‘Through-the-line’ (what is the line?)

6 Sep

through the line marketingI was having a chat with a colleague the other day and I found myself referring to a ‘through the line’ agency.  Within seconds of the words leaving my mouth, it was obvious that he had no bloody idea what I was talking about.  Furthermore, I’ve been in this industry for almost 20 years and, throughout those years – in countless meetings – we (i.e. all of us) have discussed the magical and mythical ‘line’ and I wonder whether many people know about the defining features of the aforementioned line.

To be clear, I’m talking about that line – that we work below, above, or sometimes even through.  Sounds exciting, doesn’t it!!!

In traditional terms, ‘above the line’ (ATL), ‘below the line’ (BTL) and ‘through the line’ (TTL) are all different ways in which brands try to sell their products.

ATL comms use broadcast and published media, whilst BTL offers the ability to provide apersonal message to the audience using direct mail (DM), electronic direct mail (EDM), or a plain old-fashioned brochure (for example).  ATL or BTL comms can be used to build brand awareness or drive sales through specific offers/promotions.

ATL comms are perceptively more difficult to measure, whilst BTL are highly measurable, providing valuable marketing insights.

Making sense yet..?!  I wouldn’t be surprised if you said “Errr… NO…”

OK… Here’s an attempt at simplifying it:

  1. Mass media channels, such as TV, radio, outdoor (or ‘out of home’, as it’s now known), cinema, magazines, newspapers, are all classed as ‘above the line’.
  2. Non-media or advertising comms are classed as ‘below the line’.
  3. ‘Through the line’ refers to an integrated campaign, involving both ATL and BTL (TV, outdoor and DM for example), allowing brands to engage on multiple levels with their audience.

So what about the internet?!  That’s ON the line!!  Panic not, my (rightfully) confused marketer.  That’s a different line.  Online (or ‘digital’ as it’s fast becoming known as) is, for the purposes of classification very much ATL.  However, digital marketing as we know is also BTL and TTL!!  I know… How confusing is this?!!!  Digital offers an unspeakably large potential – from niche to mass market – from targeted to non-targeted – all absolutely measurable in every way possible. And let’s not even try to work out where social media fits into this pigeonholing exercise! After all, it’s ‘mass market’, but it’s not ‘paid media’. So what is it?!!

Which actually brings me to my point: It never ceases to amaze me how much smoke & mirrors jargon there is in our industry; it’s amusing and depressing all at the same time – when all it comes down to is that you’ve got a brand trying to engage with a consumer – with multiple ways to communicate to them.  As for the business of this ‘line’, I think it’s all about to become very blurred indeed…

Demystifying the brand wheel

30 Nov Brand Wheel Martin O'Toole

The foundation of the creative work I’ve been involved with always focusses on clients’ customers first; considering what they view to be important and how they are likely to engage with that brand.  This is a constant, regardless of whether the creative is targeting B2B or B2C audiences.

brand wheel brand onion

Secondly, it’s important to consider the nature of clients’ brands – the essence (what makes it tick).  This is usually done either by working with existing research or, in many cases, a combination of new and existing research – drilled down into an understandable melting pot.  How?  Simple.  Talk to a load of costumers and ask a load of the people working within the brand (from board level to reception) about their honest views and experience of the organisation.  This work is key, as it sets us on a process to define a number of things needed in all future brand communications work for the brand in question.  E.g. positioning, tone of voice, the way the brand communicates etc.  This is done by creating a ‘brand wheel’.  Now none of this is particularly revolutionary, as people in our industry have been using ‘brand onions’ for years.  Personally I’ve always felt the soubriquet ‘onion’ to be a bit pretentious, so I guess that’s why I prefer a wheel (it is round, after all).

Marketers can very quickly get carried away with brand wheels/onions!  I’ve often shared a cartoon by a rather witty ‘marketoonist’ called Tom Fishburne.  He creates cartoons designed for business and marketing.  Tom semi-mocks the notion of organisations worshipping their onions – something that never ceases to make me smirk, because it’s genuinely true that these things can be completely over-developed.

As worthy for consideration as Tom’s cartoon is, brand owners and marketers alike do obviously need at least some guidance; an onion, a blueprint, a DNA, a wheel – whatever.  Just something that keeps us all on the path when it comes to consistently communicating brand personas and messages.  So, for the time being (I’m currently working on an entirely new and unique one), here’s the wheel I favour – first & foremost for its simplicity:

Preferred brand wheel

Brand Wheel Martin O'Toole

Brand Personality (‘Walking & Talking’)

How the brand looks, behaves and talks.  An outline of how the brand acts; how it engages with others; the tone of voice it uses in its communications to customers (and prospective customers).

