Its raining. In fact its bucketing down in quite a dramatic manner, the sort of rain that’s only fun when you’re inside watching it pound against the windows or when you’re triumphantly and romantically running through it at the end of a movie.
But I’m not in a film. I’m in Camberwell. I have no umbrella. I need to be on the other side of London and I am not happy. I squeeze myself onto a packed bendybus of similarly annoyed wet commuters. I hate the bendybus. I curse the dry haired smug types who jab me with their umbrellas. I’m sure they’re doing it on purpose just to remind me how foolish i am for being inappropriately dressed on a horrid dark winter weekday.
So I stand and humph and grumble and think about how I hate South London, and bendybuses, and push my way out at Oval tube station with a scowl. Today I am the reason people say that Londoners are unfriendly. I swipe through the barriers and give the service information board a cursory glance expecting to be further incensed by delays and holdups and overrunning engineering works.
And then at the bottom of the escalators i turn round, go back up and take a picture of the board.
The message doesn’t make me less damp or far from home, but it does remind me that there are better things to be thinking about than how much i hate the tube. In fact i don’t hate the tube. I especially don’t hate the person who wrote that message. I like them. I remember Duke Baysee, the harmonica playing bus conductor, who used to cheer up my mornings on the 38 bus, and the tube drivers who interject and lighten the mood when you’re stuck in a tunnel.
As Challengers we should always project our identity in everything we do. And with our smaller budgets we have to use our media – existing media, new media and old media, digital media and real life hands-on media – in different and surprising ways. Mark’s already said this all much better over here.
But maybe sometimes the most engaging experiences come from the unscripted moments that can happen when the people behind the brand are able to step out from behind the marketing strategy. I’m not suggesting TfL is a Challenger Brand (challenging what? walking home?), but these moments do more for my relationship with Transport for London than the myriad of poster campaigns I’ve walked past and studiously ignored. I may be being a bit romantic and uncynical today but I’d be sad if i discovered that the Oval ‘Thought for the Day’ came from the marketing department and not an underground philosopher with a carefully underlined quote dictionary. So don’t ruin it for me.
Personality and genuinely spontaneous gestures can’t be planned, but they can be encouraged. As Adam says in The Pirate Inside: “Great brands are built by people. Not processes, or research programmes, or pieces of architecture such as pyramids or bullseyes, or keys, or onions. They are built by people.”
In this context he’s talking about the brand builders, the keepers of the lighthouse, not about letting tube staff write quotes on the information boards, but if we have a clear identity and we create an internal culture of people who believe in and understand what we do then where’s the risk of letting a bit of that personality get though every so often?