In the fall of 2011 I conducted a workshop based on the New Era of Participation at the 4A’s strategy festival in NYC – and I admittedly ruffled a few feathers when I talked about the end of planning as we know it. I depicted a new era of participation that went beyond the siloed functions of account planning, media planning, digital strategy and even connections planning – to characterize a new way of “uber strategizing.” And I introduced a dynamically inspired and highly collaborative way of thinking, that’s born out of participation as the end of the means of a purposeful idea that fosters deeper levels of human involvement.
Since then, and during the past six months in particular, I’ve been experimenting and thinking about participation as a new form of brand currency that goes beyond the passive behavior of “recommending to a friend,” “liking” or “following” a brand. Increasingly, I am beginning to wonder if participation isn’t quite simply a new measure of tactile brand intimacy and behavioral affinity that exists when “people and brands interact together.” In that way, participation is both shaped and underscored by a measured behavior – or put another way, it’s a combination of behaviors that are defined by proactive brand verbs such as “join, play, buy or share” that only exist when people fully buy into a brand purpose. As an example and to make my point, think of the award winning work for Nike Fuel Band – that unleashed the inner athlete in all of us – and inspires us to “just do it” through the power of technology, to create a whole other level of brand participation that goes well beyond a Nike running shoe.
Now, you may or may not use the words “participation” to interpret or even describe what I am talking about. Although irrespective of whatever you call it, I suspect that you may agree that more brands and more agencies, have woken up to the realization they can no longer just message their way to marketing success. Today, the bar for attaining consumer engagement is much higher – and our brightest minds at agencies are now tasked with finding more skillful ways of tapping into human behavior – that are more about creating ideas that entice participation, and not just advertising ideas. The birth of the digital age, rapid advances in technology, and the voracious human desire for content has given all brands and all marketers the equal opportunity to do that – with or without a big budgets.
Case in point: is a most recent and perhaps my current favorite example of participation for Coca-Cola that I view as a brilliant reinvention of an iconic advertising idea. The initiative is called Project Re: Brief – and its core premise is the reinvention of the famous Coca-Cola Hilltop commercial from the 1970’s and the potential to turn it into a powerful particpatory idea for the 21st century. The initiative born out the ingenuity of google, the genius of Harvey Gabor and a twist of innovation in syncing a vending machine with the web, takes the idea of “buy the world a Coke” and puts it on partcipatory steroids. Put simply, the outcome is that people are able to share a Coke with someone through vending mahines, anywhere in the world, in real time, through the use of smart technology, banner ads and social media networking to literally fulfill Coke’s purpose of “refreshing the world with happiness”. Check out the attached link to the Reimagining Coke Hilltop to see what I mean. In my opinion, it’s very cool.
With all this considererd, maybe it’s time to wonder as strategists, that you should stop planning – and become an uber-strategic catalyst in fostering participation? And if you’re already doing that, then you know what I mean – when I say that participaton rocks. So what are you waiting for, go forth, and participate.
It’s oxymoronic. You know it when you see it. Some people like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos just have it. Most of us spend our whole careers striving towards it. It’s that elusive spark of genius that’s simply brilliant: it turns a category on its head, changes the rules of the game – or dramatically redefines the destiny of a brand. For sure, it’s a rare thing that even rigor and inspiration alone can’t guarantee.
I call it being creatively strategic. It’s a bit like having a split personality disorder. And to get there requires a different kind of thinking that often defies conventional wisdom.
It makes you wonder – if there’s a way for any of us mere mortals to practice creative strategic thinking? Well, in applying the right techniques and by trying a different approach, maybe there is.
