Lessons from Humpty Dumpty
By Mike Carlton

“All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again."
Mother Goose

It’s not easy being a marketer today.

A Thousand Pieces

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King’s horses
And all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

The Whole Egg

Forty years ago Young & Rubicam was one of the world’s most highly regarded agencies. Its visionary leader, Ed Ney, espoused the concept of “The Whole Egg.” It was to be a “process for looking at the brand and letting the market dictate the optimum role for, and the allocation of resources to, various marketing disciplines.”

This is important. So here it is again.

The Whole Egg was to be a “process for looking at the brand and letting the market dictate the optimum role for, and the allocation of resources to, various marketing disciplines.”

In short, The Whole Egg was to integrate all the points on the compass from which the consumer received stimuli about the brand. Brilliant concept.

The Devil is in the Doing

Unfortunately, implementation was a whole lot more difficult.

Lots of behavioral changes were needed. Silo mentality within the agency and within the client had to be overcome. Turf protection came into conflict with client interests. The grand idea faltered.

The Whole Egg was not able to deliver on its glorious promise. In time, the concept faded. Swept aside by subsequent management and ownership changes.

A later leader of the agency is reported to have described the reason for the concept’s poor results this way, “Y&R’s Whole Egg project focused on cross-selling services which benefited the agency rather than on strategic planning that focused on its client’s needs.”

But this implementation failure makes The Whole Egg idea no less powerful.

Through the Eyes of the Customer

Consumers continue to expect, make that demand, unity in their perceptions about the brands they select. And they are increasingly intolerant of brands that convey conflicting messages.

Human perceptions of brands are usually based on three things:

1. Messaging From the Marketer
This can be media advertising, websites, brochures, digital marketing, the product itself, sales people, sponsored events, direct mail, etc. In short, any message the content of which is controlled by the marketer.

Consumers value this communication but also understand the bias of it.

2. Third Party Opinions
We are all highly influenced by the opinions of others. This can come from media editorial viewpoints, social media, word of mouth from friends, government or court statements, etc. In short, any information about the brand that isn’t controlled by the marketer.

While this has been generally viewed as impartial, increasing product placement and the blurring of the line between editorial and advertising is causing growing consumer skepticism.

3. Personal Experience
This is far and away the most important of the three. Customer unity only comes when the brand messages from the marketer, the opinions of others and personal brand experience are all aligned.

Validation of positive prior-to-sale perceptions through personal experience is necessary for any kind of lasting customer satisfaction.

People expect these three to be in harmony. If there is even the hint of dissonance between any of them, the customer typically discounts that brand and moves on to other available options.

A Three Legged Stool

Thus, a brand can be thought of as a three legged stool. If messaging from the marketer, third party opinions and personal experience are out of sync, the brand falters. Just as one weak leg makes the three legged stool fail.

It’s as simple as that.

The Plight of the Marketer

It’s not easy being a marketer today.

The world has changed a lot for agencies. But in many respects, the marketer’s world has changed even more.

With a good product it used to be almost a snap. Heavy media advertising supported by some PR and sales promotion was the textbook way to build a brand. Whether you were Coca Cola or Sam’s Laundry the formula was pretty much the same.

And one resource, a “full service” advertising agency, could usually help orchestrate it all. Lots of agencies had strong PR and sales promotion capabilities in addition to media advertising. They put the egg together.

But it’s a whole lot more complicated now. The customer has changed, and is now demanding more personal relevance in all his brand contacts; marketer controlled messaging, third party opinions, and personal experience.

At the same time the rapid proliferation of media - traditional as well as the web, social media, search, etc, etc. - for communicating with customers has made selection and allocation incredibly challenging.

And hardly a day goes by without some new medium bursting forth on the scene.

As comprehensive as the services offered by holding companies are, integration of their various disciplines is not coming easily.

On the customer service side, many marketers that have invested heavily in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) have not only been disappointed by its individual results, but unable to integrate it effectively with other marketing activities.

The Magic Bullet Syndrome

To make matters worse, the marketer is being besieged by new as well as traditional marketing communications providers essentially saying, “Buy my stuff. It’s the thing to do and it’s really cool, too.” With little regard for the harmony needed among all the tools employed.

At the same time budget constraints are being tightened. The marketer is being asked to accomplish more with less.

Not a happy picture.

All the King’s Horse’s…

As a result, today the egg remains in pieces.

Who is in charge of providing unity among all the various ways the consumer is being touched? Who is assuring harmony between the various points of contact? Who is preventing dissonance that can drive desired customers away?

Is it the advertising agency? Or are they just selling ads and commercials? Is it a brand consultant? Or are they just saying where the brand should be heading but not how to get there? Is it a general business consultant? Or do they miss the creative leverage needed to make strong ideas work? Is it the client? Or are they too close to the product for customer empathy?

Who is responsible for putting the egg back together?

McKinsey & Co.

In a seminal piece a few years ago, McKinsey published a report titled “Boosting Returns on Marketing Investment.” It is excellent.

In it they write, “Marketers need a more rigorous approach to a fragmenting world – one that jettisons mentalities and behavior from advertising’s golden age and treats marketing not as a spend but as the investment it really is.”

They go on to say, “Even in a fragmenting world, marketers must push to ensure that they spend 75 to 80 percent of their money on proven messages that are placed in proven media vehicles and supported by proven dollar levels. The remaining 20 to 25 percent of spending should finance well-structured experiments.”

Their view is from the 30,000 foot level. But the outcome they are describing is nothing less than putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Some Questions

Everyone agrees that the consumer’s and marketer’s interests are best served by a harmonious combination of all the various branding tools. But, how to determine what that optimum combination is? And, how to assure that the messages carried by each tool are harmonious?

