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Hey Whipple: A Coherence Take

Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple, Squeeze This is a classic book on the ad industry. It focuses more on the post-Mad Men era of traditional advertising over the digital-first strategies brands tend to employ today. Still, Hey Whipple holds up not just as a history lesson, but as a guide on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to engaging audiences.

At Room 214, we think about our work through the lens of Coherence: ensuring everything we do is rooted in customer insights and is tied together by a strategy that emphasizes clarity of message and resource efficiency. 

With that in mind, we thought we’d pull out some insights from Hey Whipple, and give them a Coherence spin. Here’s what we found:

“Advertising is a craft executed by people who aspire to be artists, but is assessed by those who aspire to be scientists. I cannot imagine any human relationship more perfectly designed to produce total mayhem.”

Our take: It’s simple. Mayhem is the opposite of coherence. As the industry moves toward greater investments in data and data scientists, we may lose touch with the emotional resonance needed to not just convert customers, but make them care about your brand. Don’t lose sight of the customer’s humanity in the numbers. Always ground short-term optimizations in a long-term vision for building brand equity and customer loyalty.

People don’t have time to figure out what your brand stands for. It’s up to you to make your brand stand for something. The way to do that is to make your brand stand for one thing. Brand = adjective. Everything you do with regard to advertising and design—whether it’s creating the packaging or designing the website—should fall under that one adjective and then continue to adhere to absolutely draconian standards of simplicity. 

Jamie Smart has professed, “Clarity equals capacity minus contamination.” Brands often suffer from contamination: too many adjectives, too many customer segments, too many competitors. As marketers, we need to make tough decisions in order to focus on what’s most important, to simplify the scope, message, and campaign activities you do. When you know exactly what valuable thing you do differently and for whom, that is a stronger foundation than trying to be all things to all people. 

And how might you define your “adjective”? What’s the one word that describes your brand? And how do you bring that through in every brand and marketing asset? At Room 214, we believe in the power of defining and owning your own category, but we can take that even further by layering on the adjective that describes your brand, too. 

Strategy + Execution. Your job as a thinker and problem solver is to keep both in mind, to spin the strategy without losing hold of it. As though to indicate this truth, the two most common rejections of your ideas will be “I don’t get it” and “I’ve seen that before.” In other words it’s too weird or too obvious. That’s why the great ones don’t come easy. The moral? Do both perfectly. Hit the overlap. 

Finding truly novel ways to tell brand stories is a huge challenge, and one that can get clouded by the perception that we need to create more content, sooner, and with less budget. One way we’ve found to come up with meaningful new ideas is the Silent Disco. We gather creative, strategy, and channel execution experts together with the client to listen to excerpts of customer interviews and discuss what we’re hearing, what surprises us, and how we could create marketing that resonates with these specific people—not just generic demographics.

By making our audiences tangible and human as opposed to a set of data points on a slide, we start to think differently about what marketing can do and how we can make more meaningful connections with audiences. 

Insist on a tight strategy. Vague strategies inhibit. Precise strategies liberate. On the other hand, a strategy can become too tight. When there’s no play in the wheel, an overly specific strategy demands a very narrow range of executions and becomes by proxy an execution itself. 

The first step here is ensuring the strategy is clearly documented and understood. It should include all relevant details on the key audience and their pain points, the campaign goals and KPIs, the insight underlying the strategy, related cultural trends and context, product focus, and budget.

We talk about the idea of a “comically narrow” core customer—the ideal customer for whom your brand solves problems in ways no competitor can. This precise understanding can be a powerful strategic tool, as long as it does not become too tight of a constraint. When you successfully connect with your core customers—those most amenable to your offering—you can test what worked well with other audiences to see what sticks. 

Ultimately, you are not entirely in control of your brand. Your customers play a huge role in defining what your brand means to them, how they prefer to use your products, and how they talk about you. By listening to your customers’ perspectives, you open up opportunities for building deeper relationships with them, defining your “adjective”, creating more precise but flexible strategies, and acting on those strategies in novel yet meaningful ways. 

The sixth edition of Hey Whipple is set to release in February 2022, and is sure to include further exploration of its classic concepts in the context of modern digital media.

Michael Kwolek

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