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The Love of Enduring Strategic Platforms: The Kick-ass Idea That’s Still Kickin

How many times have you heard: “We get tired of the ad before the audience does.”?

How many times have you observed this: “Our plans are driven by quarterly results.”?

How many times have you wondered: “Is the half-life of a great idea half-a-year?” I ask myself that very question whenever someone says, “I think the current ad campaign has run its course.”

The silliness of that statement begins with word two, “think”.  I’ll pay attention when someone believes…knows.  “I know the advertising isn’t working.” lifts my eyebrows. But so often, like walking through a pitch-black fun house, we FEEL the cobwebs on an idea, not see them.

Interestingly enough in B2B, a sector that’s often chided for not changing fast enough, trashing one platform/campaign for another happens way too fast and way too often. Of course, bad ideas need a quick death. But, why do good ones, even great ones?

I believe…I know… that great ideas, great strategic communications platforms can live long.  Maybe not DeBeers long, but really long. And, it’s only the smartest of leaders who get that and can leverage a platform over time, keeping it fresh and relevant and effective.

So, I’ll go back to the word, “Think”, but in this case, look at it in only the most positive and powerful sense. Think IBM’s THINK®.

IBM’s chairman and CEO for 42 years, Thomas Watson, first used THINK at NCR (originally National Cash Register) in 1911. He wrote the word on an easel during an unproductive sales meeting (Some say that Watson was one of the best sales people ever.) after saying, “The trouble with every one of us is that we don’t think enough. We don’t get paid for working with our feet –we get paid for working with our heads.”

Watson brought THINK to IBM (then named CTR for Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company) in 1914, and the rest is history…a very long history of an extraordinarily valuable cultural/sales/marketing/communications platform. In fact, IBM started using THINK in advertising during the roaring 20s. IBM’s first U.S. trademark was for THINK, filed in 1935, 14 years before the company filed for a trademark on the name IBM. And, from a 1940 biographical piece on IBM: “This word is on the most conspicuous wall of every room in every IBM building. Each employee carries a THINK notebook in which to record inspirations.” By the 1950s IBM sales people were passing out THINK signs to customers.

Inspirational? You bet! THINK inspired the laptop I’m using now for this story – the ThinkPad. Yes, Lenovo owns it now, but back in 1992, the ThinkPad was the laptop to beat. It launched a whole new category of computer. It was the smart computer to think on. Some say Apple’s “Think Different” was a direct response to THINK.

In 2011 celebrating its 100th year in business, IBM installed a THINK exhibit at Lincoln Center in New York City. There’s a similar experience at Disney’s Epcot (I’ve done it with family…it’s quite cool.).

THINK inspired movements. Think: Smarter Planet, bravely launched in 2008 during the financial meltdown. To me, a brilliant extension of THINK.

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So I’ll sum it up. Great ideas, really great ideas are platforms that you can build on for a very long time. They are far more than messages or even campaigns. They are core philosophies and principles that shape how a brand does business and that connect with customers and what the brand does for them. CFOs like great platforms, too, because they’re sort of like fixed assets. At the very least, you needn’t pay good money to create the next great thing. You’ve got a very useful and effective starting point.

Let’s not be thinking about whether a campaign has seen its day. Let’s be THINKing about the strategic platform that will weather the years well. And, keep our brands fresh but true to their roots.