Four Digital Macro Trends
Trending Topics: Branding, Storytelling, Listening vs. Telling, and Data vs. Creative
Any attempt to address digital trends can only be accepted as an insight since we cannot step into the same (data) stream twice. But being the fool that rushes in where angels fear to tread—and being in the company that does the same thing with color—here I go!
Branding has a branding problem.
Storytelling. The death of our proxy storyteller, advertising, and the rise of online content. It seems consumers have their own stories.
Balance of power. Sorry, selling through telling is dead, too. Nobody wants to be sold. How do we listen? When do we speak?
Math vs. magic. Hey, while we’re at it, let’s discuss the natural-born enemies of technology and data, which are intuition and creative. It’s like talking about religion and politics at Christmas dinner.
Branding Has a Branding Problem
The irony of it all! How can the critical process of branding, of understanding that which is so critical to our success, be so misunderstood?
The value of a brand is critical to profits, messaging, advertising, product development, online engagement, and on and on. With so many experts with so many strong opinions, there are, in fact, a multitude of valid perceptions of what a brand means. But even so, we must be absolutely clear in our definition and handling of this valuable, intangible living asset.
But brands are surrogate friends. And friends don’t sell friends things.
And here’s more irony: We must be clear about our brand so we can let it go. A successful modern brand also belongs to the consumers who love it. And while we encourage their engagement, we must work hard to give them the raw materials that are essential to our beloved brand. We do this so they will understand how the brand will behave in their own lives.
In the end, the consumers’ perception of the brand is what matters. Consumers don’t buy brands—they join them.
A little more: The first step to understanding a brand is to understand its differences from its competitors’ brands. And often color is a factor in understanding those differences.
Storytelling, Brand Voice, Consumer Narrative, and the Death of Advertising
For over 100 years, companies have been telling consumers their stories. Their favorite proxy has been advertising, in one form or another. Time’s up! Consumers have their own stories to tell and new tools to do so.
Branding success is equal parts math and magic.
The brands that furnish their preferred realities invite these realities to sit by the fire with them. And they are not asking advertising to join them. They don’t trust that guy very much any more. Advertising has taught us a lot of bad habits.
- It taught us to smoke.
- It taught us to eat junk food.
- It packs our mailboxes with junk mail.
- It lures us into debt.
And every four years, advertising sells its integrity during the election cycle.
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” —John Wanamaker, merchant (1838–1922)
So we know half of advertising has been dead for a long time. And with ad blockers, DVRs, and the mute button, we kill off the rest. Oh, it works well for a commodity. Tell me the price and the fastest way to get it.
So what replaces advertising when it comes to brand building? Everything else.
The Balance of Power—Listening vs. Telling
I hate to break it to you, but traditional selling is just about dead, too. The stereotypical salesman can’t stop talking—and advertising has been blabbing away for over 100 years. Praying, spraying. Yelling, telling.
But brands are surrogate friends. And friends don’t sell friends things, not for very long, anyway. Successful brands don’t just talk about products. When they do, consumers will talk only about price.
Over 95 percent of creative directors are males. Over 85 percent of household income is managed by females. See anything wrong with this picture?
Consumers have found their voice. They want a dialogue, and we give them campaigns, a military term that implies we march to our objective with conquest in mind. What kind of friend is that?
It is time we listen more like a friend and talk less like a conquering army.
Math + Magic—Technology and Data vs. Intuition and Creative
There is the mysterious mind and there is the brain (the fatty organ on top of our spine).
“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” —Blaise Pascal
All day the sneaky, emotive mind collects little bits of news and gossip, listening to the tone and inflection and nuance. It jumps to conclusions, muttering away within a wide range of cognitive bias, and eventually delivers its decision with feeling. It is the true genius.
It is the limbic ghost in the meat machine.
On the other side of the same coin, there is the skeptical scientist who is embarrassed by all that emotional mess and scrambling to explain what the crazy sibling just decided to do, the thing they just bought, the thing they just blurted out. The lab-coated side of our mind must find a reason for all of it.
Advertising is like penicillin. It may still cure some stuff, but there are better solutions out there now.
I dunno. It’s how people perceive and think and make decisions. And somehow it works.
Wait, I’m not done yet. We must know our brands well enough to know how they will behave here and there and everywhere. Branding success is equal parts math and magic. We’ve put a fence around the playground, but consumers want to play, too. Time to open the gates and let ’em out.
The Future of Online Branding
As our lives increasingly move online, branding must move with them. So not only must we know what makes our brands work, but we must also know them well enough to guide their behavior as they go online and as consumer fans take them onboard and make them their own.
The Tax for Bad Marketing Is the Cost of Advertising
One size fits all has never been a good idea, but the notion that we can select an advertising campaign and spread it far and wide makes no sense at all. Not when we have rich data and the ability to personalize messaging to the individual consumer. Advertising is like penicillin. It may still cure some stuff, but there are better solutions out there now.
Four Trending Topics—Finding the Balance
Like most truths, there are two sides each to our four trending topics. These “opposing truths” usually present themselves as contradictions. Once we understand the extremes, we want to be somewhere in between. What works best will probably be further determined by a combination of timing and context.
Branding: Define the center as tightly as it can be so we can let it loose.
Storytelling: The consumer will tell the stories in the future. Unless you are just a commodity with no story to tell.
Balance of Power: Advertising has been telling consumers what to think for over 100 years. It’s time to be quiet and listen. Showing is better than telling, anyway.
Math vs Magic: We all do what we feel like doing and then use our powers of reason to explain, defend, and justify our actions.
leave this messy sentence fragment alone it illustrates the point just made.
Video embed: Original video courtesy of Paramount Pictures and motion picture My Fair Lady