We take decisions every day, but it’s getting harder, faster and scarier. It feels like we’re all drowning in data, with less time, more at stake and wider choices. So, how to cope?
There’s been a growing force in marketing in the past couple of years that’s gaining currency as an increasingly relevant way to help marketers leapfrog the question of how to decide. It’s the agile development approach and it’s entering the world of brand design.
Marc Pritchard, global CMO of Procter & Gamble, went on record last year saying that agile is the "new must-have skill for marketers", while Unilever chief executive Paul Polman said: "(We’re)… reallocating budgets to enable us to make content in an always-on world. Agencies need to organise themselves around the consumer, not the client."
So what is agile?
Agile is a mindset and a process. The long (and sequentially) planned approach, with "big leaps of faith", is replaced by mini-steps. It asks for a continual journey of "test, learn, commit" (TLC) loops. There’s no better parallel than Darwinian philosophy, where the most successful species are those quickest to adapt. (See Anthony Freeling’s book Agile Marketing: How to Innovate Faster, Cheaper and with Lower Risk for more.)
You can see how this applies to marketing. Some specialisms are inherently agile. Think optimisation in digital-media planning or social-media community management.
Some companies are putting agile into practice in their strategic planning and ongoing structures and processes, too. But what about brand design? Doesn’t it need more time, patience and, well, distance for the genius to emerge? No, it doesn’t.
Making it work in brand design
Branding and marketing are close cousins. A strong brand drives preference, premium pricing and loyalty, but is more of a permanent asset than the on/off nature of marketing. An "always-on" agile approach can bring them closer, but the brand-development process can benefit most.
If you take core development activities in brand design – such as corporate branding, retail environments, innovation, brand packaging and employee engagement – you can apply a more agile approach to how initiatives are developed and brands managed.
This means developing more initial creative directions, in multiple formats, at an earlier stage, and living with more ambiguity before developing shortlisted options – but that only works in combination with testing. And not just any old testing, but innovative research techniques bundled in new ways that enable faster feedback from real people. Then rinse and repeat more than you normally would. Finally, everyone needs to be at the top of their game at the "learn" stage of TLC for this to work on an ongoing basis.
This is not universally accepted. Nonetheless, once designers understand that, when managed properly, the "testing" part is not a threat or a way of diluting creativity, but a smarter way to get to a better answer, then it all starts to work – and it can work very well.
In a recent comparison between traditional and agile processes for developing a brand packaging graphic, we saw the latter was faster to market, with higher ROI. This was due to a 100% faster project turnaround, ongoing responsiveness and the potential for 20% lower investment. It had a lower risk/higher success rate due to broader options, more testing, and being closer to consumers in design development stages.
Your intuition and gut feel are important, but instead of long, sequential approaches that still don’t enable you to predict the result, an agile mindset can be better for making crucial decisions.
Don’t wait for more data, just develop the minimum you can, then "go beta" with whatever you can. It’s more entrepreneurial but no less professional. Indeed, what can be more professional than getting better at taking all those decisions and being able to sleep better at night?
Simon Ward, chief executive (EU), Holmes & Marchant
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