There are now two distinct approaches to the development of brand and creative communications strategies. This is the view of the chair of the UK Account Planning Group’s Creative Strategy Awards, Adam Morgan, based on his review of the case studies submitted for the 2013 competition.
According to Morgan, “’Washington Planning’ involves focussing on the business problem and seeking truths about the brand and its consumers…, whilst ‘Hollywood Planning’ involves a bold re-imagining of the brand and strong questioning of how things have been done”.
Washington Planning reflects an evolution of the traditional, consumer-centric approach to brand strategy development. Its focus is “the disciplined uncovering of powerful truths within the current business model”. This requires first understanding the business problem. Then getting “close to the history of the brand or the truth of the consumer relationship” to unearth an insight that will stimulate creative thinking that in turn will lead to “consumer reappraisal and measured business results”. It is characterised by an emphasis on “the problem, disciplined analysis, [and] real proximity to the consumer”.
Hollywood Planning, in contrast, lies “more in a bold re-imagining – not just of what the brand can be, but what the media or even business model might be around the brand, and indeed the whole way the problem [needs] to be thought about”. It fundamentally questions the way a brand or its problems have been traditionally approached, and recognises “the need to overturn legacy thinking both about how success should be defined for this problem – as well…as how to achieve that success”.
That these different modes of thinking exist is not new news. (This blog has repeatedly covered topics related to both).
But the succinctness of the Washington versus Hollywood delineation may be useful in helping senior marketers and CEOs think about the type of brand strategy their businesses really need.
Inside Washington planning
On closer examination ‘Washington’ planning contains two directions.
Finding the “truth of the consumer relationship” assumes the ‘answer’ will come from consumers. It is the basis for the traditional research based approach to brand strategy. But as outlined in the post The Growing Limitations of Traditional Brand Research, it is an approach that is becoming more challenging and less effective.
The other direction relies not looking externally to the consumer but internally to the brand and its business. It requires finding a “powerful truth” within “the current business model” or “the history of the brand”. In some respects this harks back to how strategy was developed in earlier eras of brand communications, when ad agencies would spend days or weeks within a client’s offices or factory looking for hidden nuggets. (Take, for example, David Ogilvy’s famous anecdote of how it was his personal experience of the product, plus a conversation with one of the company’s engineers, that led to the classic headline “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock” and a brand story based on the meticulous delivery of excellence).
Inside Hollywood planning
‘Hollywood’ planning recognises that break-through brand strategy is increasingly integrated with – and in some cases a driver of – business strategy. It may be based on a yet to be articulated vision for a company. In which case, the ambition and imagination of its senior management team will play a pivotal role. Or, as noted in the post The New Alternatives for Brand Strategy, it may involve discovering a bigger purpose for the business beyond just making money; an articulation of how it will make the world ‘a better place’. Again, this places the perspectives of senior managers and other internal stakeholders at the centre of the planning exercise.
Washington or Hollywood?
In practice, the choice of which approach to brand strategy development is employed depends on two factors. One is a clear understanding of the degree to which a brand’s competitive situation calls for the next logical ‘business as usual’ step, evolution or revolution. The other is the desire and willingness of its owners to be bold and to drive change.
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