IN PURSUIT OF BRAND ACTUALIZATION
(OR WHY I LOVE MY JOB BUT HATE TELLING PEOPLE WHAT I DO)
11 NOVEMBER 2016
SR. DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY & PLANNING | MANIFESTO
My relationship with my job? It’s complicated.
Well, here, let me try it out on you. “What do you do?” you ask.
“I’m a storyteller.” (CRINGE)
“I help create “brand experiences.” (CRINGE)
“I’m a brand strategist.” (CRINGE)
“I’m an ad guy.” (CRINGE)
You get the idea.
Any one of my go-to answers is met with varying degrees of confusion, pity, or even disdain. I am part of an industry that while continuing to evolve is still often viewed as the “people who sell stuff you don’t need to people who can’t afford it.” And I can’t really blame people for their views on the subject.
But the real answer to the question of what I do (and why I love it so much) goes much deeper. It’s not a one-liner. Maybe not even an elevator chat.
I am in pursuit of brand actualization.
Yes, I believe that brands can and should be powerful vehicles for positive change. That this world we live in is exhaustable and that brands must be at the forefront of righting the wrongs of unconscious capitalism. To have my heart, a brand has to give me something to believe in. Something their employees, customers (and the world at large) really needs. Ultimately, my job is helping brands to find their voice, declare their ambitions, then make those ambitions reality. And the bigger, more purpose-driven those ambitions are, the better.
This job starts with an invitation to the brands I engage with. An invitation to define their truly compelling “onlyness” and declare their intentions for the future. In this moment, I help brands choose their path. And in this moment, my own ambitions and theirs become intertwined. It can be terrifying, but it can also be incredibly freeing. It’s a trailhead moment. The path is set.
This moment of declaration is the first step in a brand’s climb toward actualization. And the reason it’s often terrifying is, because much like it is for humans and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, a brand has no idea what it feels like to achieve Actualization until they’ve arrived.
The other reason it’s terrifying is that most brands have a purpose or set of ambitions that far outreach their current ability to deliver...even if they’ve yet to articulate it. And it’s scary to declare your intention to pursue something that is going to take a lot of work to achieve, or just feels too far out of reach. This is why people never shoot for the moon when choosing their New Year’s Resolution. But then again, most resolutions fail because they aren’t ambitious enough to guarantee our continued attention or pursuit.
FROM DECLARATION TO ACTIVATION
Once the declaration has been made, the next step is to make it tangible. This step is critical because it takes a brand’s great ambition and begins to give it dimension. If you can touch, feel, taste, smell, experience the brand, you can begin to believe it (and believe IN it). This is the step that has given rise to the whole “Brand Experience Design” category of work, and the step that is delivering return in shopping environments across the globe. When a customer can truly engage with your brand’s ambition and experience it for themselves, they often instantly know whether you’re the right fit for them. This is the VR headset in the Tom’s flagship store that allows you to tour the village your purchase might support or the climbing wall in REI that blurs the line between shopping and doing what you love.
This step to Activate your brand is extremely powerful, and also really fun. Building experiences that are truly your own--those that take your brand’s passion and bring it to life--make being a brand marketer the funnest job in the world. And many brands have found success in this sweet spot, inviting customers into the experience.
REACHING FOR THE SUMMIT: ACTIVATION TO ACTUALIZATION
But then we get up into the rare air. Where brand ambitions have been declared, made tangible, and now made TRUE. The work at this point becomes deep culture work, seeking to build true connection between a brand’s ideals and its reality.
When Intel decided to shift their consumer-facing brand from “Intel Inside” to “Amazing Experiences Outside,” key decision-makers realized that they had to first help employees see (and begin to believe in) the magical experiences they were enabling every day through their work. They needed to connect the dots between the daily grind of design and manufacturing to the bold new future their technology was delivering. The resulting Let The Inside Out Campaign and Inside Out Experience was a high-touch global initiative, reaching 28 Intel campuses in 15 countries, engaging 102,000 employees, to celebrate the amazing experiences that Intel technology enables every day. Taking the brand’s ambition for a bold new future and proving its TRUTH.
Few brands attain true Actualization. But that’s kinda the point. I believe a brand’s true worth is found in the pursuit. In the passion and courage to declare an ambition, and in the commitment to keep striving. In Intel’s case, a new target has now been set, and the fight must continue. They’ve since restructured, and laid off 12,000 people. Their workforce must once again be rallied. But their determination to win the future has not receded, and thus the chase must continue.
And that chase is why I love my job. So the next time we see each other, let’s plan to sit and chat awhile. Let’s follow a path from the Dalai Lama to Don Draper, and reflect on your brand’s greatest ambitions. I’d sure like that. Way better than trying to summarize “what I do” in an elevator ride. Thanks for reading.