James Ramsden is Executive Creative Director of branding agency Coley Porter Bell.

We asked Ramsden about his role, about immersive brands and design-centred campaigns, and his predictions on what’s to come in the industry.

Image: James Ramsden

Econsultancy: Tell me about your role – what does a typical day look like for you?

James Ramsden: If I’m at home, I like to start the day with a local walk. I’m not keen on rolling out of bed and getting straight behind the desk. After a good strong coffee, my next morning ritual is rifling through the day’s design news. I’ve spent the past 15 years or so subscribing to newsletters about design and adjacent topics that interest me. It keeps me on top of  current brand and branding stories and learning more about wider industry topics such as UX or AI.

Then yes, there are the obvious bits; the email checking, the calendar organising . Not the most glamorous part of the role but allotting time and sequencing projects is one of the most important things to get right. Working in a fast-paced agency, I’m involved in many projects throughout my day, often all at distinctly different development points. Organisation is key to staying on top of things.

And then the largest part of my day is spent reviewing ongoing work and projects, sharing my experience with teams to guide projects, their outcomes and what we make and create. My role is also to support the team, to help them achieve the best work they can on the brands we are working with. I also like to remain actively involved in some of the work. At the end of the day, I’m a creative and a designer and I still adore design and creativity – rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck into working with the team on a pitch or a project is still my favourite part of the role.

Econsultancy: What is an immersive brand? And how do immersive brands drive growth?

Ramsden: The digital revolution has inspired huge progress for businesses, brands, technology and how we live our lives. The creative community is acutely aware of the array of interactions we have with brands during our day to day lives. Gone are the days of only being concerned with ‘distinctive assets’ (which still have a role). We now have entire experiences to consider, from content to influencers, immersive technologies to voice definition – and many more.

We’ve also seen a huge shift in what people expect from brands. We increasingly hold them accountable for their impact on the world. And that has led to ever heightening consumer expectations. We often use a quote from Bridget van Kralingen from IBM who said:  The last, best​ experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for experiences they want everywhere., and she couldn’t be more spot on.

People expect brilliance. Their expectation is high and their patience is short. Everything must ‘just work’, everything in the brand ecosystem has to be connected and meet the experience expectations we all build around the brands we let into our heads and hearts.

We’ve built our Immersive Branding philosophy by identifying seven critical dimensions informed by the past, present and future of branding. These help clients identify how to equip their brands with what they need to navigate the changing world we live in. Clients can measure their brands’ health and those of their competitors – to define what they need to progress and in turn succeed.

We’ve all experienced what it’s like when a brand feels truly immersive. It delivers a complete, total experience, packed with distinctive moments that intelligently stimulate every sense. This is how the most exciting, responsible and forward-thinking brands are creating today. It’s how they remain distinctive and relevant.

Econsultancy: Where do brands typically go wrong when it comes to branding or design?

Ramsden: There are of course moments when brands, and the people behind them, ‘get it a bit wrong’. They misjudge a situation or the mood of the people, perhaps make changes to their brand or failing to set the standards we expect from leaders in industry. Graham Clifford’s recent update of Milton Glaser’s iconic unofficial emblem “I ♥ NY” comes to mind. The uproar from New Yorkers has been loud and clear despite there being no plan for it to replace the original design.

How brands handle situations like these and maintain the goodwill and trust they’ve earned is key. This is often what people remember when they think of ‘brands getting it wrong’. But there are other things from our perspective as brand makers and creators, that brands could do to get it ‘more right’.

Perhaps one of the most repeated mis-steps is when the people behind the brands aren’t quite brave enough. Agency cliché I know. But if you think about the number of new brands launched each year, creating a brand experience that is distinctive, memorable and immersive is critical to standing out and ensuring engagement.

And finally, go beyond the visual. We are all trained to think in our dominant sense – visual – and therefore many people think of brand identity projects as mainly visual solutions. And this is what Immersive Branding is working to overcome. There are hundreds of ways that brands are experienced and it’s our job as brand experts to create and reinforce the unique experience of that brand wherever it shows up.

Econsultancy: How should brands approach turbulent times, and how can they connect with consumers during any upheaval?

Ramsden: In turbulent times such as these, brands should do what any decent human being would: offer their customers support, behave responsibility and simply do the right thing

Brands can take a lead and create positive impacts with sustainable action and policies. Helping their customers – and themselves – navigate the tough times ahead. From giffgaff launching its price-freeze campaign to provide its customers with a little stability when they need it most to Aldi launching an Adult Breakfast Club to help parents skipping meals to feed their children. Some brands are brilliantly leading the way.

We recently held an interesting panel discussion on this exact topic and one of our guests, Kate Waters, spoke about how in 2022, ITV conducted a large piece of cultural and semiotic research called ‘What Unites A Kingdom’ which uncovered five deeply rooted cultural truths that act as our shared cultural DNA.

One of these truths is the notion of ‘everyday magic’ – the idea of spreading happiness to consumers through uplifting moments and light-hearted fun. “It’s about coming together as a nation, in moments of collective effervescence”, she said. And this was how ITV chose to connect to its viewers and support them through tough times.

Brands shouldn’t stray too far from their identity. At the same event, author Georgina Wilson-Powell shared a great example – pasta brand Barilla’s campaign and device for Passive Cooking, rooted in an Italian tradition of passive cooking, it advised consumers on how to use less energy. There was also the less great example of SSE Energy Services’ advice for customers to do star jumps to keep warm.

Research from Capgemini found that 79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness, or environmental impact. But this means that brands need to communicate the actions they take and the care they have for consumers to build trust – without greenwashing.

Econsultancy: Can you share your favourite project from the past year?

Ramsden: One project that is close to my heart is Reality, because it’s not just been about developing a brand identity but also a chance to be a part of a new offering in a space that I’m incredibly passionate about.

Ogilvy’s new virtual studio is a collaboration between Ogilvy Group companies: Coley Porter Bell, AQuest in Italy, BottleRocket in the US and Jussi in Brazil, as well as various elements of Ogilvy Consulting. It’s a hugely exciting venture to be part of. The collaboration enlists the most future-facing talent across the global network to create experiences that help brands make the most of emerging technologies.

Augmented reality, avatar design, NFTs and virtual reality are the new frontier and offer fresh expressions that brands are beginning to define and create. Reality will help our clients and their brands define how their ventures into new technology can feel ‘on-brand’.

Econsultancy: What trends or innovation do you think will come to the forefront of your industry in the next 12 months?

Ramsden: I think I need another strong coffee for this.

It’s fair to say that there has been a lot for brands to keep up with. In the past couple of years, we have seen new technologies emerge and consumer expectations grow. But we have also experienced a global pandemic, economic unrest, a cost-of-living crisis, political upheaval, potential recession etc. I would go on, but I fear dredging up the unpleasant feelings we’re all trying to suppress.

And while there are trends and innovations we can predict for the next 12 months – AI and it’s growing potential to speed up the creative process; sustainability and its impact on everything we do and create; and personalisation being at the forefront of all brand activity. There is so much movement and influence effecting businesses and consumers, brands need to remember they cannot do it all.

I think the biggest innovation that will come to the forefront in the next year is businesses realising the power that lies with staying true to their brand and expertise, offering customers what they need most but also only what the brand can provide.

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