When I founded Brandforming, I began to work with archetypes and their application to brands. The idea of brand as archetype was not something new but I sought to bring something new to it. Combining the use of archetypes with primary and secondary market research, coupled with a client workshop, has proven powerful in the creation of meaningful brand ideas.

I brought this discipline to my work at Skidmore College. Each semester, I invite a client into my classroom. The students are challenged to assess the client brand and generate new brand ideas. Last year we took the challenge from a company working in the social media space. To better understand the dynamics at work within the social media landscape, I asked the students to select the top social media brands relevant to the client business.

Here are the social media brands that made the cut, in no particular order: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Spotify, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, TikTok, Linkedin.

I led them through a workshop to identify the archetypes that most closely expressed the essence of each social media brand. The utility of the exercise would do two things; allow us to better position the client social media offering and suggest content strategies grounded in an understanding of the archetypes. Some of the results are self-evident, others may be a bit surprising. There were 19 of us participating in the workshop. You can judge the outcome for yourself. (See the graphic for the results.)

In our assessment, it was clear that many brands were repurposing the same content across their social media. With little regard for the deeper meaning inherent in each social media brand, the content often felt completely out of place and intrusive. In fact, some of it was downright annoying. The unconscious meaning of each social media brand, its archetype, offers opportunity to support (or contradict) client brands.

Understanding the archetype of each social media platform gives client brands an edge.

It does not mean you should abandon your brand’s archetype. What it does afford, is the ability to be more selective about which social platforms may be best suited to your brand. Additionally, brands can leverage the archetype of their chosen social media by leaning into those aspects of their own brand most relevant in that context.

Social media is a powerful tool for brands. There is no better or best platform. There is, however, a great deal of room for improvement in how brands are utilizing these media.

Going deeper into the emotional characteristics of each social platform holds great promise to improve results.

There was a time when almost all media was inclusive. The old analogue days of 13 TV Channels, rooftop antennae, a handful of news programing and perhaps a few dozen major newspapers and magazines. There were some specialized publications, and radio stations were somewhat local, but they were the exceptions. Media was broadly casted by a limited number of producers, reaching millions of people.

Today almost all media is exclusive. Everyone is a specialist, if not due to content, then due to targeting. Even the national and international outlets cater to regional influence, and why not? Effective targeting is also about giving your audience what they want. Or what they think they want. Or what you think they want. Or what the AI predictive models think they want. It’s enough to make us toss our hands into the air and just default to something that feels safe for our brand. Something with hopefully broad appeal that we can run anywhere, hoping our audience will self-identify.

Our segmentation modeling is so divided, it’s become segmentation meddling. Exclusivity in media is a problematic reality if we stick to outdated norms of thinking. Let’s put aside the fact that it has created a platform for every nutjob with a computer and look at what it means for brands. A world of distractions in a distracted world.

Across the paid, owned and earned media landscape, there is now endless fractionalization of your audience which diminishes the reach of your brand. Not because the media is not reaching the target, but because the targets are polarized by the fragmentation.

This polarization is a buzzkill for what might otherwise be a campaign that would jump the chasm into popular culture.

What is popular culture when culture is now unpopular?

Cultural fragmentation may not impact too negatively on major legacy brands, assuming they stay out of harms way.  But for newer, smaller brands, success means obsessively focusing on a minimal viable audience. Connecting with this audience and delivering real value to these customers will motivate them as culture ambassadors for your brand. These ambassadors will help the brand bridge to additional culture communities as they share their experience.

Bridging is the major action of digital media. It amplifies the power of word-of-mouth, of shared positive brand experience and helps drive brand growth.

Specificity should be a core part of your strategic and creative development. Create for one specific group of potential customers and build from the core.

In truth, this thinking is nothing new. Perhaps it’s been forgotten. Some brands have not forgotten. Patagonia is one example of a brand that has always been entirely specific in its audience goals and campaign platform. It puts its values of honoring and protecting nature into all it does and communicates. Its current market value is $3 Billion and recently the founder, Yvon Chouinard determined to give it all away to help save our planet.

Patagonia’s specificity of purpose, planning, action, and communication recently arrived in my mailbox in the form of a Patagonia publication, a magazine celebrating people and nature. This is no catalogue of merchandise but a catalog of beliefs and values, and it’s printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. It’s a home run in my opinion. I’m a nature fan boy and have, over the years, purchased Patagonia clothing. I still have most of it. It wears like iron. Built to last, not to be discarded. The user experience of the product aligns completely with the mission and values of the company.

