life into the story. Life that is hard to find on a screen.

Putting A Man On The Moon

At the height of the space race, JFK visited NASA. As he toured the complex, meeting engineers and astronauts to discuss their work, he met a man, overalls on and broom in hand. “What do you do here?” the President asked. “I’m helping to put a man on the moon” replied the cleaner.

This encounter demonstrates the importance of internal brand engagement. Why? Because it is your people who are the biggest asset for your business and brand. Everyone, from the bottom to the top, is responsible for shaping it, for developing it, and delivering it.

It is quite common though, for businesses who spend big on tactical advertising to then under-deliver on their promises due to disconnected employees. It is here that the brand is eventually weakened by those responsible for communicating it. In any business, but especially where that employee’s interaction with customers and other stakeholders is important, the value of employees’ brand advocacy is self-evident. In our experience, investing in internal brand engagement goes a long way to address this.

Companies must also recognise that this isn’t just a project for the HR department. Often workplaces look to ensure an ever-present feel good factor, but a happy workplace doesn’t equal a passionate workforce. So, addressing a lack of brand knowledge, compliance and delivery understanding is crucial. Without this, not only is a lack of inspiration to deliver the brand likely, but it’s not even clear what the brand even stands for.

One company that clearly recognises the importance of getting this right is Virgin Media. Ashley Stockwell, Managing Director of Brand and Marketing, says “you don’t turn a company into a Virgin company by putting the logo above the door”. Rather, by taking the approach of building the Virgin brand among its employees, Virgin Media regularly appears at the top of customer satisfaction surveys. In an increasingly price-driven, commoditised market, these victories make a real difference.

So, how do you ensure genuine brand engagement with employees? You build a ‘culture’ that supports your strategy and helps deliver your brand. Here’s how:


Ensure your brand positioning is clearly de?ned. It’s just as important for internal brand engagement as it is for external consumers.


Involve employees and brand the process. A good example is IBM, who engaged its entire global employee network in ‘Values-Jam’ - a re-examination of the company’s values. Having employee partake in the process greatly increases their buy-in, and by branding this dedicated programme of activity, deliverables and ways employees can get involved, something more tangible for all is created.


Actually launch your brand internally; drive employee awareness and commitment by helping them understand the credibility and reality of your brand’s aims.


Invest in an ongoing, two-way engagement process. Simple brand guidelines can so often engender only rigidity. It’s much more effective to use your brand as ongoing inspiration. Ultimately, don’t let the effects of all your hard work subside!

Enterprising Brands

While many are familiar with B2C branding, we think the role of branding in B2B is often maligned. Most businesses recognise the need to invest in innovation, R&D and sales, but there’s a great chasm between this and the focus, budget and resource put aside to develop a B2B company’s brand. But many B2B enterprises could benefit from a good branding.

In fact, Interbrand’s 2014 ‘Best Global Brands’ included B2B giants IBM, GE, Cisco, Intel and Oracle in the Top 20, all of whom have been putting brand at the core of business activity for decades.

One of the chief advantages of investing in a strong, compelling brand is that it provides a focal point for your organisation, even in times of rapid growth or diversification. In fast moving markets, the core belief or idea behind your brand can be the only thing that retains any meaning or value with both customers and employees alike.

Take GE. This vast, complex organisation has used their brand to create order and coherence. Their brand idea of ‘Imagination at Work’ cleverly unifies a hugely broad organisation - making sense of their diversity - and has inspired 85 ‘imagination breakthroughs’ attributed to an additional $25 billion dollars of revenue for the business.

Turbulent financial times also highlight the importance of your brand. Add this to constant technological revolutions, and those without a strong identity (think: Kodak and Compaq) lose their seat at the table. Business today must be more adaptive and dynamic than ever before, and a strong brand allows companies to keep their credibility and reputations even while undergoing significant change.

