In this new world where it seems like change is the only constant, we face a perfect storm:
- Brand management is changing with the threat of “me too” brands, the growth of private label, company alignment behind billion dollar brands, and the retail trade’s becoming growing power.
- Advertising is changing with the evolution of digital, social and mobile touchpoints and the resulting decay of some traditional media.
- Consumerism has changed with shoppers more connected, knowledgeable, empowered and demanding (right now, right here) in an era of the “prosumer.”
But there are other constants we can rely on: Humans emotions, and the core principles of successful marketing. Have we been distracted by marketing and media, conference speakers, industry hype, and economic concerns? While we fret about daily executional decisions, have we lost focus on what matters most?
Although I was not around to see how advertising worked during the “Mad Men” years, I suspect that a strong focus on stirring emotions has always been important. I do not believe the key to success lies in our preoccupation with the latest digital trends, social touch-points, mobile access, etc. These are just distractions.
‘Brands’ still need to connect with people (consumers) and offer values, experiences, aspirations and an identity they want to feel. Great advertising still needs to connect through a great insight (a human truth), with a strong creative expression to foster consumer engagement. Great consumer insights are about humanity. Great brands and expressions traverse all touchpoints.
The right creative partner
Imagine the time and energy one would save if you focused on deciding on one right creative partner for your brand rather than picking several agencies, each focused on one discipline – traditional, digital , PR, social mobile, PR and trade channels . The power of a Big Idea, a great creative insight plus brand expression, will work across any touchpoint. The Big Idea trumps the importance of executional details.
In a recent review of some Ipsos ASI Next* pre-test databases, we found that only about one of five ads had a core Big Idea that resonated with consumers. When we looked to the many standard diagnostics we use to evaluate advertising and Big Ideas, the most important indicators were “personal relevance” and “stirred my emotions.” These two elements are the most discriminating between success or failure. Importantly both characteristics are about the person and how he/she feels, not about a feature of the ad. Characteristics about the ad, such as “Believability,” “Unique,” and “Fits with the Brand,” although somewhat important, have less impact in differentiating the strongest ideas from the weakest.
Brand integration is key
I would be remiss if I did not share another key learning from our Big Idea research: Integrating the brand is key. Big Ideas, which leverage human truths and stir people, but fail to make the brand the key agent, will ultimately produce a weaker ROI. Too many ads in our database suffer from incorrect brand identification. We just want to make sure brand teams do not race off to make emotionally engaging ads that fail to undeniably integrate the brand as the provider.
At the risk of sounding too much the researcher, I offer one final consideration. Once you have found the Big Idea, that human insight or fundamental truth, it is important to be very specific. Write it down, and ensure it is present in all your communications — every word, element, and phrase matters. There are often many ways to express a communication strategy, but only the ones which truthfully express the insight will maintain the resonance. In almost every country across the globe, there are many ways, for example, to express national pride. However, many expressions may be cliché, tired stereotypes. Many expressions of national pride may be “on strategy,” but they can fail miserably if they do not maintain the key emotional insights which truly stir people.
Much of the change in this new world is beyond our control. But brand success continues to lie in the hands of brand owners. Brand success is still about stirring emotions in people, not about the means to reach them. Brand management is still about expressing the brand’s will. Leveraging emotions, human truths, and nurturing great creative provides the antidote for our perfect storm.
This guest post is by John Hallward, president of global tracking at Ipsos-ASI. In his global role, his focus is on leadership support for Ipsos ASI’s tracking and brand health solutions, including innovation on: holistic marketing communication, ROI measurement, media planning, emotional brand measurement, and the evolution of tracking in a more socialized world.