Day one, morning one of Advertising Week 2013, and to the Liberty Theatre we stride for a well attended session on brand building. The art of brand building in fact. With the air conditioning system seemingly calibrated by Bear Grylls, the panel assembles before us perched on high set jet-black director’s chairs. For a chilly 50 minutes, moderator Allison Arden, author of ‘The Book of Doing’, navigated us through a lively discussion about how you can do a lot online with not much in your budget.
Many of the points discussed were self-evident – an indication that despite the cleverness of media and a proliferation of devices the fundamentals of brand building are little changed. Ideas remain critical to the success of a campaign, whatever the channel. Insights are important. By way of demonstration Rangaiah showed Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ film, a piece of work that came from the discovery (through research) that less than five per cent of surveyed women would describe themselves as beautiful.
We had affirmation that successful communication is about building on human needs, and, managing costs can be nothing more complicated than striking up the right partnerships between those who need to communicate and those who can help. David Shing talked about Aol’s decision to punch a hole through its home page and then make the "hole a place for not-for-profit communications."
To build on the words of Unilever’s Rangaiah, you have organisations with a limited budget suddenly handed "exponential reach."
When it came to the work and communication itself, Shing spoke of the need for conversation not campaigns, and that it’s not about budget, ‘it’s about being smart.’ Priscilla Natkins of the AdCouncil talked about her particular challenge, namely to get people to ‘look at things they don’t care about.’ Sometimes that means taking a very different path to the one that has been well trodden by other organisations. So, in the case of trying to encourage awareness of birth control the AdCouncil opted to develop a lifestyle site, bedsider.org, with a very different approach to that which might have been taken by big pharma.
Advice about brand building online for small, not-for-profit organisations and businesses – the primary point of the session - came in fits and starts. Rangaiah spoke of the fact that low-budget brands do not have the same problem of being boxed-in by media, with no pressure to do anything in a particular way. Natkins was clear that organisations shouldn’t be "cavalier" in their tone.
Shing implored the people responsible for generating communications to talk to their own people about what they think should be communicated, and how.
Then, in the closing Q&A session, a man who ran a plumbing supply business asked the panel for suggestions as to how he should go about – well – building his brand online. The panel moved swiftly. Pinterest, Vine and Facebook were all things he should try; a right old mash up of the channels de jour. The man looked like he’d been short-changed. All he wanted to do was distribute parts and spares. As the speakers stepped down and removed their radio microphones, a delegate stepped over to the man. ‘I have an alternative idea for you’ the delegate said.
"Put aside all this fancy business and take half a dozen of your customers - good, loyal, recent, indifferent - and buy them lunch. Tell them what you’re going to do, and ask them what they would love to be able to do through your online presence. It’ll be the best $500 you’ve ever spent."
For all the talk of it being about content not campaigns, in the end, it’s not just the being there that matters, or what you do when you get there. It’s learning what your customers want of you. However you get to it, that’s a dialogue brands must acknowledge. Let’s hope they’re listening because thanks to the connected world we live in, brands have no shortage of things to hear, or increasingly clever places in which to hear it.