Three boxes, four circles: One (much simpler) way to think about your marketing

When I kicked off my career in advertising, it’s fair to say things were somewhat simpler. Back then no-one had heard of digital’ - tablets were things you swallowed and always-on was how you left the kitchen lights. As much as I love the breadth of choice today, I certainly don’t envy the challenges CMOs face when navigating them.

Of all the problems I see marketers wrestling with, the most common one would be fragmentation; of their markets, their product offerings, their comms channels, their agency partners, and of their ever-dwindling marketing budgets. It’s all going in opposite directions, at pace, and everyone’s saying theirs is the direction you should be headed.

Cue the migraine.

Truth be told, helping our clients makes sense of all this was giving me a headache too. So rather than being another migraine-inducing voice in the chorus, we recently took a step back to see what was actually going on.

The short answer?

A lot of people are using decades’ old models and methodologies, all hastily cobbled together in a scrambled attempt to operate in today’s digital world. There has to be a better (and more relevant) way. And there is. All you need are three boxes and four circles. Sound simple enough?

Let’s start with the boxes.

Of all the marketing activities you might undertake, in whatever channels, you can broadly categorise work in one of three ways: Brand, active relationships and sales. (Already I can hear people shouting “all comms are brand comms”. I agree, but it’s the work’s primary intention that I refer to, not its halo, so bear with me.)

You need all three. But where things often break down is when you expect one sort of activity to a drive customer behaviour better achieved by another. 'Brand' builds mental availability, and measures like NPS are a good way to measure that. But brand comms are lousy at directly engaging people, or converting them at point of sale.

'Active relationships' encourages people to interact with your brand in some way, and they’re also your CRM/CLM programmes. People say a ‘Like’ is worthless and, as an analogue for sales, they’re right. But metrics such as likes, shares, and viewing minutes can be extremely revealing provided you’re using them to track the right things.

Lastly, 'sales' are precisely that; stuff designed to prompt purchase.

As the creative director of a digital agency, I have no problem acknowledging that an effective way to build many brands is through traditional channels like TV and outdoor. They’re not cheap, but you can reach a lot of people. At Young + Shand, we’re not in the business of mainstream brand building. For us, defining what we’re not has helped us refocus on what we are really good at, and where we can deliver real value. And that’s in driving active relationships and sales through eCommerce environments. But to tell you how, I need four circles:

Thinking now about digital, we approach all our briefs by first defining the desired result as one of four outcomes: Foundation, community, membership, utility. And more complex work may actually encompass a few or all of those. But importantly, we don’t see digital as a one-off interruption like a TVC; it’s your brand’s journey toward digital maturity.

Foundation is exactly as it sounds; you are establishing and building your digital footprint.

Activities can include building websites and other digital assets, SEO, SEM, and optimisation. It’s about being in the game and being found. Community invites people into your digital ecosystems and encourages their participation through engaging content and other digital experiences. Membership can be aimed at your current customers, but not exclusively so. The intent here is to provide people with a richer and more meaningful experience that delivers a greater sense of value and loyalty. Lastly, there’s utility which concerns itself with giving people something that’s genuinely useful in its own right, current customers or not. Nike+ would probably be the most famous example of a utility idea, but genuine utility can take on all forms from the very simple to the revolutionary.

For us and our clients, this reframing process is proving to be extremely effective, and powerful. It shows us exactly where a brand currently sits, and what its next steps should be. It becomes much easier to spot gaps and overlaps, and we can better assess if an idea is going to give us the outcomes we need. And for marketers, those three boxes makes crystal clear which of their agencies should be executing what type of work. No more squabbles.

And best of all, you can try this yourself. Classify your current marketing activities in the context of the above, even your work in non-digital channels; I’m betting you’ll wind up with a clearer and less fragmented picture overall. Three boxes. Four circles. One much simpler way to think about your marketing.

It’s new thinking fit for a digital world. 

Tim Wood is creative director at Young + Shand