Scrolling and clicking, clicking, and scrolling, the mobile economy is surely a boon to retail brands. Strong brands are not defined by sales alone. Strong brands are built on a feeling.
None of this is new or news, yet the media environment and the metrics associated with algorithms of mobile media would appear to favor sales at the expense of brand building.
There is more than one way to build a brand. All brands want to achieve sales. The differences in approach to building a brand often have to do with its origins. If you built your brand out of your garage, then sales are essential to keep building and growing and keeping the lights on. In this scenario, sales are essential to keep funding the operation. If your product or service is good and your sales grow, you’re a success at creating something of value. Why need awareness advertising and brand building efforts? Let’s call this garage scenario brand A.
Let’s consider another scenario, we’ll call it brand B. You’re a well-established entity that has already achieved scale and you have a new idea for a product or service, and you have budget. You can build demand for this brand through an awareness advertising campaign that demonstrates or implies the value of your new idea. This will be the lead driver of sales. In scenario B, you are investing in a feeling, in the aspiration of your idea as an integral part of the life of the consumer. If the advertising is effective and the brand idea is good and the product or service delivers on its promise, you’ll begin to grow your brand and sales too.
How do you measure the effectiveness of one approach over the other? Let’s conduct a thought experiment. If your brand were to disappear, is it easily replaced in the lives of consumers? Would it be missed in a manner that people would find disturbing?
Most brand managers don’t like to answer this question.
If the world wakes up tomorrow and the Apple brand is gone, is there a replacement? Nike? Amazon? Prada?
Functionally you may try to argue there are alternatives. Emotionally, if you’re being honest, your response will be no. This is the signal of a true brand, it’s irreplaceable in hearts and minds.
Why? Brands and branding are not simply about driving sales. It’s about making deep connections with your audience. Connections that head for the heart. It’s these connections that drive more than sales, they drive loyalty above all other choices, they create advocacy among users; spokespeople who recommend your brand. They defend against upstarts, build positive association that protect against the odd mishap and build equity. This equity shows up as brand value that support brand extensions, partnerships, and new offerings in an ever-present response to evolving consumer needs. Most importantly, brand drives market value.
If you can only speak of your brand in terms of sales, chances are pretty good it can easily be replaced in the lives of your customers. You can start with scenario A and build a substantial bottom line but failing to invest in the brand building approach of scenario B leaves your business open to the vagaries of ruthless competition with little more to protect you than price.
Price alone is a race to the bottom.
One thing I’ve noticed in this semi-post pandemic work world is that despite demands by many companies that people return to the office, many people continue to work with a remote mindset.
There seems to be an aversion to getting together in the same room and hashing it out, whatever it is. Physically, on days back in the office, people are not taking full advantage of the opportunity for being in the same place at the same time, working on the same stuff, solving problems together. And, most importantly, learning from each other.
The world is suffering a virtual hangover.
Poor habits from the home office abound. For example, chatting via text or slack, slacking off is what I’m calling it. If you’re a senior manager, you have the obligation to guide junior team members, who may lack the experience as well as others who should know better. It’s your job. Get the ball rolling, help your teams appreciate the benefits of getting into the same room and hammering out a solution.
No more slack time.
If you’re running a brand, a marketing team, agency or even a production company, I can offer you this insight. There are members of these teams who are junior and have no idea what they are doing. They are wasting a great deal of time and probably costing you money. They need leadership, management, and mentors.
Tools like Slack are effective when used with intention and clear purpose. In fact they can save time and create efficiency, but they are terrible for training your team on the ins and outs of producing great work.
I’m happy to bill you for my time.
Observational tension is a tool of the storyteller, more often felt than discussed. Its subtle power renders a disquieting tone that invites audience emotion to enter the scene. The tension of a shot that lingers on a subject after the dialogue or apparent action has ended can deliver extraordinary poignancy. It does not work in this way automatically, it requires the right moment in a story, perhaps during an emotional dialogue, or monologue or action during which a character is wrapped in a physical experience.
