Understanding Creative Strategy, Part 4: Further out

A roundup of examples before we move on.

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By now, gentle reader, you probably think I’m like that kid in The Sixth Sense. Only instead of ghosts, I see triangles.

(a visual refresh, or find the other parts on my profile)

Last time I demonstrated how the same (or similar) three win-conditions of marketing (Integrity, Relevance, Difference) show up across other advertising frameworks and brand valuation models. This time, we’re going further. From advertising to brand strategy and beyond. Starting with two of the world’s most popular marketing writers.

Scott Galloway

I won’t go into too much detail about Prof G’s three hurdles test, because of a slight conflict of interest. I recently completed another stint as a teaching assistant with his company, Section4, in the brand sprint (obligatory: “that’s right! name-dropping the dawg!” if you know, you know.). I wouldn’t want to confuse any sprint students joining this series.

Two out of the three hurdles are Relevance and Differentiation. This isn’t surprising as Galloways is a student of Aaker. Many brand strategists are Aaker’s intellectual offspring (some don’t even know it… consequently those bastard children bastardise his models?). Even more so Galloway — who went to business with his professor and founded brand consultancy Prophet. BTW, Prophet and Aaker, doubled down on Relevance at some point, perhaps in reaction to the Byron Sharp critique of Differentiation in HBG. Warning! That link is a bit weird as it tries to rebrand D factors as R factors (at least, that’s how I see it).

The third hurdle Galloway labels “Sustainability”. His definition of that test mentions quite a few things I put under Integrity, but cleverly introduces the lens of time. I have my own twist for that (which I used to teach at LLC), which applies “thinking in time” (As Jeanne Liedtke would call it) to the entire model as a separate layer. We’ll discuss that in a separate instalment. As for the Prof, he does talk about the three hurdles as a paradigmatic test/model central to brand strategy. His examples of its use apply it to both audit brands, validate strategies and push them further. Generally, he recommends committing the three to memory and running everything through them. Thus the application of the model in practice is quite similar to our sensibility.

Mark Ritson

The win conditions are frequently between the lines of Ritson’s work, especially when he discusses positioning. There’s no big surprise there. As we’ve seen, the three conditions mirror the classic definition of Marketing, and Ritson’s enjoyable “Marketing neo-classism with jokes” style (this is said admiringly) keeps going back to prevailing/lost truths. Often it’s with an emphasise on the R-D base of the triangle which, as mentioned, is the more prevalent aspect across the board. Here’s an example (trust Ritson to bring “disruption” back to earth):

“The only reason a strong brand breaks the rules of the industry is to deliver their brand positioning to their target consumers. At the heart of any strong brand, there are two motions taking place simultaneously. On the one hand, the brand is disrupting its category. On the other, it is ruthlessly executing its brand positioning. And the place where these two motions meet is where great brands exist.”

The disruptions (D), delivered to consumer (R), to execute positioning.

Roger Martin

When Martin says that it’s time to accept strategy and marketing are one (essential reading, that entire series), he puts them over the 3Cs, with marketing responsible for addressing the customers (R) and strategy creating competitive advantages (D), both meeting at (or flowing from) the company (I). Nuff said.

Martina Olbert

Further out, Marketing semiotician Martina Olbert, often writes about the increasing importance of meaning in marketing (indeed one of the most prolific areas of human sign activity of all times) and says thus:

“The intangible is quickly becoming the new tangible in marketing. The whole idea of shifting perspective from the obvious and tangible (products and services) to the ephemeral and intangible (signs and meanings) will be one of the most fundamental changes in the future of marketing.”

I don’t only agree with her, but think it already is the case. But that’s not what we’re here for this time. Olbert suggests a framework for the key contexts of a brand and successful meaning-making that is comprised of three aspects: strategic coherence (I), competitive distinctiveness (D), and cultural relevance (R).

Further still?

In his book about winners (what a clever spin in itself), Alastair Campbell offers the “Holy trinity of winners”: strategy, teamship, leadership. While the labels only slightly betray it with the now-familiar integrity+for+against dynamic, once you explore his detailed discussion of those elements, you will see it is even closer to I/R/D. From our perspective, his “strategy” is rooted in the individual starting point, teamship binds people together on a joint cause and shared work, and finally, leadership is a prerequisite to be able to stand out and lead.

Let’s abandon the corporate world altogether. And go further — Psychiatrist Stephen Karpman, is known for his “Drama Triangle”, used in transactional analysis psychotherapy to map a type of destructive interaction that can occur among people in conflict. The labels on the triangle are quite intuitive and will, unfortunately, feel familiar to anyone who has ever been a part of “relationship drama”. People participating in “drama” take the role of victim, rescuer, or prosecutor. Again, the first creates the drama within the self, the second by rushing to the other and the third creates conflict with them. Would you agree the similarity to IRD is noticeable?

And if so, would you agree that even the Aristotelian modes of persuasion — Ethos, Logos, and Pathos connect in a similar way? Ethos is about credibility and trust (I). Logos reasons with people in a way that aims to make sense and avoid confusing them with unfamiliar things. Pathos, on the other hand, brings all that stands out — emotion, polemic, personal experience, and style (closer to R).

I have more examples, but a. you get the idea, and b. a few are better discussed individually.

Naturally, all the models and views mentioned today and last time have their own nuances. Often they don’t align perfectly with our model. However, they seem to share a similar unifying structure. And one that often aligns across the three layers of our model, although I believe most easily explained in contrast with the “middle” triangle of marketing. This brings me back to how fundamental I believe this model is to how our cognition works at a fundamental level when decoding the world. Both on a tangible and on a conceptual level — “A thing in itself, similar to some, different than others”. And sometimes even society “me, similar others(tribe/associates), other others (enemies?)”

The role of this and the previous post is to demonstrate how prevalent the win conditions are and how something that looks quite simple, is actually a deep and reoccurring pattern both in and out of marketing. Evidence of its ‘paradigmatic’ power. Paradigm but not dogma.

So at this point, you may say. “okay, you triangle-loving-freak, assuming we accept this prevalence and power, this so-called paradigm, what can we do with it? What else can it illuminate?”

That’s for the rest of the series.

You’ll be happy to hear that often a short post would be enough, and things will get slightly less meta, and more connected to creative strategy in practice.

Until then, if you come across examples of the paradigm in the wild, even imperfect ones, do send them my way!

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