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Connected story

The wane of the traditional print advert, subsumed by the digital age, is proving tough for some marketers, but the task remains to optimise the customer journey, now through integrated concepts
tied-up

The route to audience, the community and the purity of our clear, brainstormed messages are under threat. We are midst a revolution, with a chance to throw it all in the air and start again. This is a Darwinian moment; those that are adapting fastest will outsmart the dinosaurs. Our ability to do things in new ways should be seen as a competitive advantage, not a dangerous, countercultural diversion. It's the Wild West all over again, except with worse shoes.

The point of having ideas in communication is straightforward; they are marketers' foundation. They seek to be different and to connect a product with a defined audience. Essentially, the plan is to find a point of difference, make it come to life and get it delivered to an audience that has a chance of impacting the bottom line.  

In the days of yore, lunches lasted long into the afternoon, golf was seen as cool, procurement focused on toilet rolls and agencies had loads of sex. This approach was fine when ads ruled. Now, despite the environment changing, the ad, as the first point around which to create ideas, has proved a tough, tenacious creature to kill off, despite this method proving incredibly restricting when looking for broader ideas.

It is a shame to see that there are still people surrounding us who continue to promote this tactic. We still see 'the ad as the primary brand communication' touted all over the place. For some, it is an attitude that is retarding our progress as communicators and as plan makers. We have moved on.

Those people who piled into healthcare from the consumer arena a while ago seem to have ignored the changes that have occurred since they left it. TV is in the middle of a decline and that giant poster at the side of the motorway has been augmented by permission-based and experiential disciplines; by a channel mix that looks nothing like it did ten years ago.

Not dead, just suffering
I don't consider this the death of the ad. It's in manageable decline rather than on the floor choking. History tells us media do not die, they just become increasingly unloved. After all, we still carve words into stone, 1,000 years after it became our dominant medium.

However, as soon as the marketing mix began to demand more than the double-page spread, the end started. Those early days make us smile now, when marketers sought integrated campaigns and assessed them by whether all shapes and sizes of tactics spread out on the table matched. Was it all really about four key messages and a frequency calculation?

Then agencies began to strive to find new terminology to cope with the changes. The birth of the horrific word 'adcept' summed it up. It was a sticking plaster over the cracks in the idea generation landscape; a way of getting ad-focused teams to come up with bigger ideas than the media booked was capable of holding, without admitting that the ad was looking a bit sickly as the dominant tactic.

Perhaps our world does not need another tweeting digital bore, but the proliferation of channels has done its bit to jump-start evolution. It could be argued that the development of direct mail or salesforces could have contributed as much to this decline as digital.

I don't consider this the death of the ad. It's in manageable decline rather than on the floor choking

The ad people did not fully grasp the requirement for the brand to be pushed into these spaces in a way that it could really work. Why? Because what makes a great ad does not often make a good media-neutral idea. The interaction that these channels require and the opportunity that they have are vastly different from the four-second connection sought with a print page in a medical journal. So why use the 'lowest common denominator' tactic to develop an idea?

Human factor
To accuse digital of being the cause of this evolution is naïve. Selling has continued to evolve at a startling pace, taking in its stride the bicycle, post and TV. Digital, although more intangible and certainly fast, is not going to change the way people connect with brands. Humanity is the rate-limiting factor. The need to form relationships is hard-wired. The way audiences assimilate attributes, experience and value remains. It could be argued that brand strategy has caught up with humanity.

Closer relationships
What digital has changed is the control we have as marketers over our messages. We are no longer the only ringmasters. Every customer we have has a platform to communicate his or her experience; each is closer and more vocal to other prospective customers. This loss of control is, in many cases, exchanged for a closer relationship, one that is facilitated by a closer relationship between product and customer. Consequently, we had better ensure our brands are anchored in something more than abstract positioning and, ideally, in a defined idea, encompassing a need that can be supported and championed by the audience. If our views on the product and the audiences do not match, then it is going to die, regardless of the cunning uniqueness of the positioning.

Service opportunities
To thrive, we must be bothered about our customers, not just at the point of decision, but across a broader space. This means our idea has to work beyond the moment of customer acquisition. It is not just about a tipping point; we need to make sure that we know and understand the wider customer experience. If additional needs exist, these should be seen as service opportunities. Consider them part of the product offer, lest they become the low point of the customer's product experience.

Integrated concepts
Thankfully, there are few adcept touters left. A new type of creative breed has emerged: the integrated conceptualiser.

This is not just an ad award-hungry beast, but also someone who is as passionate about every opportunity along the customer's journey and one who knows the pros and cons of channels, how each works and what elements of the story are best delivered in each. These people are easy to discern; they do not need to draw an A4-sized box on their notepad before conceptualising because their ideas are not confined to a given media space.

Implementation and strategy are blending, creating real challenges for those who consider four key messages delivered four times to be the best way

Package of differentiation
To cope with this change, new forms of idea planning have appeared. New models have forced us to consider ideas as adhesive wrappers for our uniqueness and supporting messages. Alongside this have come some of the most exciting aspects of strategic development. The onus has been placed on marketers to consider their product story, the channels available to them and ways to deliver it. For products with a package of differentiation rather than one clear superiority, this is a huge advantage. More complex stories can be told and, as long as they are based on real need, not conceptual space available, all is well. Models that consider splitting the story and delivering it to the audience in chunks across the channels are hugely exciting.

There could be a stage where stories are augmented with consumer experience and  are much the better for such an addition. A time is coming where the complete brand story will exist only in two places; in marketing and in the mind of the customer. In between, it will be fragmented and efficiently distributed via the best channels available.

The level of planning is adding a further dimension to brand strategy. Implementation and strategy are blending, creating real challenges for those who consider four key messages delivered four times to be the best way to guarantee behavioural change and early adoption, and spoiling the old world where ads came first, followed by the tactical plan.

The next big question is how to cope with the changes. Those who want to embrace these exciting times should find a partner who is happy to state that all the answers are out there, but not yet within grasp. Work towards a real connecting story, ways of delivering it efficiently and be comfortable with informed risk. 


Tim ScorerThe Author

Tim Scorer is one of the founding partners of Hive, Ebee and another specialist agency that launched in September, called Pollen.

Tim blogs regularly and spends most of his time at Hive, partnering his 'progressive set of clients'.

He asks that any enthusiasm for this article or offers of work should be sent to him directly, although corrections or points of difference should be made to his colleagues. 

To comment on this article, please use the commenting feature below 

27th October 2011

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