Four stories, two old chairs and one quirky theatre captivated my attention for four hours on Tuesday afternoon.

Despite being the 6th chapter of its kind, I'm ashamed to say that it was actually my first time at Once Upon a Time, a storytelling event lovingly put together by local digital aficionados, Mark Masters and Matt Desmier to bring attendees closer to the stories behind some of Dorset’s* most successful brands.

*Not all brands to feature were from Dorset this time.

The event was billed as bringing four amazing brands to life on stage, helping you learn what has made them a success so that you can apply their techniques to your own business or that of your clients. With a focus on brand building, the all male line-up (apparently for the first time) consisted of some extremely talented gentlemen:

  • Ernest Capbert (@ecapbert), Co Founder of Who Buys Your Stuff?
  • Damien Lee (@damienleelee) Founder of an exciting new Bournemouth-based noodle brand Mr Lee’s Noodles
  • Mark Walker (@jfdimark) UK Head of Content Marketing for Eventbrite
  • Mark Cribb (@markcribb) Founder of Urban Guild.

With two old arm chairs placed centre stage, and an eager audience encouraged to just sit back and listen to two guys having a chat, Ernest Capbert was first up to recount his (personal) brand story...

Do you really know your customer?

ernest capbert once upon a time

What was remarkable about Ernie was his personal journey from Co-Founder of Finisterre (a Cornish outdoor clothing brand) to the Co-Founder of Who Buys Your Stuff? (a customer research tool for online businesses).

Finisterre was founded on passion. Like many origins of surf brands, to Ernie Finisterre wasn’t about doing business, it was about living a passion. Through the cold water surf subculture, the Finisterre brand was born, and yet over its ten year history Ernie explained how there became a major disconnect between the sales and marketing activity and the product and service output. At the heart of it was a jumbled perception of the customer across the organisation. No two departments could pin down the same customer persona and whilst the marketing activity sold the dream, the product portfolio and quality didn’t live up to expectation. This has since changed, but Ernie was to take this learning and create Who Buys Your Stuff?

Established on the principle that there's THE AUDIENCE for your brand, product or service and then there's THE CUSTOMER, Who Buys Your Stuff? seeks to find the lead persona for an online business. The audience and your customer are not the same thing, not all people who follow or like a brand will be purchasers of it. In understanding this differentiation it is hoped that businesses will be empowered to make better communication decisions.

The concept of persona development is not a new phenomenon at Adido, nor is it to many (content) marketers around the world, but I have never heard anyone focus their attention on a single lead persona before. It is very difficult to distil the fundamental success of a business down to one “single customer view”, however Ernie’s experience for SME’s suggests that concentrating efforts on identifying the single most important persona (that which is contributing the most to sales) can have significant gains for a business.

In its own words, the Who Buys Your Stuff? mission is to build the simplest and funnest customer research business on the planet to bring online SME's closer to the humans that drive them.

I don't believe any business should be clueless about the people who are buying from them - knowing your customer (those who actually buy, not just who you want to attract) is essentially marketing 101. This knowledge affects all aspects of communication - images, copy, language, tone, content strategy etc...., however as in the case of Finisterre, it is all too apparent that successful brands are still lacking this basic customer knowledge.

It was therefore encouraging to hear from a man with his level of experience, that no matter what the size of the business there should always be a place for customer research (both extensive interrogation of existing customer databases and traditional market research techniques). In finding this stuff out, I agree with Ernie’s sentiment that companies are usually excited by the insight so whilst the journey may seem cumbersome the reward is definitely worth it.

Innovation in the heart of bournemouth

Next up to the hot seat was Damien Lee, an Australian entrepreneur with a staggering number of business ventures to his name. As is the case with many personal stories, sharing failures are just as insightful as the successes, and Damien was modest in claiming both in his career.

