If Frank Lloyd Wright Was a Marketer
“Law and order are the basis of a finished grace and beauty. “Beauty” is the expression of fundamental condition in line, form and color true to those condition and seeming to exist to fulfill them according to some thoughtful original design.”
There is a lot we as marketers can borrow from the way FLW viewed the making of things, and, more specifically, how we view ourselves – the makers of things.
The creator, if they are worth their salt, subtracts themselves from the equations, creating a situation in which the thing and the user of the thing to interact in harmony.
FLW had a strong affinity with three things: beauty, harmony and nature. Beauty is the end goal. The beauty of sight and aesthetics, yes, but also the beauty that consumes, that makes one feel, experience, smell and taste. This is a beauty that one sees because it is a reflection of themselves – the user of the thing, not the creator. The better the creator, the better they are at subtracting themselves from the equation, creating a situation in which the thing and the user of the thing can interact in untethered harmony. When creators of things achieve this, is when we call them artists.
Harmony is the guiding force for the artist. Harmony connects the nature of a thing to the nature of a person through beauty.
Today, if FLW was (1) alive and (2) shifted his architectural perspective to see the world through the eyes of a content marketer, I think he’d see things very similarly, and maybe have an even greater sense of urgency for the rising up of the artist.
“To find inorganic things of no truth of relation beautiful is but to demonstrate the lack of beauty in oneself and one’s unfitness for any office in administering the beautiful.”
The reason I’m digging into FLW is not because studying him is going to give us some hidden strategy that will drastically change what we do. No, but it can drastically change how we do those things.
For instance, art does not start with creating. Creating is the development of something new. For that something new to be beautiful, it must have clear roots of natural harmony stemming from all the things that it touches. So before anything is created, we must first start with uncovering the true nature of the materials involved.
“But before all should come study of the nature of materials, the nature of the tools and process at command and the Nature – with capital N – of the things they are called upon to do.”
Though FLW worked with a different sent of materials than the modern digital marketer, our ends are the same – the beautiful. And just like FLW, we need to become masters of our materials.
So what then are our materials as marketers?
FLW’s work was done in service of the future inhabitant of a structure. - a person. We work for the future engager of our content – a person. We fall into what FLW would call the “inorganic” when we create campaigns for a “user” without taking into account the nature of that user – the mother, son, co-worker, sleep deprived, thrill seeker, binge-watching, shy, outgoing, 46 chromosomed human being experiencing what we are to make. It's hard to see the person at the other end of our content through all the aggregate data we have at our fingertips today. But we must learn to create for the one, not the many.
The Attention Span & The Nature of Attention
In what capacity is someone choosing to engage with you? Are they watching one of your videos, reading one of your white papers, scrolling by one of your Instagram posts? Content cannot ask more from a user than that user is willing to give. For email newsletters, the current duration of attention we are granted is 11.1 seconds (there's a bunch of different thoughts on this but let's just go with this one). So we have two ways to go about organically creating something for the inbox.
- We create a newsletter mailing that is completely consumable in those 11.1 seconds
- We create a content experience that expands the attention span with information the reader was actually looking for anyways. This gives you more time with your reader, and your reader less time having to deal with an interruption
We cannot create content without first considering the intent of our people on the channel on which they will engage with it.
FLW designed structures with the inhabitant’s purpose in mind. Was it to be a family home, a collaborative business center, a vacation retreat? A proper building cannot be designed in isolation of the intentions of those who will live in it. Similarly, we cannot create content without first considering the intent of our people on the channel on which they will engage with it. Are you building a community on Facebook. Well then, make people feel or be felt. Make them happy, make them sad. Are you sharing a video? Make sure it’s transcribed and watchable without the sound on because video is no longer audio dependent, or even audio preferred. We are watching things in line at the DMV, in our work bathrooms, in the movie theater while we’re watching something else.
The Long Tail
As an architect FLW worked for a commission. That was his sale. Once a client signed, the relationship of trust was started and nurtured.
“Because he is entrusted with his client’s interests in matters of which, more frequently than not, his client is wholly ignorant. Therefore a “commission” becomes a trust to the architect. Any architect is bound to educate his client to the extent of his true skill and capacity in what he as a true advisor believes fundamentally right in the circumstances.”
All of the trust building and education that came after a commission for FLW, must come first in marketing. In marketing, our sales, form fills, conversions only happen after a relationship of trust is developed and nurtured. One tweet, video, blog post, YouTube ad, is not going to move someone through your funnel. It takes a consistent series of touch points over time and across channels that promises trust and then delivers on that trust time and time again. This is done not by convincing someone to buy your product, but by convincing them your brand wants to make their life better. And at some point in that relationship, buying your product is going to make their life better. And then your product better deliver on the final promise or there is no use marketing it in the first place.
The Social Ripple
Digital marketing as opposed to traditional advertising is not about just telling and selling at someone. It’s about telling a story through someone. The best-crafted story turns everyone who hears it into a new teller of that story, or a new character in it. Digital content takes into consideration context as well as connection. So we shouldn’t ask: “How do we make a story relatable to a users?” but rather: “How do we make a story ownable?” This empowers people to propagate that story organically, adding all the tailored touches it needs for their people.
Digital content needs to have a ripple effect or else it just sinks.
As digital marketers, small business owners, storytellers, we must be aware of all the things that go into what we make. We must understand those things, become masters of them. And then we must use them as avenues to our audiences through which we both arrive at destinations that are beautiful to all involved.
“In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing its furnishing another and its setting and environment still another. The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing. All are to be studiously foreseen and provided for in the nature of the structure."