Tony Lewis is the CEO and founder of Vision One, a strategic marketing and research  agency. Having studied applied physics with electronics and with a background in qualitative research methods, he brings a unique and scientific approach to strategic marketing. Tony also spent several years as a research consultant at both Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, as well as at the Arcadia Group. In recent years, Tony has been developing Vision One’s latest and most innovative research tool, called ‘BrandVision’— an extremely powerful branding and marketing tool that is very popular with their clients and is changing the way brands think about themselves and develop their strategies. 

Tony, You are regarded as a leading marketing and branding expert; what drew you into this industry? 

I think I’m just an inquisitive guy who is interested in the ‘why’—I have always been interested in understanding people and sciences, and understanding the unseen—what’s going on under the surface.

I enjoy the challenge of finding new insights and techniques that help organisations think or act differently and help them become more successful. Disciplines such as neuroscience, behavioural economics, psychology, and advanced analysis techniques that help the client go deeper are really exciting.

(PS: My mother was a researcher when I was a child so perhaps that was something that got me interested!)

Were you always in the marketing field? 

Yes, when I got my first job after studying applied physics and electronics, I joined the marketing department at Royal Sun Alliance and became a data analyst. It was there that I learned about research and marketing. I met my wife, Wendy, there too; she was also part of the marketing team.

What is it about building a brand that excites you? 

I think brands make our lives colourful. Imagine a world without brands and a world full of just products or own labels – surely, it would be very dull. Brands are everywhere: in sports, games, entertainment, leisure, holidays, the food we eat, and the cars we drive.

Brand research is exciting because there is so much opinion and speculation around it, and everyone has a different way of looking at things. I believe the industry has had the wool pulled over its eyes; the industry needs the facts. 

Momentum is something that everyone understands as a concept of on-going growth and it excites all marketers, but no one knows what it is or how to measure it. I’d like to think I can bring something new that has substance to radically change the way marketers think about brands.

What are the key elements of building a brand? 

Everyone learns about the brand funnel and uses it as a measure, but the problem is they give you no clue how to actually achieve it. Terms like brand building and growth because they don’t understand how to describe them, let alone know how to achieve them. Many people see brand identity as brand building. For me, this is just the foundation— ‘brand building’ is the growth and perception of the brand in the consumer’s mind.

I think strong brand building requires numerous factors, some of which are:

Getting into the market early, defining the market, or having few competitors.

Staying fresh and up-to-date.

Having passion, energy, enthusiasm, and a willingness to drive forward.

Ultimately, it should be a goal to become the leader, own the category  and become the automatic choice.

Brands need to communicate and tell stories. PR, advertising, social media, and reviews are all important, but people will tend to give greater credibility to media that you don’t own.

Strong brands have a social aspect (a place in society) and are not just commercial entity. Having this type of purpose is something we find to be strongly associated with brand growth.

Which brands do you recognise for their effectiveness? 

Brands that win awards for creative marketing and advertising also tend to win awards for the effectiveness of those campaigns. In other words, creativity tends to equate to success when it comes to brands. With this in mind, I recognise the brands that scoop these awards—in fact, we tend to focus on these when developing our thoughts and best practices for the wider marketing industry.

However, brands that last the longest are also the ones that I see as effective at prolonging their ultimate demise. Any old brand still doing well is achieving success in my mind.

Premium brands that lure people to them (rather than cheaper brands that tend to be more effective, i.e., creating value for the brand) have also managed to remain strong brands.

Apple and Dyson are iconic brands that create loyalty through desire, bringing great design and beauty of form. The Virgin brand is still strong, a disruptor, a household name. I think Richard Branson is inspirational.

How have technology and social media developed the fundamental principles of marketing management? 

The digital revolution has clearly changed the rules of the game and, I think, led to a focus on performance (short-termism) and looking for immediate results rather than brand building. Marketers are moving back to brand building, which is great news, and my forthcoming book, The Momentum Factory, aims to help brand owners better understand how to achieve this.

How about more mathematical-based aspects of marketing, such as algorithm-based decision-making? 

Surveys have been using large samples to understand behaviours and decision-making for years, and this is a great way to understand what might be driving people’s decisions and what drives brand perceptions and behaviours.

