The Suit: In a world gone mad, it’s time to call it
by Jason Harrison. The world has truly gone mad. A potent mix of shock politics, global insulation and extremist rhetoric has left many economies in free fall and disposable income beyond tight for consumers and the companies that want to continue to sell them things, especially in South Africa. CEOs are being forced to focus on the extreme near-term, when it comes to the decisions they are making, and this myopic view has meant a micro view on every single business expense, especially marketing and, more directly, the brand that you are currently working on.
So, as a suit, how do you deal with these gargantuan challenges to build business advantage for your clients?
Start by getting alignment with your client on three simple things:
1. Creativity is a decision
As our world trends towards a zero-sum game with the amount of information at our disposal, the strategies, tactics and thinking are becoming homogenous. We are too comfortable dealing in increments and true innovation is very rare. Great CEOs, marketers and suits know the innate power of creativity to make unprecedented leaps to solve complex business problems. They have simply decided that creativity is a business advantage and pursue it relentlessly.
As a suit, you need to sit with your clients and have the most important conversation of your life: you and your client need to agree that creativity is the most powerful business tool at your disposal right now. You need to agree that creativity can solve things in unexpected ways. You need to agree that creativity needs to have the permission to work its magic, without restrictions, guard rails or “what we did last year”.
It’s only once you get that alignment that you will start to see seismic shifts in your combined efforts and business results.
2. Big insights, not big data
Everyone is talking about big data; we’re positively swimming in the stuff. But, somehow, it doesn’t seem to be getting anyone anywhere. So, while the boffins figure out what to do, you can focus your attention on unlocking big insights for your clients. Big insights have two simple things:
- Big insights tap into a deep and motivating understanding of the consumer’s cultural context. They come from leaving the comfy confines of the one-way glass focus groups, packing away the Google-searched desktop reports and actually getting out into the real world to feel, see, speak and think like normal human beings.
- Big insights also have a nice, juicy tension in them that your brand’s role is to resolve with purpose and flair. How many ‘insights’ have you seen that are just simple observations? If the insight is not making you excited about the possibility that your brand can really play in the consumer’s life, then it’s not going to make them excited, either.
I think it was Abe Lincoln who said, “If I had three hours to chop down a tree, I would spend two hours sharpening the axe.” As a suit, distilling the big insights that fundamentally solve a real consumer need is the best form of sharpening the axe in the client’s world right now.
3. Moments of impact, not integration
With so much media proliferation and consumer fragmentation, it’s becoming near impossible to get any bang for our buck. So, everyone is chasing the holy grail of “integration”. The problem is that integration has fooled everyone into doing lots more, very superficially. Integration has made customer acquisition expensive and the results variable. The truth is we’re ticking a lot of boxes out of guilt, fear and to appease a diverse set of internal stakeholders. Time to be brave. Time to actively decide what we are NOT going to do. Strategy is sacrifice, after all.
Remember the elephant-carving story I told in a previous column? What are you going to carve away with your client? Your brand plans can’t be about all the available options; they now have to be about where you and your client are going to create the most-significant impact on a tight consumer journey that surprises and delights the person taking it. Then it’s about doing truly unexpected and world-class work in those few clearly defined spaces. The effect will be disproportionate.
Agree to stop talking about integrated touchpoints and start talking about moments of impact instead and let all your efforts actually change something fundamentally, rather than superficially.
In the end, this marketing game is one of the easiest professions to master but, somehow, we all seem to make it one of the hardest. The amount of stress, anxiety, fear and panic that we willfully inject into our system every day is neither useful nor healthy. So, call it.
In a world gone mad, complete clarity of thought and an aligned ambition around these three things with your client will steer you both to calmer waters and towards new, unexplored shores, filled with disproportionate potential.
Jason Harrison started as a 23-year-old account executive at Ogilvy & Mather before moving to London five years later to run three agency teams in three different European countries. He joined his old mates again in 2011 as one of the founding partners of the M&C Saatchi Group at 33. He believes that creating beautifully simple solutions for an increasingly complex world will, in fact, save the world. His MarkLives column, “The Suit” is about inspiring and helping up-and-coming suits to be better at their craft. He is no longer on Twitter.