I’ve always been fixated on big ideas. The scary, hairy variety that excite and terrify in equal measure. The ideas in innovation, communications, brand positioning and strategy that force a company to reorganise around the opportunity they represent. The ideas that capture the imagination of consumers and redefine the market, leaving competitors struggling in your wake.
When I worked client-side, I didn’t care where my big brand ideas came from. I just wanted one (or more), and wanted them fast. I wanted the big ideas to have real ‘traction’ with customers and staff alike; to be founded in a simple and powerful insight; to be quickly realisable to give me first-mover advantage. I also wanted my team of agencies and consultancies to work together to produce them for/with me across all brand touchpoints and media, now.
Which is where my ambition was found sadly wanting.
The notion of a ‘team’ of marketing services agencies working fluidly to hunt down the big idea appears as elusive today as it was 15 years ago. It is not that intellectual prowess, creativity or brand acumen is lacking among consultancies. Quite the opposite.
Is it therefore a territorial or organisational issue with agencies? A problem with the allocation of remuneration? Ego? Intellectual property rights? Quite possibly, it’s a little of all of these.
A good few years in brand consulting and now a move to lead a creative brand design consultancy have forced me to consider this conundrum from a rounded perspective. I’ve also now worked in enough countries to know that this is not an Anglo-Saxon hang-up, but a global malaise.
As a consultant I was often called in to provide facilitation in ‘marriage guidance’ situations between big ad agencies and brand owners once the honeymoon period was over and the reality of smelly socks started appearing on the radiator. As is often the case in relationship breakdowns, it was usually a case of poor communication and a fundamental mismatch of expectations. Clients wanted passion for their businesses and brands and a steady flow of big ideas; creative groups wanted awards, recognition and substantial remuneration. I exaggerate to make a point, but the real insight was that ad agencies generally lacked the skills, commercial and communications breadth and resources to provide a constant stream of big ideas. It was unreasonable of brand owners to expect this of their agencies, even the best of them.
Now in my third life – as head of a consultancy tasked with producing big ideas on a daily basis – I can appreciate what a tough gig it is to be at the sharp end. I now welcome the chance to engage with other marketing disciplines around common client briefs; to brainstorm with planners and media strategists; pick the brains of research experts and external consultants. I’m voracious for stimuli and insights; for fresh perspectives and expertise from fields I know little about and can’t hope to keep abreast of. I’m mad for exactly the type of co-operation that I hungered after as a client all those years ago.
In our media-diffracted, consumer-empowered age, where brands can be recommended or condemned at the flick of a text; where old- and new-age word-of-mouth can spread faster than ever before; where trends can be over before the keenest of ‘tribe watchers’ can make a buck commenting on them, how can I possibly expect to capitalise on the social, media and consumption zeitgeist?
So, the answer for producing a steady stream of big ideas is the same now as it was 15 years ago – as unpalatable as that may be for some of us. And what is more, the absolute necessity to embrace co-creation and co-operation has never been more pronounced.
Reaching out to consumers and other marketing services providers in a spirit of genuine renaissance provides a huge opportunity for the far sighted. For groups that can park their egos, resolve IP and remuneration issues and get creative about finding media-neutral, brand-busting big ideas, the payback will be massive. And the alternative? More marriage counselling and divorce, I fear.
Brian Mansfield is managing director, Australia for Blue Marlin
A WINNING FORMULA
• Big ideas are as important now as they ever have been – they capture the imagination of consumers
• Matching expectations and improving communication makes all the difference in agency and consultancy relationships
• Like-minded brand owners and creative groups work best together
• Co-creation makes sense – everybody is happy with the results
• You get what you pay for and quality is everything