One of the most powerful examples of this in the B2B world is IBM. Predicting the commoditisation of computing hardware, IBM shifted their core offering to business and infrastructure consulting, all the while remaining ‘IBM’ because they still want ‘To build a Smarter Planet’.

No matter how much salesmen and account managers would have us believe B2B relationships are wholly dependent on their persuasive expertise, even to be seen as company worthy of another’s time requires the relevance of your company to be obvious. This is where having a consistent brand idea and message, creatively and intelligently articulated and presented across everything you do, pays dividends.

It’s also worth noting how, for many enterprises, it’s not always differentiation, quality or even price that’s the most important criteria when selecting who to do business with. It’s trust and reliability.

Research by Lippincott shows 39% of business buyers’ choices are driven by brand, compared to 27% being driven by price. So in the complex business ecosystem where one small failing can bring down the whole supply chain, businesses need to have a reputation for delivering; that is to say a strong brand.

In conclusion, while we often hear things like ’Branding isn’t relevant for B2B’ and ‘Business is all about relationships’, these arguments fail to acknowledge the understanding of ‘brand’ today. It’s so much more than corporate identity and consistent marketing communications.

If companies invest, brand can be the organising principle which creates focus and coherence for management, motivates and inspires employees behind a common goal, and increasingly raises awareness and differentiates your offer with your customers.

With the challenges faced by many business this era, B2B branding is coming into its own.

Five of our favourite: London Fashion Week Events

When it comes to innovative brand promotions there’s no business quite like fashion. The industry has always adopted a fearless and all embracing approach to new trends in technology and culture and this year’s London Fashion week was no exception.

Who’s in the FROW and the dress size of the models are no longer the only headlines to come off the runway, instead the most interesting stories come from the fashion houses who are taking risks and setting innovative examples for brands everywhere.

Senior Designer, Sarah Dutton takes us through her top 5 stand out events from LFW.

Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label show

Ever the anarchist, Vivienne Westwood used her Red Label show on Sunday as a platform to protest against climate change and austerity. ‘Politicians R Criminals' saw models take to the streets armed with banners and enter the runway to rapturous cheers from the ‘Fashmob’ in the rafters. Dame Vivienne knows a thing or two about making a statement and taking the show off the runway is a clever way to promote both her cause and her brand.

Burberry Prorsum

Burberry Prorsum showed a more youthful street wear influenced collection this season. Burberry CEO and Chief Creative Christopher Bailey looked to amplify the casual, reflecting the way that social media had changed the world. “There are no boundaries between cultures any more. High blends with low, and when it’s winter in one place it’s summer somewhere else”. Truly embracing this age of social media, the collection was previewed on Snapchat the evening before it made its way onto the catwalk. A fashion first, meaning guests didn't need an invite to the show in Hyde Park – just the humble app.

House of Holland’s shoppable catwalk

Henry Holland was another designer pushing the boundaries of fashion with digital tech this LFW. VIP FROW guests were able to buy pieces from his bold and bright collection straight off the catwalk thanks to a collaboration with Visa’s Shoreditch based innovation lab.

NFC (Near Field Communication) insect shaped smart jewellery was handed out to special guests including Alexa Chung and Daisy Lowe. These ‘pre-paid’ pieces could then be used by the celebs to instantly shop items on the catwalk by scanning perspex ‘smart brooches’ that contained NFC receivers. This concept takes shopping to the next level, meaning you no longer a need to wait for those ‘must-have’ pieces. 

Topshop team up with pinterest

Topshop have taken their own tech approach to London Fashion Week, teaming up with the online scrapbook, Pinterest.

Users can pin all their current favourite fashion pieces and ‘Pinterest Palettes’ will then scan the Pinterest board, identifying all the dominant colours in your selection. This gives users their personal colour DNA and a suggestion of Topshop items they may like from the current collection.

A clever interactive way to guide shoppers to items they may previously not have clicked on.

