Brands That Want to Connect Must Cross Boundaries

And They Have to Step Outside Their Comfort Zones

By Published on .

Rochelle Valsaint
Rochelle Valsaint
Diverse audiences often have an interest in what's going on within and beyond America's borders. But pickin's are slim when it comes to media (and marketing) sources that reflect a diverse and informed balance of both the joys as well as the pains touching communities locally, nationally and internationally. But there is an opportunity that lies in the "who" and/or "what" to which brands choose to attach their names. A great example of that notion lies within the words of Derrick Ashong, who said recently "I believe there is an opportunity that lies in stepping outside of one's comfort zone. And, not being quite here or there. But, seeing it what it means to cross boundaries."

Obviously Oprah gets it, which is why "The Derrick Ashong Experience" is the latest talk-show addition to the Oprah Radio Network. But, I think both the concept of the show as well as the host are offering some lessons that brands must heed in this period of redefinition.

The show will "be a mash-up of politics, pop culture, social media, music and the arts." The idea of a mash-up personifies crossing boundaries. Mashing up means you know the in-culture touchpoints for your brand. Mashing up means you understand the space, place and time your brand occupies within a culture. You know which of the platforms to use. You know that your message, images and the media must be multidimensional.

The show expects to "engage ... people in thoughtful, meaningful conversation." Engaging customers means asking what they think are the important things to know about your brand. Have them tell of their personal connections. Brands spend more doing it the other way around -- telling audiences what they think is important for customers to know. Then, they try to find evidence to support it. And too often that speaks to and from a very narrow perspective. The better method is to find the cross section of insight that comes from examining the internal and external perspectives.

The show claims it will "bring a passionate, global perspective to radio." This is a lesson in understanding the power of the story behind the voice. It requires brands to be mindful in the backstory of the strategies, images and messages. Many brand stories assume that the audience takes what is said and seen at face value. But, brands must understand that today's customers examine the backstory of a brand. They look for where you are outside of an ad. Are you in their community? Are you meeting them in their environment, online and off? Are you supportive of their interests? If the brand perspective does not connect to authentic voices that show depth and breadth in the backstory, the true color of the brand's stripes show more than you know.

So examine where you are in navigating these lessons as you plan your moves for 2010 and beyond. It's time to eliminate the ethnically ambiguous brand. Are you ready to do the work?

Rochelle Valsaint is CEO of TWS The UnAgency, a full-service marketing communications that brings diverse professionals, their perspectives and industry experience to the advertising, marketing, communications and media needs of brands and businesses that understand the value of cultural and contextual relevance in this era of the changing face of America. Follow her @mcmtownhall.
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