In a world of parity products and service offerings, every business strives to create either a unique operating model or a distinctive culture, something that not only differentiates the business but also provides a competitive edge.
For advertising agencies this translates to finding an authentic space which they can credibly own in an increasingly competitive environment.
One agency that has successfully found that space is South African-based advertising and communications agency, Grid Worldwide. Grid has adopted a proprietary investment creative operating model it calls ‘make it mean something’ which is designed to hit the right notes in order to connect with its consumers.
“’Make it mean something’ is a combination of giving something significance, consequence, substance, implication, gravity and magnitude,” explains Grid chief creative officer, Nathan Reddy.
By consciously striving to work meaning into brands, the agency is automatically tapping into what psychologist Victor Frankl called the primary motivation of all human beings: to search for meaning in life.
“Approaching brands and branding in this way allows our work to connect directly with what makes us human,” says Reddy. “Not only is understanding meaning a universal concept, but it’s a vital part of getting a brand noticed, ensuring it speaks in culture and elicits brand love.”
The lens of ‘meaning-making’ accurately and quickly detects the underlying dynamics of a brand by raising key questions. Are values aligned with actions? Do positioning and proposition connect on a level beyond the mere functional? Do they have the power and appeal to attract and the stickiness to retain? Is there sympathetic resonance between the brand world and the consumers’ emotional world – and if so, can it be built upon? Is there overall positive brand health or brand dysfunction?
“Meaning is the heart and soul of every brand: without some kind of profound meaning in place, people are not going to develop an affinity with that brand,” says Reddy. “In order to successfully grow a brand it’s imperative that its custodians understand its soul meaning and how it lives in the world today.”
The Grid team is, however, aware of the fact that meaning is in the eye of the beholder. “We’re cognisant that we need to take into consideration the inherent subjectivity of meaning and remember that although society has shared values, symbols can mean different things to different people at different times. Symbols of wealth, for example, can also be seen as illustrations of greed and conspicuous consumption. A harmless joke can be taken as an insult if the cultural context is misread,” points out Adam Byars, CEO at Grid Worldwide.
To avoid this happening, and to ensure that meaning is interpreted in the way it was intended, requires an understanding of the context, the cultural subtext, and the semiotics (the study of signs and symbols).
Both Reddy and Byars have long held the view that every brand has to have a single-minded idea of its proposition which is grounded in trust and authenticity in order to be successful. Grid, they say, has a history of interrogating the heart and soul of brands and their distinctive assets, and then curating a seamless customer experience across its touch points.
The agency did this particularly successfully in 2018 when it rolled out Qatar’s first global marketing campaign, which positioned the country as an attractive tourism destination offering unique travel experiences on behalf of Qatar’s National Tourism Council. The campaign sought to ensure that what is essentially a tourism brand played a role in popular culture, broke through the clutter and disrupted the tourism destination space.
The agency’s ‘Qurated’ campaign successfully introduced travellers to the numerous authentic experiences Qatar has to offer via a campaign which was rolled out to 15 priority target markets across the world across a variety of platforms including TV, print, digital, and out of home, in the process reaching a total of 250 million people.
Its ability to establish a 360 degree view of the customer experience and to dig as deeply as required in order to create a brand’s philosophy, identity and meaning have seen it successfully launch a number of cutting edge bespoke restaurant concepts in South Africa as well as the ‘slow’ airport lounge concept, amongst others.
“Our goal is to specialise in building brands which successfully intersect at the point of purpose and meaning to become iconic and live in culture,” says Byars. “It’s not about finding either purpose or meaning for frivolous purposes as both have a sound economic and commercial imperative.”
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