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Aaron Shields

Holographic Advertising

Have everything the customer interacts with become a reflection of some aspect of your brand’s archetype.

Frederico Fellini was a critically acclaimed Italian film director who earned three foreign-film Oscars and a lifetime achievement Oscar. Many of Fellini’s films are counted among the best films ever made. His early films were part of the neorealist movement, which centered on the lower class, depicting their troubles and the moral environment of Italy. These early films had an easy-to-follow narrative plot. Starting with La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s work took a different turn. La Dolce Vita consists of a series of episodes in a reporter’s week that collectively add up to the plot.

In 1961, Fellini became fascinated with Jung’s idea of archetypes. In subsequent films, Fellini combined the style he used in La Dolce Vita—where the film consists of a series of episodes, rather than a traditional, linear plot—with the ideas of Carl Jung. This resulted in outrageous dream sequences heavy with archetypal influences interspersed with non-dream sequences throughout his films, like his most famous work, 8½. Collectively this odd mix creates a singular meaning from a series of events.

So, what does this have to do with advertising?

First, all strong brands tap into an archetype and consistently sell it over and over again. The content of the messaging changes, but the archetype remains the same. Without a consistent archetypal focus, the brand lacks continuity.

The second reason is contained in the first. During his Jungian period, Fellini’s films are a series of scenes that collectively add up to the greater meaning of the film. These films are like a hologram: each piece reflects the meaning of the whole film, but since each piece is small, on its own it may be too hard to see. Taken together, the image is bigger and clearer. And, meaning can be extracted from the whole.

This is the same way great campaigns work. Every commercial reflects the central idea of the brand. Collectively, the group of commercials makes it undeniably clear what the brand represents.

Fellini actually directed a few commercials: Campari, Barilla pasta, and a series of three for the Bank of Rome. The three from the Bank of Rome comprise the last footage Fellini filmed before dying. In all three, a man has a nightmare and then goes to see an analyst. The analyst tells him his fears will be relieved if he uses the Bank of Rome.

All three use the same premise and collectively indicate that fears customers may have about their money can manifest in different ways. Granted, the Bank of Rome commercials are a bit “out there” but they confront a real idea that a person may have in choosing a bank and do it consistently. I for one would be interested to see where Fellini could have gone given more time in the advertising medium.

Never stray from the archetype of your brand. Have everything the customer interacts with become a reflection of some aspect of your brand’s archetype. Then, your brand will be delivered to your customers like one of Fellini’s greatest films.

The Paradox of Creativity

Creativity doesn’t blossom when it’s a free for all. Creativity needs constraints.

Educational systems tend to place an emphasis on a way of doing things, rather than giving the tools necessary to complete the task. I remember several arguments with my high school English teachers. They would insist on a particular interpretation of a passage—usually heavily influenced by Freudian interpretations that reduced everything to a narrow range of possible meanings.

In retrospect, it’s probably not surprising. My English teachers were educated in an age where deriving meaning from text and subtext was heavily influenced by Freud. Their teachers probably gave them the standard readings and expected them to repeat them on the tests. They weren’t encouraged to find their own interpretations, so how could we expect them to act any different towards us?

In biology, at a conceptually opposite end of the education spectrum, the experience is generally no different. Most people get a job in a lab, then pursue PhD research along the same lines and end up carrying the mantle of whatever researcher they apprenticed under. It’s not surprising that the majority of biologists are researching some protein eight steps down a cascade chain, waiting for the next new thing to open up in their field so they can jump on discovering protein four of that cascade. Generally, there is a lack of big ideas.

The Apple Tree Problem

Imagine a tree on a hill accompanied by a group of people who have no knowledge of botany or horticulture; they can only describe what they see. A person observing the tree from a distance will be able to say it looks like a tree of such and such a height, the leaves are green, and the trunk is brown. A person a bit farther up the hill will say well a certain section of the leaves are brown, and the trunk has ridges. As people get closer and closer to the tree they will only be able to better describe things they already know about. But no matter how close they get, they can’t get any truly new information about the tree. They’re stuck in a single way of looking at the tree: get closer and closer until you can describe it better. This is pretty good analogy of the way science generally operates.

Now imagine a new person looks at the tree, but instead of getting closer, they step around the other side. What do they see? A red, spherical object. This is something new that no one could describe before and never would if they never bothered to look at the other side of the tree. The person is still solving the same problem (the same box)—describing the tree—but they’re taking on a differerent perspective, leading to new solutions.

