Media Perspective: We should be about changing behaviour, not just attitudes

This is the smartest thing I've read all year: "I think if you set out to build a great business, you'll stand a fair chance of building a great brand. I am not equally confident that someone aspiring to build a great brand will build a great business."

Who said it? Rory Sutherland on his Campaign blog. You do read that, don't you? You should. That's distilled to a couple of elegant sentences a whole slew of thoughts I've had slopping around my head for ages.

He makes this point in a piece suggesting, somewhat mischievously, that agencies should maybe forget about reinventing themselves around digital and put sales promotion at their heart instead. He suggests they should stop trying to change attitudes in order to change behaviour, and should move directly to changing behaviour.

As a strategist (ooh, get me, "strategist"), I always think of this as deciding to ask the question "what should we do?", rather than answering the traditional communications question about "what should we say?" Asking what should we say always gets the creatives reaching for the layout pad and the storyboard. Also, asking the question what should we do actually forces people to think.

The luxury of concentrating on "building the brand" and letting someone else worry about the rest was only ever confined to a few big London agencies anyway, and perhaps those days are numbered.

Although Sutherland wasn't necessarily talking about the web, he did help me realise one of the things that I find frustrating about so many brand websites. They're not about doing, they're about saying; they're part of the marketing, not part of the business. They're products of businesses being unable to fully commit to a web-based world and running digital marketing off to one side, somewhere that doesn't connect to the technology underpinning what they do.

I think of all those endless microsites as the "MarketingWeb": a large collection of gorgeous, entertaining, imaginative visually dynamic websites, only ever seen in boardrooms and awards ceremonies. It sits alongside the dull, practical, text-driven, real web that people actually use, the one full of shopping baskets, search-bars and chat. Because, let's face it, the web's pretty much finished now. It's done. We know what it's going to look like, how it's going to work, how big the words should be, where the links should go. We don't need to reinvent that stuff, we need to do something good with it. So the question for brands should not be how do we use this tool to drive people to our message (or some such nonsense) but how do we use this to make our business better?

That's what agencies, digital or otherwise, should be thinking about: not "what do we say with the web?", but "what do we do with it?"


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