If a brand falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
No! It didn’t happen. That event did not exist. And, more importantly, no one cares.
A BRAND IS NOTHING WITHOUT ITS PEOPLE
A company can exist without an audience. Products can exist without an audience. But a brand, a brand is nothing without its people. A brand is an agreement between a provider and a consumer. It’s an intangible, invisible emotional bond that is difficult to build and difficult to break. It’s familial almost. And if it’s not, it’s not a brand.
The goal of branding has remained the same since its inception, however the tactics through which we brand are ever changing. That is truer now than ever with our cadre of digital marketing tools that allow us to insert our brand stories whenever, wherever and however. But as the saying goes, just because we can doesn’t mean we should. A little strategic restraint can go a long way these days.
We are at a unique time in which the way we brand may actually undermine our ability to brand and more so, undermine the ability of we as people to be branded. That idea of being un-brandable may sound pretty good at first glance, but I’d argue the contrary. Brands mean something to us, and we mean something different to ourselves with our brands. We like to like the things we like and we like ourselves even better when in possession of those things we have given our approval. It’s not necessarily brands that we value, but ourselves for our ability to judge a brand as valuable.
This ability to like something – to be branded – is being threatened by the very techniques we are using to do our branding, specifically on digital. The cacophony of update dings, @ reply buzzes and pop-up ads have turned the attention spans of the tech savvy into, well, mush. And no matter how hard you try to engage with mush, there is little return.
So, if we, as those who are responsible for the healthfulness of brands, do not preserve the ability of individuals to be branded; if we overwhelm the consuming audience; if we break the buyer, we jeopardize not only our brand but the idea of brands as we know it.
DON'T LET YOUR BRAND GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR BRANDING. DON'T LET YOUR BRANDING KILL THE BRAND.
According to Microsoft’s consumer insights report on attention spans, the current attention span of multitasking humans (i.e., those folks encountering your brand messages online) is 8 seconds down from 12 seconds in 2000. That’s one second less than a goldfish. Now very few goldfish have been known to make their purchase decisions based on their historical interactions with companies and products that have left an indelible mark on their reputations in the aquarium. That’s why they do not often fall into many targeted demographics.
HOW DO WE EXPECT TO CREATE MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT WITH A SPECIES EVEN LESS ATTENTIVE THAN OUR FIRST PETS?
To accommodate the shrinking attention span, we have taught ourselves to condense our brand stories from a manifesto down into a headline, a tweet, a word. In doing so, we have been able to fit bits of our stories into the seconds of thoughts people have granted us, but in that we have also contributed to the reduction of those moments of caring.
As with all things, there has to be a point of no return. Just like novel readers became magazine readers; magazine readers became headline scanners; and headline scanners became people who try to surmise a story based on its cover image, so too brand loyalists will become commodity shoppers.
Now you do not need deep attention spans to sell, only to sell a brand since branded products or services come with an embedded story, history and some larger connection to the past and future. That’s why we love them, for now at least. So yeah, we should start to showing the attention span a little more love.
If you have read The Shallows by Nicolas Carr you have probably guessed that this muse has been inspired by his prose in which it states:
“What determines what we remember and what we forget? The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness. Storing explicit memories and, equally important, forming connections between them requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory. ‘For a memory to persist,’ writes Kandel, ‘the incoming information must be thoroughly and deeply processed. This is accomplished by attending to the information and associating it meaningfully and systematically with knowledge already well established in a memory.’ If we’re unable to attend to the information in our working memory, the information lasts only as long as the neurons that hold it maintain their electric charge –a few seconds at best. Then it’s gone, leaving little or no trace in the mind.”
Complete thoughts are necessary for the salvation of a brand story. If we fragment our story, we never fully stick a landing in the mind of our audience. Brands are solidified in the elongated moments of solidarity in a person’s mind where it alone sits with a person’s thoughts and is free to be associated with those connections that come to mind.
IF TWO BRANDS ARE IN A PERSON'S MIND AT THE SAME TIME, IT IS NOT TWO BRAND STORIES THAT ARE STRENGTHENED, BUT NEITHER.
What is your goal as a brand marketer? Is it to increase web traffic? Is it to increase likes? Is it to increase time on site? If you are truly sincere about developing a brand, the answer to all these questions is “no.” It is not the “like” that matters but what the like represents, and in many instances, that is not much. In many instances that like can be bought or forced. Brand loyalty cannot be forced. We are talking qualitative growth here and for qualitative growth to happen you need quality interactions with quality content by quality people.
So what does that look like? Well, it’s time to think like an end-user.
IT'S TIME TO THINK LIKE AN END-USER
As digital content consumers, we click, view, read, watch, dig, expand, close out, search and back-button all day long just to find something that justifies the time we just spent. We’ve all looked back at 30 minutes spent on the Internet with some guilt having nothing to show for a mindless float through a swell of URL waves without ever making it out past the surf.
BRANDS ARE BLACK HOLES ONLINE.
At the same time we have all found ourselves down a black hole of click-digging as we get completely consumed by a topic, a news story or a campaign that we have to learn everything about. Many times this starts with an accidental Wikipedia search or an inspirational video clip that unearths something nostalgic from our past. We don’t regret those black holes. We cherish them. We tell our friends about them over dinner. We are better for having them.
Brands are black holes online. They use a web of fully formed tactics to tell a page turning story that draws a person all the way from an auto-play video on Facebook down deep through a customized campaign portal that leaves a person not with regret of time wasted but with an experience.
It’s time to break away from the vanity engagements and once again learn how to captivate and inspire.
Vanity metrics lead to vanity brands. Vanity brands lead to vanity consumers. Vanity consumers lead to a vanity world. And in a vanity world every book is judged by its cover and no story ever gets read or even told for that matter. It’s time to value time and not be OK with our brands' ability to dissolve away attention but rather nurture its ability to grow into periods of time well spent.