What I talk about when I talk about branding

Every once in a while as I walk down the street a Red Cross, Green Peace or other campaigning employee will be standing there on the sidewalk trying to interrupt someone’s ‘busy’ day to talk about an issue. They are fundraising for some issue or another, but I’ve never been inclined to stop.

After about the 100th time of me walking past awkwardly trying to not make eye contact out of fear they’ll target me. I stopped.

I stopped because a guy in a Red Cross uniform didn’t try to quickly give me a sales pitch in the 3 seconds it took me to scurry past. He didn’t speak loudly or even move forward to cut me off. He asked me a simple question…

“Can I talk to you about saving someone’s life today?”

What a moment. Talk about changing my day completely, and my perspective on anything that guy would say afterwards. I went from skepticism to flat out listening. How did that happen? What was different?

Clearly, he did something different. Something not that many marketing people do. I know because almost every brand I encounter during my day is trying to tell me what to do and interrupt my life. Buy this. Eat that. Make sure to like, subscribe, follow, tweet, snap, twitch and do whatever other social hell they want you to participate in.

I’ve noticed a lot of brands are so busy telling us what to do, it’s incredibly easy to tune out or block. I can’t remember the last time I saw a YouTube ad or watched a commercial with the volume turned on. That just doesn’t happen anymore. Brands have driven us to silencing them, avoiding them, or simply turning our brains off no matter how loud they scream.

What stopped me on that street corner was a question that elicited emotion. How come some advertisements don’t end with a question? What if a brand asked, how can we do better? What aren’t we doing? Or better yet, how can we help?

Those are simple questions — much simpler than saving someone’s life — but it could resonate just the same if a brand’s product is truly great.

I know marketing pushes for optimizing content, getting the exact placement of words right and the perfect button color, but I feel like we’re at the point where most brands are doing that. Most brands optimize their site. Most brands have witty interns or CEO’s on Twitter, tweeting the heck out of whatever branded content and news that’s out there. There’s got to be a limit right?

So maybe brands need to spend less time shouting, and more time asking questions. Thought provoking questions. Questions about identity, purpose, motivation, development, anything that will engage people. Because once you have someone engaged, the conversation can start.


Do you know what a great brand looks like? Click here to find some.

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