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A regular blog offering insightful analysis of the latest in the business world from a researchers perspective.

  • Writer's pictureNick Bonney

Building an effective communication strategy

It's been a year for essential marketing reads... First, we had Richard Shotton’s fantastic The Choice Factory (a fabulously practical and easy to read guide to behavioural biases and how to capitalise on them) and now, Binet and Field (authors of The Long and the Short of It amongst many others) have added another fantastically practical guide to optimising marketing effectiveness.

If you are involved in the world of branding and advertising (either creating it or measuring it), it really is a must-read. I can’t possibly do all of the data justice here but there were some fantastic observations which simply jumped off the page for me. Obviously, depending on your brand / category there may be other insights which leap out at you but here are my top ten take outs:-

1. Long term brand messaging is critical - whilst activation campaigns can still deliver returns, these are far more effective when delivered as part of a brand campaign. Even with few activation messages, a brand campaign will outperform those which are activation focused (see below)

Brand vs Activation Messaging (Binet and Field 2018)

2. Emotional messaging remains key in all categories – the optimum split is over 60% brand messaging even in categories which are low consideration. Emotional messaging delivers a higher brand effects.The optimum budget is shifting even further to emotions – with the onset of digital marketing, building brands has become more not less important

3. But the divergence from the optimum mix is getting larger – yet, as marketers we are becoming more driven towards rational/ activation messaging

4. Retailers and financial services have been particularly guilty in straying from the optimum position – how ironic that two categories with challenges (banks to build trust, retailers to survive vs. online disruptors) appear to be accelerating their decline with a focus on short-termism rather than building brands which genuinely stand apart

5. Have something to say – campaigns which deliver genuine innovation to the consumer are more effective (nothing like a ‘hard centre’ as we used to say in Orange days) but brands without ‘new news’ are more likely deliver successful campaigns through an emotional route e.g. Felix cat food campaigns (see below)

The Power of Combining Innovation with Emotions (Binet & Field 2018)

6. Byron Sharp was right to obsess about penetration – campaigns which focus on bringing new users to the brand are more successful than those which are loyalty focused

7. Subscription models require brand building – subscription models can deliver high levels of marketing effectiveness but we shouldn’t get caught in the trap of believing the optimum model is to deliver rational proof points to existing customers to shore up loyalty. In fact, as subscription categories tend to be high consideration, the optimum level of brand messaging is even higher (74%)

8. On the whole brand re-launches/ re-brands are highly inefficient and require high spend – how many times have we seen marketing teams go down the route of re-branding in an attempt to drive re-appraisal. Binet and Field’s data shows that, without any new innovation, such a strategy is highly inefficient

9. Bigger brands have higher base sales growth and as a result can dial back on brand messaging. However, even here, the optimum weight is still clearly in favour of brand vs. activation messaging

10. The charge of the discounters – whilst markets are concentrating (IPA databank entrants now have significantly higher share) this is not translating to premium prices. There is clear evidence of brands shifting to value rather than premium pricing

There is a wealth of brilliant data in this book and, in particular, the budget setting guidelines at the end make it an essential input to any marketing planning process and one of the best attempts I’ve seen to turn theory into practical application.

Whilst by no means the fault of the authors (!), it did though leave me feeling slightly depressed. The book clearly shows how our response to the financial crisis and the squeeze on consumers’ wallets has been to push ever further down the path towards rational, activation messaging. The fact that the retail industry is one of the biggest culprits in this data feels particularly worrying given all the troubles on the high street. When faced with disruption, it appears the short-term promotion is often seen as the easy way out even if the data suggests this is far from effective.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have brands still spending huge budgets on brand messaging which doesn’t seem to deliver any real consumer benefit. Personally, I have a particular gripe with cinematic adverts from banks which are telling we should trust them but are not accompanying the campaign with any tangible changes in behaviour to make us feel they’re trustworthy. However, based on this data it also could be argued that even initiatives like the recent John Lewis & Partners re-branding are likely to be hugely inefficient?

Sadly, there aren’t that enough examples of brands who are getting it right based on this data. Binet & Field have some great case studies from Direct Line, EasyJet and Lidl to name but a few but it feels like we’re not awash with brands who could say they’re striking the right balance between brand and activation messaging currently? Credit then to McDonalds – a brand which seems to be continuing to deliver innovation in an emotional way and one which is reaping the rewards (49 quarters of sales and customer growth). I'll end with their latest effort... it's another gem

Effectiveness in Context is available to buy now from the IPA (no, I'm not on commission!)

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