Beyond advertising to the real growth triggers

Derek Day laments the "endemic isolation from the norms of commercial existence" of ad agencies in the latest edition of Market Leader, the Marketing Society's excellent magazine. He makes a great point that in many cases advertising may not be the key trigger to growth. Often, its something much less sexy, such as distribution or display. And most creative agencies lack the skills and/or motivation to help solve these issues.

Here I'll talk about a couple of stories in the article that cover display and "symbolic gestures". And end with Derek's tips on how to get agencies to be more effective at helping solve such issues.

1. Display – Burts Bees

Derek explains that Burts Bees faced the problem of its products not being merchandised together, but rather separated across the different sections of the store. As the brand had limited advertising, it was missing out on the benefit of the brand's range of creams, shower gels and oils being sold together. Indeed, the brand was getting lost.

A special, eye-catching "hive" display unit was designed. And when retailers stubbornly refused to use the unit , Burts invested in research in selected stores to prove that sales were higher. Even then some stores refused to stock the brand's products together, so Burts focused on those who would. This move helped Burts grow into a $200million business.

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2. Symbolic gestures – Cambian

Derek's second example comes from a sector not often associated with branding – mental health care provision. Cambian provide semi-secure housing and support for people needing mental health care. Every new patient receives a "Wow!" pack in the form of a designer rucksack with a set of branded toiletries, a watch and an iPod. As Derek explains, "The aim was to send a signal to patients, to encourage them to think differently about themselves, and to staff to think differently abut the patients".

Derek calls this "a symbolic gesture", "a kind of talisman, part of the folklore of the brand". And it strikes me as being so much more effective than any amount of communication. After all, "people may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do".

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Agency of the future?

Derek ends by suggesting what the agency of the future should be offering to respond the the commercial challenges of companies today:

– Trade insight: planners who do insight not only with consumers, but also trade customers

– Truly through-the-line ideas: creative solutions to be presented showing how they work for operations, sales and HR, not just ads

– Payment for results: agencies rewarded for understanding and helping solve a broader range of business issues

In conclusion, before jumping to advertising as the answer to your growth problems, think first about other triggers to growth such as distribution, display and availability.