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MARCH 5, 2021 //     

Has Brand Strategy Gone to the Dogs?

By Paul Sears 

Dog training is one of my life’s greatest joys, and I’ve been a prosumer at it for a little more than five years. I even got my Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) certification as groundwork for an eventual retirement side hustle. 

In real life, I’m a brand and engagement strategist, training companies large and small to adopt new beliefs and behaviours of their own. It starts with understanding internal and external perceptions, finding that all-important white space that makes them unique, and ultimately operationalising the narrative and strategy throughout the organisation. And while it’s in no way fair or appropriate to compare brands and companies to dogs – the process of motivating behaviour change is, in some ways, the same. 

Today, brands have to be dynamic. The world continues to accelerate, and brands can’t hang their hats on a static position anymore. They need to have one foot planted while the other dances –  relentlessly iterating on products and services, business and operational models, storytelling and communications. It takes focus and orchestration (and to be fair, intelligent insights infrastructure) to be this agile. But when successful, dynamic brands can out-innovate and out-manoeuvre just about anybody.  

With the utmost respect, it’s not too dissimilar from training the pups. When working on a behaviour, changes to the training context require changes to the training process. In other words, we can’t just assume the same hand gesture that works at home will automatically work in the park with other dogs playing cheerfully nearby. The trainer must embrace a willingness to rapidly pivot their delivery of the same core training principle to suit the situation. Trainers actually have to be just as dynamic with the puppers as brands do with their customers.  

Likewise, in a world of fragmented attention, brands work hard to stay Relevant. When brands act, they must act everywhere in an orchestrated and cohesive way. It takes “Capital-A Agile” approaches to break down traditional silos and iteratively solve “what it says” and “where it goes” in the same stroke. Again, it’s not unlike dog training. The trainer faces a constant barrage of sights, sounds and smells competing for the attention of our four-legged “consumer”.  We have to plan two steps ahead, see around the corner and rapidly iterate new ways to remain the most interesting, tastiest thing on the block.

Finally, we believe brands must embrace their humanity, and be truly V.I.T.A.L. – Vision, Inspiration, Trust, Alignment and Leadership are the intangibles we use to measure the emotional connection brands create with their customers. Brands are just subjective concepts, heart-and-mind constructs that companies don’t and can’t actually own. That mental image can change at any moment and anytime anyone in the world tells our story for us. But when people truly believe, they are beyond happy to carry water for us.

When dealing with dogs, it’s also important to be VITAL. We should have a clear and consistent Vision for the behaviours we want, reinforced steadfastly in every interaction. We have to Inspire pups to perform – most often with treats, but also with play and love. We simply must cultivate Trust at every turn – the dog should see the trainer as a rock-solid partner to (quite literally) lean on. Our goals should be Aligned – one of the most fundamental things a trainer does is to see the world through the dog’s eyes. And we must Lead – a dog recognises a human as a guide through a wild and scary world; we must nurture that sacred responsibility.

Funnily enough, I’m just now in the process of helping “train” a global healthcare enterprise to express themselves more cohesively around the world. It’s the exact same approach – helping them improve their ability to be dynamic, by helping them be more agile and flexible. Teaching them to be relevant by being more consistent everywhere they are. And helping them embrace the VITAL-ity of the brand, by creating a shared Vision that Inspires internal and external constituents, creating Trust by Aligning their shared purpose, and positioning them to Lead. But instead of giving treats, it’s about enhancing business performance.

I realise it’s in no way fair to compare the brilliant minds of world-class talent at global enterprises to the charming, feeble little brains of dogs. But from a process standpoint, there are some vague similarities. Many of the techniques dog trainers employ actually come from some of the same psychologists (B.F. Skinner for example) who have shaped our understanding of human behaviour. So maybe there’s a little bit of connective tissue. 

All I know is, when brands are dynamic, relevant, and VITAL with their customers, it creates incredible enthusiasm and loyalty – just like when a trainer is dynamic, relevant, and VITAL with their pups. 

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Paul Sears is Executive Vice President, Integrated Marketing.  With nearly 20 years in advertising, social media, content and brand strategy, Paul spends most of his time helping clients sharpen their strategic focus – at the brand level or for individual products and campaigns.    

 

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