Practicing what you preach

2018 was the right time for BEAR to put itself under the microscope: it was time for a new look. We’d spent the past 18 years adding real value to other businesses, through branding and identity. Yet, in that time we’d rarely taken a step back to explore whether our own brand was representative of who we are.

Starting from scratch

Analysing yourself is no mean feat: we had to separate ourselves from what we’ve known for the past 18 years. Were we successfully representing everything we now stand for? Did our identity portray us as a forward-thinking brand communications agency?

Looking at ourselves with fresh eyes was liberating. We began the exact process we recommend to our clients, to find the real heart of our business, the reason we all get out of bed. Find this, and the rest always falls into place.

Our new branding is built upon the core concept of getting to the heart of businesses and affecting real positive difference. We experienced – as always, a few too many iterations but once we’d nailed it, well, that was it – the new BEAR was well underway.


Cutting to the chase

A popular phrase within the BEAR team, ‘cut to the chase’ has now been taken from the studio floor to stand centre-stage on our new homepage. Cutting to the chase represents exactly what we do as an agency, what we’ve got tons of experience doing.

It does not mean cutting corners; in fact, it’s the very opposite. We deep-dive into your business and discover exactly what you and your customers need without any delay or fluff. We unearth your businesses’ key drivers and differentiators and execute them through quality branding and communications to drive commercial success.

Taking it to the next level

Our logo links back to ‘cut to the chase’. After many tweaks, we flipped the ‘A’ of BEAR by 90 degrees to represent a moving arrow, nodding to our constant forward-thinking nature and keeping with the repetition of arrows across our site that demonstrate business growth through design.

Take our Music Licence case study: by amplifying simplicity for customers and injecting a much-needed personality there’s an immediate credibility from the get go. A few months ago, there was nothing for customers to connect with and now there is a product with a clear identity, tone of voice and offering… it’s speaking to hundreds of thousands of businesses.

Giving the green blue light

Even our brand colour was a carefully considered affair. It’s no longer acceptable to choose red, or perhaps green? With retina display devices becoming more and more available, brand colour can more expressive. We didn’t just want to produce the blank canvas sight so many agencies adopt. We wanted to stick our necks out with a colour that cuts through and, moving forwards, it’s about design for device over print.

We are really proud of what we have achieved, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. There will be regular updates with our content and in particular new project case studies, watch this space!

Author: Roberto D’Andria. Owner | Strategic Creative Director

For KAYAK, Confidence is king

Martin Agency Brings Its Signature Zaniness to Kayak After Years of Tomfoolery for GEICO
Confidence is king in the brand’s weird vignettes

It’s been a little more than two years since Kayak decided to shift its creative account from one set of acclaimed weirdos to another, leaving Barton F. Graf for the Martin Agency.

Martin’s first outing with the brand was the “Kind of Like Kayak” campaign,which compared the travel booking aggregator to various other resources, like an army of body doubles to help you try on pants, or a personal style forecaster who’ll tell you when your man bun is past its prime.

The agency’s newest Kayak work is still odd, but this time it’s a bit more in the vein of Martin’s longtime, high-profile client, Geico. Martin has spent decades honing Geico’s ad approach, which typically centers on unexpected situations that fit tightly into a 15- or even 6-second space.

To highlight the idea of being “Kayak confident”—ie, secure in your decisions based on the app’s sprawling amount of travel data—Martin has created a series of short-form spots, including a dentist working on a shark and a snowman hitting the tanning bed.

There’s also a set of ads showing how the app helps you change your scenery, from the drudgery of workaday life and home improvement fails to floating fountain-side at a resort or watching hula dancers on the beach.

Read full article here.

How to develop a brand strategic proposition

Every company has a brand – the company itself is a brand, and it is the brand that has value on the balance sheet – it is the difference accounted for by the term “goodwill” between what a business is worth and what someone is prepared to pay for it. But not every company has a very clear idea of what their brand stands for. In fact, we would go so far as to suggest that one reason why so many businesses fail in their early years is that they haven’t thought through their brand strategic proposition to really clarify both internally and externally what makes them different and special in a crowded marketplace.

