Focus More on the Message and Less on the Delivery System

It’s All About Storytelling

By Darby O’Brien

Darby O’Brien

In this age of countless media platforms, Darby O’Brien says, bold and creative messaging is more important than ever.

In today’s multimedia environment, there are countless platforms — and a hell of a lot of clutter. That means the bedrock of strong advertising and marketing — bold, creative messaging — is even more important, whether it’s a billboard or a banner ad.

As marketing agencies, we’re expected to sell our clients on viral content, social-media approaches driven by hashtags and Snapchat filters. Lots of buzzwords. It’s important to keep current and explore all available options to get the word out. But it’s also important to have a strategy and not disregard the enduring power of traditional media such as television and print.

We need to dig down and get to know our clients, what makes them unique, and what specific strategy works for them. It’s not our job to sell clients on the latest trends just because it’s something they’ve been told they should have. It’s our job to give them the tools they need to succeed.

We believe in powerful brands with a strong look and message and making sure that stays consistent through all representations: website, business cards, letterhead, social media, advertising, even the design of the office. This business is all about storytelling. A company advertises to differentiate themselves, to set themselves apart from the pack. We need to focus less on the delivery system and more on the message. Branding campaigns that work are the ones that connect. They are memorable and successful because they truly represent the client. Sometimes it’s done through humor; sometimes it’s emotion. Sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes it’s a kick in the pants.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.”

Once there’s a strong identity and story, one must consider the current media options and figure out a combination that works. If we want to capture an audience attending an event, we geofence the event and hit ’em with ads on their phones. If you sell a product that needs multiple touches, it’s best to re-market to visitors to your site and keep top-of-mind awareness until they pull the trigger.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.

People aren’t going on Facebook or Instagram to be sold. That said, it is an incredible platform for doing just that. Restaurants, fashion, beauty, and other lifestyle brands have the easy leg up on being consumer-based and can benefit from the bragging rights associated with people liking their page. Those are the easy promotions on social media. Take a food-porn shot of your top-selling entrée, appetizer, or cocktail, boost it, and watch the likes and shares come in.

It gets tougher if you are a growing company that is not in a sexy category. Try recruiting talent from a pool where the audience doesn’t have cable or read the newspaper. That is where strategy, message, and delivery come together. We have seen great success with recruiting campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, even for companies that you may not associate with social media. In this case, the strategy is to sell the lifestyle that working for said company could afford them instead of just throwing up a ‘now hiring’ post.

Unfortunately, we’re living in what I call an ‘eggshells environment.’ We need bold, creative messaging more than ever, but people seem more cautious than ever. There’s too much of a focus-group mentality. When you try to please everybody, you don’t appeal to anybody.

Our most successful campaigns have been when we dealt directly with the decision maker, the person whose reputation is on the line and knows that you have to roll the dice to win. Those campaigns and concepts have rarely made it through the groupthink filter of committees, play-it-safe marketing directors, and company boards without being dumbed down and rendered ineffective.

As marketing agencies, we need to make it clear what exactly we’re good at. Today, everybody thinks they can do it themselves. It’s great that media has been democratized by new technology, but just because a client can shoot a web video or a TV spot on their iPhone and cut it together on their laptop, doesn’t mean they should. Now more than ever, concepts, quality production values, and consistency are key if you want to make an impact.

One thing I’ve always stood by is that you don’t win when you underestimate the audience or treat them like a bunch of rubes. Today’s audience is media-savvy, sophisticated, and appreciative of quality and style. Look at what’s on TV. Look at the food world. Things are being executed on a higher level than ever before.

Businesses need to think big and not be afraid to take a risk.

Darby O’Brien is a principal with Darby O’Brien, an independent, family-run branding, design, advertising, and public-relations firm headquartered in South Hadley; (413) 533-7045.

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