Common Sense, Dancing

Author, Agathe Guerrier, Head of Strategy, BBH Labs and BBH London

What happens when you cram the Crème de la Crème of contemporary marketing thinking into the RSA, in front of an audience of senior agency planners (and a few clients)?

Heated intellectual debate and a widespread sense of existential industry angst, that’s what.

On the 2nd September 2015, the IPA gathered Byron Sharp, Russell Davies, Les Binet, Paul Feldwick and more for a day of intense marketing “Unlearning”. It was like condensing the half dozen most influential books recently published on the subject of brand strategy, into a single day. And then I’ve just condensed that day into a succession of little one-sliders, one for each speaker (see slides 4 to 33). You’re welcome.

(For more books you won’t need to read, follow Matt Boffey’s excellent weekly Booknotes in the Drum)

It was a really fun, inspiring and brilliant day – but I couldn’t help thinking that we (= the planning community) were making it all sound more complicated and dramatic than it needs to be.

Here’s what I took out of the event:

  • There isn’t a “silver bullet strategy” – a single solution that works every time. The best strategists are those who are fluent in all the various theories and approaches, and based on whatever problem they’re faced with, use a mix of logic and imagination to pick one, combine a few, or even make up their own.
  • Each of the “theories” that were presented and debated on the day, tends to lend itself particularly well to a specific type of brand or issue (again see slides 4 to 33, and thanks to Dare’s Toby Horry who suggested this simple trick on the day).
  • The debate between people who see brand building as an art, and those who see it as a science, has gone on for years. It’s been exacerbated in the recent years by the parallel rise of Data + Behavioural Economics + Digital transformation – but it’s not new.
  • All the evidence points to the fact that it’s actually a mix of both emotional/ long-term/ brand building and rational/ short-term/ sales driving strategies that drives the best results.

So, how do we help brands grow?

By doing two things in combination:

  1. Remove barriers to usage or purchase by ensuring the product/ service works very well and is widely available. Think hard about whether new entrants could seriously disrupt the brand’s route to consumers by removing barriers that were thought of as immovable.
  2. Make the product or service really sticky mentally, emotionally and functionally by creating memorable assets/ features that are distinctive and salient.

So… There you go. Having basically cracked “strategy” (with a little help from my friends), now feels like a good moment to bow out. I’m leaving BBH and BBH Labs this week. I’m off to do new and different things that will still probably remain connected to brands, people, and technology’s ability to impact our lives.

It’s been a wonderfully ride, and I’m hugely honoured to have been heading up Labs for the last 3 years. I leave you in the safe hands of Jeremy and the BBH crew. Please stay in touch.

Transform and Roll Out

And so, it is with major regret that we see our very own Optimus Prime, @saneel, leave the Lab and BBH. Happily he’ll be staying in the extended family, launching a soon-to-be-announced innovation offering being incubated at VivaKi. So I guess he has a new world to call home.

Personally, I’m going to miss the magic mix of insanely high-speed processing, megawatt brain and heart, motor mouth and deeply droll, bone-dry sense of humour that is Mr Saneel Radia. There aren’t many people who give such volume, value and velocity, whilst staying ice cool under pressure. He’ll hate me for saying this, but his final post here shares some useful lessons that demonstrate all of the above.

We wish him all the best. Go well, friend. (Mel, 29.01.13)

Dear BBH,
Well that was a crazy ride, no? From my first day to my last, we’ve had one of the most unique relationships I can imagine. I should have known I was in for something special when someone I respect as much as Ben recruited me, and about 100 days later said “I have bad news and good news”  (‘I’m leaving’ and ‘you’re in charge’, respectively).

You let me be whoever I wanted to be, and for that I’m eternally grateful. You never questioned me as a strategy lead, an account lead, or a creative lead– even when I kinda questioned myself.What’s most awesome is that I was never forced into a particular bucket, but you made me better at all of them because I was surrounded by people (everyone?) who could do it at a whole different level. I mean, pitching creative ideas to people like John and Pelle? Talking brands with Emma and Sarah? Of course I got better at all of it. It’d be impossible not to.

And thanks for being committed to innovation the way you are. In an industry that should be under arrest for assault based on its treatment of that word, this place continues to be a beacon of hope for people with different ideas. Any company that has someone like Mel around is going to have misfits ringing the doorbell daily. I’m just happy someone answered even though I was dressed in bright colors.

Finally, thanks for all of the lessons I’m taking with me as I move on. It’s impossible to document them all in a post, but these ring most loudly in my ears as I head off:

Small ideas are kinda hot.
I originally came to BBH because I couldn’t think of a place with “bigger” ideas. It turns out my favorite things were the small ideas. Working with interns 10 weeks at a time forces small ideas into greatness. Working with a company like Google, that regularly reminds you how bloated all your shit is (they were right more often than I’d like to admit), forced ideas into their purest form. Or sometimes it’s just not having enough time for anything bigger. Regardless, I fell in love with small. Mainly because of how big it can be. (Special thanks to Tim Nolan for aiding me along in this particular journey.)

The volume of noise isn’t indicative of the sentiment.
Homeless Hotspots was a media frenzy. There was a full cycle of negativity, then acceptance, then full-blown defense on our behalf. Yet from the beginning to the end, nothing but a positive impact on homelessness ever mattered; for the vast majority of people who care about such a thing (and have spent time with the homeless), their support always outweighed the negativity, no matter how loud the noise got. In fact, there was some genuinely productive, well meaning criticism we adopted as our work with the homeless has continued to evolve. It’s easy to see the difference now, but when the volume dial is set quite high, it can be a lot tougher. That’s clarity I’ll always take forward with me.

The greatest disservice one can do to their team is accepting their shitty work.
I’ve seen some really good days, and some really bad days in my 3-or-so years here. Almost unilaterally the bad days were the result of people not speaking up (myself included). When they were just too damn polite, or agreeable. Sure, it’s awkward sometimes. It’s uncomfortable every now and again. And yeah, you have to be able to speak “British” on occasion. But everyone worth a salt would rather make better work than have a good meeting. This is a lesson so many people have learned, but it took being at a place with a culture of mutual, fiery respect for me to truly appreciate it. I’m just glad you would tell me when I was shoveling shit.

With the right carrot, even the weary can be motivated.
It was a weird feeling, helping lead a city-wide effort to recruit LeBron James within weeks of moving here. But there I was, living in corporate housing, bonding with New Yorkers of every socio-economic class to create a movement to bring the world’s greatest athlete to the world’s greatest city. In the end, the goal was to get notoriously jaded New Yorkers to talk about their beloved city, and by that measure, holy smokes it was successful… even if LeBron took his talents to South Beach. The lesson stayed up north though: for all the user participation nonsense from brands, it’s ultimately the right carrot that gets people involved. Keep it simple (and timely), stupid.

Alright, BBH. I won’t drag it on any longer. I certainly could. I’m leaving a better, smarter, more creative person than I arrived. That’s a transformation I’m really excited about.

And all it took were a thousand sleepless nights and my liver….