Written by: Lilli English & Will Lion (Heads of Strategy, BBH London)

Here’s a useful squiggle. It’s a model of how things change.


For the last few years it’s felt like we’ve been in the cauldron: a bubbling, unpleasant mix of low client and marketing confidence; a procurement culture that sees our services in the same way it sees the staples; talent with exciting options extending far beyond agencies; an ever increasing media and technological complexity; a reliance on testing work that raises the floor but limits the ceiling; a collective impatience to deliver results faster than they might be able to arrive; and a culture of extreme rationality to make sense of it all, which is sure to balloon as we deal with the uncertainties now ahead of us.

So in response everyone’s been scrambling to create the perfectly optimised marketing machine. Data, science, accountability, logic, technology, utility. These are the heroes. These are the things we reassure clients with now.  And rightly.

But frankly, that’s not enough.  Only focussing on the machine is drying out the work. It’s become sterile, mediocre, samey, complex – across the industry. It’s no wonder the world is blocking us out.

Even Google’s feeling it:

“I have a colleague who is writing a paper on the future of marketing: it’s data, data, science, science. I’m like, “it’s not!” Or rather, it is those things, yes. But if you fall down on the art, if you fail on the messaging and storytelling, all that those tools will get you are a lot of bad impressions” Lorraine Twohill, Global VP Marketing at Google.

And it’s just not working as well for clients. As the IPA discovered last year, thinking only short term and rationally has made our creativity half as powerful in the last few years. Half!

Truth is, anyone can build the machine and churn out lukewarm porridge – but that’s not good enough. There’s a better way. A way that makes more of a difference. So yes we must build the most fearsome set of pipes but we mustn’t forget to fill them with the magic.

Finding our feeling

That’s been our mantra to BBH strategists for the past year. For us the answer lies in going back to one of the great timeless truths of how our creativity works:

We make a commercial difference by making people feel.

It’s painfully simple, we know. But fundamental – and all too easy to forget.

Just look at what’s happened last year: FEELING TRUMPED ALL ELSE. We learnt that you can throw out all the facts and rationale you want, if you don’t get how different people feel and how to make them feel, you’re nowhere.  The likes of Trump have undeniably understood and exploited this, far better than their opponents.


Go back to our own industry, and the data tells us the same story. We know that when people feel emotionally connected to a brand they are 52% more valuable (HBR), they create more profit for companies, and they do so more efficiently (IPA).

It’s no surprise – making someone feel ignites their brain, earns you a small corner of their memory, which in turn drives their behaviour.

Making people feel. It’s essentially our safest marketing strategy.

But for us this goes beyond confidence in the foundations of marketing – it’s a vision for how to build differentiated brands in the modern world.

Every corner of a modern brand’s experience, from comms to counter, needs to be smoothly connected and efficient now.  Of course it does. But bring more feeling to those moments – more beauty, surprise, warmth, awe – and you elevate yourself into greater difference. Especially as experiences gets more commoditised, feeling will pay back. It always has of course, but now it just has more places to play. And as nerdy as it is to admit it, we think that’s incredibly exciting.

6 things to try out:

  1. Turn the new wave of intelligence into opportunities to create magic. Learn to love DMPs (data management platform) and BPMs (beats per minute). Infuse the whole new connected brand experience with feeling, whether that’s something you see on a TV, play with on a phone or touch in store. Sure there’s a symphony of computation going on behind the curtain but make everything feel magic to the punters.
  1. Give your client confidence in feeling: Gather the hoards of evidence to prove feeling makes a commercial difference and arm clients with the framework and tools to convince their peers and bosses. A few examples for starters: IPA 2014, HBR 2015, IPA 2016, Neuro-Insight, BrainJuicer.
  1. Attract and retain talent who get the power of feeling. We need sophisticated plumbers who know their DMPs from their GRPs. But find the precious few who can do both intelligence and magic, across different ages and experience. When it comes to finding young talent, we look for CVs that balance a restless curiosity across a broad set of interests with depth of skill and/or expertise. Red flags include jargon, platform snobbery, and evangelism around one way of thinking.
  1. Stop thinking, start feeling for great work: Evaluate the work by how it makes us feel. The more precise the better – find the feeling that is proven to change behaviour and track that feeling relentlessly. For example for Audi, we pursue the feeling of desire right through to purchase, as much in TV as in programmatic. And we’re embracing new ways of measuring emotion – from facial coding to neuroscience. We know that too much logic can kill creativity, but often forget that this applies to our own internal creative reviews as much as it does client pre-testing.
  1. Sell the work with feeling. Seduce the heart and give the head reasons to follow. It’s what we advise clients do, but it’s something we all too often forget when selling to them. Simple things can make all the difference – working in proper time to rehearse (if humanly possible); planning a great client experience from the moment they walk in the agency…
  1. Prove the value of feeling. Measure the emotional response to your activity with forensic intensity, from the smallest interactions to the most epic campaign; and prove feeling delivers difference to our clients’ fortunes, again and again.

Feeling works. It’s what we can do that others (and the algorithms) can’t. And it’s what we all got into this game for, isn’t it?