pondělí, srpna 30, 2004

Enemies of the Ordinary Unite! (How Do Czech Ad Agencies Position Themselves.)

Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snow plough gets to the snow plough?

This striking example of advertising copy from a 60’s TV commercial for VW Beetle by Doyle Dane Bernbach triggered another question: Have you ever wondered how advertising agencies who help their clients’ businesses by building their brands help themselves by building their own brands? Simply put – how do ad agencies practice what they preach, if at all?

There is a number of ways ad agencies sell themselves to the market. The most obvious are winning a lot of creative awards, being a PR darling of the professional press, producing sexy corporate collaterals, websites, etc. But just like the clients they service, ad agencies have to be “creative before being creative”. They have to answer for themselves some essential questions: 1) What does my agency stand for? 2) How is this different from what other agencies stand for? 3) How is this relevant to my target market? Too obvious? Maybe. But think twice. Isn’t there a common understanding among marketing executives that by and large ad agencies are the easiest to replace among their professional services partners? Isn’t there a consensus among the fluid advertising workforce that changing agencies doesn’t change much for them except their salaries (preferably upwards)? Isn’t there a lethal dose of me-tooism in ad agencies which forces them all to be creative – in very much the same way (i.e. the “Czech Way”)?

In my job as an independent marketing consultant to both businesses and agencies (but then – isn’t an agency a business, too?) I have found out that not many of them care enough to answer the basic questions about their brand’s point of difference, personality or relevance for their target markets. Managers often see this as an unnecessary hold-up on their race for profit and growth. And while I am perfectly ready to admit that profit can be delivered without much thought about the brand and its positioning (that is – if there is any brand to be thought of in the first place), I am sure growth only comes to those who treat their brand (or brands) properly (and wait). Let me briefly elaborate this point. A very useful framework which links brand building to business performance is provided by Scott Davis in his book Brand Asset Management . Davis presents the concept of a brand as a kind of contract between the manufacturer and the consumer. The brand’s promise is at the core of such a contract. Consumers shop for “contractual promises” – a.k.a. brands – rather than for physical commodities (or services). They are ready to spend their money in anticipation of certain value. This anticipation is then met – or not. This process repeats itself over and over again in the marketplace – the result being either customer satisfaction and loyalty or customer defection and churn. Brands are complex symbols which – among other functions – hope to arouse expectations, and often very sophisticated ones. Where there is no expectation, there is no perceived value of the delivery. And that’s exactly where many agencies go wrong. They don’t create expectations (strong enough or differentiated enough) about their delivery so when they actually deliver there is little or no perceived value. To generate profit they turn to cost-control rather than to provisioning of value. To generate growth, well… The sound thing for any business to do to deliver growth is to make the current customers buy again (more, more often, etc.) This requires consistency of brand promise. Consumers have to be sure what they come back for (even though they do not have to be able to formulate it in a brand management lingo), and they have to like what they come back for. So, I always start with asking my clients what expectations they hope to arouse in their prospects. Then, we proceed further and ask ourselves whether the business under scrutiny is ready and able to deliver consistently on that set of expectations. Finally – not necessarily in this order – we run a disaster-check to see whether the expectations are relevant to the market and differentiating to the brand.

Anybody can do this. It is no rocket science and it requires barely anything more than an open mind, a radar on the market and some time. Of course, experience and knowledge help. They save you time. That’s it.

Let’s have a closer look at the agency landscape in Czechia and worldwide. Which agencies seem to have invested in their brands? How do they build them? What lessons can be learned from them?

Enemies of the Ordinary. Resisting the Usual. La Difference. Disruption. When the World Zigs, Zag. Slogans, which are just the most visible tips of the icebergs – the “identities” or “would-be identities” of famous ad agencies. How difficult it is to write a slogan? In fact, it’s quite easy. It has to be catchy, short, simple. In the end, barely anybody will read it printed under your logo. Slogan is just that – a slogan. The etymology of the word gets us closer to how slogans may work. It comes from the Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, i.e. war cry (from sluagh army + gairm cry). A slogan should capture the essence of your mission which has to be noble and motivating so the men are ready to fight and die for it in a fierce battle. In this respect, it seems, quite a few agencies stand in line to fight for the common cause: differentiation. So, champions of differentiation try to differentiate by being different. Does that sound a bit confusing? Well, it is. In any post-scarcity market differentiation is one of the most sought for commodity. Differentiate or die has been the maxim of brand management (however misunderstood or abused) for at least the past 20 years. Everybody seems to know they have to do it. Is it enough to dramatize differentiation in your battle-cry? Definitely not. It is as if everybody in the world agreed that crunchiness was what makes chocolate so desirable and then each and every chocolate manufacturer used the word “crunchiness” (or its synonyms) in their slogans. We Crunch! Better Crunch! We Make Every Crunch You Take! Ever so Crunchy! Where did differentiation go? Agencies promise differentiation as - - their point of parity. And then there is Reaching for the Stars. The Fame Factory. Work, work, work. Slogans which probably make you think a second more than the usual suspects from the “different” crowd. Why exactly should be an agency reaching for the stars? Don’t we expect them just to sell more of this and that? The slogan of the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency tells us more about differentiation than any other. It speaks of motivation, excellence, dreams, ambition – driving forces behind its long-standing success and persistence. What’s more, the agency (as far as I remember) takes great pains in living its slogan in terms of investment in their people, their knowledge and their skills. BBDO draws yet another picture of how it sees the role of an ad agency. The somewhat bleak but no doubt appealing promise of Work, work (and more) work evokes efficiency, devotion and power. Bartle Bogle Hegarty (before adopting the more conforming When the World Zigs, Zag) boast their reputation of a Fame Factory – certainly a freshening vision of what an ad agency can actually accomplish. These slogans are not about differentiation. They differentiate. From there – if you care to take slogans seriously enough – you can develop the whole brand persona, the guidelines for your brand’s operating philosophy, human resources management, new business plan, knowledge management and so forth.

There is one good reason why real differentiation has not yet taken ground in our market. It hurts. Differentiation implies that you stop trying to be all things to all people. The Czech market is ridiculously tiny – app. 3.5 million households which equals the number of households with cable TV in the city of Shanghai alone. The lure of being “the generalist” is too powerful. Especially when your business strategy is to cut cost rather than generate value. However, the reward for businesses of all kinds (including ad agencies) is sweet: you will be loved for what your business partners learned to expect from you and what you happily deliver. To begin with, just ask yourself the three simple questions. It won’t hurt even if you are the fiercest enemies of the ordinary.