Brand Internal Drivers (‘Heads & Hearts’)

The vision, values and belief of the brand.  Whilst the vision and belief are usually single-minded statements, the values will always be an array of (usually no more than five) adjectives, detailing the features/benefits of the brand.  Doubtless there will be a distinct difference between service and product brand values.

Brand External Drivers (‘Proof & Pudding’)

I suppose this would be the bit where the ‘brand magic’ comes in.  The bit that requires more thought than a simple customer feedback summary.  Here we have to position the brand; back that positioning up, and summarise it with a strapline (external proposition).

So there’s the brand wheel…  Potentially as daunting as ever, even after this guide.  With that in mind, a good start for anyone interested in putting this into practice is to do a brand wheel on yourself – or on a friend or colleague – or in a group.  Happy peeling…

Running a marketing agency pitch

18 Nov

Life’s a pitch

I’ve spent the majority of my career aiming to be invited to join agency pitch lists. In addition, I’ve been responsible for managing the pitch process, from the point of meeting prospective clients, to extracting all the information needed and producing the pitch brief; to presenting the agency pitch alongside colleagues. I’ve done countless pitches, covering a wide selection of brands, industries, and marketing disciplines.  With all this in mind, I decided to write a short ebook guide for those brand owners and marketers who might like an agency-side view of how best to manage an agency pitch. The first part of which has been published on the digital marketing portal, Smartinsights.com (the remaining parts will follow in the coming months). It’s a comprehensive guide to the entire agency pitch process – from agency selection, to writing a decent brief, to selecting the right agency.  I hope you find it useful.  Download here…


Writing a decent creative brief

1 Nov

writing a decent creative brief Most people find writing a creative brief immensely difficult and more often than not, people make a bad job of it. This is designed to be helpful advice for all, regardless of whether you’re new to writing briefs or you’ve been in the industry for years. I’ve spent years writing briefs. Moreover, in my various business development roles, I’ve received and written a vast amount of potential client/agency pitch briefs.  In such instances, the brief has been the key to getting it right and winning the business. Whilst it’s important for agency-side parties to be usefully inquisitive, the work you receive will be a reasonable reflection of the brief you provide in the first place (i.e. get the brief wrong and the work presented will likely be rubbish). So with that in mind, here’s a simple guide to what that brief should consist of. The majority of this content is media/channel-neutral. It’s a creative brief outline – which will work through the line.

1. Purpose of brief (‘so what’s occurring?’)

Whether for an agency pitch, or an existing client, this section always needs to be an outline of the business objectives and a succinct introduction to the brand, its sector, and the product/service to be launched/repositioned/put online/immortalised in advertising etc. You’ll know pretty much all there is to know about your brand and your sector; therefore there is often a temptation to provide far too much information.  Keep it simple; give a flavour, but try not to offload piles and piles of information if it is not relevant to the project in hand. Remember that the agency will ask questions, which you would hope, will be good questions. If they do not, take note. Their ability to listen is as important as their ability to create.

2. Insights (‘What should we ask ourselves to get this right’?)

Assuming you’re more interested in one of the agencies coming back with the right work rather than putting them to the test, it’s always a good idea to drop in a couple of insightful questions around the problem.  For example: “How do we hook our potential consumer, using a balance of emotive and technical messages – conveying a balance of brand personality and depth of expertise?” These questions are obviously rhetorical, but can help drive the agencies’ approach far better.

3. Target audience (‘so who wants to know?’)

Tip: “Everyone” is not an insightful brief of the target market! Obviously this can be socio-demographic information, but if you think a little deeper, you might provide an introduction to a couple of personas.  For example: Tell the agency a story about ‘Claire, the girl next door’; talk about where she lives/her likes/dislikes/where she shops/what sites she’s likely browsing. Build a story regarding Claire – bring her to life.  It’s a far more interesting way to describe your target market – again, offering the opportunity for more insightful consideration.

