Making brave happen

No one likes being unpopular. In fact, for many of us, we’re more comfortable trying to ‘fit in’. Trying to blend in, go with the status quo and not rock the boat too much.

But – as Ed talked about in his recent blog post – being distinctive isn’t always a bad thing. And it’s almost never a bad thing for brands.

Being distinctive often means doing what other people aren’t. Zagging when they’re zigging to piggyback on a famous phrase.

But being distinctive isn’t easy. Whilst it’s often said that creativity is boundless, it’s hard to think so far out of the box that it pushes boundaries – and it’s even harder to bring other people with you on the journey, and get the buy-in and support you need to bring big, bold and brave ideas to life.

Which presents a challenge – how can you push boundaries, be distinctive and take your brand to the edge, but bring colleagues and customers with you at the same time? It’s all very well to come up with a brilliant, brave creative idea, but as hundreds of agencies have found (probably daily) – it’s very hard to encourage the client to jump on board. And it’s even harder to get customers on board and actually change behaviours. Just look at Dove – it took them 2-3 years for Real Beauty to see any real impact, despite it being one of the most beautifully simple, clear and strategically perfect pieces of marketing out there.

So – we all know it’s great to be brave and distinctive. We also all know its very hard to get other people on board with this. So what can you do to start building a braver, more distinctive brand?

1. Remember this is a journey not the destination

Don’t be afraid to take safe risks and grow the riskiness over time. As an agency, time after time the weakest work we see is when it’s watered down, filtered and refined to the end of its life because of a fear of risk-taking and ‘putting the brand out there’. But paradoxically, it’s often exactly this watering down that creates tepid results that put the brand right on the back seat and mean the work doesn’t produce the results you need. That’s not to say all risks are good risks. If something feels rude, offensive, obnoxious – it probably is. If something feels absolutely ridiculous, it might be. But being brave and distinctive doesn’t have to happen overnight. If it feels just a bit different to what you’ve done before. Or it ‘doesn’t quite match the category expectations’. Then brush those fears aside and give it a go. Look to Habito. They’ve taken a heavily regulated category and thrown in graffiti, skateparks and cartoons. Not quite overnight, but they’ve got there. Start small, think big and stay in lane for the longer term.

habito - mortgages made easier

Which brings me neatly onto my second point…

2. Longevity is good

Distinctive ads aren’t always logical or sensible, which means if you can create a platform that has longevity – however off piste it is – it can build emotional links with your audience and embed itself in the mainstream, even if it shouldn’t really be there. Think back to Cadbury’s Gorilla. It made very little sense at all. But it got people talking. It created huge amounts of noise and fame and still lives on today. Similarly with Compare the Meerkat. Again, a meerkat doing price comparison makes limited logical sense on any audience/brand profiling exercise. But it created lasting endearment, tapped into a sense of collective enjoyment and lives on today, just as popular as ever. Sometimes what’s outside the box is just what you need – but one way to make risks safer is to build longevity into them to give them time to settle, land and expand in the collective conscious.

Finally, I wouldn’t be a strategist if I didn’t mention it in every article.

3. Think like a customer

‘Try them on for size’. Follow a day in their life, try and get under their skin, in their psyche. What motivates them. What drives them. What worries them. Because at the end of the day – big bold creative is only any good if it actually does something and encourages your customer to act in the way you want them to (buy more stuff/do more of your thing etc). I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – this is the only way any sort of brand building or marketing actually works. It’s only when you truly know what motivates them that you’ll be able to build creative to drive that motivation. If your target audience is worried about the economy and price rises, bold creative that shows unfettered excess and lavish spending probably won’t hit the mark. But something warm, fuzzy and nostalgic will probably cut right through. Compare the Market nailed that with a warm and fuzzy endearing meerkat for a price comparison website – customers using it are probably more price conscious/worried about the bills. So let’s give them something nice to soften the blow. And it works. And by taking it to the next level and brining the meerkat to life with a range of cuddly toys they further entrenched that positive association in customer’s minds.

compare the meerkat

Not to spur on a rival agency, but BBH summed it up well “the greatest risk is to stand still and fail to stand out. It’s only a zag that stops a thumb on a feed. It’s only the bold that get noticed and the brave that get loved today.”

Don’t be afraid to stand out and take risks. But do it in a way that you’ll actually get away with it. It’s worth it – it’s where the magic lies.

About the author: Victoria is the Strategy Director at CreativeRace, having previously been a Strategy Director at London-based Clear M&C Saatchi where she led strategic projects for large, global clients including Disney, Prudential, GSK. Prior to that she worked at a variety of brand strategy agencies including BrandCap and Kantar, as well as in management consulting at Deloitte.

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