Early 2015, I walked into the Blackhall Engineering offices and sat down with James (MD & Owner), Antony (Sales & Marketing Director), and Samay (Marketing Manager). I didn’t know a great deal about this company or what to expect. I knew they were a valve manufacturer. I knew they had a rich heritage that reached back to the 19th century. I knew they created some rather massive valves, but this was it – and this was the issue!
I recall this first meeting, and remember James and co eyeing me up with suspicion. I’m used to this because I have a funny moustache and beard, and preach about storytelling in business, and how important it is to form real relationships with your customers. Not everyone gets it, but it didn’t take long to see these guys did.
Within this initial meeting, I learned how quirky Blackhall Engineering is, and how they do things differently to their competitors. More important, they love this… embrace it… want to share it with the world.
Which is where a Brand Storyteller like myself comes in.
At this point I didn’t know what their brand story would entail, but I sensed a fantastic one sat in waiting. With such a rich heritage and innovative approach I couldn’t wait to get started, so I took the job and four months later we smiled from ear-to-ear.
But not before we overcame a few fundamental issues that stood in Blackhall Engineering’s way.
“Matthew not only helped us revitalise our brand and website, but encouraged us to look at our business, story, and culture in a new light. This goes well beyond our initial expectation, and we’re excited to continue work with Matthew in the future.”
As you can see above, Blackhall Engineering had a rather outdated website. Created in 2008, it served its purpose for several years, but I couldn’t connect the people I spoke to around the meeting table… the folk I met on the factory floor… or the designers and engineers who shared their passion about the valve industry with that damn website.
Of course, the website only touched upon the issue. The real elephant in the room was Blackhall’s message and story, which I knew had true heart and soul, but they simply didn’t share this with the world. More worrying, they didn’t appreciate it or understand it themselves.
An added obstacle were a few of the prestigious brands that sit under the Blackhall umbrella (Taylor, Shaw, Larner Johnson). Well known in their industries, these are the type of brands customers trust and flock towards, but the whole point is to transfer this trust and adoration to Blackhall Engineering.
We had to build Blackhall’s brand value whilst not destroying Shaw’s, Taylor’s, and Larner’s. As such, this project was never about a website. I knew within the first meeting it would play a central role, but the ultimate challenge was to help Blackhall Engineering share WHO they are and WHY they’re special – harnessing brands like Shaw and Taylor, but building an engaging and meaningful relationship with their customers that goes beyond these sub-brands.
So we began the DISCOVERY process, and all I wanted to know was:
- WHO they truly were (what made this business tick at the heart)
- WHY anyone should care (what makes them special and different)
- WHAT we had to achieve over the coming weeks and months.
Within a few meetings a couple of common threads began to shine through.:
products, relationships, and a service that lasts
this isn’t cheap and simple – it’s high quality and bespoke
a tailored approach to everything they do
never about a valve, but everything that comes with the project
a rich history that reaches far into the past
proud of their community, staff, industry…
a rich past, but focus always on tomorrow
so different and unique, they coined their own term
These words shown through each meeting, and no matter who I spoke to these common threads wouldn’t go away. I take this as a good sign, as it’s such values and words that form the foundation of a story, and define who Blackhall are.
Before long we set a few objectives and had a genuine eye on the prize. As you can see from a few examples below, the website played a central role in this, but it was never about a single site.
By going through the DISCOVERY process, we unearthed who Blackhall Engineering were and what made them special. All of a sudden James and co didn’t just have a message they could put in brochures and chat about in sales meetings, but one they were genuinely proud about – and one they knew the entire staff would get behind.
We set the foundations to strengthen the already amazing culture they’d built over the years. All we had to do next was figure out HOW to do this… which is where the CREATING process came into play.
Being a Brand Storyteller, I took a story-centric approach to everything. Not only do Blackhall Engineering have a fantastic factory with impressive machines, but their suppliers do, too, and the projects they’ve worked on over the years… these are some of most prestigious cities and countries and businesses in the world.
We sat on a goldmine of stories, and the quirky characters who call Blackhall Engineering their home (like Les, the hilarious driver; Antony, and his ability to impersonate everyone in the company; and Dougie, the founder of the business with more stories than anyone else I know)… it’s safe to say we had some good stuff to work with.
Here’s an overview of what we set out to achieve:
- Build a minimalist website that focussed on the people behind Blackhall, and the stories about how they help their customers through memorable experiences.
- Move focus away from text, facts, and figures, and towards visuals that capture the true story on offer
- Use video in a big way, but not the standard corporate ones that so many manufacturers produce
- Take focus away from executing a sale, and towards starting a conversation
- Focussing on who Blackhall serves the best, rather than trying to be something for everyone
- Ensure everything created has room to grow, evolve, and move with the times
- Educate, inspire, and involve Blackhall Engineering’s community (staff, customers & suppliers) whenever possible
Further down the page you’ll see the end result, and a few examples of the videos we created. I must stress that this only scratches the surface, because what we truly created during this project is an INTENTION – an intention to share stories… involve staff, suppliers & customers… focus on building long-lasting relationships… and continue to push the boundaries in terms of combining their rich heritage with their focus towards innovation.
This was a team effort, too.
Samay began referring to me as the Brand Architect, a term I admit to liking. During the Discovery Process it was all about me working with James, Antony, and Samay, but as soon as we began Creating, I set out to form a team of individuals who could deliver what we needed to achieve.
Mike created all the graphics on the website, as well as working with Blackhall on other areas of their marketing. He brought a unique flavour to the project that took my vision to the next level. A style that not only showcased Blackhall’s professionalism and high-standard, but a creative touch that I believe sets them apart from their competition.
