A Meaningful Order: Authenticity, Technology & the New CMO Agenda

“Every company is a public company”

You know, a few years ago that sentence would have seemed strange, obscure. And yet, none of us here today would doubt what it is saying.

Now everything is open; everything is discoverable. There are no hiding places. And the hundred year plus model where the ‘company’ and the ‘brand’ could somehow exist as separately orbiting planets, only occasionally effecting conjunctions, has vanished.

If you had asked me five years ago how to define a brand, I would have confidently replied, “A brand is a relationship between a product and its consumer,” one which is based on emotional as well as functional bonds. Our own founder, David Ogilvy, was the first exponent of how brand imagery creates those bonds. It still does. But the definition does not quite work now. Social media has exploded that sense of relationship.

The brand is now shared, liked or disliked, discussed and debated outside of it. The relationship is extended to your friends, to your peers, to your heroes. It is public property. And that, in turn, means it cannot be managed in isolation: “Oh, the marketing department looks after that!” Its image, and the image of the company, are inextricably, forever, one.

What is the effect of this?

I think you can liken it to a kind of Damascene awakening for our industry. It forces us to enquire what values the company and the brand share. It forces us to ask how appropriate those values are, how unique they are, how authentic they are. Do they spring from the authentic tissue of the organization or are they an artificial transplant? Authenticity, as Jon has written in his marvelous Arthur W. Page Society piece, has become the “coin of the realm” for successful corporations. It is no longer enough just to say that a brand is a relationship. You have to know what the brand stands for. And you have to express what you stand for in a clear point-of-view – whether it be about your customers’ lives, about the world of business, or about the world itself. What does the brand believe? In the case of IBM, it believes the world would be a better place if we used technology to make its systems smarter.

The Smarter Plant platform – a fabulous co-authorship between client and agency – expresses that point of view in a way which spans the world of company and brand, of internal audience and external, of reinforcing culture and expanding business. It has set a new gold standard for precisely not being a marketing campaign.

But socialization is just one aspect of the digital revolution. Another is what I like to call the Great Fragmentation, the balkanization of the media world into a myriad of choices. This has led to a massive over-supply of information. A distinguished sociologist has called this “the meaning gap” – the more stimuli, the less our ability to extract meaning from them. In this world, the brand cannot be a simple conveyor of messages, but has to make sense of everything. It has become a vehicle for meaning. It edits, encodes and decodes for us. It aggregates, curates and disseminates content.

And so what is the effect of this?

I think it’s why we are in this room. It’s about how to integrate everything in this Balkanized environment. Yes, the big issue is – “how do you do it?”

Integration is No. 1 client worry

It is integration which weighs on a CMO’s mind today.

Let’s be clear what we mean by integration. It’s not the old meaning, even if that still often represents prevailing practice.

Ages of integration

Graphic integration was really about having “matching luggage.” Now it’s evolved through several stages to what we might call “dynamic integration.”

This dynamic integration has one purpose above all, which is to create an experience of the brand, consistently, throughout the customer journey – but also in relevant ways at different steps of that journey. It is technology which enables this experience. It fuels it with data – data which generates the insights, data which puts it into real time, data which makes it interactive, data which closes the loops. It drives the engagement of the experience by creating ownable media for the brand, allowing us to control how the experience is accessed.

Meaningful Order

So, if authenticity and technology have to be the twin pillars of a new CMO agenda, what about the other phrase in my title – “a meaningful order.” It comes from one of the best ever writers about design…

Victor Papanek

Victor Papanek, a man who believed design was capable of changing lives for the better. He wrote “design is the conscious effort to impose a meaningful order”.

Here is the rub: if technology does not in a meaningful way influence the customer experience of the brand then it is redundant. And if the authentic point of view of the brand is not meaningfully designed into every part of the experience, then the experience will have failed. So we can see the CMO and the CIO as co-designers of experience: not in the first place of systems, of processes, of methodologies – but of experiences.

Another piece of language feels outmoded: we have always talked of building brands. Now we need to design them. Before we call in the builders, we need some architecture. How much of the internet is full of digital debris, like space junk? And how often are clever tactics deployed without any dividend of meaning? As a client said to me last week, “We actually have too many good ideas. That’s our problem”. The issue is how can technology make a few, really big ideas scalable?