But to start out, forget about any approach that’s based on linear sequential thinking. Apply mind-bending techniques, lateral thinking solutions, even random chaos theory – and it’s just possible that being creatively strategic could be within your reach. To get there, perhaps try one or more of the following approaches and see if they work for you:
Don’t Stop When You’re Feeling Groggy
Feeling tired? Cranky? Then get thinking, because you just might be at your creative best. Research by Wieth and Zacks has shown when you’re groggy, your mind is most highly creative – and more likely to yield imaginative insight. As the inventors at Menlo Park who worked for Thomas Edison might also possibly testify – that the “light-bulb moment” could strike at the twilight of exhaustion. But it doesn’t mean you have to work yourself to death to get there – merely open you mind when your brain is on the verge of feeling tired, close yor eyes, and in that moment of pre-sleepiness, you might just come up with a creative solution to that daunting business problem.
Reimagine, Who You Compete Against
Don’t frame your brand story versus the direct competition. Apply blue ocean theory and you can reimagine the category you compete in to find an ownable space that redefines your brand. Case in point: Coca-cola doesn’t compete in the carbonated soft drink business – or just provide effervescent fun. When reimagined in a world of optimism, Coca-Cola refreshes the world with happiness and serves a higher purpose to exist in a highly positive beverage category of one. As Coke is increasing dominance through “open happiness” – Pepsi is losing it’s fizz (pun intended.)
Think Like A Kid
Unleash your inhibitions, see the world with a new sense of naiveté, and explore your inner child to reveal a different perspective that’s simply liberated from the logic of your overly studied mind. Be a kid again, and you look at problem solving with a new set of divergent skills and open-minded wonder. Psychologists have demonstrated that the 5-year old mind has expanded horizons and intuitive skills. As an examle, look at Skittles as a kid and not a grown-up – and you get a more colorful and vibrant view of the brand that’s not just candy, but an unadulterated and wierdly raindbow-inspired child like fun experience.
Study Human Behavior, Not Consumption
Humans make decisions that are influenced by their values, attitudes, passion points, and behavioral motivations. Therefore, just focusing on how people consume brands is a highly myopic view of the connections opportunity. Open up your perspective to observe people and their behavior, in how they consume life – and it will illuminate new insight. For example, being able to observe a behavioral shift in the ownership continuum from owning to sharing, has helped Zip Cars identify a new opportunity for short-term car sharing that the likes of Avis and Hertz just didn’t see.
Look At The World Like An Alien
The people who have extensively traveled – are generally more creative and able to look at things from a different perspective. They can borrow learning from the places they’ve visited and apply knowledge from different cultures to enhance creative problem solving. Try thinking like an alien whose just landed on Earth for the first time – and you can enhance your creative thinking powers. Just ask Howard Schulz who was inspired by a coffee shop in Verona, Italy and then proceeded to build the Starbucks empire after seeing a untapped need for the quality coffee house experience in the US market.
So why not give it a shot? See if any of these methods work for you the next time you have a BHAG of a brand problem to deal with. In your hour of need perhaps resist the temptation to overly logic your way out of a corner. Rather, don’t just be analytically strategic, but get creatively strategic – and you might just find that you create a little piece of genius that will forever be remembered.
It can be a creative person’s worst nightmare. And it’s usually a major cause of migraine for any inspired strategic planner who wants to be associated with great work. Yup – that’s copy testing; and the more I think about it today, the more testy it’s making me feel.
Well fundamentally, it’s because the underlying premise of how creative work has been traditionally copy tested is flawed – by today’s standards. I mean, think about it? Copy testing is usually based on evaluating ideas – especially TV commercials, under artificially stimulated circumstances and highly controlled lab-like conditions, based on many of the following criteria:
- as part of a contrived advertising clutter reel
- commercials embedded in “faux” TV content
- respondents are recruited under false pretenses
- evaluated in an unnatural / or highly restrictive setting
- commercials observed under “forced exposure” circumstances
- scored based on systematic recall and persuasion measures
- evaluated against (sometimes really old) historical norms
The problem with all that is that the measured outcome (or derived black box score) is not usually a very good predictor of real success – and can often lead to misinformed although seemingly scientifically based decisions. But I guess what’s really making me feel aggravated – is that copy testing is usually not helping to make the work better, but is more likely to have the opposite effect. It means that being a slave to copy testing protocol can lead to good work being killed – and it can often result in unnecessary adjustments being made to otherwise good TV commercials that end up looking like “franken-mercials.”
