Why strategy always comes before big ideas

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Beware of  “Big Idea” sellers
Beware of “Big Idea” sellers

Biotech brand managers should beware of the "Big Idea" salesperson.

Back that up a second.

An advertising and branding agency suspicious of big ideas? But isn't that what marketing folks are always in search of? Aren't big ideas the fuel that propels a brand to a higher level?

The answer to that is: sometimes.

Big ideas are great when they are integrated into the brand strategy and are not a gimmick. Any time you hear someone try to sell you a “big idea” that's outside your brand plan, be skeptical. Too often it means it's a big idea for that person, not your brand. As in huge budgets and multiple years of billings.

Read my last post on recognizing the Biotech Big Brand Idea Huckster.

I can think of a few current examples, but let me give one with the protective distance of history so no one gets offended.

A leading anticoagulant launched a campaign encouraging deep vein thrombosis prophylaxis: DVT free in 2003. Professional and DTC ads. Big media spends. TV spots. Sexy legs. All very cutting-edge tactics for the time, very trendy.

But as far as I know, it's 2011 and there are still millions of DVTs each year. And with the millions spent on tactics, the temporary bump in sales barely covers the media budget, not to mention all the fees and associated costs to build the big idea.

And in fact, in some instances, the opposite happens. DVT treatment is highlighted to the benefit of the much cheaper competitive product. It is a huge awareness campaign that doesn't work.

That was early in the decade, when disease state initiatives were all the rage. Right now, the trend is for big ideas around “customer engagement”--simply a rehash of a one-channel (digital) consumer strategy not always relevant to pharma. If you hear that, think twice.

So, should you stop looking for the big idea that will boost your brand's profile and numbers?

Absolutely not, but you should evaluate big ideas with caution, keeping the following thoughts in mind. And whatever you do, remember that the “big idea salesperson” may not have your brand's best interest in mind as much as his/her own.

3 things to keep in mind about big ideas

1. Don't mistake a big idea for a brand strategy.

When everything is going well, the big idea can put you over the top. But it's no substitute for a solid brand strategy, especially for a new brand.

You can start thinking about big ideas once all the brand foundations are built. You have to build the house before you start figuring out how to decorate it.

You need to build a brand essence before venturing down some risky tactical “customer engagement” road that regulatory agencies won't be comfortable with. Look for long-term results rather than quick tactical hits.

2. Think big ideas, not necessarily big budgets.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) stent manufacturer offered free mobile screening in community settings to raise awareness of a silent but deadly condition. Under $2 million in spend, over $6 million in results. Company wins. Patient wins. Big idea on a small scale. But this was 5 years into the brand's life cycle. Again, it was a complementary initiative, not a substitute for brand planning or strategy.

3. Ask for an estimated ROI on the big idea.

Big ideas that are tactical and temporary are risky and often unrewarding, sacrificing the excitement of a dynamic initiative for long-term life cycle brand strategy.

Make sure there is a model set up to track and adjust investment and its effect on your brand's sales, awareness, and perception. Without a predetermined ROI model, a big tactical idea may take you out on a limb with no way back.

Let me end my 2-part post on big ideas with this quote by Michael Eisner, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company:

"A brand is a...product of a thousand gestures." Not one big idea!

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