Dec 6, 2009

A Bigger Big Idea

There’s an ongoing debate in the ad world about the death of the “Big Idea” - an overarching notion like “Just Do It” or “Got Milk?” that defines a brand in its advertising messages.

The gist of the argument is that the current media landscape makes the Big Idea obsolete and that the best notion is to create lots of little ideas which will coalesce into a Big Idea depending upon consumer’s reaction.

And while there’s much truth to that argument (which has its basis in what’s now commonly lumped under the umbrella of “Design Thinking” ) I’d like to present another possibility, which is that brands need Big Ideas and Bigger Ideas.

A Big Idea is a marketing message, designed to get consumers to try a product or service. These messages are often very granular and brands and ad agencies often spend weeks tweaking the brief or the tag line to create what they feel is the exact perfect combination of words. And while much of this fine-tuning is no doubt pointless, having a unique message is quite valuable when you’re faced with parity products in a mature market and brand image is the sole differentiator.

But orienting your web messaging around the sales-oriented “Big Idea” is a mistake. Consumers encountering your brand online didn’t just stumble upon it: they took a decisive and purposeful action in order to land there. So you need an idea for this gray area that defines your brand without being overly “sell” oriented.

Hence the Bigger Idea.

Consumers, as many of us tend to forget, don’t think like marketers. Which is to say they aren’t that keen on the fine distinctions and you’re lucky if they can keep one large idea about your product in their heads.

That’s why, you’ll want to cut back on your sales pitch: your message is different and all you need to keep in mind is what your core proposition is, the Bigger Idea that sums up where you sit in consumer’s mental map.

So while the marketing line on my Pert Shampoo may read “Crazy Good Hair Without The Craziness,” your Bigger Idea is “Pert = Convenience” Not particularly sexy, but the Bigger Idea is never going to be couched in pretty marketing language. It’s flat and consumery, but if you can own "convenience" in the shampoo category the way Volvo once owned “safe” you’re golden.

Once you’ve gotten that Bigger Idea down, you can start experimenting, adjusting all your smaller ideas, provided they map back to the Bigger Idea in some way or another.

It's an easy plan to put in motion and eliminating the need to force fit things like mobile apps into the constricted logic of some marketing speak tag line will only serve to make everyone's life easier.

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