Have you ever felt like you are participating in a brand strategic or tactical planning process that lacks real meaning or that the pitch you are working on is going in the wrong direction? I have.
I am sure we all have. And why does this happen? Habitual behaviour, that’s the answer. “Let’s conduct a SWOT”, “let’s run an ad board”, “let’s get case studies”. Sometimes these statements may be right, sometimes they are wrong, but the thing that concerns me is that they often flow out of our collective mouths and pens without any real consideration of why we are doing them and if they are necessary. When this happens, we are following habits.
Habit. It’s a funny old thing. From a psychology perspective, habit can be a thing of wonder – a short cut to efficient decision making – based upon millions and billions of sub-conscious experiences that are processed, categorised and assigned template responses. At a high level, it means we have “gut feelings” (or what we perceive to be intuition), which help us navigate complex situations. In more basic terms, it means we don’t have to read entire sentences – we read a fraction of the words and our brains impose meaning and structure in the gaps. But what habit also means is acting in a customary way i.e. following the norms of your group(s), and this can become quite dangerous when the group is large, hierarchical and conservative.
So how do we manage the risk of dangerous habits negatively impacting work efficiency? Do we need to have regular “thought showers”, brainstorm with one foot in a box of sand or tear up all the templates and dance on their disseminated parts? Perhaps not. But the Aurora approach is to occasionally press pause and ask “why are we approaching this challenge in this way?” Are we following the right business habit, or are we simply being like one of Zoologist Konrad Lorenz’s geese?
Looking at the communications planning process will help to put some more meat on to the bones of this suggestion. Below are some of the planning habits we’d typically follow:
- Defining brand essence. Does it really matter that we think our product is, “ a caring, charismatic and natural leader” to the audiences who are going to use it? Wouldn’t our customers want to know something with a bit more meaning and relevance to their world? Is artificially imposing some human characteristics on an inanimate object really going to make a commercial difference for the organisation we support? Or in considering brand essence, is the question we are really asking ourselves, “are we truly clear on the features of the product and service, how it responds to the needs of the market and are we communicating about it consistently and with belief?” If the answer is no, then of course we need to determine our product’s benefits, a consistent vocabulary for communicating it and ensure our internal teams support and proliferate this.
- Establishing value propositions. Are our value propositions so inwardly focused that they are, in effect, a re-stipulation of the core features and benefits of our products? Or have we considered the unmet needs in the market associated with how and when our products are used, and what expertise we have to address these needs? Would the market value our support and do we know what format this should take?
- Deciding on market shaping. Is the technology or service that we are introducing to the market so revolutionary and requires such a mindset shift that we really need to invest time and effort to “market shape”? Are we talking about something like the Sinclair C5 – the future of eco-friendly commuter travel that failed in 1985 because it was a product that arrived at market before people really saw the need for it? Or are we focusing our effort in the wrong place? Honestly appraising our product/technology and how people respond to the concept it embodies will tell us if we need to market shape or not, and how long this is going to take.
- Segmenting the market. Have we applied a crude analysis to the market based upon some data we have bought in from a data warehouse, meaning that our segments are, at best, a crude approximation to reality? Or have we visited customers, listened to what they have to say, considered the environmental/political/processes affecting the way they work and how they commission services/buy products? Have we looked at their previous history and behaviour and understood why they acted in the ways they did? Do we really know their barriers to adopting our product?
In the pharmaceutical sector, these kinds of considerations are probably most pertinent for a product that is about to launch or is drastically failing to realise its potential. Conducting such analyses are vital in these circumstances but will only make a meaningful difference if they are conducted with the right mind set and not because we’re following marketing habits. If the template doesn’t work, change it. If you’re simply filling in boxes because you feel you have to, ask yourself why. And if you’d like to discuss your communications planning, give the Aurora team a call; we don’t do goose.