A brand is to a business what a personality or character is to a human being, and just as important. In the same way that people choose their friends on the basis of liking and trusting them, so too do they often choose the brands that they buy because they like and trust them. Some of the world’s largest blue-chip organisations have achieved their success due in large part to brand strength. For example, Apple phones are a long way from being the cheapest, and plenty of Android users would put up arguments against them being the best, but there is a huge ‘Apple tribe’ for whom only an iPhone will do. Surprising numbers of fans are even prepared to queue up overnight to be one of the first to secure the latest new model. The huge loyalty Apple commands is a clear reflection of the strength of its brand: Interbrand’s annual assessment of the value of global brands put Apple’s at the top of the pile (yet again) in 2017, with a value of $184 billion. Other companies with a strong brand proposition that spring easily to mind include Virgin, Google, eBay, Amazon and Coca-Cola.

Whilst very few companies will reach Apple’s size, success on any scale relies on developing strong, liked and trusted brands. Through observation and analysis of what makes a successful brand, and helping Abacus clients to develop theirs, we believe the essentials of effective branding boil down to the following five factors, which we describe collectively as V5, and which we equate to what we call the ‘Voice’ of the brand. Create a strong strategic proposition, and your brand voice will speak with great authority…

• Vision – what legacy does the brand want to deliver?
• Values – what ethics and morals are important?
• Views – what beliefs and opinions does the brand hold?
• Virtues – what skills and knowledge does it have?
• Vows – what pledges are they prepared to make?

We would like to clarify at this point that a brand strategic proposition is different from a brand creative proposition, which is perhaps what most people think of when talking about branding. The two elements are synergistic, but they are entirely different – a bit like yin and yang. Yes, you do need a company logo and brand guidelines that deliver a design style that can be applied to all of your sales and marketing collateral to make you look professional to potential customers, but this is the visual representation of your business. It is perhaps the body or mind of your business. The strategic brand proposition can be thought of as your company’s spirit or soul…

Brand Vision

Note the way the question about the vision has been couched: “what legacy does the brand want to deliver?” Although a vision statement should set out aspirations for the future, taking it further to thinking about a company or brand’s legacy invites consideration of why it exists at all. A thoughtfully crafted vision statement will inspire employees and provide an aspirational purpose that they all wish to work towards. It will also make a brand instantly recognisable to its customers – even if they are unaware of the vision statement itself – because they will get a clear sense of what the company is about in their dealings with it. Conversely, a poorly thought-out vision statement (or none at all) can result in underperformance, because even if employees are individually all working well, they can all be pulling in different directions. Customers will get mixed messages about what the essence of the brand is.

While vision statements should be revisited from time to time as the business environment changes, the best statements set out the essential DNA of a company’s brand and shouldn’t need changing very much or very often at all. Think back to the idea of brands equating to personalities: although people change throughout their lives, they still retain an identity that is unique to them, and that makes them clearly recognisable. A vision statement should encapsulate the equivalent identity of a brand.

Brand-vision-1024x540 How to develop a brand strategic proposition

Success of a brand lies in having a strong brand strategic proposition. Not every company has a very clear idea of what their brand stands for. A brand is to a business what a personality or character is to a human being. In the same way that people choose their friends on the basis of liking and trusting them.

Although a vision statement should be simple, it still takes time and careful thought to get it exactly right. As well as being aspirational and inspirational, it must be authentic. You could come up with the most brilliant statement of all time, but it will be worth nothing if your company pays mere lip service to it. It has to be lived and breathed and ultimately believed by all stakeholders.

A quick note about what is often referred to as a “mission” or “mission statement”. This combines the brand voice and the objectives outlined in the business plan to make it quite clear what the middle-distance purpose and direction of the organisation is to be. It should be something that is once again understood, believed and admired by all stakeholders, both internally and externally.

Brand Values

Just as a company’s vision should be clear, so too should the code of ethics it operates by (and we mean that it really operates by). This might sound a bit high-flown for small companies but it really does matter, whatever the size or your organisation. We would argue that it can be the difference between success and failure amongst ambitious start-ups and growth SMEs. Even someone operating on their own ought to have a framework that identifies the standards and principles that they work within. Whether they turn up to appointments on time, keep to budget, are easy to get hold of, have excellent processes in place, are polite and professional at all times, and so on, all play a part in how they – and therefore their brand – will be perceived by customers, suppliers, partners, staff, freelancers, etc.

