branding: a simple truth

There are professional lessons all around us, literally on tap every day if you look hard enough - even on a trip to the seaside.

By Darren Caveney

I love ice cream. I’ve tried them all. Compared and contrasted and, in my own head at least, decided which are the best.

The Italians are masters of ice cream. But the best of the lot is a British brand.

What adds to their appeal is the masterly way in which this product is branded. So simple, so clean, so stylish and with echoes of its past. It perfectly complements the product. And that’s the trick with branding.

The company is called Hockings, and it you’re a visitor to North Devon you may have sampled their fine good. That’s not a typo either – it's ‘good’, singular. Because this product is so good it comes in only one flavour – vanilla.

It’s been made in Appledore by the same family since 1936 and their small fleet of branded vans has been travelling the North Devonian coastline selling their vanilla-only product to locals and visitors alike for nearly 80 years.

The Hockings’ website tells us that the business was started by Dave Hocking with one van, a 1928 Morris Cowley converted into an ice cream van by a local firm of coachbuilders. They expanded when Dave (senior) was joined by his son Dave (junior) after the war, and together with other family members they gradually expanded and added sites and vans until today the business has 14 vans and is run by grandsons Geoff and Neil Hocking and great grandson Andrew.

They use clotted cream in their recipe so even if you haven’t been lucky enough to try one you can well imagine how good that tastes on a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon with the sun on your nose.

But the Hockings have done so much more than mastered the art of making great ice cream

They have absolutely nailed the creation of a brand too. I read last week that the ‘Four P’s’ of marketing were dead (yes, another to the list of dead things…) but I don’t agree, I believe it still has a very important place in managing our brands.

For the Hockings it would look something like this:

Product – just one, sensational clotted cream-based vanilla ice cream

Price - £1.90 for a medium cone. That’s change from a £2.00 coin.

Promotion – no nonsense, old school promotion which looks oh so simple. The only venture into brand extension I could see appears to be the little Hockings toy ice cream vans sold from the real-life, bigger brothers (one of which my son bought with his hard-earned pocket money) They are on Twitter but they are clearly too busy selling van-fulls of ice cream to spend too long on their account.

Place – sold from 14 cute, cream and red branded vans at seaside locations across North Devon

But that’s the thing. Creating and managing brands really effectively by keeping it very simple can actually be difficult. We get so wrapped up in strategies and plans, visions and missions, values and attributes that we easily forgot the simple truth of less being more, of uncluttered design, of straight-forward messaging and of a bloody good product (without which you are ever so slightly stuffed)

It’s a concept of keeping things simple which inspired comms2point0’s branding – a marrying up of the best of the old with the best of the new and with a retro feel that is always – and I mean always – black and white.

Of course when you are associated with a brand – and we all work for and with brands – you can labour for hours over how you might tinker and tailor, tweak and adapt.

But whilst enjoying my cone of vanilla heaven on Sunday in sun-kissed North Devon I was re-reminded that branding is a simple game.

So thank you to the Hockings – I love your work, both of the dairy and branding variety – and if ever a branding consultant gets in touch with you suggesting you refresh your identity you show them the door.

Darren Caveney is co-creator of comms2point0 and vice chair of LGcomms

Pic by @byebyebirdie