I’ll admit, it’s not often you see an ad guy question the need for advertising. However, it just seems wise to question the need for oneself every once in a while. Plus, this really has more to do with the need for what most people would call “advertising.” Marketers have different goals in mind when they launch a new campaign. It could be to raise awareness or to educate people about a new product. Although, at the end of the day, from a big picture standpoint, advertising is really a way for companies to attract people to their products. When more people are attracted, more sales are made. However, advertising doesn’t attract people nearly as much as fantastic products and strong brands do.
We all know the power of word of mouth. Every agency strives to create an ad that people talk about. However, in terms of selling a product, an infectious ad isn’t nearly as strong as an infectious product interaction. Marketers should put more effort into getting people to talk about the experience they had with the brand, rather than how hard they laughed when they saw the ad.
When marketers focus on advertising, they’re looking at the outer-most shell of a brand. However, true branding starts at the inside and works it’s way out. It’s a bit of a cliché example, but take Starbucks. The company might be in a down cycle now, but in its heyday, Starbucks attracted customers like a parka to a naked man in a blizzard. The product that connects with consumers is more than coffee: it’s the whole brand experience. The atmosphere, the personality of the brand, even the ancillary products they carry, like Ethos Water. Despite the fact that Starbucks advertised very little, it was a hugely attractive brand. When people talked about Starbucks, commercials weren’t the main source of conversation. (Although hats off to Fallon/NY for doing some fantastic spots a few years ago.) Starbucks concentrated on its brand from the inside out. When it came to connecting with consumers, advertising was an afterthought. Which is as it should be.
Marketing departments typically spend more time figuring out how to present themselves to the outside world than figuring how they’re going to be perceived by their customers, if and when they reel them in. That goes the same for agencies. Many of them are more concerned with attraction than retention. Now, in their defense, most agencies aren’t given a chance to help with the retention side of the business. Which is a shame. No doubt marketing directors spend more energy brining in customers than keeping them because customer attraction is where the ROI is. It’s almost impossible to measure the ROI when building the brand from the inside out. And where there’s no ROI, there’s no love from CEOs. However, ignoring the inside of a brand will hurt in the long run. Eventually, a competitor will arise who understands this and will start to steal some market share. Just ask American Airlines about JetBlue.
Of course, advertising will always have its place. Educating large amounts of people about your product is important. However, advertising should always take a backseat to branding. You need to make sure you’re delivering a product experience that is interesting and relevant to consumers. Branding not only attracts customers, but it retains them. So strong branding is always in an agency's best interest. We all know that advertising is the first discipline examined if sales falter. But even the most successful advertising campaign can’t keep people coming back if they don’t like what they find. So please, for our own sake, agencies, let’s all make sure the brand comes first.