As with a vision statement, writing down the values that your company holds sacrosanct helps to ensure that all employees know what is expected of them – and it can also be hugely helpful in clarifying the type of desirable characteristics in people you wish to employ too. Instilling these values so that they are mirrored by actual behaviour is a vital element in any brand’s success. Whilst it can take time to convince customers that your standards are high, just one instance of bad behaviour can undermine a brand’s carefully constructed reputation – sometimes fatally – especially since the growth of social media. At the time of writing, Facebook’s brand is taking a pummelling (along with its stock value) because many of its subscribers feel betrayed by how their personal data has been used, while Australia is reeling from their cricket team being caught in a ball-tampering scandal that is potentially going to have long-term repercussions for this proud sporting nation.

Brand-values-1024x683 How to develop a brand strategic proposition

Success of a brand lies in having a strong brand strategic proposition. Not every company has a very clear idea of what their brand stands for. A brand is to a business what a personality or character is to a human being. In the same way that people choose their friends on the basis of liking and trusting them.

As will be seen by these examples, for consumers it’s a matter of trust. If they don’t like your values, or if they feel you are saying one thing but doing another, they will take their business elsewhere.

Brand Views

Another feature of strong brands is that they hold, and are willing to express, clear ideas about the markets they operate in and the positions they take. Having unambiguous views and being able to support them persuasively is particularly important for new entrants trying to win business from long-established market rivals. This has contributed to the success of high-tech start-ups offering online alternatives to traditional models. In many cases, the new arrivals have taken the position that their innovative proposition offers more for consumers than the old way of doing things, and suggested – either overtly or by implication – that the status quo may have existed as much for the benefit of incumbent suppliers as for customers.

Sectors ranging from airlines to banking, and retail to telecoms, have seen new entrants come in with actively challenging brands. In fact, there are usually several aspiring new entrants and the one or two who emerge triumphant are those who have invested care to build their brands.

Brand-views-1024x683 How to develop a brand strategic proposition

Success of a brand lies in having a strong brand strategic proposition. Not every company has a very clear idea of what their brand stands for. A brand is to a business what a personality or character is to a human being. In the same way that people choose their friends on the basis of liking and trusting them.

A great deal of brand value can be built through setting out well-constructed viewpoints. If a company is recognised for its thought leadership, consumers will be interested to hear what it has to say, especially in the current climate, which sees customers wanting to be informed rather than sold to. Establishing just a few key viewpoints can generate a lot of marketing content to use on blogs, social media, in emails, and so on.

One of the things which makes us all different is the views that we hold about every aspect of our life. It cannot be stated highly enough how important it is to ensure that your brand has a clear set of views too, for it is these which drive behaviour, innovation and growth.

Brand Virtues

In marketing products and services, we consider aspects that set them above the competition. It is just as valuable to apply the same exercise to brands. What does your brand offer that others don’t, or not as effective? Perhaps it is tradition, or gravitas – or the complete opposite. One of Britain’s best-known brands, Virgin, manages to operate in industries as diverse as banking, broadband provision, train services and airline operations but still retain a consistently witty, slightly irreverent brand tone that helps to give them a unique identity. It offers a fine example of how brand messaging needs to be consistent in all communications with customers. Even in their onboard train toilets, the signage has a Virgin twist: where most companies offering public toilet facilities will ask users not to flush inappropriate objects, Virgin Rail’s more engaging injunction is not to “…flush nappies, sanitary towels, paper towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes, dreams or goldfish down this toilet”.

Make the most of whatever it is your brand is offering. Brainstorm all the assets it brings to the table, especially including its people. Your team is unique to your brand, and their specific attributes won’t be shared by any of your competitors, so make the most of promoting their knowledge, experience, diligence, patience, humour, artistic talent, etc.

If your brainstorming produces a disappointingly short list, consider the virtues you would like your brand to have, then plan to develop them through training, research or whatever is necessary. A thirst for self-improvement is a virtue in itself, and good people will be attracted to work for brands that display it.