4. Competition (‘who else is doing this?’)

Not a difficult area of the brief.  List your top competitors and their web addresses.  Leave the agencies to do the rest.  It’s their job to decide how relevant the competitors’ marketing strategy/tactics are.  However, DO provide a concise indication of your understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of what your competitors are up to.  Also, if you like something they’re doing – say.  Your competitors are allowed to be great at what they do, after all…

5. The USP (‘what’s the single most important thing we want the customer to know?’)

Ah, the USP…  This is the bit where most people get it wrong – agencies included.  Why?  For many reasons.  1. Because people tend to list more than one proposition (even though we’re looking for the unique point; 2. Because it’s not all that easy to sum absolutely all of the features and benefits of your brand/product/service into one line.  Difficult, but not impossible…  This is arguably the most important section of the brief.  If you are ambiguous at this stage, don’t be surprised if indecisive work is presented back to you.  Get it right, and see the difference.

6. Reinforcing the USP (‘can we actually support/prove that?’)

Bearing in mind that the USP information should be short and sweet, this is the area where you can expand and rationalise your thoughts.  Again, keep it simple; use bullet-points, all of which support your thinking.  Don’t ramble; don’t repeat yourself.  Furthermore, don’t under-estimate the importance of this are of the brief (as people often do).

7. Look, feel, tone of voice (‘How should it look and what should it sound like?’)

You’ll likely already have a set of brand guidelines or brand bible.  If they’re any good, they’ll contain this information.  Copy the more salient points and stipulations.  Regardless, the key here is to give some descriptors relating to how your brand/product/service feels – how it looks – how it exists.  Don’t be afraid of incorporating a little passion here – after all, it’s your brand!!!

8. Mandatory inclusions & exclusions (‘what must be in, what needs to be out?’)

It’s always helpful to nail down a bullet-point list of dos & don’ts, to save time.  If you know full well that a certain line of messaging does not work when it comes to your brand, mention it.  If the CEO’s wife hates yellow (sighs), put it in the brief!  This is all about making the whole process more efficient. Fee free to download a template here: BRIEF TEMPLATE.

10 ways to avoid being a marketing agency plonker

27 Sep

 “The intimacy and local focus of the programme will maximise the tangible application of content – but this needs to be translated into a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts”
  1. Avoid spending 45 minutes of your agency pitch, telling clients all about the brief. Stating the obvious, they wrote it.
  2. There’s a really good reason why you have 2 ears and only 1 mouth. You might want to think about proportionate use in your next client meeting.
  3. Avoid using multiple slide presentations to post-rationalise a creative route or strategy. Back-story narration doesn’t come as standard with most marketing messages.
  4. When you know the ideas you’re presenting are shit, do yourself a favour and cancel the meeting. If it’s one of those rare and unfortunate occasions where you’re presenting work you haven’t even seen – avoid blagging and come clean with the client. They may be polite and appear not to have noticed this, but trust me they have – and they think you’re a knob.
  5. When you know the ideas you’re presenting are shit, it’s time to leave the creative agency.
  6. Writing things like “The intimacy and local focus of the programme will maximise the tangible application of content – but this needs to be translated into a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts” has never and will never make any sense whatsoever. Probably best not to write that in a proposal.
  7. Radical idea: How about tackling a brief based on the clients’ business problem, rather than shoehorning an idea into one of the few marketing channels you understand..?
  8. Learn about your clients’ businesses – and learn about their industries. No mate, I mean REALLY learn. You telling your clients key stuff they didn’t know about their businesses or industries is positioning yourself as invaluable (and interested).
  9. As incredible as it is to comprehend, you do not know EVERYTHING. Accept this and be honest about it, because your clients (and prospective clients) will know it – and your credibility will cease to exist very quickly indeed (see the ‘knob’ comment in point 4).
  10. Try like hell never to become complacent. Always up your creative game and never take your relationship with your clients for granted. I know this and that’s why I’m able to court them right now.

Social vs traditional – the ongoing debate…

2 Jun

“Is social media negating the need for traditional marketing as we know it?”

If I had a quid for every blog I’ve read around this subject of late… Granted, the majority of people posting this sort of question are not likely true ‘social media experts’.

The answer to the above quandary is of course no, don’t be daft. Social networking is another communications channel. A relatively new communications channel, which is still finding a place in the world, thanks to its fast development. It’s by no means the Emperor’s New Media (pardon the shit pun) but it’s amazingly valuable and offers all-manner of opportunities. However, there’s a still a long way to go for it to find itself – oddly (in part) due to the fact that many marketers are trying to shape it into yet more interruptive marketing, rather than simply let it be.  Regardless, there are clearly countless possibilities around the corner, which I (and we) will be interested to explore when it comes to creating our brand stories.