This alignment includes Patagonia’s use of media: specific, focused, and effective. You may point out that they use the mail channel to reach me. Why not?  It’s a great tactic when used correctly. The publication has value, will be passed on and then recycled. But there is a bit more to it. Within the pub, there are URL’s that lead us deeper into the stories. This publication is a well-integrated driver of brand engagement.

Exclusive media means exclusive opportunities to Head For The Heart.

According to American labor leaders and pioneers, Labor Day celebrates the everyday men and women who work to create “all the grandeur we behold.”

Created as a holiday to celebrate the laboring classes, it honors workers and workers’ rights, like paid sick days, 40-hour workweek and fair working conditions, as well as their contributions to “America’s strength, prosperity and well-being.” GH 

I wonder how the founders of the labor movement would react to the working hours of agency labor?

It’s a business that knows no bounds when it comes to encroaching on quality of life. 

But if you love it, well, such is your life; a labor of love. 

As a business owner, leader or manager in a creative enterprise, utilization of labor is an invaluable tool in accounting the efficiency and financial success of a business. Or is it? 

Utilization in the commercial creative world is a problematic measurement because try as we might to straight-line the process, it is anything but. To the uninitiated staring at a utilization report, it will appear as if efficiency gains should be easy to achieve. Sometimes it really is that easy. Most of the time it’s not. 

While some jobs are task-based and easier to measure, those roles involved in generating strategy and creative work are extremely hard to pin down because creating great work is rarely straight-line. The hours involved are never truly captured and as a result, a false economy is at work. 

Utilization in this context is a blunt instrument and should not be the sole arbiter of performance. Sadly, it has become the hammer that pounds the nails. 

There are two ways to maximize utilization: produce and sell work of such value that you never want for a client or sell the full utilization of your services by taking on just about any work at all. Commercial creative organizations immediately step on a slippery slope when they start taking on work to fill utilization. 

This often happens with a strong sense of benevolence and desire to keep people employed in the face of a downturn in business. Fair enough, but it’s a short-money game that undermines the future of the enterprise if not kept in check.

Because clients are willing to pay only so much for work, it’s a rare day when all the hours involved are actually paid in full. Often, they are not even recorded. Agency personnel learn quickly that they need to bring the work in on estimate.  

The estimate is a negotiation of value between the client and agency. Thus, utilization is an attempt to quantify efficiency relative to the agreed value. It’s also, too often, a denial of real cost. 

Utilization reports that appear to show capacity are sometimes pure fiction that suggest more capacity than actually exists. In fact, most agency staffers are entirely overworked and underperforming because they lack adequate time to recharge. 

Management often turns a blind eye to unbilled hours knowing that if they report these hours, their superiors will be forced to confront the client or open a Pandora’s box of internal issues. 

Maybe the project is over hours because the fee was negotiated incorrectly, the client is a hot mess, or the agency cannot get out of its own way. Regardless of the cause, it’s a rare client who will agree to pay more. 

The true cost: talent flight and the long-term viability of the enterprise. 

Now, let’s go utilize our beach chairs and put our feet up on this, the 140th anniversary of Labor Day, and celebrate some well-deserved rest. 

 

Saratoga Springs NY; A vibrant cultural scene and a main street so nice that it was emulated by Disney as one of its resorts; Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

Disney avoided one part that’s impossible to miss. They left out the trucks. They skipped over the volcanic 18 wheelers that rattle Broadway.

The sound of trucks on Broadway becomes so deafening that it’s impossible to hear a person sitting directly across from you while alfresco dining. It’s a steady and reliable disruption often punctuated by other loud machines. Early in the season, I witnessed a concrete saw being fired up just a few feet from diners on Broadway.

As a popular destination for summer guests the world over, Saratoga Springs is a wonderful destination brand. A tourism-based economy, the envy of many.

Broadway or Route 9, as it’s also known, is a NYS truck route, so if you’re a trucker, you’re simply doing your job. My grandfather drove a truck and I harbor no ill will. We need our trucks and our truckers. That said, the disruption is a problem. Just ask anyone on Broadway, if they can hear you.

The noise pollution caused by loud machines, is at odds with the image Saratoga Springs projects to the world. It’s no fun for guests to be sitting outside trying to enjoy this beautiful town with the deafening roar. Disney skipped this part for a reason.

