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Brand Strategy Marketing

Six strategies to ensure your brand outthinks the competition

By James Willoughby, Partner and head of client services



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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August 6, 2019 | 6 min read

While budgetary firepower still counts, brands with limited resources have never had a better chance to foment their own revolution.


New marketplaces like Amazon, the widespread availability of micro- and signals-based targeting, the rise of social and the shift to an experience-led economy are all creating huge opportunities for members of the £500,000 campaign club.

The size of your budget shouldn’t determine the success of your campaign. On the contrary, the bravest and most ambitious brands are creating radical change by subverting the prevailing norms. These companies are highly skilled at marshalling scarce resources to maximize the bang they get from every available buck.

Whatever your budget or resources, these clear, concise and actionable steps can help create a point of difference and ensure you out-think the competition.

One big goal

In a world that moves as fast as this one, you probably won’t be short of challenges and opportunities. But no single campaign can meet them all, so you need to zero in the on one key thing your activity seeks to achieve.

Before you sign-off a campaign, ask yourself a simple question: “Why will this idea make the biggest difference to my brand?” This can be broken down into two important parts – “Why now?” and “What’s the key number?”.

The former demands critical thinking to determine what changes in the category or cultural cycle can create a relevant gap for your brand. The latter infers simplifying down to one key metric, so you can frame the outcome in a way that crystallizes your desired change.

Distilled point-of-view

Drafting a great brief is essential to a campaign’s success. Obviously, your brief can’t be a single paragraph delivered by email. But nor should it be a dump-bin containing every bit of data known about the brand and category.

Boil things down to three essential components: what needs to change (your SMART objective), what is most likely to trigger change and in what ways is your brand prepared to change?

Every market is dictated by a complex mix of attitudes and behaviors, so determine the key ones that stand between you and success, or could empower you to achieve your goal. Rich areas to explore might include current category friction points or new cultural aspirations.

Courageous creative

However intelligent your strategy, you’ll achieve nothing unless you can command attention in a noisy communications environment. Many big-budget players rely on repetition to achieve this. When that’s not affordable, your only option is to strive for the truly original and distinctive.

You need to be bold if you’re going to up-end the status quo. Your creative idea should be rooted in brand equities that you want to keep and reinforce. This encourages memory and recognition, which is valuable when triggering brand recall and action. Creative should also bring something new to the table. As markets and consumers evolve, so must brands too.

The strongest and boldest ideas help companies re-focus and re-organize. Creative can encourage you to think and act differently in a way that better aligns with your audience’s emerging wants and needs.

Cut-through content

Content isn’t the only answer, but it’s an increasingly important part of the answer. While budget is the main brake on your ambitions in paid media, this is much less true in terms of owned and earned. Everyone’s playing the same game, so what do you need to do to win?

The purpose of content must be clear, so you need to have a very precise understanding of your brand’s role in society and culture, and a fresh, compelling way of asserting it. Content must flex to meet the demands of individual channels, the behaviors of users within that channel and the language they prefer. The holy grail of content is to gain impact disproportionate to funds invested.

Concentrated firepower

It clearly makes sense to invest where your audience is most actively engaged and receptive. But there’s a problem: other players in your category have access to the same information and are likely to reach similar conclusions.

Following the numbers may lead you down a competitive blind-alley. This is particularly true when resources are scarce. You need to think laterally, balancing the ‘science’ of media with the ‘art’ of creativity. Very often, this involves focusing on a smaller number of channels. Over-fragmentation almost always means you’ll disappear into penny pockets of invisibility. You’re better off having 20% of people know your brand than aim to reach 80% and have none of them remember you.

True partnership

While it sounds tempting to appoint multiple specialist agencies, too many cooks can spoil the broth. There’s strong wisdom in appointing a single (or lead) agency to wring the most out of smaller budgets.

Finding the right partner means locating a team that is passionate about your business and your challenges, not just the revenues you represent. You also need to be clear about what you can and want to do in-house. Ask for recommendations on agencies that are demonstrably keen to jigsaw with those resources and have a proven track record in delivering whole-team solutions.

These days there are plenty of opportunities for £500,000 campaigns to punch above their weight - but employing the strategies above are key to outthinking the opposition.

James Willoughby, Partner and head of client services at Initials.

Brand Strategy Marketing

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