Monday, May 2, 2016

Skip the Sales Posts and Deliver on Experience

We're a long way from anyone being able to predict the future but valuable research is giving us a better idea of where society is headed, what the millennial consumer values most, and what direction marketing needs to take as a result.

In the past, marketers told consumers what they were supposed to want from a brand and developed creative around gimmicks and facades to coerce and persuade. But consumers are smarter than that now. They can see through the facades and demand a more open and honest relationship with brands. Credibility is being defined by truthfulness and integrity. So now marketing is driven by the wants and needs of the customer, and sales teams everywhere have been scrambling to adapt and evolve. Authenticity no longer becomes an option. Either you embrace it, or it will be forced upon you.

When I started in this business, advertising was very one-dimensional, and creative was all about messaging. But times have changed. When it comes to brand credibility in the digital era, nothing speaks louder than honest and purposeful engagement. Therefore designers and art directors must think more holistically about the process to be successful. Traditional behavior and consumption patterns are gone and study after study is showing that the largest generation in the U.S. value socially conscious experiences and causes over innovation, great products, and brand popularity. These key values persist across the millennial age spectrum and signify more of a shift than just a trend. 

So skip the sales posts and deliver on experiential content. Foster and nurture emotional connections that reward engagement and empower identity. 

Across the board culture is starting to spend time and money very differently. In fact, the brand experience is driving consumers like never before, and creates more opportunities for storytellers like myself who are enthusiastic about smarter creative that skillfully translates a client’s needs into authentic and enjoyable brand engagement.

Consumers have high expectations of brands for sure, and with this shift in how we spend our money, it stands to reason that marketing and creative budgets must shift as well.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Who Will Champion Your Story, and Bring Your Brand to Life?

I see it all too often. A product, service or customer experience fails to resonate with buyers and therefore Marketing is left spinning their wheels trying to bridge the relevance gap with messaging and positioning. This is the traditional way we’ve always done it. But it’s not very effective anymore.

Everything a business says and does nowadays is dictated by the consumer, but it is frustrating the glut of entrepreneurs we now have flooding the marketplace looking to strike it rich with their dream concepts or inventions.

Shows like CNBC’s ‘Shark Tank’ cater to them. One after the other, vying desperately to find funding and validation for what they believe the buyer needs and wants. But only those who are realistic and relevant prosper.

This is not a problem exclusive to entrepreneurs however. Corporations alike suffer from being self-centric and not customer-centric. Honestly, I love branding and storytelling, but what I love even more is when I see employees who connect with the story and bring it to life throughout the customer experience the way Walt Disney did back in the day, and the way Apple does today. It’s believable. It’s authentic, and it remains all about the customer and the customer's experience.

Yes this means more training, organizational change, investing more internally to maximize employee engagement and empowerment. But it’s worth the investment. Otherwise, your company culture crumbles and your message loses credibility. Your brand becomes irrelevant and gets tossed around every agency in one last ditch attempt to resurrect it with a veneer of creative window dressing that won’t hold up amidst the scrutiny and transparency of social media and today’s digital landscape.

Throughout the buying process, it’s the emotional buy-in of your customer that qualifies your content, uncovers a winning story and produces effective messaging, not the other way around. Success is cultivated from the inside-out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From David to Goliath. How Challenger Brands Become World Changers.

Big brands get it. At least many of them do. Yet challenger brands and start-ups especially are vulnerable in large part to a lack of vision and purpose. Vision is imperative. Every company has one, or desperately needs to stop what they are doing to find one—a clear picture of their brand’s strategy and direction. Without it, you’re going nowhere, and the marketing people responsible for driving your brand are spinning their wheels without a roadmap or GPS.

We also know that a vision should be big. It should be bold. It should be easy to define. But more importantly it must be relatable. Everyone seeks connection and a cause to champion, but if your brand isn’t a vehicle for either, then you’re not relevant and you’re not the focus of conversation. You remain just a challenger. The goal is to unseat the market leader and win people’s hearts right? Sure, mission statements help to articulate what a brand wants to do, and how it will realize its vision, but carrying that out is another story. Speaking of stories, what is your story and how is that story perceived and received by the world at large or community you wish to influence? What are your values, beliefs and definitions of what guide your brand’s culture and decision-making processes?

Emotional Relevance:

Is your story more like a fairy-tale or a well-crafted documentary? Does it read like a motivational manifesto and resonate with the passions and pursuits of its audience? An engaging story isn’t static or self-serving, but fuels its followers while directionally connecting everyone to the overall goals and objectives of the company. It doesn’t exclude, but invites everyone to the party. It speaks the love language of those who are listening, and inspires cult like loyalty. Apple was once the underdog. Now it’s a giant. Macy’s has magic. What’s your mojo?  

Does your story and the strategy for telling that story connect with your audience and validate their emotional investment and loyalty? Are you adaptive, creative and courageous enough to lead and innovate when others are complacently following? These are the questions that need to be answered before a compelling story can become more than just a story, before it can assist a brand’s mission or deliver quantifiable results, but create movements that alter the world in a meaningful way and leave behind legacies for future generations to follow. This is how Davids can become Goliaths.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If I'm Not 'Feelin It', I'm Not Buying It.

Imagine a world of emotional detachment and disconnect. I’m not just referring to an inability to connect with others emotionally, but an inability to connect with your own heart and the subconscious motivations which drive behavior. Seems inhumane doesn’t it, and if you ever find yourself in that world, find a good therapist, because psychologists warn of all sorts of mental health issues and implications.

Many of us, if we’re honest, find it very difficult to turn emotions on and off. In fact, we’ve all experienced intense emotions in some very passive states: our hearts race when we identify with a fictional character on a movie screen; certain environments, smells, or interactions with people unconsciously trigger past experiences and send signals to the body and brain to respond accordingly. Remember how irrationally motivated and out of balance you felt when you first fell in love? Emotions are attached to associations we make about the way we view ourselves and the world in order to guide choices and largely prepare us for action, either positive or negative. It’s the way we’re wired. Unless you're a robot.

Love and loyalty is driven by this process, and smart marketers understand this. Smart marketers know how to put this knowledge to work. Unfortunately, the people who make decisions about a brand or business, aren’t necessarily from the same school of thought or on the same page. We’ve seen the case studies and documented the failures that result when a brand fails to take into account the emotional programming behind what people buy and why. 

Countless studies have been conducted about the power of emotion and unconscious associations underlying consumer behavior are what send brands either into the Stratosphere or the trash can. I’ve always said this, and won’t back down from this approach, because it is extremely rewarding and not as mysterious or laborious as some would lead you to believe. There is a general consistency to this paradigm that transcends the sales or technology treadmill because it is what drives the treadmill, just as simple gender and demographic differences affect the way brands have always been marketed.

More and more are finally getting it I think, and are seeking to discover what motivates and maintains loyalty; even leveraging those insights, but when everyone within the leadership structure of a business isn’t on board, an identity crises ensues. Brands rebrand and change ad agencies like underwear and undermine the very essence of what differentiates us from the devices we attempt to live our lives through every day.

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.