With all this as a backdrop to many client driven-processes, the industry is sadly at a point where brand managers and agencies are motivated to develop creative work that’s engineered to beat the copy test system, but not necessarily yield great work. The end result is that the creative work produced ends-up meeting copy test expectations but falling-short of real world expectations. It then causes everyone to wonder “how did that happen?” And then guess who usually gets blamed: the brand manager and agency responsible for playing by the rules of copy testing to develop the not so great work? It makes no sense.
As a brand manager, it has to be frustrating – given that a copy test score could impact their year-end performance evaluation, next pay rise, or big promotion – or maybe not? And as an agency, it’s enough to make you go nuts. Creative people don’t understand why it has to be this way. Account directors are feeling hand-cuffed – and planners have become powerless, in their collective inability to steward the best creative outcome.
There has to be a better way?
Well thankfully, there is. Although for sure, it will take more than a wish and a prayer for a brand manager and agency with conviction to pursue the alternative paths – given how traditional copy testing is so ingrained into the institutionalized process of so many clients. But if you have the courage to go against the grain of conventional wisdom, then here are four alternative ways for you to consider – that will likely start your agency down the road to better work:
Apply best judgment, intuition and experience
Don’t ask the consumer if they or dislike your idea. Assess creative work based on the best judgment of smart agency people who have the benefit of learned experience. Follow your agency convictions and philosophy to self-assess the work through the eyes of your senior creative leaders, account directors and strategists. It keeps everyone accountable – and puts the agency to the test in making good decisions based on the potential to “live or die” by great work. Leo Burnett for example, has an internal creative process that calibrates ideas by using a 10-point GPC scale that evaluates the potential for an idea to change the way people think, feel and act – and ultimately transform human behavior.
Dynamic, real-time, modeling and tracking
By tracking consumer perceptions, behavior and real-time transactions, it’s possible to create a sophisticated model that assesses the impact of creative work in the “real world.” Especially for retail, CPG, and in particular e-commerce brands, developing a highly sensitive and real-time statistical model gives clients the confidence of being able to assess the impact of the creative work (and media) based on their KPIs and potential to yield actual sales within the competitive realm of reality. Taking this approach provides agencies with the liberty to develop their best work without being beholden to copy testing hurdles, while also being able to apply test-and-learn consumer insight to iteratively adjust and optimize the work – and media spend levels, based on how the overall communications strategy is actually performing.
Evaluate the power of the idea, not the creative execution
A well-executed “bad idea” doesn’t equate to success. Rather, it’s the transformational power of the idea platform that matters. And therefore, designing an evaluation technique that quantitatively measures the pre-post “lift” based on reactions and actions to a conceptual idea (that’s evaluated through a discrete self-complete online survey) can provide a fairly good measure of directional success. Using a rough-video animatic or even a concept statement as a creative stimulus – can allow the client and agency to effectively get a pre-read on the behavioral-changing power of an idea. Thereafter, assuming a successful “lift-test”, it’s down to the inventive craft of the agency to execute the idea in the best way possible.
If you have to copy test, tap into a different part of the brain
Admittedly, not every client (and even some agencies) are yet willing to totally give up on copy testing. And so, if you have to copy test, then perhaps the best way forward is a communications testing methodology that gauges emotional resonance and behavior. Companies like Brainjuicer provide an innovative approach to creative idea testing, that give clients the quantitative confidence they need – and agencies the opportunity they crave to develop great work. In short, Brainjuicer applies a progressive and emotionally-grounded approach to testing that uses a methodology called ComMotion. By evaluating the potential to spark different types of emotional reaction – and by tapping into the intuitive and instinctive behavior of the reptilian brain – this type of testing approach increases the odds for brilliant and non-conventional ideas to make it through the approval system. Just look at the Cadbury’s Gorilla work from the UK – as creative work that would have failed on the merits of traditional copy testing but that got the client green-light based on a Brainjuicer communiations test to achieve phenomenal success.