The growth of Big Data, which combines more data sources, is great for understanding dynamics and relationships between measurements. Big data rarely involves people’s opinions and thoughts, so it can be unhelpful for marketers and brand building because brands are only in people’s minds and nowhere else. If you want to build a brand, you have to understand what people think and feel and talk to them (via surveys and focus groups).

Are there any dangers with how specific and direct marketing is becoming? 

Personalisation is important, as we all like to feel individual. I think this is a positive experience and will help brands and people connect more. I think the dangers will be more if we get overly bombarded with advertising and messaging (as it’s a lot easier to do in the digital world). Will there be a backlash in the years ahead? I don’t know when, but somehow I think there will be.

How do you feel small businesses can make the most of incorporating an effective marketing plan? 

Small businesses need to understand that to grow, they need to attract more customers. Every brand is like a leaky bucket, so trying to focus on loyalty will only help slow the loss, but to grow, you need more customers.

Every successful business must be built on solid financial management. You need to make money and be able to invest in growing your brand or business. If you can’t afford to advertise and invest in your brand, you need to rethink your finances and business model until you can.

Small businesses need to create a strong brand identity, make it clear who they are and what they stand for, and offer something unique that no one else can replicate. 

Historically, this was a family name, but many small brands opt for more distinctive and descriptive names; however, if these names and brands don’t tell a story, they can seem shallow and pointless. Far too many play it safe and look and behave too similarly to others.

What are some of the common mistakes and pitfalls that small businesses face when it comes to marketing and messaging? 

The main one is probably not being distinct enough. Being memorable is one thing, and having people remember your name and what you do means finding something distinctive to say (ideally, something that no one else can say or copy). For example, I like awards because most other brands can’t claim the award you have, so it makes you distinctive. 

Also, be consistent, i.e., recreate your distinctiveness in all marketing to make sure it is remembered (but don’t go for brash or cheap tactics if you want people to pay a premium). Ask one of your customers what they remember about your brand and marketing—see if anything appears to be sticking.

How will AI shape the future landscape of marketing? 

It is making the marketing process quicker and cheaper. The personalisation it can offer may help with brand building too. But I do wonder if all communications will feel like they have been written by the same person. Perhaps brand personality will become a much more important battleground for brands in the future.

Who were your early inspirations that motivated you along your business journey?

There were many: Qualitative researchers that inspired me include Geoff Bailey, Ann Whalley, Alastair Burns, Wendy Gordon, and the late William (Bill) Schlackman. Also, working with many marketers and advertising agencies was great—there were far too many inspiring characters to list individually.

How did your consultancy, Vision One, come to be? What are the company’s main areas of expertise and client base? 

After 15 years in marketing and research working with blue-chip companies, I started out providing consultancy, initially called Interface but changed to Vision One (I was a big Queen fan but also felt the brand encapsulated foresight and focus).

Can you explain the origins, remit, and value of the advanced brand tracking metric, BrandVision? 

BrandVision was built on the current industry thinking about brand equity and the aspects that were known to have an impact on brands and equity. Our model and thinking evolve all the time, but I guess 90% remain consistent. 

The new discoveries we have made around ‘Momentum’ will ultimately lead to new improvements. This is very exciting because our thinking on how brands grow and how to measure them has become simplified. Brand equity and growth are now summarised by just two key consumer metrics—something I don’t think any other model has yet achieved.

What has been your greatest career success to date? 

We’ve worked on some great projects and clients, from small brands and start-ups to iconic, international brands. I’ve enjoyed them all. But winning The Drum’s Best Market Research Agency three times was a real achievement. We were also runners up for a major innovation award for the use of music to grow in-store sales. But the work and the current team at Vision One have made a real change to the business with their passion and energy, and I believe they are turning Vision One into a real success story.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire, and why? 

Surprisingly, I liked Gary Neville on The Dragons Den. I like his altruistic approach to investment.

Tell us more about ethnographic and behavioural research programmes at Vision One.

