How hit makers harness fresh consistency

The power of ‘fresh consistency’ is confirmed by Derek Thompon’s new book Hit Makers, as discussed here in Campaign. When it comes to creating blockbuster hits, whether movies, songs or products, his research suggests the best route to success is giving a refreshing twist to something familiar, not creating something totally revolutionary. Put another way, distinctiveness is more important than differentiation. Derek also reinforces the key role played by distribution in producing a hit product. These two drivers, distinctiveness and distribution, are at the heart of our Grow the Core approach.

1.Tap into the familiar …

People don’t like things that are so new – they like things that are sneakily familiar. People’s aspirations for novelty are bigger than their appetites,” suggests Derek. This desire for the ‘sneakily familiar’ helps explain the power of ‘archetypes’, that we posted on here. Archetypes are enduring stories with their roots in mythology that can be used to create emotionally resonant stories, whether for movies or brands. Derek mentions the appeal of the ‘hero’ archetype, as used by brands like Nike and at the heart of the multi billion dollar Marvel movie franchise. But there are many other archetypes, such as the outlaw used by Harley Davidson.

The desire for familiarity is also shown by the success of long running book franchises such as the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child, which now numbers 21 books. And then there are of course great brand campaigns that have run for years or even decades, like the one for Jack Daniels that we posted on here.

2. … add a twist 

Whilst familiarity can be appealing, this means more than just mindless repetition of the same content. Rather, the trick is to add a twist that provides some freshness. “We have to keep pushing tastes, making the acceptable a little more advanced,” Derek suggests. You can see this in the way that Coldplay have continually but gradually refreshed their music and marketing, as I posted on here, helping them achieve two decades of success.

I learnt about fresh consistency early in my career at P&G, when my General Manager explained how the pack design of Tide was managed. “Look at the changes in this year’s upgrade and you won’t see a big difference,” he explained. “But put each pack from the last 15 years on the table and now look at this year’s pack: it’s a huge step forward versus the one from the first one in the series.” Its this process of ongoing, continual renovation that keeps a brand fresh, whilst reinforcing what made it famous. This approach works better than waiting too long to renovate your a brand so it starts to decline, forcing the need for a radical and risky re-launch to try and reverse a downward spiral in sales.

3. Distribution-first

It was interesting to see Derek talk about the critical role played by distribution in creating hits. “Sometimes to explain success we look exclusively at the qualities of the product… but we should look at the story of how it reached its audience,” he says.  “Content may be king, but distribution is the kingdom that decides scale,” he adds.

Like us, Derek doesn’t recommend you rely on winning the ‘viral lottery’ to achieve success for your product, song or campaign. When something explodes on social media or in the marketplace this is usually not because everyone is sharing it a bit. Rather, there tends to be a ‘broadcast moment’ that drives broad reach. This might be a celebrity tweeting about a new product. Or it could be a prime-time TV spot used to ignite a multi-channel campaign, as was the case with John Lewis’ famous Christmas campaign, that we posted on here. Being the most viewed advert on YouTube globally might have grabbed the headlines. But in reality, over 97% of the film’s views were seen on TV, not online.

In conclusion, if you want to create a hit product or campaign, your chances of success should be increased by stopping the search for a breakthrough innovation. Instead, consider giving a refreshing twist to something familiar. And ensure you have the distribution plan in place to get broad reach.