As a community, we go to great lengths to welcome our guests. Sports, art and music on the streets, flowers, museums, the wonders of SPAC, shuttle service…you name it. We spare no expense to curate the Saratoga brand experience. We stopped short of dealing with trucks. The noise does not support a positive brand experience for our guests.

According to the National Academies, the average decibel of a tractor trailer is 88 dBA at speeds less than 35 MPH, higher at highway speeds. Not surprisingly, the EPA, suggests this is an acceptable level. Now, exactly how loud is the noise on Broadway? How loud is a concrete saw? A leaf blower? A barely muffled motorcycle? A truck? How about all at once?

The increase in trucking is being felt all over the country and Saratoga Springs is not alone. A solution being considered in other locales is to limit center city access to smaller, quieter, more nimble box trucks. How about a fleet of electric box trucks? More jobs for more truckers. As for the 18 wheelers that are simply passing through; the Northway is also a truck route.

Managing any brand is hard work. Experience brands, such as Saratoga Springs, are different from other brands. Experience brands thrive through word of mouth and the positive shared experience of users. We must stop turning a deaf ear to the challenge. As a community of brand stewards, we should not take the noise tolerance of our guests for granted. Saratoga can do better in the curation of the downtown experience.

The sustainability of Saratoga Springs as a popular destination brand is not a guarantee, it’s an obligation.

Part of my work at Skidmore College as the F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration includes the recruitment and production of an annual lecture.

Each year, a speaker is recruited and asked to present to the students a topic within their areas of interest and expertise. This year, it was me.

The link to the lecture: https://vimeo.com/557756796

If you’re working in the industry, it’s important to keep in mind that the audience for this presentation are students. The age range is 18-22. Their context as young adults is a world in which they have never known anything other than digital media and social media. To draw out the importance of this context, I will point out here that as part of the boomer generation I grew up with TV. I never knew a world without TV. My parents, part of the silent generation, grew up with radio; TV for them was a transformative technology. For my generation, digital has been a transformative technology. For these students, generation Z, digital is nothing new at all. However, their challenge is gaining some perspective, not simply on the past but also about where we are today and, if I did a decent job, suggestions to motivate their own work and understanding going forward.

This is academic work and is shared here in that context for that purpose. The work used to illustrate the presentation were derived from various sources, most of it my own, some of it sourced from various on-line resources available to the public. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this lecture was delivered virtually.

I hope you find it insightful.

Ken Zane’s show  Art Buyer For Hire is about 45 minutes in length. During the show we touch on a range of topics from idea development, to execution and agency culture too. While I was chief creative officer of Palio I hired Ken in the role of art buyer-producer. It was an important moment for both of us as it signaled a new level of growth for the agency and another chapter in Ken’s amazing career.

The title of Art Buyer is a bit of a misnomer, the role is  really about identifying and collaborating with talented artists.

Even this description falls far short of the many facets of the role. Building meaningful relationships with the artists as well as the agency internal team is essential to the task. Being a good people person is a requirement, as is being a strong listener and excellent communicator. Helping both parties collaborate effectively is another key skill. The actual buying of the art, the terms and price are, in my view, secondary to the primary task of delivering a great agency product. Ken Zane has an amazing eye and is a talented photographer in his own right. With significant background in the arts, Ken is able to quickly bring visual reference for color, composition and style into alignment in support of the work.

In short, Ken elevates the work with unwavering support for the vision of the team.

I hope you enjoy it. Click here for the show.

Blockchain could save the media environment for brands. There has been much written about how blockchain might result in greater transparency in media buying and tracking. If it all works as conceived, it will also be a boon for content creators, enabling direct engagement with audiences and direct payment too. This has the potential to put more leverage back on the side of creators like musicians, film makers, photographers, writers and journalists too. The early interest in NFT’s point to success. Time will tell.

Blockchain has potential to minimize fake news and level set social media.

This is particularly important for brands. Of course, the success of any given blockchain at minimizing fake news will entirely depend on the integrity of its creators and managers. It could just as easily be used to legitimize fake news and fake news sources.

For legacy media outlets, with legitimate journalistic integrity, like the NY Times, fake news is rarely, if ever, an issue. Ads served in this context are elevated by the integrity of the enterprise.

In social media, brands end up in the unchecked context of the user; uncorroborated reporting, fabricated events and misinformation.

Corroborated reporting is a hallmark of journalistic integrity.