This is the way most creativity works: making associations to create ideas that weren’t there before. In this case it’s applying “walk around the object” to a domain where people are only using “walk toward the object.”

In Search of Big Ideas

At the other end of the spectrum is “out-of-the-box” thinking. This was championed in many circles, especially business ones, as a way to unleash creative impulses and come up with the next big thing. When you think out of the box, anything goes.

But, the truth is that it’s as ineffective in generating great solutions as is giving people a single set of tools to solve problems. When anything goes, it tends to block people from generating any ideas as they don’t know in which way they should start thinking about a problem.

Creativity doesn’t blossom when it’s a free for all. Creativity needs constraints.

The Creative Paradox

Creativity is a paradox: it requires an odd blend of open idea generation but with the restriction to a specific problem with specific constraints. It requires new ways of seeing the same problem.

Great Cult Brands are exemplars of creativity, giving us new ways to think about old businesses: Harley-Davidson gave us new ways to think about motorcycles, Apple about computers, and Oprah about talk shows. They moved beyond business as usual and industry status quo, and in doing so, they entered into their customers’ hearts.

What sort of boxes are you using in your organization? Are they turn-by-turn roadmaps or do they allow people to map their own course to the destination, with room for detours on the way?

How to Ask the Right Questions

Answering big questions can also help you reveal unspoken customer desires: desires customers can’t even articulate themselves.

I’m continually struck by how often companies conduct research without asking any big questions. 

Companies conducting research tend to ask a lot of questions with the belief that, from the mountain of data, they’ll be able to find a big answer.

But,, what they usually end up with is just a bunch of data that gets read in a report and then tucked away in a drawer that houses piles of past research efforts. If they’re lucky—and it usually is more luck than intent—they’ll glean one or two pieces of information that they can see themselves possibly applying, someday.

Data doesn’t reveal answers, questions do. To conduct effective research, you have to start by asking the big questions and then using research questions to attack those big questions from multiple angles. And, those big questions have to target something that can create action.

Knowledge is only power if it can be transformed into action.

Asking The Big Questions

Research that can’t be turned into action wastes time and money. Company time is wasted conducting the research and then spending countless hours digging through the data to try and find the secrets within. Customer time is wasted because customers spend time answering surveys in the hopes that their answers will create change in the company, which it rarely does. And, finally, company money is wasted because the research rarely results in actionable results.

Even if you get some useful answers from a survey just by asking a lot of questions, you’re likely to wish that you asked a few other questions that clarified what you found in the data. 

This is why you need to start with the big questions before you create survey questions. 

Determining the big questions to ask isn’t easy. It takes time. But, it makes the end result more effective and saves time and money in the long run.

The difficulty of asking the big questions is one of the reasons why demographic research is popular: demographics are easy to accumulate without asking any big questions as they’re based on numerical, census-style, generic questions, and they generate obvious answers: what groups are we serving and what groups aren’t we serving. The inevitable result is that we need more of some age and economic group. These are poor questions, not big ones.

As Einstein said, if he had an hour to save the planet, he’d spend 59 minutes coming up with the question that needs to be answered, and 1 minute solving it. Marketers I’d guess would spend 1 minute coming up with the question and then 59 minutes solving it, only to determine that it requires annihilating all males in the 30-40 age group as they’re polluting the planet the most.

The Danger of Easy Questions

Many years ago I was sitting on a bench at Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia when a man approached me and asked if he could ask me a few questions. He showed me the trailer to National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets and asked me questions concerning my age, what I thought of the actors and director involved, would I see it in the theater, and what age group I thought would be most likely to see the movie. I told him I had no intention of seeing it in the theater but that I thought the most likely group to see the film was my age group. He looked puzzled: how could I not want to see the movie but think it’s most appropriate for my age group?

Think about it for a second: If a friend asks you whether or not you think he would like a comedy that just came out, would you say to yourself: “Well, he’s between the ages of 30 and 40, male, earns $50,000 a year, Hispanic, single, heterosexual, and lives in the Midwest, so I don’t think he’d like it.” Or, would you think about the type of humor he likes, what other movies you know he likes and make your recommendation based on the way you see him as a person, instead of numbers?

If you didn’t bother to collect the proper information to solve the real problem, you’ll inevitably end up with a bad answer, unless by chance you happen to capture what you need. 

The only way to be sure to collect the proper information is to start with big questions.

