March 2016


Using people to build a brand

There are, I’m guessing, about a million brand building models.

Give or take.

Let’s call it 1,000, 003. (Or 1,000, 004. Someone in Cambodia just reinvented brand building.)

There are the big brand boys, with their big brand toys, their “human truths” and their “proven methods”. FutureBrand. Interbrand. Landor. Coley Porter Bell.

Every advertising agency, design shop and marketing specialist has their own brand methodology. In Australia, that would range from monoliths like DDB to BBDO to stone throwers like me. Every single one of them “highly effective” and “based on human truths and market insights”.

Brands should be based on truths about people

Picture courtesy Wikiality

Every single one of these processes offers a unique way of looking at your brand and drills down into what matters to your market.

It’s a process.

It’s proven.

“It works.”

Here’s the thing.

It probably will work.

Your short term metrics will trend upwards. Your ROI, if your product is any good to begin with, should just about pay for the process of getting a new brand to market.

Getting a new product to market is a different matter.

Getting new packaging to market is… well… as a genie I once knew said, “I’d rather build a superhighway to Tasmania using nothing but dog-hair and spit.”
It can be very rewarding.
But you do feel, halfway through the journey, like the dog has run away and your mouth has gone strangely dry.

Sorry. Distracted by a dog story.

If you’re working on a rebrand, a new look should work.
The science, as King Julian would tell us, is solid.
The “human truth” many rebranding projects are based on is the human desire for something new.
This innate need is hardwired into our brains. Somewhere in the temporal lobe, in the realm of the Princess of the Limbic System, the Amygdala.
The Amygdala governs fear and memory.
Back when we were a sub-species of mammal, our ability to spot new-ness was a defence mechanism. We’d see something new. And we’d hide. New meant danger. Like tigers. And mammoth. And door to door sales people.

We humans love familiarity. Familiarity is safe. Familiarity is comfortable. It may breed contempt, but no-one ever got eaten alive by contempt. Fortunately, for us as a species, we also have a healthy amount of curiosity. One of the rewards of curiosity is dopamine. (I’ll let you join the dots.)

Curiosity means some of us get to learn life lessons from those brave souls we see getting crushed beneath the feet of an enraged mammoth..

We are drawn to new things.
And comforted by familiarity.
So, a familiar product presented in a new way works for us.
This, and the Power of Recency, is why advertising works.

Sorry. Distracted by science.

My point is not that you don’t need big brand thinking from big brand thinkers.

They understand the secret power of a brand.

They understand, by ensuring you look and sound relevant, and you have the framework for a consistent approach to the market, you won’t need to re-invent your particular wheel for about 7 to 10 years.

The only trouble is; brands are built by people. And people, as it turns out, can be only too human.

Brand promises are delivered by people.

Reputations are created by people.

Every brand in the world is held to ransom by the behaviours of the people delivering the product, managing the systems, overseeing the processes, mining the data, fronting the customer, or wiping up the vomit in aisle 4.

People who either like what they’re doing.

Or who are just doing it for the money.

Or the prestige.

Or whatever personal demon pulls their little red wagon.

People who may want to buy into something nobler than a pay cheque and a uniform.

But whose behaviours are guidelined by WHS and HR.

(Together, like tequila and worms, a heady combination of fear and science.)

Which leads me to wondering.

While HR and WHS don’t seem to understand the finer points of brand building. And watching some in HR engage with branding is like watching marmosets trying to drive a Lamborgini. In a world where human contact is, increasingly, the great differentiator for brands, why are marketing people still playing with old models?

It makes us look like golliwog collectors at a Star Wars Convention.

Bringing creativity in-house

I’m always quietly confused why more businesses don’t have a creative resource in-house.

Not a design resource.

An idea generation resource.

Before I go further, allow me a trip down memory lane.

In advertising agencies, creativity was once the realm of the creative department.

As it goes with creativity, some ideas were good, most were average and a few were absolute stinkers.

Then, in the seventies, inspired by the immortal Jon Steel (look him up – Truth, Lies and Advertising), ideation went up-stream and people started looking for ideas beyond words and pictures and became Business Idea Generators.

As it goes with creativity, some ideas were good, most were average and a few were absolute stinkers.

Then, in the early nineties, someone decided to unbundle the media and the production – probably shouting, “Commission!” or “Kick-back!” or “Reptile!” as they broke down the walls.

And creativity was claimed by both media and advertising agencies.

And, at this risk of repeating myself, some ideas were good, most were average and a few were absolute stinkers.

Then, at some stage in the late-nineties, someone in Agency World decided that everyone was “creative”.

(You’ll have to imagine a disgruntled art director using finger quotes there.)

It didn’t do a lot for the ideas. But a lot of people got to wear black.

And then, in the mid-noughties, we (as an industry) determined the word “advertising” wasn’t all-encompassing enough for the sheer spread of creativity available at the agency.

We still did advertising. But we disguised it by using words like social, digital, guerrilla, ambient, online and experiential.

Yet again, some ideas were good, most were average and a few were absolute stinkers.

Then, once the industry had finally got its head around this Total Creativity business, someone decided to put the genie back in the bottle and re-bundle the media and creative components of commercial communications.
Well.
You wouldn’t call it advertising would you.
How terribly 1990’s.

My guess is, some ideas will be good, most will be average and a few will be absolute stinkers.

I think the trouble stems from the word “creative”.

As soon as you give someone a title with the word “creative” in it, the assumption is they believe they’re more creative than others in the business.

There is some truth in this.

Ideas are like opinions.
Everyone’s got one.

And, while everyone is capable of having ideas, not everyone is capable of recognising the value in an idea, understanding the relevance of an idea, executing an idea or knowing when, while it is an idea, it’s one of those ideas for which the word cliché was born.

But creativity does have a role in business.

I believe this to be true.

Usually, most business leaders will shy away from the kind of ideas you see floating around most agency creative departments because most business leaders are rational human beings.

And some ideas, while they are genuine light bulb moments, should only be used to illuminate the path to a better idea and never be seen in public.

This is true of ideas born in agencies. And ideas born in marketing departments.

What most marketing departments lack is a creative director.

Someone answerable to the marketing director, but who would be responsible for generating, recognising and nursing genuine business ideas to life.

Someone who could get to the coal face of the business and work with people embedded in the business to develop ideas that actually helped the business.

Someone who understands that developing ideas, like developing strategy, is hard. It’s about making hard choices. It’s about knowing what not to do.

Someone who can help business leaders see the links between strategy, creativity and operational effectiveness.

Good creative directors get to be creative directors because they’re capable of recognising the value in an idea, understanding the relevance of an idea, executing an idea and knowing when, while it is an idea, it’s one of those ideas for which the word cliché was born. And should be taken out the back and quietly strangled.

The problem used to be that good creative directors wouldn’t choose to go in-house.

But, as we all know, times have changed.

As Michael E. Porter says, “Innovation is the only real competitive advantage a business has.”

Dave Trott puts it more succinctly. “Ideas are the only legal advantage left to business today.”

Given the competitive nature of business today, perhaps we need to try something new.

Put the people who need the ideas in touch with the people who understand how to bring ideas to life.

Seeing an idea is easier than having an idea