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The power of a brand promise

Most businesses have a brand promise – and rightly so. It’s an effective way to let your customers know what they can expect from your organisation and its mission, values and service offering. And when you deliver on this promise, it can be a very powerful thing indeed. Let’s take Great Western Railway as a case in point. 

In 2015 First Great Western became Great Western Railway (GWR), and coinciding with this name change was a rebrand centred around a commitment to put people and customers first. In itself, this is hardly a ground-breaking route to take; surely all brands should seek to prioritise their customers? But it’s no secret that rail companies in particular are all too often a topic of complaint for the public, and tales of poor service and delays are the norm.

What GWR wanted to do was revalue rail in the hearts and minds of the public through a set of core strategic priorities, including delighting its customers and employing great people. And alongside this reinvigorated strategic direction came a visually impactful, inspiring ad campaign soaked in nostalgia. 

GWR’s ‘Adventures Start Here’ Famous Five brand campaign by Adam & Eve and DBB brought a sense of fun, excitement and just a touch of sentimentality to British rail travel. It was romantic and perhaps even idealistic – but in providing one particular customer with an exceptionally personalised and positive experience, GWR was able to truly deliver on its brand promise. 

A brand promise brought to life

GWR’s success in living up to its brand promise is encapsulated in the personal story of Lara, a nine year old girl from Devon. Each year on her birthday Lara heads up to London on the train for a special day out with her family – and she invariably brings along Mr Monkey, her beloved toy and best friend who she’s had since the day she was born. 

Lara turned eight in September 2018 and as usual she travelled to London with GWR. But after a great day out sightseeing with Mr Monkey in tow, Lara accidentally left him behind on the 16:57 train from Paddington to Penzance. She was understandably devastated and her mother reached out via GWR’s social media channels for help. 

After making her posts public Lara’s mother was met with a huge response of over 1,500 shares from Facebook users alone, all of whom were keen to see Lara and Mr Monkey reunited. And much to the relief of Lara and her family, one of GWR’s train managers saw the social media activity and responded directly to say that Mr Monkey had been found and would be returned. 

Within two days from the start of his outing, Mr Monkey was making a train journey back to Devon to see Lara again. And much more than merely getting him home safely on a first class ticket, GWR’s train manager also took the time to document Mr Monkey’s return trip with a series of fun and thoughtful photographs of him enjoying his very first solo adventure. Those who followed his return home via social media were quick to praise GWR for its efforts as the brand not only made good on its commitment to delighting its customers, but also demonstrated that it employs the kind of great people who were able to make this experience possible. 

Fast-forward a year later and Lara and Mr Monkey were again aboard a GWR service to London. When staff discovered it was Lara’s ninth birthday they upgraded them to first class – and in once more going above and beyond to deliver on its brand promise, GWR has ensured that all of Lara’s future journeys with the brand will be synonymous with an exceptional experience. 

It’s also worth considering the overwhelmingly positive role played by social media in seeing Mr Monkey safely returned to Lara. This is a fitting example of ‘Digital for Good’ in action, connecting companies with customers on a personal level and enabling this particular brand to provide a memorable and even heartwarming experience. For Lara, her adventures with GWR will have a truly lasting impact and there’ll always be an element of sentiment and nostalgia to her journeys which perfectly reflects the spirit of GWR’s Famous Five campaign. That’s the power of a brand promise made manifest.

Big Data – Marketing’s Scariest Buzzword

Like most other business professionals, modern marketers have access to an increasingly large amount of data. However, although organisations are great at gathering ‘big data’ and creating huge data sets, they’re not great at understanding its value or outputting and integrating it in an effective way.

The steps required to solve this issue are not rocket science but, equally, are not easily accessible to marketing departments through their existing agency or consultancy relationships.

Even following the implementation of GDPR, do people really know what data is being collected about them? It seems we still need further education on privacy, location tracking and what is classified as sensitive data. Big data is full of potential, but also risk. So, it’s important to know how companies collect and handle data and also how marketers at the top level are using their big data.

