You know a company has got under (literally) the skin of its customers when they have a tattoo of the brand on their arm ‘a la Harley Davidson’. Let me give a much more British version. Sitting in a coffee shop on the way to a client with a colleague, we get up to leave but not before she has completely read the label on the Smoothie bottle. I mean completely read the label, looking for the typical jokes and trademark irreverence. You will have guessed the company to be Innocent Drinks. This business autobiography tells their story in their typically quirky way.
If you don’t do cute, you won’t like some of the tone. The authors have made a good attempt to replicate their culture in the way the book is put together. The authorial voice is the Innocent culture. Particularly vivid is how the business was founded, being at a festival with some samples and asking anybody who would try one to throw the empty bottle in one of two bins labelled ‘YES start a business’, or ‘NO keep the day job’.
There are strong chapters on their values development, people management and some original marketing ideas. They downplay their obvious professional training in high octane consulting with McKinsey and Bain and useful experience in marketing. It’s all very English, studied amateurism hiding a real flair for business and objective decision making.
Witness their recent decision (post this book) to sell a majority of their stake to Coca Cola, giving the US giant 58% of the equity being testament to their lack of sentimentality.
The best idea in the book isn’t their own (they are very good on giving others credit where it’s due) it comes from Michael Wolff the advertising legend. They recount his 4 rooms idea as follows:
The first ‘room’ is the ‘room of great work’. Exposure yourself to the best the world has to offer in ideas. Literally visit the art galleries of the world. Spend time in design museums. Read the magazines and reviews and experience the finest of every art form. Track down what is regarded the best of its kind; be it architecture, technology or the world’s greatest teapot. Revel in them. Be inspired by them. But don’t do your work in this ‘room’ as you will find yourself dominated by their greatness, creating a lesser version of what has come before.
Next, visit the ‘room of understanding’. Whatever industry you work in, make sure you understand how it works; the fundamental drivers of the way things are. If you are trying to come up with an idea for a new pair of trousers make sure you fully understand the process by which trousers are made – where the material comes from, how it is produced, how tailors cut the cloth, why they might choose a button over a zip. Gain a true understanding of how it all works but never do your thinking in this ‘room’ as you will feel too constrained by existing rules.
Third, visit the ‘room of precedent’, where you should study all that has gone before in the sector that you operate within. If you are writing an advert for a car company, look at all the ads for car companies that have ever been written. Do this to learn what has come before, what was successful and what was less so. But don’t do your work in this room as you will end up plagiarizing.
The ‘final’ room is where you should do the work. It is the ‘room of creativity’. It is dark and the only person in that room is you. You should go in that room naked and it is here where you should start to think of ideas.
This book is a perfect representation of their culture, just like that bottle we have to keep reading as well as drinking from.