TUESDAY 8 JUN 2021 10:09 AM


Warren Daniels, VP of demand generation at Bynder, discusses marginal gains, moonshot ideas and why brand purpose is both an opportunity and a threat.

Many marketers use ‘purpose’ to differentiate their brand. By honing and aligning their values with their audience, brands which successfully leverage ‘purpose’ at a deeply emotional level can install meaning into everything they do – and inspire consumers to advocate for them. 

But after a year where advertising and marketing has shifted to be predominantly digital, articulating brand purpose in our online world is a new kind of challenge. Not only can digital clutter muffle the voice of brands trying to be heard, but it makes it harder for consumers to form the relationships with brands.

Recent research paints a clear picture on today’s brand purpose struggle. GlobalWebIndex’s research uncovered that consumers in Europe will be more attuned to brand purpose and messaging as issues of trust and transparency have intensified during the pandemic. And Porter Novelli’s latest study leveraged Implicit Association Testing (IAT) to evaluate people’s automatic perception of brands, finding that 86% of respondents would trust a company more if it was led by purpose. Additionally, 71% would prefer to buy from a purpose-driven company over the alternative if equality and cost were equal.

With consumers becoming more alert to the ways brands make positive – or negative – contributions, brand purpose has become both an opportunity and a threat. The growing volume of user-generated content that comes with the proliferation of digital channels makes controlling brand narrative incredibly difficult. But on the other hand, the brands that are able to clearly articulate their purpose in a complex digital world can attract new customers and retain those who have loyally stood by them.

How, you ask? By balancing marginal gains with moonshots.

Achieving marginal gains

When explaining the economics of innovation, economist Tim Harford believes that it’s essential to find an innovation system that doesn’t only support the “stubborn geniuses” that strike regularly with quick results, but the “anxious, risk-averse geniuses” too. These cautious beings are more likely to commit to formulating long-term ideas: the ‘moonshots’. When these pay off, the result is often ground-breaking. But waiting for these moonshot moments to happen can be tedious – and problematic if they never come. This enables those who value marginal gains – the short-term results – to take the limelight.

And rightly so. Marginal gains occur when a complicated process is broken down and the following question is asked: can we make this process incrementally better? By tweaking minor details or fixing blips in an otherwise well-performing system – often via a trial-and-error approach – marginal gains can create impressive improvements and reduce the risk of major failure.

In the marketing world, these come with greater agility. The brand teams that remain nimble when testing and measuring the impact of their campaigns and the performance of their content will achieve marginal gains. By making regular iterative changes, brands can maintain pace with consumer sentiment as it rapidly evolves. And in doing so, they can reduce the need for significant shifts in direction at a later date.

However, the spotlight deserves to be shared. Marginal gains and the short-term gratification that comes with them shouldn’t cloud the importance of aiming for long-term results. After all, not all innovations derive from marginal gains. Think of penicillin, the internet...

Striving for moonshots

As marketers, it’s embedded in our existence to deliver long-term impact for brands. We strive for longevity and climbing results. But often, quick wins take priority in the fast-moving marketing environment as it’s seen as a way to keep up with the demand and quickly adapt to the needs and interests of consumers. However, consumers’ values don’t change dramatically over time. This is where moonshot ideas can really shine.

Encouraging moonshot ideas is partly down to mindset. They’re appreciated by those that don’t mind seeing failure now and then, and success as long as it makes a long-standing difference. However, it’s also down to gaining control over the turbulent marketing environment.

Bynder’s State of Branding research found that 8 in 10 marketers have seen an increase in content demands during the pandemic. In fact, not a single respondent working in video, design, or a creative role reported a decline in content. With content demands increasing, the time and headspace to build long-term ideas are often compromised. But that’s where technology like creative automation can help. By alleviating the pressure on creative teams to produce tedious content iterations, creative automation can improve how brand teams operate by giving creatives back time to come up with creative ideas that deliver long-term results. Creative automation also empowers marketers as they work to achieve marginal gains by allowing them to action content tweaks themselves.  

Moonshots tend to be higher risk with a higher reward, and almost always drive all-or-nothing-type outcomes. Therefore, it’s important to take both marginal gains and moonshots into account – not one or the other. A healthy mix of the two will ensure brand purpose isn’t at stake when evaluating any marketing strategy shift. With purpose being a crucial component of a brand’s marketing in 2021, it can’t afford to get lost or misconstrued.

Getting the strategy right

For this to work, it’s key to assess the situation and circumstances ahead of making any quick decisions. As well as considering the investment in tools and processes that allow more time and headspace to come up with moonshot ideas, brands must do the due diligence on audience research and determine the different type of strategies they can pursue. By doing so, they can diagnose the need and appetite for risk – or change – and identify small iterative changes that can be deployed quite easily and at minimal risk of jeopardising brand consistency. It all boils down to figuring out what makes people tick and asking the question: what do you think the pay-off will be for both success and failure? If the pay-off doesn’t match the desired outcome, the same exercise can be repeated with more fundamental changes taken into consideration. The end result may be more marginal gains than moonshots, vice versa, or an even split of both.

With markets moving fast and consumer expectations shifting all the time, the art of communicating brand purpose effectively lies in the strategy. Whether that strategy is geared more for short-term wins or long-term build is unique to the brand’s audience, market position and goals. But it’s important to ensure they’re both in play, especially when cutting through the noise on digital channels. So, how will you balance marginal gains with moonshots?