Peter Field on Brand Building in the Digital Age


Peter Field on Brand Building in the Digital Age

Andrea Berggren & Marton Harsanyi

CHICAGO, IL -- Renowned author, strategist and marketing consultant Peter Field presented “Brand Building in the Digital Age” to an exclusive Digitas audience hosted by David ‘Chizzy’ Chriswick, SVP Strategy, on Tuesday, May 21 and made the case for “emotional drizzle.”

Field’s session addressed current trends and myths in marketing -- he specifically advocated for creativity and balance between long-term brand building and short-term activation at a time when the industry has been questioning the value of the former. He began his presentation with a statistic: 80 percent of Swedish marketers think creativity is irrelevant. “We’re witnessing dangerous times in marketing,” Field warned, “One of the big issues we all face today is the demise of brand building. It has become disrespected as more marketers become obsessed with short-term results.”

Referring to himself as an engineer, Field offered an anonymous quote-- “We don’t have marketing run by marketers. We’re engineers. And we work on growth. Branding is really that emotional drizzle that you guys put on top” -- and called out this sentiment as a global belief system that he is seeking to debunk.

Drawing on examples from more than 500 IPA case studies from various brands, analyzed by Field and his research partner, Les Binet, Field repeatedly showed how “emotional drizzle” is anything but optional to a successful brand campaign. ”If you want to build a brand, you’ve got to get emotional,” he said, and stressed that evidence-based brand building takes time. “The first year of this kind of journey is not going to look very good. Real growth comes from long term stuff,” Field cautioned. “None of this is rocket science, unless you come from the emotional drizzle school,” he said, referring to those who believe that creativity is nothing but fluff.

Field’s presentation was comprised of key principles, with relevant examples and case studies from global advertisers like Unilever, Guinness, and Aldi, as well as more regional brands like Direct Line Insurance and AA Roadside Assistance in the UK, the latter being an example of what he called an abandoned brand. “It was going to hell,” he said. But following Binet & Field’s evidence-based approach, AA was able to turn things around, starting with a spot that struck an emotional chord with consumers, featuring a little girl and her father in a car that breaks down. Some of the other case studies he used included this spot from Lifebuoy, and this campaign from German retailer Aldi. 

A key principle for each section of the presentation was highlighted and used supporting stories or case studies to illustrate and emphasize Field’s perspective:

Balance long and short-term activity

According to Field’s research, finding the right balance, which falls somewhere around a 60/40 allocation of brand versus activation-focused work respectively, is crucial. Short-term sales activation uses behavioral prompts to trigger desire whereas long-term brand building is emotional priming and requires creativity and consideration. “Smart people do both,” Field said.

Short-termism is dangerous

Field said short-termism originated in the digital age, but was accelerated by the financial crisis. To illustrate the dangers of short-termism, he used the AA case study as an example of a brand that invested solely in short-term sales activation. Once the brand returned to an optimal balance, re-focusing on brand building with emotionally engaging work, they saw all of their key metrics improve.

Fame & creativity drive long-term growth

Of his six key principles, Field seemed to favor fame. Calling it “the A-Team of marketing,” he listed shock, surprise, amazement, disgust and hilarity as ways to drive fame, with surprise ranking highest. “Humor is inherently surprising,” Field said, “It’s all about taking risks and leaving our comfort zone and creativity is the amplifier of fame.” According to Field, the trick is to find an emotional insight that is relevant in the category and execute it in an unexpected way.

Use the right media for the right purposes

Field’s data shows that in order to drive long term growth, it’s essential to target both existing and new customers. Using only digital channels and narrowing focus to a certain segment sacrifices brand building. Very few channels are effective drivers of both short- and long-term growth. “Media is not good at both sales activation and brand building,” said Field. Field also pointed out that in the UK, TV “consistently outperforms online video because of scalability.” 

Beware the ROI trap

According to Field, the one way to grow a brand is through penetration. “It’s very easy to get a big ROI serving messaging to people who already know you well,” Field said. “But using ROI as a primary decision metric is dangerous because it underestimates long term strategies.” Field emphasized that this doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t measure return on media investment, but rather that “the dollar you allocate to drive long-term growth will not show results overnight.”

Field covered a lot of ground during his session but host David Chriswick and audience members had more questions to ask the expert during a Q&A segment. Topics touched on reach (“Just go for the biggest reach you can afford,” Field advised), innovation (“Use innovation as reinforcement of emotional territory”), purpose-led brand building (“Purpose is a means to an end. You have to commit to it.”), and messaging, (“Growth is not about communicating messages. Great brands are rooted in some kind of message but it needs to be connected to the reality of the brand.”).

Field’s experience -- and his willingness to disrupt traditionally-held marketing best practices and focus on what matters to consumers -- made this a morning that Digitas will be talking about for a long time.


Interested in learning more? 

  • Keep the conversation going…
    • Reach out to David Chriswick to discuss how to accelerate brand growth using these evidence-based principles of marketing effectiveness.

Andrea Berggren & Marton Harsanyi

Andrea Berggren is a Lead Content Strategist at Digitas Chicago, and Marton Harsanyi is an Associate Director, Creative Strategy at Digitas Chicago. 


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