James Hammond, The Brand Doctor, says:
Branding a plain old paper clip is a great exercise, and one I teach all my branding workshop attendees. I’ve had some amazing responses.

Paper-clipsThere isn’t an agency, consultancy or design house that doesn’t like working with well established brands. I mean, it’s really a no-brainer if the brand is strong, well-known, liked and has a reasonable budget attached to it.

But what if the product is seen as a commodity – and it is, well, bland? I always tell those in my brand workshops or extended keynotes not to despair if they’re responsible for marketing less-than-interesting products or services.

Using my Brand Halo™ approach, I believe it’s possible to create a powerful brand for any product, service, charity (non-profit as they are called in some areas of the world) or even country. The main criteria are: a definite target market, a budget (but it doesn’t always have to be mega-money – well, at least not at the beginning) and a willingness to jettison the features and benefits brigade and focus on producing the only route by which a brand can be established: an emotional approach. (You can get an exclusive 36-minute video I recorded about this if you sign up on this page.)

So, the exercise I give my workshop attendees is this: create a powerful brand for…XYZ Paper Clips. Okay, not a very original name for this fictitious company, but hey-ho.

Exciting, eh? Well, actually, yes. In fact, once we get into it, the whole room starts to generate a real buzz. Working in teams, the delegates start coming up with some fascinating emotional approaches. Nothing is critiqued or rejected, no matter how wacky, until we go through the whole brand process and refine the ideas.

The teams cover lots of ground. Creating spellbinding stories that focus on the product’s emotional benefit. Perhaps writing ads, direct mail, online marketing campaigns – every aspect of all the Brand Reflections a company has in its everyday life.

When it’s done, there are literally heaps of flip-chart pages and pads of paper full of concepts, notions, images and mental pictures for discussion.

How would you fare with this paper clip exercise? In one workshop, a lady wrote a single advertisement that literally silenced the room. The headline was: ‘How a paper clip made me pregnant.’

Could you possibly ignore that statement? Wouldn’t you want to go on reading to find out what the hell it was all about? Couldn’t this be the start of a really powerful brand campaign, following this ‘quirky’ ad with a whole raft of attention-grabbing ideas in similar vein?

In another workshop, a team came up with the idea of a video based around a woman who accidentally drops her wedding ring down a drain. Despite several attempts at retrieving it using all manner of technology, it seems the ring is lost. Until someone comes along and creates a chain of paper clips with one shaped into a hook at the end. Feeding it down the drain, the hook grabs the ring and voila! The ring is back on the lady’s hand and everyone is happy – thanks to XYZ Paper Clips.

I noticed there’s a very creative way of using paper clips from artist Victor Nunes, who has used them to formVictor-Nunes parts of his drawings. Again, an impressive way of delivering emotion. And just think of the possibilities this novel way could have been used to build some dynamic brand campaigns.

Now, some thick-headed marketers with their typical FBO (Feature Benefit Disorder) will say, ‘Yes, but what’s that got to do with the way paper clips are used in the office – their main purpose being to hold sheets of paper together.’

Look, dears, a brand depends on an emotional attachment –some would even dare to suggest emotional engagement – with the company, its product or service. Establishing that connection does not have to overtly describe its obvious use. Do you get that? (Probably not.)

At any rate, you could just as easily create emotive campaigns built around paper clips holding sheafs of documents. Here are just a couple of ideas.

What if they were letters from a loved one and the narrative was read out loud? Or what if they were photos, each set being held together by a different coloured paper clip, showing, for example, different times, places, etc.

The possibilities really are endless. Discovering them is one of the most exciting parts of building a strong brand, no matter what the product or service.

Why not have a go creating a powerful brand campaign for XYZ Paper Clips yourself, or with some colleagues? Before you do, if you want a demonstration of just how to build a powerful emotional connection around paper clips, check out Bert from Sesame Street here and here.

If these videos were part of a brand campaign for XYZ Paper Clips, the company would probably have world domination in the paper clip market.


Brand Doctor: A brief bio.

I’ve spent nearly 40 years in advertising, marketing, design and branding. Starting life as a graphic designer and copywriter, I worked for Top-100 companies. I then progressed to heading up brand consultancies responsible for sales and marketing, branding, corporate identity and advertising for Yellow Pages, Virgin, AVIVA, EMI and British Telecom to name a few.

Throughout the years, I’ve also helped smaller businesses dramatically improve profits through building a powerful brand. (Not-for-profit organisations have seen their donor income increase using my brand approach too.)

I’m also a qualified psychotherapist. How people think and behave is crucial to knowing how to brand a business, and with 15 years of experience in the field of psychology, I'm better equipped than most to deliver brands that connect and engage with customers.

Psychology is a rare ingredient in marketing, but it should really lead the way. My psychotherapy work greatly influences the approach to branding I teach and formed the basis for my international best-selling book Branding Your Business.

‘James gave two consecutive keynotes for the past three years at our annual Indonesian Superbrands Conference. He is a breath of fresh air, bringing clarity and understanding to an audience of 400 senior marketing executives hungry for knowledge of ways to create leading-edge business and branding strategies.

James also gave two brilliant keynotes on the subject of sustainability, in advance of his new book The Starfish Business. He is now a Member of the Board of Advisors, Most Valued Business Indonesia, an exciting new initiative to recognise brands not just for their revenue, but for their social responsibility.

Whenever James comes to Indonesia, his fans eagerly await the latest from the Brand Doctor – and they are never disappointed. Thanks James – and good luck in all you do.’

– Alistair Speirs OBE
Chairman, Superbrands Indonesia
and Most Valued Brands

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