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“Make it your project!” – Interview with Heimat founder Guido Heffels

Guido Heffels is one of three founders of “heimat“. Heimat is recognised as one of the most creative agencies in Germany. Many of their works have won awards at the Cannes Lions and other international festivals, and the TV adverts for the DIY store “Hornbach” are regular highlights in the advertising block. The brand claim “Yes, yes, yippie yippie yeah” has long been a classic.

In the winter semester 2023/24, Guido Heffels led a practical project with students on the Master’s degree programme in Brand Strategy. In an interview with Ingmar Bartels, he reveals what brands need to be successful, how to create something extraordinary and why he loves his job so much.

If you prefer to watch the interview, you can do so on our YouTube channel. Part 1 and part 2 of the interview can be viewed online there.

Involving and inspiring people – it’s the idea that counts

Guido, what is your project about?

We did a practical project for the customer “Bodenhaus”. Bodenhaus is a company that works very closely with Hornbach and specialises in floor coverings. The brand has two stores, one in Cologne and one in Berlin. And the idea or the task I set was: “Get people talking about this brand.”

How did the seminar go? What was important to you in the collaboration?

This course is all about the essence of an idea. That’s what we wanted to focus on. I shortened a very, very extensive briefing to less than an A4 page to really only talk about the essence of an idea.

What is a good idea for you?

We have to create things that involve people, that inspire them, that convey a sense of happiness in some way. So that, ideally, people don’t even realise that it’s actually advertising in the end.

We shouldn’t make life so difficult for ourselves either. At the end of the day, you have an idea that inspires people. It doesn’t matter how much data you’ve collected or how many terms you’ve used.

I believe that a very good idea can be based on common sense and a necessary love of people. It is the people who will later buy a product or go somewhere. That’s what I’ve tried to convey.

Behind this is a clear attitude, a certain understanding of communication.

I always use this image: you can come to your house and then you kick the door down – with a sledgehammer. Then you say: “Hello, here I am!”. What image do you have of a person like that?

I’m a big fan of knocking quietly, then you open the door, then you polish off your shoes and then you say, “My name is So-and-So”. Then maybe you tell a nice joke, etc. Then people like you too. I think that’s a very important image. It creates an image for brands that you like them and that you build up a certain closeness to these brands.

A strong profile for a strong brand

What else do brands need to be successful?

One important aspect is that, as a brand, you try to define a profile for yourself. A way of speaking, a way of using images. A way in which you want to interact with people. Once you have defined this, you create an independent profile within a world in which many brands are completely identical. This brand profile is the basis for success.

And that’s what we want to achieve in the end: for brands to be more successful, to be perceived better, to be perceived differently. And if we can achieve that in this way, then that’s great.

Does such a profile have to come from the purpose of the brand?

I try not to convey terms like purpose or other nonsense like that. You can’t create it artificially, it’s always been there. You just have to go and ask: why was this brand invented 135 years ago? That is the purpose, that is the linchpin of everything.

Purpose is just one of many buzzwords in the marketing industry. Where do you see the industry heading?

I see the communications industry moving more and more in the direction of entertainment. Because, let’s face it, nobody watches TV adverts anymore. We have to create something where people say “That was awesome!”. We need to create something that ideally isn’t harassment marketing. Karsten Kühne from Hornbach also used this image. I feel harassed by many communication measures – as great as they are intended to be. And I don’t want to be annoyed, not even on a digital channel.

Digital channels have now reached a point that is similar to TV channels. Namely, they actually only consist of transparent “Buy me!” communication, and I don’t like that. Nobody likes that. If you go more into the area of entertainment, where people really want to come somewhere of their own accord to watch something, that’s much nicer.

Hornbach TV commercials – an inspiring case

At Hornbach, the TV adverts are very much about atmosphere and mood. How do you always manage to create such a special tonality?

That has developed over the years. We just knew from the beginning that the core of the Hornbach brand was always “Creating something great with your bare hands”.

A feeling that actually stands as an antithesis to digitalisation and represents a place of retreat that people long for. Then we asked ourselves, how should a brand talk like this?

And how does the brand speak?

The language is very, very direct. The sentences have no relativisation, no restrictions. They are sentences that you can use in some way in your whole life. It was always important to us that the sentences were not only relevant for DIY or gardening, but also for personal life. That’s why many phrases have now become part of everyday language, e.g. “Make it your project!”. That’s the best statement you can make when you’re talking to ten people. Then the question quickly arises “Yes, who’s doing it now?”. And then it’s “You, my son, make it your project.” That’s why I love this job so much. You can communicate so much more than the product or brand truth.

The students learn: Don’t be afraid of your own ideas!

What do you want the students to say about the course with you?

We live in an age where everyone is afraid, in general and of everything, and of themselves and of independence, because that’s not really in demand in a group.

I think I’ve hopefully been able to convey a little bit that you can create something extraordinary if you’re not afraid. And fighting fear or, to put it positively, strengthening your belief in yourself, that’s mega.

What about the topic of ideas? What would you like to learn there?

If you deal with ideas intuitively, you always end up doing the right thing. Because you have drawn the idea out of yourself and not weighed it up so much.

I would always spend much more time on the idea and much less time justifying it. If you want to do something unusual, you have to bring something unusual to light. Those are the moments when you sit down in the evening and think, that was a great day today. And then it doesn’t matter how long you worked on it.

I am incredibly proud of the students we have because they have really outgrown themselves.

Do you still enjoy working in your profession?

I never saw this job as a profession, but as a great hobby. I am incredibly grateful that I got into this industry for some reason. Every day that I deal with tasks, problems or brands has never been a wasted day in my life. It’s always great. Of course there are down days, that’s part of it. You have to accept that too. So sometimes it goes up, then down again. But it’s great: when it goes down, you have so much momentum that it goes up again relatively quickly.

Thank you very much for the interview! We look forward to the next project with you in the coming summer semester!

Impressions from the practical project in the Master Brand Strategy programme