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December 5, 2014

If You Love Your Brand, Let It Go (A Little)

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letting go butterfly

From the desk of Kevin Groome:

I'll never forget the first time I encountered a creative director, in the true advertising agency sense of the term.

I was a fresh-from-college copywriter, assigned to one of the agency's most hallowed technology accounts. I’d been summoned from the rabbit warren where we ink-stained wretches toiled, to place my offerings at the feet of our creative deity.

When I walked into his office, I came upon three enormous wide-screen Macintosh monitors ($5,000 a pop back in those days), each glowing with what looked to be the identical Quark Xpress spread ad. The master sat contemplating the work in his deep leather chair. Without turning, he suddenly pointed at the monitor furthest to his left, and asked me, “Do you know what makes that ad work?”

I had no idea.

“Everything,” said the CD. “Every single pixel of that ad makes that ad work.” He spun in his chair to face me. “Now, let’s see those headlines you brought me.”

I often tell this story to new members of our team at Pica9, not only because it has an amusing ending (my headlines didn’t last 30 seconds under that CD's eye), but also because it points to the perfectionist streak that seems naturally to run through advertising creatives. We agonize over detail. We obsess over nuances that untrained eyes may not see. We're convinced that the work, although not art, should rise to the level of art in order to truly work.

But today, the work has to do much more than be artful. It has to adapt and evolve in the hands of people other than its original creators: partners and resellers, franchisees and retailers, employees and, yes, increasingly, in environments side by side with competitors.

And that means, we as creators have to be willing to practice the very Zen habit of letting go.

The national magazine ad that once drove brand awareness has evolved to become 500 versioned retail ads, each displaying different inventory and driving traffic into a different dealer's store. The FSI that once was sent to 50 million people has turned into dozens of single-DMA executions, each targeted to an audience of 50 thousand or less. The banner ad that once went run-of-site on CNN.com (remember THOSE days?) now gets served to a group of targets that could fit in a high school auditorium. The national email blast has evolved into a thousand mini-campaigns, each triggered by a salesperson in the context of actual purchase conversations.  And social ? There you have potentially thousands of local executions every month, each of which could either enhance the brand, or erode it. .

In this micro-channel, hyper-local world, there is more creative work to be done and delivered than ever before. So much work, in fact, that creatives alone cannot do the entire job themselves any more. They need technology tools that preserve the essence of their brands, while empowering the field and automating rollout of campaigns.

At Pica9, we've seen great agencies and in-house studios make this transition, and create a whole new kind of collaboration with local marketers. We've seen production costs fall and local satisfaction rise substantially as a result. Even more important, we've seen rich data emerge from this collaboration—hard numbers that tells us which creative executions are most attractive to the field, and which seem to make the cash registers ring.

So how do you let your brand go while still showing it the love? To my mind, there are four simple ways to begin—even if you don’t have a tool like Pica9.

1. Mine Your Creative Archives.

Over the years, you and your team have amassed dozens, hundreds, even thousands of ad hoc projects you've produced for local marketers. Each one was, by itself, probably a "hair on fire" emergency. But if you look at them in the aggregate, patterns begin to emerge. Seasonality. Discounting addictions. Preferences for photography, offers, or copy approaches. Just a small amount of time spent with your creative archives can help you to document what makes your local marketers tick -- and, also, what ticks them off.

2. Find Your Assets With Both Hands.

As you consolidate your creative archives (scattered over art servers, yousendits, and defunct sharesites) what will emerge is the architecture for library of marketing assets that is managed by the brand, but focused on the needs of the field. These are the images your local marketers love to use.  They’re the heart of your brand asset library. And once you’ve got them gathered, uploading them and tagging them becomes a much more manageable affair..

3. Try Your Hand at Templating.

Yes, I know. For creatives, the "T" word goes over like a lead balloon. But if you've taken the time to find your most popular executions, you've probably got your hands on some pretty darn good creative. And the good news is that the modern generation of templating tools (please do take a look at Pica9!) can handle even your most finely tuned brand layouts.  Even better: Where dynamic templates used to require high-tech skills to install, with today's tools, you can now go from a properly packaged InDesign file to a dynamic, web-based template in a single, simple upload--without any of those pesky plug-ins that your IT team hates so much.

Hint: When you're dipping your toe in the template world, be sure to start small, and listen hard for feedback from your field. They'll tell you what they want to see and how much flexibility they need. Then, you can adjust your template approach to balance the field’s wish list with your brand's desire for disciplined execution.

4. Track, track, track.

If you are sending out templates the old-fashioned way (emails with attachments or a simple download site), it can be super-easy to lose sight of who’s using which template, and to what effect. But with a templating system, you’ll have rich usage data at your fingertips. Which means you can make your design process much more “evidence driven”. And that will earn you trust with your local marketers, which will in turn drive user adoption, which will in turn help to make local execution more brand consistent.

And when you reach that point, you’ll discover that by letting your brand go – just a little – it actually comes back to you stronger than before.

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by Kevin Groome

Founder, CampaignDrive

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