Chicago's ad:tech: The big brand idea strikes back for advertising

Chicago's ad:tech: The big brand idea strikes back for advertising

Chicago—With a rumbling national economy looking in and the lines definitely blurring between video, audio, content and telecom delivery, 2008’s ad:tech in Chicago served up an interesting fusion of converging technologies and marketing.
The “rah-rah” tonality of prior conferences was largely gone. This was replaced by somber consideration of how exactly marketers will measure and justify dramatic excursions into social media, mobile marketing and online media buys that actually make sense.
“Most CMOs (chief marketing officers) wake up every morning desperately hoping that consumers will start watching television again,” Brad Jakeman said in an interview with The former executive vice president of marketing for Federated (whose brands include Macy’s department stores), Jakeman delivered the Wednesday keynote entitled “The Big Idea Strikes Back”.
Jakeman’s comments underscored the painful dilemma faced today by advertising agencies and corporate marketers as they struggle to integrate the elusive and consumer-controlled online brand with more traditional advertising vehicles. Jakeman added: “The days of agency economics when a big single media buy was the key to success are over.”
While the global economy may be teetering on a deepening recession, there exists “no more exciting time to be in marketing” than now, Jakeman said in his keynote. He echoed the sentiments of many ad:tech presenters.
Why? Wall Street Journal and Business 2.0 columnist Clay Shirky pointed out the evening before that four basic media revolutions have preceded the digital communication phenomenon.
These are printing, point-to-point communications (the telegraph), recorded media (beginning with vinyl records) and radio and television. Interactive media, Shirky declared, is different in that it represents “the greatest revolution in individual expression”.
At the same time this revolution is taking place, America remains a society that’s too saturated with communications. On average we receive about 2,900 messages per day through traditional media, interactive sources or in the course of everyday life. Of that 2,900 number, Americans actually only hear or read about 279 messages, dislike 38 of those and positively remember only 55.
“That’s 98 percent attrition in message absorption,” Jakeman said while illustrating the challenge facing any marketer in the 21st century.
Overcoming this challenge requires a focus on developing “a big brand idea” that touches virtually aspect of a company’s marketing in an honest and compelling way. Jakeman added: “We’re becoming obsessed with the ‘how’ and we’re forgetting the value of the ‘what’.”
In barely a decade, message consumption has gone from a passive absorption stance – where consumers listen, watch or read – to a much more active position where consumers experience, play and conduct trials by word of mouth, online or other means.
Getting back to the “what” means putting together and delivering relevant content within a brand context that resonates with target markets. He added: “If we don’t focus on the ‘what,’ we create message pollution.”
Interactive marketers face the challenge of not getting caught up with the newness or uniqueness of their technology-based delivery system. The goal that leads to success is to increase the quality of content.
One-time, single-category media buys are history. This is a theme that reverberated throughout the two-day conference. Media fragmentation and the preference of one media type over others (often segmented by age group) have made effective media buying and placement an all-new job description. The results are much more difficult to accurately measure and evaluate.
An intense focus on metrics such as return on investment (ROI) have led experts like Jakeman to bemoan that ROI can also stand for removal of imagination. He added: “ROI is great, but too much focus on financial returns can produce low creativity.”
The antidote? Jakeman said: “We must create communications that people want to seek out rather than screen out. We still operate by ‘pushing’ messages out to consumers rather than ‘pulling’ them toward great ideas.” All this being said, what exactly does constitute a “great brand idea” in Jakeman’s view?
It’s not easy to build and sustain a brand that actually works. He added: “If brand development was simple, you could create brands with two accountants and two lawyers working together. That obviously isn’t going to happen.” He says the “big brand idea” must fulfill three criteria to be successful:

  1. It must be an idea that’s big enough to drive a brand’s behavior and language across all media channels and communication platforms. In effect, the idea must be what Jakeman calls “media agnostic”.
  2. The big brand idea must be proprietary and unique. It must be honest, based on a truth manifested by the business or reflect a core value that resonates with customers.
  3. It must drive the business.

Starbucks in its original form eloquently reflected these three points. Jakeman says it drove a small, Seattle-based business into international prominence. The good news about Starbucks is it demonstrates that any small or medium-sized business can achieve major growth if they create and execute a big brand idea.
“Small and medium-sized businesses actually have an advantage over larger corporations because they can be nimble and quick to execute. They don’t have any of the baggage or mistrust associated with giant corporations,” Jakeman said. So how do you create and execute a “big brand idea”? Jakeman offers four suggestions:

  1. Shut up and listen. Big brands start with the consumer. A successful brand idea can’t be created in isolation from the consumer.
  2. Get buy-in from the top. The “big brand idea” has to be embraced by the CEO because the new or refreshed brand has to drive all facets of the business.
  3. Everyone in the company must be a marketer. All employees must be accountable for delivering the brand position and message. In a social media world, a negative act by a single employee can result in serious brand bruising.
  4. Do as you say. Your company must deliver on what you promise. If you truly deliver, not only will your brand be leveraged to drive sales and company growth but your brand will help protect you when things go wrong on occasion. This will sometimes happen.

The final overlooked key for big brand idea success? Jakeman concluded: “Be relentless.”

Michael Snyder is principal of The MEK Group, a marketing and business development consulting firm that provides communications-driven strategies to increase market share, enhance productivity and build distinctive brand awareness. Snyder can be reached at
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This article previously appeared in, and was reprinted with its permission.
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