Brand Management Paradigms: The Product Paradigm (2.3.1)

1940's snow white flour bag

This post is part of my bachelor paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

The product paradigm reflects a tactical approach to branding and brand management with the product as the most important consideration. The brand definition best suiting this paradigm is the long-standing definition of the American Marketing Association that sees brands, as mentioned before, as “[a] name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” (American Marketing Association 2010). Within this approach to brand management, marketing management is chiefly focused on the marketing mix, with the product as the most important outcome and source of value creation (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.856). The function of brands within this approach is mostly in its legal and signifying functions, and therefore closely resemble Gries’ (2006, p.15) and Tropp’s (2004, p.23f) first phase in the history of brands.

Next: the projective paradigm.

Gries, R., 2006. Produkte & Politik: zur Kultur- und Politikgeschichte der Produktkommunikation, Facultas Verlag.

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875.

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.


Brand Management Paradigms: An Overview (2.3)

This post is part of my bachelor paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

To speak of brand management as one clear and perfectly defined concept or management process would oversimplify the current state of research and practice on the topic. Shaped by different company practices, widely discussed ‘recipe’ books by practitioners (Roberts et al. 2005; Ries 2002), numerous proprietary models of advertising agencies and brand consultancies (Fuchs & Unger 2007, p.33ff; Tropp 2004, p.151ff), and different schools of academic research on the topic there are many different perspectives onto what brand management is and how it works. According to Louro and Cunha (2001, p.853) there are four brand management paradigms. These paradigms

“constitute an organization’s portfolio of implicit assumptions, collective beliefs, values and techniques concerning the why (the objectives and performance measures of brand management), the what (the concept of brands), the who (the organizational structure of brand management) and the how of branding (the variables of brand management)”.

Brand Management Paradigms

Figure 1: Brand Management Paradigms, taken from Louro & Cunha (2001)

They are located in a coordinate system on two central dimensions of current academic and practitioner discussions about brand management: brand centrality and consumer centrality. Brand Centrality stretches from a tactical orientation, which sees brands for their mere signifying and legal value and branding as a residual decision mostly dealing with the advertising of product, to brand orientation which sees brands as “central platforms, in the form of guiding vision and values, and core expressions, in the form of particular marketing mix configurations, of an organisation’s strategic intent (Kapferer & Mayring 1992)“ (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.855) Consumer Centrality, on the other hand, refers to the degree to which managers belief in the consumers’ involvement in the process of value creation, which ranges from a unilateral approach seeing consumers as the mere recipients of value created by organisations and multilateral approaches in which consumers are seen as co-contributors of value (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.855). The distinctive paradigms will now be introduced, starting with the product paradigm, followed by the projective and adaptive paradigm.

Fuchs, W. & Unger, F., 2007. Management der Marketing-Kommunikation 4th ed., Springer, Berlin.

Kapferer, J.-N. & Mayring, P., 1992. Strategic brand management, Kogan Page London.

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875.

Ries, L., 2002. The 22 immutable laws of branding: how to build a product or service into a world-class brand, Harper Paperbacks.

Roberts, K., Lafley, A.G. & Nagymáté, O., 2005. Lovemarks, PowerHouse Books.

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.


2.2 What is a Brand?

This post is part of my bachelor paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

There are a lot of diverging descriptions and definitions of what a brand is (Wood 2000, p.664; De Chernatony & Riley 1998, p.417), with de Chernatony & Riley (1998, p.418) identifying twelve categories of definitions, with brands being a

“[…] i) legal instrument; ii) logo; iii) company; iv) shorthand; v) risk reducer; vi) identity system; vii) image in consumers’ minds; viii) value system; ix) personality; x) relationship; xi) adding value; and xii) evolving entity”.

