We now have greater access to ideas than ever before, but the ideas themselves, it seems to me, have a much shorter half-life. New thinking, new people, new everything are presented to us at a dizzying pace – in editorial, feeds, slide decks, talks, videos, articles, almost everywhere one cares to look. In an age of instant celebrity and content marketing, thoughts and variations of thoughts are being championed from every social soapbox.
Ideas have become fashion – because they are marketed to us as fashions. And like fashion, most will barely outlive the press release that trumpeted them. A proliferation of lists across the media adds to the sense of volatility.
The “fadar” is how I describe the promulgation of ideas fighting for our collective and individual attention across every aspect of the cultural landscape. Some will shine. Many won’t get the chance. Others will bedazzle on first view only to burn out well before they hit paydirt … (Ironically, as an idea in its own right, the fadar is of course subject to the very forces that it describes.)
Brands are caught up in this. They’re increasingly positioned, and thus perceived, through media, as hot, dead, on the comeback or fighting off the receivers in a world that appears faster, more volatile and less forgiving by the year. Similarly, answers to current business “dilemmas” are marketed to us in the same way – as quick-fix ways to deal with issues in an accelerating world. In a recent article on Branding Insider Strategy, Walker Smith warns though that perceptions such as increasing speed are “an illusion that brand marketers should scutinize carefully”. Specifically, he says, marketers need to be wary of the discrepancy between the cultural footprint of new media against their actual shoe size. “Twitter is a prime example. Its cultural importance is indisputable. But … the reactions and opinions expressed on Twitter rarely mirror those of the population at large. It is provocative but not representative.” Little is as big, as serious, as important or as trivial as it may appear in the feeds.
So, if you’re a brand, how do you stay true to your brand in a world where nothing seems to hold that much attention for very long? Inspired by a suite of idea that continues to ring true for me, I’ve looked to apply the Heath Bros’ six principles of stickability to a strategy for successful branding:
Work from the simplest premise imaginable
Powerful brands telegraph pointedly simple ideas. Ironically that singularity then allows them to apply that thought in interesting and lateral ways. They last – because the ideas themselves are everlasting. Magic will always be fascinated, so will excitement, so will rebellion, so will finding, as will adventure. Steep your brand in the human condition rather than market conditions.
Lead people away from what they know
In a world where everyone’s been and seen all that’s going, intriguing brands use a combination of show and tell. They demonstrate their currency and capabilities through well-timed upgrades and new releases whilst continuing to lift the horizon bar by alluding to ideas “under development”. In the hands of a master, by the time those ideas do come to fruition, there’s always a smile in the tail – a fascinating twist that soon has everyone talking. Stock the shelf and, at the same time, feed the anticipation.
Express your brand in moments not generalities. And make the moments consistent but not predictable. Capture the best thing that will happen in a snapshot. Help people expect.
Help consumers misbehave
Most of us are locked into what we know. Consumers break habits much more slowly than we listen to or read suggestions, and at quite a different pace than the media might suggest. If you want your customers to do something that sits outside their current behaviour, give them a viable reason and/or a valid way to do something ‘small and disturbing’. The water industry did that by changing the language. When consuming water was no longer just about drinking and much more about hydration, it inspired a multi-billion dollar change in behaviour. By shifting the premise and linking it to a simple action – eight glasses a day – they actually changed the question that consumers subconsciously asked themselves. It was no longer about how much water to drink, or even whether to drink water at all. Now, the only question was which water to drink.
Every change of brand is an act of disloyalty. With their concept of the “third place” Starbucks changed how coffee drinkers viewed their cafes. They did it with this little heresy: don’t go straight there [to work, to your next meeting, home]. There’s always time to pickup a take out.
Encourage them to cry, laugh, love
Powerful brands involve people. They use that simple premise that I referred to earlier to strike a deep chord with consumers; to connect with them at the level of principles and schemas rather than slogans and discounts. You can couch that in all sorts of ways. I put it this way: “Be very interesting.” It’s extraordinary how few brands pass that simple, simple test. In fact, I think one of the great mis-thinks of marketing is that we allow ourselves to believe we’re in the business of persuasion. We’re not of course. We’re in the business of confirmation. People act on what they feel. De Beers changed how people fall in love, because they confirmed in consumers’ minds how people should capture and express commitment. Nothing says relationship like a diamond.
Appeal to their emotional need for reasons
Facts talk to our need to know. Stories talk to our need to experience. The reason is remarkably simple. We’re told facts but we share stories – and our understanding grows through that sharing. Stories help us recognise all sorts of things – from situations to value.
And because of that, the most powerful stories are refreshed, so that they retain their relevance. Great brands tell great stories – and increasingly, they do so at different speeds across different channels depending on consumers’ absorption rates. Red Bull is always telling a story centred on excitement – but the ways it captures and expresses that story are as momentary as “Taurine”, as sensational as a free-fall from space or as long form as their sponsored appearance in a Formula One motor race. They continue to expand and reinterpret that story through new events and adventures.
My own take: set the pace with your customers emotionally
It’s tempting for all of us to be drawn to one idea over another and to believe that we know where the next big opportunity lies. My take-out is that marketers need to resist the urge to chase momentary attention, or to see any one idea as the future of their brand, because people see, absorb, react (sometimes) and then move on. Marketing is about beautiful messages based on clear principles, applied competitively, across dynamic channels. New ideas add to the information we work from, but they need to be ruthlessly and continually analysed for their effectiveness, relevance and applicability.
There’s no doubt that the body of theory and ideas that marketers draw their insights from continues to increase – as marketing converges with fields as diverse as behavioural economics and technology – and that’s exciting. In some ways, that makes the work of, and the pressures on, marketers much harder because there are so many fads fighting for priority and consideration. Ultimately though, successful brands have the patience and the discipline to set the pace emotionally for what their customers want, rather than trying to take their cue from the sound and light show going on all around them.
Photo of “Albireo – colourful double star” by Jared Smith, sourced from Flickr