Long, long ago in a far away TV Land

 

When I was a kid growing up in the early 1960’s there were very few places for advertisers to compete for our attention to build their product brands. Companies typically reached their customers by TV, radio, or print. In 1962, 90% of U.S. households owned a television set, and there were only three network stations: ABC, NBC, and CBS. My mother (the first woman to host her own television show “Kitirik,” on ABC, 1954-1971 in Houston) subscribed to Life and Time magazines and “took the Houston Chronicle newspaper,” as opposed to the Houston Post.  In the car, or at home, we listened to the AM radio—and that was it…no cable, no Internet, no smart phones.

It was pretty much assured that if advertisers launched a new product, we were going to see it in print, hear it on the radio, or see it on television. At that time, it also meant advertising efforts were created predominantly for a singular target market: a middle class Caucasian audience. Ads ran with a much greater certainty that a large percentage of those folks would see it. Building a brand was much easier, if you had the money, to build it. Coke was the “real thing”, Cadillac was the most luxurious car in America, and brands like Magnavox and RCA dominated the television set market. There was a sense of “community” in which your lifestyle was very similar to your neighbors. Kids still built tree forts, threw dirt clods, watched “Saturday morning cartoons” and played Monopoly for entertainment. There was a sense, at least in my mind, that my family loved me, other adults looked out for me, we didn’t lock our front door, we went to church and believed in God, and we felt that our government was protecting us – in short, it was “We, the people” (unless you were a minority or gay).

The rise of television as postwar America’s favorite recreational pastime created the opportunity for companies to build brands in a new way. TV gave the American public an opportunity to begin to have a personal ‘relationship’ with the brand. Suddenly, you were not simply smoking a cigarette; you were riding the open range with the “Marlborough Man!” You were not some silly city slicker smoking in a crowded bar, you were a tough, manly, macho dude; as was evident by the brand of cigarette you smoked.

In advertising and marketing terms, the objective, and the audience were really clear. Rather like previous wars: known and obvious bad guy with a clear reason to fight. We knew our audience: who they were, how they lived, and what they wanted. In 1952, the highest rated television program in the United States was on CBS, “I love Lucy,” that received a staggering 67.3 % Neilson rating. Imagine the fact that of everyone that owned a television set in 1952 America (33% of all U.S. households), 67% of those households were watching Lucy and Ethel’s shenanigans. A virtual guarantee that you could deliver your message and product to the right market.  Contrast that fact that in 2012, the highest rated network show was NBC Sunday Night Football with a Neilson rating of 12.9%.

The 1960’s, and the Vietnam war, created the social conditions to shatter the postwar “Father Knows Best” mentality of the white male dominated professional workplace.  We began to see the arduous, and humiliating journey, of minorities and women trying to break the “White male only” barrier, which all contributed to new burgeoning market segments for advertisers; and a significantly changed social collective consciousness. We began to see American Industry quietly send jobs to Asia.  Our status as a once great manufacturing nation began to shift to a nation based on the “service industry.” We saw, the commercial birth of FM Radio; Specialty Magazines for consumer interests like boating, hunting, travel, in the 1970’s; Cable Television in the 1980’s; and finally the truly explosive social and commercial change—the Internet.

A powerful pivotal shift occurred in American consciousness in the early 90’s that has completely changed our countries character, and the way we approached advertising and marketing. Strangely for me, it was noticed byway of a song that seemed to capture the mood of our nation in 1991, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“…Here we are now entertain us

I feel stupid and contagious

Here we are now, entertain us…”

The prophetic lyrics sung by Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, who experienced a meteoric rise in global fame in 1991 giving life to a new American collective consciousness—Grunge—before his suicide in 1994. His band took teen anxiety about not relating to the American experience and gave it a new look and feel, a manner of communicating, a way to dress, and a way to feel, as if to say – “Fuck you, I’m not like you… I am not joining your America…I’m joining people that feel the same way I do…We will gather on the internet!”

And overnight, we went from America being a “We nation” to a “Me nation.” Of course, as the saying goes, “No man is an island” and the Internet gave millions a place to meet, fantasize, communicate, share and shop. A place you might ask a guy named Jeeves, “Why does my pee stink after eating asparagus?” and get the answer, immediately! The “little guy” could compete on a level playing field. A place where anyone could become a food critic, “I don’t get it.  Everyone raves about this place.  But it’s just not good. Not bad, just mediocre.  Maybe it’s better in the evening? Or after a few margaritas?” On places like Second Life.com, You could re-invent yourself, be a tough Afro-American girl, into S&M and have sex hook-ups on-line and then go to your art gallery and sell paintings for big Linden Dollars…even, if you are in real life a Caucasian male working at Home Depot. You can express yourself with blogs, Vlogs and social media (MySpace, Facebook, etc). Write and publish books. One’s sense of social isolation and personal lack of meaning could be immediately distracted by simply clicking the “like” button, or telling your “friends” about your cat dying, or share photos of oneself: traveling, being happy, in love, looking cool, with family, and sometimes being sexy…real sexy! Suddenly, we have a nation of commentators in a place where parents, “the system,” and advertising convention could be escaped…at least initially, and—at least in theory—one could connect globally. A place where you could say, “fuck” freely, as I enjoy, or post a video of you and your friends shooting a Roman candle firework launched from your backside…I swear I saw that on YouTube!

