Interesting short clip of Tom Peters talking about the importance of storytelling for brands. In fact, for Peters, storytelling isn’t just important, it can be more powerful than the brand itself.
I joined a group of tutors and producers, half with film/transmedia projects in development, half not, from around the world for the latter half of their week away in Wales.
By way of introduction, Power to the Pixel are an organisation dedicated to supporting film and the wider media in its transition to a digital age. Ben and I are both lucky to be on their Advisory board.
My brief was to shed some light on brands and cross-platform/transmedia storytelling, which, if I am honest, initially felt a little awkward. Brands and agencies may be embracing cross-platform creativity and integration per se, but true transmedia… not so much. The likes of Campfire with their Frenzied Waters work for the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week last year, Audi Art of the Heist and – back in the day – Beta 7 for Sega; as well as Ivan Askwith at Big Spaceship (who was generous and interested enough to chew the fat with me late one evening) are two, honourable exceptions.
With this in mind, my presentation focused primarily on what brands and their agencies are learning about integration, interaction and new partnerships in the hypersocial environment we find ourselves in. I also attempted to explain why brands may be reticent about taking a step further into building deep, immersive, narrative worlds. Along the way, telling the story of a (failed) BBH Labs joint venture and what we took from it… and finally, ending with a proposal.
Yesterday I was invited along to Curious 01 in London. Any event with ‘curious’ in the title sounds like it might be interesting and this was. Curated by Paul Bay, a group of good & nice people turned up, including John Grant, Neil Perkin, Jon Bains, Alex Bedoya from Hyper Island and many more. Whilst the session covered a number of topics, the conversation centred around the question: what should a brand team look like in future? A subject close to our hearts here at Labs, see related posts here and here. Paul also decided to spice things up by asking a couple of us to ‘bring a provocation’… hard to resist.
There were a ton of good ideas (others) and some a little more loony (mine). For what it’s worth I’m sharing my provocation here because, as always, we’re interested in hearing what others think. A round-up of the rest of the day will be shared soon.
In a nutshell, my provocation began with the question: if clients only pay for the things they can’t do themselves, what does that mean when we work in a real-time, social web world?
Post by Charles Wigley, Chairman, BBH Asia Pacific
Jim Carroll’s excellent post on Wind Tunnel Politics reflects an idea he came up a couple of years ago – the notion of ‘wind tunnel marketing’ – an idea that Emma Cookson (Chairman, BBH New York), Jim (Chairman, BBH London) and I have been chatting about a lot again recently.
Given the traffic, RTs and positive comments the first post got, we felt it was perhaps time for a more thorough analysis of its impact on what most of us reading this do for a living – the development of brand communications.
We’d like to get the debate going and involve people from all sides – client, agency and research. So please let us know what you think.
Here we’ll look at three things to start the conversation:
I. The origins of the problem;
II. The results; and
III. Some potential solutions
Then we’d like your point of view.
1. The Origins of the Problem
Pretty obviously the world is now crammed with very good, largely parity products across most sectors. With the consequent decline in any real, viable notion of product USP’s the industry has increasingly turned to understanding the consumer as the key source of competitive advantage.
The Holy Grail is a breakthrough ‘consumer insight’. Something that cracks open consumer motivations around a category in a new and fresh way and as a result allows a brand to more powerfully pitch its product or service.
Indeed many companies now have entire departments focussed solely on consumer insight. Some of you reading this may have it in your job title.
And, looked at one way, it makes a lot of sense.
After all, isn’t the whole notion of marketing about ‘satisfying the wants, needs and desires of consumers ‘ ?
There is, however, one rather significant problem with it.
Everyone is looking the same way and largely following the same path.
Frequently doing the same research, with the same consumers via the same research companies on essentially the same products.
The result won’t surprise anyone – they get to very similar places.
So while marketers and their agency partners consistently (and rightly) talk up the critical importance of differentiation, most of our industry is wedded to a ‘best practice’ process that inherently takes them another way – to greater sameness.
2. The Results
Are self-evident and everywhere (ever noticed how hard it is to think of major brand examples of ‘great’ outside of the usual suspects?)
From mid-range family salons that, when unbranded, even car fanatics fail to recognise ( and can you remember the make of the ‘reasonably priced car’ on Top Gear ?…….you’ve probably seen it about 30 times ) to entire categories where the work is just too interchangeable (looked at any skincare advertising recently?) Even brands aimed at youth (where one would assume a greater leeway to pursue difference) seem to be merging into one – an event with a DJ and some free form skateboarders anyone?
From a marketer’s point of view all this serves to do is to make it a game of scale of resources again.
He or she with the biggest distribution network / media budget / sales team wins. The cost efficiencies of genuine brand differentiation are notable largely by their absence.
Yet, because large organisations inevitably (and understandably) need logical ‘handrails’ for staffers to follow, few are challenging the standard, solely consumer insight oriented process currently in place.
3. Potential Solutions
People need systems. Very few of us are individually brilliant enough to be able to operate day in day out in the trenches without them. So an imploration to just ‘go free-form’ is unlikely to be of much use to most companies.
