Modern Marketing Brand

Why the key to creating and sustaining brilliant brands hasn’t changed

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By Kevin Chesters | Co-founder and strategy partner

February 22, 2022 | 7 min read

What does it take to create and sustain brilliant brands today? The short answer is that it takes what it took yesterday, and what it will take tomorrow.

There is a temptation, when something new happens (a new platform, a new technology, a new trend, a new societal event), to think that it suddenly resets the clock on absolutely everything you’ve ever done, said, read or learnt. But if one takes a step back from the hype, vested interest, panic or spin, it becomes obvious that, fundamentally, humans don’t change.

The brilliant work done recently by Harry Guild and Dean Matthewson from BBH Labs shows that, at the top-level, consumer attitudes don’t change that much over time – about anything. Even the most rudimentary study of human behavior from an evolutionary psychology point of view shows that the base drivers of all behavior – threat or reward – haven’t changed since we were ploughing the savannah with the arse-bone of a giraffe.

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‘The basics are simple and if you do them you are more likely to succeed’

NFTs and metaverses. Replace it with Second Life and QR codes. Replace that with mobile and WAP. Replace that with the world wide web and Friendster. Replace that with CDs and MTV. Video and television. Radio and the telegraph. The printing press and… smelting iron. Basically, the human story is one of developments in new technologies and our ability to adapt to them and assimilate them.

The basics of marketing don’t change. It’s tempting to think there is a get-rich-quick scheme or a shortcut to marketing success if one just signs up to one more webinar or buys that bottle of digital snake-oil from the bloke who has a vested interest in flogging it to you. But success in marketing is like success in all things – the basics are simple and if you do them you are more likely to succeed. Despite all the ads for slimming pills or miracle teas, nothing can ever replace the right amount of exercise and decent diet. Eat less, move more. It’s the same for advertisers and marketers.

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The key to success today? Understand your customer or potential customer. Understand the category dynamics and drivers. Understand the cultural context you are operating in. Develop a differentiated point-of-view. Most importantly, find a compelling and creatively brilliant way to bring that to life – and the right place/way to do that in terms of engagement strategy, whether paid or not.

It’s not that complicated. There are simple methods for developing all the above. Come and talk to me if you want help in how to do it – I have a lot of experience and some brilliant partners!

Now I’m not saying that technology is not having or going to have a huge impact on how we engage with customers and how they engage with our brands. It will. The web did. Mobile did. Television did. Radio did. But it doesn’t change the fundamentals of great marketing. From Jesus to Victor Kiam, the basics of understanding how to reach an audience and engage them will never change.

Also, like the arrival of an unexpected guest at a dinner party, a new technology tends to cause a bit of a flutter immediately. But then it becomes a matter of assimilation rather than replacement. It is how it works alongside tried and trusted methods, not about annihilating them like some apocalyptic tech-based mega virus.

And change has happened many times before, even in my career window. In 1997 I was made part of a four-person committee at Ogilvy called the ’Work the Web Committee’ to convince the network that the internet was going to catch on. It was in response, largely, to a speech that some higher-up had given from the New York office about how the world wide web was largely a flash in the pan and wouldn’t impact what the agency was doing day-to-day (LOL).

As with NFTs, metaverses and the like, at the time we had every client under the sun asking us what impact it would make on their world. But fundamentally, the successful brands were still the ones that did the basics right. Customer. Category. Culture. Comms. It didn’t change absolutely everything, in the same way storytelling hasn’t really changed whether it is delivered via voice, books, the wireless or Oculus.

Tom Standage wrote an amazing book in 1999 called The Victorian Internet. It contrasts all the language and opinions being published on the impact of the world wide web in the late 90s with the language used around the development of the electric telegraph in the mid 19th century. It was identical. People from NYC moaning that their work/life balance had been interrupted by “that damned telegraph from London”. Short message codes in morse like GA (go ahead) and SFD (stop for dinner) were all there, like with SMS or hashtags. It was even described in a contemporary article as “a web of ideas”.

I’m not sneering. I wouldn’t be so arrogant. Technology changes things, for good and bad. The internet has had a huge and lasting impact in how we interact with brands and each other. The mobile had a huge impact. Social media has had a huge impact. But so did television. So has every major technological or communications innovation since the wheel.

The temptation – especially if one wants to get a few columns or stage bookings – is to loudly proclaim that future of this means the immediate death of that. But the data shows that this just isn’t true. One must be mindful and vigilant always about the potential impact of technological developments on how we engage with our consumers, or how they engage with us. But don’t succumb to the temptation to violently panic and pivot.

The fundamental truth remains the same as it ever was. Be good. Have a great product. Take the time to understand your customer, category and culture. Then work with specialists to understand how to bring that to life in the most interesting and impactful way possible. There are no shortcuts. And if you believe there are, I’ve a bridge (or a platform) to sell you.

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