New world success looks much like old world success

In this new world where change is the only constant, we have the perfect storm:

  • Brand Management is changing with the threat of “me too” brands, the growth in private labels, company alignment behind billion dollar brands, and the retail trade becoming more powerful.
  • Advertising is changing with the growth of new digital, social, and mobile touchpoints, with the resulting decay in some traditional media.
  • Consumerism has changed with shoppers being more connected, knowledgeable, empowered, and demanding (“right now, right here”).  It is the era of the “prosumer”.

However, while change is constant, one thing remains steady: humans, our brains, the role of emotions, and the core principles of successful marketing have not changed. But, have we been distracted by the marketing media, conference speakers, industry hype, and weak economic concerns? While we fret about the new and daily executional decisions, about how to reach people with each new touchpoint, have we lost focus on what matters most? Although I have not been around long enough to know how advertising best worked during the “Mad Men” years, I suspect that a strong focus on stirring emotions within people has always been important. I do not believe the key to success is found in our preoccupation with the latest digital trends, social touchpoints, mobile access, and executional concerns about reaching people. These are just modern distractions from what has always mattered most.

‘Brands’ still need to connect with consumers and offer them the values, experiences, aspirations, and an identity which they want to feel. Great advertising still needs to connect to a great insight (a human truth), with strong creative expression, for consumer engagement. A great consumer insight is about humanity, and great brands and great expressions traverse any and all touchpoints.

Imagine the time and energy you would save if you focused on deciding on one right creative partner that will focus on the human insights, human emotions, Big Ideas, and brand expression that work best for your brand rather than picking several different agencies, each focused on one specialty: be it traditional, digital, PR, social mobile, or trade. The power of one Big Idea, a great creative insight + brand expression, will work across any touchpoint. The Big Idea trumps the importance of executional details. Without a great idea, everything becomes a challenge, and each new trend might seem to end in disappointment.

In a recent review of some Ipsos ASI Next* pre-test data-bases, we found that only about one in five adverts had a core Big Idea that truly resonated with consumers and helped enhance brand associations.  When we looked to the many standard diagnostics we use in evaluating advertising, and creative Big Ideas, the most important indicators were “personal relevance” and “stirred my emotions”. These two elements are the most discriminating between success or not. Notice how both of these characteristics are about the person and how they feel. They are not about a feature of the advert itself. Characteristics about the advert such as “Believability”, “Unique” and “Fits with the Brand”, although somewhat important, would have less of an impact in differentiating the strongest ideas from the weakest.

I would be remiss if I did not share another key learning in our Big Idea research: Integrating the brand is a key requirement. Big Ideas which leverage human truths, and stir people, but fail to make the brand as the key agent, will ultimately produce a weaker ROI. Too many adverts 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, but fail to undeniably integrate the brand as the provider.

At the risk of sounding too much like a researcher, and being too mechanical, I offer one last consideration. Once you have found the Big Idea, the human insight, or fundamental truth, be very specific, write it down, and ensure it is present in all executional expressions of it. Every word, element, and phrase matters. There are often many ways to express any communication strategy, but only the ones which truthfully express the insight will maintain the resonance. In almost every country in the world, there are many ways, for example, to express national pride. However, many expressions may be cliché, tired, stereotypical, and uninspiring. Many expressions of national pride may be “on strategy”, but they can fail miserably if they fail to maintain the key emotional insights which truly stir people.

Much of the change in this new world is beyond our control. But, brand success does still lie in the hands of brand owners. Brand success is still about stirring emotions in people, and not about the executional means to reach them. This provides the antidote for our perfect storm.