Among those categories of definitions that cannot be sharply separated from each other, three stand out more prominently. First of all, there is the basic understanding of a brand as a signifier of distinction, “[a] name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers” that is now the standard definition of the American Marketing Association (2010) and e.g. also used by Kotler and Keller (2006, p.274). It was already used by the AMA as early as in 1960 (De Chernatony & Riley 1998, p.419) and is closely related to the legal definition of a brand, which deals with the protection of intellectual property. It derives its relevance from the time when companies started to “brand” their products in the strictest and simplest sense through visual identities (Gries 2006, p.15ff; Tropp 2004, p.23ff).

Another very frequently used perspective to define brands is the one of a brand as an image in consumers’ minds. Practitioners and researchers referred brands as being associations in people’s minds as early as 1955 (De Chernatony & Riley 1998, p.421). While there is no consensus among researchers about the conceptualization of brand image (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.863), Keller (1993, p.3) defined brand image as “perceptions about a brand as reflected by the brand associations held in consumer memory”, with the thought being that the value derived from brands is based on associations built upon “the complete experience that customers have with products” (Keller & Lehmann 2006, p.740).

However, the image perspective has come under harsh critique by another perspective, which lays its focus on brand identity (de Chernatony & Riley 1998, p.420). One of the strongest criticisms of the brand image perspective comes from Kapferer & Gibbs (1992, p.11):

“[A] brand is not a product. It is the product’s essence, its meaning, and its direction, and it defines its identity in time and space. Too often brands are examined through their component parts: the brand name, its logo, design, or packaging, advertising or sponsorship, or image or name recognition, or very recently, in terms of financial brand valuation. Real brand management however, begins much earlier, with a strategy and a consistent integrated vision. Its central concept is brand identity, not brand image.”

Another advocate of the brand identity concept is Aaker who defines brand identity as “a unique set of brand associations that the brand strategist aspires to create or maintain” (Aaker 1995, p.68).

All these definition show a persistent duality in current brand definitions (Tropp 2004, p.55) that also exists in organisational theory (Gioia et al. 2000, p.63). On the one hand there is the brand as an identity and on the other hand there is what is perceived by people. This was already identified as early as 1955 in an often cited article by Gardner & Levy (1999, p.35):

“A brand name is more than the label employed to differentiate among the manufacturers of a product. It is a complex symbol that represents a variety of ideas and attributes. It tells the consumers many things, not only by the way it sounds (and its literal meaning if it has one) but, more important, via the body of associations it has built up and acquired as a public object over a period of time.”

These different definitions of brands and what their function is seen to be is a reflection of the development of diverging brand management paradigms that will be introduced in the following paragraphs.

Aaker, D.A., 1995. Building Strong Brands Nineth Printing., Free Press.

American Marketing Association, 2010. Dictionary. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

De Chernatony, L. & Riley, F.D.O., 1998. Defining A“ Brand”: Beyond The Literature With Experts’ Interpretations. Journal of Marketing Management, 14(5), pp.417–443.

Gardner, B.B. & Levy, S.J., 1999. The product and the brand. Brands, consumers, symbols, & research: Sidney J. Levy on marketing, p.131.

Gioia, D.A., Schultz, M. & Corley, K.G., 2000. Organizational identity, image, and adaptive instability. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), pp.63–81.

Gries, R., 2006. Produkte & Politik: zur Kultur- und Politikgeschichte der Produktkommunikation, Facultas Verlag.

Kapferer, J.-N. & Mayring, P., 1992. Strategic brand management, Kogan Page London.

Keller, K.L., 1993. Conceptualizing, measuring, and managing customer-based brand equity. Journal of Marketing, 57(1), pp.1–22.

Keller, K.L. & Lehmann, D.R., 2006. Brands and branding: Research findings and future priorities. Marketing Science, 25(6), p.740.

Kotler, P. & Bliemel, F., 2006. Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung 10th ed., Pearson Studium.

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875.

Österreichisches Patentamt, 2009. Geschäftsbericht 2009. Österreichisches Patentamt. Available at: [Accessed July 12, 2011].

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Willman, J., 2000. Leaner, Cleaner and Healthier is the Stated Aim. Financial Times. Available at: [Accessed January 4, 2011].

Wood, L., 2000. Brands and brand equity: definition and management. Management Decision, 38(9), pp.662–669.

