To Win, Don't Hide Behind False Brand Pretenses

More Than Hype: Why Appearance Without True Innovation Is Meaningless

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You don't need me to tell you the world has changed. This publication and others are filled with stories about the power of mobile and YouTube and how, ultimately, the consumer is in control. Right now, marketers all across the country are trying to answer one of a million questions. Will Second Life ever eclipse TV? Is Wallop the next MySpace? Should my brand be integrated into the next EA game? While everyone is working to find the next big, shiny thing, it's time we change the focus of the conversation.

Illustration: Ismael Roldan
The "Red" campaign is uniform; consumers understand both the message of the campaign and Bono's involvement. But Bono's business decisions and inability to innovate his approach to them impact the effectiveness of marketing.

As marketers, we primarily focus on brand image. It is what we want the brand to be -- or to appear to be. It focuses on the creation of unifying visual images, tonality, fonts and key messages that we want our core consumers to know. The effectiveness of brand image, or "matching luggage," in an age of media fragmentation provides scale across a number of channels.

Empty and meaningless
I won't deny that brand image is important. But without brand innovation, it is empty and meaningless. Fundamentally, this innovation must come from within an organization. It's not something your agency can create, and it requires you, the CMO, to act differently. It is no longer possible to separate your marketing from the truth of how your company operates.

The companies that embrace true brand innovation are the companies that will succeed in the new-media landscape.

Here's an example: Everyone loves to talk about Apple. The "Silhouettes" campaign stands out as singular and conceptual across every execution. It is an excellent example of a unified brand image that is unmistakable across all media. Do you think the advertising campaign is the reason Apple sold 21 million iPods this past holiday season? We would be foolish to attribute the success of the iPod to the "Silhouettes" campaign alone.

Apple's success
Apple's success is driven primarily by the power of brand innovation. Apple began by innovating its product -- including its "digital" product linkages (iTunes) -- first. In fact, every detail down to the white headphones, which visibly communicate the brand, has as much to do with iPod's success as the "Silhouettes" campaign.

Here's another example. Late last year, Bono launched the "Red" campaign. This program has made a huge splash with a skillfully designed, multifaceted effort designed to bring focus to the issue of AIDS in Africa. It's a noble cause, and the campaign beautifully speaks to the importance of the message.

Soon after the launch of the campaign, U2 chose to move its publishing company out of Ireland, its home country, to the Netherlands to dramatically reduce its taxes. In days past, this would have been known by only a small number of people; it would have had little impact on the larger social discussion. However, in the age of widespread information dissemination, bloggers seized on the issue and roundly discussed the hypocrisy of U2, who regularly call upon governments to increase their amount of foreign aid. Last fall, members of U2 were forced to explain their actions. In an Oct. 2 interview with the Dublin radio station Newstalk, band member Dave Evans -- aka the Edge -- said, "Of course we're trying to be tax-efficient. Who doesn't want to be tax-efficient?"
This is an excellent example of how Bono has singularly embraced brand image. The "Red" campaign is uniform; consumers understand both the message of the campaign and Bono's involvement. However, this example also illustrates how inexorably linked business operations are with marketing. Despite a beautiful ad campaign, Bono's business decisions and inability to innovate his approach to them impact the effectiveness of marketing.

The CMO's options
So how does the CMO drive true innovation down through an organization? Some thoughts:

  • Expand your definition of product development: As consumers continue to adopt digital technologies, how consumers define your product will change as well. Challenge your internal teams and your agencies to think about digital programs as products and services.

  • Build and support experimentation: Begin to think about your marketing investments the same way venture captialists invest in companies. You should expect that some percentage of your investments will fail. However, by making some of your marketing dollars flexible, your brand will be able to take advantage of new and innovative ideas that may not fit into your annual planning cycles. By placing bets, you'll have the opportunity for some great learning -- and potentially huge success.

  • Relinquish control: If I had a dollar for the number of times I've spoken with corporate legal representatives who struggle with relinquishing even a tiny part of their brands to consumers, I would be rich. The best ideas can come from anywhere -- and chances are, your consumers, who love your product, will innovate for you. Just ask Diet Coke and Mentos if they had ever thought to combine their products.

  • Be courageous: Now more than ever, it's time for courageous CMOs. Much has been written lately about the high turnover among CMOs who have been identified as change agents in their organizations. The risk to us as marketers is to confuse courage with arrogance. All courageous actions do not cause controversy, and all change is not equal. The time for courage is now.

  • Innovate your own perspective: Each of us is challenged to simply think and experience all that is occurring around us. It's critical that we carve out time to blog, create a Second Life avatar, play the Wii and watch video on our cellphones. At our core, we must understand the changing landscape from our consumers' perspectives so that we may drive innovation inside our companies that results in game-changing marketing.

    The marriage of brand image with brand innovation is critical to our future success. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my Wii.
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