Brand-virtues-1024x683 How to develop a brand strategic proposition

Success of a brand lies in having a strong brand strategic proposition. Not every company has a very clear idea of what their brand stands for. A brand is to a business what a personality or character is to a human being. In the same way that people choose their friends on the basis of liking and trusting them.

As a nation, and we would argue as a race, we tend to be very coy when it comes to shouting about out virtues. In fact, we tend to spend a lot of time judging others critically and not looking at ourselves at all. This exercise asks us to take a positive, proactive and rational look at ourselves as a business and ask what we are doing well, and where we might need to improve.

Brand Vows

The final ‘V’ invites you to consider what vows your brand is prepared to commit to publicly. Vows need to be specific, significant, credible and relevant to the public if they are to have any value.

For example, with environmental concerns high on the agenda for many, a wide variety of companies have pledged to achieve specific targets to become more ‘green’. For example, BMW has said it will obtain all its energy from green sources by 2020.

The type of vows a brand commits to will obviously depend on the context – the market sector, what matters to its consumers, the scale of its operations, etc. – but should always be ones that everyone in the company commits to fully. Often a company’s pledge to do something in the future has implied within it an acknowledgement that the current position is imperfect (such as supermarkets accepting that they do use too much packaging) but humility is not a bad attribute for a brand, as long as the desire to improve is sincere. Iceland has done some good work in this respect recently, with regards to its commitment to eliminate the use of plastic packaging from all its own-branded products with five years. They have since followed this up with a pledge to stop using palm oil in the same time period too. All other supermarkets, take note…

Brand-vows-1024x683 How to develop a brand strategic proposition

Success of a brand lies in having a strong brand strategic proposition. Not every company has a very clear idea of what their brand stands for. A brand is to a business what a personality or character is to a human being. In the same way that people choose their friends on the basis of liking and trusting them.

Vows can be written up as being service charters – and you can have as many service charters as you like, both internally and externally, to establish a list of promises that your brand, department or divisions wish to be judged by. Just make sure that they are sensible, achievable and desirable.

Brand Voice

Add these five Vs together and you get a brand voice. Do it well, and engage everyone in the process, and you will have an incredibly powerful foundation upon which to grow your business. Behind all five Vs is the need to act with integrity and build trust. Consumers are rightly cynical about promises easily made and just as easily broken, so they want to see a company’s actions matching its words. A strong brand lifts a business above the purely commercial to something that makes a genuine positive difference to its customers and even the wider world.

Brand-voice-1024x683 How to develop a brand strategic proposition

Success of a brand lies in having a strong brand strategic proposition. Not every company has a very clear idea of what their brand stands for. A brand is to a business what a personality or character is to a human being. In the same way that people choose their friends on the basis of liking and trusting them.

V5 Brand Process

While the V5 brand process methodology provides the bones, adding flesh to any brand still takes a lot of thought and expert independent guidance can make all the difference between success and failure. We have worked with many clients to develop successful brand propositions. Please contact Stephen Brown, head of strategy and planning, at or call him on 020 7795 8175 for an initial chat. We could either discuss your requirements in more detail on the phone or – if you prefer – we are more than happy to meet up for a non-chargeable two-hour consultation at a venue of your choice.

Keep up to date

The world of brand strategic proposition changes all the time. To keep up to date with all the latest news is almost impossible, but you can keep on top of things by following us on social media – TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. If you would like to have a conversation with us about brand strategic proposition, please contact Stephen Brown on 020 7795 8175 or – you can also visit our website at to find out more.

The post How to develop a brand strategic proposition appeared first on Abacus Marketing.

Harvest Digital crowned 2nd most diverse agency in Bing Partner Global Awards

We’re proud to announce that we have been shortlisted for the award as the Most Diverse and Inclusive Agency in the Global Bing Partner Awards.

We came first runner-up in the award, and it’s no surprise that Bing has chosen to recognise two independent media agencies – especially after large conglomerate media agencies have been getting a kicking lately.

As one of the UK’s most diverse and inclusive agencies, we work hard to make sure that we are inclusive of skin colour, religion, sexual orientation and ability in all the work we produce.

