Monday, August 27, 2012
IT’S ABOUT IDEAS
We are often asked, “What is the most important thing marketers must do?” Questions like this are always tough because it’s rare that any profession has only one thing that is most important to accomplish. But, still, we usually find that our instinctive first answer is that simple 5-letter word, “Ideas.” We have always believed (as one of our former bosses espoused) that “Marketing people are, by definition, idea people.” Such a belief means that not only are marketers “lovers of ideas,” but they take very seriously their unique role in any organization to deliver all kinds of ideas: product ideas, packaging ideas, promotion ideas, communication ideas, and so on.
Unfortunately, despite most marketers’ desire (even passion) to champion ideas, their organizations do not always support the effort. It isn’t just that today’s slimmed-down organizations require everyone to do more things that inhibit marketers’ push for more ideas. For sure, that’s a factor. So much of marketers’ time is now spent fighting fires or keeping house. But there are other, even bigger factors that, more and more, seem to retard the flow of ideas. We would like to highlight some of these.
1. Too many ideas are incomplete. In other words, too many are expressed or articulated as fragments rather than fully developed ideas. Look at the way most organizations conduct concept development work—most marketing organizations tend to refer to all kinds of ideas (positioning ideas, product ideas, merchandising ideas, etc.) as concepts. But that’s often as far as the discipline goes; concepts get written and illustrated in any number of fashions, many of which are missing essential elements.
We think that, just as a Brand Positioning Strategy Statement must include the same essential elements every time, so should a Concept Statement. Among these are the following: Strategic Target Definition; Competitive Framework; Customer or Consumer Insight; and, of course, the Promise or Benefit the concept intends to provide the Target. Many ideas begin their fragile lives as fragments, and that’s no problem. The key to bringing them along, to keeping them alive and growing, lies in investing the time to figure out and articulate these essential elements…resulting in a complete idea that, when done uniformly, is typically in a reliable, testable format. (By the way, we at BDNI have a best practices concept format that we call our CIFT or Complete Idea Format Tool, and we also conduct a two-day workshop on how to use it, which is our Concept College.)
2. There are usually not enough idea-sourcing processes at work. There’s an old misconception among some marketers that their responsibility is to come up with all the brand’s ideas. Actually, the real responsibility is much less burdensome than that: marketers must develop and sustain the resources for a flow of ideas, which they can then make more complete and test, if desired. Naturally, most companies already have some basic functions that are charged with creating new ideas, most notably the R&D function (for new product, new indication, and new packaging ideas) and an outside communication agency (for advertising, messaging, and digital ideas). But these are rarely sufficient. We think brand-builders today need to customize some specialized teams—call them “advisory or expert panels”—with whom they can regularly interact for out-of-the-box thinking. For example, in the recreational beverage business today, it would make great sense to build a team of outside experts in such things as cultural anthropology, trend-spotting, gaming, and sports/sport-equipment technology. On the surface, such experts have nothing to do with the marketing of beverages…but everything to do with most of the likely consumers of those beverages. The point is that today’s brand-builder needs multiple sources for ideas.
3. Too many traditional processes limit the number of ideas—too early and too few. How many times have you participated in a presentation from an advertising agency and been shown only one or two ideas (one of which is usually the agency’s preferred or recommended one)? This is the old model. It comes from a time when consumer and customer choices were much fewer in number and when there was often only one brand whose performance was clearly superior to all others. Neither of those conditions is true today. Today marketers need to see as many ideas as they can as early in the development process as they can. This way they become smarter by seeing a broad range of strategic options, plus they have the time to select some (with their resource team’s guidance) for adequate checking out in the marketplace.
There is no better example of such a process that we know than the Campaign Idea or “tissue” process when developing communication ideas. We have talked about this process many times in these Dispatches over the years. The gist of the process is this: within two to three weeks of the brand team and communication agency approving the Creative/Communication Brief, everyone meets at the agency to review their initial ideas—typically many ideas (as a ballpark, 6-9 ideas). Nothing can be “killed” at this first review, but of course, the combined team can agree to select some for further development or testing, and some for putting on the back burner.
We recently were working with an international client who just completed a new advertising campaign development process—using the “tissue” or Campaign Idea steps. This client insists that spending time up-front with a number of different ideas was not only THE critical step in the process, but that it also resulted in superior pre-market test scores. In short, a marketer’s mantra today has got to be, “Bring me ideas—many and soon!”
BOATS & HELICOPTERS
This week’s B&H could not be simpler. Following from the three major roadblocks that many organizations have, we cannot recommend more emphatically the following steps:
1. Insist upon complete ideas, however your organization prefers to express them. Make sure that each idea is solidly grounded on the essential strategic elements.
2. Don’t settle for only the usual internal idea sources. Take the time to create some additional, outside resource teams—especially unconventional ones. Then keep them going and tap into their thinking on a regular (like quarterly) basis.
3. Demand that your communication agencies involve your brand team in their “tissue” development process. Always start with ideas—as many as you can get.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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