It’s the hardest part of advertising: drinking in a firehose of microtrends, sifting what’s relevant, and determining how to be ahead of the cultural curve. That’s what Lucy Farey-Jones does every day as partner and Director of Brand Strategy at Venables Bell & Partners, the San Fracisco-based ad agency. How does she stay on top of new developments, without getting overly caught up in the Bay Area’s unceasing stream of tech innovations? And how does she use those insights to benefit her clients? Here are her best strategies.
Read widely. In contrast to the past, most of today’s great sources of cultural information are free or very affordable, notes Farey-Jones, who regularly consults magazines including Wired, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and The Week. The only exception is the UK magazine Contagious, which she says is pricey but worthwhile.
Ditch your smartphone. “I try to walk out and about when I’m traveling,” she says. “We live in a bubble in San Francisco, and it’s easy to convince yourself something happening here is a trend, when it’s not. My favorite thing is to leave my cellphone behind. It’s really hard to do, but when you do, you pay more attention to the real world. I’ve been trying to ditch it so I can have my eyes and ears open.”
Ask the right questions. Too many ad agencies fixate on marketing too early in the process, says Farey-Jones. “I start with, what’s the real business problem? I phrase it as a problem, not an opportunity, because there’s more energy there. Too often, we jump to a marketing solution before we know what the business strategy is. What are we trying to do? It could be an entirely different beast than you thought in the first place.”
Focus your message. The increasingly fragmented marketplace of consumer attention has encouraged some agencies to “try 20 strategies and see which one sticks,” says Farey-Jones. But she believes it’s more important than ever to settle on “one idea – one crystal clear thought.” Otherwise, you message risks being lost or ignored.
Stake out your brand turf. A particular challenge in the digital age of marketing, says Farey-Jones, is the temptation to let consumers define what your brand is. Of course consumers shape it – but it’s a company’s job to define the parameters: “I believe brand is having a strong point of view. There’s a trend in the industry where people are so desperate to mirror consumers, they forget who the brand is. It takes a brave person to say, I’ve heard the consumer, but here’s what the company was founded on, and here’s what we believe, and we’re OK with it.” If brands just emulate their consumers, she says, “you lose the identity of who you are – you’re following a series of ever-reflecting mirrors into nothingness. You have to ask, what are we bringing to the party?”
What are your techniques for trendspotting? How do you tell the difference between fads and genuine trends? And what are your secrets for defining your brand amidst today’s cluttered marketplace?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on September 20, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.