It’s all too tempting in marketing to stay up the shallow end.
There may be loads of people there and it can be noisy as hell. But at least you keep your feet on the ground. None of that over-intellectualising psychological nonsense.
The problem is you never learn to swim.
So you focus on short-term activation at the expense of long-term brand building.
Or you splash water in the face of anyone who argues for anything other than increasing penetration.
Or you reckon as long as you wear a bright costume with a logo on the front and a tagline on the back, everyone’s going to remember your distinctive assets.
But it’s the equivalent of marketing in armbands.
Maybe there comes a time when you hear the siren call of the deep, so you leave the crowd and venture out.
One minute you’re OK, toes still touching, and the next the bottom of your world slips away. You return to the safety of the shallows but it doesn’t feel the same. That’s because you’re now an in-betweener.
So you gaze adoringly at the poster children of disruption like Brew Dog, Netflix, Uber and Airbnb.
You read things like “organisations creating products and services which generate real-time consumer data are well-positioned to develop compelling new experiences that adapt to consumers’ evolving needs.”
Or you explore Behavioural Economics and how all those biases seem to come back to the same thing - a desire to save our knackered brains from all that cognitive load. Brands are a short-cut. Loyalty is inertia.
But there’s still this nagging question. Why do people choose the brands they do? You still can’t swim.
For that you have to come down the deep end.
It takes a bit of courage. Some people feel mighty uncomfortable swimming around in a pool of emotion. But once you get there, you realise things haven’t ‘evolved’ as much as everyone says.
Decades ago, Bill Bernbach said: “It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”
Or to be free. Or in control. With like-minded people or smarter than them. A sense of bonding or independence. Safe or adventurous. Comforted or empowered.
That’s not to say brands are about being deep and meaningful. All you’re looking for is a moment of closeness. But at least now there’s some depth to your thinking.
So you decide to target one particular need and you push off from the side towards it. Now it’s about consistency of stroke. You keep practicing, slowly refining your technique, gradually getting more effective.
Over time you build a brand, maybe even a great one. You’ll be able to tell it’s great not purely because your business is doing well, but because when you talk to people they know what your brand stands for. It’s not necessarily something worthy. But it is something that’s relevant to them.
That’s the challenge for all brands. To stay relevant as the world changes. And the best way to do that is to focus on one unchanging need.
So when you get to the wall, you don’t stop. You do your best tumble turn and you keep going.