These types of approaches are just a few of the many possible alternatives to traditional copy testing – given that most agencies have their proprietary approaches and internal evaluative processes – to make the work even better (that aren’t copy test dependent – or just quick-and-dirty focus group disaster test approaches.). Point is, that whatever the approach – even the very thought of looking at alternatives to the old-school copy testing protocol begins to free you from the shackles of restrictive creative practices.
Convince your clients that there’s a different approach to copy testing and it’ll start to make everyone feel better (including them!). Chances are – the quality of the the thinking will be better – the work will be better – and ultimately, the actual end results will be better. And then everyone will be feeling a little less testy.
As for me, I’m feeling better already. Serenity now.
Ah the creative brief. It’s one of the most important things that any agency should be focusing on – and yet in many ways, it’s the one thing that’s most easily dismissed, challenged, and abused. It’s a topic that increasingly comes up time and time again, as I talk to senior planners and strategic thinkers at other agencies across America and in Europe. And what I’m hearing loud and clear, is that there’s an increasing push back on the creative brief – and the frustrated voices of creative directors are echoing the same sentiment in that briefs are becoming too “confusing,” “uninspiring,” “misguided,” “they include too much information” – or conversely, “not enough information.” In short, what creative directors are really saying (and sometimes justifiably so) is that they’re consistently being presented with a “bad brief” – and they’re not excited enough to do great work.
So what’s a strategic planning director to do?
Bring M&M’s to a briefing? Dress-up the briefing room with cultural props to make the creative brief seem more exciting? Or use a string of profanities to cover your own inadequacies and storm off in anger?
Well maybe, but that’s not really going to turn a bad brief into a good one – and at best, these types of gimmicks or behaviors merely create a distraction from the real issue at hand – in that quite possibly, the carefully constructed creative brief that you’ve written is in fact “bad.”
Perhaps the better option is to start thinking about the creative development process this way – and to look at things from the perspective of the creative brief recipient. To begin with, if the person who’s tasked with developing big ideas is not inspired by the brief, then it’s going to be a lot tougher for them to yield great work. That’s just common sense – and it’s a truism that applies beyond the ad industry to many other lines of business that involve creativity and innovation. For example, imagine a home builder who’s not excited by a set of poorly thought out architectural plans – the chances are that the house he’s going to build will at best be ordinary if not functional, or even ugly. Similarly, given that a creative brief is essentially a blueprint for ideation – then the potential for a great idea to emerge will suffer in the same way, from the lack of clarity, excitement and an interest.
So what makes a good brief – as the inspirational blueprint for great creative?
Each and every agency has its own interpretation of a good brief – based on their process, culture and creative philosophy. But as a general rule of thumb, it would seem that the starting point for a good brief is based on a clear understanding of a number of things. For sure, a brief has to be well written, strategically articulate and preferably concise, because at a minimum those fundamentals will begin to put you on the right path to briefing success. And yet even more specifically, maybe the true genesis of a great brief goes beyond the current restrictions of an agency’s creative briefing template – and it comes down to the fundamentals of taking a fresher, more progressive and contemporary perspective on the “creative ask” in being able to provide compelling answers to the following considerations:
1. The problem:
Start by clearly defining the strategic problem you’re solving for and create a strategic tension in how you frame the opportunity:
- What’s the behavioral or business inertia?
- What’s holding you back from accelerated success?
- Who’s the enemy?
2. The people:
Forget about the traditional definitions of “target market” or “consumers” – think of humans being by characterizing the “archetype” of people you want to influence:
- What are their human values?
- What defines their mindset?
- How do they currently behave?
3. The purpose:
Don’t get hung up on the brand promise or brand positioning marketing speak – identify a powerful “brand purpose” that captures the essence of what people are looking for:
- What’s the experience like on the brands best day?