For Coca-Cola, creating scalable experiences is all about getting into the psyche of the drinker. There are 21 million teenagers in Brazil. They all crave for connectivity – but they are all broke!

Happiness is the authentic tissue of this brand: technology can turn it into a tangible experience, and as it’s adopted, carrier by carrier, country by country, gives it huge scale.

When Nestle now talks to mothers around the world, they are doing so within the frame of an architectural plan. The authentic values of Nestle lie in its roots: founded in nutrition, it remains a nutrition company.

Nestle Good Food, Good Life

Its point of view is that ‘good food’ and ‘good life’ are inextricable. The belief in nutrition guides internal and external behavior. In the infant nutrition category, technology has allowed us to build an experience for mothers, which starts well before childbirth.

Avant Naissance

Search is the foundation. It reveals Mums’ on-line habits, one such being that search virtually doubles the very day they become mothers. But the repertoire of her on-line resources is established during early pregnancy.

Devenir Maman

So how to become a mother – devenir Maman – starts to create the experience, even to how and what to name your baby. And then the experience moves through the life cycle of early childhood, three years on, providing advice, help, reassurance, and intimacy – day by day.

Mobile app

You can track the experience in your hand: just how powerful it is becomes apparent in the first market to launch, France, where 88% of all iPhone owning mothers downloaded this app.

Dove logo

Back in the 1950’s David Ogilvy helped create Dove, a soap which contained moisturizing cream. Over many years the brand developed a set of values based on care and a commitment to real women.

Its authenticity stems from its belief in the value of campaigning for real beauty against beauty stereotypes. Dove recognizes that this is not just a matter anymore of staking its ground, but also of engaging in always-on conversation with its fans, its fellow campaigners. Its social media presence is globally designed, allowing the opportunity to aggregate the global user base when helpful, and providing a balance of central content and, locally, of activation programmes. So much part of Dove’s authentic persona has Facebook become that it can even afford this unprecedented “make-over”.

Sometimes brands have to re-find an authenticity which they have lost. Louis Vuitton was one such. Some years ago its travelling heritage had become diluted – as travel itself dumbed down into mass tourism.
We had to reframe it as about true and exceptional journeys – and exceptional journeys require exceptional companions, such as…

Mikhail Gorbachev and Angelina Jolie for LV

Mikhail Gorbachev, or Angelina Jolie. But these appearances are all part of a design, a design where marketing and technology collaborated with the simple goal of making Louis Vuitton the most digitally enabled luxury brand, where content and e-commerce merge seamlessly.

One of the critical success factors of this digital presence is that it allows Louis Vuitton to start building relationships with tomorrow’s customers through data-led insights.

Tomorrow’s customers

UPS, too, recently sought to project itself in a more authentic way. As its founder, Jim Casey, said, “Anyone can deliver a package”. In time it became seen as just that: a shipping company.

But Casey’s values had gone deep even if they were particularly reticent. They were all about the attitudes and behavior which lay behind delivering a package on time. Actually, what UPS does is much more profound than taking something from Point A to Point B: it happens at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, not just movement but timing. It’s not shipping, it’s logistics, a word they shied away from. But why not take the ugly, true word and make it liked?

For UPSers, it’s a platform which has unleashed a collective energy. This B2B brand has become social in a way it never had been: for instance, harnessing NCAA basketball against Facebook content of logistics as a game-changer, driving an exponential increase in fans and engagement.

Logistics has dramatically increased the brand value of UPS, but it has also enabled a system for creating profitable growth. For instance, we can see the incremental revenue growth which can be directly attributed to the content in the US amongst small and mid-market companies. One reason is that data was designed into the customer experience from inception. Small businesses are too diverse to target with broad based marketing; they do not fit into typical “vertical” segmentation models, and they are hyper-sensitive to relevant messages and offers.

The examples I have cited speak of a sweet spot when authenticity and technology converge. These are smart brands, creating meaning, not messaging. Whether you be a teenager or a new Mum, or a real woman, or an intrepid voyager, or a small business, they create for you an eco-system of content which is seamless, and where the creativity itself is, in the words of Coca-Cola’s Wendy Clark, “liquid and linked”. They are all socially adept: there is no gap between what they believe and how they behave.

And each of them set out to design an experience strategically, not as a collection of tactics and gizmos, but as a “meaningful order”.


Miles Young – Worldwide Chairman & CEO, Ogilvy & Mather
June 6th, 2012