2.1 The Relevance of Brand Management

This post is part of my bachelor paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

This chapter will first start with an argument for the relevance of brand management, followed by a discussion and working definition of the brand concept. Subsequently, the different brand paradigms at work in both practice and theory are identified and discussed and contemporary challenges for brand management are outlined. Last but not least, at the end of this chapter, a systems theory-based model of brand management is proposed and three key learnings about brand management in organisations are suggested.

2.1  The Relevance of Brand Management

“Branding has emerged as a top management priority in the last decade due to the growing realization that brands are one of the most valuable intangible assets that firms have.” (Keller & Lehmann 2006, p.740)

“Niall Fitzgerald, co-chairman of Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products group, epitomized this shift in perspective when he stated ‘We’re not a manufacturing company any more, we’re a brand marketing group that happens to make some of its products’ (Willman 2000).” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.850)

Brands are seen as important assets by shareholders and management. Each year brand consultancies and market research companies rank the “world’s biggest brands” (Interbrand 2010; Millward Brown 2010). In 2009 5,981 new brands were registered in Austria (Österreichisches Patentamt 2009). However, while the launch of new products is certainly an exciting prospect for brand managers, they spend most of their time managing the more than 114.000 officially registered national, 218.000 international and 70.000 Community Trademarks.

A lot of attention is therefore being devoted to brands and branding in marketing science (Keller 1993; Keller & Lehmann 2006; Wood 2000): “Brands manifest their impact at three primary levels – customer market, product market, and financial market. The value accrued by these various benefits is often called brand equity”. The actions taken by an organisation to increase the brand equity may then be understood as brand management.

“Brand management comprises the process and locus for capitalizing and realizing brand value, i.e. transforming it in superior market performance.” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.850)

The following chapter will therefore analyse existing definitions of “brand” and then analyse contemporary conceptualizations of brand management and the challenges brand management is currently facing. At the end of this chapter a conclusion about the state of brand management and how it may be understood in a broader organisational context will be offered.

Keller, K.L. & Lehmann, D.R., 2006. Brands and branding: Research findings and future priorities. Marketing Science, 25(6), p.740.

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875.

Österreichisches Patentamt, 2009. Geschäftsbericht 2009. Österreichisches Patentamt. Available at: [Accessed July 12, 2011].

1. The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management

This is the introduction to my bachelor thesis, which has the same title as this blog post. I thought I’d post it here, so that more than the two people grading it can read it and give feedback. I’ll probably also put the pdf online, but I want to layout it properly before doing that. You can see the table of contents here.

Creativity is an often used word in the context of marketing communications and brand management. There are magazines named after it, such as Creativity and Creative Review, there are numerous awards around the globe judging and celebrating it and there is the APG Creative Strategy award, which rewards creative strategy in the context of marketing communications and planning.

Creativity, of course, is also the selling point of almost every agency or agency-like company trying to make a living in the widening domain of marketing services.

“We put the creative function at the top of our priorities.” (Ogilvy & Mather 2010)

“Creativity Is The Most Powerful Force In Business. […] DDB’s pursues collaborative relationships with clients and partners to find the hidden potential of people, brands and business through creativity.” (DDB 2010)

“[Wieden + Kennedy is] an independent, creatively-led communications agency.” (Wieden + Kennedy 2010)

“We connect ideas and innovation to deliver award-winning results for the world’s leading brands.” (AKQA 2010)

„We are creative problem-solvers.” (Naked Communications 2010)

“We are a creative company with 186 offices and 7000 colleagues united around a single mission: To Resist the Unusual.” (Young & Rubicam 2010)

“Our industry is undergoing radical transformation. To keep pace with the changes being driven by emerging technology, it is vital to focus on collaboration, creativity and organizational flexibility.” (Brien 2010, McCann)

“Our philosophy emphasizes the utilization of strategy and creativity to drive growth and measurable impact.” (MDC Partners 2010)