- How does the brand feed into consumer behavior?
- How does the brand fit with human values?
4. The participation:
Consider how the people you want to talk to engage with technology and content, digest culture – and participate with your brand:
- What are their content passion points?
- What mode are they in when they’re most receptive?
- What content delivery channels do they encounter?
5. The performance:
Be declarative about what success looks like – by tangibly defining how you’re going to measure outcomes and change behavior
- What are you asking people to do?
- How do you expect them to change their behavior?
- How do you calibrate the desired impact?
What this approach could lead to?
While it’s not a fool proof formula for creative success, hopefully it can help to provide focus and yield inspiration in looking at the creative brief in new and different ways. The one thing this approach can’t account for is that the essence of great briefing writing is accentuated by the inventive mind and is born out of the genius of a good strategic thinker, who still has to connect the dots to inspire the creative opportunity. And when all that happens, it can lead to powerful brand platform ideas and yield interesting creative work like this:
“Imported from Detroit”
So why don’t you put it to the test and see if this 5-step approach to the creative brief writing process works for you? It might just result in more positive shout outs of “good brief” rather than that sinking feeling of “good grief” when you know that what you’ve written has completely missed the mark – and resulted in creative agitation.
Let me know how it goes.
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results – then perhaps the way that many brands approach research today is good enough reason to question their sanity. After all, doesn’t it seem crazy to adhere to a brand discovery process that’s restricted to traditional focus groups and old-fashioned methods of quantitative research – while hoping you might discover something new? Especially when past experience tells you the outcome is likely to fall short of yielding new, mind-blowing, or game-changing insight.
I’m not saying focus groups and quant research studies are no longer relevant. Because to the contrary I think there will always be a need for artfully moderated focus groups and skillfully designed quant surveys. But what I am saying is that in an era of market research breakthroughs in neuroscience, behavioral psychology and biometrics – why would a brand limit their potential to learn? To me, it just doesn’t make sense as to why so many brands are unable to break away from the straightjacket of “the way we’ve always done things” and are unwilling to try something new.
Maybe it’s as simple as institutional inertia. Perhaps it’s fear of the untested? Because admittedly, there are some newer methods of insight mining that do require a leap of faith – given their unproven premise and methodologies. But for sure, there’s also a lot of merit in trying something unconventional and in taking a “nothing-ventured nothing-gained” approach to research. After all, there’s always the chance that your brand might just uncover some type of mind-bending insight – and garner a better understanding of how humans think, feel and act.
And so, by way of example and in no particular order, here are a couple of highly progressive research methodologies that I’ve come across during the last few years:
Sentient Decision Science – a methodology that’s grounded on measuring consumer response times to automatic brand associations and also provides a way to model underlying drivers of brand behavior.
Emotion Mining – a way to mine the human subconscious, get to brand truths, and identify behavioral drivers by using a free association technique and asking the fundamental question of how consumers feel.
Protobrand Meta4 – uses an imagery-inspired projective technique, “metaphor elicitation” and interpretive analysis to provide richer qualitative and quantitative understanding of brand feelings.
BuzzBack – applies the use of an online tool to leverage the power of projective psychology by using e-collages and thought bubbles to provide a faster read on brand imagery and perceptions.
Innerscope – the application of biometrics and eye-tracking technology to measure subconscious reaction to brand, messaging and media stimulus and to ultimately map emotional engagement.
To all of the above options, I say very interesting and worth exploring. Although I hear you ask, if any of these methods (or other forms of new world research like this) are really worth a try, given how much is always at stake when making insight mining decisions? Well, I guess that’s ultimately up to you and other responsible brand stakeholders to decide. But for me, it’s hard not to say that I think many of these approaches have real potential – especially for brands that compete in undifferentiated or highly commoditized categories.
And so in conclusion, what’s really the definition of insanity when it comes to brand research? Well, maybe it’s just downright insane to not at least try a new approach to insight mining and to see what’s possible.