Blockchain has the potential to force down a governance of integrity through corroboration and help social platforms maintain social integrity. In effect, this would give brand managers and media buyers leverage, insight and security.

This would also reward journalistic integrity of the blockchain with greater ad volume and minimize fake news, slowly choking off its source of income. Fake news has become a game that is undermining our culture. Advertisers on social platforms have an obligation to uphold the integrity of media environments because there is so much at risk.

Fake news is a not just a race to the bottom, it is the bottom.

Brand marks  are invested with symbolism; meaning derived from perceived value, ambition and aspiration too. On this 4th of July I thought it would be interesting to start with a consideration of Uncle Sam; a representation of the U.S. Government. The creation and evolution of Uncle Sam is an interesting story about which much has been written. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction but one thing is certain, the illustration created by artist Montgomery Flagg is a hit. This rendering was used to promote the idea of being ready and prepared for war. World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Sadly, there is never really an end to war and persecution and the excuses used to justify it all. Right or wrong, the symbol of Uncle Sam became a call-to-arms which found its inspiration in the 1914 Alfred Leete illustration from England used in a WW I recruitment poster.

openness, compassion

Columbia, symbol of the people of the America

Uncle Sam’s better half, known as Columbia, famously depicted by Paul Stahr ca. 1917-18, named to honor the legacy of Columbus, went on to inspire the naming of countless organizations, including Columbia University as well as Columbia pictures, which later took the lovely lady as a symbol of its own. You’ll notice a strong resemblance to Lady Liberty, the grand statue itself a gift to the people of the U.S. from the people of France. The Statue was designed by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel and dedicated on October 28, 1886.

In the painting of Columbia, we are quite literally taken in by her open arms and compassionate and sincere expression. Columbia was said to represent the people of the Americas. The Statue of Liberty holds a tablet with the Roman inscription of July 4, 1776; testament to our declaration of independence. Broken chains lay at her feet, a beacon for all the world to see, a symbol of independence and freedom at the entrance to NY Harbor. Her torch held high, welcoming immigrants from all over the world. The statue was also inspired by the Roman Goddess, Libertas.

The fabric of America

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
— Emma Lazarus

It should not be surprising that women are used to represent openness, liberty and freedom while men are depicted as aggressive, directive and controlling. We are ourselves symbols. Check out the early illustration by Thomas Nast from Harpers Weekly of Uncle Sam having Thanksgiving dinner with immigrants from all over the world, this tells the story of America at its best. The world at its best.

At a time when the U.S. and perhaps much of the rest of the world seem on a path of isolationism, it would do us good to remember the power of symbolism.

The U.S. welcomes immigrants from all over the world

Uncle Sam, having dinner with immigrants

America’s most important export is our culture. For centuries, the promise of America has inspired countless millions to risk it all in pursuit of freedom, openness and inclusiveness. We seem to be forgetting, the meaning of America, of liberte’.

What will you export today? Perhaps you can start with a welcoming smile.

Start your day smiley

The originally smiley face, created by graphic artist Harvey Ball made legend by millions of buttons and now emoji too

Luxury brands succeed by creating connections with their buyers through insights that leverage value against deep seated emotional needs.

These emotional values last a lifetime because they are not driven by trends but rather by qualities inherent in the buyer. Understanding these connections is at the heart of branding. At one time, the bespoke nature of true luxury brands limited their audiences to all but the most-wealthy. Today this dynamic is radically changed.

With the advent of mass customization and highly controlled product releases, within the mass market framework, luxury has come to mean many different things to different people.

Luxury brands of the truly bespoke type still do exist however.  The audience for these brands continues to expand with the growth of global prosperity. The internet has made these brands more accessible than ever which means that Haute Couture brands like Monvieve now enjoy a global clientele.

A designer and maker of bespoke bridal fashions, Monvieve is unique in the world of fashion design. They are an accessible luxury with heirloom quality. Derived from old world craftsmanship and a highly refined aesthetic Monvieve stands above all others. It is a luxury of pleasurable, aesthetically framed memories. These are #MonvieveMoments and this is the heart of the brand.

Working closely with the creative director and owner of Monvieve, Alison Miller, we’ve been carefully crafting #MonvieveMoments. From our participation at the global destination wedding planners conference in Florence, to our shoot at the Belmond Villa San Michele. From a new showroom in NYC, to video production, and the U.S. launch event at the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C., it’s been a series of #MonvieveMoments all its own.

The event launch video is below.