Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Of Cogs & Spirals…

David Burnby

I first met David Burnby of Common Purpose when he came on the second of my Introduction to Spiral Dynamics & Related Models of NLP courses June-July 2001. David was so enamoured of the material that I asked him to contribute something for my embryonic Blog. The provocative piece that follows is what he wrote for me.

Hull is a great place! The quality of life is high, the folk are friendly, the pace is easy. It’s an attractive city with much to offer. Yet ask someone outside of Hull what they think of the city, what image they have of the place, and you’ll probably get a resounding ‘don’t know’ or something about fish (actually, a very small part of the local economy). Unless of course they’ve stayed here a while, in which case you’ll probably get a very different story – a very large number of Hull students, for example, fall in love with the place and stay here.

Does it matter if we have a bad image – or no image at all? Yes it does. Because like any other city, Hull needs to attract inward investment, skilled and talented people, tourists: and the people of Hull need to feel good about their own city and spread the word. Yet Hull was not good at marketing itself. The branding was confused based on a variety of different logos, strap lines, even names (the city appears on some maps as ‘Kingston upon Hull’ and others as just plain ‘Hull’).

About four years ago, spurred on by the then Bishop of Hull, the Right Reverend James Jones (now Bishop of Liverpool), a group of business people bought into the future of the city by becoming ‘Bond Holders’. They invested money in buying the services of one of the country’s leading image-makers – Wolff Olins. Their consultants devised an image enhancement strategy for the city and a new branding. Based on the theme of ‘Pioneering’ (for which Hull can lay claim to much), a new logo for the city was launched which became known locally as ‘the cog’. Each ‘tooth’ on the ‘cog’ represents five ways in which Hull pioneers: Discovering, Innovating, Leading, Challenging, Creating.

As a logo, it works well. It is clean, reproduces well, lends itself to use in a variety of formats and, outside of Hull, was well received. But internally – it was a disaster. By and large, Hull people hated it. Quite why so many people felt quite so strongly about it defied logic. They criticised the using the name of the city in lower case saying it was a bad example of poor grammar! They said the ‘cog’ was old fashioned, meaningless, even insulting! They felt Hull’ s traditional coat of arms, the three coronets, was being undermined. Even flower beds depicting the new logo in the city centre were trampled down, feelings ran so high. The Letters pages of the Hull Daily Mail were saturated with abuse and derision.

As a supporter of the image enhancement strategy, I was asked to chair a group of people trying to achieve a greater buy-in to the image enhancement process. Before I could do that effectively, I needed to try and understand just why people were so dead against such a seemingly innocuous branding. Which coincided very nicely with discovering Spiral Dynamics. On Keith Rice’s second series of workshops, I used the issue as my case study.

There were already some explanations about why the cog was received so badly. “People don’t understand branding” was a favourite. “Once it’s explained what it’s all about, they’ll come around.” Maybe; but the Spiral Dynamics model helped me realise there was more to it than that. Not least because for many Hull people, the basic elements of the Spiral are not met. People will not feel positive about their city when they live in sub-standard housing, when they feel unsafe in their own homes, when they are constantly reminded about how their children are failing in school and when traditional jobs and livelihoods have vanished. All of that, I can’t change.

Yet I know that despite the many challenges Hull faces, we are far ahead of much of the country. Our schools are full of brilliant examples of achievement against the odds (even though it is not reflected in the league tables). We have a well developed and active community sector. The city’s regeneration strategy is starting to take effect. The city is steeped in examples of good practice, of community entrepreneurs succeeding against the odds. So there’s much to celebrate.

Many people in Hull operate in PURPLE – a strong sense of belonging which, in a changing world, is being threatened. People crave for the security of the tribe – their local community, often bound by history and culture. This is represented by icons in the city – notably the Lord Line building on St Andrews Quay. It was the head office of one the biggest trawler owners in the city and, in many ways, local people could be justified in seeing it as a representation of how trawler crews were mistreated by the owners, denied employment rights, a symbol of tragedy when a ship was lost.

But, no, the weight of the campaign to save that decrepit and crumbling building by the old fishing communities has frustrated developers for 10 years. It still remains an eye sore on Hull’s major approach road. Because it’s almost the last icon people have left. Telling people locked into PURPLE that their heritage is dead and gone, “you have to wake up to the NEW Hull” is a doomed strategy. You simply cannot trample over people’s heritage in that way. People will not hear that fish is smelly, unappealing, the past. Because that’s too scary. So, the new logo becomes a symbol of exclusion – a new Hull that has scant regard for the past, that people do not relate to and feel deeply suspicious of.

So the strategy has to start in PURPLE, not ORANGE. We have to help people celebrate their role in their communities, focus on the positive, highlight how successful people are in their new tribes. (The local authority perhaps did not expect the strength of opposition from tenants they would encounter when proposing demolition of the hated high rise flats on Orchard Park Estate). How? By bringing together people in an environment in which they feel safe, by helping them feel part of the ‘New’ Hull. By demonstrating how an image enhancement campaign can improve the quality of life, by acknowledging the present whilst still respecting the past. Then we can start to get the emotional buy-in to the process.

And the logo will become what it is. A marketing tool and, in the scheme of things, an almost irrelevance.



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