Dialogue Q1 2020

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Signs of life There’s genius in simplicity, writes Ben Walker

Super Signs: Taking Your Brand to the Ultimate Level Sam & Nan Hua LID Publishing

Few things divide East and West more than the disparity in the recognition of our business heroes. Twice now I’ve been humbled by the sheer scale of Chinese people’s patriotic enthusiasm for their business leaders – first at the British Museum in London, when I found myself holding back the crowds determined to get a glimpse of my publisher’s one-time client Wang Jianlin, the Wanda boss; latterly at University College London (UCL), where scores of ultrabright young things of Chinese origin eagerly packed a lecture theatre for Sam Hua to share his wisdom. Neither Wang nor Hua are household names in the West: both are huge out East. Hua and his younger brother Nan combine to make Hua&Hua, the marketing and branding agency that has transformed the fortunes of some of the biggest brands in China. On that warm autumn night at UCL, Hua talked – in English, practised over 20 hours of private rehearsal – about his ethos, as outlined superbly in his latest book Super Signs. There was some of the customary marketing credo, of course: repetition is good, maintain message discipline, keep it simple. Yet in this last mantra the Hua brothers have something quite special: the concept of a super sign. Super signs say something profound and convene a multitude of ideas in a single icon.

Super signs say something profound and convene a multitude of ideas in a single icon

Britishness is boiled down into a red bus or post box. Francophilia is awakened by wooden shutters. Super signs can be remarkably mundane: pedestrian crossings saying ‘Walk/ Don’t Walk’ channel the dynamic essence of urban America. In a particularly brilliant campaign, the two Messrs Hua reinvigorated the soy sauce brand Chubang by plastering all its labelling and merchandise with the green chequered pattern found on restaurant tablecloths across China. The imagery provided an instant, visceral recall of good times, good food, and good company. “It even caused some consumers to salivate,” Hua told the UCL audience. Certainly, it whetted the appetite: the book left me wondering how many more super signs are lurking about our lives, just waiting for clever marketers to sniff them out. The keys to commercial success are often right under your nose. Ben Walker is editor-at-large of Dialogue


Struggling to focus? Forest could help, writes Perry Timms Are you a smartphone addict? The average user checks their phone 63 times a day; 86% of us will check a phone whilst with family and friends. Only 30% of us claim to have successfully made changes to control our usage. So how about an app that helps boost your productivity by improving your focus, penalizing excessive checking, and creating a sense of achievement? Forest is that app. It adopts the Pomodoro Technique, using a timer to break work into regular intervals, which helps users commit to focusing on other tasks and stay away from all the Dialogue Q1 2020

distractions offered by a phone. The key to this approach is that it helps reinforce sustained periods of focus while also creating regular breaks, which help ensure that you can complete your work efficiently. The twist is that Forest creates a virtual tree that grows as time passes: if you touch the phone before the task session is complete, the tree dies. Sustained concentration is rewarded by seeing your very own forest grow. What’s more, you can turn that into real-world growth: the Forest team partners with a tree-planting organization,

Trees for the Future, to plant real trees when users spend the virtual coins they have earned in the app. Productivity enhancement, a cure for smartphone addiction and a contribution to planting real trees? Forest is a ‘triple bottom line’ app if ever there was one.

— www.forestapp.cc — Perry Timms is an independent HR/OD practitioner and CIPD adviser on social media and engagement. Follow him on Twitter @PerryTimms