It seems to us, however, that the handrails that need to be put in place need to actively force diversity of thinking.
They need to be ‘hydra-like’ in that they need to regularly have the potential to lead to many different places – not always back to the same spot.
The CIA ‘Problem Definition Checklist’ does this (if you want a copy let us know). When properly followed, the Disruption model does it. Interestingly, in his latest thinking, Adam Morgan is suggesting a far more diverse range of different types of challenger brands (and no doubt different ways to develop them).
For our part at BBH, we are re-committing to one of our oldest strategic tenets (and simplest of thoughts) – ‘insights from many sources, not just consumer’. The product, the brand, the way category operates, the retail experience, the media landscape, etc, etc. – all are ripe for investigation – and all should be.
We are also re-committing to the future.
There’s something interesting here. As per the famous Akio Morito quote – “we don’t ask consumers what they want ; they don’t know. Instead we apply our brain power to what they need, and will want, and make sure we are there ready” – the future is surely what we should be trying to work out the likely terrain of, rather than analysing that of the present or the past. Perhaps the most powerful model we are now trying to get grips is a fusion of brand insight with consumer foresight. Note – not consumer insight – but rather an understanding of where the market is likely to go rather than where it has been.
As we said at the start, we’d like to hear what you think. If this rings true, what are your thoughts on potential solutions?
Post by Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
It was going to be the most important Election in a generation.
It was going to break the mould of British Politics.
It should have been so exciting.
So why did it all seem so unfulfilling? Why did our eager anticipation of the first debate turn to a stifled yawn by the third? Why did our ardour for the new kid turn so quickly to complacency? Why did we shrug at the glossy manifestos, put the recycled thinking straight into the recycling bins?
This was the Sunblest Election. The Election when all the mighty forces of Marketing created three soft, medium sliced, plastic packaged loaves. Designed to please, guaranteed not to let you down. Perfectly pleasant on their own terms, but curiously unsatisfactory.
You see, all three candidates and campaigns had been put through the same Marketing Wind Tunnel.
Lots of smart people have made compelling arguments recently for the shift from campaign to conversation thinking. We were particularly taken with this post by Kenneth Weiss courtesy of Rick Liebling at Eyecube which clearly and neatly maps the differences between the two approaches and we very much enjoyed this RGA film talking about the importance of long term brand platforms.
We’re big fans of conversation thinking. The danger, however, is that we believe we can simply shine a spotlight on the conversation, abandon the campaign and leave consumers to it. It’s dangerous for a number of reasons:
- They may not be saying very much at all. Writing about launching “Brands in Public” Seth Godin observes “If your brand has any traction at all people are talking about you”. That’s partially true of course, but only partially. If you’re say a bread brand, a detergent brand or a toilet paper brand they may not be saying a lot. As Oscar Wilde so memorably put it “The only thing worse than been talked about is not being talked about”. Or is it…
- In the absence of something positive to respond to, the conversation may be dominated by customer service issues or by mischief making. The Skittles experiment is a case in point where without a conversation starter from the brand the conversation is effectively high-jacked. Indeed many brand owners’ reaction to the Brands in Public initiative seems to indicate that simply letting the conversation run without interesting brand stimulus and curation is problematic for any number of brands.
- Our brands become the guy with no opinion-the one who responds to every question with “I don’t know, what do you think?”
(Jointly authored with Greg Andersen, our MD in BBH New York)
The imminent publication of Forrester’s new report on the challenges facing clients – “Adaptive Brand Marketing: Rethinking Your Approach to Branding in the Digital Age” is a welcome turning of the spotlight toward client organizations. Without question agencies of all sizes, shapes and persuasions need to get their collective acts together and transform into leaner, more agile, more creative, & more technology- and data-fuelled businesses. The best in the business are no doubt all plotting how they can come out of this recession leaner, meaner, quicker, better.
But that’s kind of pointless unless clients adapt too.
We’ve not got hold of the report yet; we’re looking forward to getting stuck in, and are intrigued by the ‘new 4 Ps’ presented in the report: permission, proximity, perception, participation (AdAge covered some more of the detail in this piece from last week). But the idea of adaptive brand marketing is something we’ve been kicking around for a while at BBH.
We believe marketing communications are already being forced to become increasingly agile; particularly for more youth-oriented brands. In such a fast paced and dynamic media environment, relevance is increasingly determined in the moment. Recency matters. Audience and attention are fleeting. Fame spikes … even for the famous. For brands to achieve and maintain fame in this context, it’s our view that communications for certain types of brands must make a dramatic shift from highly polished epic launches to a continuous and diverse stream of messaging and content designed to ride hyper-current cultural trends, consumer attitudes and competitive maneuvering. The performance of this diverse activity continuously monitored and optimized like a portfolio of stocks … kill the under-performers and reinvest in the ones showing returns. However, this ‘continuous beta’ mentality is a big leap from 18-month planning cycles and dogmatic, rigid testing protocols, despite its more real-time and real-world feedback.
Just as this is culturally challenging for many agencies, so it will prove for marketing organizations. As marketing becomes more technology-powered, with learning more real-time, it will be critical to identify who is responsible for leading within marketing organizations … and more importantly, who is empowered to make decisions on the fly. Committee decision making and hierarchical organizational structures, for all their perceived benefits, won’t hold up to the strain of an accelerated process.