State of the Union: Helter Sketlter.

 

Traditional communication is in a state of fast and furious flux. Radio stations are struggling to stay afloat, the New York Times is constantly struggling to keep the doors open, even TV is competing for its life with Internet based alternatives. Television commercials attempt to “entertain us” and they rarely tell the consumer the real value and benefit of the product, as we learned from the contemporary “father of advertising,” Englishman, David Ogilvy. He formulated our idea of the modern ad: Give them a headline image that is relevant and copy, how ever long as needed, to convey to the reader why he or she should buy this product and why it was unlike any other – why is it special! Today, we are rarely invited into why we should buy the product. Instead, we see a bunch of comedic clown-like Vikings tell us to use the Bank Card? Their focus group must have been on crack cocaine… It’s memorable yes, but in no way do I want to use, or consider, that product, and I certainly don’t want to build a lifelong relationship with the brand. With some understanding, the defense might be, “But you don’t have the captivity of market share like in the 60’s…you have to give them a quick left hook, make them laugh (they will talk about you) so they can remember you!” My response, “Yes, but is that how you want them to remember you?” You may only have the one chance to reach someone. Should I enter a networking business function, climb on top of a table, drop my trousers and scream, “Hey everyone, want to see my ding dong?”

We seemingly have cultivated an ocean of citizens that have the less-than-flattering idea that they are “fabulous,” important, and that their opinion carries weight. Collectively, regardless of how much you agree, or disagree, with these little pedantic prigs—in real marketing terms, they do! Don’t believe me? Chat with anyone that works their butt off in the restaurant business, real estate, or other types of small business to provide a quality product, and let them tell you about how the angry posts on Yelp impacts their business. Is it sometimes deserved? Absolutely. However, there is a hefty supply of malcontents anxiously waiting to pounce at a moments notice.

These days, one brilliant performance at home, or one stupid act could conceivably catapult you into overnight success, or failure. Consider the meteoric rise of kids like Justin Beiber, or the tragic thud of girl-next-door sensation Miley Cirus after a recent off-color performance ‘twerking’ on the American Music Awards. And more seriously, considering the extraordinary impact Facebook had as a communication hub for the so-called “Arab Spring” and its critical importance for young political protestors in Egypt to overthrow the old regime. Our actions are now viewed, literally by the world…if you can get the “world’s” attention.

Some Observations.

 

This year has brought a wide range of clients who wanted help with new “brands” and/or “re-branding” their businesses. It has included a celebrity chef, a personal injury law firm, a neuro-endocrine specialist, a group of heart doctors, a global manufacturer, a non-profit, a fashion photographer, and a boutique wealth management group. What do they all have in common—absolutely everything! They all want to be viable, have a certain “buzz”, express and maintain a standard of quality, and most importantly, they want to be financially successful…just like every other person, and company, on the planet!

My clients are usually very smart, polite, well intentioned, and above average in their offerings. However, there seems to be a very strong collective tendency, among many of them—and in myself—that is tough to watch as a dedicated marketing professional. I notice that for many individuals and companies engaged in advertising and marketing, it is more than not, a very fragmented and re-active exercise. They think that simply building a new website, or running a TV spot, or creating a Facebook page is all they have to do bring the right attention to their brand, product, or service. It is remarkably similar to folks that say personal fitness is important to them, yet they eat a cheeseburger, French fries, and a diet coke everyday for lunch, and then go to the gym and do 30-minutes on the elliptical and can’t figure out why they still have a gut. There is a bit more involved in building a robust brand and achieving true marketing fitness than sending out a couple of “feel good” creative pieces.

Some of this year’s observations of client behavior include:

• “We don’t need a social media strategy…”

• “We can only afford to do this…”

• Regard marketing as an unwanted, but necessary expense

• Treat it as a major “one time” event such as remodeling their master bedroom

• Entrust the role of marketing manager to an unqualified person in their group

• Don’t understand, nor value, the critical role that marketing should take

• Don’t understand, nor value, the importance of professional, and unified, design

• Don’t understand how to employ a comprehensive marketing strategy

• Only do same-old-thing actions, leaving big opportunity for growth on the table

• So overwhelmed by workload, any attempt to market effectively is lost to operational concerns and demands.

• Ownership not listening to their customers and expecting things to magically change and have more business.