At Harvest Digital, we embrace and encourage employing individuals from varying backgrounds and cultures, creating an environment of diversity, from which we thrive. Through the collaboration of a diverse workforce, we benefit from the creativity and innovation that comes from bringing different experiences and perspectives together.

We also celebrate the cultural identity of our staff – more than half of our team at Harvest coming from outside the UK. Equally, as a fast-paced, forward-thinking agency, we recognise that it’s about hiring for talent (and promoting based on skill) – it’s not just a numbers game.

We believe in an open and non-hierarchical structure where people can thrive and build their careers based on a meritocratic system.

We’ll be flying out to Seattle in May for the Global Bing Partner Awards ceremony, as well as the Global Bing Partner Summit that takes place the following day.

Fancy working for a diverse and inclusive agency? Drop us a line below, or find out what vacancies we currently have here.

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On the quest for simplicity



On the quest for simplicity


As we witness a decline in consumers’ trust in brands and a need for simplification as shoppers become more and more overwhelmed by choices in aisle, plenty of brands have switched their strategy to a ‘One Brand’ approach in recent years.

In an FMCG industry driven by innovation and newness, companies continue to look to new products and sub-brands for growth. Every small consumer trend or fad leads to a product in a variety of categories. Each introduction increases the challenges around product positioning, portfolio optimisation, channel strategies and marketing planning. A masterbrand’s existing equity would help to overcome these barriers by conveying an emotional connection combined with credibility, familiarity and quality perceptions; especially for iconic brands such as the following 3:

Coca-Cola: Their research has shown that not everyone understands the options available and benefits of each drink under the Coca-Cola portfolio; which is why Coca-Cola Great Britain have introduced a new “one brand” strategy.

Hersheys: understood the need to simplify their offering in the minds of consumers and to connect with them on an emotional level rather than fragmenting the brand’s equity across the portfolio. Moving forward, Hershey’s will be synonymous with happiness through the “Hello Happy. Hello Hershey’s” campaign in the US.

McCain:  The McCain masterbrand approach aimed to simplify the McCain products range and position it as the stand-out brand for all potato meal solutions, no matter the occasion. This approach is reflected in their ‘We are Family’ British campaign (link) featuring their frozen and chilled line-ups.

As the media landscape becomes even more fragmented, brands will increasingly find it difficult to identify and own unique positioning platforms for each of their sub-brands; it adds complexity to marketing plans and may drive lower efficiencies. A ‘One Brand’ approach will allow them to:

  1. Unify the brand under one personality and one single message that resonates with consumers/shoppers.
    By developing customer bonds with the masterbrand, companies can offset the loss of consumers when their product’s appeal is based on a discrete period, for example, a certain life stage.
  2. Drive efficiency in terms of channel strategies and higher return on investment.
    Promoting a single brand with a single campaign makes for more efficient media spend, and in today’s fragmented media landscape, the ROI will be stronger.
  3. Give the masterbrand stronger competitive positioning.
    Between the new start-up craze, consumers’ changing tastes and the rise of own-label ranges, it is has become easier for small businesses or retailers to build attractive brands and compete against the big players. However, a masterbrand with strong equity and combined resources will make it harder for these new entrants to overtake any category.


So what does this all mean for shopper marketing?

The ‘One Brand’ approach is executed more easily in shopper when the brand’s portfolio of products sits within the same category/aisle (e.g. frozen), however, when considering a masterbrand that spans multiple diverse categories e.g. Nestle, companies must ensure that any masterbrand message transcends all categories and is adding value for the various targets.

Like everything else in marketing and advertising today (traditional vs. digital, mass vs. personalisation), it is about finding the right balance and right level of integration between both approaches. In the case of McCain where their new range sits in the chilled category, a bit more effort is required from shopper marketing to educate consumers and prompt shoppers on auto-pilot to go down the chilled aisle looking for McCain for those food for tonight occasions.

As we move towards more and more simplification, keep an eye out for more FMCG brands that will follow suit. We are intrigued to see how they approach shopper under one umbrella brand.

