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Lucky Timing : An Excerpt From Andy Nairn's Book 'Go Luck Yourself'
Lucky Generals' co-founder shares a series of strategies on how to stack the odds in your brand's favour.
Andy Nairn's ‘Go Luck Yourself' is a collection of 40 sets of principles to help you stack the odds in your brand’s favour - picking out lucky lessons from some classic effectiveness case-studies.
But it’s also a pacy testimony to one of the best strategic thinkers in the business and one of the most interesting agencies in the UK: if you’ve ever wondered why Nairn so regularly tops those lists of the best planners, or why Lucky Generals was one of the most successful start-ups of the last decade, you'll find some answers within these pages.
Delightfully easy to read, Nairn's lessons show how luck - if you know where to find it and how to use it - is a powerful force, both in life and in business.
This extract is about legacy brands and how brands could think of time not as "something happening to them" but instead ask themselves, "why does this moment belong to us?" It's a pertinent question for all of us perhaps in this age of anger. We also love this chapter for giving a shout-out to footballer Marcus Rashford; it’s apt that we continue to give this man his due in history when it comes not to just sport but also - more importantly - for tackling food poverty.
It’s a cliché to say that “timing is everything”. Most famously, comedians swear by this maxim. So do politicians, investors, sports stars, musicians, chefs, soldiers, historians, actors and lovers. In the business world, it’s also held up as one of the great truths – frequently given as an explanation for the success of companies as diverse as Ford and Microsoft. But despite all this, it’s often overlooked as a potential source of advantage.
Daniel H. Pink explores this paradox in his excellent book on the science of timing: ‘When’. He explains that although seizing the moment is seen as important, it’s usually left to “a steamy bog of intuition and guesswork”.
Instead, he suggests using evidence-based phenomena like the Fresh Start Effect.
This is the finding that we’re more likely to achieve goals set at the start of a new time period. It’s part of a broader dynamic, whereby we’re highly influenced by beginnings. Pink discusses all this in relationship to human behaviour – for instance, how we act at New Year or the start of the week – but I think it has great application to brands too.
Most obviously, this effect is relevant to start-ups. When brands launch, they have an opportunity to present themselves as a new dawn. “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” is one of the best expressions of this kind. But of course, most brands aren’t youngsters. Instead, they’re experiencing growing pains, a mid-life slump or even a geriatric decline.
These companies can’t change their chronological age but they can re-set their clock by presenting themselves as part of a new era. To do this though, they need to appreciate the possibility in the first place (otherwise it will slip by in the night) and have a right to claim the moment (otherwise, it will just feel like jumping on a trend).
For most organisations, this requires a change of mindset. Instead of thinking of time as something that simply happens to our brands, we should see it as another under-exploited asset: why does this moment belong to us?
Funnily enough, Pink’s book was published at the start of 2018, which turned out to be great timing for me, as I was working on a tricky brief for the Co-op.
The Co-op is an extraordinary organisation. It was founded in the Northern mill town of Rochdale in 1844, as a way of helping communities to help themselves. It was the first co-operative society in the world and remains owned by its members to this day, generating millions of pounds for local causes.
Over the years, it’s grown to span everything from food retail (it has Britain’s biggest network of shops) to funeralcare (again, it’s the UK’s market leader). It even sponsors its own schools, has an online pharmacy, sells insurance and so on. It had recently overcome a financial crisis, and the new management team were looking for a fresh start.
The top two marketers, Matt Atkinson and Ali Jones, explained that the organisation had previously focused on the individual business units. As a result, people didn’t really know what the Co-op itself stood for any more, beyond it being an ‘ethical retailer’. Terms like mutuality and reciprocity didn’t help.
So our brief was to articulate a singular Co-op vision that could stretch right across the Group: they were at pains to say that this was a massive organisational task, rather than an ad brief (although that might come later). I shuffled in my seat, as I wondered how the hell to reconcile food and funerals, let alone all the other stuff.
In the end, the breakthrough came from some comments Matt and Ali made about capturing the zeitgeist. Instead of getting lost in the detail of the business, they were evangelical (as many people at the Co-op are) about the bigger challenges in today’s society: issues like sustainability, community wellbeing, food poverty and the skills gap. They rightly argued that none of these problems could be tackled without different parties working together and talked about creating a sense that we were entering a new era, where co-operation would be key.
This resonated with me. I joked that we would all be blown away if some Swedish start-up called ‘The Køøp’ launched a membership-based movement, spanning schools to funerals, designed to plough money back into local communities. They laughed, but then we all got excited by the idea of presenting the familiar old Co-op in this new light.
Binning all the Victorian language of mutuality and reciprocity, we articulated the Co-op difference as the fact that “We care about the world we share”. This was true of all the business units and the underlying commercial model. Although it carried echoes of the Co-op’s beginnings, this articulation also felt incredibly relevant today – a fresh start.
Best of all, we could evidence it with action. We weren’t just jumping on the latest trend or running a token CSR campaign: this was how the organisation behaved, day in, day out. As our outwards-facing line said: “It’s what we do.”
Since then, the entire organisation has got behind this rallying call. We’ve proclaimed the start of a new decade of co-operation, after a decade of division. More importantly, we’ve backed this rhetoric with well-timed action.
For instance, we’ve helped to communicate an online platform, to connect volunteers with people in need. We’ve also teamed up with England footballer Marcus Rashford to tackle food poverty. And we’ve handed out laptops, to address home-schooling inequalities.
With the help of thousands of colleagues, sales have smashed through the £10Bn barrier for the first time and market share is at its highest in almost two decades. Not just because our timing was a fluke – but because we saw an opportunity to re-set our clock.
If we could make a 174-year old organisation feel like a fresh start, how could you seize the day for your brand?
Go luck yourself Convention says: Timing is out of your hands. Luck says: You can seize the moment. So ask yourself: Why is this the best time for your brand to be alive?