How companies collect and use big data

Most companies typically collect data through sources like Google Search Console, Adwords API and tracking information in Pardot. We have seen a move towards data warehousing, where companies are starting to store all the data they can, from various sources. This presents its own challenges such as storage, security, privacy and how to then use that information.

How marketing managers at the top level use big data

…Or rather how they don’t.It seems that at so many C-Suite meetings, clients talk about using big data to drive business decisions and how they “use” data to make informed marketing or customer experience decisions.

The truth is so many companies don’t use their data in any meaningful way. This is often due to a lack of understanding of what can be achieved with it. At Organic, we spend a lot of time educating clients on the sorts of data they collect and how to get meaningful insights from that information. We know from experience that companies can easily make use of the data they collect through building bespoke cloud software, and training staff through empowerment programmes.

Data warehousing dangers

Most companies just collect their data and store it without making use of it, which can be dangerous for a few reasons.

First, when something is outof sight, it’s also often out of mind. This is risky for sensitive data and when tracking that data. Datasets that tend not to be accessed often, run the risk of falling off the security radar.

Second, if you don’t know your data, your company can fall into the trap of collecting everything and not knowing exactly what it is you have stored. This leads to data that should not be collected or sensitive information being kept sometimes in unsecure places.

Collecting and processing data without getting into trouble

So how can your businesses collect and successfully use data? These steps can help make data easier to decode.

  • Know what you collect: perhaps the most important point is to know the data you are collecting and why you are collecting it. All your data points should be validated against a use case, either for now or for use in the future, as you are required to have a purpose for collecting data under GDPR law. So be realistic about this, there’s no use collecting millions of rows of analytics if there’s a less than 10% chance that data will be utilised.
  • Secure your data: it may sound trivial, but companies constantly get this wrong. Take the recent Suprema biometric data breach for example, a highly sensitive database that was accidently made accessible to the web. Minimal effort is required to properly secure data, so there is no excuse for not putting necessary measures in place. At Organic, we use secure authentication services, all staff that access client databases are required to use a hardware security key. Connections to sensitive client systems should be run through a VPN into a VPC where resources are located and isolated, and all communications need to be encrypted end-to-end. By using encrypted service tokens for connecting to data sources, it ensures only authorised developers can access systems.
  • Define what is sensitive: Be cautious with what data you classify as anonymous and what is genuinely ‘sensitive’, consult with privacy professionals and your DPO. Businesses can fall into the trap of believing that location tracking data is not sensitive because it doesn’t tie back to a user. However, that kind of data is ripe for use in identity theft.
  • Audit regularly: Doing this ensures your data stays relevant and you aren’t collecting things you shouldn’t. Access logs should also be audited to maintain security.
  • Manage your supply chain: Auditing your hosting and data suppliers regularly allows you to ensure they meet the standards in your agreement and that they are legally compliant. Not all hosts are capable of providing the level of security and auditing required to maintain proper big data security.

At Organic, we believe there is a huge amount of potential value being lost in current data practices and we help clients unlock it. To achieve this, you need a simple process, make sure you understand the business and marketing objectives as this will help define the data requirements. Take a human-centred approach to the design of processes and tools to make the data usable. Finally, create and implement tools to help marketers use data to make better decisions.

As technology accelerates, reshaping our world and changing the way we organize our lives, it brings new moral and ethical complexities that humanity must navigate.

Whilst what drives us may not have fundamentally changed, how we communicate, consume, shop, and form our ideas and opinions has. Digital has been the transformative catalyst, the key to Pandora’s box, unleashing increased creativity upon the world. As professional communicators, marketers, advertisers and opinion formers, our industry sits at the forefront of this creative and disruptive wave.

To build on a Marshall McLuhan concept, most of that innovation and transformation has occurred in the medium, and not in the message. Limited mostly by bandwidth, the message remains unaltered. We cling to banner and poster formats as old as communication itself.

Meanwhile, the number of channels and ways to share our message has multiplied. At the same time, we have been given almost carte blanche by government, regulatory bodies and the law to try an experiment with, and use technology as we please. Inevitably perhaps, this wild west, lawless environment has led to great innovations, but also significant missteps along the way.

