Adam Morton of UM: why brands need big ideas not short-term tactics

A lot has been written, including by yours truly, about advertisers focusing on short-term tactical goals and ROI rather than long-term brand building.

One element of short-term marketing thinking is the over-focus on ROI, an efficiency rather than effectiveness metric. This in turn, results in a channel first approach, as marketing managers look to make micro-adjustments to the individual media within their campaigns to eke out immediate and incremental improvement. Attention is centred on improving what’s gone before.

And that’s a problem. Advertising at its best is about delivering big, dramatic business shifts. Huge, channel-agnostic ideas that make a vast, sometimes even industry-changing difference.

Yes, of course those ideas and activities need to be underpinned by analytics and insight. But a lot of advertisers have seemingly forgotten the importance of ‘fame’ in driving business success. They need to identify the key moments for their audience and leverage them with a big creative push.

The brief you want vs. the brief you require

I’ve seen instances where client briefs also show this seeming disconnect. Marketers write the brief they think they need or that they want to write – all about big ideas, innovation and industry firsts. However, in truth what they want is more channel-based micro-thinking. So, as you move through the process their bravery subsides, replaced by the need to demonstrate instant improvements in ROI.

Advertising has become increasingly agile, with greater and faster access to data. Therefore, clients and agencies need to prepare and adapt to the shifting world around them. This has resulted in heightened numbers of briefs and swifter response times. However, this can further exacerbate the issue as less emphasis is put on long-term strategy, while the time required to generate big creative ideas is suppressed.

What moves your audience?

More marketers (and, for that matter, ad agencies) should be prepared to push back at those short-term approaches and ask the bigger questions. Do we understand the categories of growth? What are the insights we’ve unearthed about the audience? What is likely to move them in the moments that matter? We need to get the balance between optimisation and exploration right, to truly make a difference.

Doing so will help agencies win business. There needs to be an understanding that in many instances the tools and technology that were once competitive advantage are now hygiene factors. Proprietary data and technology now have to be truly exceptional to make a difference.

We’ve even heard about some pitch processes being dull and repetitive, producing a conveyor belt of repetitive responses lacking in imagination. To stand out, agencies need to match incomparable data-driven insights and optimised activity with creativity that transcends channel.

Inspiration, not perspiration

Among some agencies, the thinking and behavioural economics that they eagerly apply to consumer audiences is often forgotten when it comes to clients. The people on the other side of the meeting room table are human beings too, who need to be moved and motivated. We need to stir the emotions as well as provide rationale arguments.

And they’re not the only ones.

If agencies want to recruit and maintain the best and brightest, they’ll have to offer opportunities that allow their creative talents to shine. Otherwise they will go where they have the best chance to express themselves. Big ideas and genuinely innovative concepts engage both agency-side and client-side employees.

So come on, advertisers and ad agencies. Don’t get stuck in that swirling cycle of individual channels and short-term KPIs. If we don’t think big, who else is going to?

Adam Morton is managing partner, client services at media agency UM.

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