Conquerors vs. seducers

(part 1)

My favorite quote for life and marketing is by St. Augustine, “It’s not enough to conquer, one must learn how to seduce.” Throughout my career in marketing, branding and design, this has been a guiding principle. The current CEO at Microsoft, Satya Nadella, recently noted a similar Augustinian approach “to replace table pounding with good-natured curiosity… and more emphasis on investing profits to win hordes of new users.”

There is a moment early in my career that stands out vividly. We were working on the Coca-Cola Brand Visual Identity (still in existence today) — at the fantabulous Turner Duckworth brand agency — and had just received a set of ‘brand activations’ to work on. Note, brand activations are series of design and written copy templates used to explore ideas for a new brand visual identity. One of the pieces we received is called a shelf-talker. A shelf-talker goes in your local supermarket shelf and serves as a piece of marketing, in this case, under Coca-Cola products. Our job was to come up with design/copy ideas. But shelf-talkers aren’t great for design (hence, they are called talkers), as they are approximately 1.5 in tall. The most you could do is write some good copy, hopefully. The example we were given from the previous brand identity said, in screaming all-cap letters, “BRING IT HOME.” (Inner thought: don’t fn’ scream at me, or I’ll just buy Pepsi). Keep in mind there are typically 3–5 shelves, so it said this 3–5 times. It sounded heavy-handed, condescending, cliché and worst of all, meaningless. There was no simple joy in it. And we are in the information age, the age of social, the human era, and you can’t treat informed consumers like that, and you shouldn’t treat people that way anyway. Brands can no longer tell people what to do — it’s a symbiotic relationship now — there’s a give and take between brands and consumers just like there is in a real relationship. A brand is not just what we (marketers) say it is; it’s also what they (consumers) say it is.

Armed with a beautifully simple creative brief from Coca-Cola, to communicate “happiness in a bottle,” we decided to offer a solution that fit the simple joy the brand is all about. Instead of, “BRING IT HOME, BRING IT HOME… screaming at you on these store shelves, I wrote, “pick me (1st shelf), pick me (2nd shelf), take me (3rd shelf), try me (4th shelf),” and for the bottom shelf, “don’t forget me.” There’s a lot that more than that that goes into a brand identity but, in the end, we just had to seduce people and make them smile. That’s it. We did, and we brought home the highest prize at Cannes for it, the Grand Prix Lion.

So what does this have to do with Microsoft? Satya recently said, “Table-pounding bravado is out; good-natured curiosity is in. The floorboards of old business models are being pried apart. There’s less talk about seizing billion-dollar opportunities or hitting financial targets and more emphasis on investing profits to win hordes of new users.”
This sentiment perfectly illustrates that we need to attract people, not force them into ‘liking’ us. Imagine if you tried to seduce a date by yelling at them. You probably wouldn’t get many dates. And neither can our marketing and sales people get the equivalent of consumer dates with that kind of marketing. We don’t just want to buy; we want to buy into. We don’t just want facts; we want emotion. We don’t just consume; we live. And that brings up an old human truth; we don’t live for facts and figures, we live for experiences.

In the human era, branding is no longer about conquering; we have to learn how to seduce.