Observation is part of the idea at work. It can be the observation of the character, akin to documentary, where the camera is objective to the scene, a bit removed from the action. But observational tension can also exist in the subjective as we are inside the scene and with the characters, we can then relate to their objective observation within the story. We are with them.
Experienced directors and cinematographers, actors and editors will look for and create moments to put the tension of observation to work in service of the story. Being attuned to these moments in the creation of a script, filming a scene, a documentary as it unfolds, and in the edit is an essential skill.
These moments of tension, of observation, can be as simple as the slow unfolding of ripples from a pebble dropped into a still pond, the uncomfortable silence between two characters, an expansive view of a prairie, or the lingering, insecure glance of a lover. Allowing a few extra beats on these types moments accentuate the tension of the observation.
The internal tension of these scenes is enhanced, by the intention of what comes before, as well as what comes after. It is the juxtaposition of image and emotion, scene-to-scene, shot-to-shot, beat-to-beat that gives the observational moment the additional tension that amplifies its emotive power. It moves the story along.
A subjective view of a brash, young driver inside a speeding car racing and swerving through crowded streets. Followed by a scene of an old man, walking very slowly across the road, approaching a step up a curb, the camera stays fixed on the old man as the car flashes by obscuring our view of the old man, only to have him emerge once again unscathed. The camera lingering on him for a few extra beats as he wobbles a bit, amplifying the frailty of our existence. The car roars off into the distance.
Observational tension or the tension of observation, no matter how you look at it, it’s a perspective worthy of attention.
A friend of Henri Cartier Bresson once said to him, “you do not work, you take a hard pleasure.”
While I often feel I’m working very hard and certainly too long, I must admit I take a pleasure in the work. At its best, it’s inspiring to stare down the proverbial blank sheet of paper.
The work of crafting a simple, expansive idea that holds the power of attention and provokes the desired emotion is where it’s at.
A simple idea can be expressed in many forms and therein lies the charm. This is the hard pleasure, seeing the elegant idea.
As a photographer Bresson was credited with the idea of the decisive moment. He did not come up with these words, but he certainly delivered it with his eye and his camera. He could see and anticipate the decisive moment to press the shutter. To capture the emotion and energy of a moment.
I’m charmed by this. Working, searching out the ideas, seeing them come to form. When I’m lucky, I can admit to anticipating the outcome of my efforts, the moment when I click the shutter in the mind and the idea snaps into view.
Bresson would go deeply into his chosen subject, immerse himself completely for weeks, months, years. It is this devotion that allows the decisive moment to be understood. It is the same behind the cameras as it is behind a blank sheet of paper. Total commitment to the subject allows the ideas to surface, to be seen. It is not usually a happy accident. Ideas are a byproduct of the effort of immersion. Of a selfless giving over to the subject.
Whether I have a camera at the ready, a script in hand or a blank sheet of paper, it is a devotion to the subject that renders the outcome. The ideas, the images, flow from a river of details large and small, from vague associations, references, past experiences, seemingly unrelated events, the song of a bird, a passing road sign, overheard conversations, the sound of the subway, a cold shower, a book well read, or a film watched yet again.
Images… ideas emerge. Devotion, immersion, life.
The rise of Ai and its impact on image making has me rethinking what it means to create photographic work. It’s true that images have been easily manipulated since the earliest days of photography, but each day it gets tougher to tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction. It’s wonderful and discouraging at the same time. Photography is not illustration. Ai, to me, is more akin to illustration. This post image was captured approximately 23 years ago during a trip to Andros Island in the Bahamas. I was on a fishing holiday and during down time wandered the island with the Holga. For the uninformed, the Holga is a medium format camera (plastic lens, no light meter). Finding focus is no small task either. Everything by eye and importantly, feel. The B&W film was processed, and I pulled a contact sheet. I would scan the contact sheets because I did not have a film scanner. Other than scanning the contact sheet, no manipulation was done to the image. It is as I saw it, as I captured it. It’s an accurate representation of reality. It is non-fiction.
Ai as a tool of fiction does not diminish its value or potential but to me, it is not photography. It is commercial, it is industrial, it will change many things but for the moment at least, it lacks an easily achieved celluloid negative, proof positive of a life more tangible.