Both independent agencies as well as large established agency networks claim to be at the forefront of creativity. More precisely, as Zurstiege (2005, p.179ff) puts it, what agencies aim to offer and what marketers ask for is effective creativity or creative effectiveness. Therefore, as the relationship between creativity and effectiveness is a regular topic of discussion between advertising agencies and clients, within agencies, the industry press and advertising conferences, there is a stream of research dealing with creativity in the context of advertising. Among the topics covered are the definition and perception of creativity (White & Smith 2001; West et al. 2008; El-Murad & West 2004; Koslow et al. 2003) the effect of creativity on advertising effectiveness (White & Smith 2001; Ehrenberg et al. 2002; Till & Baack 2005; Kover et al. 1995), and contextual issues that influence advertising and agency creativity (Koslow et al. 2006).

However, while creativity is the focus of awards, agency positioning and industry debates, and while there is work in advertising research towards “a general theory of creativity in advertising” (Smith & Yang 2004) the topic is generally not dealt with in detail in a broader marketing and brand management context. The seminal work of many leading scholars in this area (Kotler & Bliemel 2006; Fuchs & Unger 2007; Schweiger & Schrattenecker 2009) does not systematically cover creativity.

For this reason this paper sets out to critically evaluate the functions and premises of brand management and more specifically what “creativity” could mean in this context. This is done by first analysing the concept of brands and brand management as found in a literature review. In addition, the environment companies and brands operate in will be described and structured, followed by implications for brand management theory and practice. Then, meanings of creativity both in today’s advertising and marketing industry as well as in the broader management context will be examined. The last chapter will then merge the two streams and draw conclusions from the synthesis of the current state of brand management and a broader meaning of creativity in a commercial context.

AKQA, 2010. AKQA Fact Sheet. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Brien, N., 2010. Interpublic Announces Management Succession at McCann Worldgroup. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

DDB, 2010. DDB. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Ehrenberg, A. et al., 2002. Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research, 42(4), pp.7–18.

El-Murad, J. & West, D.C., 2004. The Definition and Measurement of Creativity: What Do We Know? Journal of Advertising Research, 44(2), pp.188-201.

Fuchs, W. & Unger, F., 2007. Management der Marketing-Kommunikation 4th ed., Springer, Berlin.

Koslow, S., Sasser, S.L. & Riordan, E.A., 2006. Do Marketers Get the Advertising They Need or the Advertising They Deserve? Agency Views of How Clients Influence Creativity. Journal of Advertising, 35(3), pp.81–101.

Koslow, S., Sasser, S.L. & Riordan, E.A., 2003. What Is Creative to Whom and Why? Perceptions in Advertising Agencies. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(01), pp.96-110.

Kotler, P. & Bliemel, F., 2006. Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung 10th ed., Pearson Studium.

Kover, A.J., Goldberg, S.M. & James, W.L., 1995. Creativity vs. effectiveness? An integrating classification for advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 35(6).

MDC Partners, 2010. MDC Partners [BETA]. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Naked Communications, 2010. Naked. Meet Us. Manifesto. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Ogilvy & Mather, 2010. Corporate Culture | Ogilvy & Mather. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Schweiger, G. & Schrattenecker, G., 2009. Werbung 7th ed., UTB, Stuttgart.

Smith, R.E. & Yang, X., 2004. Toward a general theory of creativity in advertising: Examining the role of divergence. Marketing Theory, 4(1-2), p.31.

Till, B.D. & Baack, D.W., 2005. Recall and Persuasion: Does Creative Advertising Matter? Journal of Advertising, 34(3), pp.47–57.

West, D.C., Kover, A.J. & Caruana, A., 2008. Practitioner and Customer Views of Advertising Creativity: Same Concept, Different Meaning? Journal of Advertising, 37(4), pp.35-46.

White, A. & Smith, B.L., 2001. Assessing Advertising Creativity Using the Creative Product Semantic Scale. Journal of Advertising Research, 41(6), pp.27-34.

Wieden + Kennedy, 2010. Wieden + Kennedy London. An independent, creatively led communications agency. Available at: [Accessed January 4, 2011].

