A view from Sue Unerman

How's your pace-layering going?

During a recent, relatively painful pitch process, one of the clients confided in me that they had used a "bullshit bingo" card to help them...

"Programmatic" scored highly, of course, and I would guess that "pace of change is breathtaking" would be on there too.

Change is now a constant. But stuff doesn’t always change at the same pace, even in one person. Think about people you know. You’ll have someone in your circle of acquaintances who should have changed their appearance to match their maturity (got a haircut or evolved out of trainers) and hasn’t necessarily.

Take buildings. Shearing layers is a concept invented by the architect Frank Duffy to explain the several layers of change in any building. You may be sitting in an office now where the building itself was constructed generations ago. The bricks and mortar are solid, expensive to build and hard to change. Your desk, on the other hand, is much newer – the office environment has been designed for purpose in the past decade. Since I started in media, walls have come down all over the place, hot-desking has ebbed and flowed in fashionability and the desks, should you be allocated one at all, have shrunk significantly in size. Media has changed, offices have changed. The buildings we sit in – perhaps not so much.

The pace of change for an organisation or a brand can and does operate at different speeds, as far as each of the layers of the entity is concerned.

In some ways, this is reassuring for media and marketing. If you can be clear about which parts of your business are the metaphorical walls and need to remain consistent and which parts are the furniture that need to adapt to the zeitgeist, then life becomes simpler. You don’t need to destabilise your foundations in order to be agile enough to maintain the pace of change that competition now demands. But you do have to be ruthless about ripping up heritage practices that prevent agility. Different layers require a different pace of change.

What is the essence of your brand? You mess with those values at your peril. Adding greenwash or bandwagon meaning to a brand without a real fit is a waste of time and resource. Ensure that what you do matches what you say.

I agree with Chris Chalk, who writes that truth drives perception and the art of spin is redundant. I wrote in 2012 that the consumer is now an expert who knows everything and can find out more in seconds on their smartphone. The future of communications is truth and authenticity and walking that walk. By all means present the best side of your brand to the consumer, but don’t expect to pull the wool over their eyes or disguise practices that you would rather not talk about.

If your brand can count contemporary relevance or democratised sharing as part of its essence, then it is essential now to demonstrate this in real time in your brand communications. On the other hand, the pace of change can and should be slower for brands mired in tradition and continuity – but this doesn’t mean that they don’t need a switch in media, such as from static outdoor to digital out-of-home or some dynamic personalised ad placement.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom