I was asked to explain what I mean when I say, as I often do, “We are not in the business of demand creation.” I usually go on to say, “We leave that job up to the big agencies” who seem on occasion to quite successfully create demand for products regardless of their actual quality. Both the agencies and the companies that pay them seem happy to continue with this process, even though the questions to me may indicate some concerns with the status quo. The fact remains: the boat loads of money spent to sell Budweiser, for example, still do the job of selling millions of gallons of the stuff profitably, regardless of the quality of the actual product.
What I was being asked for was insight into the way we do things as an interactive boutique that would be of use to a very large agency. I suspect there is almost nothing I can say that will fit the bill.
Pull (which is what we do) is so much less expensive than push, and yet the habit of push in the world of branding and advertising is still very strong. Demand creation seeks to create desire. Branding, as we understand it, seeks instead to satisfy existing needs. In demand creation the ultimate quality of the product is often secondary to the power of the marketing effort that pushes it out. In our conception of branding, the power comes directly from the organization and its products and services. By telling the true story of these things they should almost sell themselves, generating referrals, buzz and PR, not because they are advertised a lot, but because they are truly good and when people find truly good things they spread the word.
It is no secret that the universal mass media barrage as a method for demand creation and establishing a brand has gone the way of the advertising jingle. Media channels and markets have become increasingly diverse and only the largest players can push out hard enough to make a dent in the collective consciousness. We argue that they should not have to and that it is much better to get your story straight and tell that it only to the audience that is ready to listen.
If I think about my own media consumption, I have in place habits and technology that act as a pretty effective anti-push defense shield. For my part, if I don’t seek it out, very little gets the opportunity to occupy even the narrowest slice in my awareness. At the same time, when I need something and I go out looking, I am invariably exposed to brands that argue for what I am considering and what the brand tells me about the organization or the products and services do become an important factor informing my decision. I never take the brand message at face value though, and I know I am not alone in this. I seek third party verification of the brand message. With this slight extra effort, the veil of push brand communications is easy to lift, and if what they are saying about themselves is not really the case, this can be found out pretty easily.
A prospect, now client, was surprised when I said in our first meeting that we will not take a client with a crappy product or service. This fact is fundamental to our contention that a brand, in order to be powerful, must be true. The power resides in the actual quality of the delivered product or service, not the power of the marketing concept that may be driving sales.
For us, the paramount objective is to make the messaging and communications materials match the lived experience of the brand. This is A LOT easier than what big agencies have to do with a Budweiser or a Verizon.
Our job is usually one of research, insight and then repair. We repair the broken links between what is offered and how this is perceived in the mind of the brand consumer. We do this building on our own insights and those gained from the sales and management personnel of the organization itself. Our research does not have a heavy reliance on third party market research. This makes our work very analytical, almost psychoanalytical. The danger of research conducted outside the realm of the organization itself is that it can lead to a tailoring of the presented organizational personality to match conditions of outside demand. This is OK at the product level, but never at the organizational brand level. For an organizational brand this is unhealthy and unproductive.
So we never tell the company, “you have to become this thing (that you are not), because this is what the market dictates”. If the ad agencies who facilitate the creation of brands and advertising also had the power to resolve matters of organizational essence this would be ok, but they do not and never will. So the byproduct of consumer or market-driven branding rather than truth-driven branding is exaggeration, half truths or lies. Products or services can and should be modified to meet demand. Brands should never be modified to meet demand unless the company is truly able to make the changes in itself so that the modified brand can also be true.
When BP decided to go “beyond petroleum” they needed to do a lot more than change their logo. They needed to fundamentally change the nature of their organization. Not surprisingly this never happened and, as I have written, this lead to a branding disaster when the true organizational self spilled out into the public consciousness as the oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico. In Q2 2010 BP reported a 17.1 billion dollar loss.
We hold that you have to be what you say you are in fundamental and meaningful ways, and that a brand must derive from this. If this is done and your service or products are of the quality you espouse, the circle will be complete. The referral will lead to the sale. The pitch will be convincing to those who actually need and will appreciate it. Client/consumer and employee loyalty will be created. This is what we mean by branding and why we are not in the business of demand creation.