A recent study by the McCarthy Group suggests that 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. The fact that this massive potential audience which is entering its prime earning years doesn’t trust what remains a key communications channel for reaching them is a big problem for big brands.
So what’s a big legacy brand to do? How can it earn back that trust and engage with diverse audiences in a way that resonates? We posit that to succeed in this fragmented marketing landscape, brands must think big and act small.
Thinking big and acting small isn’t about being muddled in the middle. It is about standing for something singular and unifying while adapting and nuancing one’s message and actions to meaningfully reach different audiences.
We’ve defined a roadmap with three key principles that a brand must embrace to successfully think big, act small.
1. Have a bold, intentional purpose
Purpose is the north star that makes clear what the brand stands for, what it cares about and why this matters. It’s the driving force that mobilizes the brand to action and deliver value, above its products and services. Today, brands need to stand for something meaningful that gives them the right to move beyond share of market—to share of life.
Campbell’s Soup is a brand that is successfully leveraging its purpose. Faced with a challenging market landscape, in which their consumers have an almost a limitless number of quick-meal options, they have recognized the need for their flagship brand to stand out and speak up. With the knowledge that people love Campbell because it’s real food that fits into real lives, they have developed a corporate purpose: “real food that matters for life’s moments.” Their powerful new campaign, "Real food for real life" taps into the changing face of the American family, showcasing a mosaic of families with different cultures and configurations engaging in no-filter, relatable depictions of life and the meals that are a part of it.
Campbell’s campaign idea is an example of thinking big. While their executional strategy acts small — with ads that run the gamut of family situations and lifestyles and a digital media buy that more effectively targets these audiences.
2. Be attuned to culture
An understanding of culture is essential to ensuring the right expression of a brand’s purpose.
Brands need to have a mastery of both slow moving and quick evolving culture to ensure that their purpose is expressed in a way that will have resonance for their audience.
GE provides a great example of a brand that is thinking big and acting small, using geek culture as a guidepost. The brand’s image as a stodgy industrial giant was in conflict with their desire to position themselves as the inventors of the next industrial era. So GE set about redefining themselves as a cool "digital industrial" company, championing science and innovation for a younger generation that they consider to be future customers, potential investors and employees. Their quirky television campaign, run during the Olympics, held the attention of viewers longer than almost any other spot, conveying that GE is as good a place as any Silicon Valley start-up for a skilled technician to build a career. And their cutting-edge media strategy leveraged unexpected communication vehicles like Snapchat and “Message," a sci-fi storytelling podcast that climbed to the top of the iTunes podcast charts. This 120-year-old conglomerate has proven that a nuanced understanding of culture can help to deliver brand purpose in a truly stand out way.
3. Speak meaningfully with data
Axe Brazil does this in exemplary fashion with their Romeo Reboot campaign which reframes Shakespeare’s famous tragedy into four personas based on an analysis of target psychographic data and passion points. Axe programmatically served up 25,000 video content permutations to each of these four segments, modifying the music, the story setting and the characters to mirror the viewers’ programmatically derived preferences, all reinforcing the brand’s new purpose of helping men to embrace their own unique expression of masculinity.
When brands understand and effectively execute the Think Big, Act Small strategy, they are able stand for something singular and unifying rather than being muddled in the middle. They can then adapt and nuance their messages and their actions to meaningfully reach different audiences, showing how the universal can be made unique and personal.