If you’re familiar with Ecclesiastes 1:9 you’ll already know ‘there’s nothing new under the sun.’ This is perhaps truer of advertising than any other business.
We marketers have developed a bad habit of running towards a ‘shiny new object’: media neutrality; branded content; big data; VR/AR – and now the Metaverse.
Another game-changer getting us all giddy is contextual advertising. It was heavily featured in ‘trends to watch’ pieces at the turn of the year…and the year before that…and the year before that.
But isn’t contextual advertising just the same as placing a Volvo ad featuring someone playing golf in web content or magazines about the sport?
The first problem with falling over ourselves to implement so-called innovations is that more often than not they aren’t new and have therefore been tried before.
The second problem is that it wrenches focus away from genuine creative innovation as we gather around the latest plaything instead. We become trend followers rather than creative leaders. Much of our creative energy and capacity to develop new ideas goes to waste.
The third problem comes when the wagons move on. Far from exploring in full the latest big idea, we get so distracted when a new one appears that we instantly cover the concept with dust created by the race to the next horizon.
Flitting between fads is as mentally exhausting as it is strategically unsound. The reason we do it is a collective lack of self-confidence in how to get the shiny new object to work properly so we can delight customers.
Instead, we strangle real innovation, fail to take risks, and crank out creative that leaves target audiences in a dreaded ‘meh’ mindset.
Scale up to solve the problem
It comes down to this. Would your brand be better securing 110% ROI, or risking it all to get 500%?
Innovation is all about taking risks, and that makes some organisations uncomfortable. They opt to ditch the disruptive and clutch at the generic. A cycle ensues where consumers fail to engage and a new agency is hired, only to be ditched and replaced as the boardroom instructs the CMO to ‘do better.’
Breaking these habits of stalled innovation and reaching for ROI without the necessary outputs isn’t as complicated as it might appear. The answer lies in scaling up your creative.
Before you tell me your budget’s stayed the same or been reduced, consider also the real need to deliver content across fragmented touchpoints. There’s no choice but to stretch those budgets and the assets they deliver to engage as many of your customers as possible: ads in regional and local media; versioning for niche audiences using different social media platforms.
Agencies must bite the bullet and take risks to keep their clients. Scaling up means brands can afford to place bigger creative bets. A/B creative testing is an efficient way to find the next big thing that is relevant to your brand so you can build your future marketing strategy around it.
This means setting up ecosystems to automate the creative process, placing a stream of smart ‘small bets’ that help you to find the next big idea. It’s a strategy that boosts creativity without encountering great risk, so there’s no need for endless revisions to one major piece of work.
Stepping up your output means each creative bet you place shouldn’t bust your budgets, and will allow you to take bigger risks to discover what’s really going to make an impact. Instead of wagering all on one TV ad for your Christmas campaign, you can test 10 and pinpoint which one will perform best.
Making creative risk your best friend
The traditional cycle of hiring and firing that brands and agencies experience is a death dance we can all avoid through closer collaboration.
Brands’ side of the bargain is to let agencies get on and do this, but ensuring it’s tied to meaningful creative KPIs – just as media and performance agencies are subjected to their own metrics. No one should do marketing just for the sake of it, or rather for the sake of the shiny new object. Investing in brand is still ultimately about securing sales and must always be measured.
So, scaling up your marketing assets minimises risk and empowers creativity. Your best creative minds can try out whatever ideas they pluck from the ether without having umpteen stakeholders smother their brainchild.
It’s impossible to predict what the next big thing will be, or whether it will truly be brand new. One thing’s for sure: if you don’t try to find it by increasing your assets – producing more of them, better and faster – and taking calculated risks, it will remain out of your grasp forever.
Henric Larssen is group CEO and founder of creative and tech company Edisen.