The importance of emotion, what “engagement” actually means, and why brands need to stop shouting and get out of the way.

From Think With Google:

This series explores the impact of digital on how brands are built today. In this installment, brand expert Gareth Kay is Chief Strategy Officer at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners talks about the importance of emotion, what “engagement” actually means, and why brands need to stop shouting and get out of the way.

Think with Google: What are the fundamentals of brand building? Have they been changed by technology?

Gareth Kay: One thing that holds true is the importance of storytelling — it has worked since the Stone Age. How stories are told has changed with culture, though, and technology has shaped emerging culture and behavior very dramatically over the last 10 – 20 years. Most obviously, to quote Charles Vallance, we’ve moved from a download culture to an upload culture. As a result, old ways of storytelling are less relevant. Brands and communications used to be built on the consumption of a message and interruption; they were massive firework displays. Today, the conversation around brands is much more participatory. One thing that’s changed, and should be of concern, is that people see brands as less important and meaningful now. The Havas Media Lab published some research that suggested most people wouldn’t care if 70% of brands disappeared. Brands need to create real value in order to be meaningful and distinct. That means we have to think less about what our brand says and more about how a brand can be useful and helpful.

TwG: We talk about organizations giving up control over their brands to consumers and the communities around them. But brands also need to know what they stand for, to have a core set of values, to be consistent and clear in their communications. Aren’t these opposing forces? How do you strike a balance?

GK: I don’t actually believe that consumers want to own brands any more than corporations want to give them to them. But I do think consumers want to participate as we live in a culture characterized by participation, interaction and dialogue rather than the “send to be received”, one-way monologue that has characterized so many companies and their brands over the last century or so. This means a couple of things.

First, you have to a point of view on the world that is bigger than your category. Be interested in what people are interested in. Compete for their attention on their terms, not on yours. Build a bridge between what they are interested in and what you are good at (e.g. Dove, IKEA, Method, Target, Virgin, Tate Modern, etc.). This isn’t revolutionary, it’s simply the natural conclusion of marketing being about putting the customer first.

Second, it means you need to design for gaps to allow participation. This means doing stuff like Dell Ideastorm where you build platforms for co-creation. But it’s also true for communication. Levi’s did this brilliantly with some of their Go Forth activation and the new Nike soccer spot is a brilliant advertising example.

TwG: What do you mean by “design for gaps”?

GK: It means creating communication that is less finite and complete. Build some gaps to allow for, and encourage, participation. And when it comes to communications, it’s not about shouting, but about inviting you into a story.

But it also means something more fundamental: Thinking about how you can create value through being more invisible and frictionless, rather than shouting for attention. When you think about things you engage with and love, whether it’s a piece of technology or even the service in a restaurant, the best ones are the ones that get out of the way. They are not obtrusive — the more invisible, the more powerful. We have to start thinking about how to do stuff for people that gets out of the way and is more for them than about us. This is a fundamental change in culture that many brands haven’t latched onto yet.

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