Louis Vuitton launches LFW immersive exhibition

Louis Vuitton unveiled it’s Series 3 exhibition on Monday, taking visitors on a journey through the creative influences behind the Autumn / Winter 2015 collection. The Artist’s Hands Room features tables topped with screens playing footage of some of the brand’s most famous pieces being crafted in real time. In another room two craftsmen work for real whilst another room replicates the interior of a catwalk space, with life size videos of models strutting towards you on screens. 

This immersive experience invites visitors into the mind of Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière, provoking an emotional connection to the product.

It is also an excellent reminder that although these items may be expensive and enviable pieces the care and craftsmanship that goes into making them establish their value.

Five of our favourite: TN Takeaways from CTM


The power of genuine partnership was a strong theme that ran throughout Communicating the Museum (CTM) this year, with many inspiring examples being presented.

Partnerships that sought to blur the boundaries and break down the traditional relationships between agency & client and drive creativity, innovation and experimentation came from Project Projects in New York, Pattu in Turkey and Us.

New partnerships that blurred the boundaries between communicators & curators, audiences and organisations were presented by MuCEM, V&A, MoMA and Kunsthalle Bremen to name but a few.

Innovative partnerships that extend the reach, take collections out to the public and help Museums fulfill their organisational purpose were also presented by the likes of Louvre, that sought to partner with Paris CDG airport and curate an exhibition inside Terminal 1 as well as partner with LEGO to create a set where the famous architecture of the Louvre is re-created in LEGO bricks.


The importance of strong organisational purpose and culture was another theme at CTM. As Museums shift from ‘monasteries to public squares’ where ideas are exchanged and audiences seek to participate rather than ‘attend’, the importance of a strong purpose is ever more important.  The challenges this shift in thinking creates for internal divisions and departments, risks exacerbating tensions between curators - the traditional experts and holders of knowledge and the communicators, tasked with engaging audiences and promoting reach. In this environment a definition of purpose and culture helps provide a guiding ‘north star’ to internal teams who seek to reimagine their purpose beyond the traditional boundaries and provide a clear ‘red thread’ ensuring coherence overall for audiences.  


The importance of considering all the ways in which Museums can engage with hard to reach audiences within their communities and genuinely deliver culture, knowledge and art 'for all' was a popular topic.

An inspiring presentation from the State Library in Queensland referenced a range of innovative ways they are tackling ‘Threshold Fear’ and welcome new communities through their doors.  From policy changes that drastically reframed their security protocols and admissions process, to creative partnerships with local families that taught new skills in surprising ways such as the Cubby House project. All of this was perfectly summarised in this quote from Nina Simon: 

"If you're a museum person and you want to understand threshold fear, don't go to a museum. Go to a boxing gym. Go to an unber hip bar. Go to a place of worship that is not your own. Go to a tattoo parlor. Find a place where you feel an increible urge to bolt out the door the minute you walk in. Go there alone. See what makes sense and what doesn't to you. Consider what intimidates you and what you feel comfortable with. Not the people, the areas or experinces you gravitate to as safe starting points. And then go back to your own insititution and try and see it through that lens. Hold on to your poudning heart and imagine carrying that adrenaline through your own front door."


Interesting presentations from Project Projects and Pattu explored the expanded and expanding role of graphic design and designers in creating experiences that inspire, delight and generate open sourced identities. 

From organisational brand identities comprised of distinct url codes, evolving structures that use meta data shaped by users to identities which are reimagined every 4 weeks, to minimalist identities that move and change.  Organisational identities and exhibitions that reach out, live and evolve were discussed and showcased.


Several presentations explored the role of digital innovation within the Museum experience - both now and in the future.  The Van Gogh Museum talked about the need to think about experiences, not products.  And how and where technology could play a crucial role in enhancing the overall museum experience, rather than designing ‘digital’ experiences per se. 

Amy Heibels at LACMA talked about the Museum of the future and the crucial role technology and innovation would play in curating and facilitating the entire experience.  She also outlined the case for why a strong innovation culture was the single best investment a Museum could make in supporting digital communications and enabling innovation through technology. 

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