Is the Big Idea Dead?

“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a joke, or worried to deat by a frown on the right person’s brow” Charles Brower

Last week’s post connecting the dots for awesome activation took us into the realm of execution. A lot of feedback I received was “What about the idea?”

There is a lot of debate at the moment about the value of ‘the big idea’ in marketing. There are many who will say the ‘big idea is dead’. This debate seems strange. Ideas are the lifeblood of marketing. The big ones clearly have a transformational impact in creating value for both consumers and the business.

For me, the discussion should not be about whether big ideas are important, but what we really mean by the term and how you go about developing them.

Different kinds of ideas

How many marketers really understand the difference between a brand positioning idea, a strategic communication idea and a more executional idea? The differences are important, as there has been a shift over time from campaigns based on a common creative advertising idea to ones more loosely based on a shared, higher level brand idea. Indeed, the evidence suggests that campaigns orchestrated around higher order ideas of this type have the edge in effectiveness over other campaign approaches.

Developing big ideas

So if powerful strategic ideas can help drive brand performance, how should you go about developing them? And how will you know you’ve got one with potential during the brand and communication development process?

In the words of Helen Lewis, VP for Consumer Insight and Marketing Strategy at Unilever, “No idea is born fully formed, ready to go around the world. Great ideas like Omo’s Dirt Is Good emerge in bits, with little nuggets being spotted as communication is developed over time. Very often you get an execution which begins to encapsulate a new spin on the idea which may not be what you were originally looking for.”

Creating brilliant ideas is certainly not easy, but let’s not make that an excuse for abandoning our search for them. Rather than knocking the concept of big ideas, let’s celebrate the art and craft involved in developing them and focus on building the creative skills and mind-sets marketers need to succeed in doing so.

A Big Idea delivers against the 4C’s – it Cuts Through, is Coherent, is Compelling and is Consistent.

To complement this checklist ask two further questions:

a) What is your gut reaction to the idea?

Basically, do we like the idea or not? We need to trust our initial instincts as they are the closest thing we’ve got to a consumer read on the idea.

b) Can the idea be a springboard for engaging executions?

As mentioned earlier, the more we can align all our activity around a central idea, the greater the chance that our message will penetrate the target audiences subconscious.

CMO Perspective: Seth Farbman at Spotify said…

We start with our greatest asset, our tremendously large and addressable audience of a hundred million people from around the world. We start with them, and one of the things I’ve said to the team here is, “When you are coming up with an idea, if it is not right for the existing audience, throw it away. Let’s start from the inside out because we have this asset that can be shared and deployed and empowered.”

People on Spotify are the ones who from the beginning understood and valued music, were open to discovery, and liked to share music. A lot of marketers are looking outside their audience and outside their company for so-called influencers. We just call them customers. But how do we deploy them? Looking from the inside out is the start.

I’ll give you a practical example – something we launched recently called “Found Them First.” There’s a recognition that there is a sense of pride, a sort of personal accomplishment if you’ve identified early on in your listening an artist that is going to be huge. We all love when we have found something first. It is a powerful tool in marketing. You cant shove things at people anymore. You have to let them discover things for themselves. You have to be in a place where they feel they are in control. Nobody wants to be marketed to anymore.

Found Them First simply aggregates all of your data. We know what you listen to. And, we know what people like to listen to, so what we have done is create a campaign that essentially goes to all of our customers and allows them to interact. There’s a simple interface, and it will deliver back to you in real time a list of artists that you’ve helped break and others who have done the same Instantly you feel special. You feel like your sense of individuality has been recognized and appreciated, and you also feel part of a community.

One of the things I learned at GAP that I find completely applicable here is that these human truths, like a desire to fit in and stand apart, seem like conflicts. That’s what humans are. If you are able to understand, nurture and respect that, then you get a lot of appreciation as a brand. People say, “You get me.” That’s what something like Found Them First does. It taps into that human need and at the same time reinforces the value of Spotify.

So what happens next? You share it. If you’ve broken some great artists, you are going to share that. You are going to brag about that. And you’re going to identify yourself as a real music fan, a member of the Spotify community, and someone who is interested in sharing your knowledge of music. It’s a powerful thing.

That is how you take data and insights and respect for an audience and put them into the centre. That becomes the essence of repeatable marketing.

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