How to Build a Brand in an Eye-ball Obsessed World?

Don’t Disrupt. Focus on Adding Value to the Lives of the People You Want to Engage With.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years since Cluetrain Manifesto was first published. I still remember sitting on a plane totally oblivious to my surroundings and just devouring the book. It was life changing. The most meaningful and important marketing book I have read — to this day.

It was the first time someone put the gut feeling I had into words:

That marketing and advertising should be about treating your audience like human beings, listening to them and forming real meaningful relationships with them by bringing something to the table. Not just stealing attention and time.

I’ve never had any formal education in marketing. I’ve never considered myself an ad guy. I grew up with the web creating sites & building services mostly with no advertising budget. That meant no shortcuts. We really had to understand what our audiences wanted and cared about in order to create something that got noticed, got traffic, got talked about (or “spread virally” and “earned media” using todays lingo) and was meaningful enough to become a part of their daily lives. We were building brands not knowing we were building brands. We were just following our intuition.

Along the way I have been have been told by people who have studied “real marketing and advertising” that my view of the world is too naive and that advertising is about forming emotionally loaded messages to create needs in the consumers minds and then efficiently targeting them at right time in the right channels to trigger the impulse to buy buy buy.

For a time I gave in and thought that if so many smart people with important sounding degrees are saying this then it must be true. But as it turns out it’s not.

As we are witnessing a backlash on data driven automated advertising and seeing audiences increasingly taking back control it’s more important than ever to revisit the thinking laid out 18 years ago by Doc Searls and his co-authors. To go back to the basics of forming lasting relationships with the people we (as brands) want to have as our customers, our users and our fans. Giving first before expecting anything in return and truly earning the attention instead of going for the shortcut.

The silver lining here is that the same technological advances and innovations powering the dehumanisation of advertising are also creating unprecedented opportunities and ways for us to engage with the people we want to form relationships with. We have the tools and the data. Now we just need to use them right.

My rule of thumb for “doing the right thing” is to ask: What‘s in it for them? Why would they care? Are we adding value in some way, shape or form to the lives of the people we want to reach?

If your answer is no you are not building a brand. All you are doing is annoying and alienating the people you need the most to exist as a brand and a business in pursuit of short-sighted short-term gains.