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Would you ever fly a plane without building your flight plan and submitting it for approval to air traffic control? Would you build a skyscraper without a blueprint and consulting with an architect? Would you dare get in a driverless car without plotting your destination? Of course not.

So, why in the world would you put messaging and activations in-market, to your consumers, without a clear game plan as to why you’re doing it — or what behaviors you’re trying to change and what success should look like?

Welcome to what I call the Era of Blind Activation.

To understand how we got here, let’s go back to the basics:  the marketing brief. The marketing brief used to be everything. There were lengthy discussions and debate on it. Who were our most likely shoppers? Will they generate enough sales lift to meet our share goals? What are the barriers and challenges? What do our consumers want and what motives them? At times, there used to be so much crammed into pages and pages of brands briefs that tried to contract it into the most important takeaways.

Part of the marketer’s job is to author those briefs (well, at least in most cases). But these are the same marketers that are also being reorganized, stretched to capacity, pushed to drive short-term goals, and pressed to win in e-commerce while learning digital marketing on the fly. Compound these pressures with a general lack of growth in mature marketplaces, new and disruptive distribution models, and the rise of local brands eating big brands’ cake for dinner. This is the perfect storm.

Recently, several clients have asked us to put together activations for campaigns that needed to be in-market within weeks, without briefs. When asked about it, the response has been a variation of, “In an agile world, who has time for a brief?” The brief has become a stigma of old school, long-term planning. We have become almost shamed for asking for it.

In a world with buzzwords such as real time, biddable, dynamic, and responsive – is it counterintuitive when we ask for more forethought and time spent debating and aligning on strategies?

Our clients are pressured to drive immediate sales and build brands while navigating a labyrinth of digital channels and distribution platforms. Marketers are being pushed to move at the speed of disruption—a (perhaps unintentional) refrain of “Stop thinking and activate! Activate! Activate!” With the pressure to be digital first, our industry has jumped so quickly to execution that many have completely lost sight of what it takes to build a brand in the first place.

Here are some telling outcomes of the Era of Blind Activation (aka the crappy brief — insert emoji turd here):

  • You get rounds and rounds of executional revisions because you were never sure what the communication strategy was supposed to do in the first place.
  • Leadership is divided causing delays and ongoing, frustrating, debates. My favorite term is “seagulling.” That’s when senior leadership who hasn’t been part of the briefing process are brought in later, and then disagree (crap) on the brief and fly away. Three weeks lost.
  • There are disagreements between metrics of success and optimization KPIs – should it be CPA or CPV? More and more dashboards are being asked for without line of sight as to what value they provide.
  • You’ve built various audience segments for a programmatic execution, but you haven’t thought about what you should be saying to them.
  • You have decided to target influencers. That’s great. Now what?
  • Your advertising isn’t working quickly enough, so you cut media and activate some immediate promotions.
  • You’ve been through rounds and rounds of creative executions but none of them really work OR you have one digital display that attempts to cram in 10,000 different messages.

Let’s do better. Together, we can transform this Era of Blind Activation to the Great Communication Renaissance. We can create executions that aren’t just fast or edgy, but are provocative with purpose. And this is how we start:

  • Go slow first, to go fast. Brand building doesn’t happen overnight – get the brief right and the executions become fluid.
  • Collect evidence to determine the right balance between brand building and performance driving investments. Remember that short-term success won’t always secure your long-term future.
  • Get alignment from key stakeholders (the ones that make the decisions) – and do it early.
  • Have a clear idea of what success looks like. Shift to outcome-based measurement and make sure you have the plan to measure and optimize for success.
  • Media is not an afterthought. What good are audience planning, dynamic creative, and programmatic buying when you have no damn idea what to say to whom and when? Data and tech do not come cheap – the message and context need to work harder for you. Creative and media need to be bedfellows.
  • Let’s not forget the power of consumer insight. People see the advertising, not the AI that powers it. Do not focus only on the tech. Remember, ultimately, we are also people. People who buy products.

I’ll sign off with one final thought. If tomorrow we could advertise holograms to people from space, would you really know what you would say, who to send it to or if you should be sending something at all? If not, go back to the brief. It should guide you.

 

Danielle Koffer is chief client officer, US, at Mindshare