In addition, I’m intrigued about what it’s doing to twist the arms of brands, into completely re-evaluating how they communicate their values and propositions (i.e. driving honesty).

A friend of mine recently wrote  about content being viewed in some circles as theonly form of marketing going forward. I find this to be a fascinating point, and one of the concepts that’s resonated most with me when it comes to brands communicating via social media.  Dan’s point derives from the simple view that social media is a conduit for content. Potentially massive amounts of content. The key, however, being that the content has to be TRUE and has to be HONEST. I.e. it has to be on-brand.

Now then, I don’t profess to be a social media expert – nor am I a digital evangelist. But I do know a little about brand marketing. And I’d be utterly rubbish at my job if I weren’t already acutely aware of the astounding opportunity that social media content has to offer to brands that truly understand their values – and are fully prepared to bare all in digital spaces: Not in a contrived manner (as is happening now), but with all the honesty they can muster. This way brands can use social media/digital marketing as a far-reaching extension of their brand message.

So maybe it’s more the case that the advanced use of social media by brands will bring about a healthy and vast reduction in bull-shit marketing messages – rather than the media formats used to carry them..? Entirely possible. As always though, I’d exercise caution in using any marketing channel, until the brand message is absolutely right (cart… horse…).

6 ‘musts’ (or ‘must not’) in B2B brand marketing

24 May

B2B marketing communications ‘musts’:

Must use glossy stock photography of pointless wanky-looking individuals in suits gathered around a laptop whilst engaging in some ‘blue-sky thinking’.

Must use images of open doors (because “business is all about opportunity”)

Must talk about the business as a third person, to convey seriousness and authority, because there are no humans in business, and because to appear human is to appear weak, and to appear weak means we couldn’t possibly be successful in business.

Must use as many technical words and references as possible (with very little punctuation) in order to convey an obscene wealth of knowledge and experience in one’s field, at the same time as explaining (in the third person) that the essence of the organisation’s goal is to create ‘bespoke solutions’, whilst at all times demonstrating a ‘client-centric focus’.

Must use (Reflex) blue or grey somewhere (if not everywhere), steering clear of any bright colours, to ensure that seriousness is conveyed at all times.

Must have a stock image of a handshake somewhere-actually WHEREVER POSSIBLE.

I could go on all day. Suffice to say that the above will ring bells on one of two levels; either you recognise it’s not a great idea, or your company is currently utilising some or all of the tactics above – because either you’re not a marketer (fair enough), or because your agency thinks and works like this (not fair enough at all).

So can we be serious about business, without always seriously communicating our abilities to do business?

Can we be serious about business, whilst at the same time conveying the humanity of the business to clients and prospective clients..? My answer to both questions is of course “yes”.

So why aren’t more business-to-business brands marketing themselves in a more human way?

I recently had the unspeakable pleasure of dealing with a chap who calls himself a ‘B2B marketing consultant’.

I’d love to say this is the first time I’ve met someone like my new friend, but the sad truth is that our industry is full of these so-called ‘specialists’, who are creaming the top off marketing budgets from hard-grafting businesses, by selling smoke & mirrors marketing advice to clients who simply do not know better.

So to B2B brand owners, I simply say beware. Beware because one of the many things to come out of this recession has been the emergence of a growing market of average ‘marketing professionals’ who, despite never having grasped the concept of commerciality, are more than willing to convince you of their unequivocal expertise in the world of commerce and marketing. Don’t get me wrong. The recession has (depressingly) also left some incredibly talented marketers out of work, and this is in no way a smite at them.

If I think about it, there are two thoughts in one here: One about the dangers of trusting so-called ‘B2B marketing consultants’ (with little or not experience in business), and the other about B2B brands working within a mould, because they know no other way.

Rant aside, I guess my point is that business-to-business marketing does not need to be entirely ‘corporate’, or lacking in personality. It does not need to use Dalek to speak to its customers. It does not need to use false imagery to convey the customer or staff experience it provides. It does not need to avoid using creativity or bright colours or honest words, at the danger of trivialising its offering.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that all B2B brands should consumerise their marcomms, as it would be simply impossible for some. However, there is a myriad of ‘human’ B2B brands out there, who do not see what promise there is in some simple honesty – which is more likely to attract rather than alienate customers.

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