So in advance of the full report, here are some of our starters for ten (or seven, actually) on how client structures, skill sets and approaches might adapt to deliver ‘adaptive branding’. We’re learning as we’re going, and as usual we’d value your input, opinions, builds or disagreements.
We’d particularly like to hear about clients that are exploring new ways of engaging agencies, and new forms of leaner, faster, more iterative & curatorial process. Again, there’s much we can learn from these pioneers.
1. Consumer intelligence at the center
We wholeheartedly agree with Forrester’s points around a more prominent role for research. We all have an increasing number of highly sophisticated, real-time and granular measurement tools at our disposal, especially in interactive environments. Adopting an agile approach to using this data becomes more significant; if one can measure everything, one must decide what really matters to avoid drowning or becoming paralyzed. Less, but better measurement, enabling more responsive data-powered marketing, should be the ambition (what Tim @ Made By Many called ‘Agile Measurement‘). These observations suggest an elevated role for the insight & research functions that can quickly distribute and integrate learning in real time.
2. Marketing as a catalyst for change within the broader company
This points to a potentially larger opportunity. It’s not just the marketing organization that needs to reorient itself given the now normal digital age, but the company itself should consider how it reorients itself around its marketing organization. In most progressive companies, it is the marketing function that has most quickly and deeply engaged with the new interactive toolkit. This expertise can play a role well beyond the traditional confines of marketing communications. For example, a proper understanding of social media tools and the proper employment of resulting insights could impact everything from new product/service innovation to customer service to crisis management.
What some, such as Dachis, are calling ‘social business design‘ is a significant opportunity in which marketing teams could play a leading role in driving efficiencies and creating new models internally. Marketing as a revenue source and a genuine competitive advantage, not just a cost. If marketers want a seat back at the big boys’ table, this is one potential way of getting it.
3. The networked organization
The structural definitions of, and relationships between, agencies and marketing organizations must change if companies are to ensure access to the very highest quality and leading-edge partners delivering at speed. With the emergence of what Forrester call “the federated organization” (we prefer ‘networked’) Global brand leaders and directors need to be able to cast elite teams of people (talent that spans several departments, companies or geographies) to get best results and avoid capacity bottlenecks.
This places special emphasis on an evolved role for ‘lead agency’ partners, both providing the conventionally critical services around quality control and coordination, but also performing a new casting director role for marketing directors; knowing whom to bring into a project, and when, and then managing that engagement. Further, client organizations must foster a culture of generosity and collaboration both within their organizations and across multi-agency teams to get the most out of them. Just as dogs and owners look alike, so do clients and the culture of their agency roster (but let’s stop right there with that analogy).
4. Brand leaders as curators
Without question, global brand leaders do need to become more responsible for evolving marketing assets and them adapting to local markets (in many cases this is already happening, for example with some of the Unilever brands with whom BBH works). However, we believe this evolved role needs to go well beyond adaptation and coordination. We envisage an increasing role for both client and agency organizations as not just creators of content, but as curators as well. In a world awash in content, time can be saved by smart curation and the hacking of existing properties. Not everything needs to be conceived of, crafted and produced from the ground up every time. This is particularly important as brands move beyond the development of the traditional ‘campaign’ and start evolving more ongoing platforms that need growing, managing, sustaining and refreshing.
5. Reframing investment timelines
With campaigns evolving into programs and platforms, the annual planning & budgeting framework currently used to allocate monies needs revamping. This is clearly challenging, but if some marketing activity is designed to build long-term enduring platforms and other marketing is to be more opportunistic, then it seems sensible to begin to think about marketing investment in a parallel fashion. We agree that a more active and fluid approach to marketing investment is the correct approach, but this places even greater emphasis on agile and, as much as possible, live measurement.
6. To fail is to learn
We think client organizations need to find new comfort in failure and place increased value in learning as long as both happen for real, and in close to real time. Embracing more of a continuous beta mentality means getting communications into market more quickly and less expensively … with early real learning as the result. This beta learning can help redirect the program while it’s still being developed instead of after its finished. A marketer can spend 10 months of theoretical testing in artificial environments and a highly polished, highly researched program still has a chance of failure, or in many cases creates no real impact one way or another. What good is the post-program audit? The budget is gone and the market has moved on.
7. The time is now
Historically, recessions have proven to be crucibles of change. The current recession is already turning out to be rather more of a complete reset for the industry than a temporary dip in revenues. Structurally, the smartest agencies and agency groups have been quietly plotting not only their future size, but also rebuilding their capabilities, simplifying their processes and gently retooling their skillsets. The smartest marketing organizations must ensure they are doing the same.
So who’s doing this well?
No doubt the Forrester report will be full of strong cases of where this is already happening. We look forward to that.
But we’re after your examples of clients re-inventing process, resourcing models, cultures in the pursuit of better work, produced more efficiently. Whilst it’s perhaps easier to highlight examples of where this *isn’t* happening, let’s try and stay focused on things we can learn from.
Let us know.