By Colin Jowell

It’s 2015, and sometimes it feels like nothing has changed. If an ad isn’t shouting at you with its retail special, it’s putting the product in the hands of some A, B or C-list celebrity. 

And yet, if you think about it, the real marketing darlings of our time have used neither tactic. I’m sure some of you will be able to dig out some obscure examples to prove me wrong, but most people could not spontaneously mention the celebrity that convinced them to start using Uber. Or an iPhone. Or Airbnb.

I’m not saying that brand ambassadors don’t work, and that celebrity placements don’t attract attention, but they are not a source of sustainable competitive advantage, the way that something intrinsic to the function and form of the product and service are.

So much of what passes for a “brand essence” is really not much more than wishful thinking. There is a clothing retailer that has what must be its brand manifesto literally written in the window. Even if we look past what a creative cop out that is, one really has to wonder what they were thinking? I paraphrase to protect the not-so-innocent: “Amongst Australia’s Big Fashion Brands, Brand X is the most inspiring”. This was placed next to a fashionable dummy, another marketing device that is over 100 years old, without a shred of irony. It’s all tell, no show, and it’s little wonder that the CFO’s who are in charge of marketing budgets are having a harder time taking any of this stuff seriously.

Social Media has opened up some interesting new opportunities in the ambassador endorsement space. Ordinary people taking pictures of their dinner can sometimes get hundreds of thousands of followers.  That’s a far greater audience than most of what shows on free-to-air television. And while this is becoming an increasingly important part of our planning, the minute we think that is the strategy, rather than the tactic, we will be back to square one.

Truly innovative companies fuse the marketing function with product development and service design. They don’t stop until there is something truly unique and compelling in the so-called USP (unique selling proposition).  This requires hard grind.  It isn’t something that’s left to the “Marcomms” people to figure out – because when that happens, it’s little wonder that all we end up with is a barrage of price points, flashing discounts and famous faces.

To get out of this space, companies need to carefully assess the impact of their silos. Creating integrated project teams to manage innovation from ideation right to go to market and comms is a start. Or if that’s unfeasible, making smart stakeholder engagement roadmaps to take people on the journey.

And as consultants, if you still think the best thing you can offer is brilliant thinking, you aren’t really solving the hardest part of the problem. Helping our clients break those silos and barriers is as fundamental a part of our offer as the ideas we tout.