Young & Rubicam, 2010. Young & Rubicam. Young & Rubicam. Available at: [Accessed October 22, 2010].

Zurstiege, G., 2005. Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet 1st ed., Halem.

Metros, that’s a proper science…

I just took the metro from university, where I just handed in my bachelor thesis (finally, one might say), to work. I had to transfer once, as you do, not thinking much, and was then standing in a packed train of the U3 line, which is Vienna’s line from east to west. Then I saw a kid, maybe 8, entering and, following him a bit more nervously what appeared to be his grandparents.

They stood in the isle, the metro had emptied a little more at that time, when the lady asked her husband where they were heading. He said, somewhat confidently “Westbahnhof”. Then she asked him what line they were on and he replied “the orange one”. She looked at the metro maps above the doors and mumbled: “Metros, that’s a proper science. A proper science …”. Then, just when the man was about to point out to the lady where the metro was at that point, she discovered it and then they both happily pointed at the spot on the map where they just had arrived. “How did you know?”, she asked him and the kid chipped in “Because you read the name of the line before, didn’t you Grandpa!? It’s the 3 line, isn’t it?” Grandpa smiled and nodded. When I left the metro, two people standing around them were smiling, grandma thought it was a bit embarrassing how they behaved in the big city and said, with a bit of a humor in her voice “No, no … we go back to the countryside. We have the 1 and the 3 and that’s it. Metros … that’s a proper science.”

Organisational Culture

In the process of organising, the behaviour of employees needs to be coordinated and directed to maximise results.3 This involves a certain amount of trade-off by organisation members on all levels, as people must willingly surrender much of their individual flexibility and independence in order to attain both personal and organisational goals.4 In addition to guiding behaviour, goals motivate people to join and remain in organisations, stimulate effort and provide a benchmark for evaluation.5

In the great quest to meet formalised goals and objectives, however, it is all too easy for managers to forget the less rational social elements, such as the concept of organisational culture, which not only associate goals with deeper meanings6 but also determine individual and collective behaviour, ways of perceiving, thought patterns and values.7

McAleese, Hargie: Five guiding principles of culture management: A synthesis of best practice – Vol. 9, 2 155–170 – Journal of Communication Management.

Let’s see where that paper goes …

Gone Interrail-ing

train signal

(I’ve always been in love with the English way of making nouns out of verbs.)

So I’m off for the next couple of weeks to travel south, across Serbia and Bulgaria to Istanbul and then back up via Greece, Macedonia, the Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia and hopefully Bosnia-Hercegovina. I’ve been to none of the cities on this trip before, so I’m excited. Starting today at 8pm in Vienna with a night train to Belgrade.

Signals, Knowledge, ‘Ambient’ Learning


Ever since my first internship in an agency I’ve been thinking a lot about organizational learning. Knowledge management if you want. It’s a bit like the holy grail, or as Ehrenberg calls it, one of marketing’s ‘romantic fantasies’.

Knowledge management is the latest marketing mantra. It is unrealistic when we are mostly drowning in catadupes of undigested data.

What Ehrenberg talks about is generalizable, quantifiable laws of behavior. Over the course of his life, he has dedicated himself to finding these laws with marketing science, and promoting them. This, however, is not the knowledge I’m referring to here. It’s knowledge markting people and planners should have, but it’s static knowledge. You learn it and that’s pretty much it. Same is true for other findings about human behavior as derived for example by the behavioral economics folks.

What I’m more interested in, however, is dynamic knowledge about people, culture and society, and this is for a simple reason: this is the knowledge we use to mould ideas with. Pasteur once said that “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind”. The updated version of this quote, “Chance favors the connected mind” by Steven Johnson, refers to the same concept. Connections foster the exchange of knowledge, which is followed by new knowledge. In the business of coming up with ideas or ‘insights’, this applies as well. Creativity – as an outcome, the socially perceived trait of something – is a function of many individual, group and organizational traits (see e.g. Woodman et al 1993, Amabile 1998) and knowledge is an important factor.

