M.A.G.I.C. Origins


Here, we share an insight into how the idea of M.A.G.I.C. was formalised in the first few months after we formed in 2009.


The M.A.G.I.C. mnemonic has become a significant test for us here at Connexxions Brand & Media. As such, below we share an insight into how the idea of M.A.G.I.C. was formalised in the first few months after we formed in 2009.

The mnemonic was developed with a colleague, Christine Wilkinson, when she and I were travelling through Oxfordshire’s countryside to host a branding programme for Larkmead School. 

Our aim was to find a simple memorable way to help a group of ninety young people decide on their school’s new tagline. The solution we fell upon – M.A.G.I.C. – beautifully encapsulates the core characteristics of every great product, service, business, or organisational brand. By using the five key principles revealed by M.A.G.I.C to review a proposal, you are able to identify the difference between a solid idea with legs, and the ones that look exciting to begin with, but don’t have what it takes to build a firm foundation for the development of your brand

It goes like this:

You’ve done the Discovery process and identified your purpose and vision for where you want to be. You’ve also managed to identify a set of coherent and meaningful values. You’ve reduced this further and got the one key idea that really is at the heart of what you stand for. Everything feels great. An understanding of your brand’s essence, or DNA is starting to take shape. It feels good. Things seem to be going well.

And now the tough part. Developing the core or central idea that is to become the verbal expression or tangible embodiment of all this hard work. Some call it the Big Idea. Others, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Others still may call it a positioning statement, or point of difference, or even just plainly your tagline. Technically this is your brand proposition. It’s a bunch of inspiring words framed in a way that is meaningful and consistent with your purpose and values.

It’s the central idea that is going to carry and hopefully become the driving force behind the successful expansion of your product, service, business or organisation. 

And here's the challenge...

When will you truly know that your idea has potential? What are the core essential attributes of a successful brand, programme or campaign?

In corporate business, and in most business schools, there are numerous evaluation tools and techniques. One that stands apart, is to test your thinking by seeing if it's 'S.M.A.R.T.'. In other words, your plan is a good one if it's Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based. Great stuff. It truly works. Most of our physical world is an expression of humanity's grasp of this powerful principle.

However. For me there's a problem. As good as it is, the S.M.A.R.T. test lacks something absolutely fundamental. It's not just one thing that is lacking, but a whole set of related principles, features and attributes. Look at the words again, and you'll see that they are entirely Left Brain. Each test lacks the spirit, imagination and the sensory aspects that the Right Brain is so very good at revealing for us.

Now, I love mnemonics like S.M.A.R.T. They are a great way to help us remember things. 

Our task that day back in the autumn of 2009 was to communicate the basic principles behind the development of the school's identity. Our plan was well under way. We were at the midpoint of a 12-week programme I had devised to take a cross-section of ninety junior students through a review of their school's identity.

What we needed now was a way of giving these young people a tool to help them collectively agree on the conclusions we were all coming to. They now knew some of the basics around Left and Right brain theory. We had also introduced, through exercises and projects, the process for identifying the school’s core personality; it's point of difference and what it stands for.

Finally we had arrived at a set of propositions that appeared now to be very close to the school’s central idea. We had reduced it down to three short paragraphs that the children had chosen after considerable soul searching and research. Each of these reflecting – with differing degrees of emphasis – a particular set of qualities that characterised the school, it's pupils, culture and place within the community.

The challenge now was, how could we collectively decide on just one? That was the problem Christine and I struggled with as we drove through Oxfordshire's rolling plains.

And out of this came the mnemonic M.A.G.I.C. Each letter M, A, G, I,  and C perfectly reflects the decision cycle of necessary elements for any great brand. If any one of these characteristics is missing, then the opportunity for the brand to gain momentum is severely hampered. 

That is to say, a great brand must have the following key attributes to be successful: 

  1. M. MEANINGFUL. In other words, does your idea have a central organising principle?  Is it coherent and graspable? Does it make sense to your target audience?
  2. A. APPLIED CONSISTENTLY. Think also: Applicable or Appropriate. Is it entirely consistent with what you stand for and your purpose? Customers are quick to notice glitches in your brand logic.
  3. G. GOT LEGS. A strong idea – one that has legs – is a story that gives gravity and engagement to the varied and diverse needs of your audience. Does your brand have an idea that is likely to go the long distance? Will it travel? 
  4. I. IRRESISTIBLE. Is your proposition infectious and something that people easily pick up on and want to share? Just as in nature, businesses succeed when their core functionality is expressed in easy, understandable terms.
  5. C. CREATIVE. Finally, no brand will amount to much without a good pinch of creative juice to give it that extra edge. Great brands stand apart by engaging and inspiring through playfulness, innovation, novelty or aesthetics.

You can use the M.A.G.I.C. formula to test on any idea: your brand proposition, your creative campaign, your product launch, your event, your logo or any assets you create. Does the device you’re reviewing meet up to the standards of other brands by having a clear idea behind it that is consistently applied or is it wishy washy with no clear focus. Additionally, will this idea be easily picked up and travel or is it too complex to grasp and very limited in terms of how it can be developed? And have you considered its uniqueness or novelty? Or is it a stock standard response that we are all already very familiar with?  

Of course, not every project requires the same level of emphasis for each attribute. For instance, being overly novel or disruptive may not be helpful for you. But you get the idea. 

You can use this M.A.G.I.C. formula for guiding your through the development and validation process. The more comfortable you are with each of these characteristics, the greater your confidence. The greater your confidence, the more you can concentrate on the other things that need doing to service your new business.

Of course, this is not the whole story. You may also need to do a reality check to see if it's a S.M.A.R.T. idea as well. You'll certainly need to do a technical check, i.e. make sure your idea doesn't break the law, or impinge on someone else's territory.

As for Larkmead, we did finally settle upon one single phrase that has to this day become the standard expression of its purpose and values.

Arthur op den Brouw, Winter 2013/14