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About Authenticity….It’s Dead.

With regard to branding, Authenticity is dead. And as the branders, marketers and creatives, we’re to blame.

Okay, maybe it didn’t die…but it’s at least on life support.

So what happened? We all strive to bring authenticity to our work and our brands. And further, we all know that being authentic is what fundamentally shapes the approach to our brands (or at least should). So again I ask, how did we get here?

One word: buzz. We stopped trying to do the hard work – or at least the honest work – of really figuring out what the heart of our brands are. And we allowed ourselves to say we’re being authentic without any effort to back the assertion up.

Think about it… how many times have we sat in rooms where a series of buzz words will be said in rapid succession, only for the summation being something along the lines of “this is what keeps us authentic to our brand”? If the best way to describe the unique, only-you offering of our brands is to use buzz words, then we’re merely talking in sales-speak. It’s not true. It’s not honest. It’s not authentic.

Make no mistake, figuring out how to be authentic is the hardest part of being a brander. Today’s world is so accessible that it’s easy to see something you like, and try to assimilate it. Or to skip the articulation of your brand, in favor of generic words that may resonate socially within the field.

We do this because we don’t want to make the effort to put things into our own voice. And because its easier to say it “feels” connected than come up with something truly original. But make no mistake, that is no better than theft. And worse, it dilutes the brand to being nothing more than a patchwork quilt of other, potentially though not always, more thought out brands. And worst of all, this could end up guiding important decisions our brands make.

Maybe you can fool your boss. Maybe you can fool your peers. Maybe you can get away with it on the short term. But your audience will always call you to the carpet. They know what your are or are not. And they are the final jury.

It’s time to stop buzzing about being authentic, and to start figuring out what that means uniquely to our brands. Looking in the mirror is terrifying…but only then will you truly elevate your brand beyond the crap.


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Strategize your Brand like a Power Lifter

You might assume that power lifters gain strength by lifting big. That they constantly challenge themselves to put more weight on the bar, and find results when it’s successfully pressed. But in fact, that’s not correct.

Yes, power lifting is the act of lifting enormous sums of weight. But any seasoned power lifter will tell you the strategy behind getting there involves constantly changing routine.  Placing extra focus on the small, support muscles. Only then will the primary muscle be able to achieve the goal of lifting more and more. No, it’s not glamorous. And, yes, it’s a lot of hard work. But it does get results.

So why not take a similar approach to brand strategy. Ludicrous? Not really. A one-focus brand can certainly have a loyal following. But it will fail to grow and attract new audiences.

Brands are strongest when they focus on the complete picture. It’s not just about the ‘big’ goal. Rather, it’s when they push grass roots efforts. Try new and innovative tactics. Success is found most when they seek to make the brand strong in all the areas that aren’t a main focus, so by the time they do push the main efforts, the brand is already synonymous.

It’s why Corona is a lifestyle brand. Why Virgin America is an experience brand. It’s what propelled Netflix to go from a DVD company to a major content distributor. And brought Amazon from books to, well, everything.

Take a step back… really analyze your whole brand. When was the last time you focused on the small parts? Are you diversifying your efforts enough? If not, maybe it’s time to craft a new strategy to push your brand.

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You Need To Fail

Let me briefly set the table up front – this is not a post about how a life failure can send you on a new, stronger path… at least not in the grand sense of that.

I read a book some years back that did a study on how creativity works. It’s contents were fascinating, and the results were even more so.

We’re all familiar with the concept of right vs left brain thinking; the left hemisphere generally dominates logical reason, while the right hemisphere dominates relative reason. But this study went deeper than just understanding biological differences like this. It looked at the electrical and chemical signals occurring in the brain when presented with a challenge, and attempted to understand what goes on when people begin to think creatively.