We now find ourselves with a half-transformed, Frankenstein’s monster of a communications reality.  We face a crisis of fidelity – swamped by an exponential deluge of feeble, capitalised, ‘shouty’ statements of opinion and modified images, leaving society more divided and less able to ascertain what is real or meaningful than ever before.

Taking advantage of this brave new world is a new generation of experts – calling themselves ‘thought leaders’ and ‘influencers’, they meddle, peddle and pitch their ideas for us to consume. Whilst establishing their own authority, some of them seek to supplant and undermine traditional expertise, even though their alternative messages – credible or not – are indistinguishable by any traditional or reliable method. The traditional signifiers of authority, such as production values, provide no barrier to entry in a digital world where anyone can publish an article with little or no effort.

Digital space

In the digital space, individuals are represented by data. A cookie crumb trail of behaviors, what we like, what we read, where we visit and what we buy is captured, encrypted and incarcerated so that brands have an idea of what we might want to do, how we might behave and what we might buy from them in the future.

GDPR enshrines in law our right to our own personal data. Our data is as close to a manifestation of our digital self as is currently possible. But only the naivest would say we really have any control over or an idea of who has access to it and how it is used.

But as an industry, we have treated people’s data like monopoly money – treated our customers like slot machines – gamified, influenced, persuasively designed to within an inch of sale – and then used every technique to keep them coming back.

Tricking or manipulating people’s behaviors for financial gain used to be solely the domain of the shark, sharpie or fraud. Now marketers call it ‘strategy’.

At what point does the professional communicator become the professional con artist? It is up to our industry to understand where to draw the line.

Abuse of power or a lack of understanding?

A survey undertaken by Phrasee and Vitreous World, looked at both UK and US marketers and asked what best described unethical marketing practices and their results spelt loudly. Two-thirds feel that marketing which exaggerates and distorts the truth was unethical. Just over half were against marketing tactics that induce anxiety and fear, but only 40% felt a lack of transparency around use of data was unethical. It seems that there is no clear picture of what is ethical and unethical in a modern marketing context.

The poster child for unethical marketing practices is without a doubt the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica scandal, where our data was used to influence the outcome of elections around the world without our permission. But the examples are many and varied, with both British Airways and Marriot Group due multi-million pound fines because of poor data protection.

More often than not, despite the data and insights at our fingertips, we fail to deliver any additional value whatsoever to audiences. Bad experiences, less meaning, more spam.

A blasé attitude to ethics and a lack of value delivered to the end-user demands a response from the industry.

Regulation, Purpose, and Ethics: An Industry’s response

Technological advancement in our industry requires us to rethink and reinforce our moral and ethical codes for the digital age. In response, both regulation and brand purpose have risen in the zeitgeist.

Regulation can stifle creativity and innovation, and GDPR has created as many problems as it seeks to solve. As an industry, we must fix this ourselves, or face more limits on our creative freedom.

Purpose has its own challenges. Our industry is strewn with failed examples of Brands retrofitting purpose and values into marketing where they have no place or credibility. Pepsi’s infamous ad featuring Kendall Jenner is a prime example of this. The campaign’s message, that a can of Pepsi could unite both sides of the most divisive political movement in recent history, seriously missed the mark. Whilst the brand’s intentions were in the right place, it’s unequivocally clear that morality and direction must be authentic from the start. These cannot simply be retrofitted into an ad campaign.

It’s not all bad news though. Lush leads the way in ethical retail, and Patagonia tells you not to buy their jackets, setting the standard for other brands to follow in their footsteps. Purpose has its limits, but it can be a force for good.

Re-writing our Moral Code

If purpose and regulation are limited as responses to unethical digital marketing practices, we are forced to look to ourselves again to find a solution. As professionals within the industry, it is necessary for us to take on a shared moral responsibility of how we use technology and what we do with it.

We need to rewrite the moral code and design a better evolving ethical framework. One that is suited to a creative and communications industry that is now, fundamentally at its core, digital for good.

Organic is B Corp certified

We’re very proud to announce that we are B Corporation (B Corp) certified! It’s a commitment to best business practice that underlines our wider agency commitment to ‘Digital For Good’.

