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Don’t Forget About the Tactics

The biggest frustration I have with planning is actually how we use the creative brief to solve every problem. It’s like using a hammer to fix everything around the house. I understand that more progressive planners customize the content and delivery of the creative brief to address a specific problem, the issue is that no matter the format, the intent is always to deliver a single strategic idea. And a single strategic idea can only get us to the creative concept. It has no implications for how the concept is executed.

That is a problem for me because execution is the part of the idea that people interact with. They don’t see the strategy or the concept, but they see the content on the page, the feel of the experience and the usability of platform. It’s the visceral, tangible parts of the experience that forms the opinion about the brand. So why are we so dismissive of it as strategists?

I worked on the “Summit on the Summit” campaign from HP a while ago. I thought it was a pretty cool idea and very well produced. One of the big challenges on the project was that we spent a lot of money on creating content (commercials, viral films, websites) and had very little money for scaling our audience. That’s not atypical. But what I realized was that there were tons of opportunities in that campaign to build organic scale had we taken a moment to think it through.

One of the coolest pieces of the campaign was the website (http://summitonthesummit.com/). It was billed the “tallest website” because it could scroll the height of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The website would have a fact relating to each foot you scrolled up – that’s over 14,000 facts. We used Mechanical Turk to source the facts. The missed opportunity wasn’t the costs incurred. It was the fact that we didn’t give people a chance to volunteer to do it for free. We failed to use the production of the website as an opportunity to get people engaged and give them ownership of the campaign. That wasn’t covered in the creative brief. It also wasn’t mentioned in the creative concept.

One of the most liberating things about working in this business is how much we value being able to think about the big picture. But I think there’s an opportunity for us to see the big picture through to the end. While I only have one example with my limited experience, I believe that there are similar stories of opportunities left on the table because we overlooked the importance of tactics.

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A Re-imagined Creative Brief

I don’t want to come off as a presumptuous know-it-all Internet planner jerk-off, but these are just my thoughts on creative briefs.

I was talking to a friend a while ago about a brief I’d like to write and a brief he’d like to work off of. The way I’d describe it would be problem/success. The planner would identify the business problem and what success would look like. And then the planner would be responsible for finding multiple insights (like 3-4) into how they could go from point A to point B. So maybe for example on Gatorade:

Problem: Losing market share to not only athletic drinks, but also other lifestyle drinks that have become popular.

Success: Gatorade increasing market share by x% while increasing brand awareness and perceptions.

Then the planner would go in and fill out the insights:

Sports and culture go hand in hand – the celebrities hang out with each other, fashion sense overlaps and the top guys in both groups share the same swagger about them. Maybe its time we give Gatorade a life outside of sports.

People drink Gatorade because they believe its the best drink to have while/after intense exercise. This is an undeniable truth and equity we’ve built into our brand. Don’t change it – change them. Is there a way to may people exercise more and stimulate demand for Gatorade?

I only have two here since its just an example. But the insights should have enough research and focus in them to be good strategic directions.

But overall I think those insights can work for creatives. It gives them multiple options (which implies that there’s more than one way to fix the problem – something a single-minded brief ignores) and focused on the same goal. If the insights are too thin, the planner can do a deep dive on each of them to provide more stimuli.

I also think that if you set it up like this, planners won’t pitch a fit about ideas being off brief. Because everyone knows if you’re off-brief, the ideas won’t get you to the success scenario you laid out.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve got on briefs – let me know what you think. It could be totally wrong and useless for all I know. But I tend to think that briefs are too limiting and that we should never forget that we are problem solvers first and foremost.

Consider an Inside/Out Approach for Brand Repositioning

I’ve had the privilege to work on some pitches last year and it dawned on me that every big idea we come to the table with was consumer facing. In fact, in school we were trained to do that too, perhaps borrowing from the geometry rule that the short distance between point A and B is a straight line. However, I would beg to differ and say that while a straight line is the shortest distance, it may not be the more efficient or effective route.

I think it’s old hat to say that there are a gazillion touchpoints for a brand to influence in their favor, but it’s true. And the one we forget the most are the employees.

I believe that a brand’s most powerful advocates are the employees. I live with a roommate who works at Youtube and he’s probably the biggest Google fanboy you’ll meet, which means that I get personal recommendations and detailed arguments for why Google is so great every night I come home. Sure, this argument only has a very casual example as proof. But I know for sure that the employees are the easiest people to turn into brand advocates because there is a genuine shared interest and relationship that makes it easier to do so. After you get them, it becomes a word of mouth exercise to trickle into the public at large. I think this applies for larger companies who seem to have lost their way.

I don’t think this is a substitute for a communication campaign of some sort. But I think it’s a crucial first step that can be a more valuable and more effective investment of the money spent on repositioning a brand than a huge media buy upfront. With a solid evangelism within the company, we can give the ad campaign a tighter focus instead of trying to make it do more than it actually is designed to do (the result of which are those horrible anthem-ish commercial from the likes of giant tech and energy companies that read like an unfocused poem written by a space cadet).

