Brand vs Channels: Playing the frame game
When it comes to the creation of a brand, there is little doubt that the brand is not built with advertising but is built through PR as per Al and Laura Ries in their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. They continue to point out that advertising is best used to maintain the brand over time and prevent erosion. The essential idea behind this is that each channel has its own strengths and as marketers we risk being negligent if we use a channel in a manner that is ineffective.
A truly successful brand finds a new category and creates something that the world has not seen before. In the book ZAG Marty Neumeier calls it radical differentiation. By creating a new category, a product has the advantage of occupying that select new space in the mind of a consumer and creating a new frame of reference. To credibly get in that space, the perceived objectivity of PR is required to establish a beachhead. Once in that space, the continual presence of advertising can be used to reinforce and enhance the construct.
In a recent meeting where we were considering creative ideas one of my coworkers stated that they knew that at CP+B an idea must have the potential to blow the roof off of PR for it be considered a decent idea. There is a recognition that in building a brand (or rebuilding one in BK’s case) you can’t use advertising alone. Based on tweets out of SXSW (via @armano) Alex Bogusky was clear that they “were not giant fans of advertising”.
What about the other channels we have access to? If the future of marketing is about transmedia, what are up against and how can we deploy those channels most effectively?
To set the stage I want to look at cognitive science where there is the concept of framing. It is a theory about the way we encode and respond to our environment. We create a frame around a situation and this frame represents our understanding of how the situation will exist, who will be involved, probable outcomes, and the meaning of each element encoded in that frame. These frames are continuously reinforced as we experience multiple instances of those environmental situations. For example, we all have a frame that corresponds to dining out. Every time we visit a restaurant, that frame is reinforced by the presence of waiters, food, drink, fellow diners, etc.
When we encounter a significant variation to that frame we have two choices: to accept the variation and reframe or to deny the variation and maintain our existing frame. It takes much more work to reframe than it does to deny the variation. And in order for the new frame to stay enriched, it needs to have continual reinforcement.
Our single biggest challenge in marketing is this frame. We are either trying to create a new one (radical differentiation) or we are trying to expand an existing one (a brand extension or a new player in an existing category). In both cases we are up against mental inertia and the ease of denial.
Of course there are exceptions to these general statements – in certain cohorts with a propensity to accept the new and different that frame change can be less difficult. In most cases though we are dealing with a significant challenge. That is why we need to deploy channels in a coherent and coordinated manner that exploits their strengths. Critical to enabling the reframe is delivering the catalytic message in as many relevant contexts as possible over a certain time period. And each channel is better at a different part of the reframing process
From what I have seen, PR is best to start that reframe process by using credible sources to establish a beachhead. Advertising then steps in to support by reinforcing the catalytic message through many mass touchpoints so that the initial frame receives continual incremental reinforcement. Direct response channels (and I include part of digital here) are great at activating behaviours that enable the consumer to physically engage in the new frame. Social media then acts as the ‘social proof’ of the new frame and closes the credibility loop started by PR.
“It states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.”
I want to focus on social media for the remainder of the post as it currently is the darling of the evangelists. In the model presented above it is how you hang onto a brands’ credible position in the collective conscience of the community. If Twitter is ‘social proprioception’, social media as an aggregate plays the inverse role: the collective minds all aware of the brand frame and establishing shared credibility through their interactions.
Clients are taking a cautious approach to the use of the new channel. A recent Forrester report showed that most marketers are budgeting less than $100,000 for social media efforts over the next year. And rightly so; it is still relatively untested and measurement is still more of an art than science. That money is largely coming from experimental budgets. Making effective use of new channels in a way that maximizes their strengths requires a good understanding of those strengths. That understanding is best created using a test and learn experimental approach. The same report also shows that 53% of those same marketers expect to increase spending – meaning that once they learn about it, they can deploy it.
We as a community need to collectively take a deep breath and stop over-evangelizing social media. It is an important part of the marketing mix, but it is and will only ever be a part. In a transmedia universe where we are working to reframe there is no de facto dominant channel or silver bullet. Each channel can have a central role or a supporting role depending on marketing objectives. We would be smarter if we stopped skewing channel centric – remember, that is what mortally wounded advertising to begin with. As Robert Tas posted about media today:
“Planners and buyers, however, usually specialize in one medium. Unfortunately, this results in agency departments working in disparate silos…on plans for the same client”
He goes on to say we need a genuinely integrated solution. We truly need a real transmedia option. Paul McEnany reinforces the point in his post on Social Media Myopia:
“Which is partly why I’m so taken by transmedia planning, and why I don’t consider it just a new branding technique, but the central consideration for the ad industry to not just survive year after year, but thrive through a media landscape that will look much different in 5 years.”
The ultimate acknowledgement of the reality of how we should look at channel use comes from Steve Woodruff in his post on The Disappearance of “Social Media”:
“…social media will simply be…life. Just as it is for many of the teens who have known no different. I wasn’t in the session, but apparently Charlene Li alluded to social media becoming like the air that surrounds us. Exactly… We won’t be talking about “social media” for long, I predict. We’ll simply live in a global networked community.”
I hope we won’t be talking about any dominant channel for long. A networked marketing ecosystem that uses channels based on strengths and that surrounds our consumers needs to be our common goal. This ‘surround’ is the ultimate reframing tool and the key to winning the brand game.
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