The Idea Engine

Moving branding forward by going back to basics

Mark Thake of The Idea Engine argues that the most impactful, long-lasting brands come from getting to grips with the right core idea. We chat to him about his successful family business and uncover the do’s and don’ts of great branding.

After a 35-year career with a leading advertising agency during which he devised high profile campaigns for international clients, Mark decided to go it alone five years ago and set up The Idea Engine, a full service creative agency based in Barnstaple offering a variety of marketing services including branding, design, websites, film advertising and direct mail. While going it alone may not strictly be true (son Josh is a fellow creative and wife Ros handles the accounts) it was nevertheless a big leap from global agency to sole trader. The business has since grown its client base to between 30 and 60 at any one time and is now a limited company. Going through the process of setting up a business has given Mark a real empathy with the clients they work with.

“Our clients range from small start-ups, for which we offer special starter packages, to global businesses and I think one of our strengths is that we ‘get’ the challenges they all face,” said Mark. “I’ve worked with numerous global brands but also have that on-the-ground experience of establishing a company from scratch. Although it’s been an incredibly rich, enjoyable experience, there have been challenges and we can really identify with our clients on that front.”

So what makes a good brand?

And how do we ensure we’re presenting our businesses in the right way? Don’t, says Mark, get carried away with the creative without first getting to the nub of why your business exists. Do ask yourself questions. What do you offer? Why are you different? Why did you start in the first place? Why are you successful? Until you’ve drilled down to your core message don’t even start to talk colours, logos or typefaces. These will prove distractions and you’ll end up with a lovely set of materials that look great but don’t mean anything to your business or its audiences. Great design maybe, but not great branding. Also, says Mark, don’t try and be too clever or something that you’re not.

“Brands should be memorable, yes, but the trend for mystery and intrigue is falling out of favour. We’re seeing a real resurgence of marketing campaigns that ‘do what they say on the tin’, either in a funny (think meerkats!), cheeky, or very direct way. They’re still creative but they’re not so cool or clever that you can’t actually understand them. Don’t feel you need to keep updating your brand either. A few years ago we saw Coca Cola change to Coke and then swiftly back again after sales plummeted. Keep things fresh by all means, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

The Idea Engine was referred to Simpkins Edwards by Mark’s solicitor and has worked with Jilly Watson and the Barnstaple team on a range of business issues including forming a limited company and ensuring the company is tax efficient.

“I feel with Simpkins Edwards we can be confident that the team’s advice keeps us on the right track and gives us confidence in our decision making as the business grows. It also takes a huge amount of pressure off our team, allowing us to get on with what we do best,” added Mark.

Talking of what they do best, there’s no better advocate than a happy customer and Steve Pedlar, who is responsible for the websites of a family-owned pub chain, including The Thatch and Billy Budds in Croyde, The Saw Mills in Berrynarbor and Cook Island near Ilfracombe, testifies that getting the basics right has proved invaluable to his business. From a very loose brief, The Idea Engine created four distinct new, easy-to-update websites that reflect the core personalities of each pub, rather than trying to create an overarching corporate identity that wouldn’t really mean anything to the consumer. This strategy, says Steve, has helped to clarify their thinking, build the individual brands in an engaging way and inform other aspects of the business’ marketing. Getting the core idea right at the outset was vital.

If you’re looking for advice on any aspect of branding or creative marketing, why not see if The Idea Engine can help you get to the core of your business? Call 01271 324594 or email

Need help setting up a limited company or ensuring your business operates tax efficiently? Call us on 01392 211233 and talk to one of our experts.