The importance of being useful

Image credit: globalwellness.org via Flickr

Some very nice people at WARC approached me recently to write a post about things to consider while planning advertising budgets for 2013, the idea being to simultaneously spread awareness of WARC’s impressive archive of content. I’ve decided to write about what I like to call Phase 2 of branded utilities coming to the fore.

If you work with an agency, chances are you already have access to WARC, if not, you can sign up for a free trial here (I highly recommend it).

Leaving an imprint on culture, leveraging agile thinking

Ambitious clients typically want to invest their marketing budgets today in projects and campaigns that enable them to leave an impact on modern culture. Examples include Pepsi Refresh and the re-branding of the O2 in London. But it isn’t always easy: in an age where tweets can be as influential as TV ads, brands need to constantly be on their feet – Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was able to use the momentum that started being generated by a print ad to develop into a much wider-reaching campaign, and in India P&G used the success of Shiksha, an education programme for children in rural areas, to build it into something bigger after the CSR initiative achieved impressive brand results.

This sort of agile storytelling strategy is no longer just an imperative for big-budget clients though. Challenger brands have that mentality right from the start and are often able to achieve that with limited budget. Tiger Beer did this in Thailand (which had only 1% of the market share in the country) with their ’50 must-do things in Asia campaign’, aimed at itinerant backpackers in a country where alcohol advertising is banned. And more recently Hiut Denim is building their brand around storytelling with HistoryTags.

Partnering with startups to provide a service

Risk-taking isn’t for everyone but it’s something that brands should today consider as mandatory; the typical 70/20/10 split is more the norm than an exception now. When the 20 and 10 parts are done right, they can really impact the zeitgeist. It also allows brands to experiment with new formats and platforms and allows startups to see how strong a commercial proposition they offer.

Today startups are able to provide services and plug gaps in the market that bigger brands are sometimes slow to respond to, and more intelligent brands are realising this and partnering with them in innovative ways.

Whether it is trying out new ad technologies or larger programmes like PepsiCo 10 that actively seek out promising startups to invest in, brand-startup partnerships are here to stay.

The Kanban way

I think there’s something brands can do with the Kanban way of working, typically used in lean software agencies today, but a process which has its origins in Toyota’s production system.

Kanban involves the use of small cards that capture the need for specific actions along with the reason for it being requested, always remembering that in the end it is the user of that service who should benefit. So, for example, with reference to a new online service, one card could say ‘As a user I WANT TO be able to update my profile SO THAT my information is always current’, which essentially means that feature needs to be built in order to make the service more efficient.

Companies that want to produce work that speaks to the factors I mentioned above could start writing down a) what they see as areas they’d like to impact and/or whom they would like to speak to and b) why they’d like to do this (both of these should be part of an agency brief anyway; it’s just a matter of writing them down in a different format). So consider the Commonwealth Bank in Australia, which says ‘As a bank customer I WANT TO understand the pros and cons of investment better SO THAT I will be more willing to invest in the property market in a post-recession world.’ Now clearly Investorville, the world’s first investment property simulator didn’t come out of a process like that, but I’d like to think ideas like that can more easily be thought of by thinking the way startups do, whether that’s through partnering with them or being able to influence culture in a noticeable way by using every media platform at one’s disposal.

Let’s deconstruct a couple more:

L’Oreal: As a user, I want to sign up for brand news and offers voluntarily so that I don’t feel dictated to by a faceless brand. Result: The Big Sister ‘benevolent tech’ concept.

Mastercard: As a customer, I want to see how Mastercard is relevant to me as a resident of New York so that I am more inclined to be loyal to it. Result: Priceless Cities, tailoring programmes to different cities according to the fields of engagement that most resonate with them, from a selection of eight (Shopping, Dining, Sports, Travel, Arts and Culture, Theater, Attractions and Music).

Some things to think about, I hope.

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