As always, I welcome any thoughts, added commentary, or different perspectives.
Happy New Year.
The Great Recession isn’t really over until the consumer says its over. And while every marketer is wishful thinking about a better 2011 – it’s perhaps a little too early to get overly excited about the potential for an all-out economic recovery. The prospects for next year would still seem to be in the balance and many of the smartest economic minds are either reserving judgment – or erring towards a more pessimistic estimate of what might transpire. But one thing that does seem to be increasingly apparent, is that two significant and diametrically opposed macro forces will continue to have a “tug-of-war” effect on the collective consumer psyche in the year ahead: malaise and optimism
A malaise will continue to linger in many American households where the socio-economic realities of anemic job growth – and the prolonged effects of the housing crisis and credit crunch will continue to inhibit spending behavior.
At the same time, a growing sense of optimism will begin to emerge in select geographic pockets across the country, where consumer spending is more likely to show increased signs of resilience and growing momentum.
The net-net of these conflicting market forces is they’re more likely to “wash-the-other-out” in terms of their overall impact on society – thus turning 2011 into a year of relative consumer stagnation with mediocre growth prospects for consumer spending. But what’s really interesting is that beneath the national forecast, there’s an underlying story at a local level that suggests a more volatile and uneven geographic recovery, with negligible growth in some markets and much higher rates of growth in spending in other markets.
Opportunity For Brands
Clearly, if you’re a marketer, you’ll want the higher rate of growth. And therefore for your brand to get there, it will mean having to change the status quo by looking at ways to accelerate success in the “malaise markets” and maximize share of growth in the “optimistic markets.” That opportunity is more likely to exist for brands that can tap into the fundamentals of human behavior (potentially at a market-by-market level) and to better understand the symptomatic trends that will more profoundly impact the consumer motivation.
So what kind of underlying human insights or grass-roots level of trends are we talking about? Well, in connecting the dots between everything that’s going on out there in the world today, it would seem that some of the key emerging trends in the year ahead will likely include:
Being more human – humanity will strike back against technology, as consumers look to fulfill a deeper desire to feel more of a human interaction with brands
360° shopping – consumers will adopt a holistic shopping approach in getting the most out of online (peer-to-peer), smart phones (location based tools) and the physical store experience (knowledgeable sales staff)
Help! – great customer service will become more of a differentiator and more highly desired by consumers as they look for additional help in making the “right decision for me”
Personal Love – consumers will increase loyalty towards brands that recognize them as individuals, understand their passion points and “get my life”
Being well – consumers will take more preventative measures towards optimizing their physical and mental health, and enhancing their emotional well-being
Mitigating Risk – consumers will learn to live with risk by looking for increased safeguards (guarantees) and protecting their personal assets (warranties)
Value and Values – consumers will re-evaluate brands based on a new value equation incorporating value (quality/price) and values (brand purpose)
Local Advantage – brands that are local, think local or act local will become more relevant and trusted than multinational-brands that are viewed as amorphous
Faster-Forward - consumers will have a heightened desire to get ahead, earn quick wins, and to feel a greater sense of personal momentum
Getting More Real – consumers will gravitate towards genuine, authentic, and honest products – and shy away from artificial, unoriginal, or superficial brands
Implications For Marketers in 2011
- Few brands will succeed in 2011 by sticking to a “one-message-fits-all” approach
- Knowing how to harness the most applicable trends for your brand, on a more localized basis, can increase competitive advantage
- Brands that adopt a market-by-market messaging strategy can out-grow the competition, even in a stagnant market economy
- Understanding which of these key trends best align with your brand purpose can drive increased levels of relevance, purchase motivation, and share gain
What do you think – is 2011 going to be a year of stagnation? Does more of an emphasis on a market-by-market approach make sense? Which of these key trends provide brands with the highest opportunity to change the status quo?
As always, I welcome any comments or added thoughts.
Happy Holidays to all!