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What’s the big idea?

What’s the big idea?

The value of stories – in a world awash with storytellers

Edvin Babic
Head of Qualitative
Kantar, Germany

Momentum is building around the pursuit of big ideas in an environment that is increasingly cluttered and fragmented. But what separates a truly big idea – one that builds strong brand value – from one that is merely ordinary? It is consistent storytelling that conveys a clear sense of the brand’s purpose.

Campaigns that successfully activate brands are becoming increasingly complex, in a cluttered media and touchpoint environment. And this complexity poses a challenge for marketers seeking to build strong brands.

In this context, big ideas seem to face a death sentence for several reasons that can be summarized as follows: modern brand communication has been deemed to be more interesting by comprising lots of tiny ideas, rather than consistently repeating one big one.

This argument is easy to agree with. Yes, in the current day and age, advertising seems to go beyond showing a singular message. In a fragmented media landscape, advertising needs to become faster and more adaptive to different touchpoints, consumer segments and contexts.

But these arguments against the big idea ignore what it is – or should be – today. A big idea is more than the one singular proposition that marketing repeats constantly until it is drilled into the consumer’s mind. Moreover, there has been a shift over time from campaigns based on a common creative advertising idea to ones based more on a shared, higher-level brand idea. Indeed, there is much evidence suggesting that campaigns orchestrated around higher-order big ideas like this have the edge in effectiveness over other approaches.

That’s why we should now define a big idea as the representation of the brand’s purpose and the driving, unifying force behind a brand’s marketing efforts. A big idea does not kill the smaller ideas; it holds them together and hence ensures a brand always shows up consistently to consumers, no matter the touchpoints, consumers and contexts. And with a unified concept, big ideas make reactions to changing contexts faster, not slower.  

But what separates a truly big idea from one that is merely ordinary? How do you recognize a big idea or detect a kernel of a big idea that could be developed?

Marketing that assumes consumers make brand choices based on rational arguments will focus on ideas mainly on USPs and product messaging. But brand choice is driven largely by emotion and feeling. And that should make us think of big ideas being strongest and most useful when created as engaging, multi-layered stories.

Stories are generally far better than any other proposition in getting our attention, involving us emotionally and lodging important associations in our memory. Therefore, great teachers throughout history have used stories. And stories are also far better at laying out your brand purpose.

The emotional importance of big stories is especially high at a time when every consumer is enabled to create and share their own stories via social media. Every social media account is full of these small, personal stories. And most of these individual stories happen, by intention or by accident, within the context of other ones – like tiny parts of a bigger constellation.

The twist is: The more “little” stories are told, the greater the need for big stories that magnify the power of the little ones. And those are the kind of great stories that brands need to tell to become relevant and engaging. They make personal stories and beliefs resonate with one deeper, unifying truth. They help consumers make sense of an otherwise chaotic, fragmented world.  

So, in today’s cluttered world, the big idea is even more important than it has ever been. But if you want to strengthen your communication and inspire people tell each other stories about your brand, your own story must be big enough to inspire them.