Branding: Creativity without Strategic Rigour is a Waste of Budget

“Creativity is Intelligence Having Fun.” – Albert Einstein

 

2016 will be a year of convergence for brand strategies. As Joel Comm[1] put it, “there’s nothing more social than face-to-face engagement,” and this is the application strategy that brands need to focus on. They need to combine traditional marketing with the emerging. They need to be creative, smart, strategic, and more than anything disruptive. Look at what Amazon is doing. They changed the way the world shopped by pulling in customers online. Just when everyone got hooked, they are focusing on brick and mortar stores. Disruption, new methods and new forms of engagement is the life blood of successful brand strategies.

 

Why is that important? Because you have to constantly innovate and look at how you use branding more strategically and more creatively. It’s not just a logo or a design and its not just strategy and analytics either.

 

Instead of just a scientific or design endeavour it should be looked upon as a process that combines analytic and creative thinking. As Sun Tzu[2] had described in The Art of War, “Strategy is an Art; never a Science; it is the Art of the conscious mind in action.”

 

Brands need creative and artful strategy to be actionable. No strategy, traditional or digital can operate on its own in isolated silo. It needs to be creatively aligned and converged in a cohesive brand message, to offer a complete brand experience.

 

 

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Image via www.storify.com

 

 

Strategy and creativity go hand in hand and this is exactly what Airbnb’s CMO Jonathan Mildenhall[3] emphasized at the panel discussion hosted by The Economist at 2015 Cannes Lions. As he and others in the panel pointed out, there is data and then there is the need to manage this data and extract the brand story hidden within.

 

 

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Image via www.storify.com

 

 

Mildenhall points out that strategic thinking does not have to kill creativity, though if abused it can smother all ingenuity. Equally, creativity without solid strategic thinking frequently fails to deliver the required commercial returns as well. Both are needed and must go hand-in-hand for optimum success. Businesses need to use the data creatively, not use it to stifle creativity and creativity needs to be underpinned by informed brand strategy.

 

One of the most common mistakes amongst SMEs is that they don’t employ strategic rigour, unlike larger or global brands, which sometimes squash creativity in favour of too much data analysis. It is imperative that creative talent and strategic thinking be merged seamlessly because one is incomplete without the other. In other words, strategic rigour is the essential foundation on which to build creativity.

 

Therefore, design should never be based on just subjective aesthetic preferences but driven by a well-developed brand strategy. This includes research and analytics together with developing the whole platform of the brand through brand profiling (vision, mission, values, purpose, promise, personality, archetype, story, tone-of-voice, purchaser personas, positioning) and so forth.

 

As Mildenhall said, when you can state the “non-obvious truth” as a great strategic insight, your brand has won. For you are now hitting on something that is there but has not been noticed or considered before. It takes creativity to get to this point but also means a walk among the data.

 

Branding sets the stage for clients’ expectations and creativity needs to be activated to bring that promise to life and deliver on it in a ways that’s relevant to the brand’s primary audience.

 

 

A salient fact to reflect on –

Your audience couldn’t care less if 73% of the world’s brands disappeared tomorrow – Havas Media

 

Yes, this is alarming but it’s true so now is your opportunity to ensure you’re not the brand that’s easily forgotten. Instead, develop a strategic foundation on which to build your brand now and into the future to ensure it’s different, distinctive and memorable with a purpose and personality your primary audience finds irresistible. Use data and digital strategy combined with brand profiling to inform and provide direction for your brand’s priorities. Use creativity to tell your story informed by data, and use this story to evolve your brand into something people want to talk about, share and refer.

 

As David C. Edelman[4] pointed out, “… today, consumers are promiscuous in their brand relationships…” The presence of increasing media options and social networks enable them to simultaneously connect with myriad brands and sift through them at will.

 

Businesses therefore, need to understand which media to use and how to leverage those channels appropriately to share their brand story. All the pieces need to come together in a highly informed and smart brand strategy which is interactive, dynamic and makes for a cohesive customer journey. It’s crucial to create a knowledgebase. It’s important to use the channels like Facebook and Google, if they’re appropriate to your product, service and primary audience, coupled with other marketing automation players.

