A User's Guide to Cross-Channel Concepting

By: Shaun Quigley

October 5, 2015

Our industry trades on ideas. Oftentimes, we compete to win or lose based on the quality of those ideas. Creative ideas. Media ideas. Social ideas. But the typical path to get to big ideas has been to perfect something for one channel, then think of the extensions that amplify it in the store, on the web and everywhere in between.

That approach doesn't work today. Here's why:

  1. Now more than ever, consumers are connected to a fragmented media landscape. Take a look around. Everyone is on a device, doing something different.
  2. Experiences are contextual. That includes time of day, place, mood, weather, economic situation, connection speed. All this contextual stuff matters. A lot.
  3. Content and context are connected at the hip. Without a variety of content to engage people on their terms, they will tune out and move onto the next thing.
  4. Data can help concepters discover big ideas (from the ground up). A big idea can start relatively small, such as a new way to leverage a platform.

The alternative way to develop big ideas is much harder. But it leads to superior results. Why? People don't know what they don't know. We've all been there. Ideas are conceived and sold but aren't functionally capable in a channel or on a platform. That's why having creative technologists or social platform experts involved in the ideation phase is so critical. They'll illuminate the possibilities and make implementation go faster.

The User's Guide

First, build a diverse team with expertise in creativity, media (paid, owned and earned) and technology.

Next, demand a willingness to collaborate. This means the traditional writer/art director team has to unlock whatever concepting room they're hiding out in and let other smart people join in the fun.

Finally, start with a deep understanding of your consumers' behavior and their journey in the category. And because an idea isn't that big anymore unless consumers can participate, that includes the technology they use and content they seek for entertainment and utility.

So what makes a cross-channel idea ... big?

  1. It's transformative to the brand-consumer relationship;
  2. It inspires people to think or act differently;
  3. It is uniquely simple;
  4. It works anywhere.

The first three criteria are familiar. The fourth point takes work. Because a big idea is channel independent. The channels simply become the tools we use to communicate and connect that idea with our audience.

DOs and DON'Ts of Cross-Channel Concepting

Getting started

  • DO get your client or internal team on board with this approach. Explain the objective and benefits of this way of thinking. Get their buy-in early.
  • DO build a nimble, but diverse, team with experience in a variety of disciplines. Keep the core team to 4 or 5 people.
  • DON'T fill your briefing documents with mandatories.
  • DO map the entire journey in your category to provide context.

When concepting

  • DO start with words or images or emotions that embody the idea.
  • DON'T rush to create a key visual or campaign slogan or TV commercial.
  • DO write a manifesto that briefly describes the idea or concept, and why it will connect with your audience.

When presenting:

  • DO describe the type of feedback you need. When presenting your idea, tell them what it is (an idea) and what it isn't (an ad or tactic).
  • DON'T present finished tactics at this stage.
  • DO bring in other channel experts to evaluate the idea and ensure it will work in their channel.

Who does it well?

There are plenty of noteworthy examples of smart, cross-channel thinking. Bank of America uses TV ads to drive to its mobile utilities. Virgin Atlantic's trip planning tools lead to nicely formatted printed itineraries. And REI's magazine ads seamlessly enable mobile shopping. These big brands really get it.

Change ingrained habits

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg reveals a fundamental truth: "When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making ... so unless you fight a habit — unless you find new routines — the pattern will unfold automatically."

To be sure, old habits die hard. Concepting a big, cross-channel idea is no different from biting your nails or raiding the freezer for ice cream. To change old concepting habits, get more diverse brains fully participating in the concepting process.