For brands seeking to connect with an audience seeking authenticity, like Gen Z for instance, Ai generated images represent the exact opposite. As consumers we may all get fooled once, but great brands deal in authenticity. It’s true that many a brand has leaned heavily into illustration to tell its value, but those illustrations are also authentic works aligned with the authenticity of the brand. Little opportunity existed for the consumer to question if the talent is a real person, no matter how retouched.
The Dove Real Beauty Campaign is a perfect example of consumers seeking authenticity. There is no room for a lack of authenticity with Dove consumers. Hint, hint, there’s none for your brand either.
An Ai rendering of a person is a complete work of fiction. Is the spokesperson, the influencer real? A lack of authenticity will eventually reveal itself as fiction. Even in the sugary perfection of most advertising campaigns, the greatest brands are anchored in their authenticity. If the lived experience of the customer does not align with the promise, the authenticity of the brand, the customers will vote with their wallets.
Ai generated images make a great case for film capture as a validating providence for images anchored in authentic origins.
In my personal quest to make YouTube more enjoyable, here’s a tip to all of you content creators out there.
There is such a thing as acceptable audio levels.
Even among those that seem to understand the principles, there are many content publishers that believe it is ok to blast their cheesy intro music.
There seems to be an assumption that loudness is a valuable tactic; that we all have the same taste in cheesy music and want to hear an entire 15 seconds of yours, often accompanied by equally cheesy graphics. These intros are not that entertaining. If creators feel they are building their brand, think again. Annoying your potential audience is hardly a path to brand success.
Nobody needs or wants to get blasted by your intro.
Broadcast networks and streaming platforms adhere to and enforce guidelines.
YouTube continues to allow the abuse of decibels. It takes care on the part providers to make sure the decibel level is within compliance. YouTube, appears more interested in its own interest than it is in delivering a consistent quality experience to its users.
I will routinely and immediately stop watching content when the audio level is significantly higher than the preceding content. Tolerating bad behavior will not lead to change.
There are several sources that provide guidance. Here’s an example from Frameio: https://blog.frame.io/2017/08/09/audio-spec-sheet/
Specification #1: Loudness
The U.S. Congress passed the CALM Act (H.R. 1084/S. 2847) in 2010. It requires the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to establish rules that govern television commercial loudness. And it states that commercials can’t be louder than the shows that precede them. The FCC, along with a few television standards committees and organizations, established an algorithm called the ITU-R BS.1770-3, which measures the perceived loudness of program material. This algorithm itself is applied to the technical standards known as EBU R128 (in Europe) and ATSC A/85 (in the United States) and you should check the standards of your particular market when delivering.
I’m doing a disservice to advertising suggesting that content is adverting. It’s clearly not advertising in the legitimate sense. But as part of the world of video communications, content creators need to be held accountable to the same guidelines as everyone else.
The loudness tactic by content makers is a fool’s game.
The most important context of user experience design is consumer mindset.
Before we start pushing pixels around, we should be working hard to understand consumer wants and needs. Gathering insights into their emotional desires is critical to creating an experience, throughout the entire customer journey, that in both subtle and direct ways will reinforce your brand’s ability to help fulfill their desire.
These learnings can inform all design in both form and content to help deliver effective consumer engagement.
Once prototypes are developed, conducting user experience research, including eye tracking, allow refinements to be made that work to optimize the user experience right down to the micro interaction level.
Creators need to find the right balance between being engaging-entertaining while also being honest about the fact that the entire purpose is to facilitate the customers acquisition of the product or service.
User experience can also be thought of as utility.
The utility of the user experience, as a lens through which to view the entire customer journey, offers designers the opportunity to apply their talents to enhance the performance of the entire team.
Understanding and tracking the entire customer journey is essential to a successful engagement. The fractured media environment today demands simple brand ideas that are delivered simply and always in context of consumer desires. When user experience design diverges from the brand idea, it is no longer doing its job well. There are often opportunities to chase trends and implement ideas, methods, and tactics that may create a short-term boost in sales, but at the same time are weakening the brand.