 

Before you develop your brand strategy here are some brand facts to keep in mind:[5]

  • 45% of a brand’s image can be attributed to what it says and how it says it

Your brand is your promise

 

  • 54% of people don’t trust brands

Much of this distrust comes from broken promises and brand not delivering on customer expectations

 

  • There are 2.1 million negative social mentions about brands in the U.S. alone, every single day

Monitoring, managing and controlling your brand message and reputation is essential

 

  • 48% of Americans expect brands to know them and help them discover new products or services that fit their needs

Customers expect your brand to provide them personalized solutions

 

  • 72% of marketers think branded content is more effective than advertising in a magazine; 69% say it is superior to direct mail and PR

Branded content is an effective way to educate potential clients while establishing your authority in your industry. Build trust with branded content

 

  • 80% of customers said “authenticity of content” is the most influential factor in their decision to become a follower of a brand

Focus on creating authentic content that gives value and reflects the values of your brand without the hard sales push, think pull more than push in your communications

 

  • 60% of US millennials expect consistent experiences when dealing with brands online, in-store, or by phone

A consistent brand is essential. Humans by nature crave consistency. Carefully monitor all aspects of your brand touch points and communications to ensure your audience has a consistent experience

 

  • Colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%

As a professional branding expert and international speaker this colour statistic is one that never fails to surprise audiences or branding master-class participants whenever I mention it. It also underpins why colour psychology is so important, should never be underrated or deployed because of personal preferences.

 

Colour needs to be leveraged both strategically and creatively, and every brand needs a properly developed colour palette which expresses the brand’s personality appropriately, suits context and cultural preferences while also meeting the needs of its primary audience.

 

It might be worth reflecting on these statistics in the context of how does your business and brand measure up when compared against them? Would a brand audit health check be in order?

 

Creativity and data analysis are no longer diametrically opposed tools, operating in disconnected silos. Data and creative teams need to work within a cohesive framework because if one doesn’t inform the other, the entire brand building strategy not only remains incomplete but runs the risk of failing.

 

 

Case Study #1 – Connecting Strategy with Brand Performance – Lexus[6]

 

The latest Lexus campaign is an eye-opener. In order to sell a new 467-horsepower, high-performance vehicle it has eschewed conventional rhetoric and has instead created a branded game.

 

 

 

 

 

Called “GS F the Bracket”, this has been developed from the ground up in collaboration with Yahoo Sports. The rollout of the new luxury sports sedan will complement Lexus’ sponsorship of Yahoo’s fantasy sports bracket and the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. Once registered, users get to pick the player match-ups who they predict will most quickly reach a combined 60 points for a chance to win a “GS F-inspired vacation.”

 

 

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Image via www.gsfthebracket.com

 

 

The campaign blends in Lexus’ branding strategies with its performance by targeting two very different audiences. The first is the affluent group who can afford to spend $80,000 on a new vehicle. The second is the group of younger prospects who are aspiring to buy their dream Lexus car one day.

 

Working in tandem with Oracle Marketing Cloud’s data management platform, the automobile giant has invested in an addressable data strategy to optimize its performance based on where the customer is in the Lexus life cycle. So while television is still an important medium for them, they are applying email and transactional data to manage and affect customer mindsets. This is exactly what Airbnb CMO talked about when he stressed on the important of creativity and strategy.

   

Lesson Learned:

A large marketing budget and a great strategy team will be of no use if the brand campaign lacks innovation. A creative thought process that has correctly analyzed how to engage the customer and generate organic demand will have stronger results leading to optimal sales. 

 

So how should a business engage brand profiling and brand strategy coupled with creative inputs effectively? At the very least you need to have absolute clarity over what your brand stands for, its purpose, what makes it different to your competitors, its personality and the needs it fulfills for your ideal audience together with fully developed purchaser personas for each of your different customer types.

 

Your brand is not just who you are but also what others perceive you to be. As Jeff Bezos so succinctly put it, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”.

 

As experts[7] have pointed out in the HBR – Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy, managers who do not reconcile creative with realistic strategies are doomed to weigh the futile rigour of ordinary strategic planning. “The key is to recognize that conventional strategic planning is not entirely scientific…… also integral to the scientific method are the creation of novel hypotheses and the careful generation of custom-tailored tests of those hypotheses—two elements that conventional strategic planning typically lacks.” What this essentially means is that modern strategic planning can only be successful when scientific is combined with artistic.

 

Creativity and strategy when combined to tap into human emotions, lies at the root of successful branding. There is a growing debate on whether advertising and marketing automation stifles this creativity. When smart brand strategies are applied, marketing automation can actually provide brands with immense opportunity to be proactive instead of reactive. They offer message immediacy and pave the way for data to further fuel branding campaigns. Strategic rigour and application of data allows you to see what’s working and what’s not. This feedback can then be used to feed back into the creative process.

 

The tools of communications have to be chosen wisely, not just for wider brand creation but to engage human emotions creatively. What you communicate visually and verbally, and the various distribution channels chosen, underpin the foundations of strategically driven branding. All these are the what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating to.

