In Brand Relations, Think Globally to Succeed Globally

Applying the ‘Ocean’s Eleven Principle’ to brand marketing.

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Gina Crisanti leans against a billboard Tuesday, July 26, 2005, in downtown Chicago which she and five other women posed for in their underwear for an ad campaign to sell Dove Beauty products.
Gina Crisanti leans against a billboard Tuesday, July 26, 2005, in downtown Chicago which she and five other women posed for in their underwear for an ad campaign to sell Dove Beauty products.

In my previous post, I described the "Ocean's Eleven Principle:" if you want to rob the Bellagio, don't bring a team of all safecrackers or all pickpockets; instead learn to integrate disparate disciplines and approaches. Such integration has many applications beyond the world of casino heists, but it does not come easily. If you attempt it out of some ideal of happy collaboration, you're unlikely to see your ideal fulfilled. All the same, when you need to generate a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, the Ocean's Eleven Principle can be indispensable.

Although there's no simple formula for integrating contrasting modes of work and thought, there are best practices for doing so. Some of these practices are industry-specific, though many of them have broader applications. Take, for example, brand marketing.

David Garrison, a partner at the brand consulting firm the Brytemoore Group, has built his practice by integrating efforts across marketing disciplines. Garrison's clients have access to any number of specialists, but knitting the specialists' work together meaningfully can be elusive. As Garrison explains:

Silos are built into the way marketing functions are organized. There's a lot of great counsel out there if you want a visual identity, an ad campaign, or a communications plan. But Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and agency leads face significant challenges when it comes to integrating brand strategy across functions and communications channels.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Garrison argues that these challenges have intensified. In the digital age, the customer's experience of a given brand is fed through an increasingly complex set of interactions. Yet the industry is set up to approach each point of customer interaction – each touch-point, in the industry vernacular – separately.

Think for a moment of the interaction between two people on a first or second date, who don't share a common social circle. In their first few interactions, these individuals are likely to represent themselves the way they'd like to be seen. Each has quite a bit of control over this, because his or her counterpart has only a few windows through which to view him or her.

Now compare this to what happens when a relationship develops, and each individual views the other through numerous interactions within a shared community or social fabric. In a developed relationship, the touch-points are multiple – and often elude our control. This is the situation most brands are in with regard to their customers today. Yet, according to Garrison, most marketing efforts remain focused on interactions at a given touch-point:

Much of the time, we approach these interaction points separately. So one agency or leader responds to the challenge of improving a website, another responds to the challenge of knocking social [media] out of the park and still another speaks to how to improve the [purchase] transaction itself.

Garrison believes such a piecemeal approach is built into the way marketers' work is typically defined:

We're trained and rewarded to see our own discipline at the center of any discussion. And while that can produce good functional outcomes (such as a great ad campaign, compelling social content, or strong return on communications programs), it can be costly when functions fail to work together to build and deepen the broader relationship.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

This failure to build and deepen relationships has everything to do with the way consumers form those relationships today. Garrison continues:

The experiences we love and look to repeat, while sometimes associated with a specific moment, are generally informed by a whole set of complex supporting interactions.

Today's consumers look in multiple places to learn about and interact with brands. They tend to trust third-party messages more than messages coming at them from companies, for example. This means that well-designed communications in one medium tend to get the big results only when supported by the broader relationship between the customer and the brand. As Garrison elaborates:

The brand isn't really "owned" by the company. To build a credible, authentic, and meaningful relationship around the things that matter requires a holistic approach. This depends upon looking beyond campaigns to understand whether the organization can consistently deliver on a brand vision that resonates with internal and external audiences.

The "Dove Campaign for Real Beauty" is the most awarded viral campaign in history, and it has transformed Dove's share of the market. At first glance, the overwhelming success of the viral spots at the center of this campaign might suggest that a powerful message can carry a brand. Messages can be important, to be sure, but if you look closely, their power is derived from the larger relationship. As Mike Hemingway, who led the team at Ogilvy that developed the Campaign for Real Beauty, stated simply earlier this year: "A brand is an opinion … about your category that the customer finds personal and important."