If you’d like to read the full article, give us a shout at



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Audi Work Nominated for Webby Awards

  Our work with Audi has been nominated for two categories in the Webby awards! Vote for Spider-Man in the Film & Video/Branded Entertainment/Short Form category: Vote for Think Faster one for Advertising & Media/Branded Content/Automotive:

Thank You

As I walk out the door for my official last time today, I look back in satisfaction on 35 remarkable years as a brand management principal at The Richards Group. I came in with that designation, and I proudly retire with it too.

When I joined Stan and his mighty band of 35 or so Groupers in 1983, I had already been blessed with a solid launch at Foote, Cone & Belding in Chicago and almost ten years in marketing at Frito-Lay. I was 35 and, some would say, a bit full of myself. What I learned most from Stan, and all my colleagues here, is that the agency business is the ultimate team sport. There are no more important jobs – or less important jobs. They are all critical to our work, the growth of our clients, and the welfare of our people. Nothing else matters.

I have also grown to understand that hiring and developing smarter, more organized, and harder-working people will help you grow and ensure that your clients and the agency prosper too. And many of these wonderful people will grace you with friendships that will last a lifetime. I am also counting on many of them to lead the next generation of Groupers to carry on Stan’s legacy far into the future.

Every retiring agency person has enough client stories to fill at least one book, but in the interest of blog etiquette, I will keep to just a few. My first big new business “win” was Motel 6, and it wasn’t a real win but an assignment from one of Stan’s former clients.

The first thing I learned on Motel 6 is that advertising can do very little unless the product is at least competitive. Motel 6 delayed the launch of a new campaign until they finished some major remodeling and product enhancements, like putting telephones in the rooms. But that gave us time to really understand the motivation of the potential customer – and time for the creative and media folks to develop one of our most successful and longest-running campaigns, which is still running today. Though I passed the baton early to another principal, I was asked to take the helm again later in my career to ensure that we kept the business on track. Along the way, my wife, Becky, and I developed a lifelong friendship with our first CMO at Motel 6, Hugh Thrasher, may he rest in peace.

My next new business highlight – and I partnered with my good friend Jeff Upshaw on this one – was The Catfish Institute. We had been recommended to the institute’s president, Bill Allen, by a New York consultant. But Bill also knew of Jeff, whose family still farmed in the Mississippi Delta.

Jeff and I worked hard to understand the challenges of working for a farmer cooperative and had great fun plotting with the first creative team, Glenn Dady and Mike Malone, to help put farm-raised catfish on the menus of America’s white-tablecloth restaurants. And what fun we had along the way! I still count Bill and Jeff as two of my closest friends.

I was also blessed to lead the agency team that pitched and won Chick-fil-A. Though a couple of smarter, harder-working folks eventually took the ball from me and ran with it for the rest of our 22-year run, I was fortunate to be there at the start. Our team helped craft the Original Chicken Sandwich strategy that pitted us against the burger boys. A brilliant young creative team came up with the self-preservationist cows, and we were off to an incredible run – and a few more lifelong friendships including Steve Robinson, David Salyers, and Greg Ingram.

Another really interesting opportunity came our way with a call from Malmö, Sweden. The woman in charge of Perstorp Flooring’s advertising admired our work for The Container Store, Elfa’s primary retail outlet in the United States. She invited us to Fort Worth to meet Perstorp’s president, Lars von Kantzow, who had just signed Color Tile as their first U.S. outlet.

Stan wasn’t available, so Owen Hannay and I were on our own. We told The Richards Group’s story the best we could and showed our work to much nodding and laughing, so we knew there were no language or cultural issues. We then suggested that Lars consider Stan’s four conclusions that he hopes every client prospect will come away with at the end of a pitch: I like what you said. I like how you said it. I like you. Let’s do business.

Lars called the next day and said those conclusions right back to me. Together, we launched Pergo, the most successful new flooring brand in a generation. And I made another lifelong friend in Lars.

These are only a few of the stories about this place and our wonderful clients, but they are representative of my story here. They are part of why this place has meant so much to my career and why I have remained here so long. But in every story, it wasn’t just the business success – it was the people I had the opportunity to work with every day. They are what I will dearly miss.

Thank you.

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