Down The Garden Path

When you ask big questions, you’re forced to translate it into multiple questions that tackle the problem from several angles. Big questions potentially have multi-dimensional answers; they are unlikely to be answered by a single data point.

In fact, single data points can lead you down a garden path.

Imagine a hypothetical, underperforming lawnmower manufacturer is trying to decide what percentages of red and green lawnmowers they should ship to Lowe’s. They analyze last year’s data and see that nine green lawnmowers sold for every red one. The company changes it’s production to make 90% of their lawnmowers for Lowe’s green and 10% red. When it came time to look at sales, hardly any of their lawnmowers sold.

Repeated statistical analyses show no cause for the increase in sales of red lawnmowers. The company hires a consumer insight firm to discover what went wrong. The firm looks at the Lowe’s stores and the purchasing decisions of Lowe’s customers. Looking at the stores, the firm finds that the previous year Lowe’s displayed green lawnmowers at the front of the store. But, this year there wasn’t a display at the front of the store. When asking the customers what color they wanted their lawnmower to be most customers answered red. But when the insight firm showed customers different colors and asked them to select their favorite lawnmower color from the group, 80% said orange—a color no lawnmower company was making. The next year the company released a slew of orange lawnmowers and outsold all other lawnmower makers in the Lowe’s stores.

Analyzing the manufacturer’s data would never have revealed anything. Sense was created from nonsense by coming up with questions to ask that answered a bigger question about customer behavior.

Before you start gathering data, ask yourself what you really want from the data and plan accordingly. If you don’t, your conclusions, if you have them, are in danger of providing inaccurate results.

Existing Data ≠ Hidden Desires

Answering big questions can also help you reveal unspoken customer desires: desires customers couldn’t even articulate themselves.

In a 2004 talk for the TED conference, Malcolm Gladwell spoke about his friend Howard Moskowitz, an experimental psychologist and president of Moskowitz Jacobs, Inc., a consumer insights research firm. Moskowitz conducted research for Prego to discover the best type of tomato sauce. His research was influenced heavily by a study he conducted years before for Diet Pepsi: how much aspartame should be added to the mix to create the ideal Diet Pepsi. The Diet Pepsi experiment was inconclusive; the data was all over the place. Years later Moskowitz made sense of the data. There isn’t an ideal Pepsi; there are only ideal Pepsis. In other words, there should be multiple categories. It’s this thinking that he took to Prego and resulted in the creation of the much-beloved category of chunky tomato sauce.

Just because a lot of data is out there doesn’t mean anyone has ever collected the relevant data. This is exactly what Howard Moskowitz discovered with tomato sauce: no focus group from Ragu or Prego ever came up with the idea of chunky tomato sauce as a type of sauce they would like until they were given the option. And no amount of data would reveal the observation that green lawnmowers were displayed at the front of the store the year before.

 Only by understanding the customers can we give them what they want. On their own, they don’t know. This has been a guiding force for Steve Jobs at Apple: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. … If we’d given customers what they said they wanted, we’d have built a computer they have been happy with a year after we spoke to them—not something they want now.”1

Observation and questioning gives us insight into what customers want. Statistical analysis only shows what they’re doing and is best used as a check and balance system to make sure the observations you made and the questions you asked were the right ones. Don’t let anyone try to fool you into believing it’s the other way around.

Big Questions, Big Answers

Too often research is conducted just because companies believe it should be done. In our consulting work, I’ve watched companies spend immense sums of money on research that didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know before. And, I’ve watched companies spend immense sums of money creating reports that didn’t translate into any action. Both could be corrected by starting with big questions before thinking about the questions that get asked in the survey.

When designing customer insights research, you need to start by brainstorming one or a few big questions you want to answer. And, then spend time brainstorming multiple questions you can use to attack those big questions from multiple angles. Just using the questions that are currently popular in market research is unlikely to answer the questions that are unique to your company.

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How Mystery Can Engage Your Customer

Mystery engages customers and drives them to create a strong relationship with your brand.

Humans are obsessed with the unknown.

Although our psyche fears the unknown, that fear is balanced by the innate drive of curiosity: we want to uncover the wizard behind the curtain.

This sense of mystery is present in all great storytelling: you can’t wait to hear what happens next. When you hear someone say, “I saw the ending coming,” you assume they didn’t enjoy the movie and that it’s unlikely you would either. Without mystery, our interest fades.