But knowledge in what area? I’d argue that it is culture, and with the success of business books about collective behavior like the Chief Culture Officer by McCracken and Herd by Mark Earls and cultural ideas, like the Brand Innovation Manifesto by John Grant – I suppose I can spare you the argument.

So, we’re talking about cultural knowledge – knowledge about ideas and ideologies floating around, about human behavior being adopted, about social groups forming. While you could obviously argue that no one can be outside the realm of cultural knowledge, ‘culture’ is so vast and complex and fast that whenever you chose to look at one thing, you could be looking at something else as well. Therefor, dividing and conquering this task is essential. Often, this task is, as Rob Campbell doesn’t get tired to remind us, reading blogs and the newspaper, watching the telly and talking to good old normal people. With big data, network science and computing power available, there’s also more of a cultural science coming along, that’s a bit more sophisticated. Nevertheless, the challenge of knowledge exchange and sensemaking remains.

Simon Kendrick recently posted about a Dynamic Knowledge Creation Model on his blog. There, he describes the different forms of knowledges and the ways of exchanging them.
Dynamic Knowledge Creation Model

Routine knowledge (explicit to tacit) – learning by doing
Experiential knowledge (tacit to tacit) – judgement of individuals
Conceptual knowledge (tacit to explicit) – frameworks and models to utilise
Systemic knowledge (explicit to explicit) – editing and synthesising multiple sources

While I think that people are usually well trained in the conceptual and systemic sphere, often after practicing how to verbalize stuff hard at university, I think there could be better ways of sharing experiential knowledge. Sure, within and organization there can never be a 100% congruent body of knowledge. Sure, experiences as such can’t be properly shared anyways. Sure, knowledge exchange that require you to pick up and consciously reflect upon something (newsletters, RSS feeds) probably never work the way they are intended to, if they aren’t coupled to a concrete task. But I still think that something catering to low-involvement, low-attention in your environment could do a lot.

So what I’m thinking about goes more into the direction that Berg London (with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall) take with their concept of incidental media.

Each of the ideas in the film treat the surface as a focus, rather than the channel or the content delivered. Here, media includes messages from friends and social services, like foursquare or Twitter, and also more functional messages from companies or services like banks or airlines alongside large traditional big ‘M’ Media (like broadcast or news publishing).

All surfaces have access to connectivity. All surfaces are displays responsive to people, context, and timing. If any surface could show anything, would the loudest or the most polite win? Surfaces which show the smartest most relevant material in any given context will be the most warmly received.


We’ve drawn from great work from the likes of Chris O’Shea and his Hand from Above project to sketch something peripheral and ignorable, but still at scale. The installation could be played with by those having their colours stolen, but it doesn’t demand interaction. In fact I suspect it would succeed far more effectively for those viewing from afar with no agency over the system at all.

In contrast to a Minority Report future of aggressive messages competing for a conspicuously finite attention, these sketches show a landscape of ignorable surfaces capitalising on their context, timing and your history to quietly play and present in the corners of our lives.

Media surfaces: Incidental Media from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

This is not about the Minority Report-like social media control centers that are now starting to pop up. It’s rather about sharing a stream of pointers to implicit knowledge and experiences. About what happens before the team members consciously construct McCracken’s big board. Media that doesn’t need conscious elaboration but rather works in our peripheral vision feeding us proverbial weak signals. Think headlines from delicious bookmarks, foursquare checkins, tweets from people in the organisation, but shared not in a creepy ubiquitous way on your (first) screen, but embedded into office life. How could that look like? And would it help?

Amabile, T.M., 1998. How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76(5), p.76–87.
Bentley, A. & Earls, Mark, 2008. Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread. Admap, 43(499), pp.19-22.
Ehrenberg, A., 2002. Marketing: Are you really a realist? strategy+business, p.22–25.
Grant, J., 2006. Brand Innovation Manifesto: How to Build Brands, Redefine Markets and Defy Conventions 1st ed., John Wiley & Sons.
McCracken, G., 2009. Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation, Basic Books.
McCracken, G., 2006. Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace, Indiana Univ Pr.
Woodman, R.W., Sawyer, J.E. & Grifn, R.W., 1993. Toward a theory of organizational creativity. The Academy of Management Review, 18(2), p.293–321.

