lead/marke NET: Tom Fishburne “How Brands Talk”

Note: Ideally brand’s communication becomes what it normally interrupts! Think about that – and enjoy Tom’s post!
(lead/marke NET proudly features Tom’s inspiring posts on a regular basis.)

(to instantly license this cartoon, click here)

Whether on package copy, TV ads, or websites, most brands talk in the same self-referential and self-absorbed way. It’s by design. That’s usually the first filter of a creative review: run through a checklist to make sure that all the key benefits from the brief are there. The problem is that there’s rarely a filter that all that brand talk is actually interesting. 

Hugh Macleod refers to this as The Cocktail Party Rule: “what’s true at cocktail parties is also true in marketing i.e. If you want to be boring, talk about yourself. If you want to be interesting, talk about something else.”

Robert Stephens, the founder of Geek Squad, once said that “advertising is a tax for unremarkable thinking”. Most brands invest in Paid Media to interrupt their consumers long enough to blab about their brand message, whether or not it’s ultimately that interesting to them. Consumers’ collective eyes glaze over in a blah blah blah world and it becomes harder and harder to get your message across. 

TBWA identifies four types of Media available to brands: Paid, Earned, Owned, and Created. Most brands only think about Paid Media, but Earned Media is a much better litmus test. Is your brand doing or saying something interesting enough that consumers and the press are compelled enough to share it? Consumers and the press share ideas, not because the ideas convey key benefits from your creative brief, but because it’s interesting to them. 

Owned and Created Media is an even higher bar because it requires communication to be less about the brand and more about the consumers through the brand. My favorite example is the American Express OPEN Forum, a community and resource for small business owners. There is no overt pitch of the brand benefits of American Express to a small business owner. They don’t need one. They say everything you need to know about American Express through a conversation that is about the consumer, not the card. 

Increasing your working media budget is not enough to get your message into the world if your message isn’t interesting enough to share on it’s own. Media is just an accelerant.

Tom, when not cartooning (eg. for Marketing Week), is method’s international managing director. Based in London, he frequently speaks at campuses, companies, and conferences about marketing, cartooning, and how to spread business ideas. @tomfishburne