Building Trust

Would you trust a pharmaceutical brand with your life?

These are interesting times. The speed with which the threat of COVID-19 has swept the world has made the issue of our health —as individuals, societies and nations—our number one preoccupation. 

We are in the unusual situation where we face an unknown threat and our only way to manage it is through trial and error. Where once we looked to the experts for a definitive answer, we now realise they are learning along with the rest of us. 

But it’s because of this lack of certainty, rather than in spite of it, that trust in medical scientists is more important than ever. We are being called upon to trust in their advice, trust that they will come up with the right answers and trust that any ensuing medical response will be effective. Pharmaceutical companies are also in the difficult position of having to marry promise to pragmatism. While individuals and governments clamour for answers, these brands understand that there will be no immediate solution. In the meantime, in the absence of solutions, they will need to find other ways to sustain trust; how they do that will have long-term ramifications for their brands, far beyond what COVID-19 holds. 

Now might be a prime moment for a pharma brand needing to build consumer confidence to step forward and prove its mettle

The evolution of trust 

The first challenge is that the global populace has become less trusting overall. There was a time when we trusted the establishment, when the voice of the BBC was sacred, for example. Today, there is scepticism. We have lost our trust in government and other authorities, for a variety of reasons, leaving people unsure where to place their confidence. Often, it’s brands that have taken over where the voice of authority has failed. In fact, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 41% of people agree that brands have better ideas for solving problems than the government. Pharmaceutical companies used to enjoy a level of unequivocal trust. The ‘white coat’ prevailed – the advice from the scientist in the Colgate advert was accepted without question. We still trust Anadin to do what it says on the box, but even our trust in pharma brands is not now without its caveats. 

How do brands earn trust? 

The way we think about brands is not dissimilar to how we think about people. Factors that earn our trust in them should, therefore, not surprise us. Brands we trust tend to be: 

  1. Those that are on our wavelength. Brands can be like familiar friends, they can relate to our needs, empathise with our perspective and tell us what we want to hear.
  2. Brands that tell the truth and are true to their word (even when we’re not looking). They have earned our trust by consistently delivering against their promises and not letting us down.
  3. The brands trusted by those we trust. If a good friend, valued expert (a doctor perhaps) or impartial observer whose opinions we value trust it we are more easily persuaded.
  4. Those over which we can exercise control should they fail to deliver (the promise of a money-back guarantee, the power to refer or maybe seek redress from a higher authority, etc.)

Pharma brands during a pandemic 

With the UK in lockdown and the establishment showing the strain, an anxious public is keener than ever to discover and hold firm to who and what it can trust. Now might be a prime moment, then, for a pharma brand needing to build consumer confidence, to step forward and prove its mettle. It would certainly appear that some have done just that, such as by spontaneously volunteering to turn their labs and resources to testing for COVID-19 and prioritising research into possible cures. 

But words must be followed through with commensurate actions if such acts of apparent altruism are not to trigger the consumers’ now finely honed scepticism nerve. How exactly is the firm helping and how consistently is it behaving across the rest of its business dealings? With the power of the internet and a surfeit of time for sceptical minds, there really is nowhere to hide–transparency is not only critical but inevitable and failure to deliver against public promises will not only be held to account, but could jeopardise future trust. 

The right communications are now more critical than ever, even the geniality (and not just the credibility) of the experts chosen and cited by pharma brands will have a part to play in building perceptions of the brand’s bearing and trustworthiness. There is also the challenge of being artful in communicating appropriately to those with different interests, without appearing disingenuous when these appear contradictory.

Playing on different wavelengths, while maintaining everyone’s trust, can be challenging at times – such as reconciling the imperative for complete transparency against the assurance of absolute confidentiality. Ultimately, this will be the litmus test for pharma brands that have been assiduously gathering and jealously guarding customer data. Who will have access to it? How will they use it? Can they be trusted to safeguard it? Brands in the sector might also consider aligning their goals at a time like this. It is when rivals link arms and behave in a truly open and honourable way, working towards the same goal, that the world sees how much they genuinely care about making a difference. 

The transition from masters of chemistry to
processors of data 

In the not so distant future we will all be using smart wearable devices that can track not only body movement, temperature and heartbeat, but blood pressure, oxygen and glucose levels. They may even track markers of an existing medical condition, in real time, with the accumulated data combined with personal information (such as bodyweight and family medical history) to create a detailed profile which, aggregated across a database of millions of other users, not only tracks our current health, but anticipates our potential future health profile. 

Drug dosages will be personalised to our precise biological needs, with reminders to take them and prompts about side effects. New supplies of medicines (in personalised dosages) will be ordered automatically – perhaps in customised polypills, containing several medications in one capsule. Geo-positioning and access to our emails, social media feeds and diary, will also enable them to anticipate our medical needs – as well as alerting us if we enter a location where a medical risk is anticipated (while providing advice on how to protect ourselves). 

These new technologies will massively improve the effectiveness of medications, as well as reducing waste (in the UK, unused drugs worth an estimated £150 million are thrown away each year, in the US the figure is nearer $2 billion); over time the wearable device is likely to become a lifelong embedded microchip and personalised medications will be 3D printed and machine dispensed. Best of all, many potential conditions will be avoided altogether. 

The challenge for pharmaceutical brands, however, is that they must undergo a radical transformation from being trusted as masters of chemistry, to processors of data. Although we have, over many years, come to trust them with molecules, the industry has yet to earn our confidence in treasuring our private information – the digital imprint of our life.

In the here and now, COVID-19 is all about maintaining confidence while the industry powers up to find a solution. But then as it gathers more and more information about its consumers and works to provide deeply personalised treatments, consumer trust will be built on the whole package, the company’s legitimate need to hold data, what it does with that information and in whose interests those actions are. 

First published in Pharma Times, magazine, May 2020  
(Keith Lucas writing as Strategy Partner, Superunion) 

The Emperor’s New Clothes

mallWho can fail to be touched by the withering into extinction of the great British high street and, to a lesser extent, its anodyne successor the shopping mall? Retailers are closing-down and shops are being boarded-up as ever more of us choose to do our shopping online.

And it is not that difficult to see why. Online shopping, for most of us, is a lot more convenient, it is quicker, cheaper and offers far wider choice without having to leave the comfort of our own home. This is particularly the case for products that are bought on specification (electrical goods, cameras, computer equipment, etc.) where it is easy to research and read reliable reviews before buying exactly the right product at a considerable saving over a retail store. Few of us would miss the ‘personal service’ that surrounds the purchase of such products which, to be honest, usually amounts to some spotty youth reciting a sales script before trying to flog you a product protection insurance you don’t need.

