Jo Slatem, Brand Mandate - Trust and understanding

The key to strategic planning lies in understanding the influences behind consumer decisions.

We all know that achieving meaningful coverage for your client is becoming more and more difficult - the number of brands wanting to communicate what they stand for within a limited media space is growing all the time. Consumers are increasingly savvy to PR and journalists no longer rely upon a company to tell its own story.

Brand differentiation now relies on more than innovative creative. Trust and understanding are major drivers of consumer engagement and a conversation with your target audience about your product without explaining its relevance is no longer enough.

The smart companies now recognise the need to explain what really makes them different in a cluttered market, and how they can relate to their individual consumers better than any other competitor. That's why business intelligence and insight is so important within brand creative.

Uncovering insight takes time and research, but is a crucial part of strategic planning. The key lies in identifying a nugget of information from an analysis of the market and understanding the influences behind consumer decisions. Placing this knowledge at the heart of your creative brainstorming process means your ideas are built around truths that resonate with your consumer.

Seeing the bigger picture of the competitive marketplace, consumer trends and media agendas enables you to take a step back and spot an opportunity to make a deeper connection with your audiences. In doing so, you are able to challenge the norm and identify new opportunities.

For example, how many different brands talked about savvy and penny-wise shopping through the recession? One company took a different approach. American Express had launched a brand campaign designed to connect with a wider audience and wanted to reassure existing customers at a time of financial worry. Part of this was the launch of a new retail rewards card, Express Rewards, which earns points for every pound spent.

By looking at what competitors were doing and analysing current consumer behaviours and motivations, it was able to see that people were cutting down on luxuries and treats. Through developing the story based on real life and emotions, it was able to start a conversation with the consumer that showed understanding and one with journalists that offered a new and engaging angle. The result was a new audience engaged in the brand and a host of shoppers who focused on the reward not the spend.

Insight is often most effective when it uncovers something unexpected, leading to reappraisal or changing motivation or direction. Connection at an emotional level brings the power to change behaviour, something every brand is searching for to achieve that cut-through to purchase.

A great example of a business that doesn't need brand awareness is Lego UK. With nearly 100 per cent unaided consumer awareness scores, its brand challenge is to communicate how the bricks are about more than big photo opportunities. Sharing research into and expert endorsement of the learning skills developed through Lego play has allowed it to tap into the universal parental concern about their child's development and start to change their shopping behaviour.

Unfortunately, it isn't enough to have the insight. What is important is using it to deliver the basics of good PR - building a story that journalists want to tell and that consumers want to read. That means relevance, evidence, awareness and understanding. Once you have these principles in place, it's time to crack a big creative idea.

- Jo Slatem is director of Brand Mandate


- What is the best coverage your agency has attracted for a story based on a survey?

This year's Kleenex Hay Fever Health Report took our annual survey one step further, combining an analysis of clinical research with relevant new consumer insight to give us a myriad of angles such as he-fever is the new man flu and the impact of stress on symptoms. To date, this has generated 18 pieces of national coverage across a two-month period and a three-minute feature on GMTV.

- Who is your fantasy campaign spokesman/woman? Why?

Prince Philip - he has a unique ability to grab the top headlines.

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