In the long run, a great, well-executed, brand idea will outperform clever transactional tactics. It takes a strong idea and the willpower to resist the temptation of short-term thinking to build a strong and enduring brand.
To connect the dots, the customer experience journey is an obligation to the brand idea and strong brands are anchored in the mindset of consumer desire.
While in New York City, I took the opportunity to visit some old haunts. I hadn’t had the chance to step inside the renovated Hotel Chelsea, so off we went. I’m not claiming I was a denizen of this much celebrated bastion of creativity in residence. I wasn’t. In the late 70’s as an art student in NY, it was one of those places we’d occasionally end up. A very real New York experience. The Chelsea remains a place for creativity, in fact, while my wife and I were visiting, as if on cue, a small film crew was packing up.
The renovation is spectacular in its thoughtfulness and restraint. Honoring its past and fully embracing its future, a ready canvas for new stories. It’s spot-on-brand and reveals its treasures to the curious. See it for yourself if you can. It’s a powerful example of brand stewardship. As an experience brand, pictures alone will do not do it justice. The warm inviting tones of the piano room, for instance, are enough to make you want to book a room, a shoot, an event, dinner at El Quijote or all four. Experience brands grow through word of mouth and the shared positive experience of its users. Here you have it. The piano room inspired this curious portrait of my better half.
By stark contrast, a short distance away is Hudson Yards, a modern spectacle. Cathedrals of glass that skyrocket while playing with light. Monuments to the moment, bold statements of power and daring and, I’ll add, a bit cold. It’s a different city. It could be anywhere in the modern world. It’s difficult to imagine it will gain the legend and lovely patina of the Chelsea.
The Chelsea remains a testament to itself, the perseverance and resurrection at the hands of its new owners deserves a round of applause. The Hotel Chelsea is part of the fabric of old New York. The richness of its character perhaps never more appreciable than after a day of wandering this ever-changing city, to stand at its lovely bar drinking in its history.
The air was blue with my rants as I discovered my site had been hacked. The blog section filled with spammy, fraudulent posts — from the bizarre to the disgusting.
I removed all the bad posts and changed my login credentials, only to discover a few weeks later they were back in my site. How? I’m still not sure, but to shake them off, we took down the site, moved hosting locations and updated all security protocols. Apologies if you were affronted.
It’s not the first time, perhaps it’s also happened to you. Entirely disruptive. It’s hard not to get angry about it. The last time this happened was years ago and I really was furious. This time, more annoyance than anger. I was traveling and enjoying a few days in NYC and took the opportunity to not let it bother me too much. Instead, I took a break from everything and considered the value in the effort of writing blog posts.
It will be nice one day if I can directly link the effort to incoming work…but after some thought, to be honest, I’m doing it for myself. I enjoy it.
Maybe you’ll enjoy one or more of my posts and find them of value, maybe not.
I send them with love in either case.
Disrupting your creative team is a detriment to their productivity. You may not want to believe it, but it’s true. The agency ecosystem is rife with meetings, some days are spent almost entirely in meetings. Meetings are not the only black hole. There are the armies of account service personnel, project managers and producers who pop in and ask; Got a minute?
It’s rarely a minute and when you add them all up, along with the frequency, you end up with a creative team that is utterly distracted and not able to focus on the ideas.
It’s true that it is essential that the creative team be kept in the loop, but it is equally essential that they be left alone. No fly zones need to be created, respected, and enforced.
When developing creative ideas, it is not only important to generate lots of ideas, but also just as important to separate the wheat from the chaff and this takes time and hard thinking. Analyzing an idea from multiple directions, turning it over, mulling it, challenging its integrity, finding the weak spots, and shoring them up if possible, or relegating it to the dust bin is serious work.
Every interruption that pulls minds from creative thought is a derailment of progress. This is not just my opinion; it has been well studied. The constant interruptions are one reason creative teams tend to work late into the night, it is one of the rare moments when there is peace in the house.
Protected thinking time does not automatically trigger clever work, but it does mean that you understand and respect the process. Creative workers who feel their time is respected will work more effectively and will work even harder to solve the day’s challenge.