Sadly, it was only a matter of time before the likes of Comet and Jessops were squeezed out of existence. Q1But what about the other sectors coming under pressure, in particular, what about clothing? Surely few could have predicted that so many of us would be buying clothes online to the extent that we now are? After all we need to try clothes on, to check the fit, the colour, the fabric? Yet the market for some online clothing retailers has been booming (not just the Asos phenomenon, but the rise of niche players like Coggles, Boden, Joules, etc. as well as the online offerings from high street retailers), it seems that more of us than expected are willing to take the risk and order clothes before actually seeing or trying them first.

closingIt might have been an inevitability waiting to happen, but the growth of this market points to something more than passive acceptance. It suggests a degree of discontentment with the former retail offering which is better satisfied by the new online providers. Perhaps high street retailers have hastened the revolution by failing to offer what their customers were looking for, giving their online competitors important footholds in their markets? So what exactly have they been getting wrong? Three things: choice, service and trust.

Firstly, choice. The British high street lost its individuality years ago, 80% of shops are chains selling identical merchandise everywhere (most of which they now also sell online). But a more insidious reason why the choice on the high street is rather predictable, is that retailers are inherently risk averse. They seem more interested in looking over their shoulder at what their competitors are doing than looking ahead at what the customer wants. So, if an item appears to be selling well in store A, store B (its key competitor) is desperate to have exactly the same item, rather than taking a risk on a different item the customer might actually prefer. The exceptions are the more visionary and innovative retailers who know what they stand for and how to engage their audience (Primark, Majestic, Poundland and John Lewis spring to mind) as well as the specialist independent retailers run by knowledgeable entrepreneurs, who know their customers’ needs and use their expertise to source merchandise that cannot be found in the chains. Although they are lamentably rare in the UK these days, some are now setting-up online where they can reach a wider, if less personal, audience.

Secondly, service. With a few exceptions, notably John Lewis (again), most UK retailers have become woefully slow and unwilling to help customers. Ironically, these days if the size/colour combination you want is not available in store most retailers will suggest you order it from their website rather than going to the trouble of getting it in for you. Even the former national post-Christmas of queuing for a refund at M&S has become a guilt-inducing ordeal with much tutting and shaking of heads before a refund will be conceded. Is it any surprise that John Lewis is bucking the retail trend, its loyal and satisfied customers keep coming back almost entirely because of the superior service they receive.

Thirdly, trust. With a few exceptions (notably John Lewis, yet again), we simply don’t trust retailers that much anymore. Do we really believe that suit was ever priced at £525 before it was marked down to £399, before being slashed to £249 and finally £199 in the ‘Blue Cross’ clearance sale? Would the store own-up if they knew that the chinos they were selling so cheaply were being churned-out by a sweat shop in Asia? And when we see ‘Bond Street’ or ‘Saville Row’ on a label why are we not entirely surprised to find, on closer inspection, a concealed tag confessing ‘Made in India’ (or some other location miles from London)?

shirtsWell, the web-based retailers ought to have an easy lead with the first point and there is certainly a lot more choice available online. But look more closely and you would be forgiven for thinking that the UK retailers who have set-up online seem to have taken their conservative me-too mindset with them, because they just seem to offer a bigger variety of the same things. Take men’s clothing and smart work shirts in particular. They are fairly regular, staple purchase, easy enough to browse on a website and most men know their collar size and sleeve length, making them an ideal product to buy online. The rise of online shirt merchants such as Charles Tyrwhitt, T.M. Lewin, Hawes & Curtiss, (et al) are testimony to this. But peruse their initially-impressive arrays of merchandise and it is hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu. Whatever one offers, they all offer. Where are the distinctive products, the fresh ideas, where is the innovation? It need not all be pseudo Paul Smith edgy, but must it all be so pseudo M&S bland? Part of the defence from such would-be genteel brands is their desire to maintain longstanding appeal built on classical British understatement, conservative taste, discretion and so on. But really, are they not all offering undifferentiated substitutes for one another? Have they not, in fact, created a commodity market for themselves where price becomes the primary differentiator (3 for £60 or 4 for £90?).

With respect to the second point, service, despite their remoteness, most online clothing retailers leave their their high street counterparts in the dark ages with hassle-free returns, refunds and helpful online assistance. This is where the bricks and mortar retailers ought to have the upper hand. But it is, for the most part, an opportunity missed.

Finally, integrity. Once again, this ought to be an area in which the high street retailer should shine. It doesn’t, but, frankly, neither do the online operations that we were just looking at. For example, they all offer a wide range of shirts all of which seem to be permanently reduced from £75-£85 to £25-£30. In one example, a newly introduced design for this season (see inset – and, yes, this brand new ‘slim fit blue dogtooth’ really is about as innovative as it gets) has, supposedly, been launched with a price tag of £85. No sooner has the stock arrived and it is slashed to £29, or you can have 4 for £90 (which, based on its make-believe starting price, is practically a buy 1 get 3 free deal). But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, they are probably worth £85 aren’t they? After all, that is what you might expect to pay for a genuine Jermyn Street shirt isn’t it?
JermynAnd these are genuine Jermyn Street shirts after all, the website says so, the label says so and they have a store in Jermyn Street. Well, the basic cut and construction of the shirt are, apparently, based on traditional designs (as, to be fair, are those in most shops), but the shirts are, allegedly (it is all rather hush, hush) made in places as far from Jermyn Street as Turkey, India, China and Vietnam. Not that we necessarily mind that much, especially if it keep the price affordable, but surely honesty is the basis of trust (ask John Lewis!).

Given that the target market for these products is supposed to be well-educated professional men, how long will they go along peddling the pretence? Probably until a better proposition comes along to displace it.

Q2Perhaps if the high street hadn’t opened the door with its complacency, online retailers might not have stolen so much of their market – particularly the clothing market, which no one would have predicted a decade ago. But just as their predecessors’ introspection, lack of vision and inability to engage and inspire customers sealed their fate, is there not a risk that the same attitudes could, unchecked, yet come back to haunt the online generation?




Apple Worship

Bishop_CookePity Richard Dawkins. As if it were not hard enough to persuade the world not to worship a supernatural God, a large part of it seems to be enraptured by artificial ones. These man-made, virtual gods, intangible yet curiously powerful, are what we call brands.