Touchingly Damien shared a recent personal battle with cancer which ended a lifelong dream to start up a dot com business in Bournemouth, formerly Designed Gadgets Ltd. As with many cancer survivors, all was not lost as his motivation to seek a better, healthier lifestyle (fuelled by his recovery) became the catalyst behind ‘Mr Lee’s Noodles’ - Gourmet Oriental Noodles In A Cup, The Way They're Supposed To Taste. 100% Tasty 0% Nasty- 100% natural with no artificial additives, colours or preservatives and gluten-free.

mr lees noodles once upon a time

Driven by his unwavering desire to build a noodle business with a bunch of people who had no retail experience whatsoever (including himself), Damien is now responsible for a team of 15 people and he has secured a deal with the world's largest contract catering company!

Naivety can drive innovation

The foundations of his business may sound mad, but it (and Damien himself) is actually pretty innovative. By having no previous food or retail experience, the very naive nature of the workforce meant they weren’t constrained by how the retail game works and could therefore disrupt the status quo.

The concept of diverging from the defined problem and suspending judgement in order to explore all possibilities is something which we encourage our team and clients to do when problem solving. This naivety can break down the barriers and prevent people from jumping immediately from problem to solution without seeking better alternatives.

At risk of going off on a tangent here, Damien’s words struck a chord with some recent work we (Adido) have done with David Hall at The Ideas Centre, where we’ve learnt that the brain operates as a patterning system, which in turn can lead to stifled creativity and innovation. Damien Lee’s brand tale conjures up similar philosophies - he has tried to avoid such patterns at all costs.

In essence he will be launching a new noodle brand into noodle kiosks (vending machines) across university campuses, hospitals, defense bases, and anywhere else that customers seek nutritious, healthy, hot, food, 24/7.

Innovation in retail

As Damien eloquently and passionately told his brand story I could sense the room lower their jaws in awe at the extreme geniusness of the idea.

Soon to be piloted at Bournemouth University with a potential customer base of 20,000 students these noodle kiosks will be:

  • Cashless (no issues with coins not being accepted or getting stuck)
  • Touch screen activated
  • Intelligent (recognition technology / internet of things enabled)

As a believer in Adido’s mission “through strategy, design and technology we craft digital experiences that make brands stand out and get the attention they deserve,“ the concept behind the kiosk experience was music to my ears - the intelligent technology behind them will provide an experience to the customer! Customers will have to wait 45 seconds for their “pot noodle” to be ready and thus during this time the kiosk (via its touch screen display) will have a captive audience. The attention of the Millennial customer is fleeting, so 45 seconds is precious time and Mr Lee’s Noodles has grand plans to engage with its customer during these moments and not waste a second.

The kiosks will also monitor stock levels, automatically reorder stock for replenishment, provide real time feedback on product popularity etc… In a marketplace where most food brands fight for shelf space in supermarkets Damien was very clear that he didn’t want his route to market to dumb down the quality of his brand and product (reducing it to price point differences and packaging allure). In effect the kiosk environment is Mr Lee’s Noodles’ own brand controlled supermarket.

What business are you in?

The staggering brand trajectory, and big business interest of Mr Lee’s Noodles even before its launch has had some fortunate assistance from his personal (business) connections. It was clearly noted that whilst the underlying “success” of the business is due to the product and brand vision, Damien’s personal connections have also opened many doors for him, and undoubtedly sped up the pace of growth.

Picking a university student audience was no accident, but getting into BU first and foremost was due to connections from previous business partnerships (noticeably Designed Gadgets Ltd). As a result of BU’s interest, introductions were made to relevant influencers within the biggest catering contract group in the world, Compass Group and the rest is history! With 10,000 locations across the UK alone, and many more worldwide in aviation, healthcare and defence, Compass Group are potentially holding the key to a very lucrative future for the brand.

What I learned from this tale though, and why I wanted to commit it to this article for memory sake, was that Damien Lee didn’t see any hurdle as an obstacle, he just found ways to solve any potential barriers - he sought out the right people, he pitched his product in a Dragon’s Den style moment in front of Compass Group decision makers, and he didn’t seem phased by any objections along the way. In fact he admitted that he didn’t see he had any “challenges” to overcome.

This was probably helped by the fact he surrounded himself with people who were (and still are) willing to take the journey with him. No matter how things are ‘usually done in retail’ these people are all newbies, and their naivety seems to have a refreshing impact on innovating in this marketplace.

