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Naomi Troni

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Relevance or Death

Posted: 07/28/11 03:28 PM ET

We've all heard how quickly consumers now scan communication and decide whether to pay attention to it. This isn't because they're cynical or spoiled for choice; it's just a natural response to avoiding information overload and maintaining sanity. Take your pick of the scary statistics for just how many branded and unbranded messages the average consumer is exposed to every day. Consciously or unconsciously, everybody develops filters to keep the incoming volume manageable.

One of the crucial filters is relevance. In a split second, everyone decides whether a piece of communication will make it over his or her relevance threshold, deciding whether it's pertinent/important/germane to him or her.

As a general rule, communication about pension planning won't feel relevant to college students; communication about beer won't feel relevant to women over 30; communication about feminine hygiene products won't feel relevant to men. But these obvious examples are only the tip of the relevance problem.

Even in situations where the product is absolutely right on for the lifestyle and life stage of a target group, the people in that group won't necessarily notice it if the environment is crowded and noisy. And even if they do notice, they won't necessarily perceive the communication as relevant to them. They might have just bought something in the category, they might be committed to a different brand, or they might dislike the format or the color or the name.

Sell-driven 20th-century marketing communication had little scope for lifting a brand over the relevance threshold. By contrast, the 21st-century Creative Business Idea approach that Euro RSCG uses offers ample scope for making communication with much greater potential relevance. CBIs sit at the intersection of creativity and effectiveness. They are transformational. They change business strategy. They drive profitable growth. With those big ideas, we aim to understand and create relevance from the get-go in a business strategy, long before communications strategy and execution happen.

Consider Dr. Scholl's. It was a solid, centenarian brand stuck in a category associated in consumers' minds with orthopedic shoes and support hose -- a world away from Timberland, let alone Jimmy Choo. How could it get people to see the brand in a fresh light? The company didn't need to reinvent the product; it had already developed a brand-new line of gel inserts. What needed reinventing was the category. Dr. Scholl's had to remove the stigma of old age, so it focused on lifestyle benefits rather than foot pain. Once that mental leap was made, it was just a question of getting creative. "Are you gellin'?" made Dr. Scholl's instantly relevant -- David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres all used the line -- and sales of the gel insoles shot up 100 percent. Even other Scholl's products saw residual increases.

Or take The Atlantic. The venerated American magazine founded by Emerson and Longfellow, among others, 150 years ago, had lost its relevance. People perceived reading it as intellectual heavy lifting, which didn't appeal much to a society addicted to texting and reality TV. Our "Think. Again" campaign for the magazine sought out the New Intelligentsia and posed provocative questions in public places. "When is evil cool?" one asked. "Can Jesus save Hollywood?" asked another. And, ahem, "Will blogs kill writing?" The first print issue of the magazine after the campaign debuted outpaced its predecessor by 35 percent. The CBI -- reminding consumers of how wonderful an experience it is to think -- brought more eyes to the magazine and its website, plus more modern and consumer-driven advertisers, and made the age-old brand relevant again.

Brands today must fight a perpetual battle for relevance, forever adapting to changing markets, new modes of communication, and consumers' growing influence and power. The CBI approach greatly improves their chances of staying ahead in the battle.

Naomi Troni is chief marketing officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide. This summer, the communications company will celebrate the power of ideas with the release of The Creative Business Idea Book: Ten Years of Breakthrough Thinking. For more information, go to creativebusinessidea.com.