• Owner | Managers not loving what they do professionally, and expecting others to perform and for customers to love their business

• Believe that slapping together something themselves is better than hiring a professional and will get the same results

• We are too busy with “other” pressing matters to look at this “now…”

How one feels and thinks, dramatically impacts a companies marketing fitness!

To succeed in the current morass that constitutes our global business climate, it will require much more than a short list of marketing goals, a snappy website and print collateral, splashy ads, slipshod entries on Facebook and vapid tweets, and allocated budgets… to truly build a brand loyalty.

Brave New World: some things stay the same.

 

Even in this factionalized, pluralistic, ensemble we call the U.S.A, regardless of how an advertising campaign is delivered (on what device, medium, or style) there still needs to be a definitive and distinctive quality of message (Why your product or service has meaning? Quality? Purpose?), a clarity of intent, combined with an excellent design, regardless of your product, service offering, or genre. That has not changed since antiquity, it was true for Caesar and it will be true for you and for those after us.

Quality in marketing requires experience, and consideration, on many levels. For example: You can give an untrained teen an expensive digital camera and send them to Europe to shoot pictures. You may imagine that if the camera is expensive, with a huge amount of pixels, that the teen photographer is more likely to take “good pictures.” The disparity of course, is the brain of the teen has not likely been exposed to the ideas of sub-text, irony, empathy, journalistic sensibility, drama, human suffering, archetypes, nor have they had years to cultivate a unique aesthetic sensibility to harmonize subject, light, and composition. Instead, we get a visual documentation, a “snapshot,” of an object or person. In other words, we see something, but we feel nothing. It does not contribute to our experiencing the subject in a new light. In this manner, if we don’t invest in building real meaning in our brands—using our humanity, introspection, and compassion—they are as hollow and empty as our teenager’s snapshot of cars whizzing around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris!

Big Changes Kemosabe: the digital horse is pushing further west.

 

 In 2012, there are 36 U.S. companies that spent over $1 billion dollars on ads. Nike, who spent $2.4 billion, has recently dropped media spending by 40%. According to a Forbes article, Nike’s new marketing mojo, by Scott Cendrowski:

“The reason for the shift is simple: Nike is going where its customer is. And its core customer, a 17-year-old who spends 20% more on shoes than his adult counterparts, has given up television to skip across myriad online communities. Not only does Nike think it can do without the mega-TV campaigns of old, it says the digital world allows the brand to interact even more closely with its consumers — maybe as closely as it did in its early days, when founder Phil Knight sold track shoes out of his car in the 1960s. That’s a major change, Nike CEO Mark Parker explained to Fortune during a recent interview in his tchotchke-filled office in Beaverton. “Connecting used to be, ‘Here’s some product, and here’s some advertising. We hope you like it,’ ” he says. “Connecting today is a dialogue.”

Of course, it’s impossible these days to find a Fortune 500 company without an app or a social media strategy. But Nike has been lapping other blue-chip marketers in this domain: It spent nearly $800 million on ‘nontraditional’ advertising in 2010, according to Advertising Age estimates, a greater percentage of its U.S. advertising budget than any other top 100 U.S. advertiser.”

 

So now that you realize that advertising and marketing is always going to be in a constant state of change, with different delivery and devices, the importance of hiring someone that has a bit of savoir-faire, cuts and scrapes, and real skill, honor the simple truth that quality of content is KING… we need to explore how you can participate in building a relationship with your customers that will set you apart.

It is just like seeing a FABULOUS looking woman, decked to the nines, pulling up in a sexy car…walks across the parking lot in her $500 pumps and her French scarf tossed playfully around her shoulders…I am immediately charmed by her style and grace…she stands beside me to order her Café latte and she starts talking loudly on her cell phone about some vapid chit chat about her evening…arrives to the counter and chirps out her order to the hard working person at the register, as if she is slapping the “coke” selection on a vending machine, and then begins to laugh so loudly, I can’t hear the other person on the register trying to kindly take my order…I not only have loud fantasies in my head about screaming at her, “Do you really think anyone gives a FUCK about your evening? And how dare you treat these people like your coffee slaves!” Instead, I am extra-ordinarily nice to the person helping me…leave a large tip, but I am now 100% certain that I am longer buying “her brand.”

Yes. I said it. Ouch. Human brand. Jesus, it’s like genetically engineered corn. While I am not a big proponent of “manufacturing human behavior”…to some extent, it is required in the contemporary experience. It doesn’t have to be duplicitous, clandestine, or deceptive. On the contrary, we choose where we place our consciousness daily…minute by minute. When I lived in Japan for three years, I learned about Buddhist philosophy. One of the really great concepts I took away from my experience was the power of where I placed my consciousness. It is a very simple idea, but has a very potent cause and effect. American corporations have been very big components of “productivity” and use “monetary goals” as their measurement of success. With the rise of the multi-national corporation and the huge impact they have over our lives. Consider the comments from a 2011 Forbes article, The 147 Companies that Control Everything, by Bruce Upbin,

“Three systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have taken a database listing 37 million companies and investors worldwide and analyzed all 43,060 transnational corporations and share ownerships linking them. They built a model of who owns what and what their revenues are and mapped the whole edifice of economic power.