What must be done to make sense of all this?

This is a really tough question. Without a clear and established path, many clients have taken on this responsibility themselves. Albeit without the experience that working with multiple clients in diverse situations brings to outside providers.

Do it yourself is not an easy way to go. Or a necessarily happy one.

Most marketers likely have good data on proven messages and proven media. However, with the changing consumer behavior and the proliferation of ways to reach them, the relative allocation of that spending and particularly the determination of what the well structured experiments might be can be very problematic.

That requires some very sophisticated choices and some risky decisions. The challenge however is this; do most marketers, particularly those which do not have mega budgets, have internal resources with the necessary knowledge, experience and wisdom for making those determinations?

Another Model

In considering what is happening here in marketing communications it may be valuable to look at how another industry deals with similar issues.

In the construction industry, the building owner wants to have a facility that is not only functional but touches the emotions of those who will be using it. It must not only work, but its aesthetics must be right, too.

To build it, brick layers, carpenters, glazers, roofers, etc. will be needed. Dozens of different and often unrelated crafts.

The owner could retain a different provider from each of the crafts, ask them to design their individual portion and then manage them herself. But, could you imagine the potential for discord and what the resulting building might look like or how it might function?

Or she could hire an architect whose only purposes would be to design the building and then coordinate and supervise the work of the various craft providers. The architect’s responsibility would be to assure that the functional, aesthetic and economic criteria for the building were met.

For this service the architect is paid a separate fee.

Some building owners may choose to do it themselves. But most choose to use an architect. They believe that the results are well worth the cost.

A Corresponding Role

Yet within market communications is anyone fulfilling the architect’s role?

A lot of agencies would like to say they do this. And some actually do.

But for many it is just lip service so they can produce ads and commercials. Kind of like a brick layer who gives the owner a building design for free so he can get paid for laying the bricks.

Not a good way to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

An Agency Opportunity?

If agencies have drifted away from their strategic leadership role with clients, perhaps it is time to take a step back and review some time-tested agency basics.

Historically, agencies have had some fundamental strengths:

1. Agencies often empathize with the consumer’s economic and psychic interests better than anyone else on the playing field.

2. Agencies also have a keen understanding of branding and what the brand experience means for the consumer and how that relates to the marketer.

3. Agencies have (or at least historically have had) strong and deep relationships with marketers.

4. Agencies are good aggregators of diverse crafts and tools – if they understand the appropriate application of those disciplines.

5. Agencies usually have the most diverse talent base among all the branding service providers.

These are very powerful, and rather exclusive, strengths. They go to the core of how to most effectively build and maintain a brand from the consumer’s point of view. While creating and placing advertising is an important component of many solutions, it is exactly that – just a component.

Agencies have the opportunity of moving back to the position they traditionally enjoyed; that of being the architects of the client’s consumer brand perception.


Here are some thoughts you might consider:

Do You Want to Be the Brand Architect?
This is a pivotal question. For it ultimately will separate those who want to guide the client’s overall brand perception from those who specialize in creating and producing advertising. A big, big difference.

Building a unified brand experience in the mind of the consumer takes the same holistic guidance an architect provides his clients. And, that won’t come from a bunch of media and marketing tool vendors. It is a role that agencies are well suited to fill. But, only if they really want to.

Consumer Focus
Good agencies usually understand the mind of the consumer better than other communication tool providers. This strength should get maximum leverage.

This calls for rethinking how the agency’s planning capabilities are deployed. Too often, planners are seen as just ivory tower thinkers. When in this new paradigm, they should be at the forefront of the entire agency’s effort. Serious rethinking of using this powerful asset is in order. For if the agency has a clear map of the consumer’s psyche and her various mental receptors, then the rest becomes much easier.

Learn the Other Crafts
This is the toughest part. Before you can guide the harmonious aggregation of various tools and crafts, you must understand each of their capabilities and deliverables. Without that dissonance prevails.

Now this is easier said than done. It will take time and money to learn about these new crafts. It will take new people from these various disciplines. It will take true mind-expansion of traditional agency craft experts. And most of all, it will take dedicated and committed leadership.

Holistic Ideas
Great ideas that only work in 30 second spots or colorful ads are not enough. The ideas that will drive the success of agencies in the future must be able to work using all kinds of tools, and in all kinds of venues. They must be truly media agnostic. Anything less is inadequate.

This means nurturing the understandings within agency talent that permit idea development that transcends traditional advertising, and speaks broadly to the consumer through all of their available receptors.

Coalesce the Outcome
With the variety of ways available to touch today’s consumer, no one – not even the biggest holding companies – have the skills to do all the things necessary. Other providers with specialized expertise are needed. Collegial, collaborative leadership of the solution team is required.

Someone has to orchestrate bringing all of this together. And remember, it is something that only the most sophisticated marketers have much skill in.

Examine Your Business Model
Today, most agencies make their serious money from TV spots, websites and colorful ads. Becoming a brand architect and guiding the collaborative process of diverse outside talent is out on the periphery of most agencies current business model. And, if they do act as brand architects, it usually represents a small portion of their total revenue.

But, the historic agency business model is clearly in trouble. TV spots and colorful ads and other traditional stuff as the economic backbone of the agency business will just not work much longer. What McKinsey called the “Golden Age” is over.

Architecting a multi-dimensional branding solution has great value to the marketer. Yet there is no standard way of directly rewarding an agency for this value.

Thus, revised business models must be created. Business models that reward the agency for the economic value of architecting and coordinating a harmonious solution.

The need is there. The opportunity is there. The agencies that can develop innovative and effective economic models for their business, and then successfully transition to them, can move to a whole new level of psychic and financial reward.

Humpty Dumpty

The egg needs to be put back together again.

Is your agency up for the job?

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