The certification makes Organic one of only a handful of UK agencies who have completed the rigorous qualification process. Certified B Corps are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit – organisations that live and breathe for the benefit of all stakeholders, not just financial shareholders. The B Corporation envisages a global economy that uses business as a force for good, a philosophy that is integral to Organic and the work we do for our clients.

‘Digital For Good’ is our belief that digital can make life better. We work with brands to create seamless and enjoyable online experiences to make their customers’ lives better. We also work to reduce the impact of the negative side-effects that exist in the digital world, partnering with the Cybersmile charity to combat cyber-bullying. Being a business for good feeds into this overall goal. And B Corp status means that we adhere to the highest level of societal and environmental standards. It also means that the agency has pledged to improve on those standards every year. Other B Corps include brands like Patagonia, Ben & Jerrys, Innocent Drinks and Abel & Cole.

Ben Scoggins, Managing Director at Organic, said ‘We are thrilled to become B Corps certified! For us, it not only means doing business the right way, it also forms part of our broader commitment to ‘Digital For Good’, an agency mantra that signals our believe in digital as a force for good.”

We’re delighted to announce that we are partnering with Cybersmile to rebrand Stop Cyberbullying Day for 2020.

Due to launch ahead of Stop Cyberbullying Day in June 2020, we’ve kicked off the pro bono work on the rebrand which will include a new website and a new logo. The project aims to create a fresh new look for the annual event, to help raise awareness and encourage even more support from influencers, brands, supporters and corporate partners.

We’ve decided to partner with Cybersmile due to the alignment of our central values. Our core positioning is centred around Digital For Good which means we take a stand against ‘digital bads’. Usually, these ‘bads’ take the form of substandard UX, poor SEO or siloed digital thinking, but in this case resource from across the team is being devoted to helping reduce the impact of bullying online. It’s a charity cause that is incredibly close to the heart of the agency’s core positioning.

Ben Scoggins, Commercial Director at Organic, says: “Organic is passionate about the power of Digital For Good, which is why we are proud to partner with Cybersmile on the rebrand of their annual Stop Cyberbullying Day. Our work with the charity supports the combating of ‘digital bads’ including tacking digital abuse, harassment and online bullying.”

Iain Alexander, Head of Engagement at Cybersmile, says: “Organic’s deeper goals fit very well with our own. We are excited to work together on the rebrand and are looking forward to launching the new Stop Cyberbullying Day branding and website early next year.

As part of our Digital For Good platform, Organic will be exploring the various challenges society faces through digital and looking at potential solutions. Today we look at the phenomenon that has seen the rising weaponisation of digital media, not only by nation states, but by individuals and organisations as well.

Media coverage of the recent military confrontation between Pakistan and India highlights how the current state of media and communications in the digital world has more in common with wartime than peace time, due to the increasing weaponisation of digital channels by state, political, corporate, and individual actors.

A recent article on the BBC about the India-Pakistan airstrikes had a familiar narrative for those with experience of wartime media relations. Pakistan and India painted very different pictures of the relative success of their respective operations – both offering up pictures and film as incontrovertible evidence.

This is no surprise. Warfare has always been as much about using media to win hearts and minds as it has the battlefield. We all expect, and have seen, the different sides in a military conflict presenting completely different versions of events.

Yet somehow this was different. What struck me was the banality of it. It didn’t seem like military propaganda. It was just another story. Just another day. Just another article where different interest groups contradicted each other with incontrovertible evidence supporting their version of the truth.

It seems to me that the media has become permanently weaponised.

Forms of communication reserved for extreme times in traditional media seem to have become the norm in digital. In the peacetime digital space, there is a constant battle for hearts and minds – not only between states – but also between interest groups and individuals.

This weaponisation of mass media has occurred concurrently alongside the evolution and democratisation of digital tools of communication.

To many like me, the emergence of digital media was a blessing. A communications revolution that democratised, empowered, educated, and connected. Yet generally we have used this new found power to go to war over almost every idea under the Sun. Our daily use of digital to promote our own interests and politicised versions of the truth puts us more inline with the 20th century propagandists of film and radio, and their aggressive, unwavering bombardment of the population.