Approaches to ideas and a proposed metaphor

Problems are Opportunities

When you look at the big discourses in this industry – social media, design thinking, innovation, culture, storytelling, ‘digital’ – it is easy to see that there is a difference between how companies act and how proponents of certain perspectives want them to act. Not the ‘advertising is in crisis’ talk itself is new. Quite the contrary, the advertising and marketing industry needs the supposed failure of old approaches for new ones to be able to sell. It’s a lot like another cultural industry: fashion.

But then again, we have have made some advances in our understanding of people, culture and organizations. We now better than before that it’s very hard to predict which ideas and behaviors will spread in culture. It is still very hard to predict behavior, even with behavioral economics, big data and neuroscience, to name a few. Yes, we learned a great deal more about how things spread – hat tip to Mr. Earls and Bentley, but we don’t necessarily always understand why people do it, except for copying randomly. We are still far away from marketers’ wet dream – constructing memes on purpose that are a guaranteed hit.

As planners, this means we’re dealing with the certainty of uncertainty and we’re stuck with planning the un-plannable. But again, strictly speaking, this has always been the case. Communication was never the linear, mass-media bombardment, it is now portrayed as (Lazarsfeld et al.). What people did with media was always as important as what media did to people. We only know more about it now, we can see it unfolding live and we can analyse big data streams in real time. We really shouldn’t be surprised by people’s way of using media anymore. We shouldn’t be surprised by the unpredictability of success on a cultural level. But we still are, and marketing hasn’t adopted accordingly.

Push Button Hard 12-11-08

It’s not that there aren’t proposed solutions.

The very smart Neil Perkin for example has compiled a coherent body of thinking agile planning. He has shed some light on concepts such as agile budgeting, agile research and other ways of making companies more adaptive to change. You should read his very interesting deck here.
Made by Many are a very vocal agency in the agile camp and they have demonstrated their thinking and doing in a great presentation at Google FireStarters as well. Wieden + Kennedy have always said that they don’t have a formal planning process and that a lot of what they do is trial and error. Rob Campbell said they work with a chaos theory approach to culture, which – as a metaphor – is the closest you could get to reality anyways (culture is chaos). McKinsey, the strategy consultants, have written about this stuff in their quarterly extensively in 2002.

Likewise, Mark Earls has pushed thinking around collective behavior in marketing. A proposed solution there is to start a lot of fires to give many ideas the chance to picked up by culture. You’ve all read Herd, so no reasons to repeat anything here, but following this thought has huge implications for budgeting and (media) planning.

Building upon the same theme, Gareth Kay has put forward his thinking about small ideas. Small ideas, being released and adapted continuously together build your big idea (the brand).

But still, at least that’s what I get to hear talking with fellow planners and creatives, and what I get to experience inin my humble first steps in this industry, clients often don’t like lots of ideas. They’re perfectly happy with a few to select from, and one to go with. So what are the barriers that keep a more agile planning approach and a more thoughtful approach to getting ideas out there from being implemented on a larger scale? I’d suggest it’s two things.

The first one is marketing blaming controlling and finance for setting strict budgets. So there’s no room for deviation.

The second one might be the thought that a misguided experiment in communication can endanger a brand. This however, doesn’t get a lot of support by Ehrenberg’s research. Most of what advertising does is to keep people thinking about the brand (salience), and only a second level effect is building associations. Or, put differently, if a full-blown social media shitstorm isn’t guaranteed to damage your brand (and I have yet to see thoroughly researched examples of them doing this in FMCG), how can a ‘not successful’ brand experience / idea / experiment do that?