They discovered that global corporate control has a distinct bow-tie shape, with a dominant core of 147 firms radiating out from the middle. Each of these 147 own interlocking stakes of one another and together they control 40% of the wealth in the network. A total of 737 control 80% of it all. The top 20 are at the bottom of the post. This is, say the paper’s authors, the first map of the structure of global corporate control.”

What should I give a flip about that? For the same reasons you should care that Monsanto uses patent law to control most of U.S. corn, soy seed market, according to the Associated Press, or the fact that we have already spent more than $2.7 trillion dollars fighting terrorists in the Middle East according to an article in the Huff Post entitled, “U.S. War Costs Reach At Least $3.7 Trillion And Counting.” There is something terribly alarming about large scale threats to our humanity that are so easily, in-a-split-second, converted to arguments—compelling arguments—that support the position that these actions are for the “good of humanity.” Well, as you can see…I have overstepped my small bounds…placed my proverbial Italian loafer in it, but this much I do know, we have the power to choose how we act in the world. I personally do not want to foster, support, or create a society of corporate employees that have exchanged their humanity for the illusionary success of salary, to continue to propagate the hollow ambitions of “productivity” and “goals” without the addition of humanity first, win-win in all dealings, and a strong ethical concern about honesty and integrity. There are an awful lot of “ambitious” little pugs, in the Shakespearean sense, running through the hallways of corporate American, all trying to out fetch the other, by any means necessary! P.S. I know how to lie, cheat, deceive, embellish, cajole, exaggerate, mislead, and outright step on the other guys face…I choose not to, because I believe that business, brand, and product should be powerfully human and filled with the best that we have to offer. Ideal? Yes. Possible? Yes.

D.I.C.E.

Just because things have to be named to give them form…I invite you to consider a new conceptual form of branding, a non-messaging, immeasurable side of marketing (at least by traditional measures), that I call, Zen Brand Management. Don’t panic, this will not require chanting for hours, nor shaving your head!

In addition to the usual exercise of clearly defining whom you are and why you are distinctive, developing a strong creative matrix (logo, website, print, TV spot, web, other, etc.) devising a marketing strategy, and social media plan—You will need to “throw the dice!” …Metaphysically speaking. That is to say: Deliberate-introspection- (with)-compassion- (and enjoy)-evolution, or simply DICE.

 

When we are DELIBERATE we are focused, we understand our clarity of purpose, we know why we are here, and we are 100% present. We are clear about how and why we do what we do, and how to help our customers, clients, patients, and fellow man.

With INTROSPECITON, we intrinsically recognize that we are not the greatest force in the universe and humbly realize that when we go within and seek higher information, solutions arrive that are win-win, we find passion, excitement, new vision, ideas, and solutions to old problems. We consciously enrich our relationship with ourselves, realizing that is will enrich all relationships. Using this discipline, we are able to create a framework, a context in which to accomplish goals, thrive, and advance. We find strength, which fortifies our spirit and nourishes our work. We have a healthier sense of our own value and strength.

As we choose COMPASSION our relationships are enriched. When we cease to always making everything about “Me,” it opens a very special opportunity to create a meaningful “We,” and therefore create the optimum opportunity for a win-win relationship and that is when capitalism is truly magnificent.

Then we have a new measure of success, personally and professionally, as we begin to enjoy our EVOLUTION. Through this right action, we begin to harvest and enjoy a self-esteem, pride, and financial reward (a natural outcropping of things done well, with the right intent).

I think the brands that will last into the future, will be the ones that don’t let the “brand” or company profitability blind their humanity! The brand winners will build human connection: “we see you”…through humor, value, or care. Company brands that invest in their people: where Human Resource Departments are not just playing match A+B=C. The companies that tirelessly seek to help their customer, and continue to develop and maintain quality, as their inexhaustible priority will be the winners.

I went to lunch yesterday at a casual eatery that I helped concept over 10 years ago, called Moonshine in Austin, Texas. I was seated in a small room and noticed three waiters helping all the customers in the room. My waiter was on his game, helpful and informative…but what really impressed me was that the other two waiters in the room, individually, came over and filled our water glasses offering up ample good cheer. I have never seen that happen in Austin…not even when I am paying $100 for my lunch. That restaurant just built a deeper relationship with me by being human. That is good management, good Business, and good Branding: Deliver more than they expect, with consistency, imagination, and with all of your humanity in tact.

So my friends, there is no way to lose, go on—throw the DICE!