But it seems like the fundamental unit of trust, the thing that is most critical for a brand to be able to do anything interesting creatively or have any meaningful connection to its audience, is the marketer's trust in its own identity. A marketer needs to have a strong, holistic sense of itself, from products and processes to communications. When your purpose in life is clear and everyone in the company can tell you what it is, it's easier to articulate problems and goals to creative partners, it's easier to harness creativity to address them and it's easier to identify what works for your brand without needing a focus group to tell you. That, of course, isn't a given among marketers.
Conspicuous among the companies represented on our third annual creative marketers list are those that were born from a singular idea, those for whom marketing approach and brand identity are inextricably linked. Interestingly, many of those on the list are also companies whose identities are not heavily tied to advertising—in some cases there's no advertising, in the usual sense, at all. But the ways these companies go at things is instructive for anyone in the brand communications continuum.
The founders of clothing company Howies say (see p. 30) that "the thing that has not changed from day one is the desire to make people think about the world we live in. This is, and always will be, why we are in business." Not every company can have such an unequivocally worthy mission at its core, but there is an argument to be made that many of the most successful brands in the coming years will have a "good" angle, will represent some meaning to its consumers beyond driving more consumption. Howies demonstrates the merits of keeping the big picture at the center of things, and of having an authentic brand philosophy driving all processes and spurring innovation.
As does the success of Method. The maker of aerodynamic household cleaners is another example of a marketer whose philosophical horse goes before the communications cart. As co-founder Eric Ryan says, everything "started from a brand point of view, and then we built a company around that." While the company's ads have won kudos in our industry (former agency CP+B's Grand Prix-winning ComeClean.com), Method is known to the dirty public by its design-forward products and green imbued ethic. And it's those things, that whole brand vibe, that have driven reported double-digit annual growth, which is, as the company CFO notes, "miles ahead of the typical three to four percent growth in the categories it plays in."
Other of our creative marketers have similarly holistic approaches that have resulted in the kind of active relationship with their audiences that brands spend millions to try and conjure—witness Girl Skateboards' art-driven skate lifestyle community and the consumers-as-designers-and-brand-ambassadors approach of tee trailblazer Threadless. Then there's Coke—a striking example of a brand that always had the most ironclad of identities, until it didn't. After doing its best for several years to symbolize much of what's wrong with advertising and marketing, the company forced an internal reckoning and the result has been stunningly evident in its creative output. With the award winning Coke Side of Life efforts, Coke has finally allowed some of its partners to create advertising that does something for the brand. Judging from our conversations with the marketing minds inside Coke, the company is looking for innovation beyond great ads. Now we'll watch with keen interest how far the company will be willing to go to push for creative breakthroughs in all areas and whether agencies can prove Mr. Bloom wrong and step up with really innovative marketing solutions.
Teressa Iezzi, Editor, Creativity