If, as it has been popularly claimed by various recent studies, ‘brands are the new religion’, then Apple has probably come closer than most in generating a neo-religious sense of affiliation, devotion and expectation from its admirers. Its iconic products are displayed, like glorious artefacts, in glittering retail cathedrals throughout the world. The brand’s deification has come through the unswerving adoration and worship of its users, whose little white ear buds are worn with pride, like symbols of commitment. Apple does, after all, offer life changing experiences: iPod changed the way the world listened to music, iPhone revolutionised the global smart phone market while iPad carved-out a huge new category all of its own. Devoted followers watch, spellbound, as each new product launch reveals ‘incredible, ground-breaking innovations’ and ‘awesome performance enhancements’ before setting-off on their next pilgrimage, where they will wait in-line for hours to be among the first blessed with the latest product by the Apple priest or, rather, ‘Genius’. Of course, I am exaggerating, slightly, to make a point, but it can look strangely ritualistic to the uninitiated. The truth is, when a brand starts to emulate what we might traditional call ‘religion’, it transitions from being a product to a lifestyle choice and what it says about you matters more than what its products do for you. Are you in or out? Do you get it or not? Believer or agnostic? Have you ‘seen the light’?  AW_q1

As more established religions have found to their cost, problems can arise when faith is blind. When believers forget (or perhaps never really understood) what, or why, they believe; icons become more important than meanings and reasoned commitment gives way to unquestioning dogma. Then, when a crack appears in the brand’s seemingly infallible facade (say, an underwhelming product or a bad service experience), it would initially be met with denial from the believer (too much trust has been invested, there must be some mistake) countered by self-righteous glee from the unbeliever (always looking for an excuse to puncture the illusion). Unchecked rumours spread, discontentment gains momentum and denial turns into disillusionment. Thanks to the wonders of social media, that tipping point can come more quickly than ever. Apple’s recent Google Maps fiasco was a taste of such behavioural dynamics.

When a brand like Apple generates a devoted neo-religious following it might do well to learn from longstanding experts in the field. For example, if it were to ensure that its followers genuinely understood its credo and articles of faith (let us call them brand definition and guiding principles), they might be less likely to stray, disillusioned, when their brand’s omnipotence wobbles from time-to-time (which it inevitably will – it is, after all, only man-made pretender). We all need the arguments on which to base our rational judgements, even if they are merely to justify the irrational ones we have already made. We need to appreciate what a brand can and, more importantly, what it cannot do. This is, after all, the essence of what sets it apart and makes it unique from any of its potential competitors. Yet Apple currently offers nothing more than a vague allusion to ‘detail-orientation’, ‘creativity’ and ‘simplicity’ (which, incidentally, it buries it in the recruitment section of its global website). Maybe it thinks a formal declaration of principles would feel countercultural or unfashionably restrictive? Or maybe the universally-appealing spirit of Apple is so well understood it need not be articulated? My guess is that Apple has never really thought seriously about its brand strategy, let alone its status as a quasi world religion, because there appear to be some diverging theologies emerging, as attempts to define Apple’s core values seems leave experts floundering in contradiction. Some claim, for instance, that the essence of the Apple brand is “innovation”, others insist it is “usability”, some say it is about being “friendly and approachable” or “design-led”, still others suggest it is about being “the ultimate” even “indispensable”. No doubt some wag will claim that the essence of Apple is about being “Reassuring Expensive”, unfortunately that line has already been spent. While many of these perceptions may be correct, they cannot all be equally correct or we will be left with an vaguely-defined, amorphous catch-all – hardly the makings of a robust brand, let alone a lasting deity!
AW_q2But it was not always thus. There was a time when Apple boldly claimed to “Think Different” and its followers adored the vibrant, revolutionary, anti-establishment approach of the brand. Being an Apple-user (or, more particularly, a Mac-user) meant joining an alternative tribe of ‘enlightened’ geeks and designers, who cooed over the operating system, drooled over the aesthetics and would sooner have than swallowed their perspex mouse whole than regress back to ‘Windoze’. Their unwavering belief was based on a fundamental understanding of what Apple was about, and they understood it as intimately as its Californian creators. Today, though vastly out-numbered and out-spent by the majority of Apple-users, they remain the most committed and loyal followers. It is they who will still be there after a shinier new god has charmed away the newbies. Importantly, they know why they are there and, as long as Apple stays true to itself, they too will stay true.

But is Apple staying true to itself? If it were, you might think it would cherish and reward these committed, long-standing users and encourage them to evangelise the Apple brand (like a car owners’ club, a university alumni group or even a retail loyalty programme)? Unfortunately, Apple seems to have become so preoccupied with commercial expansion that it has forgotten the importance of maintaining brand values and customer advocacy. Despite its reticence in declaring what its brand actually stands for, it seems to have had no problem declaring who its brand should be targeting commercially, it is what it calls the ‘post-PC generation’. In other words, Apple now intends to focus on creating accessible devices for the masses, many of whom have never used a computer, and perhaps never will. There are, after all, considerably fewer geeks and designers than potential Apple-struck consumers in the world and fewer still willing to bear the fulsome price-tags and ever-shorter replacement cycles needed to keep the brand’s share price rolling heavenward. Even so, it is tantamount to announcing that anyone who owns a high-spec Mac is Apple history. Would it be so difficult to maintain a foothold in its former heartland while continuing its mission to domination global handheld devices? It seems that Apple’s inability to focus on more than a couple of tasks at once is becoming a major handicap (perhaps it needs a few more female leaders in Cupertino?).

It would be ironic to see the cracks of disappointment appearing first among the enlightened and dedicated few who can actually see beyond Apple’s glossy modern facade. Regrettable? Yes. Unavoidable? Hardly. Could it be that Apple has become so hell-bent on chasing dollars that it has forgotten its spiritual values? Maybe its slogan “Think Different” (which, incidentally, it has not used for over ten years) should now be “Think Dollars”?

Still, the world’s richest company, led by the world best-paid directors, must surely know what it’s doing? Well you would think so, wouldn’t you? The trouble is, power can be intoxicating and before you know it you can start to believe that you really can make up your own rules and walk on water… the illusion of infallibility usually ends in tears though, as Sony, Palm, Nokia, Blackberry, et al. will bear witness.

In conclusion, few would argue that Apple has skilfully produced raft after raft of glorious products. Its brand has, consequently, been propelled to heady peaks that transcend anything that Apple might have planned. For all its product development skills, though, Apple seems to have little grip on the neo-religious zeal that has grown-up around its brand nor on the potential liability that it represents.AW_q3

With due respect to Prof. Dawkins, as long as Apple enjoys its current cult status, there seems little point in proclaiming that there is probably no God. And, with due respect to Apple, the day it actually believes it is God is the day its sense of reality has flown and its ignominious fall from grace begins.