The same principle holds true in business. Everyone has heard the local car dealership advertisement where nothing is left untold: “No credit, no problem. Every car, every model.” You could probably figure out what they’re going to say as soon as the ad starts.

Not everything needs to be directly presented to your customer. This is counter to many modern marketing practices where companies constantly try to expose different aspects of the brand in the hope that something might stick. Enticing customers to discover positive things about your brand on their own creates a deeper relationship and increases the chances that they will talk positively about you.

The VW Beetle

Creating mystery is something great advertising has been doing for decades. But, the form was different.

VW-Lemon-Bill-Bernbach-1

In 1960, Bill Bernbach led art director Helmut Krone and copywriter Julian Koenig to create one of the most famous and successful ads in marketing history: a photo of a VW Beetle with the declaration “Lemon.” It’s almost impossible not to think: “Why is this car a lemon? It looks perfectly fine.”

And, you’re compelled to read the next seven paragraphs of the ad to find out why. In reading them, the consumer develops trust for the brand and ends up feeling closer to the brand—spending time (a valuable commodity) with a brand creates a stronger relationship.

The Man In The Hathaway Shirt

Hathaway-ShirtAd-Ogilvy-v1

In 1951, David Ogilvy used the same tactic when he created the first ad in his “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt” campaign. In the photo, he placed an eyepatch over Baron George Wrangell. How can you not wonder: “Who is this man and why does he have an eyepatch?”
Rather than explain who the man was, in the longform copy he explained what type of person would wear Hathaway shirts. And, how could you not want to be that type of person, one who evokes an air of mystery?

In the first week, all of the Hathaway shirts in New York sold out and a small, unknown 116-year-old company became a major competitor.

The Most Interesting Man In The World

You may be thinking that there is no way the modern consumer would read seven paragraphs of copy in your ad. But, that’s really an irrelevant question. You have a much easier job: you have the Internet. On the Internet, consumers can easily interact with the brand in multiple dimensions.

The key isn’t the long-form copy, but rather to actively engage customers in positive ways with the brand.

In 2006, Dos Equis launched its nod to Ogilvy’s Hathaway man with its highly successful “The Most Interesting Man In The World“ campaign. Throughout a decade of commercials, Dos Equis slowly released fantastic information about the man: he lives vicariously through himself, mosquitos refuse to bite him purely out of respect, his two cents is worth thirty-seven dollars in change. Inspired by his crazy accomplishments and debonair appearance, people jumped online to learn more about him: What actor plays him? Where is he from? What other things has he done?

In exploring The Most Interesting Man in The World, you can’t help but develop positive associations with him and the brand. And, not only do you end up wanting to be like him, but he’s also like you—he doesn’t always drink beer. Even though he’s fantastic, he’s easy to identify with.

The strong relationship The Most Interesting Man In The World created with consumers resulted in strong sales: they shipped 116.6% more barrels in 2013 than 2008, making them the fastest-growing beer brand.1

Create Your Own Mystery

Mystery is a powerful marketing tool: it engages customers and drives them to create a strong relationship with your brand.

When thinking about how mystery can work for you brand, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How can I capture the imagination of my customers and compel them to learn more?
  2. What should they find when they start to dig deeper?
  3. How does what they find contribute to positive associations with the brand?
  4. How does what they find contribute to their identification with the brand?

Stay mysterious my friends.

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Metrics Don’t Always Matter

Fixating on metrics often ends up conflating measurement with progress

You can’t manage what you can’t measure.W. Edwards Deming

Businesses have become obsessed with metrics. More metrics are treated as producing greater the results. And, the better the metrics, the better the results.

This metric fixation is the byproduct of an unhealthy obsession with outcomes—the movement of a nonexistent needle—that ends up conflating measurement with progress.

To serve the desired outcome, metrics often become as manipulated as the quote that opened this blog: one of the most widely used quotes in favor of the metric mentality was never written by Deming. In fact, Deming wrote quite the opposite: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”1

It’s not that metrics aren’t important. The problem occurs when businesses obsess about outcomes.

This outcome obsession has resulted in measuring the what and often ignoring the why and how. As Deming writes, “A numerical goal accomplishes nothing….What counts is the method—by what method?…If you can accomplish a goal without a method, then why were you not doing it last year?”2

Outcomes are byproducts of methods operating in complex systems. An improved outcome doesn’t necessarily indicate that the complex system is functioning. By just looking at an outcome, a broken system could appear to be functioning properly.

