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Mightysmall: How Special Group’s lead strategist Dave Hartmann launched a brand of his own

When his son was born, Special Group's strategy partner Dave Hartmann embarked on a mission to create a brand all on his own. Seven years later, Mightysmall is set to launch globally. Mumbrella's Zoe Samios chats with Hartmann about how the brand came to life and what the process has taught him about working with his own clients.

It started out as a plan to solve parenting problems but years later, Special Group’s strategy partner Dave Hartmann and his seven year old son, Jasper, are launching a brand which has already grabbed global interest.

Mightysmall, a brand which aims to ‘solve problems the way kids would’, has been brought to life by Hartmann, with the strategist conceptualising, designing and building the brand on his own, with the help of team members at Special Group.

Hartmann says the inspiration came from becoming a parent for the first time, and trying to tackle problems such as refusal of food and medicine.

“My big realisation as a new parent was that there were so many answers and insights out there, but they’re all very much designed adult-to-adult. Very few were empathetic to how kids and their amazing brains work,” Hartmann says.

“The idea of the brand was solving those common parenting problems and being empathetic to how children think.”

Mightysmall’s Medicine Molly, which helps parents give children their medicine.

“Mightysmall was just about acknowledging the mighty minds kids have. They have such a pure, magical perspective of the world. I really believe the philosophy creativity isn’t taught into us it’s taught out of us and kids are born inherently creative.

“As we get older we get told things are right or wrong or black and white and I actually think there’s something really refreshing about asking for a child’s perspective.”

The brand, which includes two products, the Treasure Bowl, a bowl with a space at the bottom to hide a treat, and Medicine Marvin and Molly, little characters which you can hide medicinal syringes in, will continue to grow based on demand.

While the Treasure Bowl is already being bought online, Medicine Marvin and Molly are about to commence distribution in UK, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Singapore, Iraq and Iran, and will also be available on the Mightysmall website.

One of MightySmall’s first products, The Treasure Bowl.

Hartmann says the creation of Marvin and Molly came from speaking with doctors and fellow parents about getting children to take their medicine.

“When speaking with doctors and parents, a lot of them talked about how hard it can be to give sick kids their medicine. I guess the very act of ramming something clinical at someone ill, is naturally pretty off-putting.”

For Hartmann, working in strategy taught him empathy, which he says was a major contributor to the development of the brand.

“I was always really inspired and a lot of it came from an experience working for an agency and business I’ve long admired called IDEO and they talk about human centred design.

“The big thing they thought me was the power of empathy, and empathy is getting out of your shoes and walking in someone else’s. It’s something that the innovation world is really good at, and as an industry we need to get better at.

“It’s a really hard thing to do as humans is to get past your own prejudice and imagine the experience through someone else’s eyes.”

He says the most exciting part of the project was taking what he’d learnt from his time in strategy and using it to empathise with children.

“They say if you ask kids a question, they’ll never pause they always come straight out with what they think. It all sounds so ridiculous but often you go away thinking actually that’s kind of genius.

“Everything’s with the brand has simple been around asking – how would a kid do it? And that’s really been my one approach through the whole thing.

“And that’s been helpful for me in Agency world, in terms of role playing other people in my mind. In advertising it’s hard not to exist in a little tidy bubble and to see beyond it” he explains.

Hartmann believes the project has shown him how to get back to the way strategy was invented, when people left the “bubble” and sat with everyday people, to develop a “strong understanding” of the reality people have in and around a brand.

“It’s something we do so little of these days, we just sit on a computer and go to Google and assume the answer. When you look around the world, a lot of design and innovation companies, that’s one thing they do incredibly well. They take the time to go and experience something and in many respects when people talk about the future of the industry, I think almost one foot needs to step back to the past.

“The foot that needs to step back is getting back to that simple thing of sitting with people and experiencing things and talking with people. It’s incredible how powerful that can be.” 

Hartmann adds the project had taught him a lot about working with clients, and transforming ideas into a reality.

“All those things you put in presentation after presentation to clients, you realise how hard it is to do yourself.

“One of the things I always say to clients is make it genuine and authentic and that’s part of why I wanted to make it myself,” he says.

“It’s not just a way of doing it on a budget. I always thought you could tell when a brand is designed with a sense of authenticity and made by the people, so that was kind of part of the intent. Hand made.

“It’s easier to write things on paper, it’s so much harder to get out and make them.

“There’s all these practical things that you face, and I think as agencies we forget our clients face when we have ideas, and I certainly wasn’t trained in it.”

“It makes me realise why so many small businesses stop early. You have an idea but the hard bit is actually doing it.”

For Hartmann, his brand has forced him to rethink strategic processes for clients.

“We do a lot of product innovation and the process has changed a lot. I’ve created this thing called empathy cards which we work with our clients.

“When we do different briefs, it’s a little card when we ask the team here and our clients to walk in the shoes of someone else and role play them and capture an honest moment of empathy, and we assign ideas around it rather than assuming what we know the problem is that we’re solving.

“It’s definitely given me a lot more insight into reality and the reality of why hard things die.

“When you give an idea to a client and  it starts to die internally, it’s because no one has considered and planned for that all important part of it all. And we’re trying now to build a process that understands their industry and those realities. That helps more challenging ideas go beyond paper.

“A lot of what we are trying to do now is trying to be really helpful about building a process that understands their industry.”

Mightysmall is being promoted through Instagram, with some of the posts featuring quotes from Jasper and his friends on how to tackle problems with kids.

A video, which was shown to prospective distributors to explain the product, features Hartmann’s daughter.

“Myself and my son did all the illustrations and writing for it but I’ve definitely got help form different people, designers in helping put it together and building the brand,” Hartmann says.

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