From the shape of the earth to vaccines to Brexit and Walls. Within digital spaces we seem to have lost the capability to respectfully hold differing opinions, to differentiate fact from fiction, and to coalesce respectfully around a subject and debate it without resorting to threats of violence.


Some Possible Causes

Certainly a major reason has been that the cost of access is extraordinarily low compared to pre-digital media. Anyone can publish and build an audience for free, and if you’ve got some money to spend it only gets easier. In 2019 the cost of one ad during the Super Bowl could buy you 33 years worth of mobile ads, or 2.6 billion Instagram impressions. That is a lot of hearts and minds for your money, and anyone can access them. But at what cost? Certainly the real cost of free Internet for all is only beginning to be understood.

Secondly, and related to the first, it has proven hard to monetise quality journalism in recent decades. Impression based ad revenue means all content is created equal in the eyes of the capitalist. This means the ability of authoritative sources to provide checks and balances is reduced, and fake sources can masquerade as legitimate ones.

Thirdly, our understanding of the risks and rewards of these communication tools remains simplistic. The psychological impact of binary likes and dislikes, echo chambers, and crude algorithms is not as well understood as we would like. We remain extraordinarily digitally illiterate.

Fourth, disintermediation. The fidelity of digital communication channels remains extraordinarily low. The typical cues we would use to understand the message and the messenger, and the lack of reliable middlemen to sort the wheat from the chaff, inhibits our ability to interpret meaning and intent, and to perceive threats on digital channels.

Finally, as ever in a new environment, there is little regulation or control. Whilst this offers opportunities, it can also be abused.

A Reason For Digital Optimism

But there is reason to be optimistic.

History teaches us that all new communications tools are at first adopted and manipulated by political propagandists (good and bad) and nefarious types. This continues for a period before our understanding and regulation of these media have had a chance to catch up. From the use of the printing press in the Reformation, to the use of film and radio by the Nazis, Soviet Union, and Western world powers this pattern is repeated time and again.

As before, regulation will play a part (and indeed already is) as will education. In the UK our current secondary school attendees are badly underserved in this regard, but digital education is becoming well established in primary schools. In addition, our own, growing, human digital sophistication and literacy will make us more able to filter and evaluate sources and content.

Then there is the opportunity presented by increasing bandwidth. As our ability to use richer forms of media increases we will perhaps be able to have enough fidelity in our messages to use and recreate some of the subtle signals we rely upon to understand each other in the real world.

We will also see technology offering its own solutions, alongside more traditional methods such as regulation. Automated fact checking is potentially one part of the solution, but these tools remain very limited. In 2017, charity Full Fact developed a prototype tool that automatically scans media and Parliament transcripts for claims and matches them against existing fact checks. The Duke Reporters’ Lab and Chequeado have both built tools that scan media transcripts for checkable claims, later notifying fact-checkers to potential fact checks. These have been used by organisations like the Washington Post.

So, despite some of the negativity that surrounds digital at the moment, there is reason to continue to believe that digital democratisation of the means of creation, distribution, and curation of content and ideas, will, after a period of immaturity, become a growing force for good and positive change into the future.

Digital For Good

This will not happen on its own. Digital is just a collection of ‘stuff’. It is not inherently good or bad. It will be down to us to choose how we use it. At Organic this is why we chose Digital For Good as our platform. Digital is here to stay. It is not a niche set of channels sitting separate from the real world, it is beginning to overlay every aspect of our lives. So, if it is here for good, then it had better be Good.

On a macro level, that means we know digital can change people’s lives for the better, in ways that would be impossible without it. Some of the ways we can do that is to help stop the abuse and weaponisation of digital communication tools by developing fact checking tools, providing digital education and literacy, or lobbying for the right kind of legislation and intervention.

On a micro-level though, every day at Organic, we work with organisations to simply create better online experiences, to improve customer’s lives and make digital a good place to be. If, as it seems, Digital has weaponised the media and communications landscape, then Digital for Good, at least, is something worth coming to work to fight for every day.