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The iconic brand

Today's communication world offers pros and cons, which must be exploited or overcome on the path to the greatest idea

Brand The good news is that there have never been so many ways to engage with an audience, encourage its advocacy, explore new revenue streams, diversify marketing messages, touch a consumer emotionally, influence opinion, educate, entertain, involve and inspire.

However, the bad news is that there have never been so many ways to engage with an audience, encourage its advocacy, explore new revenue streams, diversify marketing messages, touch a consumer emotionally, influence opinion, educate, entertain, involve and inspire.

Positively, the media landscape has changed and the opportunity to participate in more interesting and diverse communication is ever growing. Interactive experiences can be created that allow patients to discover more about their conditions; emails can be sent rich with fascinating facts and insight, plus sales force motivation can be transformed through online games and challenges.

Innovative strategies can bring more integrated and holistic messages; social media allows active participation in customers' lives in a far more personal and relevant way than ever before and TV commercials can be fully integrated into a customer relationship campaign through touch-screen technology. This is the start of a new age of communication and the opportunities have never been so dynamic or varied.

On the negative side, everything is changing so fast that it is a challenge just to read about all the innovation, let alone put it into practice. People are faced with 1000s of pieces of communication each day and marketers looking for the next communication platform or digital engagement innovation will probably double that figure. No sooner have companies been convinced to get a Facebook page, than Google launches Google + and the online world is awash with conjecture about the death of Facebook. By the time everyone in an organisation is using Twitter, something else will come along to overtake it. There is a new language to learn too. Consider java, php, flash, metatags, vectors, twitterati, screenagers; by the time marketers have mastered the jargon of one new generation, the next generation is replacing it.

Pace of change
Thanks to the ever-deepening penetration of smart phones, brands can literally be in an end user's hand 24 hours a day. Marketers can ask questions and get immediate replies. Clever use of Twitter enables instant research can be carried out within closed communities of trusted commentators. In this fast-paced world, brands can deliver a promise in many different ways. Surveys, added value, enriched content, free insight, privileged information and questionnaires are the currency of today and brands have never been so well placed to benefit from so many ways to deepen their relationships with audience, fans, advocates, friends or even customers.

However, to maintain constant communication demands constant involvement. Brands must be engaged round the clock, 365 days a year. In a relationship, nobody likes to be unheard or have their questions or requests left unanswered and it is the same with customers. In the past, an idea could be tried in a test market and the results judged before a course of action was embarked upon. Today, everything is global and something said here can be heard on the other side of the world immediately. Plus, once said, it remains said. When a politician was asked by a school child what advice he could give to a young person hoping for a career in politics, he replied: "Don't have a Facebook page".

This perpetual demand for information and entertainment consumes time and energy. Resources are stretched; staff have to be retrained and communications will always be in beta. We are starting to live life forever 'on'.

The good news is that this new world is the same for everyone. Only those at the very forefront can be so socially engaged, leading digital innovation and taking advantage of the creative and technological communication revolution. Furthermore, those who can maintain that pace and thirst will only be able to sustain it for so long before someone else finds a new way to do it and they are themselves overtaken. So do not worry; 99 per cent of companies are still deciding how best to take advantage and are watching and learning from others' ambitious and brave forays into the unknown. The communication world appears to be spinning faster and faster, but unlike the playground roundabout it is easy to get on and, once there, there is so much fun to be had – unless you spin too fast and feel sick.

Earned media
But the bad news is that in this new world, work has to be remarkable or it is ignored. At the recent Cannes Advertising festival the comment was made that, in the past, the judges had more often than not scored 5s and 6s and now they score 1s or 9s. There is no longer a middle ground. Thus, brands have to stand out in a confused disjointed communication landscape that is ever more restricted and controlled. Plus, everyone continually talks about 'earned media': this is the most sought-after of media, the sort that is not paid for. And to get earned media brands have to stand out, be brave and do something that no one else does. Scary.

The good news is that the brave can gain an advantage over competitors' caution and conservatism. In a recent article, the CEO of Vodaphone, was asked what was his greatest mistake and his response was: "not taking enough risks". The fortunes of those prepared to do something different will flourish.

The bad news for anyone wanting to communicate well is that there are so many choices. Should marketers put their entire direct marketing budget into an eCRM email matrix, which is cheaper to deploy and allows a lot more versatility and frequency? Or should they remain with trusted, up to date, data and keep sending out direct mailings with a test, learn and optimise strategy? Should advertising expenditure be reduced in favour of a more engaging online experience? Are there merits in investing in an experiential event that will generate leads but not show a return on investment immediately? The conundrum of identifying ROI in untested media is a daily struggle, especially as some of the instant engagement platforms, like Facebook, enable direct communications but can also suffer misinterpretation, un-editable commentary and open criticism.

Currency of value
However, regardless of platform, medium, expenditure, penetration, awareness, targeting, online, offline, advertising or direct marketing, the one currency of any value is the idea itself. There are old ideas, re-run ideas, familiar ideas, good ideas, challenging ideas and, of course, the iconic idea, which sets marketers apart from competitors, accelerates awareness and gets people talking about the product or service. Iconic ideas cut through all the other communication and fill many blogs with positive editorial, twitter streams are aflutter and Facebook links are updated and shared at pace. It is the idea and brand that people refer to – "Can we have something like…?" It generates sales leads, makes senior management team meetings easy and gives the ambitious marketer a clear advantage. To create such ideas, though, takes a shared vision, a vast amount of confidence and a collective desire to do something remarkable.

Though there is little advertising in the health sector that is iconic, that should still be the goal. The recent work, Sammy-400 (pictured), is an unexpected piece of communication that really stands out and delivers a strong message that, if progressed, could become a memorable position that could be expressed in all forms of media.

There has never been a more exciting or diverse time to be in marketing communications. With so many more ways to communicate, engage and have meaningful dialogue with people, it is not a case of filling every communication channel with messages but about using the right ones to give a new perspective, provoke a shift in opinion, or to change behaviour. Those who try to stand out, look for a new path and do the unexpected in an interesting and relevant way,  create memorable communication that is truly effective.

If clients, marketers and agencies all strive for excellence in ideas, there really is no bad news.

 

Dick DunfordThe Author
Dick Dunford
is executive creative director at TBWA\PalingWalters.
Over the last 20 years he has worked at numerous agencies, including CDP, McCann Erickson, Bates, Tequila and Agency.com.
He has helped different clients across many sectors, among them Sky, Royal Mail, Safeway, LG, Gallo, Hyundai, Electrolux, Canon, The Army, British Heart Foundation and PruHealth. His approach is to solve business problems with award-winning ideas, regardless of channel or category. He won a Cyber Lions award at Cannes in 2010 and has also received a D&AD Pencil.

14th September 2011

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