TL:DR: Instead of asking: “what can get people excited about my brand?” it should be “what can I do to get my employees excited about sharing the company with their friends?”

Saving the World from the Bottom Up

After slugging it out on a cause marketing project at work, I’ve been taken away by how much change a non-profit can make on the world. I’ve also noticed that it always seems like saving the world is a grassroots effort instead of an initiative taken on by large powerful institutions such as governments and businesses that have the resources to make large-scale impact. Sure, a business could sponsor or donate to a cause, but it’s a relatively small amount.

There’s probably a conclusion in here about the inertia of government and the inherently evil nature of capitalism, but that not very interesting. What interesting is that it feels like it has become the responsibility of the individual to clean up the messes that large institutions make or issues that they are incapable of solving. What I think was wrapped up as our civic duty has now been exposed as the large institution’s incompetence, eroding the trust and confidence that we used to have in our government and businesses’ to get things done.

Perhaps that’s why open source and crowdsourcing have become such a force. But what seem to be different now is that these individuals don’t work underneath or in service of the institutions. If you want to draw a chart that illustrates power dynamics, the individual would be on par with the institutions. It’s a wonderfully empowering thought tinged with a bit of cynicism only because of what I think inspired this situation.

Meet the New Creative

This is old news but a guy at Poke created a really cool iPhone application. where it will synch the music to the rhythm of your steps.

As I’m schlepping around the country looking for work, I realized that some agencies created a new “digital strategist” position to work in the digital space (as opposed to just the strategist/planner). Not that I mind. If anyone were to change their job descriptions it would be the planner since we have to continually prove our worth and justify our existence.

Interestingly enough, while our job descriptions are always evolving, those of the copywriter/art director’s don’t. And you can see it in some of the interactive work where it is obvious they threw print/TV ideas on the web. I think a lot of copywriters/art directors don’t have the right skill sets to work effectively in the digital space – but some do. The point is their job descriptions aren’t going to change any time soon, so to make up for the lack of expertise, guys like Greg Elliott are more important than ever.

Elliot (and guys like Hashem Bawja and Ian Tait) represent a different kind of creative who uses technology as their creative medium and that’s the creative of the future.

New Media Again

I think MAGE left an interesting thought on my last post about new media – “now. As slow as media companies have been to use the new media, business have been slower to understand it,” – that got me thinking about media companies in general.

I agree that media companies are slow about using new media. We had Tata Sato of Mindshare visit our class this semester and the question of new media came up. And if I remember correctly, her response to it was that they don’t do anything that hasn’t been proven to work. One reason why media companies are making a killing is because they have the greatest handle on metrics and ROI – something clients love hearing about. I think the problem with new media is that there are no established case studies that the media company can use to make the suggestion to their clients.

Some of the shops that can get away with making new media recommendations are more creative or innovation types of companies. Or simply companies that create things, not messaging – Anomaly, Zeus Jones, Poke, etc. Those things that they create go on to become a media channel of sorts. And I say “media channels of sorts” because I know some agencies prefer to create tools or useful experiences where no content is being delivered.

How the iPhone Will Change Mobile Marketing

This is a summary of a project I was working on for a class.

iPhone takes smart phones mainstream
Smart phones – Blackberries and Treos – have always been popular among business users because of their email and web capabilities. But the design aesthetics and costs have deterred the typical cell phone user from switching over. The capabilities were desired, but not in that packaging. But the iPhone got it right.

And in the process of getting it right, it helped turn users towards the larger category of smart phones in general. Blackberry reported an increase in sales after the release of the iPhone. And from our survey, all iPhone users swear to never go back to a normal cell phone. People are now in tune with a smarter, more dynamic mobile experience.

Increased functionality = intense usage behavior
While all smart phones have increased functionality, the iPhone made took the idea mainstream to the average consumer. The study found that the increased functionality of the iPhone lead to intense usage behaviors. Users described the iPhone as “a computer that happens to make phone calls” and also stating that “everyday is like getting a new phone…with all the third party apps.” Obviously, there is an opportunity to engage people through the phones, but through very specific terms of engagement.

The brand is the phone and the phone is the brand
That observation infers that if a brand wants to engage a user on their mobile device, that they have to also take the route of increased functionality. Typically, a brand would engage through the phone (like a media channel) to get to the consumer. However, there is an opportunity to transform the phone experience into a brand experience. It’s a daring proposition that suggests that a brand should take over the phone, but done in a way that adds value.

Terms of engagement
Applications or widgets are an effective way to engage people on their phones. Small pieces of software are effective in changing the phone experience into brand experience. Also, software is designed and structured in a way to deliver on function. A couple of cues to consider when designing applications or widgets for mobile marketing campaigns:

All about utility, not story – stories do very little in terms of creating function. It’s counter-intuitive thinking in the communications business, but it’s one that will create applications that will last longer.

Start with the client’s product idea – often times we create concepts to layer on top of the product to sell it. However, applications have the potential to becoming business building opportunities. The closer the application is tied to the product the more relevant it is for the user.

Insights for usage/design not feel/think – for the sake of usability, planners have to consider insights that will inspire how the application will work and how people will use it.