Pure genius from Gavin Heaton (again):
We all shuffle into the meeting and take our chairs. We greet one another, sip our coffee and lift our pens in silent readiness — after all, one never knows when an action point will be thrust across the room.
Before long, even the most strategic of strategy sessions will be punctuated by tactics (and let me admit I am as guilty of this as anyone). In a bizarre twist on meeting bingo, marketing bingo is littered with words such as “viral”, “youtube”, “facebook” — and increasingly, “social media”. Much of this is driven by short-term, campaign oriented thinking and a focus on short-term objectives. However, when it comes to advising our clients (whether they be internal or external), it is important to remember that campaigns (and microsites) are no longer stand-alone. Google has seen to that.
Where once we built our discrete campaigns around various plans to raise awareness, generate demand, build brand, stimulate sales, accelerate trial etc, brand custodians now need to consider a longer term narrative line that incorporates the way that consumers engage with the brand over time. We no longer have disconnected brand campaigns but discontinuous brand interactions. The crucial link between each of these campaigns is a combination of social media powered by Google. That is:
- The articles or references that bloggers make about your campaign (whether it is digital or not)
- The perspectives published by the media (advertising media as well as other publishers
- User generated content that riffs off your campaign
All of this can be found by Google. More importantly, it can be found by Google well into the future — long after your campaign has ended. For example, when I search on some of my old projects, I can find all the pointers, the conversations and the discussions AROUND them, but the project has passed. The microsite has gone. All we are left with are traces leading nowhere. This is brand equity being squandered.
In the future, we need to think about brand lifecycles. We need to think about brand “through lines” — and design experiences with entry and exit strategies. We need to start putting as much thinking into “reversing the launch” as we put into the start of a campaign.
When we reverse the launch, we can draw upon the P-L-A-Y framework, delivering an experience that enhances and continues the conversations that evolve around your campaign. In fact, part of your strategy could be to build upon some of these user generated conversations as a catalyst for ongoing dialogue. After all, creating the talking point is one of the early challenges, maintaining or stoking that conversation requires much less effort and attention.
This reminds me of a lesson one of my English teachers shared with me one day many years ago: Try telling your story backwards. Start from the end, and work your way back to the beginning. (This is basically the writer’s version of proofing an equation.) There are very definite applications here, especially for those of us who look at brand development as more than just a finite sets of tactics and campaigns. As Gavin points out, the reality of today’s digital world is that nothing in communications is finite anymore. (Not that it ever was.) Search engines, blogs and message boards keep a record of every conversation, every opinion and every intersect between your campaign, launch or other tactic and the public at large. The ripples keep spreading long after you’ve dropped the pebble in the water.
As one of my weapons instructors told us before our first group live fire exercise: “You can’t call back a bullet.” Once you unleash a product, a message, a campaign, you’ve unleashed it. Even if it runs very far away and you forget about it over time, it’s still out there.
It isn’t enough to just build, launch and move on to the next thing anymore. You have to look at the effects of every brand-to-people engagement in terms of ripples. In terms of momentum. In terms of intersects with other ripples. This is the difference between looking at things from a strategic standpoint and looking at things almost solely from a tactical standpoint. The pickle that many companies find themselves in these days is simple and comes in two forms: a) Too much tactical, not enough strategic (not enough focus on strategy to guide the tactics or give them purpose and continuity) and b) Confusing strategy with tactics (the subject of an earlier post).
None of this stuff is rocket science, but when companies spend too much time operating in response/fighting fires mode, they tend to miss out on the big picture. There’s a reason why rally drivers have co-pilots: When you’re racing along treacherous roads at 100mph, you need one guy to drive and another guy to read the map and tell him what’s coming up next. More often than not, CMOs don’t get to hold the map anymore because they are too busy pushing buttons or turning the crank. Without someone dedicated to managing the map and calling out the next obstacles, even the best drivers will put their car in a ditch – or simply fall out of the race.
If you’re a high level exec – especially a CMO – take the time to take a step back once in a while. Remind yourself of the difference between strategy and tactics. Invest time, thought, and resources in a solid strategy. Hire people whose insights you trust, even if they aren’t experts in your particular industry. Surround yourself with people who can help you develop and implement tactics based on that strategy. Map out your process. Sketch it out. Model it visually. Then, once you’ve built a solid strategy and a framework of tactics that will help you bring that strategy to life, work your way backwards – from the end back to the beginning. (Hint: Do this at the “official” end of each tactic as well to see if you’re still on target. If the plan is still whole. Each time a tactic gets reviewed through a “post mortem,” go ahead and cover the tactics you already put to bed weeks or months earlier. Have someone do research on what little nuggets these tactics have left behind. See how what you find fits with the brand image you would like to enjoy.
Brand development work is about much more than marketing tactics and thanks to social networks, connectivity tools and the evolution of communication channels, your brand’s playground is now much larger than it used to be. Make sure you adjust your outlook accordingly.
😉 Have a great Wednesday.