Letting serendipity into your life

I discovered a fascinating blogpost on serendipity today, whilst looking at who had used #brandgym on Twitter. This discovery was of course in itself an act of serendipity, defined by Wikipedia as a "fortunate happenstance" or "pleasant surprise".

[Pub quiz factoid of the day: serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, inspired by a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, in which the princes were “always making discoveries by accident of things which they were not in quest of”]

The author of the post, Colin Cathor, suggests that letting serendipity into our lives helps make brands more human, by "allowing room for the quirk, the anomaly, the real."  Below are a few ways he suggests you can do this.

1. Stop when you stub your toe

"Don’t just rub your metaphorical foot and walk on when you trip on something that shouldn’t be there," says Colin. For example, in a workshop or meeting be on the lookout for "the collective awkward-pause and the raised-eyebrows" which usually accompany a "toe-stub", when you bang up against something that seems out of place. This could be the grain of sand that creates a pearl of an idea, which brings us on to ….

2. Make use of metaphors

"'It’s a bit like…' is a powerful thing," suggests Colin. Back in my days at Added Value, a team was working on the re-launch of the Walkers (Lays) brand of potato crisp. In one workshop during a participant said that the brand's personality was like Gary Lineker, an English footballer famous for being a winner but also a nice guy, who had never got a yellow card in his whole career. Lineker was featured in the brand's communication and 20 years later he is still used, having become a highly distinctive and effective property for the brand.

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3. Embrace brilliant mistakes 

"Recognise when something inspired happens by happy accident, and then back it" is another way to make the most of serendipity. Colin quotes the example of Angostura Bitters (brandgym partner David Nichols adds a few drops in tonic water to make a tasty pre-dinner tipple). It seems they got the size of the bottle label wrong, making it look funny. But the manufacturer "stuck it on, and stuck with it", giving the band a quirk that makes it distinctive.

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4. Follow the funny

Colin makes a habit of capturing "Funny things, playful things, happen spontaneously, often at un-asked-for times", as there may be some marketing magic in this moment. For example, he imagines how "somebody in an online insurance company said '…market…sounds a bit like meerkat!' And somebody else laughed.", leading to the creation of a highly distinctive brand. 

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5. Fly solo

Many great ideas are born when you are not trying to be creative, often when you are alone and letting your mind wander. At the brandgym, we find that "shower time" is a great source of ideas. On other occasions it might be when you are driving (keep your eyes on the road though), doing the ironing or walking the dog. After all, as Colin points out, "Wordsworth was all on his own when he did his cloud-wandering thing", creating one of the most famous poems of all time. This classic ad shows how a pint of Heineken also played a role in this creative masterpiece.


In conclusion, in a marketing world where a lot of focus is on big data and analytics, perhaps we also need to let a bit of serendipity into our lives to help us maintain our humanity and be creative?