The Art And Science Of Effective Work

Chuck Porter, chief strategist at MDC Partners, gave a lovely talk on creativity at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival last year. In the Q&A that followed, someone in the audience asked him a question he did not understand. The person asked again, a little louder, but Chuck still didn’t understand. Someone fetched a microphone and we all heard the question. Chuck still didn’t get it. The question was asking how a great creative mind reconciles the difference between highly effective and highly awarded work. 

Chuck Porter’s answer was that all of the celebrated and awarded work his agency produced was also highly effective and built up their clients’ businesses. His answer shouldn’t surprise anyone working in marketing because it speaks to a modern reality: the old-fashioned ads that used to win effectiveness awards in the days of yore have been replaced by big creative ideas that are as celebrated at Cannes as they are at the Effies.  



The reason for this is that people want more than advertising from brands; they want a valid reason to let brands into their lives. In order to do this, marketers need to work hard to get both share of mind and share of wallet by going beyond product-centric advertising to positioning marketing as a service that answers both the emotional and practical needs of the consumer. Selling product features is not enough to prove value.

This mindset is especially important in the healthcare space, which is becoming over-crowded with hitherto non-health brands staking a claim in the healthy lifestyle industry. From fast food restaurants sharing nutritional information to diaper manufacturers switching their language from "absorbency" to "healthy sleep," brands are on a mission to own a piece of the health conversation. 

You would think that healthcare brands have a head start in this type of marketing since their mission is to improve healthcare for both patients and professionals. However, much of the work we see today still relies on simply sharing the science and data story, which is missing crucial points. Becoming a successful brand means delivering in three important areas: 

  • Answering a human need
  • Demonstrating a brand purpose
  • Understanding the context of where and how the brand appears

The human need can be met by facts, but it is equally important to ensure we communicate the complete benefit of our products, not just the mechanism of action. How will people feel about finding a solution to an unmet need? What bond does that create with a brand? Robin Wight, co-founder of WCRS in London, talks about “interrogating a product until it confesses to its strength” and that strength is not always a product attribute.
The brand purpose is where lasting connections are made. Brands that stand for overcoming a problem, championing a community, or solving an issue, especially in a space as important and intimate as health, will always win the hearts and minds of the public.

Context. In these days of automated data and programmatic buying, marketers need to make sure they do not forget the craft of understanding the planned coincidence of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right experience. Let’s lock the planner, data, and media folks in a room in order to fully understand every aspect of the customer journey from how people behaved in the past, where they are today, and what to expect tomorrow. Only then can we hope to manifest our story in a way that is captivating and relevant.  

Making sure we keep these three pillars in mind is incredibly hard work and will not result in traditional advertising. It will challenge all of our expectations and habits. However, get it right, and your brand will work even harder.

The author is a member of the 2015 North American Final Round Health Effie Awards Jury.

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