Chocolate Bars and Law Firms

“We are proud of our professional reputation,
but we’re a law firm not a chocolate bar, we don’t have a brand”

ImageDoes this line of defence sound familiar? Such sentiments have often been used by lawyers against so-called ‘branding experts’. To be honest, it is entirely understandable given that lawyers are trained to distrust things that seem to be emotional, superficial and unquantifiable. Which is what brands are isn’t it?

Well, that really depends on who is defining them. In essence, a brand is simply ‘a promise of what to expect’. In most respects, we process them intellectually much as we do personalities (which is why, when a brand is personified, such as in the Apple versus PC commercials or with real life characters like Richard Branson or Paul Smith, they snap into focus much more easily). The way they present themselves to the world, via their appearance, their verbal communications and behavioural characteristics, promises certain expectations. When people pay little or no attention to the impressions they make on those around them they risk being misunderstood, overlooked, disliked or avoided. So it is with a brand whose impressions on its audiences are not being adequately managed.

ImageImagine, if you dare, the senior partner turning-up for a client meeting in the same suit he wore shortly after he became a partner in 1998 (the last time he thought seriously about his image), he fails to spot the client cringing at the frayed cuffs on his stripy shirt or his worn-out shoes or wincing at his bushy sideburns and bouffant 90’s hairstyle. His speech is peppered with hackneyed industry clichés and legalese, occasionally interspersed with contemporary comments, self-consciously delivered in an affected manner. Worse still, he has, unwittingly, developed a distracting tick which has become so familiar to those around him that only new acquaintances really notice it any more.

Ridiculous maybe, but how will you know whether your brand, or ‘corporate personality’ was creating a similarly out-of-touch impression if you are not managing it carefully? When was the last time you systematically reviewed your firm’s corporate personality, considered how well your firm communicates with its audiences, assessed how it is positioned in clients’ minds or evaluated the relevance of its tone of voice? Does it say ‘new’ things just for effect or do they sound natural and genuine? Has your brand developed some annoyed little habits? (mailings, events, perhaps even vernacular?) Is it possible that your brand might be lodged in a fading 1998 time warp? Remember, also, that your corporate personality lives, not in your business development department, but in the minds of your audiences.

ImageThe legal profession is characterised by a high level of personal interaction and every individual in the firm has a part to play in living the firm’s values and reinforcing the ‘promise of what to expect’.

Just as brands are like people, so people are like brands; their reputation goes before them, setting expectations which will, ideally, be born-out by first impressions and fulfilled as relationships grow.

Most successful lawyers tend to be conspicuously good at managing their own ‘personal’ brand, playing to their strengths to build client relationships. But, however conscious they are of their own personal values and characteristics, they tend to leave their firm’s values to evolve passively with little serious consideration. These values, good or bad, become embodied into the firm’s culture and, so, shape its de facto brand personality. For example, if you were told that, in the next room were three IP lawyers all offering predominantly similar services, one from Slaughter and May, one from Farrers and one from Olswang, how many seconds do you think it might take you to correctly identify who was from which firm? You might also hazard a guess as to which was likely to be the most and least expensive, the fastest turnaround, the nicest people to work with? The point being that each of these three firms has a distinctive corporate personality, or brand, which lives in the mind and defines our expectations of it and, by association, those who represent it.

ImageRecalling that imaginary partner for a moment, few would deny that his demeanour would compromise the reputation of just about any firm, even without any specific, quantifiable measures to prove it. Most would agree that he would fall short of the threshold for acceptable professional behaviour and still further short of the standards expected from a ‘prestigious and trusted law firm. It is an instinctive response to human behaviour, it just feels ‘wrong’. But what if the roles were reversed and the brand was the guilty party, compromising the professional reputation of the individuals representing it? Moreover, what if the discrepancy were less marked and needed to be studied more carefully to be appreciated?

Unfortunately, however compelling the case may be, the legal sector has been one of the least receptive to the notion of brand management (unless, of course, it relates to the IP of a client organisation – whose chocolate bar brand, for example, requires legal protection). Perhaps it is because law firms have become used to working in a conservative, risk-averse, personality-led world that so many law firms still remain sceptical. And yet, it could be argued that there has never been a time when law firms have been in such acute need of clear branding to signify a clear, differentiated promise in the mind of a potential client. The legal marketplace has become uncomfortably competitive, winning business has become tougher and it is harder than ever to stand-out from other, similarly-eligible (and equally-hungry), firms jostling for attention. Mergers and acquisitions are accelerating and clients are increasingly calling the shots. How do they choose from the dizzying array of seemingly-identical offerings? Increasingly, by reputation, corporate personality, or, for want of a better word, brand. And the case for developing a more sophisticated approach to brand management is growing ever stronger. First, because quick, easy access to knowledge and legal databases are commoditising some legal services, making it easier for certain routine legal tasks to be simplified, eroding the competitive advantage traditionally held by the more reputable firms; this leaves price and brand as the key differentiators. Second, and more importantly, the introduction of the Legal Services Act has set the stage for non-legal brands to leverage their well-managed reputations and goodwill to offer legal services in direct competition with traditional law firms. Now, a client who currently uses, say, UBS, HSBC or Goldman Sachs, could, theoretically, buy legal and financial services from the same trusted brand. Similarly, brands like McKinsey, Coutts, Sotheby’s, Savills, and a host of other well-known brands acting in adjacent sectors, could start to steal the attention of future clients who might be tempted to trust their promises more those of a traditional law firm.

ImageHow to compete? Develop a great brand for your firm. Great brands depend on three factors: distinctiveness, relevance and consistency.

  1. If your brand is not distinctive it will not stand-out and be heard above the noise in an increasingly crowded marketplace. This is not easy in an environment where your intellectual product is relatively similar to your competitors’. It is the strength of the promise that you offer and the credibility with you you say it that will enable you to stand out (for want of a better cliché: ‘it’s not what you do, but the way that you do it, that gets results’. Just as Virgin and BA will both fly you from London to New York, in Boeing 747 aircraft, at similar times and in similar comfort, for similar amounts of money, each has a distinctive appeal which engages with a different type of customer)
  2. It goes without saying that if your brand is not genuinely relevant to the needs of your market it will fade into oblivion. Remember that being relevant means reflecting the changing needs of clients, what seems relevant today may not be tomorrow. For example, are you expected to be in tune with the latest technology (VoIP conferencing, cloud-based file sharing, presentations on tablets, etc.), do clients expect a more global perspective? (affiliates in global locations, familiarity with international legal practices) are you offering the right remuneration options? (fixed project fees, success-related contracts, or traditional hourly rates, etc.).
  3. Consistency is vital. Could you trust someone who kept contradicting themselves or regularly behaved out of character in certain environments? How then can a client be expected to remain loyal and committed if your firm’s communications speak with a different voice in different places? Might it not seem a little disconcerting if the look and feel of your website was at odds with your annual report and practice brochures, your receptionist sounded like she belonged with neither and the impression gained when arriving for a meeting at your offices was different again; meanwhile, your staff remain oblivious to any of it?

