Today I’d like to do a little experiment. I have an idea for a new brand tool but my thoughts aren’t fully fleshed out. So I thought I’d use this blogpost as a way of reaching out to like-minded folks who might be interested in refining and fleshing out the idea. The following post outlines my idea as well as questions and points for feedback. I hope you will be eager to participate and actually read this as invitation to collaborate on something that could be quite exciting.
Background. I recently attended the Planning-ness conference. It was a conference for account planners (for those of you who aren’t familiar with what an account planner is: at advertising agencies, the role of the strategist is usually called an account planner.) Although I am no longer an account planner and haven’t attended a planning conference in ages, the speaker line-up and workshop format were a draw for me. The conference was expertly curated by DDB’s Mark Lewis and turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to engage with brand strategists about big ideas.
One of the common themes that arose from the different sessions I attended was the importance of narrative – that is, using story as a method of communicating persuasively. For example, one of the speakers was a documentary film maker. As he talked about his process of creating a documentary, it was clear that although the purpose of documentaries is to expose a truth, there is a storyline that is woven through the film that makes the point and enables the film maker to accomplish his objective.
Likewise, we heard speakers from Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots field organization. They emphasized the importance of a personal story as a way of connecting with others and enrolling them your movement.
One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation by Rob White and Adrian Ho of Zeus Jones, a new kind of agency based in Minneapolis. I’ve been a fan of ZJ ever since I found about them earlier this year. They seem to share a similar approach to me as far as brand-building is concerned. They call it “modern branding” and they contrast it to “classic branding.”
ZJ explains that, in the past, brand-building was about communicating ideas. But in the current environment of so much fragmentation in media and competition in products and services, brand-building is about beliefs. Brands are not about a promise, but what a company believes. And everything that a company does to build its brand is about proving how strong its beliefs are.
They talked about how modern branding is such a sea change from the traditional branding approach that the traditional tools and constructs that brand-builders have used in the past are no longer relevant. One example is the brand pyramid, which is a strategic framework that is often used to flesh out and dimensionalize the values and attributes of the brand.
Rob and Adrian suggested the pyramid is no longer applicable in modern branding because the brand is less about the attributes that you profess and more about the user experiences that you create. They asked us to form break-out groups to develop new tools for brand-building in this modern branding world.
The Idea. The idea I have arose from the break-out group that I participated in: We talked about how to replace the brand pyramid. Clearly there is still a need to articulate what the brand stands for and how it is positioned, but a static diagram on paper is equally clearly not the answer today. Because we had spent the prior day and a half talking about the importance of narrative, our group immediately gravitated toward the use of stories as a way of expressing the brand. Ultimately we came upon the idea of developing a brand documentary.
The break-out group didn’t get to flesh out the idea much beyond a few initial thoughts, but I’m really interested in the potential of a brand documentary as a new brand tool and so I want to outline it further and get your feedback.
A brand documentary would be a film to communicate the brand strategic platform. The objective would be to tell the truth about the brand the way most documentaries seek to tell the truth about a particular issue. Importantly the documentary would not be your typical brand manifesto video or some other type of inspirational treatment. It would be truth-oriented and fact-based, as opposed to vision-oriented or an aspirational promise.
This idea leverages something Jonathan Salem Baskin the author of Branding Only Works on Cattle and the Dim Bulb blog talked about recently. That is, in brand-building today, the approach shouldn’t be to promise something and then hope that you can deliver on it. Rather, it should be to deliver an extraordinary experience and then narrate what happened. In that way, a brand documentary would seek to narrate the examples of how the brand is actually experienced.
For example, the film might include clips of actual customers experiencing the brand and show the reactions and interactions that the customers have with the brand. It also might include excerpts from interviews with people who work for the company who have either done themselves or have witnessed their co-workers or strategic business partners doing something that exemplifies the brand. Or perhaps the film would chart the history of a particular project or company initiative that advanced the brand platform. It also might include news items or coverage in the media that discuss what the brand is doing.
All of these clips would be assembled into a documentary-style film that then would be used as a tool by all brand stakeholders to use to enhance their brand understanding. It would probably be approximately 10-15 minutes so that it is accessible and digestible to all who would use it. The role of the tool would be similar to the brand pyramids of the past, but the depth and richness and most importantly the reality of the brand is what would be captured in a brand documentary.
Feedback. So the feedback I’m looking for is:
1. What do you think of this idea generally? Is this on the right track? Do you think that this is an improvement to a current approach (whether that be brand pyramid or some other tool that is used to enhance brand understanding among stakeholders)?
2. Do you have any ideas to improve the idea or to build it out further to make it an even stronger tool?
3. Also what other types of content should be included in a brand documentary?
4. Finally, if we were to create one of these brand documentaries as a test, what resources would you recommend — specifically:
- people who would be interested in working on this type of project (film makers, editors, writers, etc.)
- examples of documentaries or films that would inform our understanding of how to do this kind of project well
- potential clients who would be interested in experimenting with this brand tool for mutual benefit in a shared cost relationship
I really hope that you will take the time to give input on this. I open this up as an invitation for anyone who wants to participate and I am sure that the idea will only get stronger because of it. Thanks — and I’m listening!