Only dead fish swim with the tide

Contrary, rebellious, disruptive. These three words often featured in my school reports. Teachers would lead me (and my parents) to believe that this was a problem. Yet it’s these traits that’ve helped me build a successful brand design agency.

When I started Robot Food, I had no relevant experience and a lot to learn. I’d never even been in a design agency, let alone worked in one. By not knowing the rules, it was easy to break them. By growing, learning and challenging the established model, we’ve created a new type of agency. One that embraces real creativity and avoids mundane roll-out. One that questions briefs and works with clients to deliver solutions with integrity. One that our team all feel proud to be a part of. No wonder we stand out among our peers.

Only dead fish swim with the tide and just like the brand design industry, product categories are becoming saturated with competing brands and products, making navigation bloody hard work. Rather than making the effort to stand out, brands are simply copying each other until it’s all homogenous wallpaper. If you’ve ever tried to choose a chocolate bar with a hangover, you’ll know what I mean.

Everyone wants ‘standout’. But true standout takes more than a bright colour palette. You’ve got to have (or create) something about you – a purpose – that resonates. Established brands that trade on recognition alone are simply asking for savvy challenger brands to steal their market share.

Look at shaving brands. There’s only so many blades and features you can add until people stop believing. DollarShaveClub’s cost-effective, functional razor brand delivers to your door. Over two million people signed up. Gillette’s response? Copy their challenger by offering a similar service.

People buy purpose, not products. They want brands with clear values that strike a personal chord. What we do at Robot Food is unearth what makes you different and then turn up the volume.

So what is a challenger brand? It’s NOT another small muesli brand trading under its founder’s first name. A true challenger is Apple when they challenged Microsoft. Virgin when they challenged British Airways. Dyson when they challenged Hoover.

My point? The most effective brand strategy is always transformational. And you can’t transform anything if you’re busy following category norms. Anyone can say they want to be a challenger but unless they’re committed to genuine change, change won’t happen.

My vision for Robot Food has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We refuse to honour clichés. We bring freshness. Brands small and large are choosing us for our challenger attitude, regardless of whether we’ve got experience in their category. They’re realising that ‘safe’ is a recipe for mediocrity and invisibility.

I’ve learned that you don’t get your fifteen minutes of fame by fitting in. I started Robot Food fuelled by raw, disruptive energy and we created a unique attitude and sound, and – running with this musical analogy – we’re now playing stadiums. And as long as we don’t start writing songs to fill those stadiums (like Kings of Leon), our edge will stay sharp.

– Words by Simon