A great brand stands for something compelling and memorable and offers clear, differentiated reasons for choosing your firm. It generates loyalty, raises expectations and adds goodwill and intangible asset value to your firm.

Image

However weak or strong, distinctive or diffused, every law firm, like every chocolate bar, has a brand. The question is not whether it exists, but what are you doing to manage it? And if you are not managing it who is? Could your competitors by stealing your place in the client’s mind?


Finally, remember that brand reputations are relative; market leaders of today can look anachronistic when the rules change (remember how insuperable the Sony Walkman looked before the arrival of the iPod?). The rules for the legal market have changed.
The stage is set. May the best brands win.


Luxury Swiss Watches: Is innovation shifting from technology to brand?

When we hear “made in Switzerland” a host of images spring to mind, among the most prominent is likely to be a classical Swiss watch. Not just any watch, a superior, high-quality, mechanical watch. Explore a little deeper and we enter a world of luxury, privilege and sophistication. Brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex, Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Zenith shimmer alluringly in our minds.
A recent international survey ranked Switzerland highest in the world as a country of origin associated with quality (ahead of Japan and Germany). Another study showed that consumers all over the world strongly associated Swiss products with ”high quality”, “reliability” and “luxury”. But, curiously, the same people also rated Swiss poorly when it came to “price competitiveness” and “innovation”. For the luxury watch industry, “price competitiveness” hardly matters, after all pricing is always relative and when your competitors are also Swiss the collective impact can actually be quite positive as it reinforces the cost of entry and perceived prestige of ownership. But what about innovation? It seems that many iconic Swiss watch brands seem to regard innovation as a core strength, they proclaim it in their advertising, on their websites, in their brochures and through their spokespeople. Here, for example, are some quotes from three luxury watch brochures:
“…ground breaking technological development that provides better long-term accuracy”
“…a new chapter of horological history for a new millennium”
“…futuristic, daring, high-tech and cutting edge… superior technical solutions”

It would appear then that there is either a growing anomaly between what the industry wants its audiences to think and what their audiences actually believe, or the Swiss national brand no longer reflects the industry with which it has been intrinsically-linked for the last two-and-a-half centuries.
Interestingly, there was a time, a few generations ago, when there would have been no such discrepancy. Watches might be regarded as the first high-tech gadgets in history and Switzerland‘s burgeoning watch brands lead the world in technical innovation. The development curve for the mechanical watch design actually began in the 18th century and by 1800 most of the cleverest innovations (including the chronograph, the self-winding mechanism and, most notably, the tourbillon) had already been invented, with Breguet, the premium-priced technological leader, firmly positioned as the Apple of its generation. By the end of the 19th century most of the major watch brands had established themselves and their biggest challenge was to manufacture these high-tech gadgets in ever greater numbers and at more affordable prices to meet growing international demand. It was in so doing that Switzerland’s legendary watch-making was consolidated and, as its products reached wider audiences, they had a profound and lasting effect on the national reputation. It would not be unfair to say that for much of the last century the basic architecture of the mechanical watch has remained largely unchanged. There have, of course, been significant advances made in the manufacturing processes (finer tolerances providing more consistent quality) and in the application of new high-performance materials, but these are comparatively minor to the average consumer most of whom have long given-up on the Swiss watch for daily timekeeping anyway and for whom a Swiss watch is primarily a luxury accessory.

As if to prove the point, a recent advertisement for the Cartier Santos (the wristwatch created by Cartier for the early aviator Santos-Dumont) simply takes the headline: “Since 1904”. Ironically, you could purchase the same timepiece used by Santos-Dumont to time his record-breaking 21-second flight from the airport boutique before you jet-off on a 14 hour flight across the globe!

It was, of course, the arrival of the quartz watch in the 1970s that changed everything. In terms of scientific innovation the world had moved-on and, by rational analysis, the Swiss watch industry suddenly looked about as outmoded as the record player would look on the arrival of the CD a decade later. But, for similar reasons, its appeal was re-born. It was no longer a rational product to be assessed scientifically, rather it became a subjectively-satisfying product with which buyers connect emotionally, creatively, intuitively. The luxury Swiss watch was reborn as an exquisite, hand-crafted indulgence whose functional capabilities are patently not the primary motivation for purchase. It is, today, a lovingly-crafted piece of functioning jewellery, an object of fascination and desire.

From a scientific/technological perspective, it is fair to say that the gadget innovation baton has now been seized by Japan and the USA (the national brands that rank highest in public perception for ‘innovation’). Products like Seiko’s revolutionary ‘Eco-drive‘ and ‘Ananto‘ and Citizen’s ‘Kinetic‘ models have accelerated the performance expectations of the wristwatch into a new dimension. But then, their customers’ motivations are as different from the Swiss luxury watch buyer as those of the latest Panasonic digital audio system’s are from the specialist hi-fi chosen by the audiophile buyer.

As with any market, it is vital that the brand owners understand their customers’ motivation. Clarity of positioning is essential and, with the best will in the world, no amount of window dressing about cutting edge technology is going to sell a piece of precious time-keeping jewellery even to the most technically-minded customer. While even the very finest Swiss watch mechanisms have now been eclipsed by newer technologies, this is immaterial to the appeal of the brands whose beautifully crafted products and breathtaking intricacy continue to enchant their privileged owners.

It is the brand promise and pride of ownership that will increasingly enable Swiss luxury watch brands to stand-out and thrive in the luxury marketplace. Their ability to deliver a distinctive, relevant and consistent experience will maintain their appeal and customer loyalty over time. It may well be that the key to future success in the luxury watch business will be ever less associated with the mechanism and ‘technology’ within the watch and increasingly with the sense of style, finish, quality of materials and personality that the watch exemplifies as a luxury accessory.

Although it might sound like contentious sacrilege today, is there really any reason why we should not, in future, see a luxury Swiss watch brand with a Seiko ‘Ananta’ or Citizen ‘Kinetic’ mechanism concealed within its stylish gold case? Just as Aston Martin has been dipping its toe in the water with its Cygnet concept car (a genuine Aston Martin luxury experience beneath which is a mechanically unmodified Toyota iQ city car), perhaps the future direction for all luxury brands will be to define, own and express their own authentic, emotional brand experience. Then, to determine the best way to deliver this via the most appropriate technologies currently available. This is, after all, the business model used so successfully by Apple Corporation – spiritual successors of those pioneering 18th century trailblazers, Breguet.

