The Secret Life of Brands: Google, McLaren and Ocado on dedicated thinking time (Part two)

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

‘Thinking’ is the subject of a riddle; artists will claim that you need it to function, the military will tell you life’s easier without it and the powerful will often forget what it is.

In any sector, it is difficult for employees to switch off their brains and work on auto-pilot; the digit crunching of computer data requires abundant concentration and imaginative campaigns are designed by curious minds, but is this the type of 'thinking' that allows us to regenerate our train of thought?

Doing a ten-minute crossword in the bath or reading thought-provoking fiction is something we often do in our spare time, but hardly steer towards during the profuse hours of 8am - 7pm when it would probably garner the most benefits. Yet, thinking is an ambiguous term – is time available for pondering about the football as effective as time to think about a problem or what your client may be going through at home?

Brand consultancy The Clearing explored this concept when it hosted The Secret Life of Brands earlier this month, an event in which three brands played Wild Cards – a card game The Clearing developed with The School of Life to help brands define their space and encourage conversations about key issues that are critical, but can be tricky to broach. The cards ask intimate questions like ‘Do your colleagues see your brand the same way as your customers?’ and ‘Which person at work is best at sabotaging your brand?’ – a disruptive technique which exposes a more human approach to decision making.

The Drum Network has followed Wild Card’s journey and will be sharing each question with the thought-provoking discussion that followed, to encourage brands to share their thoughts and reconnect with the importance of intimacy.

Question two – Dedicated thinking time

Held at The School of Life, a panel consisting of John Allert (group brand director at McLaren), Kristian Brugts (group head of brand at Ocado) and David Benson (director of global media strategy and planning at Google) were asked five of 100 Wild Card questions to provoke conversations about their brand and encourage them to see it from new perspectives. The audience also got involved and asked questions, reflecting on their own choice of play.

An interesting discussion erupted when the question “When the poet Louis MacNeice was offered a job as a BBC producer, he insisted half his weekly timetable remain empty ‘for thinking’. How much space do you allocate each week for thinking?" was expressed.

John Allert kicked off the discussion with switching yourself off: “When I’m walking the dog or go cycling, I can erase the hard drive. I’m more honest with myself the older I become. When I get to work it’s like knowing you are going to be in a tsunami – I go with it, and just deal with it as it’s happening. At the end of the day, I put the Flock of Seagulls on and I think.”

“I don't have fixed time: I call it ‘loading the washing machine’. I absorb stimulus, let it mull around, trust my subconscious and then just let it come”, David Benson revealed. “I do things like run or cycle rather than actively think, because when I'm in the office my thoughts are bound by my environment. There’s being creative with a capital ‘C’ and a small ‘c’. The capital C is being a Creative. The small c is applying creativity to every problem. You must allow people to be creative – you can’t tell people to do it.

“Give them the license, ability and permission to solve their problem,” he continued. “If you want to be creative then it’s about managing and controlling your environment. Be conscious of your own bad habits. Do you have a roast every Sunday? Be a vegetarian for a week, you will be surprised what happens when you break the routine.”

Kristian Brugts thinks the solution is simple: “Driving – my thoughts are in the car. You can’t assign a time because you can’t force thought. It must be fluid and natural. No original thoughts ever came out of a brainstorm. I get my breakthroughs at three in the morning, from my subconscious!”

The outcome of the panel suggests that the Louis MacNeice’s proposal was not unreasonable. Although, it is the time that they allow themselves to switch off outside of work hours that seem most generate a fresh outlook and tranquil temperament. Google’s theory that breaking routine will pull people out of mundane thinking while at work pulls together the whole office, rather than focuses on individual creativity. Which do you think is more significant?

How would your brand differ from Google, McLaren and Ocado?

Read what Google, McLaren and Ocado had to say on strategy versus culture (part one).

The next question of the series will go live in June.

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