Eyeballs & ideas — marketing in a digital age
by Gau Narayanan. If a tree falls, and no one hears it, does it make a noise? This is my go-to analogy when we talk about ideas in this era of marketing in a digital age. Why do we think that brands need to pay for eyeballs when they appear on the large screen in our living room, yet assume that these same eyeballs come free on the small screen in our pockets? Nothing goes viral, unless you’re Psy, a skateboarding cat or something (more sinister) that the internet was made for.
As always, you need great content but, equally importantly, you also need to think about distribution. Given the sheer volume of content that is consumed and given most of it will be dreadful, great content is critical; however, it’s not enough. You need to think about the distribution of the content at the same time you conceive the idea. This difference requires a mindset change in creative and in media agencies. It requires creatives to let media in and for media planners to understand the creative process. Platforms, namely Facebook and Google, have stolen a march, with teams of creatives, media strategists and data people. Agencies, take note: the frenemy is assembling.
If you accept the above, the rest of this column is a practical look at how to go about campaign-planning, distribution and idea-generation. Below I outline five tips that may be helpful.
TV versus AV?
Let’s start with the media issue. It’s not either or, but both and. Some refer to is as TV+, others call it reach+, but the principle is simple:
- make sure you drive the right reach in terms of your story telling at scale;
- relevant reach in terms of how you amplify and deepen this story across platforms at a more-targeted, contextual and programmatic level;
- and responsive reach in terms of encouraging people to take action.
The debate of TV vs online AV should be behind us. I imagine this stems from agency remuneration and fighting over clients budgets, and isn’t helpful. It’s better to look at it all as AV because that’s how our audiences look at our stories — they don’t distinguish between content on TV, a pre-roll on YouTube or an Insta-story.
The emergence of communications planning
With the importance of media and creative collaboration, there is a new competency emerging in creative agencies. Strategic planning (or brand planning) is about getting a relevant and resonant message that will persuade; communications planning (comms planning) is about getting to the mechanics, operations and tactics of a campaign to get that right message in front of your audience (Julian Coles and Larissa Hayden offer helpful explanations).
Comms planning aims to close the gap between idea and distribution, audience and touchpoints, message and medium. Another reason comms planning exists in advertising agencies is that media planning is often split among several agencies which tend to focus on their silo or expertise and there isn’t anyone looking at the overall picture.
Theatre vs stand-up
I heard a wonderful analogy that I’ve found useful… campaign planning is moving from a theatrical performance to a stand-up show. A theatrical experience is moving, mesmeric and clearly live, but it seldom changes during a show’s run. Stand-ups, though, has to change their routine all the time depending on what’s happening in the news or the reaction or engagement from the audience. The routine evolves all the time, getting better with feedback.
This is now our world.
Long gone are the days of launching a campaign and waiting to see the results in a month, or a quarter. This is done on a daily and weekly basis because data is available in real time. However, just because we can measure it, doesn’t mean we should. We need to better understand what we’re measuring and why. Doubling the view-through-rate by halving the content length doesn’t help, but AB testing two films and moving money from Facebook to YouTube because of the relative performance could be the difference between success and failure. Try to ladder data points to an agreed KPI or objective and ensure you look at the bigger picture: the impact on the brand and, importantly, the business.
Finally, allocate an optimisation budget. Keeping money aside so that you can react and drive that reach behind a specific piece of content could give your campaign a new lease of life.
Creative agencies have always been protective about the idea and narrative. They just can’t do this anymore. The interdependency between agencies has never been greater as the line between message and medium blurs. I’m not just talking about the need for a thumb-stopping opening; I’m talking about the time-lengths, the narrative structure and the shape of the content. For this to work, we need better and earlier collaboration between media and creative. We also need to involve Facebook and Google earlier as they are best-placed to advise on how best to optimise for each platform (these partners need to ensure that the medium and format don’t kill the idea, execution and narrative. Great content is still key).
And these decisions are not fixed; they are dynamic and will change as the campaign rolls out. Agencies are not used to this. The more we do this, the better each agency becomes, and the better the result for the brand and business.
Integration — easy it ain’t
When marketing in a digital age, the difficulty increases because of the above reasons. There are two challenges and both have commercial roots.
First, the agencies need to deliver value for clients. In order to do so, they need to check their egos and agency P&Ls at the door and serve the customer of the brand, not the client. Reciprocally, clients need to remunerate their agencies more appropriately, taking the time and effort of integration into account.
Secondly, even if there is a lead agency, the client needs to be in control, and the business needs to recognise this. This means CEOs and CMOs freeing up their people to fully lead a project, including constant optimisation and course-correction after launch. More time and resources are needed. This is challenging when the business wants more for less from everywhere, including the marketing department — more complex work, more projects, more ROMI — with reduced headcount.
Finally, the key to integration is a collaborative culture. We see the cast list for any creative endeavour, from a new mobile phone to an Oscar-winning-film or the latest video game release, is increasing. So, successful integration comes from working with partners without an outdated sense of idea-ownership, and for the integrator to play the role of conductor, rather than controller.
Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.
I hope the above observations are helpful. The principles haven’t changed that much but how we apply them, how we work, and how we need to work together in a more-immersive way, for longer, has changed dramatically. The speed at which it will continue to change will only accelerate, too
A great example of this is Dove Sketches. You’ve seen the case study but you may not have seen this talk from Fernando Merchado, the marketer behind it. Look at how the comms planning worked, and how data was used, and listen to Merchado’s account of the operations and the way the agencies and clients worked together.
It should give us all some inspiration to work like this and to create something equally inspiring and impactful.
Gautham “Gau” Narayanan is regional director at BBDO Africa and managing director of Net#work BBDO. He joined Net#work BBDO at the end of 2014 after 13 years at AMV BBDO London, and has helped the BBDO agencies across Africa land several new business wins, focuses on talent development across the four BBDO offices and runs BBDO’s regional accounts.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.