New Media Technology Is Worthless Without a Brand Story to Deliver

With Digital Tools, Marketing Is More Complex, but It's Still the Story That Counts

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"All I want to do is good work again."

Lately, I've been hearing this statement more frequently from my advertising peers. Anyone committed to great work gets down occasionally, but when it becomes a widespread sentiment I worry. Something fundamental to our industry is being threatened.

Why the lament? Often it's the decline of the brand story. Have we not all seen the glimmer in the eyes of a client who thinks he can save, in the era of "free" social media, by not having to have branded content? Let's be honest, we would like to believe it's possible to succeed without the brand story. Clients who spend less for the same result are happy, and a happy client doesn't fire its agency. But technology cannot replicate the intimate relationship that a brand story creates.

As John Boone of Boone Oakely has said, "We have replaced 'Quality and Craftsmanship' with 'Quick and Cheap.' " He adds, "Marketers need to get out of the microwave mentality. For long-term growth and success, they need to rely more on healthy, nutritious brand strategies."

With the increase of communication channels, the complexity of a successful branding campaign is 10-fold what it was less than a decade ago. But as long as the brand story is our main focus, complexity shouldn't frighten us. We should be frightened of a lack of will to keep the brand story the priority.

Kash Sree, the creative director known for the Nike "tag" campaign, recently shared with me his answer to the confusion that the new technologies are causing. "Storytelling is the answer. Twitter is the answer. Technology is the answer. It's all starting to resemble the three blind men and the elephant. I think we should stop talking and just get on with it. The answer will form from what we create."

Great branding demands that we use all the available tools -- each one in its most advantageous form. Technology improves the effective dissemination of a brand story. But the vehicles used to spread the story are worthless without the story. It is still the agency's responsibility to develop a symbiotic use of technology and brand story. The hour is late and there are no more excuses. So, as Sree said, "Let's get on with it."

Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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