Without understanding the why and how, disaster can be lurking around the corner or a business may not be actually taking full advantage of its potential capabilities. The systems and methods that produce the outcomes are what really need to be evaluated quantitatively and qualitatively, not just the outcomes.

An evaluation must look at the whole picture rather than an arbitrary outcome—much less a single outcome.

Are you paying too much attention to the outcome and not the systems and methods?

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Top 5 Cult Branding Blogs of 2020

Cult Branding's Top Loyalty and Crisis Blogs of the Year

In a year that’s been filled with a lot of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, we’re especially thankful for your continued readership during this challenging year.

Taking into consideration your opens, shares, and clicks, below are our five most popular blogs of 2020.

We wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and fantastic New Year.

BJ, Salim, and Aaron

5 Strategies for Leading During a Crisis (or any change)

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw most crisis articles focus on the importance of resilience. But, that’s only one piece of what’s required to overcome the challenges that come with a crisis.

“5 Strategies for Leading During a Crisis (or any change)” combines the latest in both research and practical experience in managing a crisis. It is a comprehensive guide to understanding the dynamics of a crisis and what you can do to pivot with purpose and overcome the challenging conditions that come with a crisis.

What to Do When You’re Worn Out

Something we consistently heard from both readers and clients was how difficult it was to not feel burnt out this year.

This blog presents four effective strategies for combating burnout.

How to Build Customer Loyalty in The Age of Skeptics

In January, we published this blog on how to turn increasingly skeptical consumers into loyal customers by building trusting relationships. Little did we know how relevant it would be for this year.

The pandemic has highlighted to more businesses how critical it is to maintain a loyal customer base as they have been the difference between success and closure for many businesses.

Beyond Loyalty Programs: 5 Ways to Create Loyal Customers

Loyalty programs are par for the course in many businesses today. Yet, most of them look the same.

This blog contains 5 ways businesses can create loyalty by doing what their customers really value in a way that is unique to the business.

How to Get Customers to Choose You Instead of Your Competitors

Businesses always battle for customers from their competitors. But, this year the value of those individual purchases to the businesses has increased.

In this blog, we explore how focusing on customer needs can make you an unstoppable force against your competition.

The #1 Reason Most Vision Statements Fail

A company vision helps you think beyond the company of today in order to build the company of tomorrow.

You’ve got to think about ‘big things’ while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.Alvin Toffler1

The reason most vision statements fail is that they’re as statements. 

Instead of treating a company vision as a North Star—something that is used to guide decision-making—most companies attempt to codify the vision in a brief statement that’s treated as an endpoint. They treat a vision statement as a magic tool: it’s as if just by having one, they’ll be imbued with some preternatural power that supercharges their business.

But, company visions aren’t magical talismans. Company visions are tools.

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3 Ways Taking a Break Improves Performance

Again, it is well that you should often leave off work and take a little relaxation, because, when you come back to it you are a better judge; for sitting too close at work may greatly deceive you. Again, it is good to retire to a distance because the work looks smaller and your eye takes in more of it at a glance and sees more easily the discords or disproportion in the limbs and colours of the objects.Leonardo Da Vinci1

When things are busy or stressful, it’s easy to get caught up in the doing and lose perspective. And, when you lose perspective, it’s hard to connect your day-to-day actions with what you desire over the long-term

Here are three ways taking a break can help you achieve long-term success.

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Brand DNA: Understanding Customer Motivation

Understanding the needs you fulfill best is important so that your messaging and strategy emphasizes what motivates your customers to do business with you.

Our approach to understanding customers is founded on what we call the Brand DNA. Brand DNA is the root of developing all long-term strategies and short-term tactics. The Brand DNA consists of three interlocking parts:

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  2. Jungian Archetypes
  3. The Cultural Story
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How To Stay Motivated By Your Company’s Vision

WHAT YOU DO TODAY DETERMINES THE TYPE OF ORGANIZATION YOU CAN BECOME TOMORROW.

When you visualize daily, you align your thoughts and feelings with your vision. This makes it easier to maintain the motivation you need to continue taking the necessary actions.Hal Elrod, The Miracle Morning

Developing a vision creates energy and momentum in a company.

But, that energy usually fades over time. The pressure of the now takes over. The vision becomes something that will happen in the distant future.

The vision loses the power it was designed to have: create a passion to motivate you through anything in service of the better future you want.

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