Brands Need to Define a ‘Reason for Being’

January 29, 2013

On Thursday, January 31st, the BCAMA will be holding the next Breakfast Speaker Series (BSS) event – the ever-popular Annual Ad Agency Panel. This year, speakers from Wasserman + Partners, Station X, DDB and Cossette will share their insights on marketing approaches in an ever-changing landscape.

Ute Preusse
Ute Preusse

In our fourth instalment on Conversations with Four Thought Leaders, BCAMA volunteer David Coyne speaks to Cossette’s Ute Preusse, Director of Strategic Planning, about what changes have happened to ad agencies in the last few years and what has remained the same.

by David Coyne

DC: First, how did you become interested in the advertising world?

Ute: I have to think back for the first memory of advertising that comes to mind… I was born and brought up in South Africa, and one of the ads that really stood out to me was the Coca-Cola “First Kiss” ad. And I remember, as a teenager, I would just hear the tune for that ad come up, and I would race to the television to see it. As a teen, there were certain values that I gravitated towards, including, of course, very clever creative. That sort of caught my imagination – it was the first time I could sense that there could be something very powerful in advertising.

I studied economics and politics, but marketing and advertising got the better of me. It’s an incredibly exciting world, and more and more so as the world changes – and there are a lot of changes going on. For me, it comes down to working with consumer insights, understanding what the truth is behind all of our actions, and really looking at an audience set and trying to understand what they value. To me, that’s fascinating.

DC: What inspires you?

Ute: For my job specifically, without a doubt, it’s understanding how brands define themselves, because to me that is the starting point. And if a brand really understands its reason for being and defines it clearly to me, they have a great platform to resonate with their particular audience set. I am inspired by understanding the reason for being for a brand, asking “Why is it that I exist and what am I passionate about?” And then how will that later resonate with the audience.

DC: How have changes in technology altered the ad agency business in the last five years?

Ute: I think in several ways. It’s really opened up great opportunities for us. With technology, obviously, comes the whole world of digital and social media. We all of sudden have so much more access to one-to-one communication with our target audiences. Previously, we didn’t necessarily have this in mass media. Yes, we could do a little bit of DM, but we never really got to have the one-on-one and the two-way conversation with the audience that we now have. This allows us to get really interesting insight and data on our consumer ads. We can enhance our dialogue with consumers. It’s an opportunity for us to understand what makes them tick, get certain data from them, and move into a world of being hyper-personalized.

We can have a one-to-one conversation, and can respond to somebody on a one-to-one basis. A really good example of that is what McDonald’s has recently done with their “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign. They’re addressing questions directly with the audience. And that’s something the world of technology has allowed us to do. As that happens, of course, we modify our staffing needs here in the agency world. We think beyond the traditional account person, and the traditional creative, the traditional production and the traditional planning. Where we are now is the world of big data; we all start thinking as data scientists. Jobs that we never thought of having in-house, or having direct relationships with, are now reality, so we’re hiring differently.

DC: How have recent technological changes impacted your job position or responsibilities?

Ute: All of us have to constantly change and adapt in our industry. And I don’t think that’s just pertinent to the last five years. But I think the speed with which we have to adapt to changes has increased. By the mere nature of us being in an agency, we are used to change. We were always used to seeing a number of different clients from a number of different sectors on a daily basis. But we now also have to think about a number of different media and outlets at the same time. Ultimately, we still have the same mindset. We’ve got to constantly be on the lookout for what’s new and adapt accordingly.

For me, as a strategic planner, what has changed most fundamentally is the opportunity to really have more direct insight into the audience and to hear straight from the audience’s mouth, which, of course, social media allows us to do. I think that opens up a lot of avenues, from a planning perspective, in understanding the genuine truth behind what an audience is thinking. And that’s where my job has changed. I have so much more access to the audience now. I have more research, more data and more insight that I can apply to the client’s particular needs.

DC: What will happen to traditional mass media advertising like TV, radio and print in the next five to 10 years? Do you think there will still be a place for that type of media in advertising?

Ute: Yes, I do. I believe the media will morph and adapt. Just look at how we consume television. Yes, we still watch TV, but we know that the rate at which we watch live TV is going down. Many of us jump to our computers and watch a certain movie or TV series online. Traditional TV advertising will become online advertising. The format might be on a different screen but, ultimately, the world of moving imagery associated with copy, with voiceovers and with acting is not going to change. We’re still going to see commercials – we just might watch them on our laptop instead of our TV screen. The most successful campaigns will always be the fully integrated ones. It’s no surprise when Marketing magazine announced McDonald’s Canada as 2012 Marketer of the Year. Again, it was due to a fully integrated campaign. And I think that’s what will still be successful in five years’ time.

DC: You touched a bit on social media – that’s such a big topic today and so popular. Can you tell me more specifically how social media has affected ad agencies?

Ute: Well, it’s a different media that we are integrating into our media mix. In terms of creative solutions, again, it’s an additional avenue that gives us so much more than we previously were able to do. One of the things we have to bear in mind, not from a creative perspective, but from a strategic perspective, is what drives social media: the rise of peer-to-peer respect, trust and interaction. We put our brands out there, but we know that the interpretation of that message will actually be on a peer-to-peer level. We can’t just go out there and ask people to trust us. What they trust is the recommendations of their peers. We can only hope to influence this kind of peer-to-peer interaction and really be authentic. We want to make sure that somebody in the peer-to-peer world is going to recognize us, recommend us and start spreading the word. It allows the possibility of having more than just one person speaking for us.

DC: From the client side, how has social media affected corporate branding?

Ute: This is the statement I would make from a branding versus campaign point of view: it’s that we may no longer be in complete control of all the brand messages that we put out there. But from a brand definition or development point of view, we are still in control of our brands; maybe not in control of all the brand messages, but certainly in control of our brand. I think what social media is doing is making a lot of brands realize that they need to be very clear on their reason for being. They have the opportunity to communicate that well, but they also need to respond well to what social media is throwing back at them. I’ll refer again to the campaign that McDonald’s recently did, about asking any questions about their food. I believe that it was a very brave and transparent approach. They did that because they clearly understand who they are. And they know in what particular tone and in what particular manner they will respond to any social media commentary in order to keep fostering their brand. From a branding perspective, it has made brands wake up and realize that they need to be very clear on how they are defined and on their reason for being. That will guide them in interacting with any social media, both positive and negative.

DC: What about dealing with a young demographic like teenagers? They tend to be highly skeptical of marketing and advertising. Are there any tips you could pass on about dealing with this demographic?

Ute: Well, I think that demographic also works on peer-to-peer interaction. I think that if we can start communicating on that peer-to-peer level and resonate with them, they can recommend us to other peers, so others will follow our brands and, ultimately, buy our brands, of course. That’s where we can be successful – understanding how the peer-to-peer culture works.

DC: What do ad agencies have to do to be successful and win business today?

Ute: The biggest word that comes to mind is “relevant”.  Which means having relevant insight into a prospect’s or client’s industry and their particular circumstances. Having relevant insight into their consumers and delivering relevant creative that is in the right media.

For clients today, I think the budgets are more limited. But there is more media opportunity out there than ever before. We can’t do everything. We have to be careful about selecting what is relevant and do it in a very powerful manner.

DC: That leads to the question as to how do you address the challenges of the skeptical client. Aside from relevancy, what else would you say?

Ute: You mean just skeptical in general as regards to the industry or skeptical…

DC: Skeptical in terms of hiring an ad agency. Why should I hire one, couldn’t I just save money and do it all in-house, etc.?

Ute: I think it comes down to being clear on your added value and recognizing that you’re an extension of their brand. You really adopt their business goals. What we can offer as an added value is our thought process, our experience, and the skills that we have developed over the years. And also how we keep on top of the latest trends in regards to research, social media and creative. Adding on to what they don’t have and fully understanding their business and their particular needs. It’s a very broad question. I mean, the skepticism can come from so many different angles. But you have to show you’re less about being an agency, and more about being a partner.

DC: We’ve talked a lot about the different technologies today, but what, in your opinion, has remained the same?

Ute: There is one fundamental thing that has remained the same – ultimately, it’s the notion of a great idea. If you’ve got a great idea that is grounded in an authentic approach, that will always stand true and resonate. While technologies change, the basis of our industry, which is great ideas, hasn’t changed.

DC: Thanks so much for your time, Ute – we look forward to hearing more from you and the other panelists on January 31st!

Get more details here. Be sure to buy your tickets NOW for the January 31st BSS event, as we’re getting close to capacity. You don’t miss your opportunity to “Come Hungry. Leave Full.” and gain more insights from Vancouver’s own marketing greats, do you?

David Coyne is a business-to-business copywriter ( and a member of the BCAMA’s Marketline Committee.