Working for the BBC and Channel 4, the Lambie- Nairn team knows plenty about branding - and not just on TV. Graeme Aymer uncovers their secrets.
Lambie-Nairn, the brand-building design company is so titled after its founder, Martin Lambie-Nairn. He created the iconic Channel 4 logo that ushered in both an era of edgy broadcasting and the age of computers as a creative tool in broadcast some 25 years ago. But Lambie-Nairn isn't about computers or even television. It's about branding. Along with a longstanding history of work for the BBC, it also counts O2, Electronic Arts, The History Channel and Hotels.com among its clients. They all benefit from the company's philosophy to "create brands that engage people and business".
"That philosophy really encompasses three aspects," explains Lambie-Nairn's creative director, Adrian Burton. "We define what a brand will look like, we determine how it behaves and ultimately, therefore, influence the way people feel about it." Design director Sophie Lutman adds, "It's about pulling out the unique quality of that brand or organisation, and then highlighting it so that you can engage with it, both internally and externally."
And these days, the process of branding a company is also very much about creating community, personality and responsibility. With the speed and reach of contemporary communication methods, it's easier than ever for people to cluster together in like-minded groups, and to feel like they're a part of something.
This is clearly evident in Lambie- Nairn's relationship with mobile communications company O2, one of its most enduring clients. When the two first began working together, O2 was comprised of a fragmented series of mobile telecom companies across Europe; most notably BT Cellnet in the UK. Circa 2000-01, when the company was spun off, Lambie-Nairn was one of four agencies brought in to pitch and create a new identity for the nameless brand.
"Within the [consumer] research quickly cropped up a quote: 'I would no longer leave home without my mobile phone, my wallet or my keys'," Burton recalls. "I think that was a real change in people's perceptions of mobile phones. We asked ourselves a simple question: at the heart of that quote is a statement about being essential to life, so what's essential to life?"
The answer was oxygen, and so the atmospheric molecule O2 became the brand name. "It seemed to be both an abstract and modern concept for a name," Burton explains, "the metaphorical significance is easy to see: oxygen is perhaps the greatest enabler of life. The agency pitched and won with that idea. Then it moved on to creating the logotype, refining the role of the bubbles, defining a basic elements toolkit, and other elements of the brand's look and feel.
"It's the classic bit of branding," he adds. "You look for the insight, the insight leads to the idea and then the idea manifests itself as a brand." It took nine months to go from blank slate to brand launch, on a budget comprised of the remaining BT Cellnet marketing money.
Years passed and in the run-up to the turn of the century, the Millennium Dome introduced many to the term 'white elephant' with a celebration that was characterised by Queen Elizabeth being strong-armed by Tony and Cherie Blair into joining a rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne'. These days, the rechristened Dome - now monikered The O2 - is more likely to be thought of as a venue that Prince sold out for most of August 2007.
Lambie-Nairn's part in the rebranding was also significant. Working with a number of agencies and companies, including Millennium Experience provider AEG, their stewardship of the brand meant that the converted Dome not only had to feel like a place connected to O2, but also that the experience itself meshed with the company's brand ethos.
"There were many, many different partners and skill sets. Our central role of guardianship enabled us to orchestrate everything and ensure every recommendation worked together, delivering the best overall sense of what the brand was," says James Quayle, the company's head of strategy.
An idea that constantly surfaces when talking to Lambie-Nairn is that of the consumer as fan. They become pronounced in the global community, and those consumers that become fans of the brand are subsequently in it for the long run. For O2 the agency went one step further. Its launch of The O2 was for O2 employees, especially the thousands working in call centres across the country, turning its staff into fans of the brand.
"Using The O2 to change the internal structure was a powerful statement for them as well," says Quayle. "O2 had to go from being BT Cellnet, a bunch of accountants and number crunchers, into this whole organisation that was customer-centric, about a can-do attitude. Taking those people on that journey by giving them a vision of what the brand could be and how they could play a part in it has been one of the great success stories of O2, and The O2."
"The whole process and the ongoing relationship we have with O2 is something that we as a company have learned a lot from," concludes Sophie. "It kind of informs how we look at other jobs. It's made a difference, that one job."
It should be noted, however, that Lambie-Nairn has by no means forgotten its television heritage. Most recently, it became the go-to agency for Abu Dhabi television, a job that saw the launch of four channels in two months. Chief executive Christian Schroeder happened to be attending an Emirates-based conference in mid-2008 when the meetings between the agency and broadcaster were set in motion. After an initial tender process, work began in May; it was to culminate in the relaunch of four channels, once Ramadan had ended at the beginning of October.
The brief itself was relatively simple. The Abu Dhabi state broadcaster wished to restructure its operation and the way it was perceived within the region's media landscape of 400 channels. It wished to shrug off dated branding to fit in with the aspirations of the emirate: modern, future-looking and culturally advanced, while still being respectful of societal structure, tradition and heritage.
In the process of what Schroeder describes as "sitting around a table with a pencil and paper", the word 'multifaceted' was suggested as a direction. It seemed to fit with the emirates' complexity: a place where a poetry competition and a grand prix are equal prime-time attractions. The idea gave way to a diamond logo, which became central to the stations' visual language.
"It was quite a demanding project, launching four channels within the period of time," recalls Adrian. "Including all the OSP and menu systems, and also getting that embedded within the business, because they were all new deliverables. They had a completely new suite delivered at the station, so everything was new to everyone."
Even though a lot of work was involved to get to the relaunch date, essentially, this is just the beginning of the project. "It does two things really," Adrian explains. "It signals change and it says, 'watch this space'. It's as simple as that."
Speaking of change, Electronic Arts recently took the agency in a new direction. Lambie-Nairn created the brand identity for EA's upcoming Nintendo DS title Zubo, being ultimately responsible for a standard set of branding features that includes logotype, colour palette, brand guidelines and so on. But the agency didn't settle for following the trend and the job is a neat innovation as a result.
Games often see in-game graphics pulled out and converted into a jumble of image and text on their packaging, but Lambie-Nairn was adamant that the brand, including the packaging, should be clear and uncluttered to withstand the visual muddle of the retail shelves.
"It was a different approach with Zubo," says Adrian. "It was saying, 'this is not the point to shout about the graphics and what the game's about'. It's a signpost, where to find it: it's over here! You've heard about it, your mates have told you about it, it's this easy to find!"
What's the future for branding? Quayle thinks technology is likely to impact on television. "The brand is no longer what's around it. The brand is the content," he says.
This changes people's relationships with brands and the role they play in their lives. Not only will there be more platforms to assert a brand's presence but, for television, it'll be more deeply intertwined with the product itself.
"Increasingly, we're working with more departments within companies," says Quayle. "So we're talking with HR departments, with the new product development departments, as well as the marketing department and the people who are in charge of the sales channels. Our role is becoming broader, because people are starting to realise branding only works when everything works together."