We love undertaking all types of research—behavioural research is about observing or recording what people do and is an exciting area as it tends to focus on decision-making. We use a range of techniques, from simply taking pictures and videos to eye-tracking studies online or while people go about their daily lives. We also do scenario testing to see what happens in different situations and to explore people’s reactions to different stimuli or events.

How can having a good understanding of marketing concepts influence pricing decisions? 

Pricing is psychological in the sense of what something is worth, and it is often driven by context. For example, how much someone will pay for a drink will vary if it is in the work canteen, a pub, or a 5-star luxury hotel. However, most markets and product choices are pricing-driven, and pricing research (Price Sensitivity Metre or Brand Price Trade Off) can be a great way to help optimise sales and profits.

Do you feel there is enough support available for new business start-ups? 

I think business coaching is very valuable and that every small business owner should try to find some. It’s worth paying for, but you can also find places that offer it for free.

Tell us about your latest venture, Vision-X, and about how it differs from Vision One. 

Vision X is a brand consultancy that specialises in brand momentum and what drives it (the Momentum Engine), helping brands improve their branding strategies and marketing effectiveness through long-term brand building. 

There will be training and consulting to help brands maximise this new model of brand marketing, driven by science and research discoveries from a wide range of disciplines, including marketing, psychology, neuroscience, business studies, branding, and marketing research.

You have recently written a book, The Momentum Factory, which unveils a new type of brand metric that will be at the heart of 


What motivated you to write the book, and how do you see it benefiting readers? 

The book’s origins started eight years ago when we discovered a brand metric we were testing appeared to have predictive qualities—we saw that Monarch Airlines had a low momentum score. Six months or so later, we heard the news that the company had gone into administration. 

Ever since, I have been intrigued by the metric and have been exploring theories and ideas. In the last year, it all came together to create a coherent story that I wanted to share, so that’s when the book idea started.

How powerful do you think the new metric will be for brands? 

I know I’m biased, but I genuinely think it is the most exciting and powerful consumer metric for brand building for as long as I can remember. I know the biggest thing close to it was the arrival of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which was developed 20 odd years ago by Fred Reichheld. He owns the registered NPS trademark in conjunction with Bain & Company and Satmetrix. It certainly made waves, and, in some ways, this has some similarities, but NPS is really for customer experiences, whereas the new metric is for marketers who are looking to create brands.

I believe it outperforms brand awareness as a measure and is actually stronger than models like the brand funnel. I think my hardest task will be convincing everyone—very simply because nothing has really been written on it in an authoritative way. I searched hard and have only managed to find scant and vague references. I will be doing more research before the book gets published. I know other agencies have looked at it, but perhaps not in quite the same way as I have. Hopefully, I will reignite their interest in what is surely pure gold for anyone who fully grasps what this metric is and does. Getting brand equity nailed into two metrics is pretty mind-blowing too. 

Feedback from marketing experts to date has been encouraging, but I am expecting the theory to be challenged and validated, and rightly so. I look forward to working with anyone who is interested in furthering the momentum story.

How do you plan to grow your consulting practice? 

The consulting practice is designed to further the findings and discoveries outlined in the book from the research I have been doing over the last 8 years and build on the new discoveries made. Vision X will offer training and help brands (small and large) to learn from and build on the momentum engine.

Away from business, how do you keep a good work-life balance? 

I’ve started working part-time to free up time to write the book and also have more time to relax. Socialising with friends and family is important to me, but I’ve never read so many books as in the last year, and that takes up all my spare time.

How important is it to have a good self-care routine, and what’s yours? 

If, like me, you are sitting in a chair all day, I think it’s really important to get exercise. I try to walk a lot. I live in the country, and my family enjoys fell-walking and backpacking holidays around the Cornish coastline.

If you could have changed one thing on your business journey, what would it have been? 

I don’t think it’s possible to build strong brands without good financial management, and I think I should have paid more attention to this.

More coaching and talking to more people or experts about different aspects would have helped.

We live in an era of business gurus and experts online; how should a new business owner navigate around the resources that would be useful for them? 

Yes, this is a problem. Some experts will tell you one thing, and another will say the complete opposite. I think there are many ways to crack a nut, but I would look at something you believe in and try it; if it doesn’t work, move on!

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