Monday, November 18, 2013

Branding Isn't Rocket Science… Yet.

There's a how-to book or two out there about satisfying the core emotional needs of customers. Perhaps you've heard of it. 

I hate how-to books. But that's another topic for another time. I do love to talk about advances in marketing however, and point out truths that are often overlooked. For a while now, brand strategists have encouraged the business world to embrace the value of emotion in selling products and as marketers see the value of appealing to consumers’ heartstrings, some powerful insights have begun to emerge, which is awesome. We've finally reached a paradigm shift in perspective. But we've also tried to make a science out of something very abstract, intangible, and somewhat ethereal. We decorate it with catchphrases and package it in some rather verbose and esoteric language only planners seem to use.

Now to many, I'm just an art director, but I say it often. Brands that can bypass the head and reach the heart and soul of a consumer will always outperform the logical appeals and positioning of their shortsighted counterparts, because the heart is more involved in making decisions than our heads. That much has been proven, although for some there remains much debate.

Emotions are powerful motivators and can be powerful economic levers, but without a proven psychological theory to tell us where, when, and how to extract emotional insights, opportunities are lost some will say. That's certainly true, but trying to measure the heart with intellectual metrics in my opinion is like trying to breath under water without gills. We know in part, and even see in part, and as a creative I for one can appreciate the mystery of how this all works.

Psychologists for years have tried to unlock the secrets of the subconscious to reveal the hidden meaning behind our conscious thoughts and behaviors. But trying to decipher raw emotion sometimes is like pinning Jell-O to a wall, especially when we continue to handicap ourselves with a fact-based, quanti­fied approach. It's like the left-brain trying to comprehend the right without an interpreter and vice-versa. 

No one loves strategy consultants, market research and consumer insights more than I. But sometimes it gets unnecessarily convoluted and complicated. We need to simplify the process I think, go back to basics, and at times trust our gut because it knows the terrain, and isn't prone to the paralysis of too much analysis. One thing I know for certain. The day we develop a fool-proof formula for the psychological and/or sociological underpinnings of how and why people use products and services, many of us in marketing will indeed become redundant and find ourselves looking for a new career. But don't hold your breath. I don't see that day coming any time soon.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Is it Really About Brand Engagement or Getting Hitched?

Loyalty. Commitment. Marriage. Sure, not the sexiest or most marketable of phrases, but for brands, it's the Holy Grail. Yet, before we even go there however, we need to talk about engagement. Yes, engagement in all of its meanings. It's the latest buzzword branding gurus have been throwing around for some time now, and anyone who's anyone knows just how important it is for a brand to relate relevantly with the world in an alluring and compelling way, both online and off. However, most conversations on the subject are confined to the former and revolve around content since this is now the primary way people connect and interact with brands.

Therefore, it's important to point out that in the era of content marketing how important it is for brands to be real, because up until this point we've seen more than our fair share of desperate, tacky, and predictable attempts to manufacture "engagement" based upon conventional and cheesy call-to-action tactics. The internet is more than a content delivery system, and engagement is not about creating something gimmicky for people to share but rather the right kind of content. Otherwise engagement remains just shameless and sophomoric. Content is only king so far as it provides the building blocks to something powerful people can affectionately align themselves with and passionately champion and defend offline as well. The roadmap to the heart hasn't changed, just the tools are different. Brands that insist on intrusively 'selling' themselves through traditional advertising strategies or asking for likes, followers, and retweets won't survive or garner enough interest or enthusiasm to warrant the type of commitment needed today to keep quality customers engaged and involved.

Sexiness by itself isn't enough. Commonality alone doesn't cut it. Neither does an attractive promise or price. It's a combination of factors that makes for relationship material and a level of emotional buy-in most brands would kill for, because ultimately it's what drives us as people. It's the secret sauce. It's about relationship. Otherwise your brand will just be left standing at the altar.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why I'm Thankful for the Economic Downturn

I began my career like any art director or designer does, doing production, paying my dues. But in time, and with some hard work, I finally moved my way up the responsibility ladder, and was able to sink my teeth into some fairly creative and challenging work. But eventually I became bored. I wanted more. I just couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew I wasn't just a designer. I wasn't being challenged. Yet the days grew into months, and the months into years of not doing anything about it. It wasn't until I abandoned the cushy corporate paycheck to pursue my passions that I was finally able to spread my wings and grow. 

Upon being promoted to creative director of an agency startup, I found myself a lot more involved in the strategy and planning behind campaigns; not to mention pitching and presenting to clients. I was hooked. While I still love design and remain very competitive in that arena, I've been devoting more and more of my time to copywriting and brand strategy over the past five years. But much of that came about only because I was forced to explore new opportunities, and at the same time, rediscover what I really wanted to do with my life, and what was inside of me all along.

Like many small agencies at the start of the recession, a downturn in business meant I was now on my own to find new employment. After several attempts to land something comparable however, I turned back to freelance and contract stints for survival, and soon found myself on a new journey to uncover what really motivates me most. 

You see, it isn't until life squeezes us sometimes before we learn what we're truly made of, and what we were put on this earth to do. Adversity corners us and demands of us to ask real questions, to search for real answers about the future, especially when it's our future being called into question. Only then can we come face to face with our strengths and our weaknesses and come to terms with what makes us special. It's about focus. It's about destiny.

At first I was bitter, but now I am better and more equipped to handle the challenges that come with finding the right fit. When you don't know who you are, there will always be someone with an agenda who will either mold you into what they want, or keep you stuck in a cycle of discontent and dysfunction, which never works out for either party. Great teams are built around people who not only enjoy what they're doing, but are uniquely gifted to fulfill the role and function their position requires, and that's a win-win for everybody.