I can’t remember when I first became fascinated with brands, but I know I was just a young child. Back then, Cheerios and Wheaties, Esso and Shell, Little Friskies cat food, Avis Rent-a-Car, were like cartoon characters to me. They had distinct personalities and I felt like I knew them, just like I knew the characters in my favorite shows.
From the brands I learned to love on TV to the more mature brands I later grew to love. The rock bands I worshipped. The threat and allure of Disco, Punk, New Wave and beyond. The religions I was pitched at school, in the streets and at my front door. My first credit cards from Citibank and American Express. Nike and Apple.
What art form gives you all the senses to work with? Sight. Sound. Smell. Hearing. Touch. And story, imagination and emotion too?
The dream began to form in me of building brands the way Picasso made paintings, the way Frank Lloyd Wright made buildings, the way Edison made inventions. Could I give thought to every touch point, and express a distinct and attractive personality that would remain consistent without ever being boring or trite?
I wanted to learn from the best, so I went to work for the best in the business. I chose as my clients entrepreneurial masters of brand building. I never thought of myself as the master, but only as student and servant. I practiced my craft obsessively. I stayed up nights writing. I read every book. I invited my heroes to lunch, always trying to learn a bit more, to add another key.
Yes, all of that time, I was a direct marketer. All of that time, I was measured by how well my work pulled, by beating controls, by winning tests, by conquering the A/B splits.
I learned all the tricks, but my greatest trick of all and the most effective was the ability to evoke emotion through brand. “A great brand idea is the ultimate response device,” I said. And I proved it repeatedly.
I’ve watched a lot of direct brands and careers die since then. Simultaneously, I’ve watched the great direct-led brands become the leading brands of our time. American Express, Apple, Amazon, Airbnb … and that’s just the A’s!
Remember, if you are in the business of selling directly, don’t merely sell. Build a rich, evocative, emotional brand. Use every touch point to differentiate. Err on the side of too much personality. Crush apathy. Make objectivity impossible.
Just as I do, so many wildly successful marketers remember their first journey of brand discovery as the true commencement of their marketing careers. They look back on that quest to uncover the insight that can change and organize everything going forward. The way they followed the data to the customer journey and came back with the golden insight, then mined that inspiring idea for all it was worth.
It’s a revolution in a brand, in a business and in a marketer’s career. In fact, many marketers have told me, “That’s when I first felt like a real marketer.”
Let’s do marketing for real. Let’s build a masterpiece.