In the documentary "Sketches of Frank Gehry," the architect is asked, "What is your favorite building design?" He replies, and I paraphrase: When my client gets the greatest satisfaction out of my work, that is my favorite design -- when they appreciate and admire that I have pushed their design to a level they hadn't expected. Gehry believes that this higher level can be reached only when the client trusts the firm enough to let it explore and be innovative.
This is an important insight for marketers and advertisers. For too long, agencies have been obsessed with being creative and winning awards. Campaigns are ends in themselves. But this is looking at the world backwards. Understanding the brand's functional and emotional needs and collaborating with the client to redefine, enhance or clarify them, and of course to make the brand stand out in a crowd -- this should be the ultimate goal.
The client who comes to us and says I know your work, I want to be associated with you, I trust what you do. That is our starting point. From there we try to take them where they haven't been before. It is what Gehry calls the "Then what?" moment.
But when it comes to what's next, too many marketers are fixated on screens, whether it's traditional TV or Androids and iPads. Their brands are getting lost in the scroll-over. Creative opportunities exist in the world of screens, but it is a limited medium. Consumers see and hear the brand message, but they can't inhabit it. A key challenge in branding is for marketers to help brands get some lift -- off the screen. This will get them to someplace new.
Some companies have been incredibly successful at this. Apple has taken the iconic simplicity of its product and integrated that quality into the Apple stores, both offline and online. Prada has emerged to dominate the luxury market through its retail stores, called epicenters, which are must-see spaces -- works of art that create an environment that draws in consumers and exposes them to the brand. When it works, the consumer is effectively pre-empted from choosing an alternative.
Consumers are crowded with so many choices, the challenge is to limit their opportunity to choose. A bricks-and-mortar space, a retail environment that builds upon the brand, is a key weapon in this battle. This space needs to be an extension of what consumers have seen online and become a part of their methodology of making decisions on what to buy. At its best, the space allows a consumer to feel a sense of ownership in the brand.
Agencies should be in the business of lifting brands out of the two-dimensional screen space and giving them a heartbeat. The brand needs to live in a multidimensional world that stimulates all four senses.
It starts with understanding the needs and desires of clients and then triggering the unrest of innovation across several disciplines -- digital, traditional advertising and brand architecture. As Frank Gehry suggests, the goal should be to create our favorite and greatest project -- which is also our client's.