Right, it seems to be my turn to do the Account Planning School of the Web. If you haven't a clue what that is, start by reading this.
If you can't be bothered following the links, basically Saint Russell was kind enough to set some homework projects for aspiring planners and gave free feedback. He passed it on to me, Rob and Gareth and Paul Colman has done one too (what am I doing on this list? You had better ask them).
This time around, we're going to do a task based on what I think should be at the heart of planning, but it rarely happens that way in most cases. Let me explain.
The usual approach to strategy is finding a way to communicate rational and/or emotional benefits of a product or service to a chosen audience in the most relevant way possible. If your lucky, in the most entertaining way possible.
It usually follows that once you've nailed what you want to say to people, then, and only then, you sprinkle this with some trends, influential celebs or try and link it all with something popular or cool in your target's lives.
In other words, sell a product benefit and try to 'buy' attention by piggybacking on their interests. It rarely works well because of two major faultlines in this conventional approach:
1. It's not authentic and today's web enabled, marketing savvy human will see the brand isn't 'walking the walk' and reject it out of hand. Take all those brands using soccer as a shortcut to brand involvement- how many add to the experience, enriching fans enjoyment of their sport? How many just get in the way? Exactly.
2. Worse, this approach is still based on people making rational decisions, making choices because they know that something is better. It simply doesn't work that way. We mostly make quick decisions based on emotion and instinct - how we feel about something. The rational stuff is mostly a smokescreen our own brain blinds us with. And these days, few products don't stay superior for long, before someone copies it or outdoes it.
That's why campaigns that build fame for a brand, that make you feel a specific way about it and want to talk about, are proven to be the most effective. That's really how we buy stuff in most cases. Most things we buy builds our identity, a way to tell others, and ourselves, who we are and what our values are. This isn't vacuous image marketing, it is constructing the person you want to be. And, amazingly, campaigns like this are MORE effective at creating belief in product superiority and price premium than 'telling people' why it's better.
AND they save money, because you don't have to enage in an escalating NPD arms race. Naturally, you have to be credible and relevant to what you're selling, but that's the real art - discover what people are interested in or what really matters to them, and work back from there.
With me so far? Good.
A major trait of these fame campaigns is that they don't follow culture, they seek to influence it. They don't just follow popular opinion, they don't just mirror what people are thinking, they seek to change their minds. Rather than communicating a better product, or better 'image', they communicate a better ideology. It's a cultural innovation, not a product or emotional one'.
So that's what this task is about, it's about cultural strategy. I urge you to read this book,at some point, but with apologies to Holt and Cameron, we're going to do a task based on their approach. To be honest, is something many great planners are doing already and have been for a while. So I'm going to set out a process in a bit, here, and I want you to go through it for this project. First, here's why it works.
Some, and maybe most, of the most powerful brands in the world got there by offering an innovative cultural idea, or expression if you like. Throughout history, cultural expressions have played a pivotal role in helping people organise their lives within societies, what is moral, meaningful, what we should strive for and what we should despise. They're the linchpins of how we construct our identity - how we view ourselves and how we want others to view us, the foundation of what we want to belong to, how we want to be recognised and what we want people to think we care about. Truly successful brands are much more than a 'badge' or some sort of product innovation, they're one of these linchpins.
Amazingly successful brands provide an anwer to some sort of tension, contradiction or struggle that contempory culture enforces on the lives of real people.
Nike's 'Just Do It' gives people the feeling they have the willpower to succeed on their own, no matter what the odds -when in reality, most people can't live up to ideals of success and individual attainment capitalist societies enforce on us.
Ben and Jerry's provides easy access to 'counter culture' for middle class people who need to pay the bills but don't want to feel like a 'sell out'
Sainsburys 'Try Something New Today' resolves the tensions between the current pressure to be a great cook and the realities of budgets, time and talent
Jack Daniels is an outlet for men looking for an expression and independence and masculinity in an ever increasingly 'soft' and feminised world.
While Starbucks brought accessable artisanal sophistication to people felt they should be a bit more cosmopolitan but didn't have the courage palate or to leave their comfort zone.
Patagonia do the same for armchair eco warriors or outdoors types.
ghd resolves the tension between women who hanker for the indepedence and exitement of The Sex and The City, Generation Y Women, but also feel the pull of suty and a woman's natural need sacrifice, care and nurture those around her.
It's not easy to pull off, you need to find the right tension, create the right ideology and then communicate it with the right cultural expressions (well come to that in a bit). But when you do, it does functional benefits stuff far more effectively than traditional 'benefit led' brands.
When a brand has proper cultural resonance, when people love you for your better ideology, they naturally assume your products will be better. In other words, if you get people loving, and talking about the brand r'aison detre, you do the price premium, product superiority job too.
I want you to show us what you would do with King of Shaves. They might be successful in the UK, but they want to go global and even in Britain, their success is piddling next to the lumbering behemoths that are Gillete and Wilkinson Sword. This is mature market that's brimming with masculine cliches, NPD arms races and sciency marketing. What's your cultural strategy to turn this on its head?
And don't worry about keeping anything they are doing right now doing, it's all dire in my book. Just take into account every market will have limited budget. You won't be able to afford much TV or outdoors beyond very well target stuff that will create much more noise than it normally would.
This is the six stage process I want you to follow (read the case studies here):
1 Map the shaving category's Cultural Orthodoxy
Every market tends to use the same cultural expressions, with only variation around the edges. What are the conventions in this market, what cultural/social status quoe is this reinforcing?
2. Identify the social/cultural shift that can blow it to bits
There's nearly always something happening in culture, some sort tension, contradiction or you can help resolve and latch onto. Something that's far more potent and relevant than the cliches the category sticks to. Naturally, it has to be relevant to how people feel about the category. What is happening in male culture, that can turn the conventions on their head? What specific audience is this important to and why?
3. Create the ideology
Now you've nailed your cultural shift, you need to detail how this is impacting on how consumers feel about the category and what resultingh brand idea, what ideology it can share with the people.
4. Gather source material
There's no need to 'brainstorm' what people will be interested in ten years from now. Rather, cultural brands repurpose stuff already out there. Stuff already lurking in subcultures, in media (past or present). What's your best source material?
5. Define core tactics
This about defining what tactics will best create the most conversation and noise - a blueprint to how you'll get people talking and flocking to your 'movement'. This is the blueprint to your communications strategy
6. Define your cultural strategy
Write a manifesto, no more than 300 words, something anyone involved can read, so they can get excited about what you're setting out to do.
This is not an easy project, and since this is a 'school' like with all good projects, over the next week there will be examples to hopefully inspire and help you go about your task.
In terms of output, I don't care. There are no rules. Can be powerpoint, a written document, blog post, Youtube video. That's up to you. But make it impactful inspiring and succinct. Email me wither the document or the link. Be prepared for others to see and admire your work.
There will be judges. Rob Campbell, Gareth Kay for starters, but there will be others.
You have until 1st May to submit your work. Feedback and winners etc will be announced 1st June. I want judges to have time to give your ideas the attention they deserve.
But please don't submit until at least a week on Monday. I want to take a week absorbing what you can find out about KIng of Shaves, the category and the whole cuture around and attached to (and what you might add!!!) to shaving.
At the same time, come back to this blog and spend time with the case studies. I know the process might not make complete sense right now, the examples I'll share will bring it to life. Think of them as 'tutorials'.
For the time being, good luck and enjoy.