Opinion

Building cultural credibility: a new marketing manifesto

Former top marketer at Sony Playstation UK, Geoff Glendenning knows a thing or two about marketing a culturally credible brand. He believes the industry is at risk of putting analytics ahead of impactful ideas. Here, he submits a call to arms.

Geoff Glendenning is currently brand culture and integration consultant at The Brand Lodge
Geoff Glendenning is currently brand culture and integration consultant at The Brand Lodge

2015 was a significant year in marketing. Articles started to appear regularly in the media about how the ‘intrusion’ model was broken - ranging from the FT , Ad Age , Sunday Times, and Campaign to Seth Godin speaking at TED. The message was the same: change is needed because consumers are ignoring or blocking advertising more than ever, and after a ‘gold rush’ decade of Social Media it’s time to take a step back and be honest about what is and isn’t working.

Brands at risk of becoming social (media) pariahs

Social Media offers an incredible opportunity for brands to produce engaging and entertaining content. But many fail to fully exploit these personal spaces by jumping ‘lemming-like’ on to Social Media with a sense of necessity rather than a well considered strategy. It is a content bombardment more concerned with the quantity than quality: a strategy to simply keep posting content that has resulted in ‘white noise’ and a disengaged audience.

Mostly consumers appear to have little interest in anything that many brands put out across social media. You only have to look at the numbers of likes or follows compared to the number of shares, re-tweets and favourites to realise this. It looks good on paper as long as the measurement is the ‘follows’ or page ‘likes’, rather than a qualitative assessment of the ongoing engagement.

Avoiding genetically modified campaigns

One of the problems is that the ‘geeks have taken over the asylum’. The essence of great marketing, which is to tell compelling brand stories, has become shadowed by the analytics. Many agencies have become so obsessed with digital that the older creative teams, with the experience and skills to craft great stories, are often laid off to be replaced with teams that deliver genetically modified campaigns i.e. it looks like marketing, smells like marketing but for some reason the audience is avoiding it.

It looks like marketing, smells like marketing but for some reason the audience is avoiding it

In particular it should be easy to build cultural credibility through marketing with lifestyle brands. These are the brands by which consumers actively define their interests and values. But it only works if the tone and cultural association is authentic.

To achieve this I believe it is essential to have the right ‘connected’ people working in-house to build relationships among the core influencers at the heart of that culture, namely the individuals, tribes, companies, organisations and media. Not by being a ‘faceless’ corporation. This activity must be supported by integrated communications where the core message/story runs smoothly and connects across all activity.

The value of cultural knowledge

I first realised the value of a ‘culture’ knowledge when I was part of the management team who launched Playstation; where my earlier experience of working in advertising agencies, which had created my cynicism towards a reliance on mass media, plus a genuine passion for games since I was a kid, and the fact that I’d been part of the late 80’s/early 90’s club culture phenomenon, aligned at a perfectly timed moment to help Playstation capture the zeitgeist.

Although this was twenty years ago, how we came from nowhere, built the brand and eclipsed the competition is worth considering and, arguably, even more relevant now.

We gave Playstation a more ‘edgy’ personality and built credibility at the heart of youth culture

Our UK strategy was globally unique within Sony. The competition: Sega and Nintendo, were synonymous with gaming, but their core target audience was 10-14 year old boys, and it was clear that a similar positioning in this market would not sustain three major players.  So we positioned the Playstation brand to an 18-30 year old market with a more ‘edgy’ personality and built credibility at the heart of youth culture.

What differentiated us from our competition, technology and games aside, was the tone, attitude and core brand activity which was conceived and managed mainly in-house. Notably, less than 5% of the annual £12m marketing budget was spent on this because it was normal, expected and accepted that the majority of a budget had to be spent on advertising as a traditional approach to brand building and to support retail distribution. However, with a lot of ‘legwork’ this small amount of money delivered an unprecedented ROI compared to traditional mass media.

Entering a new era of client/agency relationships

I’ve always championed that the brand custodian and vision should be driven from the client side, but in many cases I’d suggest it is the advertising agency group with their acquired digital, PR and experiential agencies, rather than from the client side. Many groups are positioned to offer true integration, but only if they don’t have separate profit and loss and if the internal processes are changed: planning, creative, media and all the other agencies within the group need to work more collaboratively from the moment a brief is received.

Planners need to be more creative and creatives need to be more strategic, with cross-departmental and agency synergy, incorporating all marketing communications, so that a truly strategic and media neutral position can be achieved with the best solutions delivered.

Planners need to be more creative and creatives need to be more strategic

There is an amazing opportunity for agencies and clients to work together to forge a new era in the way we build brands and do business. But it has been a long and reluctant transition because big advertising spend supports many industries, in particular the TV industry, and perhaps unless ITC regulations are relaxed to make it easier for brands and agencies to become publishers of entertainment, rather than just advertisers, then the quality of original programmes will continue to decline, and the last thing we want is more reality shows, repeats and ‘freakumentaries’.

We need to go back to the essence of telling great brand stories, not just with transparency and authenticity, but with an understanding of how these messages will run across a huge and diverse range of channels with a long term vision of strategic consistency.

A new marketing manifesto is needed and here’s a start:

  1. Build authentic brand credibility by supporting culture, not hijacking it.

  2. Have a long-term business vision within specific cultural areas, rather than employing short term marketing opportunism. This often changes when the marketing director moves on.

  3. Brands and agencies should have in-house cultural teams who are connected and understand the language of their audience..

  4. Build facilities, amenities, skate parks, youth clubs and mentor programs. Develop initiatives that will benefit communities. Support and nurture young talented and creative people. Great content and brand messages will come from all of these.

  5. Do some ‘good’ and make a difference to people’s lives.

  6. Drive better synergy across agency groups and improve the in-house integrated skillsets.

  7. Agencies need to improve their processes to deliver media-neutral fully integrated brand stories across all touch-points with early cross-department inclusion and collaboration.

  8. Generate content that is engaging & entertaining so that it will be promoted and shared, don’t just put content out for the sake of it.

  9. Develop better qualitative measurement tools to justify activity that creates ‘movements’ and change.

  10. Start spending bigger production budgets again on the sort of advertising and content people will love and share, and less on ‘paid for’ media.