A recent Southpaw webinar looked at brand building. WARC’s Brian Carruthers listened in and was struck by the discussion around culture.

When talk turns to brand building, the focus tends to be on the technical side. Thanks to the work of Les Binet and Peter Field, everyone ought to know by now about the 60:40 adspend ratio of brand building to activation.

Likewise, there’s plenty of evidence for the importance of emotions in creating advertising that engages consumers, while neuroscience gets things down to a fine art in terms of how best to achieve long-term memory encoding.

We tend to hear less about those aspects of brand building that aren’t so readily measured. How do you take the temperature of company culture for example? But without a culture that buys into the whole idea of brand building, chances are you’re not going to get too far, according to Southpaw Strategy Director Niki Macartney.

“I think company culture is absolutely imperative,” she stated during a recent webinar run by the Southpaw agency. “I don’t believe that it is possible to achieve long-term brand growth unless a company from top to bottom fully embraces it and champions it.”

More than lip service is needed then. “I think it needs to almost be hardwired or soldered into your brand’s or your company’s values,” she said. “Just like you might have entrepreneurial spirit or fairness, long termism – or words to that effect – should be hardwired into what you do.”

The benefits of that become fully evident in times like these, Macartney argued. “Then it anchors things, so when panic happens and the lure for the toilet rolls happens, you’re rooted to what you know and you believe is right for that business.”

And that attitude has to come from the top, as she’s seen first-hand when working with clients where leaders have been able to communicate a shared vision of what the brand is. “They have a collective understanding of what good looks like, they have got the metrics to support it, and they ensure that the staff have got the skills and the training. You see that that leads to a brand-first approach, not tactics first, and I think the impact is significant.”

But in today’s data-driven world, it’s not always easy to prove the value of brand building, or at least not in the time scales often afforded, which means there’s a “certain amount of trust and belief” involved, Macartney admitted. That doesn’t have to be a problem though – build that into the culture as well “and stick to it – consistency is so important. Keep calm and keep doing it. These are all important attitudes that help to build that culture.”

As well as creating an internal company culture that’s conducive to the idea of brand building, brands need to reflect the wider societal culture in their advertising. In his book Lemon, Orlando Wood of System1 discusses how the digital revolution has subtly changed society, culture and the arts, with a consequent impact on advertising. Essentially, his argument, presented to the webinar, is that, in part because of digital, we’re living in times when the left side of the brain – which is goal oriented in its attention, sees things in binary terms, likes to compartmentalise – is dominant.

He sees this mirrored in current advertising: “an increasing emphasis on the word … you see abstracted bits of things, just the hands or something else.”

But if advertising is about gaining consumers’ attention, he pointed out that of the five types of attention that psychologists broadly agree on, “four are dealt with principally by the right brain”. That’s the side open to novelty, able to see things on multiple levels and understand humour and metaphor, the side that’s interested in people and “understands expressions, gestures, intonation, prosody”.

Wood’s call is to get back to advertising that builds brands with people or characters telling emotionally engaging stories. And, he added, “you can show that emotional response to work has a bearing on market share changes in the following year.” That’s the long-term assessment that’s been missing, he argued.

WARC Advisory’s Imaad Ahmed, speaking on the same webinar, highlighted the Creative Effectiveness Ladder, a tool developed by WARC and Cannes Lions, which charts the six main types of marketing effects that creative marketing produces, starting from an “influential idea” all the way up to an “enduring icon” – the acme of long-term brand building and sales growth.

Ahmed also noted that internal cultures are being shaken up by the impact of COVID-19 and recession. Marketing budgets are being cut, but not all categories are equally affected. “Where you’re in a sector that is facing severe budgetary restrictions, you may have to think like a startup,” he suggested.

“Startups have to build demand and supply from scratch at the same time – and that’s effectively what’s happened for some brands which have experienced both a demand and supply side shock. Startups do lead more heavily on the activation side than the brand building side,” he acknowledged. But he added that the marketing budget is just one of the levers available to marketers. “There are other things that that you can do to maintain visibility, whether that’s prioritizing satisfaction in terms of customer experience – because people remember brands that looked after them during tough times – or utilising your owned assets.

How can you use packaging or social or your website as communication platforms in a different way to how you may have considered them before?” Partnerships and PR are also options that may be more important when budget is limited. (For more on this, read The WARC Guide to Marketing in the COVID-19 recession.)