In the end, the barrier is the threat of less ROI or a marketing manager afraid of missing his quarterly goals. And who can blame them? Fear is a powerful inhibitor. Getting fired isn’t fun. So you go the safe way, and you’d rather have your TV commercial aired two or three times more than putting away some money for experiments. (You also select a big, decorated network agency, so just in case you can always say you chose ‘the best’. I mean, hey, they won Effies and Lions … just like everybody else in this business).

Harbor Crane

When I thought about all of this, it came to my mind that the marketing department really isn’t the only one with goals that are hard to reach. There’s procurement, pressured to get better stuff for a cheaper price. There’s finance, battling the Euro debt crisis and the odd exotic currency. There’s controlling and accounting, trying to fulfill legal demands while making stakeholders happy. There’s R&D trying to have a pipeline of short- and long-term projects. They all have to deal with uncertainty and they all have to demonstrate some reliability, a working baseline, while trying to reach their increasingly unrealistic goals. Marketing has this romantic believes though, as Ehrenberg called it, of sustained growth, brand differentiation, persuasive advertising and knowledge management.

So maybe marketing and brand management should take a look at these industries and steal the concept of hedging. It’s not like risk management or portfolios are new to marketing management. The BCG matrix of poor dogs, cash cows, question marks and stars is taught at every business school and definitely in use to manage brands. Fund managers at their bank have most probably talked with them about a portfolio strategy.

Hedging is a very simple concept, which means, in the strictest sense:

an investment position intended to offset potential losses that may be incurred by a companion investment

. It’s there to ‘insure oneself against loss’.

In finance it means that you construct a portfolio of investments that are related in a way that if one asset loses its value, another one gains value. In procurement you have options that assure you the delivery of a certain amount of e.g. coffee at a certain day for a certain price. So if the price rises, you have successfully hedged against that risk.

And what is done in communication and marketing most of the time? Overall, companies do have a portfolio of brands that they manage. But within a single brand, it’s often ‘micro-hedging’: ‘limiting’ risks within ideas, campaigns and concepts. Making a logo bigger, making a story or joke less complex, cutting away a few seconds there and showing the product a few seconds longer are essentially risk-reducing strategies at work at the one thing you afford to put out there. From what we think about how communication and culture works however, this isn’t really a very thought-through hedging strategy. The proper strategy would be to have different horses in the race, one picking up if another one lames.

Of course, it’s not like marketing departments only have ATL campaigns to manage, they have to manage everything from promotion to the odd sponsoring. And sure, these ideas have to be coherent. Ideas that have to be owned, developed, pitched and financed. Of course, the Brand Innovation Manifesto talks about a collection of coherent ideas, but it doesn’t talk so much about the function of these to actually spread risk.

The closest to this idea in other industries is probably the brilliant Grant McCracken who talks about brands as a complex adaptive system in Flock and Flow, and the need to have ideas ready for different points in the chaos – rigidity continuum. He explicitly covers this problem, when different people in the brand management team want to cover different parts of a cultural context with a campaign, say a mainstream vs. a more alternative/raw approach.

Some parties on the team want to draw on the A state [chaos state, niche, …], while others want to draw on C [established mainstream]. Too often, one objective interferes with the other. The flock and flow approach to branding says, in effect, “You’re both right. Have a play ready for each of the states on the [chaos-rigididy] continuum. Treat each of them as separate strategies. Take a coverage approach.”

So while brand management thinks it mitigates risk with ‘micro’ risk-management, it actually increases it, by publishing only one thing that most probably gets lost. Maybe brand management should consider portfolio planning for ideas, experiences and innovations and support the odd wild card. Maybe they should talk with the finance guys about hedging their bets.

Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, Hazel Gaudet (1944): The people’s choice: how the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign.

Mark Earls (2003): Advertising to the herd: how understanding our true nature challenges the ways we think about advertising and market research.

Mark Earls, Alex Bentley (2008): Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread. Admap.

Andrew Ehrenberg (2002): Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research.

Andrew Ehrenberg (2002): Marketing: Are You Really a Realist? strategy+business.

John Grant (2006): Brand Innovation Manifesto: How to Build Brands, Redefine Markets and Defy Conventions.

Grant McCracken (2006): Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace.