An idea can take form in various ways. It is the unique design that makes a product useful and fun. It is the clever packaging concept that promises something the competition doesn’t. It is the unforgettable advertising claim (also known as a tagline, strapline, slogan, or sign-off). It is the visual motif that drives the campaign. It is the web interface that gives customers exactly what they want. It is the pleasant surprise from the customer-service representative.
Ideas should not be confused with insight: insight is perennial, while good ideas can and should change regularly. An idea is the innovation that keeps a product relevant to a customer’s life and keeps the customer involved with the brand. Ideas usually have a life cycle of a few years at most. Ideas are the visible manifestations of the brand, and assuming the insight is well founded, good ideas should flow almost effortlessly.
The difference between brand insight and ideas can be seen in the following examples:
• The ad agency BBDO was able to build a quarter-century’s worth of GE campaigns upon its insight about users’ lives being improved by myriad GE products. The insight was summed up with the claim, “We bring good things to life.” Ideas for individual commercials and advertisements flowed out of this insight by the dozen. Nearly 25 years later, the basic insight was still valid, but a fresh, twenty-first-century expression was called for. “Imagination at work” was judged to fit the bill.
• An iPod is simply a small, external hard drive. The idea of turning it into a latter-day Walkman rests on the insight that Apple makes technology easy, integrating hassle-free downloading, browsing, and listening.
• New ideas for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors are submitted by fans on the company website. One recent winner: Puttin’ On a Ritz, consisted of vanilla ice cream, caramel, and Ritz crackers. The insight behind the brand is that everyone can get involved in social responsibility (and enjoy good ice cream).
• Charles Schwab’s investment products and services stem from the insight that the Internet can be used to give individual investors straightforward, personalized service while reducing commissions and fees. The brand identity emphasizes the personal relationship, which is attractive to institutional investment clients as well.
The rapid pace of pop culture encourages us to expect new ideas all the time. Insight alone won’t sustain a brand forever: we quickly tire of brands that have “run out of ideas.” Brands need both the solid foundation of a great insight and the steady flow of new ideas to remain compelling.