When more than 200 participants gathered to take marketing's temperature at BrandMAX last week, it fell to that ignorer of the rule book, Nike, to define what 'brand maximisation' really means.
Its global football brand communications director, Ed Elworthy, told delegates that when Nike's 'Write the future' campaign managed to hijack attention from official sponsor Adidas at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it was a simple case of 'brand maximising'.
Indeed, breaking rules, while mindful of the bigger business picture, were the lessons of this summit, held in association with JWT and Ebiquity. It was an event peppered with 'b' words: marketers were urged to be bold (by Nike, Tourism Queensland, and Yeo Valley), embrace the power of the big idea (by Gatorade) and view the brand as part of the bigger business picture (by BMW).
The multiple challenges set out by BrandMAX may seem mammoth, but were neatly summed up by Michael Kassan, chief executive at MediaLink, who explained how the '70/20/2010' rule should be applied to brand management (see Theme 2 box, below).
That final 10% should be about 'trusting your instincts to throw (caution to) the wall'.
FROM THE PODIUM - SEARCHING QUESTIONS; REVEALING ANSWERS
Question to Andy Street, managing director, John Lewis Partnership: Is John Lewis in danger of being out-schmaltzed by Sainsbury's?
No, there has to be that emotional connection. We are not after schmaltz with our campaigns; we are after genuine emotional responses.
If that were all we were going for, then we would have failed. There are seminal moments in people's lives, from buying your first house to having your first child, that connect John Lewis with its fans.
Question to Richard Hudson, marketing director, BMW: With less than a year to go until the Olympics, what benefits are you seeing from being a sponsor?
You can get drunk on the Olympics; it is like getting into an exclusive club. You can end up spending a lot of money on the things that LOCOG would like you to sponsor, but you have to be focused.
The Olympics is going to boost our brand image. It is going to boost our business performance, because we're going to incentivise our dealers, and come up with special-edition cars.
It is going to boost our corporate reputation. You also don't want to peak too early. The trick is timing your activity when you know people will be engaged.
What do I want to get out of it? I want people to reassess BMW, think 'they are good guys'. (The chairman of LOCOG) Seb Coe wants it to be the most sustainable Games yet, and we have been voted the most-sustainable brand by Dow Jones seven years running. I bet no one knows that, so let's get that message out.
Question to Michael Kassan, chairman, MediaLink: Diageo has just entered directly into a deal with Facebook.
Do you think it is a good idea for marketers to go direct to platform?
The biggest success on Facebook is Facebook. Those 750m people belong to Facebook, not to the fan pages.
There is an opportunity for companies such as Diageo, and others, however, to make those deals where they are sharing information and resources directly.
Having an agency background, I shudder to use the word 'disintermediation', but I think it's a morphing of the relationship. When you do have those direct relationships, stewarding and understanding in a broader base is still required. I think the constituents around the table will still include the brand advisers, because there will need to be someone honest in the room. Yes, I think there is a value, but is there a role for agencies? I say yes.
Question to Steve McRoberts, executive director marketing, Tourism Queensland: How do you think you can top the success of the 'Greatest Job in the World' campaign?
We might not have received the same publicity with 'Million-dollar memo', but we've put $6m into this campaign, as we know businesses like to reward their staff. We identified an insight that people were losing confidence in their company, in their 'vision'.
The 'memo' was ideal for any company to engage staff (with Tourism Queensland vouchers). In Asia it has been very big. The company that won it in Indonesia has now committed to launch brands in Queensland.
'The golden age of brand marketing is about to hit us' - Guy Hayward JWT
'The gut is mightier than the focus group' - Ed Elworthy Nike
'Fail fast. It's OK to make mistakes, as long as they are rectified quickly' - Michael Kassan MediaLink
'Trust your instincts and be brave, not just with the creative, but also with media buying' - Alison Sudbury Yeo Valley
THEME 1. GUT INSTINCT VERSUS RESEARCH
It was David Ogilvy who, in the 60s, noted an 'increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgement ... relying too much on research ... as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination'.
Even now, few topics polarise marketers more than the use of research in brand and creative development. Ed Elworthy, global football brand communications director at Nike, is firmly in the Ogilvy camp, characterising the debate as 'gut-feel versus research'.
For Nike, the role of research is 'very simple: to create the context in which we create communications ... what our audience is interested in and what motivates them'.
That's when creative intuition takes over, however, with Elworthy dismissing the notion that Nike would ever 'abdicate responsibility' to a focus group for creative judgement. 'I'd lose my job if I did that,' he said.
'The gut is mightier than the focus group.'
To prove that sound-bite, delegates were shown Nike's 2006 World Cup poster depicting Wayne Rooney daubed in blood-red paint, bellowing a war cry.
'It would have bombed in research,' noted Elworthy.
Creative development is one thing, but research's role in the bigger business picture was less of a moot point at BrandMAX. BMW, with its two important audiences of dealerships and consumers, is happy to be less 'gut' and more research-oriented.
It sets great store by testing advertising's impact on brand perception and using research to motivate its car dealers - examples of what Richard Hudson, marketing director at BMW, called 'research that has an application'.
Hudson warned brands that they need to ensure research 'steers the business', using data such as cost per lead, cost per sale and cost per lost sale married with evidence that a brand is 'achieving a certain awareness on advertising per spend'. BMW monitors its brand strength against competitors every three months, through which Hudson can see 'a direct link between the advertising and the brand monitor ... so I know that the advertising works and has an impact on the brand perception'.
Proof that advertising delivers? That is the kind of research of which Ogilvy - who also argued that marketers that ignore such research are 'as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals' - would no doubt approve.
THEME 2. RISK-TAKING
Risk and experimentation in marketing communications was one of the key themes to emerge at the BrandMAX summit. Michael Kassan, chairman and chief executive of consultancy MediaLink, said at the start of the event that brands should learn from Silicon Valley: 'fail fast', rectify it, and move on quickly.
'It's OK to make mistakes as long as they are rectified quickly. It's just another way to recognise how not to do something,' he said. He discussed the '70/20/2010' theory that marketers should invest 70% of their time using tried-and-tested methods, 20% should be spent on innovation, and 10% should be experimentation.
It was a theory that was picked up throughout the event, with Gurmej Bahia, director of global customer marketing at Expedia, saying that having an in-house analytics team has allowed them to 'test, measure and learn', giving them a 'competitive edge'.
Alison Sudbury, brand manger at Yeo Valley, said that marketers should take risks and 'be brave' not only in their creative, but in their media buying strategy. Mel Exon, managing partner at Bartle Bogle Hegarty and BBH Labs, the agency behind the yoghurt brand's 'Yeo Valley rap' campaign, also touched on this theme, adding that marketers should not be afraid to be 'bold, contagious and playful' in their creative.
THEME 3. TECHNOLOGY
Brands should embrace technology as a utility integrated in consumers' lives and must 'keep pace or die', said Michael Kassan, chairman and chief executive of MediaLink.
Kassan identified social TV as an area for brands to tap into. About 80% of tablet owners use their tablet while watching TV, while 78% of smartphone owners use their handset when watching TV, according to Nielsen.
Betting companies have employed dual-screen strategies by using TV ads to prompt punters to bet on live sporting events.
Heineken is one of the first major brands to invest heavily in this area. The beer brand's StarPlayer football game, which is activated during Champions League matches, enables people to compete by predicting the action.
Kassan thinks that social TV is still an area of unfulfilled potential for brands to engage with an audience in an innovative way, however.
He left the BrandMAX delegates with this thought: 'The future may be unknown, but what is known is that the digital consumer will always be right.'