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Lasting brands: can brands really have their cake and eat it?

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Is it possible to maximise short-term ROI without diminishing your long-term brand? It’s an interesting question and previously there might have been a bit of a trade-off, but not any more.

If you’re open-minded about both sides of the equation, it’s possible to develop effective and interesting ways to get brands into people’s heads. At Cubo, we believe the key is to not just talk about your brand – most marketers do a good job of this already - but to make them ‘sticky’ in the consumer’s mind. We now know brands get stuck in the brain in ways that go beyond the traditional thinking based around creativity and salience etc.

Recent work by Byron Sharp suggests that there are more underlying ways that brands can be brought to front of mind. His theory of mental availability states that alongside unique brand assets, marketers should also pay close attention to the reasons a sector is brought to mind. These reasons are also very important for brands to build clear association with as they seek to grow.

Our Headspace programme allows brands to creatively apply both sides of the equation in marketing campaigns so they can have their cake and eat it. By analysing the reasons categories are brought to mind - category cues - alongside brand attributes and barriers, we get a holistic picture of where brands sit in the mind, and hence, where the marketing opportunities for brand growth lie.

Traditional comms are often designed with broad positioning statements and brand attributes in mind. This approach can be enhanced by also considering the relevant ways the need for a brand can be triggered. By deliberately integrating specific cues within creative treatments, brands can more effectively connect to them, and consequently come to mind naturally when appropriate for a particular buying situation. Working with what’s already going on in people’s minds and lives, rather than just trying to force yourself in there, is a blueprint for more effective creativity, one which harnesses both traditional and new marketing theory. Brands which manage to combine both elements have the best chance of building long term positioning and driving some actual behavior.

The real challenge lies in creative development, as category cues, which can be both emotional and rational, can often seem pretty obvious and pragmatic. Coming up with cues isn’t the hard bit – it’s what you do with them that matters. Our belief in the importance of cues in the building of mental availability has changed the way that we think about developing campaigns. The result is not a total reworking of our strategic process, more a shift in position, meaning we now look at problems from a different direction.

Acknowledgment of the importance of category cues means that we no longer write campaign briefs that look first to build a brand attribute or positioning. This is because the final comms will probably end up linking too many different cues, and likely mean the brand sticks to none of them, not building any important associations.

Instead we believe brands need to be more single-minded and first pick a potent cue to focus on make sure it’s obvious in their comms, and convey it for long enough to enable it to stick. So far so good, but as category cues are often pretty obvious, pragmatic points – the key is to communicate them in a way that is interesting, engaging and on brand. Creative magic is essential to bring the science to life, and this is what we call the Art of Headspace, which we applied for Betfair.

When we took on the Betfair account their past Sportsbook campaigns had focused firmly on the proposition of ‘Play’. To bring this idea to life, a range of interesting and unusual characters including a table-tennis playing octopus and horses driving rally cars was used. Unfortunately it wasn’t working very hard for them commercially. We believed a key issue was that the campaign had very little connection to the main reasons why the audience picked up their phones to bet, largely because it was so focused on communicating a brand positioning. Additionally the creative rather obtusely touched on many cues without building strong associations with any of them.

When we stepped in, we first honed in on football betting, and importantly, chose one potent cue on which to focus on – “enhancing your match-day experience” – which is one of the top reasons why people bet on football, especially if they are watching on TV. Our challenge was to take this pragmatic cue, and convey it clearly, while making it interesting, and still reinforcing the brand idea of ‘Play’.

Our TV creative managed to communicate this common cue without missing out on the creative magic. By speaking the language of football fans and tapping into authentic match-day culture, we identified many entertaining moments that bettors recognised and enjoyed, enabling us to bring the cue to life. In addition, without spending any more than Betfair’s previous campaigns, we were able to be much more effective, significantly boosting revenue, beating acquisition targets, and building ad recognition well above the sector average.

Ultimately this meant we delivered campaign comms that drove short-term returns by increasing match-day betting behaviours. However we also continued to build the long-term brand, arguably in a way that had more meaning – ‘Play’ came through just as strongly alongside the cue. Often there can be a trade-off between creativity and short-term sales effectiveness, but not here – the cake was both had and eaten.

Andrew Brown is director of marketing and communications at Cubo.

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