Archive for September, 2009

Branding agencies slow to adapt to new media

As promised in the last post, I am sharing the ratings of branding agencies on a variety of measures from overall quality of work to creativity, from innovation to the level of understanding the client’s brand.  While advertising agencies ranked last and branding agencies first, there wasn’t really much difference between them (5% vs. 11% respectively).

The headline is that branding agencies are seen as slow to adapt to multi-platform communications.  In the one of the top 3 priorities of marketers– integrating new media and traditional — branding agencies are lagging behind.

This data has never been published before.  It is from a study Verse Group commissioned with Jupiter Research among CMOs and marketing executives at 101 corporations.

A word of caution — the ratings that follow are for branding agencies without naming names.  Marketing executives were asked to rate their agencies but were not asked for the name of their agency(ies).

The short answer is that branding agencies are only moderately strong on our area of expertise — understanding the client’s brand.  33% of marketers rate their branding agencies as “excellent” in understanding of the brand.  Another 47% rated their brand agency as “good” on the same question.  Are clients saying that some of us brand gurus and experts are not as expert as advertised?

As Jupiter Research put it, “Agencies show moderate understanding of brands; missing opportunities in many areas.”

The biggest gaps are in very important areas — innovation, breakthrough approaches, integrating new and traditional media, working well with other agencies.

If the branding experts — the brand consultants — aren’t innovating and creating new marketing techniques, then who will?  That leaves it to academics and to corporate marketers to take the lead on reinventing marketing.

Here’s the chart:

Marketers rating branding agencies/brand consultants

Marketers rating branding agencies/brand consultants

Are agencies delivering on client needs?

In the past year or so we’ve been hearing from some marketing executives that they aren’t getting the quality of work that they demand from their agencies.

To answer that, we did with Jupiter Research.  In it, 45% of CMOs and other marketing executives say it is taking more time and effort to manage their agencies than 2 years ago.  One contributing factor is that corporations tend to have more agencies than in the past.  To their roster of advertising, pr & branding agencies they have been adding interactive agencies, specialists in social media, CSR specialists, event marketing and so on.

With all of these agencies, it is more difficult to get great work.  In fact, only 5% of marketers rate the quality of work from their advertising agencies as “excellent”.

It’s only slightly better for PR, Direct Marketing, Interactive and Brand Consulting agencies.

Here’s the data:

Marketers rating quality of work of their agencies

Marketers rating quality of work of their agencies

You can also download it in pdf format:  Verse_CMO_AgencyRating_Sept2009

Next post a focus on branding agencies in particular

The short films of Madeleine Gekiere

This coming Saturday, September 26th, the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan is presenting a rare screening of several short films by the artist Madeleine Gekiere.

Madeleine is an extraordinarily talented artist who works in many media.  I first came under the influence of her work when I was about 5 years old and read the book “John J. Plenty and Fiddler Dan” by the poet John Ciardi and wonderfully illustrated by Madeleine Gekiere.   I only discovered that connection many years later.  More to the point, her work in assemblage has influenced our approach to a technique we call “brand constructions”.  In her work, Gekiere has infused her paintings with everyday objects, toys and materials.  When I first saw one, it immediately triggered my involuntary desire to reach out and touch it.

I once heard her tell about creating some of her assemblages for a children’s hospital.  They so enchanted the children!  They were irresistible!  The kids kept pulling pieces off the the creations.  Finally the hospital had to take them down before they were completely destroyed.  The children’s delight was the hospital’s distress.

In brand constructions, the consumers are asked to create a story about the brand using a preselected set of materials, including images.  The physical materials give the consumer a great deal of leeway to literally construct their own story.  The pre-selected set of images (usually 50) allow us to raise some hypotheses about relevant metaphors to see if they resonate with the audience.  It has been our experience that the added physical materials give insight into more subtle areas of branding such as textures and tonality.

The screening of Madeleine Gekiere’s films and a conversation with the artist herself  is at 7 pm.  See you there!


Howard Johnson as a character

In my previous post I began to discuss the ways to consider your brand as if it were a person, a fully developed or “rounded” character that you might find in a book or movie.

It’s worth the exercise because those brands become more than just household names, they become part of our culture.

From the outside it looked like any ordinary 1964 Cadillac limousine.  In the expensive space between the driver and the passengers, where some installed bars, or even bathrooms, Mr. Howard Johnson kept a tidy ice cream freezer in which there were always at least eighteen flavors on hand, though Mr. Johnson ate only vanilla.

So starts the novella The Oranging of America by Max Apple.  It was first published in American Review and then as the title story in Apple’s first short story collection.  Howard Johnson is more than just a name or a label, he is the main character in this wonderful story.  A fully realized example.  And a lesson to everyone who considers themselves a branding expert.

