How memory structures help build cumulative brand value

Michael Stanford warns brands and marketers constantly changing and refreshing their message might be missing out on the power of memory structures.

Michael StanfordThe argument that marketing is an investment rather than an expense is something we as an industry have been trying to sell to clients since the first advertising executive dropped ‘ROI’ into a client presentation with a triumphant flick of his 80’s braces. This attempt to sound more ‘businessy’ was the beginning of a change in the industry from the ‘bastard art and inexact science’ to something more responsible and accountable.

Over time we have better articulated the argument of ROI, but if you quizzed the industry today, most would consider it more of a digital metric rather than a key to growing a brand.

One of the reasons we haven’t done such a good job in promoting this tenant is our actions often contradict our words. If we see advertising as such a great investment, why change it all the time, swapping out campaigns, rebuilding a brand positioning and jettisoning valuable brand assets with head spinning regularity.

There is always a need to evolve, but the discarding of good work because another agency or marketing director was responsible, does not help our case. Think of Warren Buffett’s words of wisdom around long-term investment, and never getting into a trader mindset that swaps and changes. His view over 52 years is that a fragmented and ever changing strategy will never match a long-term investment with compounding interest. A point he proved recently when he beat a group of top hedge funds with a basic index S and P 500 strategy. Buffett’s approached netted a 65.67% increase over eight years compared to a paltry 21.87%.

Buffett won $1 million in the bet but today’s brands can win so much more if they can acknowledge the frailty of short-termism and focus more on longer-term brand value. This will help reduce the chop and change and most importantly avoid the money lost.

In terms of waste, it is the brand assets that we really need to value more. I’m not going to debate the strengths or weaknesses of a specific campaign, like the NRMA ‘confidence’ campaign. Sorry, I can’t help myself. Why would you ever lose NRMA ‘H.E.L.P’? It says so much without saying much at all. It is a little creative gold dust, which in time can become a gold ingot. Personally when something falls through my roof, which recently happened, I was not after confidence. I needed help. And NRMA did help with a user experience that was exceptional.

I understand the relentless urge to change things, which is not just an agency/client issue. Change is encouraged by award submission criteria, celebrated by industry pundits and supported by poor research that can often quote a consumer who claims to desire a ‘brand refresh’, or suggests a logo is old fashioned. I would strongly suggest that research person eat their stale sandwich, stuff a few mints in their pocket and piss off.

From an investment point of view, NRMA had invested millions of dollars in this asset. Even if you just took the three seconds it appeared on TV screens, let alone the outdoor and all other channels, it was a big investment. IAG literally wiped the value of a city building off the books without a moment’s thought. But did anyone consider this? Definitely not the new team who were suggesting they change agencies because they could offer a better ROI.

I’m not suggesting clients shouldn’t change agencies at times and ad campaigns don’t need to evolve but think twice before you throw everything out. Memory structures are extraordinarily powerful and valuable. You really do need less investment to keep them top of mind because your investment has grown over time not just in value, but also in the unconscious of the consumer.

Look at the success of MLA, which has changed agencies but importantly they have kept the memory structures around Australia Day, so money spent over numerous campaigns continues to grow in value, providing regular dividends. I can’t help but think that if Warren Buffett worked in marketing, he too would always be looking at where there was a cumulative benefit.

Think of ‘John West the best’, words penned by Peter Carey, author of Oscar and Lucinda. Peter is a great writer but he is also an instinctive and clever marketer. He and Bani McSpedden knew the power of a brand asset especially when the brand name offered up such a fortuitous rhyme. ‘The fish John West reject’ was an advertising platform that justified the positioning.

It was rejected by research but a brave client and a smart agency made it work. Oddly enough, these brand assets were valuable not just in selling fish, John West cherries and asparagus also benefitted with an equal lift in sales. It is great to see the brand assets now 30 years old, still being used as the investment continues to pay off.

There are other memory structures to consider for an advertiser, from logo, packaging design to the shape or visual treatment of a product. However, it is also worth seeing the potential value of playing a role in a cultural place or space, or even being part of, or in some cases, leading a cultural discussion. Airbnb, Ben and Jerry’s and others are playing a role in ‘marriage equality’ as they understand a brand with purpose is infinitely stronger.

Building these all important memory structures can dramatically help when deciding on the value of a sponsorship, partnership or how to better monetise them. Brands that do this well not only propel their story through culture, they are welcome guests rather than gatecrashers. It is hard to imagine sports fans willingly placing empty product packaging on their head, but try telling that to KFC bucket heads.

Playing a role in moments of cultural relevance is even more important today as consumers are harder to reach through traditional channels, and disruption can be avoided. Brands that see the advantage of this approach and do so with purpose will continue to succeed and watch as their ROI grows.

 

Michael Stanford is chief creative solutions officer at Initiative Australia.

 

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