Sunday, 13 November 2016
It’s all about the branding.
I went to the Hoxton Hotel (Hipster Centerville, London) the other day to interview new creative staff. The whole area has changed dramatically since my first student holiday job there for a spivvy life insurance company that I thought was a proper City job. It wasn’t, it was branded as a city job because it involved money, insurance and was on the edge of the City of London. However, the clients who were sold life insurance were also fooled by the branding and presentation of a product that, though wrapped in original and genuine bullshit spun from tobacco aged insincerity, were, in reality, being sold a handful of cheap ingredients priced at a very high margin.
Which means that Hoxton really hasn’t changed very much. The place is alive with wooden stores lit by retro-filament bulbs selling things at a high margin. Artisan burgers, bread, gin, beer, more gin, coffee, gin, sandwiches, wood things, furniture, clothes, more wood things and bicycles oh, and gin. Though the UK is fast heading towards a gin-based economy, there is a limit to how much gin a population can drink. Hogarth has already shown us where this ends up.
But if I were to join the fad of converting any old space into a gin distillery, I would probably do so in one of the now deserted old trading floors in the City and start producing my own product - MarGin. Such astute branding would lay open all sorts of witty strap lines to woo in the financial punters:-
MarGin call? Yes please, with tonic.
MarGin on the rocks.
If 25% of your property portfolio is MarGin, make sure the other 75% is F’ever t’REITS. (OK, that’s a bit stretched)
Anyway, enough of the next business plan, as I walked back towards Bank from Hoxton, swiftly crossing from the land of wood and filaments to that of glass and LED, I was wondering if the methodology employed for selling bread at five times the normal price could be the saviour of banking, where margins have been crushed and profits fined away. I have written before about how finance, in its way, already relies on hints of artisanal methodology, comparing complex financial products to Himalayan Pink Salt (here) noting that building expensive complexity out of basic products is at the heart of financial engineering.
Yet that is where the artisanal similarities currently appear to stop. Perhaps it would be a perfect time to try to employ more of that feel. Walking into a banking hall full of bearded, skinny jeaned, check-shirted folk selling loans piled up and mispriced from tables hewn from living trees may be a little too optimistic but bringing back banking halls of marble and brass with clerks wearing waistcoats and sleeve garters may be more the thing. With fear of cyber crime being such a reality, especially after the Tesco Bank raid, why not go the whole hog and introduce rows of clerks with hand-written ledgers and get rid of the computers altogether.
This could be the new Barclays Hoxton Branch (rather than being the old Barclays Norwich branch)
If people are willing to spend £49 on a bottle of artisan gin or £6 on an artisan loaf I am pretty sure that they would be happy to pay 50% APR to borrow £100,000 using a handcrafted loan based upon a bond used by the Medici’s in the Renaissance. Never mind the APR, appreciate the timeless quality!
There are plenty of brands that are currently considered so unfashionably difficult to handle they could do with the same treatment. Artisanal estate agents (I am told that in Italy they do exist) or Artisan Call Centres where an old yokel with a rich rural accent tries to get you to claim for whiplash you didn’t suffer from your gin still.
But it’s the darker side of politics I am now going to move on to. The root of this post came from my annoyance at the biases that are inherent within Twitter. Not that the individuals I follow are biased, well they are, everyone is, but the way one ends up following or being followed. I really want to follow people I completely disagree with and probably disagree with me so that I can get a balanced feel of the opinion of the world. But they obviously won’t follow me, unless they are also following my thought process. How do I find them? Most of the people I follow will have been biased for the same reason but one degree of separation further on. If you don’t believe me, look at your twitter feed and tell me that the views expressed there are a fair representation of the 50/50 split that is the reality of the Trump/Clinton outcome. If they aren't then some natural biasing has occurred. This biasing is, I detect only getting worse, the number of folk I know leaving Twitter because they are fed up with the self-righteous abuse they get for expressing their views is rising. They just can't be bothered and their views will never be heard. Twitter has become a Petri dish of society where different bacterial colonies fight it out trying to colonise as much of the space as possible.
So I have a twitter stream that is mahooosively upset that Trump got in, HOWEVER, they also get very excited about gin, overpriced olives, new restaurants and Borough Market (for non-London readers Borough Market is a place vendors manage to sell smelly food for the cost of small houses). So would it not be an idea for Trump to rebrand himself as an artisan to curry some favour back from this group? In many ways he is already artisan, he is a genuine throwback to the olden days. But in many others, he is not.
The rise of non-centre politics, in general, is an interesting exercise in branding with far left and right already adopting the nationalistic tendencies that prefer to project clean and wholesome living and, dare I say, artisan ideals. Putin’s bare-chested mountain man, the left’s wholesome, rugged jawed steelworker and the right’s check-shirted lumberjacking Arian. In some respect, both extremes are selling the return to old-fashioned glory days. Putin has done it win Russia and Trump is doing it in America. Both are calling for the return to the good old days when their countries were great. The only problem is that time was when both of them were only a gnats crotch away from loosing nuclear armageddon upon the world.
The world may want change, but unfortunately looking backward and trying to recreate the sunny days of our youth is just not possible. Yet the selling of the artisan dream is based on that projection and caters for our deep desire for security. As the world starts to look less secure, the draw of the artisan is heightened yet the only things artisans secure are the wallets of artisans.