What do you do when tons of research reveals nothing particularly useful for a brand's communications strategy? What if it falls into a low involvement/low interest consumer category, like Oral-B floss, Crest toothpaste or Scope mouthwash and there is nothing really new to say? Or perhaps your brand is the category leader by a large margin or maybe even the only one in the category like Summer's Eve feminine wipes....? What's the point of changing up the message if it's working just fine for now? Or if there is no new news to share?
The fact is, there is always room for improvement. You just need to look all around the brand's sphere in other areas of strategic development. In fact, a skilled strategist would do this anyway. Consider this checklist:
Would a change in tone freshen up the conversation? Sometimes just changing up the message delivery helps. We all know people who have a penchant for using humor effectively in serious situations, or conversely, dead pan sincerity in the face of comedy. Low-brow paired with high-brow freshens it up along with pretending something is super important when it's not and vice versa. The comedic toolkit of satire, farce, irony and others are all available for brands to experiment with. Just look at Dollar Shave Club, the Obama Translator, Kotex, Old Spice and Cheerios "How To Dad."
Is there a new experience to be created? Coca-cola did this with their vending machines. Once seen as a stoic block of beverages that only came alive for money, Coca-cola began infusing their vending machines with the brand's personality during the "Share a Coke" campaign. Suddenly, vending machines could see and feel us and connect us to other cultures as with the India-Pakistan experience. In Singapore, if you you bear-hugged the machine, it would give you a free Coke. Smoking cessation efforts created a whole new level of impact with the Truth campaign. Pokemon Go! took the brand to a whole new level of obsession.
Is there a more visible way to take a leadership stance? We've all heard the phrase, "Do the job you want." If you want to be a leader, you have to act like one. Sometimes leadership is about being innovative as Apple was when they introduced touch screen technology on cell phones for the first time. Or maybe it's about advocating for your constituents like Dove did for women with the "Real Beauty" campaign. Or maybe it's about aligning the business with eco-friendly goals as a means of demonstrating belief in the greater good of the planet like Patagonia. There are lots of ways to do it, and it doesn't always mean that you have to be first. The important thing is to avoid mimicking your competitors. Be loud, be proud.
Is there a partnership or co-branding opportunity that might lend excitement or momentum to the brand? When Cole Haan partnered with Nike, both shoe brands benefitted from the unusual pairing. Cole Haan noticed that women were wearing sneakers for their city commute and then would change into their heels when they got to the office. By blending Cole Haan's sleek, urban, professional styling with the comfort and endurance of a sneaker, Nike became seen as performance technology that could and should, go beyond the workout, and Cole Haan became known for introducing the concept of the comfortable shoe with style that could take you through an entire day on the job. Rolex did this by being the official timekeeper of the Olympics. Martha Stewart became accessible with her paint offerings through Home Depot and her bed linens and cookware in Macy's.
Is there a way to use product placement to enhance your brand's image? Ray-Ban successfully did this as early as the 70s in the movie "Jaws" and then later in "Risky Business" and "Top Gun." Reese's Pieces became an overnight sensation after ET. Pepsi and Nike received huge fanfair from "Back to the Future." Coca-Cola owned "American Idol" and the image of the young, rising creative star. Bassett Furniture on HGTV shows, Apple computers on "Big Bang Theory," Mini Coopers in "The Italian Job" and Manolo Blahniks in Sex and the City are all examples of strategic product placement.
Is there a new consumer that could be adopted? One of the biggest and fastest shifts in target audiences was when cell phone companies realized that working moms were using the phones to manage their families remotely just as much as business people were using them to manage work. Old Spice also cleverly recognized that women influence male purchases even as mundane as deodorant which is why they came up with the concept of "The man your man could smell like."
Is it time to clearly define the brand's purpose? Lots of brands are born with one, like Tesla or Toms shoes. More mature brands may not have been born with it, but it doesn't have to stop them from defining their "Why?" for consumers. Consumers love to sink their teeth in brands that stand for something other than hocking product. General Mills is letting consumers know that they believe in the importance of diversity by putting diverse talent in their ads and insisting that the ad agency that produces them is also culturally diverse.
Is there an opportunity to advocate for environmental sustainability, an issue that consumers either insist upon or at the very least, appreciate? Think Toyota's Prius, Clorox GreenWorks, Ikea's lightbulbs.
What about packaging? Packaging is an instant, visceral and visual point-of-purchase sales tool. If you know nothing about a a brand or category, packaging factors in heavily to the purchase decision. Particularly with global brands that may be entirely unknown to the consumer or in an unfamiliar language. It also plays a huge role when the category players are perceived as similar in price and features such as cars, bottled water or lip balm in the case of Eos.
How about loyalty rewards? Cable companies like Comcast and Verizon are great about rewarding disloyalty by encouraging you to switch providers often to get the best rate. But which companies reward loyalty and encourage you to stay with them? Brands like Delta Airlines, Starwood Hotels and even grocery stores offer a point system to keep you connected to the family and demonstrate over and over that you are a valued customer. They make it impossible to leave because of vested interest.
Is there a new place where the product could be distributed? Summer's Eve is a great example of a brand that would benefit from an overhaul in its message and distribution. Imagine if the brand took advantage of fitness culture and became known as part of the hygiene routine for women who work out. Women who spend a large part of their day in yoga pants and don't have time to take a shower immediately after working out. Imagine if Summer's Eve wipes were available in gym locker rooms. It suddenly becomes a new product category, with a fresh, modern, positive message, a new strategic partnership (gyms) with a new distribution strategy. All of this would lead to a shift in the perception of consumers and sales would take off.
These are just a few of the ways in which strategists must expand their thinking. Remember the key to successful strategy is to do things differently. And there is no formula for being different.