In an earlier post I talked about the ‘customer proposition’: the single-minded promise that will engage your prospective customer with your communication. It is usually written by the client-side marketing communications team and forms a key element of the client brief to the agency (or in-house creative team). This ‘customer proposition’ expresses the problem/ desire faced by your prospective customer coupled with the solution your product can offer them – but the actual wording used in the client brief is not of vital importance – so long as it is as clear and concise as possible.

Once this customer proposition has been agreed with the agency/ in-house creative team, then their first task is to refine it down to a pithy ‘campaign proposition’ – or as advertising guru Steve Harrison puts it: the ‘big marketing idea’ (otherwise referred to as the ‘campaign idea’, ‘strategic thought’ or simply as ‘the strategy’). This ‘big marketing idea’ should express the essence of the agreed customer proposition (from the client brief to the agency) in one inspiring sentence. A powerful campaign proposition therefore needs to be both focused and creatively inspiring – without missing any key aspect of the customer proposition. In this sense, the campaign proposition becomes the key component of the agency account team’s internal creative brief into their creative team, ie the copywriters and art directors who will actually be implementing the communications.

So, what’s so special about a big marketing idea? Well, a ‘big’ marketing idea essentially underpins the whole marketing communications campaign. It offers the potential of both longevity and breadth – lasting for many years without ‘wear-out’ and being able to be conveyed equally well across a wide scope of media. In order to be both broad and long-lived, a ‘big’ marketing idea is usually arrived at by a process of reduction– with the aim being to uncover the core underlying concept that needs to be conveyed.

For example, starting with the customer proposition from a client brief for the fictional airline that was developed in the previous article mentioned above:

“It’s been created for our business travellers who are fed up with uncomfortable pan-European flights. The Anglo Airways flights from London to key European cities offer a business class service that provides unparalleled levels of comfort. Unlike Easyair Airways, we offer an additional 10cm of legroom, and we offer state of the art SuperSoftTec seat padding for all passengers.”

This could be reduced down to the following fictional campaign proposition:

“Anglo Airways offers European business travellers unparalleled comfort”.

Or even simpler and more inspiring:

“Unparalleled comfort”

Note that the campaign proposition actually gets ‘bigger’ as it is further reduced down. The campaign proposition is not however intended to be written as the actual wording of the headline/ endline (although often it can turn out that way). Instead, it is the crystallisation of what you want your target audience to believe after they have experienced your communication. It is a single idea. In its most extreme form it can sometimes be reduced down to just a single word without removing any meaning, for example ‘comfort’ (as per the example above), ‘safety’ (Volvo), ‘colour’ (Sony Bravia), ‘desire’ (Lynx/ Axe), ‘reliability’ (Volkswagen) and ‘joy’ (Cadburys Dairy Milk).

Clear, broad concepts such as the ones above usually then go on to provide the most fertile ground for the creative team in their quest to arrive upon a striking creative idea. Do bear in mind though that a single word often needs a qualifying term in order to bring it alive – compare the difference between ‘comfort’ and ‘unparalleled comfort’. The danger is that if the ‘big marketing idea’ is too broad a concept, it can lack meaning and relevancy, failing to inspire the struggling creative team. To summarise though, I’ll leave the final word here to the great man himself, John Hegarty:

Whatever you’re creating, simplicity is the ultimate goal. The power of reduction, as we say in advertising, means taking a complex thought and reducing it down to a simple, powerful message.

In the next post I’ll delve into the nuts and bolts of how to write an effective campaign proposition, as well as who is best placed to write it…

If you’re interested in exploring this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…

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