I recently read Faris Yakob’s book, Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising in the Digital World, and one key outcome from this which is echoed in Damien’s story is that a business must look at itself and answer the question “what business am I in?” - it’s not about the nuts and bolts of the how you do it, but the why. Damien wants to inspire people to eat better, his noodles are an option for people to achieve this. Quality, Integrity and Aspiration were words he used to describe the brand and I look forward to its launch and roll-out in the coming months!

The conclusion of Damien’s talk called for a tea break, if you’re still with me on this journey of discovery then perhaps now’s the time to have a cuppa of your own! There’s still plenty more to recount…

Passion drives great content

Suitably refreshed we headed back to the theatre to listen to Mark Walker, UK Head of Content Marketing for Eventbrite. A far cry from Dorset, their headquarters are in San Francisco, USA, but hey, we weren’t discriminating on brand origin for this session.

Mark shared some valuable content marketing lessons in how brands can become media companies, publishers even. He was the brainchild behind the Eventbrite blog, which to be honest up until now I didn’t know existed (but then again I have never hosted my own event so right now I’m not the target audience). Anyway, Mark convinced the powers that be in the UK to turn a product focused blog into a content area where like-minded people, passionate about running events could learn and share. His next adventure is to sell the concept to his US colleagues.

To be a successful content marketer, Mark focused on three key principles:

  • Planning - “divine inspiration won’t happen on a consistent basis” so sitting at a computer hoping for the ‘next good idea’ to come along isn’t going to cut it. Every good content strategy requires a plan whether that’s weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually - there must be clear, well considered topics and ideas worked through and planned out before the moment of writing.
  • Passion - writing about what you’re passionate about is so important. If you don’t have the passion, this will show in your content and it’s likely to fail. Mark shared his passion for events, technology and digital and this enthusiasm shows through in his content execution which has led to a thriving blog.
  • Progress - it is important to show progress through data. At first this may be in the form of vanity metrics like likes and clicks which gives the business faith that the content is of interest, but soon this must lead to more visitors, more traction on the content, better rankings and search visibility until eventually the content provides real business return and can drive the business forward (conversions, revenue etc…).

Good content producers must believe in something relevant to the business. Nothing should be churned out as a tickbox exercise, nor should it solely be product/sales based.

As I highlighted earlier, having a true understanding of what the business stands for, not just what is does, can elevate a content strategy from a constricted ‘hammering product’ approach, to one that adds value to the audience. In Eventbrite’s case whilst they’re in the ticketing/registration business, they stand for “bringing the world together by live experiences.” This mission makes for a much more colorful, diverse and engaging content strategy.

He also eloquently summed up why people share things - it’s either to confirm or reaffirm their identity. If you connect with people’s identities you will create more opportunities for social amplification.

Hugs are under-estimated in business

Finally, but by no means least Mark Cribb from local hospitality brand Urban Guild (incl.Urban Reef, Urban Beach and Jenkins & Sons establishments) shared his ethos on creating his business. Whilst he is operating in a highly competitive industry, following some Shirlaws coaching he distilled his business into three areas: Capacity (which causes him most worry); Positioning and Culture (which now gets most time and attention).

Mark understands the need for creating a great culture which empowers his staff to offer great experiences to his customers. Yes, he focuses on providing great local produce, but essentially it is the interactions between his customers and his staff (brand ambassadors) which keep the business going.

I’m a big lover of quotes and sayings, and Mark seemed to serve up some of the best of the afternoon (not all his own though)…

In conclusion, what set this event apart from anything I’ve ever been to before is the openness and honesty offered by the speakers, and the intimacy created by the informal “fireside chat” setting. I was sucked into the brand stories, narrated very well by their custodians, and to borrow from Mark Walker, I was left once again energised and inspired enough to capture the afternoon in written form for the Adido blog (I hope the passion has come across!)

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Meet the author ...

Kherrin Wade

Strategy Director

Kherrin works with clients to develop effective marketing strategies, whether that's introducing brands to digital for the first time or pushing the boundaries with more ...