Watch Your Brand | 2

Intimate appeal, some brands have it…

With a multitude of luxury watch brands to choose from, some more memorable than others, but each with its own particular style, heritage and personality, how do we choose the watch brand that is right for us?

From the pages of glossy magazines to the wrists of heros, these brands compete for our attention; they show-off their credentials on ritzy websites and jostle for precedence in the jeweller’s window.

So what is it that enables some brands, collections or designs to capture our imagination and finally convince us above all others?

First we need to recognise that a watch is, quite an intimate possession, it is, quite literally, attached to us and accompanies us practically everywhere we go. It becomes an extension of ourselves and, by implication, our personality. It communicates our taste, attitude and lifestyle, or more accurately, different ‘phases’ of our lifestyle: for example, a smart dress watch might express our social evening phase, a chunky sports watch for the leisure phase and, perhaps, something more businesslike for the professional phase of our life? Our choice of fine watch is as personally-expressive as our choice of scent, clothing or the car that we drive. In fact it is arguably a more authentic indication of our genuine personality than any of these because it is typically chosen with a lifetime in mind – rather than a season, or a few years at most.

So, given how personal an expression our choice of luxury watch is, what the criteria by which we judge which one is right for us? Research has shown that the various criteria (mostly subconscious) can be distilled into the following three decision-making themes:

  1. Product design: “Do I like how it looks”
  2. Brand image: “Do I like what it says about me”
  3. Personal engagement: “Do I want to own it?”

Ironically for watch manufacturers the most important of these three components is also the hardest to measure and the least well-understood – brand image. Brand image is the intangible promise that lives in the minds of everyone with any awareness of the brand. It encapsulates everything we know about the brand, its attributes personality and values as well as the people, events and things we associate with it. We are all influenced, perhaps more than we realise, by the emotional package of elements that make-up a given brand, as well as our impressions of others who choose it (many Audi drivers may impressed by the design, comfort and performance of BMWs but they will not buy one because being a “BMW driver” does not match their self-image!). We also develop, in our subconscious, a sense of relative brand worth. As with all brand values this is dynamic and can rise and fall over time.
Although it is often slow to build it can be quick to fall, because while it might take many years to nurture and build a brand’s reputation, this can be lost very quickly when something undermines the trust we place in it.

The luxury watch consumer, like those of any other sector, is continually absorbing information and subconsciously using it to shape and refine the brand images that exist in their mind. Because brands are memorised and recalled in much the same way that we think about people, we find ourselves attracted to some more than others. So, when we go about selecting the brand that best matches our own personal values it is rather like finding a partner and falling in love.

The story begins with a growing awareness of the options available which leads to a heightened sense of those brands with which we feel feel a natural empathy and, more particularly, the products designs of those brands which best express our values.

This can take time and will draw on a number of cues in the journey from ‘awareness’ through ‘preference’ to ‘commitment’.

It is a courtship that might begin with a repertoire of possible suitors which are steadily honed down until we settle on the one that best fits our self-image and then that is the only that one will do!

Continue reading “Watch Your Brand | 2”

Watch Your Brand | 3

Start with the brand, the rest will follow…

With brand image being so important, it is easy to see why watch manufacturers spend such enormous sums on advertising and sports sponsorship. Unfortunately, too many Swiss watch manufacturers, for all their brilliance in creating, manufacturing and selling exquisite watches, have yet to truly master the discipline of strategic brand management. Consequently, most marketing programmes fall into the “just another watch campaign” category (i.e. a backdrop of some aspirational imagery with a yacht, powerboat, sports car, aircraft, etc., a bland English headline, intelligible to all international audiences, a standard ‘ten-to-two’ shot of the watch, some technical credentials and a line about how long we have been making watches…), alternatively, the brand logo might simply appear as the ‘official time keeper’ at some sports event (which, as everyone knows, amounts to little more than ‘name-drop’ publicity). With the greatest of respect to these esteemed firms and their advertising agencies, how many watch advertisements can you recall and describe right now? Leaving aside the exceptional “You never actually own…” campaign from Patek Philippe, few of us can manage more than a couple of others at best. Now, how clearly could you describe the different watch brand personalities? Probably not very accurately – other than to highlight the prestige of big names.
Now try the same test with cars, drinks or clothing brands and notice the difference. In the luxury watch industry, it is as if marketing expenditure is regarded as a necessary ‘cost of entry’ to the luxury brand marketplace and, provided the anecdotal feedback from the trade and the retail distribution is satisfactory (corroborated, hopefully, by the eventual sales of the watches), that is enough. For the average consumer (as opposed to the avid watch geeks), the challenge of differentiating between the many alternative brands means that the most dominant, consistent brands stand-out even more strongly. The retailer can redress the balance somewhat by presenting the case for the others, but, by that stage in the process, many consumers’ minds will already have been made-up. A glance at the correlation between brand strength and sales trends across most markets will demonstrate this.

Effective brand management is also key to mastering the other two decision-making themes: ‘product design’ and ‘personal engagement’. First, with respect to product design, a clearly-articulated sense of the brand’s values, personality and vision will enable a well-defined creative brief to be prepared which can save time and eliminate confusion. All too often new designs rely on the instinct and imagination of the creative studio to anticipate and create what it believes customers will find attractive, within the context of their own personal interpretation of what the brand stands for. Any doubt will generally resolved by erring on the side of caution rather than risk alarming distributors or end customers. So, when a new consumer trend emerges (such as the demand for sports watches with black cases and rubber straps – as pioneered by brands such as Hublot and Bell&Ross), many high-end manufacturers will literally spend years trying to decide whether or not it is appropriate for them stick with the familiar or embrace the trend. A clearly-defined and well-articulated brand, on the other hand, makes it quick and easy to determine whether such an approach was ‘on’ or ‘off’ brand. The third theme, ‘personal engagement’, refers to the final process of actually bonding with the product by handling it, trying it on, evaluating its quality, determining the choice of finish or colour options then, ultimately, assessing its value for money and after sales support, before making the commitment. Once again, a well planned brand strategy will inform and direct each element at every stage in the customer journey so that all touch-points project the same consistent values – from quality of the bracelet (the clasp, like the car door handle, is the first tactile interaction with the product and needs to be “on brand”) to the design of the presentation box, and from the working of the warranty to the price-point that clinches the deal.

There probably is no other product quite as enigmatic as a luxury watch. Nor is there a market quite as enigmatic, nor a strategic brand marketing challenge quite as ripe for change.