Dove's viral spots have been successful because Hemingway's team listened to what mattered to women. These spots were part of an integrated program of raising money, educating girls in schools and participating in a passionate conversation. When Hemingway describes this, one hears, not a lecture about beauty or soap, but the overwhelming results of research about issues women find important. In the same interview with Social Media Week's Lisa Chau from which the above quotation is drawn, he admonished marketers:

Get to know your consumer really well. Fall in love with them. This love affair is at the heart of the relationship.

[Read Brad Johnson: Google Goes to the Dark Side]

If this insight can generate such impact, why don't we change the way marketers' jobs are defined?

In a heist movie, it's easy to see the risk that the plan may fail to come together as the whole. It does little good to infiltrate a casino or to crack a tough safe if the pieces don't align when you need them most. Much of the power of the heist story comes from the fact that once the attempt is made, it's all or nothing. If one component fails at the critical moment, the whole game is up.

Yet in other endeavors, global failure is often hidden by local success. Take a moment and think about activities in your own work or studies, where people are recognized and rewarded for performing tasks well, and even for generating locally successful results – but no one is attending to the overall outcome. Think, figuratively speaking, of when we might get kudos for stitching a collar or a set of sleeves well, but no one is looking at the resulting shirt. In many endeavors, the "epic fail" happens when we lack the training, the practice, the incentives, the vantage points, or the power to recognize that the "shirt" looks wrong and to get those working on the component parts to see this. More often than not, we fool ourselves into measuring our success in each component, without ever ascertaining whether the whole endeavor is coming together; at other times, those in a position to know something's wrong simply lack the power to raise the alarm. Because of this, we find we're still getting all-clear readouts from various sensors, when in fact the whole system is failing.

In an organization or industry where this is the case, what is to be done? Translation, collaboration and integration aren't abilities you just decide one day are important, in response to some corporate directive. They're skills that take as much practice as any discipline or craft to master. Integration requires practice, not to mention power. Moreover, integration often means taking a leap and embracing the tensions and challenges that go with it. For these reasons, those who build the skills to apply the Ocean's Eleven Principle often find themselves indispensable. This is not only true of large siloed marketing organizations; even at the earliest stages, every Woz needs his Jobs. Yet how prepared are employers and educators to permit, reward and manage the crossing of disciplinary boundaries and the taking of constructive risks?

[Read David Brodwin: Why Google and Amazon Couldn't Have Built Obamacare Better]

Garrison has built his consulting practice on enabling chief marketing officers and agency leads to get this right in the world of brand marketing. Yet would he be equipped to do this, had he not spent a career refining his ability to bridge disciplines and professions? As the chief marketing officer at Indaba Music, he worked with a cross-functional team to grow the company into the leading collaboration tool for musicians. In building Remède Naturopathics, a specialized health care practice, he and co-founder Dr. Nicole Egenberger built a clinic that bridges western and alternative medicine. At Edelman, Garrison helped build a management strategy consulting practice within a PR powerhouse. Even in his education, Garrison pursued his MBA at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, which outcompetes more specialized programs by exceling at integration and general management. The versatility Garrison has developed through his career is not to be confused with the experience of the career-hopper or jack-of-all-trades. In each capacity in which he has served, Garrison has been one of the people throwing the first lines across the gap so a rope bridge could be built.

Your average career counselor is unlikely to advise college graduates to take a path like Garrison's. It hardly makes the job aspirant easy to place. The insularity of many professions can be precipitous at the entry points. Yet to build bridges out of a passion for big-picture results can constitute powerful preparation, as Garrison's story illustrates. The only way to become an effective integrator is by doing it. Luckily, this is not always as dangerous as pulling off a major heist.

Alejandro Crawford is a senior consultant at Acceleration Group, where he develops strategy for leaders seeking to commercialize innovation and master change. He also teaches courses in entrepreneurship and growth strategy. He graduated from the Tuck School of Business in 2003.

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