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I've always thought you were the essence of what is good about being transatlantic. I'll bet you say "madder" for matter some days...however, arse, not a commonly used word in the States. Just saying.

Maybe I meant 'mid-atlantic' - arse and cents in the same sentence. It seems natural to me, but odd to many.

This reads like some meat for your 'polyphonic brand' idea. Each smaller idea, each bassline, melody etc adds up to a cohesive whole. Looks and sounds like a big thing, but is actually composed of small things which still mean something on their own.

Oh, I get it!

That's actually hard to do, I've racked my brain trying to come up with a witty answer that's in the same ballpark, keeping faffing around with silly expressions like "takes the biscuit". G2G, C.

Not terribly radical but a possible biological analogy for the brand dynamism gig, could be the plain old 'Cell Cycle'.

New cells are created through cell division, and eventually die off through either damaged DNA (flawed brand architecture?) or old age. The 'off-brand' whistle often blows out interesting work prematurely. Very enjoyable post in any case.

I like the idea of a "sense of direction and movement" to brand clusters. It helps to remind me that brands really are a lot like other cultural things and movements, in how they are formed and adapt (yet remain the same, or "coherent" as John would put it, I think) to changes in culture at large.

They have to appeal to something deep and universal, yet be pretty specific to make a difference, have a timeless quality yet be able to be subtly morph as culture changes. In that sense, the idea of direction and movement is right on the mark, particularly since, unlike some cultural movements they have the ability to (partly, a bit less now) determine the direction via their communications, innovation etc.

Very rough analogy: the very best brands are a bit like musical movements, or even successful bands; a nike or apple is a bit like "jazz" or "rock". (It's just rough, obviously there are way more brands than the handful of genres). These broad genres are made of various influences and threads. As you suggest, they attach molecules at the front and leave other ones behind (language, imagery, ideas or even instruments).

"Big Ideas" are the smaller, faddier movements that are much more narrow and conservative. More temporal and fixed by definition. In music there is a reason why they're called one hit wonders.

The larger movements are broad enough, in terms of their influences and inputs, that they continually absorb and "progress" in a way (damn it's hard not to use "evolve").

To what extent they remain the "same" in essence is not the important part, though it is the thing that most often becomes debated by purists vs. new fans etc. What matters is that the genre, or movement comes to mean different things to different people. In order for it to remain in currency, it continually morphs yet remains the same, by maintaining a credible and authentic link to its origin (which often becomes a myth), and also staying current.

The minute cultural things like brands becomes too codified ("big idea"), when there is a canon that must be adhered to, it can quickly become stale and irrelevant.

Just Do It also has a strength in its role as a guiding strategic principle. It actually helps the business make decisions about new ventures, approaches and so on. It turns strategy into action, makes it an imperative for success. When marketing and business strategy cross over you know you are onto a winning formula.

An alternative to the “Cluster/Molecular”, ”Polyphonic”, “Cell Cycle” and “Musical Movement” analogies for having a clear sense of direction and movement for a brand could be:

A newspapers “editorial line” (the one’s that have one).

It basically contain lot’s of small opinionated ideas on the world around us – constantly changing its discourse with the surroundings and developments in society. In the best examples you are constantly surprised and enthused even though you know which direction these small ideas go.

Great post - it provoked my gray cells into not thinking about football :).

Based on what you are saying, perhaps we need to start articulating brand philosophies rather than brand ideas. The specifity of the idea may lead to the kind of "brand tyranny" that prevents expansive thinking. or alternatively, maybe we need find ways to treat our brand ideas like briefs - a jumping off point.

You make also make a good point about big(er) brand ideas growing out of a philosophy or culture of a company. To me that's because those ideas will always be executed on at all levels of the company and are harder to copy - they go to the pure nature of that group of poeple and how they act. Changing how you execute is easier in that environment because everyone (presumably) buys into what the company is about. I am not sure if Nike was characterized by a "just do it" culture before the phrase was invented - perhaps you could tell us (it seems that Honda fit that bill)?

My only question is, what happens when you don't have a culture that drives you to a particular idea bucket. In those situations, if we have an evolving idea, or a loosely defined one, is it harder to get everyone in the company to behave in a way that supports the bucket? Or do you just have to put more emphasis on training people outside of marketing on what the idea getting people to think and behave around that idea?

Also, is what you say applicable to all brands/ideas? Maybe there are brands that need to be anchors or more static, and some that need to be more dynamic.

Hey, thanks for the link! I don't know from Big Ideas or Small Ideas, or even Vaguely Cheese Shaped Ideas... but this seems like a way of looking at a certain kind of marketing-type-thingy.

Loved the post. But I had some of the same questions as Mark asks in his comment about if it's more true of certain types of brands than others. I work across a few brands ranging from huge & global to small & local. Executing many small ideas, looking for patterns, and striving for continuous interestingness makes a ton of sense for brands that do lots of communications, have a large portfolio of products to support, and/or that work across many global regions. But are the implications the same for smaller brands/smaller budgets/smaller markets?

In my experience with smaller brands, executing many ideas is not always possible - over a whole year you might get two or three pieces of communication. And because there are fewer bits of communication made, a lot more is riding on each one. So they often do need a "big idea" to help them differentiate against bigger players, to tie the few meagre bits of communication together so they are somehow related, and to help things work a bit better together than they would seperately. It presents less risk of boring people with consistency because the brand doesn't have that big a presence.

So is consistency a better idea for small brands than big? Is consistency without scale less boring? Put another way, can a brand's meaning be emergent without scale? It's one thing to be emergent across 20 bits of communication, but does it work if you only do 2 or 3?

I guess what that all comes down to is: are big ideas good for small brands, and small ideas good for big brands? That would be ironic, wouldn't it?

These are good questions and I need to think a bit to have good answers but in the spirit of blogging I'm just going to blirt stuff out and see what happens.

1. The point of lots of small ideas rather than one big one is not to have lots of small ideas. That's not the goal. The goal is to be interesting. To be relevant, to be fascinating, to be ahead of your customers all that. And the reason it's called the tyranny of the big idea is that I think what we usually call Big Ideas tend to militate against that kind of flexibility, creativity, innovation.

So I guess the answer on a small brand is - what do you need to do to stay interesting. Sure, you may be doing less stuff but you can still make sure that that less stuff is overpacked with richness and reward. Most brands stretch their ideas to far - they make a 3 month idea into a 12 month idea. If you're a smaller brand you just scale that model down. Or up. Or something.

2. I think there probably is a model that you might call 'slow branding' which isn't neccesarily about constant innovation - it's actually about staying exactly what you are and never really changing. Because there are some brands you don't want to change. Lyle's Golden Syrup. Camper shoes. And I might put Innocent drinks in there.

You don't want these brands to move far from their core competency, and they don't have to constantly bewitching you with their fancy new ideas. You just want them to be your friends. They have to be honest, stable, warm, friendly. They have to do what they do but do it with charm and fun, every now and then tickling you with a little tweak of an idea but not suddenly changing direction.

Or something.

Like I said, I'm blirting. Making any sense?

For some reason, the image that pops into my mind is a connect-the-dots picture. Where at the end you pull back and have created a big image.

Except, of course, each dot would have to be it's own little really interesting picture, but let's just agree to ignore that bit.

I came across this article today, thanks to Mark McGuinness (wishfulthinking.com). It set my brain to whirring as I thought about it in context of what I do as part of the leadership team of a brand new church. Thanks!

Bravos, Russell. Great post. May I suggest you read marketing maven Tom Asacker. Get started http://tinyurl.com/5tk22g
and http://tinyurl.com/6lh26m

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