Most of the marketing rules we lived by just five years ago are practically obsolete. The industry has faced more changes in the last five years than in the previous 50. Let’s face it, there’s no point in improving broken legacy models. Since necessity is the mother of invention, let’s not waste this recession and instead use it to rethink how we go about branding in this new decade. Here are five key ways:
1. Create better realities: A Bain & Co. survey notes that 80 percent of CEOs believe their product to be differentiated, but only 8 percent of consumers agree. And Y&R’s recent Brand Asset Valuator found a 90 percent erosion in brand differentiation over the last 10 years. These are not just sad examples of illusory superiority, but a staggering statement of our industry’s failure to add value in the past decade.
It’s critical that marketers realize that the product itself is the most powerful brand-building tool. We’ve all heard it before: “innovate or die.” But today’s hyper-connected society adds a sense of urgency to this broadly accepted mantra because mediocrity is getting extinguished with increasing speed via social networks.
Because reality always trumps image, marketing needs to create real value versus just adding a perceived value. Marketers need to shape the offer — the product, service and experiences consumer buy — not just communicate it. Marketing becomes the product and the product becomes the marketing.
2. Don’t be design blind: With design driving innovation, we need to challenge our understanding of design.
The Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon noted that “everyone is a designer who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, equally challenged our perspective when he said, “Today’s businesspeople don’t need to understand designers better, they need to become a designer.’
The concept of design thinking has become highly regarded and commonly understood, but it has yet to infiltrate corporate culture. When design thinking is practiced, creative problem solving happens more successfully, leading to truly innovative business solutions versus the incremental improvements left-brain-driven analytical thinking leads to.
3. Be “brand led”: While brands need to apply the same rigor the human-centric approach design thinking requires and while actionable insights are key, they’re only half of the equation. Being solely consumer led does not allow you to be differentiated. Be brand led and consumer informed — not the other way around.
Being brand led allows innovation to be true to, and guided by, the purpose of the brand, making it more credible and in line with what the brand is capable of.
4. Think 365 — not 360: Shift from singular, consistent messages to multiple coherent ideas, from simplistic, one dimensional, reduced executions to complex, multidimensional, rich executions. Stop striving for perfection and go for progress by iteration. Join the movement shifting from campaign thinking to conversation thinking.
At the same time, a brand must build long-term platforms to become an indispensable part of people’s daily lives by providing continued entertainment and utility. Brands can’t afford to go dark any more. Instead, stimulate brand conversations with more initiatives, more often. Just like people, brands are a sum of their experience.
5. Be interesting: This you know — but do you practice it? A brand that generates little or no conversations will be killed by one that does. In a world where it’s more important what people say about your brand than what brands say about themselves, give people something to talk about.
Let’s stop confusing excuses with reasons. Let’s use this recession as a reset button. Let’s make business more innovative and the world a more interesting place.
Frank Striefler is a principal at Wolff Olins.