When respondents were initially presented with a challenge, it was clear that a specific region in the left hemisphere was activated. This was true regardless of background or personality. This makes sense – a problem was met with the attempt at a logical solution.. no different than knowing that 1 + 1 = 2. But the goal of this study was to push the respondents past the point of where they could logically arrive at a conclusion… to basically force the respondents to failure. And it’s when the respondents self-reported reaching a willingness to give-up on the problem that the interesting stuff started happening.

Remarkably, at that moment, the subjects’ brain activity would begin to shift. The left hemisphere would decrease its activity, and the right hemisphere would activate intensely and with immediacy. After a few moments, rather than conceding failure to the challenge, most respondents would end up solving (or at least finding a solution) to the problem. It wasn’t a logical response…rather it was a relative one — derived from things that previously had no connections, but were creatively related to one another for this specific need.

The study continues, and there’s a lot of fascinating science within it. But to me what will always stand out most is the seeming need to fail at solving a problem to enable a more creative solution. Failure evokes the ability for our minds to think beyond what’s rational — it forces us to succumb to the limitations of what our individual capacity for reason is. In turn, it activates the innate ability for our minds to associate things. To think beyond the single moment and/or problem. To bring a new, imagined solution that seems to fit to the table.

So why do we fear writers block? Why is the blank canvas so scary? Maybe if we embrace the just getting going no matter how ‘bad’ the work may be…. Maybe if we willingly embrace that the first idea may be destined to failure…. Maybe then we’ll end up triggering the inspiration we so sought.

Maybe we just need to fail in order to succeed.


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Let’s Clarify Creativity

Let’s talk about being creative, something near and dear to my heart. I could retire if I had a nickel from every person I spoke with who falsely assumed creativity was a gift from the gods….as though the lucky charms we ate as a child (or this morning) fueled our brain’s ability to imagine.

Yes, I will concede that there are people in this world who are more artistically inclined than others – be them painters, writers, filmmakers, etc. But notice what I said there: artistically inclined. I didn’t say creatively inclined. Candidly, I’m a person who has some artistry skills… some in graphic design, some in photography, some in word-smithing… I’ve now been a Creative Director now for longer in my career than I haven’t. Before that I was an art director, and before that a designer. But I have never once considered myself an artist. I’m too logical. Too practical. Too technical.

So how did I bridge the delta? Fundamentally, it’s because I never believed creativity and artistry were the same.

Now, that statement may be seen as controversial. I get it. And look, maybe that perspective isn’t 100% wrong. But lets get into the fundamentals about what creativity really is before we make a conclusive statement.

Creativity is invention. It’s the act of finding inspiration and applying it. It’s solely what fueled humanity to be what it is today. Not every form of creativity is artistic in the traditional sense. In fact, more have nothing to do with artistry than ones that do.

Put differently, creativity is the fundamental task of inventing a solution to any given problem.

In Plato’s ‘Republic’, this is discussed with rigor in the Theory of Forms. They use the metaphor of a chair maker. Is the true artist the chair maker? Or the one that formed the idea of a chair-like contraption? Further, isn’t every new chair created just another clone of its predecessor, modified to make it easier, stronger, more comfortable?

Or let’s put this idea even differently; isn’t the process of creating something new simply that of seeing a form, and attempting to improve upon it’s perceived weaknesses?

And thus we’ve arrived and what I find as the defining trait of being creative. Creativity is no less a function of the artist than it is the accountant. We’re all beings programmed to absorb stimulus, and make calculated responses. Creativity is simply the act of putting that to work to solve a problem.

Think about it. Have you ever jig-rigged something? Created a life-hack? Put together a cute outfit? Planned a perfect date?

Perhaps your problem could be solved by designing a logo. Or by writing music. It could be inventing the wheel. It could be sending humankind to mars.

So let’s stop praising creativity as being something unattainable. You may not be as artistically inclined in your creativity as some people you admire. But you already are creative in ways they no nothing about. Embrace it.

