Brand Equilibrium: the ‘And’ versus ‘Or’ lessons of a global pandemic
Kantar South Africa
Inevitably, business gurus and social commentators alike will soon be talking about the lessons that the Covid-19 pandemic has for the world, the way we do business, and how we should be viewing our much-loved brands. What they won’t say is that people tend to ignore history and the lessons it teaches, opting instead for the comfortable, winner-takes-all position that has always driven their occupational and personal activities.
Hopefully, my thoughts around Covid-19 will be seen for what they are: simple, intuitive views about our industry and brands in which the pandemic is nothing more than a backdrop.
Stripped to its basics, Covid-19 has ultimately been about "and" versus “or”. Really, you ask?
Yes, really. If it has done anything, the virus has shown the futility of our long-held habits of taking a set position and defending it against all comers. The fact that we have to demean the beliefs of others to win the day has been exposed for what it is: a monumental waste of time and creative energy. The lesson proven by the pandemic is that powerful solutions can be found when both sides of a coin are considered and combined.
The implications of this last statement are enormous. As an industry, we embrace integrated and holistic campaigns. We need to acknowledge, though, that potentially destructive, non-holistic product opinions often lurk in the background when experts in agencies and the brand-owners’ businesses push different agendas.
Deciding that our right is always right, and their wrong is always wrong, is easy and hugely satisfying for the egos involved. Choosing two rights is more complicated; it requires the merging of art and science, which is necessary for building and growing brands. Our energies would be better spent in considering opposing views, incorporating valid perspectives, and producing better solutions to ensure the best outcome for brands.
This may sound simple (which it is) and reasonably obvious (which it isn’t). While the oldest debates in brand marketing rage on, new subjects are evolving. Examining these disputes reveals our deeply ingrained, ego-driven natures as media, design, and creative experts talking about the philosophies, approaches, and specialities of our trade. A glance shows that oppositional thinking still reigns supreme.
We consider the merits of functional versus emotional engagement, digital versus traditional connection points, online versus offline brand experiences, data versus creativity, tactical versus strategical approaches, above the line versus below the line, and transformation versus profitability.
Brand owners aren’t immune to the silo mentality. Different divisions push their viewpoints, and a holistic brand view is formed. Unfortunately, instead of providing clarity, many agencies then add layers of complexity because their internal structures mirror those of their clients. The exception to the rule is the companies smart enough to realise that collaboration among specialists is more likely to add value to the clients’ bottom line and that of their own. Remove the “or” and concrete mindsets in favor of collaboration and all benefit.
At first sight, many decisions may appear to need logic and data, rather than magic. Media data science matches brands to platforms that connect with people. However, when magic is added to the equation, and data and creativity combine, a more robust connection is made and brands benefit.
Ditto for science and rationality. They may rule when marketing strategies are developed. Data about people, categories, macro trends, and the organizational strengths of competitors will inform an approach. However, the competitive advantage is multiplied when data and creativity fuse with design to unlock opportunities. Without the magic that opens consumers up to our offerings, the picture is incomplete.
Putting it bluntly, duality rules. Who doesn’t want an integrated campaign that touches people in both their online and daily lives? Who doesn’t wish for brand strategies that deliver bottom line results and build further brand equity while driving business sustainability? Why wouldn’t you choose to inspire and inform people by appealing to their hearts while they willingly reach for their wallets?
Facing up to the way many of us do business is bound to be uncomfortable. Our ultimate weakness is our egos. Our need for validation feeds the winner-loser mentality, and we battle for individual recognition and supremacy. We fight on, inwardly flinching as we are forced to suppress our opinions and become reluctant allies. In the meantime, true collaboration and its benefits become casualties of the war for supremacy.
Yes, it is harder to create a solution that incorporates both sides, but when has anything of value ever been easy to do? Let’s eliminate laziness as a reason for opting out and choosing only one side of an equation when other options offer greater rewards.
The only remaining question is whether a fundamental shift in how we work will see a negative swing in the traditional debate between creativity and effectiveness.
You don’t have to look far to find a definitive answer. Impactful brand concepts such as shared value, value for money, bretail, and business-to-people have been built on this win-win mentality.
Even more relevant are the global brand communication campaigns that have received effectiveness and creativity awards. It may be easy to win one or the other, but you can only get to the holy grail of great brand communication when the chief financial officer of a company and the chief marketing officer both celebrate the return on their branding investment.
Building brands and sustaining their growth isn’t like soccer, where your choice of side will lead to opposition fans howling about your extremely poor appreciation of the beautiful game. In marketing, mastering the mix will always be more potent than choosing one view above another.