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Are marketers and agencies immersed enough in brands?

22 Oct 2019  |  Adam Morton 
Are marketers and agencies immersed enough in brands?

When agencies are properly steeped in their client’s brands, it provides the platform to produce great work, writes Adam Morton. Yet too often it does not happen.

Remember when KFC ran out of chicken last year? Of course you do: ‘FCK’ is one of the all-time great damage limitation exercises. But powerful advertising such as this don’t happen by accident. It’s the result of teams both on the client and agency side who truly understand the brand, allowing them to be both brave and agile simultaneously.

Breading creative cultures such as this only comes when clients appreciate the importance of their brand, its positioning and its values – and ensure their agencies completely immerse themselves in them. You’d think that would be a given, but this level of understanding is often undervalued – and on occasions, missing entirely.

No time for a deep dive?

There are a number of factors driving this issue. Often marketers, and as a result their agencies, are working to increasingly shorter deadlines. In this environment, it can be tempting to get cracking to ensure the work is done and the deadline is met, rather than taking that all-important step back. Can the brief be challenged? Should we ask for more to really understand the brand is not trying to do or say too much?

In an ideal world, campaign briefs are co-created by brand and agency working in concert – and they stem from immersion sessions to drive a deeper awareness among all who touch the business. But it’s an ongoing process. Agencies change and people move on, but ensuring current teams are fully absorbed in the brand means ongoing communication and regular refresher sessions.

And lest we forget, positioning is a marketing fundamental. It should form a key part of the brief to agencies and not be limited to a few lines of copy. If the brand isn’t clearly articulated, everyone is crawling around in the dark.

Another challenge is the short-term and channel-based thinking that remains endemic in the marketing services sector, on both the client and agency side. When marketers and agencies are thinking merely of their own immediate ROI figures, and not about what will happen to the brand after their tenure has come and gone, there is little opportunity to develop the deeper level of immersion that’s so important.

Yes, it doesn’t help that brand equity is one of the slowest to KPIs to move and hence requires tracking over time. But it’s often the force behind long-term sustainable growth. The thing is, you need brand champions to help make that happen.

Immersion is a platform for inspiration

When agencies are properly steeped in their client’s brands, it provides the platform to produce great work. Instinctively knowing where the guardrails are, what tone of voice and behaviours are correct allows them to work quickly, respond to time pressures and be proactive.

They’ll know, for example, that ‘FCK’ isn’t just the right response to a crisis, but that the brand has the cheeky personality to justify that moment. They can actually be agile and dynamic, rather than merely talking about it.

And given that moments are fast becoming the cornerstone of marketing, that has to be the best approach. Agencies and marketers alike have to know what’s possible, and if their attempt to seize a cultural moment will be viewed by the increasingly savvy public as a witty rejoinder or as a cynical and clumsy attempt to hijack the zeitgeist and cash in. They’ll instinctively understand if that brand has earned the right to play in that arena and what they can or should say.

Creating an immersed team

Marketers will have to make sure their agencies are steeped in the brand – and if not, agencies need to demand it.

However, crafting that level of immersion differs from company to company. For some, it’s about understanding the design or manufacturing process, while for others it’s about the history and provenance behind the product. But it’s always a continuous process of education so that agency partners begin to fully grasp the strengths – and weaknesses – of what they’re promoting.

If both sides are willing to dedicate the time to make that happen, it will pay dividends in the long run. Agencies will be able to react dynamically to the moments that matter, both big and small, and generate creative and media campaigns that say the right thing in the right way. Meanwhile, brands will develop stronger personalities and clearer values. It’s a win-win.

Adam Morton is managing partner, client services at media agency UM

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22 May 2020 

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