Here’s what Mike had to say about being part of this team:
Videographer & Editor
Jimmy worked alongside myself on each Blackhall Video, taking the lead role in videography and editing. Not just his creative input in storyboarding each video, he offered an attention to detail during each video shoot that made all the difference. It meant we got the shots we needed, in a timely fashion, and all the while keeping things natural and fresh.
As for the editing process… he nailed it, ensuring each video kept a common style, but each providing their own unique aspects to the overall story.
Here’s what Jimmy had to say about being part of this team:
Although Hannah was with us for an entire video shoot, you wouldn’t know it. She slipped effortlessly into her surroundings and gathered all the headshots, office pictures, behind the scene images, and a whole host more. No fuss. No mess. No added stress to my shoulders.
With a keen eye for capturing the right shot at the right moment, she created a roll of film full of images we could use, not just on the website, but for all other marketing collateral down the line.
Here’s what Hannah had to say about being part of this team:
Website Design & Development
Rajesh took control of both the design and development of the website, ensuring it aligned with the larger vision created, and maintaining a fast, future-proof, user friendly site. Considering the website played such a large role in this project, you can imagine how involved Rajesh and his team were.
As for myself… during the Creating Process I acted as project manager, overseeing each team member, communicating with them on a daily basis, and ensuring everyone remained on the same page. This meant bridging the gap between Blackhall Engineering (Samay, for the most part) and each individual element of the project, because the last thing you need during a time like this is miscommunication and confusion.
I also wrote the website copy and ensured each piece of content (visual or otherwise) came together to form a unified story, making sure each video and image played a specific role on the page… that each page played a defined role within the website… and that the website represented Blackhall Engineering’s story in the best possible light.
A tricky feat to achieve, but one I love.
In terms of how we all remained on the same page, I used Asana to keep the team communicated and coordinated, and a good old email for everything else. Although I can’t forget our love affair with Google Docs and Dropbox and Wistia.
As I do with most things, I took a transparent approach so everyone involved in the team had access (although limited depending on their role) to folders and documents that provided a peek into the bigger picture. I’m a firm believer that this helps people take ownership, and aids in keeping everyone on the same page.
Not without difficulty at times, but after four months of Discovering & Creation, we produced an end result that placed a lot of smiles on a lot of faces.
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE BLACKBALL ENGINEERING WEBSITE IN ACTION
We delivered slightly behind schedule in the end, but this was down to logistics more than anything else. A couple of Bank Holidays didn’t help, neither did an Easter Break where a few key members were away on their holidays.
What we did deliver is a site that met expectations, and beyond this, a narrative that’s brought Blackhall’s staff closer together, and a story that their customers love. One of the best things since finishing this project are the comments Samay has relayed to me, full of praise for standing out, taking a different approach, and capturing the strengths Blackhall posses each day (over the phone, when people come to visit, overall interactions between people…).
As I said in the beginning, this wasn’t about a website. It’s about reigniting the Blackhall Engineering Brand, and sharing their unique story as far as possible – to the right audience, of course.
I think this is best showcased in the videos (A Day With Dave my personal favourite), where the product takes a backseat to the people involved, the story behind each project, and the experience Blackhall deliver. Take the ‘A Day With Dave‘ Video, where it isn’t about the after-sales-service, so much as the passion Dave has for his job (and the experiences he delivers to customers across the world).
Longevity, Innovation, Personal, Heritage, Experience, Pride… this is what the Blackhall Engineering story is built upon. This is what we aimed to showcase through the videos, not what a valve does or how it works. It’s not to say such detail isn’t important, it just wasn’t the aim of this project or website.
Although in the future… well, let’s just say there are a few exciting plans in place.
For now, check out the Blackhall Engineering Website and a few video examples…
The Main Blackhall Brand Film
an insight into who Blackhall Engineering are, the people behind the business, and how they approach each day differently to their competitors. The aim was focus beyond the product, and humanise the entire customer experience.
A Day With Dave
a behind-the-scenes look at Blackhall’s After Sales Service, and the main man who helps deliver exceptional projects each day. We wanted to show how Dave went about his business, what he loves about it, and how he helps Blackhall customers get the most out of their valves – long after the original project finishes
As I write these words, this project continues to grow and evolve. In many ways the Blackhall Engineering brand story has only just begun, and although I can’t go into too much detail about what lies ahead, I’m excited to see this tale spread its wings.
After the Discovery & Creating Processes, it’s time to SHARE this wonderful story with those who it’s designed for.
I continue to consult and work with Blackhall Engineering to ensure they get the most out of this, because it’s pointless to have a wonderful site with great videos if nobody sees it – or worse, the wrong people do.
I’m proud of what we achieved, and I personally have taken a lot from this. I’ve grown and learned a great deal, and I hope James and co have, too. In fact, I know they have, because the best words that left his mouth several weeks ago were:
I paraphrase because I can’t remember exactly what James said, but it placed a giant smile upon my face because this is what it’s all about. This project was never about a website. It wasn’t about a few videos. It’s about the Blackhall Engineering Story, and ensuring they appreciate it, understand it, continue to build upon it each day, and share it with those they help the most.
So far so good, although as I keep saying, there’s more to come from this group of valve-loving engineers.
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE BLACKBALL ENGINEERING WEBSITE IN ACTION
Sales & Marketing Director
“We’re proud of what we do here at Blackhall Engineering and as we manufacture a diverse range of valves across a wide range of industries, it is a challenge to communicate what we do best and what sets us apart. Matthew helped us delve deep into our message and story, equipping us with the tools and knowledge that go beyond the new website he helped deliver.”
“Matthew and myself worked closely on this project, and it was fantastic to experience a different approach to what I’m used to. He kept everyone in the same loop, which was important to me because I had Blackhall Engineering’s grander marketing direction in mind. A fantastic project, and one I learned a great deal from.”