I have been spending the last two years telling anyone who visits me in Brighton & Hove about an innovative new attraction. For short-hand I have described this as a 'Polo mint on a stick', but no longer do I need to do so since today, the British Airways i360, which at 450ft is the tallest viewing platform in the world, has opened.
Us local residents have seen this develop over the last year, but now it is finished it looks no less spectacular. I'll leave their PR team to tell you the rest, but I am interested in this because of what it says about the history of Brighton & Hove - and therefore how it is distinctive from similar British seaside resorts. This can provide inspiration for marketing your organisation, large or small, or thinking of innovating their products or services or the way they are presented.
Since the i360 was first proposed as a way of invigorating a rather untidy part of Brighton seafront, where the remains of the West Pier stand, it has, and continues to be, met with derision by some. The historical societies and residents point out that it contrasts badly against the historic Regency and Brunswick squares nearby, while some have complained about the large public sector loan which the Council has negotiated to support the funding of this project, which could have been spent on other facilities for Brighton & Hove.
Both miss the point. The i360 is the latest chapter in the history of Brighton and Hove as a resort, a place of attraction. Indeed it could be said that those squares might never have been built without attractions like the i360 of the day being created.
Brighton was the first true seaside resort in the UK. It never had any heavy industry, it started as a farm, and was a fishing village and key defensive point on the map in the time of the Armada. When Prince George decided to build his summer house, Brighton was a tiny community. Originally a pretty standard classical style country house, it was later modelled to become one of the most outrageously original buildings in the form of the Royal Pavilion, so distinctive that it is still, two hundred years on, the definitive icon for the city (although as of today it may have a little competition). The story of Brighton is one of new forms of attraction, from dramatic squares, to large hotels, and once two magnificent piers..
What powered its development was tourism. The new London and Brighton Railway, a major innovation of its time, brought the capital and the town closer together and new hotels, pubs, squares and shops caused the town to develop, and make it what it is today. What powered its success was the power to attract.
The i360 is just the latest attraction in the story of Brighton, as ambitious as the Royal Pavilion, Grand Hotel and Brighton Centre before it. Yes, the Brighton Centre might be looking old now, but in the late 1970s it was the cutting edge in conference facilities only recently overtaken in the last ten years by Manchester and Liverpool which are much bigger metropolises.
Of course, Brighton has grown in other areas. It hosts two universities which have profoundly changed the economy both in terms of students, academia and businesses linked to research. It has an award-winning library. The new hospital development - the single largest investment in one project in the history of the NHS - will make Brighton and Hove the centre for medical care outside London in South East England. And you need to look no further in terms of transformational change then the football club, once homeless and nearly out of the league and now hosted resplendently at the Amex Community Stadium and knocking on the door of Premiership (please let it be this year!). In terms of industry, it is the clickable digital media that is becoming the lifeblood, along with a few green enterprises, with some stating it is the UK's San Francisco, but tourism is still the key.
The i360 is the epitome of ambitious progress that has kept Brighton & Hove as the leading seaside resort in the UK. Once upon a time Blackpool inspired the world with its Tower, Golden Mile, and use of new technology of electricity, but somehow that city seems lost between the fairground and the stag weekend, although it is still the place for ballroom dancing, see below. Bournemouth seems comfortably middle class and middle of the road. But Brighton & Hove is still cutting edge in terms of attractions.
And there is some inspiration in Brighton & Hove's story, for organisations, large and small. It seems these days that business magazines, podcasts and advice is around innovation. It is good to innovate, for one thing it shows you are distinctive from your competitors. But it cannot be innovation for innovation's sake. You need to look at the core values of your business and organisation, and what you are known for and then innovate in line with these.
You could say that Brighton & Hove has built its whole existence on being the place of unusual attractions, ones you really cannot see anywhere else. The i360 would look out of place at Margate, or Hastings, but they have innovated through new distinctive art galleries the Turner Contemporary and the Jerwood Gallery. Sometimes you just need to wait for a trend, twenty years ago ballroom dancing was seen as dated, and shown on TV at 11pm, now the BBC broadcasts hours and hours of ballroom dancing every autumn. Blackpool Tower Ballroom is the place to ballroom dance, and this has made a difference to Blackpool's tourism for the last few years - although perhaps Blackpool needs to widen the appeal beyond this, maybe a 21st century theme park.
That's why as an organisation or business, large or small, selling or influencing, you need to work from your core values and then innovate. Look at the market, at your competitors and see what you can do to give distinctiveness as long as it aligns to your values. And sometimes the opportunity is not immediate.
The i360 is the follow-up to the amazingly successful London Eye, designed by Marks Barfield and indeed has got the same original sponsor of British Airways on board. It has taken sixteen years for a similar distinctive landmark viewing centre like the Eye to appear on our shores, but I think, worth waiting for.
May your company soar to new heights and view new horizons.