APG Canada is privileged to have many of the most recognized and respected planners in the country as members. In an effort to highlight the issues and opportunities we’re all working through, we began this series of “Open Letters”. We’d love you to weigh in here and tell us what you’re tackling.

We’re always available on LinkedIn and Twitter at @APGCan so tell us.

Recently board members Andrew Carty (Partner, Strategy @ send+receive) and Penny Norman (Planning Director @ Pound&Grain) exchanged notes on digital, values, and authenticity.

Andrew
Hey Penny, Thanks so much for doing this. So you work at digital shop Pound&Grain, Which leads me to my first question: what’s the difference between a digital planner and a planner, and why would a client or agency need one?

Penny
Hello Andrew!

So I don’t think there should be a difference between a digital planner and a planner. For me, we now just have new exciting tools and tech to bring strategy to life. And even better we can now actually get real results from these new platforms. This has definitely changed strategy and how agencies need to approach it. But this change should apply to all planning. Have you seen a change in how you work with evolution of digital? 

Andrew
Well as a guy who used Microsoft Frontpage 97 to build hobby sites I’m going to date myself. When I started in the business digital was a bolt on. Most agencies had a digital division, and digital was very much an output only. So while obviously agencies are now integrated, how it’s changed planning for me is not as digital as an output, but more of digital being a useful input.

It’s so much easier to gather data. Google trends and autocomplete, recruiting fans of a brand on Facebook for quick focus groups, filming a ride-along for a car client on your iPhone… whatever the case may be there’s no more excuse for ‘search’ planning that seemed to reign for a couple of years and now we can get meaningful data so cheaply and easily.

An interesting impact on the business is that while you still want to build a brand on a single, simple proposition (I think?), there so many conversations you can jump into, additional benefits to feature, memes to be a part of. How do you manage all of that?

Penny
That is a really good observation, and one I faced head on when trying to enter digital projects into traditional planning awards. They really wanted that single golden bullet to judge in a submission, but campaigns are far more complex now.

From my perspective digital has grown the breadth of strategy and the thinking required. We now need a broader definition for brands and view them more as talking and moving entities.

We have had a lot of success in defining brand “values” versus just a single statement- much like a person has certain values they carry with them with all their interactions. These go across all channels and act as a north star for creatives and clients alike. For example, if we want to be the “rebellious” brand in a boring sector then this “rebel” lens goes across everything.

What are your views on this broadening of how we define brands? Do you think it waters down the strategy or evolves it to be reflective of today’s world?

Andrew
I find the values thing tricky. Sure, they’re good to define, but values can vary via situation. You might want to be a “rebel” at one moment, but a “caregiver” in another moment. Also, I’m not sure people care that much. I think they’d rather know what a brand can do for them.

Penny
I think you raise a good struggle. Messaging versus Behaviour. In messaging, for sure people don’t care about your values and that is the space you absolutely deliver what you can do for them. But we also need to plan how our brand consistently behaves (moves, has conversations etc) this is where I see values play an important role to ensure consistency and differentiation. In your view how do you think Messaging and Behaviour plays together or differently?

Andrew
I’d say I try to lead with messaging and let behaviour sort of be dictated by digital/social/csr/etc strategy which hopefully is product led. I guess I haven’t come across a client who wants their behaviour to be particularly interesting. Values and behaviour are great for narrative, but only because of conflict. You need negative values/behaviours in this case, and I don’t see a brand wanting to jump into that.

Penny
With my digital projects, I find that just focusing on messaging no longer cuts the mustard and we need a deeper layer of thinking to go into what we create. Much like if you are designing a whole store versus just a store front.

Andrew
What kind of digital tools do you use to inform that stuff?

Penny
It all comes down to user research, but more intrinsic monitors like Google analytics, search data and social tracking. Although I definitely layer on more traditional qual and quant if I can – to get a broader understanding of their mindset.

Enough about the nerdy stuff. What has been your favourite campaign recently?

Andrew
The Sick Kids stuff is great of course. But when it comes to consumer brands, I’d have to say the Tangerine work, as well as whoever is writing lines for Lexus these days is writing the best car lines we’ve had in the country for a few years. Digitally, I think what Heinz did for the Super Bowl was smart (and generous), but it didn’t seem to maybe the get traction it deserved. You?

Penny
Reading between the lines I think Heinz had a lower budget and wanted to carry over from last years super bowl ad (they didn’t have a spot this year). The petition got 70,000 signatures and they got some good PR but perhaps the spend wasn’t there to really get the word out.

Penny
I am also really interested in the different ways brands are trying to raise awareness and contextualize the refugee crisis. This Huffpost article is really incredible:

http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/the-21st-century-gold-rush-refugees/#/niger

Andrew
So this is really interesting to me. Digital means we can react faster to cultural events. When and where do brands cross the line? Brands tweet after celebrities deaths, get on board with cultural movements (ie. refugees). How should we think about our brand’s role in these kinds of things?

Penny
I really think brands are such huge parts of everyone’s lives that they need to step up and help solve issues they are passionate about. This IKEA stunt is awesome at bringing home the reality these refugees face, but done in a way that is legitimate to the IKEA brand:

http://mashable.com/2016/11/10/ikea-syrian-refugee-home/#Wf5cBRFwKSq2

“Authenticity” is such an overused word at the moment for brands, but this type of behaviour feel authentic to me. What are your thought on brands trying to be “authentic”?

Andrew
So I guess you’re that’s the key, it has to feel legit. Ikea – homes… Some car brand – transportation…

Penny

Andrew
Authenticity (like values) is another one I try to drill down on, because I’m not sure what’s unauthentic. And, brands aren’t always good, so wouldn’t it be authentic to them to be not that helpful?

What I mean by that is take someone like an airline. Being sort of unhelpful is authentic to a lot of airlines. Making me frustrated is authentic to Rogers. Wouldn’t being helpful actually be inauthentic?

Syria is such a mess right now, it’s really a global human problem. So while I totally agree Ikea is on it in an authentic way, would it be inauthentic for any brand to care, as long as they take the right tack?

Penny
I think there is a consumer shift for brands to do more than just “sell stuff”, so I feel many brands are moving their gaze to how they can make their customers feel better about choosing them.

But you are absolutely right, this should come from within. Seeing a lofty worded 60sec ad from an airline saying they are “great” will never overcome the moment an air hostess from that airline yelled at me and woke my sleeping infant up.

But aside from that, where a brand sees an opportunity to help within their wheelhouse, they should absolutely do that.

(I’m not scarred from that flight experience, or anything! )

Andrew
Ha!

Penny thanks so much for this chat. It’s always great to get different perspectives from planners, which the APG will be doing. So let’s keep watching this space for more of this kind of stuff.

Penny
Sounds good Andrew, thank you for the interesting discussion.

About andrewcarty

Andrew Carty has written 3 post in this blog.

Cofounder and Partner, Strategy @ send+receive