As I read the pipeline article on ‘learning to unlearn‘ it occurred to me how key this idea is when applied directly to the way we plan marketing and communications campaigns today. The last few years have seen the arrival of new channels, the prevalence of content as key to engagement and have put the consumer in charge of the way that businesses and brands communicate, but even with these dramatic changes in the marcomms landscape we have not seen an equal change in the way that marketers and brands approach their own strategy and planning. Rather than a reinvention of the way we approach the strategy of campaigns, the ‘add-on’ approach has become the status quo – when an idea isn’t quite strong enough to live on its own, we can add some digital executions or show what a direct mail piece might look like, but if the client buys in, normally all that will ever see the light of day is the original TV spot presented; and then when budgets allow, a delicate hand-off to the web agency who will attempt to bring up the rear with another interactive campaign or Facebook execution.
So when we think about learning to unlearn in the context of communications planning, we need to bring to the top of the list that it is not simply a question of teaching people about new media, about showing them how the consumer landscape has evolved, but we also need to help them unlearn everything they know about building marketing and media plans and start asking some critical questions to build our strategy from the ground up.
Too many media plans today remain stuck with the stable of TV and print media as the core of their channel strategy – but if we simply apply some basic principles of ROI and consumer engagement to these two channels we quickly come up with doubts as to their relevance. How much does the average TV spot cost to produce, and where do we have accurate data on the consumer results that are delivered by mass broadcast; Print executions may come a little closer when we can apply direct response techniques and connect real business results to consumer interaction, but still the existing media gives us slow time to market and sometimes mediocre response as we try to cut through the clutter.
Looking simply through these two filters (a still very basic approach), we might possibly want to bring social media and direct marketing to the top of our list, but who has seen a plan recently where the core strategy is based on these media? Regardless of the amount of strategic planners and media consultants that we apply to new briefs and new product launches it seems like the knee jerk reaction of campaigns from 10 years ago is still the norm – we may know how media is changing but we still haven’t learnt how this should change our approach today.
Justin Basini’s article on The Future of Marketing highlights this point as he looks at what CEO’s think about the role marketing will play in the future of their businesses; they aren’t looking forward and evolving – they are simply regurgitating what we hear every day…
A lot of “consumer is boss”, a truck load of “digital”, some “it’s all about growth” and shockingly little on sustainability (apart from good old Unilever).
He takes another approach relating to how marketing and consumption interact and proposes that the future is about a “complete reversal of the current paradigm”, moving towards selling less, making things last and finding value in our lives – if this is the case, it seems highly unlikely that it is through television and print that we will achieve these objectives.
Agencies are trying to say that they have evolved, trying to show that the ‘big idea’ is now media neutral – but this just isn’t enough, this is just like those 50 CEOs in ‘The Future of Marketing‘ book talking about how they see the future about content and letting the customer take charge.
So how should we be tackling this? If it isn’t about unlearning and learning to think again, then maybe we need to create a new template for campaign planning – an approach that determines what our message and USP really is, more than just whiter, cleaner, softer and more fashionable but making a change in peoples’ lives and then where this message can actually connect with them, rather than just another TV spot in the commercial break of their favourite show or another page of advertising that keeps the business model turning in their weekly magazine.
Show me an idea that a customer can act on, engage with, feel good about – and then tell me what mechanism we can put in place to let them do that, then maybe we’ll have communication planning that works…