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Location, Location, Location

It’s the business idiom of idioms…”The three rules of success in business are Location, Location, Location.” Traditionally this meant finding a structure located in an area. Ensuring it was surrounded by an audience likely to have interest and/or consideration of your product. And that your product was offered within the store.

Oh how life has changed in the 2nd era of tech. We all know we’re in a global economy. Our addresses are transposed with a URL. Your product may only require a link to deliver – and is more likely a product of thought than true labor. And your potential audience is now limited only by the ability to find them. Entire industries have been created by this…jobs like Demand Gen, Data Analysts, etc.

So the easy question is does Location matter anymore? As should be obvious, in the literal sense: no.

But let’s say for a minute that we suspend the colloquial meaning of location. Your new location is your url. Your proximity is the extent of your outreach on every platform imaginable. Your consumers are more likely than ever to share and impact the opinions of future customers.

Put differently, location means voice. Location means social and content marketing. Location means the stance your company takes, and the impact it hopes to have. Location is redefined to mean the micro and macro of how your consumers interact with your product.

So let’s stop with the idiom as it was…and let’s re-write it to what the idiom should be for today’s world:

“The first three rules of success in business are Brand, Brand, Brand.”

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Flexibility vs Consistency

I read an interesting article on Valedictorians yesterday. The article studied those that graduated first in their class through the next 20 years that followed. Many were by the standard norms “successful”. They had good jobs. They were generally in power positions. They made good incomes.

But they also weren’t the leaders we might perceive. They were unlikely to be entrepreneurs. Unlikely to be millionaires. Unlikely to found companies based on innovation. By contrast, the successful people in these respects were more likely to have a 2.9 GPA.

There was a quantitative deduction done on this study to analyze this trend. And frankly it makes sense. Those that were Valedictorians proved they could be consistent in their executions. Consistent in their thinking. Consistent in following a laid-out process. But those who had the lower GPA’s tended to forget traditional learning. They were more commonly disruptors. They were less likely to go with the flow – preferring their way to the mainstream way. Their approach was flexible – worrying less about grades, and choosing to go real-world experience instead.

Think about this as it relates to your brand. Is your brand consistent? Is it checking boxes? Is it following a path laid in front of it?

Or is it flexible? Is it choosing to disrupt space and make the world a bit more unique?

Maybe asked differently: How successful is your brand? No, really?


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The Value of Emotional Intelligence

The world we live in now is more is interconnected than ever. How many times have we heard this? It’s too easy of a statement to make. And it, in general, is never backed up with an explanation of why this matters to your brand.

But it matters because we’re under a microscope. Always.

It matters because your brand will be openly exposed in ways you never thought possible.

It matters because your audience is equally openly exposed to you.

It matters because the success of a brand now relies more on your ability to recognize the difference between feelings, and use that information to guide behavior.

It matters because the more exposure we have, the more we must develop our Emotional Intelligence to connect with one another.

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Artwork vs Brand

A logo is just a piece of artwork. So is a business card. So is a letterhead. Artwork is just a standard by which the brand is visually represented.

Brand has to be bigger than artwork. It must be lived, breathed spoken, and yes, visualized. But artwork alone will never define a brand.

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What is your distinction?

Unique is a term every company tries to own. Their values will surround creating new and disrupting productions. Their maxim’s will surround being influential, leading innovation, and risking all to find excellence. Sound familiar?

Everyone wants to claim territory using snappy buzz terms. But that doesn’t build a brand. What builds a brand is what truly makes your company distinct.

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Your Brand is You

Brands aren’t a mystery. They don’t appear out of nowhere. They aren’t fabricated by a mill press. They aren’t created by the hard work of a Brand creative, director, or the like.

A brand is simply everything and anything. It’s your voice, your eyes, your ears. Your responses, your writing style, your effort. Companies have brands. People have brands. Places have brands.

These brands are the stigma earned through the experiences others have through the unique lens to the world only you can provide.

So, a brand can’t be a mystery…because by definition, you already are your brand.