Continue reading “Watch Your Brand | 3”

Will Apple Crumble?

apple-logoApple is a very special brand. Like Virgin, Nike and Coca Cola, it has transcended its category and become a way of life. To its followers, the delicious anticipation of unpacking any new product from that emporium of ‘cool’ (be it an ipod, a desktop computer or anything in-between) never fails to elicit an admiring grin, as they marvel at how clever, how beautiful and how elegant it all is. How did they think of that? Have you seen this? Even humble power adaptors are lovingly-peeled of their shiny, protective skins before their ornamental beauty succumbs to function. Wave after wave of ultra-desirable products have been longed-for, lusted-over then voraciously consumed by millions of Apple fans all over the world. apple_cinema_displayYou only have to watch an Apple-user flush with pride, as they slip their MacBook onto their lap on the train home, to see how the brand ignites passion – the Apple logo on the back of the screen glows as confidently as they do! Like any exclusive club, there is a joining fee and followers have always been prepared to pay a premium for the privilege of owning Apple products and for the status they confer.

Although the Apple universe has grown massively over recent years, it still something of a niche brand in the personal computer marketplace. So, after years of developing passionately-inspired products for the creatively-enlightened, Apple recently decided that seducing the dedicated was no longer enough. Buoyed by inroads into the lucrative corporate world with its Blackberry-bashing iphone and ambidextrous Macs (running Windows on one hand and Mac OS X on the other), Apple, evidently, believes that it is finally ready for the big time. The lucrative business market is beckoning and it is too tempting to resist.

And so the latest generation of ‘imac’ desktop models arrived with their smart and serious new look featuring a high-tech satin silver finish with neat black details, a theme that continued with the MacBook Air (the almost-impossibly thin executive toy that has become the ‘must have’ object-of-envy in business class lounges from LAX to LHR). Now it is the turn of the mainstream ‘MacBook’ laptop range – perhaps the most important product of all. The MacBook (which is successor to the iconic iBooks and PowerBooks) is, quite simply, the coolest computer on campus and, therefore, the laptop on which future generations of Mac users are weaned. In redesigning it Apple is redefining the look of the popular Mac and reasserting the essential values of the brand.

pro_mouse

So, it has boldly broken with the past and has left behind the visual language of naïve glossy white moldings, sexy perspex mice, rubbery blacks and tactile finishes that used to characterise Apple’s funky ‘design studio’ image. These have, perhaps inevitably, given way a contemporary formula of satin silver and black – albeit as nicely executed as you would expect from Apple. This executive makeover will, no doubt, prove attractive to corporate customers who can now buy laptops that combine Apple usability with boardroom-friendly styling. The specs tick all the boxes and the prices are reasonable enough when you take all the latest features into account. All of which is satisfyingly rational, but disturbingly un-Apple.

The worry is that, in chasing after the big corporate markets Apple risks ‘going native’ and allowing its uniqueness to be diluted. The creative style and risqué edginess that have always set Apple products apart, engendering it with an emotionally-charged ‘love-it-or-loath-it’ allure, is now under threat. The latest products simply look and feel too sensible and ‘grown-up’ to bear the Apple logo. The new styling might be clean and elegant with some fine detailing, but look sideways at any of the new laptops and you could be looking at a Sony Vaio, Compaq Presario or one of many other worthy but forgettable business tools. The risk is that they could, ultimately, become dependent on ‘spec and price’ shoot-outs with the big PC brands to maintain and grow market share in the commercial quagmire of the business computer market. Can anyone imagine the big guys rolling-over and allowing Apple to come and steal their most profitable sales without a putting-up an aggressive fight the like of which no Mac has seen before?

Has Apple been so blinded by ambition that it risks losing its soul, the very soul that has always set it apart? Frankly, when Apple buyers are reduced to choosing a new Mac on spec and price, the magic will have been lost and the brand reduced to a deflated effigy of its former glory. Apple faces a stark choice, it can follow the money and trade on residual Apple-ness while it lasts; or it can take careful stock of its brand values, work hard to nourish and nurture the special difference that sets it apart and develop the kinds of new products that will continue to thrill and delight its emotionally-driven, opinion-forming, cool-seeking customers.

Apple’s phenomenally-potent brand appeal, based on exciting and alluring products, has always been its secret weapon. It has sustained it for years, even when the products were, on occasion, technically below par. Today, as it squares-up to face the industry Goliath’s, Apple needs to be certain that its secret weapon is up to scratch or the battle will be shorter and the end of the story less victorious than it had planned.

MacBook, Vaio, Satellite

The Management Consultant’s Challenge

campaign-header-torn

Saatchi & Saatchi’s announcement that ‘advertising’ would be dropped from its title is significant. It is evidence that the traditionally narrow discipline of ‘advertising’ is too tight a pigeonhole for a modern agency in an increasingly sophisticated marketplace. Looking beyond the public statement, however, it is symptomatic of a greater realisation that agencies face increasing competition for their client’s time and budgets from some interesting new directions; one of the most dynamic of which is the management consultant. The subject has become an uncomfortable point of contention among most agencies. Attitudes range from an insistence that “consultants will never do what we can” to a dismissal of the threat as “an over-hyped irrelevance”. It is still rare to hear a positive response and a constructive argument for agency change. Meanwhile, the consultants continue to make inroads into agency territory.
Agencies would do well to take the threat seriously. First of all, because it is specifically for strategic planning, the intellectual heart of the advertising agency, that clients are now forsaking them in favour of the management consultant. This was the very discipline that raised the status of agencies from creative execution shops a generation ago, into today’s intelligent communications partners. Without strategic planning, agencies would not only lose creative focus but professional credibility. Given that, for all their foibles, few clients would be naïve enough to invest the kind of sums charged by consultants without reasonable justification, there must be a significant degree of disenchantment with what advertising agencies are currently offering. The door is then left open for the management consultants to move in and seize the opportunity with the analytical precision for which they are renowned. Of course, some agencies write off the current popularity of the management consultant as a passing phenomenon – merely the latest in a series of client fads. There may be an element of truth in this but it conveniently ignores the fact that the door is only left open when the client does not shut it!

So what are the consultants offering that agencies are failing to deliver? Evidence suggests that clients now feel that they are outgrowing their traditional advertising agency partners, that they have moved on while their agencies have stood still (or, at best, moved too slowly). With ever more complex briefs and an explosion in communications opportunities, their demands are growing beyond most agencies’ ability to respond. They are, more fundamentally, disillusioned by the fact that, for all their pretensions of being “full service“ and “media neutral“, scratch below the surface and most advertising agencies remain resolutely and dogmatically locked into that traditional ‘advertising’ pigeon hole. So when the management consultant arrives promising a comprehensive and holistic solution to their total communications needs, the client, dazzled by the scope of the new arrival’s intellectual insight, needs little persuasion to hand over the brief.

