Across the great divide – Paul Phillips

What 20th century brands and 21st century businesses can learn from each other

Over the last 18 months, we at AAR have seen several 21st century digital businesses looking to appoint agencies to create effective brand-building communication, often with a key requirement being brand TV advertising.

At the same time, we’ve been working with a number of 20th century bricks and mortar brands on similar briefs, namely for agency support that will deliver digitally-centric content that’s platform-agnostic, media-neutral and socially engaging.

The 21st century businesses we’ve spoken to are all very successful. They’re not confined to a particular sector, ranging across travel, finance, online retail, aggregation and online marketplaces. They appear to offer the holy trinity of wider choice, cheaper prices and faster delivery and, if the commentators are to be believed, are fast becoming the future of retail/financial services/travel agency services/ fast food (you get the idea).

To date they’ve done a fantastic job of optimising themselves, but now continued reliance on optimisation is struggling to deliver cost-effective returns at the rate of growth such activity has achieved in the past.

High on these businesses’ wish-list is the desire to build a brand, one that has meaning and purpose beyond prompted awareness. They look to brands created in the 20th century and recognise the contribution that such brand-building has delivered to these companies’ long-term business performance. Indeed the best brands are recognised as assets on the balance sheet by some companies.

Meanwhile, each of the very successful 20th century businesses we’ve advised has had non-traditional advertising solutions as a central element of the brief, and has shied away from any of the heritage advertising agencies that have expanded their offer beyond their core skills.

Instead they have been drawn to specialist agencies that are most often either owner-managed or have been bought by a holding company but still operate with an apparent degree of autonomy and independence.

In the first instance, these are often project-based arrangements, but the more successful agencies have developed these projects into Agency of Record relationships with their clients, taking an increasing share of the overall marketing budget at the expense of other agencies.

So what’s to be learnt from this? Here are three observations worth bearing in mind:

  1. Investment in brand advertising and optimising marketing performance are both necessary to deliver business success. One is not achieved at the expense of the other; the trick is getting the balance right between the two.
  2. 20th century brands have a lot to learn from 21st century businesses, and the reverse is equally true, certainly when it comes to brand building and advertising. Of course all successful businesses share similar traits, whether they are bricks and mortar, on-line only or mixed economy. Type ‘traits of successful business’ into the Google taskbar then pick from 111,000 news items or 2.48 million total results should you need reminding what it takes to run a successful business.
  3. Darwin’s theory of evolution, that it’s those with the capacity to adapt that stand the best chance of survival, would appear to be equally appropriate to business, brands and marketing as it was to the original subject matter about which the observation was made.

A lofty thought on which to end perhaps, but no less relevant for being so.