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By Ken Muench

Over the last ten years, there’s been a ton of groundbreaking work done by legitimate academics in the field of marketing. The explosion of Behavioral Economics gives us a much clearer picture of how humans make decisions. The great studies from Les Binet and Peter Field at the I.PA. have helped define what works for brands and what doesn’t. And Byron Sharp and his team at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute have completely harpooned existing marketing “laws” and exposed them as total B.S.. It’s an exciting time to be in marketing!

But still, the problem for actual marketers today is that as everything we thought we knew gets blown up, we’re left walking around aimlessly, digging through the intellectual rubble to see what we can piece together to help us…well, actually market. We still have brands to tend, after all.

That’s why we developed RED. It’s a marketing framework that brings together all the exciting new marketing science…but makes it easy to understand and execute. We developed RED about five years ago and have been testing it and refining it in about 140 countries, with nearly 2,000 marketers.

How is this possible, you ask? Well, we’re Collider Lab, Yum’s in-house strategic consultancy, and we sit at the nexus of our three incredible brands: Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC. We help each brand supercharge their marketing efforts in dozens of countries, and help train their teams around the world.

That’s where RED comes in. It stands for Relevance, Ease, and Distinctiveness. And we believe those are the three reasons people buy. We also believe that if as a marketer, you focus on those three levers, you’re doing 95% of what it takes to have a kick-ass, growing brand.

There are lots of components to R, E, and D, and we’ll get to the juicy details at some point in this blog. But for now, here are some of the most salient bits:

Relevance: The specific brand of relevance that we believe works the best is Cultural Relevance. Meaning, is your brand relevant to the emerging cultural code of the category, or do you feel antiquated or off-code? See, what we’ve found (in part thanks to Mark Earl’s excellent book, Herd), is that humans are a pack species, and more than anything in the world, we want to belong. It’s very difficult to embrace a brand that’s off-code. It means you’re also off-code–that you don’t belong to the herd. (How comfortable would you feel today driving through your neighborhood in a gas-guzzling muscle car from a brand that exudes brute testosterone, for instance?) So we focus on creating brands that are culturally relevant. (By the way, we don’t really believe in brands creating emotional connections or brand having a purpose. Those may make marketers feel better about their jobs, but we have seen over and over how those approaches fail to create distinctive, powerful brands that grow. More on that at some point).

Ease: If behavioral economics has taught us anything, it’s that humans are lazy creatures. We regularly pick the things that are most physically and mentally available to us. We are experts at post rationalizing our decisions, of course. We’ll invariably have a seemingly logical explanation for our choice. But the truth is, if it’s easy to remember and easy to get, we’re a hell of a lot more likely to buy it. So this is a significant lever we focus on: reducing friction in the buying process and making the brands easy to recall.

Distinctiveness: this is a tricky one. Essentially, it means creating brands and touch-points that are Unique, Ownable, and Consistent. Think of Geico’s Gecko or the KFC Colonel. Think of Mastercard’s old Priceless campaign or Bud Light’s Dilly Dilly. These are distinctive brands and campaigns because they are Unique, Ownable, and, most importantly, Consistent. Unfortunately, few marketers genuinely understand this point. The first thing an agency or CMO will do is dump whatever assets and ideas the brand currently has and reinvent the brand in their own likeness. It’s one of the most damaging crimes in marketing!

The training we do with our own marketers takes about four days. So, needless to say, there’s lots more to the points above. But for now, I hope this gives you the gist.

Over the next few months, we’ll be posting more articles on RED. Lots of stuff on culturally relevant trends, some fresh examples from brands that are distinctive or particularly easy, and some intellectual challenges to existing marketing theory.

So leave your email, and we’ll ping you once every few weeks when we’ve got something cool to share.

(Keep in mind that all the views expressed in this post and on this site are personal views. They don’t represent the views of Yum! or any other person or organization except the authors themselves.)

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