The richness of observation and insight bring Howard Johnson closer to us than any advertising brief could.  We read this delightful story and understand the man, understand the brand.  Yes, it is fiction. But a wonderfully realized fiction.  And, after all, isn’t that really what a brand is all about?  Being as live in our minds as the most powerful characters in literature…or movies…or plays.

I was first introduced to that story by the writer and cultural critic John Leonard.  It was one of the stories that had a staying power.  It burned brightly in my memory long after I put down my copy of the book.  So I highly recommend it — for a variety of reasons.

Another example: In the mid 1990s I was working on the Kellogg’s advertising account at J. Walter Thompson.  Before one of my frequent trips to Battle Creek, Michigan, a friend sent me galley proofs of The Road to Wellville by T. C. Boyle.  It was a novel about William Kellogg himself.  Not far from my hotel room was the real building where the fictional Kellogg was starting his empire.

I strongly recommend any marketer to read these stories and books.  They are immensely enjoyable.  And they are enlightening on the power of a brand, the myth of a company’s founding, to make a true human connection between the company and the customer.

No positioning statement can do that.

Story at the executional level vs. strategic level

Storytelling in marketing is not new.  There has always been the knowledge that an advertisement that tells a story is much more compelling than one that just gives a bunch of facts.  “What’s the story of this ad?” Is a common research question.  Using stories in sales presentations and executive speeches have been getting more and more attention.  Marketers are making deliberate choices to use story as a rhetorical device.

That is what I call storytelling at an executional level.

What is new is look at a brand itself as a story.  That is the strategic level.

This is not just a wordplay.  The brand has a story.  A brand like Kellogg’s has a rich past, a strong present and a bright future.  To manage this story, to use it most effectively, requires a framework.  Otherwise it is all intuition or all in the mind of a brand gatekeeper.

There are many ways of looking at story for an execution.  But there are few frameworks for the strategic level of a brand’s story.  What more and more marketers are recognizing is that the existing brand positioning tools are inadequate as a framework for managing the story of a brand.

That is where reinventing marketing is heading.  It is about developing more robust models of branding, taking a more well-rounded view of a brand.  In literature this is the difference between a two-dimensional character and a rounded character.  Dickens was the master of deftly creating rounded characters.  His characters live on today, in many cases known better than the books from which they spring.  Oliver Twist.  Mrs. Malaprop.  Fagin.  David Copperfield, Edwin Drood. Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and, of course, Tiny Tim.

It requires knowing your brand as intimately as an author knows his characters.  Just as Harry Potter has a life outside of the books, a brand needs to have a life outside of it’s advertising.

Gone Green, part 2

Owls and wolves are great metaphors.

Owls are wise (potato chips), intelligent.  Wolves are sneaky, lurking around the hen-house or dressing in sheep’s clothes.  Sometimes the wolf is at the door and we have to hold it at bay before it huffs and puffs and blows our house down.

Owls and wolves are also real animals, deserving of our respect and attention.  That is what I came to realize while spending the past week at an animal rescue reserve.

Here are two magnificent owls that are being rehabilitated.  Each one was in an accident that left one eye blind.  While there is no damage to their wings, the use of one eye raises questions about depth perception.  Can a half-blind owl survive in the wild where they fly in close quarters among trees and need to surprise their prey?

Two rescue owls in the Adirondacks

And in this photo is Cree.  He is 3/4th wolf and 1/4th German Shepherd.  He’s very wolf-like in appearance but larger than the typical wolf.  He is not a pet in the traditional sense.  Yet he will never be able to survive in the wild.

Cree, 3/4ths wolf and 1/4th sheppard

Cree, 3/4ths wolf and 1/4th shepherd

These aren’t TV animals.  You won’t see them on any Discovery Channel documentary.  They are wild creatures who may not be able to survive in the wild.  They do serve an important educational purpose.  Through the educational programs of Steve Hill, these animals are helping children understand the animals who share the land with us.

And that’s true for both the city and the rural areas.  Just look up in the sky above Central Park and you’ll see hawks soaring and maybe even an owl or two.

Gone Green

There won’t be any new posts this week.  We’re up in the Adirondacks on holiday.  The weather is lovely but the internet service is not so hot.

Sustainability, green, have been on my mind the past few days.  

We are staying at a wildlife rescue sanctuary, where wolves, coyotes, owls, falcons, vultures and other wild animals are healed, cared for and eventually released back into the wild.  They are beautiful creatures, incredible to see up close and not in a zoo.   At night you can hear the wild wolves howling and the rescue wolves howling in response.  It is an eerie sound.  

The very real challenge is how do we balance the wilderness areas and residential communities?  How do we grow without overwhelming the land and the local wildlife?  There is not a simple answer.  Green marketing is important, but it is only one piece in a larger puzzle.  It gives me something to think about while hiking and kayaking.

So I’ve gone green for the week.

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