How to make brands stay true in a world that never stands still

9 principles

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How can your brand stay true in a world that never stands still?

That’s a question that we spend a lot of time wrestling with at Advance. The marketing world is full of chaos – intense competition, shrinking budgets, fickle audiences, new channels and dazzling tech. Never has there been more pressure to deliver more for less and in an age where the average tenure of a CMO is just 18 months, how can you be sure your brand is being steered in the right direction?


As an attempt to try and help the brands we work for stay strong and true, we’ve developed nine principles of brand building to help our clients ignore the distractions and stay focused on developing communication that helps their business grow.


We spoke to Chris Calvert, our Sr. Concept Developer, who recently presented our nine principles that we consider key to building strong global brands and staying true to your brand in a world that never stands still.

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Principle 1 – Spend more time thinking ‘why?’

At Advance, we believe that change challenges truth. What was true yesterday isn’t necessarily true today and that means that, if you’re to understand your brand’s true meaning, you need to constantly ask ‘why?’ Why does our portfolio contain the products that it does? Why do we need an influencer campaign? Why do we choose a heritage story over one that promotes our innovation?


When you give yourself enough time to think ‘why?’, you start asking better questions, you can actually begin to listen, and you get better answers. ‘Why?’ is at the core of every brand strategy that seeks truth.

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Principle 2 – Rediscovery is better than reinvention

One thing we hear from brands again and again is “There’s a lot of competition out there. You need to help us be more modern, more relevant. We need to reinvent ourselves!!!”, but we always remind them that it’s not about reinvention, it’s about rediscovery.


All you are, is all you need and so the answer is not in adding layers but in stripping them away. The brands that get lost are the ones with the most layers, so when you stop adding and start subtracting, you won’t have to reinvent your brand’s equity and value, instead, you’ll rediscover it.

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Principle 3 – Don’t confuse observations with insights

This is something that is somewhat of an epidemic in the industry. Every creative knows that sinking feeling when you receive a brief where the insight that’s supposed to fuel your creativity turns out to be just a generic, category level observation. This is because observations don’t contain meaning. They show us ‘what’ people are doing but they don’t tell us ‘why’ they’re doing it. Only true insights reveal the motivation that lies beneath the action and when you understand that, you can create more relevant and resonant communication that begins to change behaviour.

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Principle 4 – Find your true moment of truth

Every brand has one, you just need to dig deep enough to uncover it and sometimes it’s not always where you think it is.


For example, when we won the Piz Buin business in 2008, the conventional wisdom would have it that the moment of truth within sun care was the on the beach when the user applied their sunscreen and ‘experienced’ the product. But we dug a little deeper for that point when product benefit seamlessly integrates with the consumer need and discovered that the most powerful moment in sun care was than when you get back from vacation, walk through the door and someone sees you looking sun-kissed beautiful and says, “Where Have You Been!”.


This became the foundation of a brand platform that has seen the brand grown continually over the last ten years.


See the Piz Buin case

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Principle 5 – Focus on your story, not on all your possibilities

Today, advertisers are jumping at every conceivable chance to reach consumers individually. This is driven by all the opportunities that data, AI and the profusion of new channels offer. And it’s a seductive proposition. After all, what could possibly be better than reaching the right individual at the right time, on their own personal consumer journey, with a personalized message just for them?


But we get so distracted by the fact that we can be in front of who we want, whenever we want, that we forget to ask ourselves if we should. We need to remember that, just because we can people individually, doesn’t mean we are being relevant!


In a recent project our sister agency, Responsive, did for Interflora, a genuine human insight led to the use of AI number crunching to produce communication that was not only extremely targeted but also highly relevant, producing levels of conversion that rivaled that of visitors who had navigated to the site with the direct intention of buying flowers.


Read more about Responsive's work for Interflora here

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Principle 6 – Your story is powerful, choose your words carefully

From campfire tales to organised religions, the telling of stories is the fundamental tool that allows humans to captivate, inspire, and influence the behaviour of large numbers of people. And so how we tell those stories – how we craft the words and pictures we use to build them – can have huge consequences.


A good example of the power of a good story is The Significant Objects Project – An anthropological experiment carried out by two guys who wanted to see if they could quantify the value of a story.


To conduct the experiment, they purchased $129 worth of thrift-store items at an average cost of $1.00 and asked over 200 writers to contribute rich, creative stories to attach sentimental value to what were otherwise mundane items. They then posted them on eBay.


The hypothesis was that emotionally charged stories would increase the perceived value of each object and therefore net a large profit on each item sold. All the items were sold for a total of $8,000 – a profit margin of over 6,000 percent!


Stories how we make sense of the world. The better the stories we tell, the more value we create, so whatever story you decide to tell, choose your words carefully.

The Significant Objects Project

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Principle 7 – Give your positioning a position

These days, it’s difficult to avoid the discussions around the Kaepernick Nike campaign – was it purpose driven or just targeting and positioning? Mark Ritson will tell you it’s not purpose driven because, the campaign is just a continuing expression of Nike’s core belief that true athletes never give up. It’s smart targeting, he says. Good positioning but not purposeful.


But why does it have to be either one or the other? We think it’s good targeting, because Nike is losing touch with millennials. Good positioning because it reinforces the values of Nike. And it's purposeful, because it stands for something above and beyond the selling of sports apparel. A great example of going from simple ‘positioning’ to taking a position.

Overview of the Nike Kaepernick Campaign from WP

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Principle 8 – Make your truth remarkable

We’ve spoken a lot in these blog posts about identifying your brand’s true meaning, finding your product’s ‘moment of truth’ and choosing the words you use to tell your story carefully, but truly great brands go further than just telling their story, they find a way to tell it that makes it ‘remarkable’.


In his 2007 TED talk, Seth Godin, encouraged communication professionals to “be remarkable”. Not great, not good, but remarkable. Remarkable is a great word because it means that if something is remarkable, then it’s worth remarking on – worth talking about. If you can incorporate that word into your culture, it forces you to up your game.

Seth Godin: How to be Remarkable

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Principle 9 – Be influential, not persuasive

There’s a big difference, which makes this possibly the most ambitious of our nine principles. Just because your brand is persuasive, doesn’t mean that it’s influential. Persuasion insists that people subscribe to your offering, whereas influence inspires people to not only follow your vision, but to take others with them. This is not only how you ensure that your brand is being relevant, effective and efficient, but it’s how your brand will become part of our cultural fabric.


So, this is what guides us at Advance. Some of these principles are quite ambitious and can be challenging to implement when a brief doesn’t immediately scream ‘branding’, but that’s the point. We use these principles to challenge ourselves and our clients to be better at building brands even at the tactical, product level.

Want to apply these principles to your own marketing organization?

Contact, Client Service Director, Ann-Louise

Ann-Louise Rosen

Client Service Director, Partner

30 30 29 73 ARO@advance.dk