26th January 2022
On the 10th of January 2008, three of us sat in a small office at the top of Winchester High Street, pondering the future. Myself, Christian (my then business partner) and Pete (our Creative Director) had decided to start a new design agency.
Granted, it was in the middle of a global financial crisis, the economy was in tatters, everyone was worried about the future. But we had an unerring positivity about what we could do and what the agency would become. Once we had decided we would go for it, the next logical step was what to call the new entity. Knowing what I know now, having taken many businesses (including my own again in recent years) through a naming process, we would have done things differently. We were working at pace, we had clients to speak to and work to be done, so we sat there over a beer and literally flicked through a dictionary, Googled lots of names and ideas and wrote down everything we liked. We then placed these pieces of paper on the floor of our office and tried to find our future. We narrowed it down to a few options, most of which escape me now (I seem to recall 'chemistry' was in there) but someone had written down 'marmalade'. It had appeal. Quintessentially English, quite quirky, 'sticky' and memorable. We Googled other agencies, inspected Companies House and hunted for domain names. We quickly discovered that Marmalade Ltd and marmalade.com had been taken, so decided to add the suffix 'on toast' - more quirky, more English! We quickly registered the domain and Limited company details.
We were set - Marmalade on Toast was born.
We grew the business organically over the coming years, moving into a large studio, employing some brilliant talent (many of whom are still here today), winning awards and working with global brands such as Harrods, Barclays and Cartoon Network.
As the agency matured we inevitably adapted the brand, revisiting our identity 2-3 times in the following 10 years. The name remained constant, sometimes shortened to just Marmalade, but also often used in its entirety. In 2016 Christian exited the business, and Pete and I embarked on a new path, looking to grow the agency beyond our team of eight and to see if we could win bigger and better projects.
During this growth we acquired another local agency, Skyline, adding more brilliant talent and clients to our team. As we welcomed the staff from Skyline into Marmalade, two things became clear; firstly we needed more space - we were now a team of nearly 20 people, inhabiting a studio of just 1200 sq ft. We eventually found a wonderful space in a nearby office building, 4,000 sq ft of top floor open space, overlooking Winchester. This was perfect for us, we refitted the space, creating something that was unmistakably ours.
Secondly, the brand. One of our core offerings here is branding. We have refined this process over the years, being more insight-led which inevitably leads to a more meaningful, powerful outcome. During the process of growing and moving Pete and I realised we had never applied this thinking to our own agency. It was time to rectify this.
I was adamant that we needed outside support, someone who could look at the agency from the outside in and give us some unique insight, someone with incredible experience. This person was Lynne Dobney, ex COO of Interbrand, whom I had known for many years. Lynne gathered some wonderful insight from our clients and the agency landscape as a whole. She made us question who we were, what we did and also what we were called.
The name had become a point of contention in the agency, some loved it, some thought it was holding us back. I was somewhere in the middle, I loved what it had stood for, the history and the equity it held, but I also knew it didn't really represent who we were and there was no meaning behind it. I had even made up a story about the name, as I was asked so often where it had come from. I made up a story about a lucky ginger cat who lived in mine and Christian's flat at university and always turned up at lucky moments. We named him Marmalade due to his colour and used his name when we created the agency, to continue our good fortune. People loved the story, but I was ashamed it was all fabricated.
It was time for a change. We went through naming workshops, rounds and rounds of ideas, creative sessions pulling on every aspect of our new brand position. But nothing resonated. It is not unusual for this to happen with naming, quite often you have to let something sit for a while, it has to grow on you. Our new brand position was about clarity and about finding the truth for our clients, which often means going right back to the start, trying to unpick the core issue.
Using this idea, we went right back to the start for the agency - to that fateful day in January 2008. It was a Thursday.
Thursday didn't immediately land with everyone, rather we nodded and smiled slightly when we heard it. "That's quite nice". But once it had sat with us, we loved it. It grew on us, we started to look for other Thursdays. It turns out I was born on a Thursday, as was my first child, Jessica. It suddenly felt right. It had real meaning, not just for me, but for the agency as a whole. It was aligned with our new brand position.
So, the day we opened our beautiful new studio in Winchester, I stood up to announce that we were saying goodbye to the cat, to Marmalade, and to toast. It was a new start for us all as we welcomed Thursday.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you what day it was.