If this analysis is true, how have advertising agencies arrived at their current dilemma and why are they struggling to compete against the capabilities of the management consultant? First of all, agencies always seem to be too busy (with their client’s business, naturally) to have a strategy for their own business.

For example:

  1. How many agencies have really focused on the changes that growing globalisation will have on their business in the next millennium – as opposed to simply pursuing a policy of relentless expansion and business acquisition?
  2. Apart from the more progressive media specialists (many of which are now independents), how many agencies are actively engaged in re-aligning their product to meet the needs of the radically different media landscape that is now emerging with the advent of digital TV and the explosion in computer-based media. It is a sad indictment, given the changes taking place, that so few agencies still have no Internet website.
  3. To what extent have agencies put into place the practical operating systems needed to manage pan-European campaigns for increasingly international clients? Too few, for example, offer an integrated network of local offices – making do with an assembly of local agencies trying to hide internal dissent about whose work should run where. One of the major problems facing clients in setting up international advertising is the difficulty in maintaining centralised control (which is often based on informal rather than organisational authority) to reconcile local differences. Imagine then, the added complication of working with an agency network whose local offices are also pulling in different directions with vested local interests. Improved internal communications are needed within and between both agency and client as campaigns go global; few networks make adequate use of e-mail and video conferencing – fewer still can offer multi-lingual account management teams.
  4. With the exception of the international planners, how conversant are most agency staff with, for example, the fragmentation of international consumers into horizontally-segmented tribal clusters; or, for argument’s sake, Michael Porter’s five forces?

If you winced at that last point you will appreciate the next: It is that agencies generally place too little emphasis on education and developing their own strategic vision. How many agency practitioners (excluding, once again, those from the more erudite planning departments) have seriously studied the theoretic aspects of their subject? If advertising is to raise its professional status this must surely be a prerequisite (imagine your surprise if your lawyer had never opened a textbook dealing with the issue on which you were consulting him). It may sound cruelly sceptical but who ever got promoted in advertising for knowing about the theory? The way to the top seems to be a narrow, well-trodden route for shrewd movers hopping from one agency to the next to secure each successive foothold – education is rarely going to get you there any quicker. So, after years of being immersed in an exclusive world of their own, it is hardly surprising that some agency chiefs have become rather myopic about their agency’s future direction and corporate mission. For the same reason, agencies tend to be equally myopic about recruitment. How many agencies, for example, have had the foresight to bring in senior talent with a fresh business perspective from outside the industry (Saatchi & Saatchi springs to mind but how many others can you name?)

In contrast, one of the key success factors of the management consultants can be attributed to their broader intellectual platform which enables them to be totally “solution neutral“ (and not simply “media neutral“ – which is the broadest claim most agencies are prepared to make). This perspective is further enhanced by their survival not being dependent on the selling of campaign executions which means that they have an uninhibited view of the big picture and can recommend solutions well beyond the confines of traditional advertising. This less-inhibited outlook also leads to a greater awareness of the strategic opportunities for their own future which is precisely why advertising agencies are now having to compete against them. What is more, management consultants often have a more aspirational image than their agency competitors. Why? Because they have been working hard to develop their own identities. Unlike most agencies, the consultants have actually been using their own skills to build their brand images (witness, for example, the recent image building initiatives from Anderson Consulting). How many advertising agencies have had the confidence in their own skills to use them to solve their own communications challenges?

Does all this mean that agencies are now destined to degenerate back into execution shops, handing over the strategic planning to the consultants having irretrievably lost the plot? Not necessarily. Advertising agencies have a wealth of experience and possess unique qualities above and beyond the scope of most management consultants. For example, most agency reels can celebrate several miraculous transformations of timid brands turned household legends (Tango, Boddingtons, Pepparami, Martini, The Economist, Brylcream, Lucozade…). The imaginative inspiration that sees the potential in a dormant brand cannot be replicated by any amount of strategic analysis. The impact of a truly memorable advertising campaign that expands the potential of the brand or proposition far beyond the clients declared commercial strategy is no more than an anomaly to the consultant. It is the spark of creative genius at the core of any successful agency that sets it apart from the studiously worthy but rather anodyne analysis of the management consultant.

So if agencies really do have the potential to succeed what must they do to regain their lost momentum and rejuvenate their client offering?

  1. Agencies should take a more progressive attitude to their staff. They should be better trained and educated, they should be broad-minded about recruiting from non ‘classical agency’ backgrounds and there should be systematic client/agency role-reversal. Career progression should recognise wider experience and more clients should be encouraged into agency jobs and vice-versa.
  2. They must widen their scope to offer solution-neutral answers to wider marketing problems. Building on a broader experience base and a higher level of theoretical expertise, the agency should exercise its skills in more diverse areas of marketing communications. To support this strategy, agencies should also aim to work on a consultancy fee basis wherever possible and so avoid being compromised by a perceived vested interest in any particular solution.
  3. The benefits of being responsible for the final execution should be positively exploited. Provided that their strategic thinking has been set free from the formulaic execution process described earlier, agencies have a powerful and unique advantage over the management consultant in also managing the campaign execution. This factor alone can give a progressive agency the potential to successfully crack the client’s brief in, perhaps, one quarter of the time (and at a fraction of the cost) taken by most management consultants. Furthermore, the strategic solution then naturally flows into the creative presentation which exemplifies it. In contrast, the management consultant’s task ends at the very point where the client is getting interested.
  4. Agencies should use their own skills to help themselves. It might be argued that an agency’s credentials may be judged in the work it produces for its existing clients (which is a bit like expecting someone to buy an Armani suit just because it looked good on the last person who was seen wearing one). We should expect to see confident agencies proud of their capabilities, advertising their competencies and meeting their competitors (from wherever they may come) with a genuine USP in their armoury.

There is, I suggest, some serious self-appraisal called for if agencies are to revitalise themselves to meet the challenges of the next millennium. That spark of ingenuity that sets agencies apart from management consultants not only provides their critical point of difference but should now be used to help define their own solutions and to re-ignite client confidence for the future.

Finally, on a personal note, I would like to reassure any indignant agency chiefs that the observations made and conclusions drawn refer to the agency world at large and are not aimed at you! They are, however, the personal and unprejudiced views of an advertising client and will, I hope, help to stimulate the kind of debate needed to get to grips with the challenges that lie ahead.

Keith Lucas

October 1997

This was originally published as a feature in Campaign Magazine, 14 November 1997:

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