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In a world of less, how do you create more?

November 22, 2016

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BY JASON HARRISON, FOUNDING PARTNER: GROUP MANAGING DIRECTOR (CAPE TOWN & AFRICA)

NOVEMBER 01 2016 – Published in the Financial Mail

The world seems to have gone mad. A potent mix of politics, war and terrorism has left many economies in free fall, with disposable income tight for both consumers and the companies that want to sell them things. Even the global golden child of shareholder value, Apple, experienced a plateau in its results recently. CEOs are being forced to focus on the extreme near term when it comes to the decisions they make; a myopic view that has meant a macro focus on every business expense, especially marketing. So: in a world of less, how do you create more?

M&C Saatchi Abel’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought has a liberating purpose because it’s more than a discipline. It’s a test that forces exactitude or it annihilates. It accelerates failure when a cause is weak, and clarifies and strengthens a cause that is strong. If you want to create significant impact, here are three brutally simple focus areas to consider:

1.  Creativity is a decision

As our world trends towards a zero-sum game, with unlimited information at our disposal, strategies, tactics and thinking are becoming homogenous. We are comfortable dealing in increments. True innovation is rare. For this reason, great CEOs and marketers are those who recognise the power of creativity to make unprecedented leaps in solving complex problems. They’ve decided that creativity is a business advantage, to be relentlessly pursued.

One of our clients, Heidi Brauer, the CMO of Hollard, calls it “sprinkles”. It’s what allowed us to make a life insurance ad that made fun of a dead husband and garner disproportionate market share in the serious world of financial services.

Heineken, another of our clients, was given the Global Marketer of the Year award at Cannes for its belief in standout creativity and for its ability to change brand fortunes globally. Heineken talks about “squinting for greatness” when it comes to ideas and innovations, as a way to ensure the brand does not get lost along the way. Creativity is its stated advantage, even in a category in which global giants – like AB InBev – outspend everyone else 5 to 1.

These approaches, while differently nuanced, are paying off for both brands if you look at the most recent Sunday Times Top Brands Survey. Heineken is consistently challenging for the number one position and Hollard has moved from ninth to second in the short-term insurance category (though they’re not even in the Top 10 when it comes to media spend!).

Decide that creativity is powerful. Decide that creativity can solve things in unexpected ways.

2.  Big insights; not Big Data

Everyone is talking about “Big Data”. We’re positively swimming in the stuff. But, somehow, big data doesn’t seem to be getting anyone anywhere. So, while the boffins figure out what to do, let’s focus our attention on unlocking big insights, which boil down to two simple things:

1. Tapping into a deep and motivating understanding of the consumer’s cultural context. This comes from leaving the confines of the one-way-glass focus groups, packing away the Google-sourced desktop reports, and getting into the real world – like normal human beings.

2. A nice, juicy tension that you need (in other words your brand needs) to resolve with purpose and flair. How many “insights” have you seen that are just simple observations? If the insight is not making you excited about the possibility your brand can have in the consumer’s life, it’s not going to excite anyone else either. Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Distilling your unique big insight and getting excited by it is the modern-day equivalent of sharpening Lincoln’s axe.

A brilliant example of a big insight in action comes from the outdoor and adventure gear brand REI. On Black Friday, the biggest retail day in the USA, every company and brand gears up for the big sales. But the clever folks at REI understood that their consumers actually want to be outdoors, not indoors. In nature; not in malls. So REI decided to close all 143 of its national stores and encourage its consumers to #optoutside. When everyone was zigging, they zagged.

3.  Moments of impact, not integration

With so much media proliferation and consumer fragmentation it’s becoming almost impossible to get bang for a buck, so everyone chases the holy grail of “integration”.

The problem is that integration has fooled us into doing lots more, very superficially. It has made customer acquisition expensive and the results variable. The truth is we are ticking a lot of boxes, out of guilt and fear and to appease a diverse set of internal stakeholders. The time has come to be brave. To actively decide what we are NOT going to do.

There is an old fable about a lady travelling across India. She came across a man carving the most beautiful wooden elephants. Stopping to watch his work, she asked him how he created such beauty out of pieces of wood. He replied, “I take this sharp knife, and I take this block of wood, and I simply carve away everything that is NOT an elephant.”

Bottom line? It’s not about all of the available options. It’s about the three that are going to exert the most significant impact on a tight consumer journey – while (or perhaps by) surprising and delighting those taking it. Then, it’s about doing unexpected and world-class work in those few clearly defined spaces. I believe the effect will be disproportionate.

So, let’s agree to stop talking about integrated touchpoints and to start talking about moments of impact. Let’s change something fundamentally, rather than superficially. Instead of doing more, let’s do less.

The big take-out: To create significant impact remember that: creativity is a decision; Big Insights, not Big Data, are the Holy Grail; and moments of impact, not integration, should be the goal.

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