 

 

Case Study #2 – Global vs Local – Airbnb[8]

 

It is important to create a core global brand strategy. But it is even more important to allow localised ideas more room to scale within the company, in order to be sensitive to different cultural nuances. This is often more difficult for bigger companies because institutional friction and the politics of business often prevents the culturally nuanced to work or build diversity into teams. However, it’s a huge opportunity for the more agile and flexible smaller business.

 

Social media and the rise of crowd culture have broken through geographical barriers and brings together all communities that were once geographically isolated, thereby greatly increasing collaboration. Airbnb’s innovative use of social media, both in terms of promotion and content, has been phenomenal is driving viral leads.

 

 

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Image via http://blog.tortugabackpacks.com

 

 

They have fused global experience with direct and substantial local sub-cultural influences. You can find ways to travel free or with minimum outlay and plan your vacation, stories and blogs about the places you are searching, see why Hollywood stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé[9] use Airbnb and post it on their social media page, and find easy ways to connect with the service whenever you are ready to book your flight and hotel.

   

Lesson Learned:

Progressive means blending cultural innovation with early adopter markets. This is an example of how businesses can combine creative with strategic rigour and reach out to millions of global customers simultaneously.

 

How can smaller businesses achieve an edge?

 

Be creative when you strategize your brand message – right at the onset of your brand profiling process. Your brand vision and goals should be fully aligned with your business objectives. It should express your brand personality and be positioned in a way that enables you to stand out effectively while also appearing irresistible to your potential customers. Brand profiling and positioning are the tools and systems that enable you to differentiate your offering from your competitors and rise above the generic confusion and noise.

 

Consider what you deliver and how you can fulfill that promise in a way that reinforces your differences and distinctions while also making your brand more attractive, referable and memorable to your ideal customer. Build your brand promise around that delivery. It tells your customers what they can expect from your products or services and why your brand matters more to them.

 

How can smaller businesses balance the need for brand strategy underpinned by creativity?

 

According to Paris-based branding consultant Bolanile Maté[10], applying smart strategies for example, like heritage and provenance positioning can work extremely well. Though she used Hermès as an example, she also pointed out how these more traditional concepts can capture the imagination of more modern audience too. Its all in the positioning and how you share you’re authentic brand story.

 

Conventional branding tools have stressed on building brand awareness through repetitive push marketing strategies. Whether it is a print advert or an electronic one, the focus has been on taking the product and placing it in front of the customer, telling them what’s out there, where to find it, what to do and how to use it.

 

While this has its place in the marketing process, the way this message is delivered has changed. Brand strategy needs to utilize a fully integrated process combining both social and media channels, where relevant, to raise awareness and generate demand. In the age of internet marketing it’s more effective to attract this organic interest with inbound marketing rather than the more traditional push marketing model, to encourage customers to seek out the product, service or company on their own terms. And this is very doable for all smaller businesses and brand owners.

 

Traditionally, big companies introducing new products into the market use the traditional push marketing strategies when their products are new and unfamiliar.[11] However the smarter ones are utilizing more creative routes combined with well-developed brand strategies. They’re utilizing multiple touch-points and media channels to generate more viral and word-of-mouth brand messaging, all of which smaller businesses can do very flexibly too, on modest resources.

 

 

Case Study #3 – Using Familial Roots as a Strategic Tool – cHarissa [12]

 

This company is a great example of how they blended conventional and new media to make themselves more familiar with their target audience. More importantly, how they strategically used their familial spices to create taste and flavours in a brand that people love.

 

 

 

 

 

Octogenarians Earl Fultz and his wife, Gloria Elmaleh of New York started their Moroccan sauces and spices business, “cHarissa” when most people are happily retired. For them the strategy for success was provenance and familiarity – hers with the spices of her familial roots and in his case the food industry.

 

 

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Image via http://www.charissaspice.com

 

 

They used their prior knowledge as a resource but did not stop there. They went on to hire smart people, the ones who knew how modern marketing worked to build a brand that skillfully expresses its personality and touches its audiences with strong emotional resonance, combined with experience and endurance. They’ve used traditional advertising but the real strength of their brand lies in the word-of-mouth and social marketing coupled with innovative promotions. For example, Earl’s presence as a guest chef led to cHarissa being served at the Revolving Restaurant on top of the World Trade Centre.

 

That is the power of creativity underpinned by strategy.

  

Lesson Learned:

It’s very accessible for SMEs and new businesses to integrate conventional and newer media to share their brand message, generate demand for their products and services and grow their brand as a viral phenomenon.

 

 

Case Study #4 – Using Creative Social Interactions to Build a Sustainable Brand – Herschel [13]

 

Vancouver based travel goods and accessories business Herschel Supply Co. used social media not only to improve customer service but also to build memorable impressions through well-thought out and consistent branding strategies. They’ve been very smart about analytics and using this information to leverage hot trends and create proactive customer support.

