Well, advertising is gearing up for its glorious close-up. So I thought it might be a good time to remind ourselves what we're actually supposed to be doing, not just on Super Bowl Sunday, but on every day of the year.
In this business, our reason for existence (for both agencies and clients) is to win people over. We're on a long, timeless journey to add to the ranks for our brands. That's what the nebulous phrase "brand building" is all about. It's exactly what the idea of "creating evangelists" would entail if that particular phrase weren't so chockful of BS.
When you win someone over, it's not fleeting. It's not a nice moment where a lot of endorphins are firing. It's not something you can blame on too many vodka tonics. It goes way beyond selling people. It's an enduring connection.
And as any practitioner of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" knows, we win converts by infiltrating and changing minds and hearts. The happy upside is, the wallet follows.
So why do we, as an industry, screw up this simple job all the time?
Why do we hop trends and generate buzzwords? Why do we predictably get seduced by fame and motivated by "never been done?" Why do we shamelessly seek shock?
Yes, it's a trend-chasing, FOMO-based, view/like/hit-obsessed, insta-everything world. But winning people over is a brand's lifelong mission. Here are four things to keep in mind as you take the longer view.
1. Product is king -- sort of. The old adage about good marketing killing a bad product faster isn't the issue. There just aren't a lot of flat-out bad products today. Which isn't surprising, given that they're all essentially based on the same research, with the same supply chain, the same distribution model, the same CRM programs and the same cost accounting software. The product packaging falls within the same focus-group approved guidelines and the account is pitched by the same three holding companies. With "differentiation" as the brief. Ha.
What kills decent products is bad experiences. Good Design, which I like to capitalize to indicate to MBAs that they should respect it as much as they do Operating Margin, wins people over. From the actual product to the packaging to the customer experience, Good Design, when applied to all stages and facets of product experience, may actually be the single most powerful weapon in the war to win hearts (hate to use Apple as the poster child here, but well, the poster was designed on a Mac).
2. Authenticity trumps breakthrough. This one is bad news for the "disruption" crowd. Same for the "we'll make your brand famous" boasters. Disrupting people is nice if what follows wins them over. Then it's quite handy. Disruption and fame can't be the end goal, and let's face it, they appear as just that on a lot of agency briefs. They only are useful when deployed for good: sharing values, making deeper connections and generally building relationships.
Authenticity can be a lot more boring, frankly. And selling the sizzle is often easier than selling the fatty, grease-covered sliver of pork belly melting in the frying pan. But in the long run, bacon is what it is and people love it for what it is. If only your brand were so fortunate. Good example of a brand's marketing being authentic: Chipotle. And by being so authentic to their values, they broke through as well.
3. Toss out the long and varied list of impressive company core values and just believe in something. Companies need a belief system and they have to find the language to be able to talk about it in sincere, relatable terms. (In other words, hire somebody to write it for you.) People are attracted to honest expressions of values, not lists of them. Every company says they believe in "putting customer needs first." Does that sound like, say, Google? No, because Google has a bigger, more interesting belief system.
4. Be the kid in the family the other sibs hate because the whole world obviously and inexplicably prefers them. There's one person in every family whom people are just more attracted to. Admit it, even with your own children, you have one that just lights up the room. For example, in Oprah's family I'm pretty sure it's the half-sister, Patricia, and with the Jacksons, everybody just loves that Tito. Anyway, the magnetism of the favored kid directly correlates to personality.
These individuals possess a spirit, an attitude, a way of interacting that just makes folks feel good. Go be a brand like that. Virgin is a good example. Southwest Airlines has that favored-kid personality, too. On the flip side, I wonder how successful Microsoft can ever be in emotional areas like entertainment and devices while having the personality of a floppy disk drive. Personality, nebulous and unquantifiable as it is, is way more important than anything you can do, aside from Good Design.
Maybe at one time advertising was the art of separating fools from their money. Today, the consumer has power. Notice I didn't say "the power." Because they don't have all of it. Brands are not impotent and desperate. Brands can project strong values. They can believe in things greater than themselves. They can conduct business responsibly. They can flash an attractive personality. And offer a thoughtful, well-designed product experience.
And if they get that experience right, then person by person, heart by heart, the army grows. Their care is genuine -- their commitment, authentic. They believe, they follow, for the right reasons. This is how recruitment happens. It's how movements start. It's why brands matter at all. Let's not forget that.