More years ago than I now care to share with you, I went on a creative briefing course chaired by Saint Russell Davies. It was really a two day,"How to go about strategy" bootcamp, although bootcamp is a little misleading, because it was fun and inspirational.
The biggest eye opener was when we discussed the classic, "Why are we advertising" part of the brief and, critical to any strategy, the setting of objectives.
I came away with a new way of looking at the the way communications would be evaluated.
The first epiphany was a purist one. The second was downright Machiavellian.
Number 1 - no one should never think about any sort of communications without considering the real business context.
All advertising, in it's many forms should be developed and evaluated in it's wider business context. Not 'building the brand' or addressing brand perceptions, not getting 'likes' 'retweets' or shifting sentiment scores.
It should live or die by how it addresses business issues.
Take Philadelphia Cheese. Whopping great market share, little need to spend any more money on much more communications when, surely, share in the category is as big as it can get (I don't know a thing about their numbers, this is pure deduction my Dear Watson). The only reason to part with cash, is to try and GROW the category.
Hence the ongoing strategy to introduce more 'foodie' variants and increase reasons to buy through by portraying it as a cooking ingredient for busy families with no time for fancy cooking (all of them!), not just a 'spread'.
As Byron Sharpe might say, removing reasons not to buy.
You wouldn't get to this if you just looked at brand strength.
At best, you might ensure you maintained mental presence with customers, but just reminding people you exist is lazy and in, certainly FMCG companies, you'll try the patience of short term marketers who need to see quicker results.
In a purist sense, in my view, a rigorous approach to the business situation should inform everything you do, yes digital specialists and socia media gurus I mean you too.
Just because you're a digital agency, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be open to helping with stuff like distribution - perhaps you would create virtual pop- up stores for advocates to put on their Facebook pages.
If you're a bank and you want pissed off, but ultimately apathetic customers, to switch while they're still seeing red, perhaps looking for angry Tweets and responding personally and delightfully might be a place to start. That's what your social folks should be telling you, not, "Wouldn't it be cool to get people uploading pictures of themselves with funny angry faces".
But then we come to Epiphany 2.It's no good being a purist of your clients, or the people they report to are not.
Most of them are not.
Sorry about that.
The purist stuff is not that hard, most of us know the simple basics now:
Distinctiveness, not differentiation.
Penetration always wins over loyalty - so remove reasons to buy aim to connect with the widest audience possible
Fame and emotion, rather than rational
Build consistent memory structures, but refresh them
Spend above market share to grow it
Hard objectives always beat soft ones
But marketing folk and their agencies work very, very hard to make this much more complex and work to different agendas.
Passing the Link Test, reflecting the self image of the board, impressing shareholders, being seen to make a big change,winning creative awards, hitting sales volume figures, whatever the margin. Building loyalty and frequency with complex and needless CRM programmes. Building brand health scores.
Lord knows how many brand models and, of course, the legendary brand onion; as relevant to real people's relationship with brands as Neighbours is to Australian politics.
The Transformation Way.
Big Ideas v Long Ideas.
This is the stuff that fills the agendas of folk that makes marketing stuff.
I've even been in a situation where our work grew consideration amongst non-buyers buy 10%, while econometrics showed we created a 3% sales uplift.
But it didn't grow brand awareness (it was already over 80% amongst target audience).
So we were fired.
Basically we forgot that the CEO only cared about campaigns that made him feel good about himself, not stuff that sold.
It's sad to say that the real, critical realities of creating business value quickly get lost in a quagmire of personal agenda, recieved wisdom and vanity.
I'm not being negative, I'm being realisistic. I'll even admit I've used research defensively to get work though I thought would help the agency shop window (the CEO was pretty 'persuasive').
So have you. Admit it.
So what to do?
A purist would say you should stick to your guns, since your job is to be objective.
A realist would say you should apply the same skills you use on creatives to the client business.
Just as you alter your brief and your briefing to creatives who want a tight proposition, or the ones who ignore propositions but love a clear task, perhaps the ones are comic book geeks and always respond to superhero metaphors.
You should find out what makes the senior marketer and the CEO of your client tick.
The marketing person is easy, ask them what stuff they like that other people have done, look at the patterns in what they've done elsewhere (I once worked with someone who would preface everything with "When I managed Quorn") what their vision is for the brand and what the single most important thing is they'll report to the board on.
The CEO is even easier, even if you never get to meet them. Read what they put in the annual report.
Then, naturally, you're going to do the right thing, but make sure you can link it back to whatever you've gleaned is the real agenda from your two stakeholders.
Like the Greeks in the Iliad, smuggle your true purpose in aTrojan Horse of ego massaging and percieved agenda.
In any case, don't fall into the trap of doing the right thing when it's not what anyone else wants.
History and poplular culture are, replete with tragic heroes, those who are doomed to suffer, even die, following their righteous cause to the end. In some cases driven to madness and self-destruction when they are taught the futility of their efforts.
(If you haven't seen The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent was a principled District Attorney who ultimately went nuts when his girlfriend died and he was disfigured in spite of, and also because, of his righteous mission).
However, it is also littered with those heroic but deeply flawed figures who ultimately did lots of right by doing a little wrong.They were a little more morally dubious, but they got the job done...........