 

Using smart business tools like Hootsuite they’ve been able to achieve a 20% lift in customer service satisfaction rate, to serve their customers more effectively and on a more personal level. They’ve also gained about 60% increase in their overall positive brand sentiment.

 

The result – they have become quite synonymous with modern travel fashion – and their followers comprise of the fashion inspired, tech savvy globetrotters.

 

 

 

  

  

Lesson Learned:

The most effective way for SME businesses to get a strong footing in the competitive global market is not to worry about big budget media spending. Instead implement clever social strategies which combine traditional and social platforms to creatively engage your audience with campaigns using creativity underpinned by strategy and strong analytics.

 

Key Learnings:

  • In order to be intriguing and successful every brand needs a creative strategy
  • Creativity without strategic rigour is a waste of time and resources
  • Creative strategy determines pivotal marketing and advertising efforts
  • Analytics needs to merge with creative risks for unique breakthroughs
  • A creative branding strategy will help a brand standout and engage its primary audience
  • Creativity when based on strong analytical foundations yield robust results
  • A strong brand profile has to have an authentic brand story worth telling

 

 

Questions to consider:

 

• Are you employing strategic rigour with your creative endeavours?

 

• Have you fully defined your brand, what it stands for and what makes it different to your competitors so you can use this brand strategy to underpin your creative outputs?

  

Are you focusing too much on data analysis and consequently stifling your creative or worse still failing to develop your brand strategy with brand profiling and indulging your creative fantasies without any strategic basis?

 

• Is your brand strategy based on esoteric data or eclectic client expectations?

  

• Are you generating leads or creating active interest and demand for your brand?

 

• Before you indulge your creative inclinations in new brand collateral have you evaluated the most effective direction using brand strategy to inform your choices?

  

• Can you tell a good brand story out of your data?

 

 

You may also like:

 

Brand Profiling: How Brand Performance and Purpose are Inextricably Linked

 

Rebranding Strategy: Why Your Rebrand Must Embrace Storytelling  

 

Brand Promises: How to Craft, Articulate and Live Them for Brand Success

 

Brand Audits: 10 Things Successful Brand Owners and Managers Must Know  

      

Brand Revitalisation and Relaunch: The do’s and don’ts of doing it successfully!

 

Brand CSR: The Business Case for Successful Branding and Social Good

 

The Power of Disruptor Brands and Challenger Brands

 

[1] 10 Expert Marketing Predictions for 2016, http://www.inc.com/leonard-kim/10-expert-marketing-predictions-for-2016.html

[2] Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[3] [3] Jonathan Mildenhall, Marketing Week, https://www.marketingweek.com/2015/06/22/airbnb-creativity-without-strategic-rigour-is-a-waste-of-marketers-budget/ ,2015

[4] David C. Edelman, “Branding in the Digital Age: You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places,” https://hbr.org/2010/12/branding-in-the-digital-age-youre-spending-your-money-in-all-the-wrong-places Harvard Business Review, 2010

[5] Jeremy Durant, “15 Crazy Branding Stats You Need to Know,” https://www.bopdesign.com/bop-blog/2015/10/15-crazy-branding-stats/ BOP Design, San Diego, 2015,]

[6]  Kelly Liyakasa, “Branding And Performance Intersect For Lexus,” http://adexchanger.com/advertiser/branding-performance-intersect-lexus/ March 2016

[7] A.G. Lafley Roger L. Martin Jan W. Rivkin Nicolaj Siggelkow, “Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy”, https://hbr.org/2012/09/bringing-science-to-the-art-of-strategy/ar/1 Harvard Business Review, September 2012

[8] https://www.marketingweek.com/2015/06/22/airbnb-creativity-without-strategic-rigour-is-a-waste-of-marketers-budget/

[9] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3437631/Beyonce-shares-selfies-inside-10-000-night-luxury-rental-booked-San-Francisco.html

http://www.vogue.com/13396609/beyonce-gwyneth-airbnb-super-bowl-rentals-celebrities/

[10] Bolanile Maté, http://www.entrepreneur.com/video/271837

[11] David C. Edelman, “Branding in the Digital Age: You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places,” https://hbr.org/2010/12/branding-in-the-digital-age-youre-spending-your-money-in-all-the-wrong-places Harvard Business Review, 2010

[12] Carol Roth, March 2016 https://youtu.be/DjE3BOxqMKQ

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/271867

[13] Kristina Cisnero, “3 Small Businesses That Found Social Media Success,” https://blog.hootsuite.com/small-business-social-media-success-stories/ JUNE 2014