Advertising on my Mind

Given that yesterday was the SuperBowl, it seems timely that I should be writing a piece of my take on this conundrum called advertising.

As a consumer, Advertising is a drug. It catches you, as a toddler, when while you’re taking your first walking steps, you master jingles. When by the time you’ve entered kindergarten, you have logos tattooed on my minds to the extent that you can recognize the golden arches before you learn your alphabet, and you start equating the tick-mark to a popular shoe brand before you learn that it technically stands for ‘correct’. And then when you’re slightly older, you know taglines, brand icons and commercials by heart.

Yet, does advertising make you a buyer of the product? I’d say you buy into the story, and the brand, under the guise of which is cleverly enclosed some kind of product. Starbucks, not coffee. Tide, not detergent. Coca-cola, not soda.

So then, does advertising become selling, or does it become storytelling?

Now from the perspective of a marketing student, and not only a consumer. In my eyes, a happy marriage of the two. Storytelling with an intention to sell. A union of creativity and commerce. And added to that, in today’s context, purpose. For a millennial centric audience is no longer satisfied with a product that solves pain-points, and a brand that has a strong narrative. They’re also demanding one that chooses, adopts and safeguards regularly, values and principles that define its identity. A.k.a., brands that care.

Breaking it down further, I’d say that successful advertising comprises of three components – Heart, Mind and Wallet. Appealing to the Heart (we’re humans after all), Convincing the Mind (that the product you’re selling them is going to be more valuable than the money they’re going to spend on it), and impacting the Wallet (in favor of the brand of course!). And each of these, in my opinion, form the three parts of the triangle you might call advertising. Each as important and non-negotiable as the other.

I remember a professor of mine at grad school, explaining to us that advertising may be a ‘creative effort’, yet creativity is the process, not the means to an end. ‘We may be creative people, but we’re here to sell.” Creativity-on-demand, that’s what he would call advertising. And I think in my own way, I would, too. Solving business problems with creative thinking. Or using Creativity to solve business problems. The same expression flipped in two ways.

What then essentially sells, in advertising? I’d say a great story that combines emotion and fact, yet one that leads to a superior product. And these are opposite end of the same spectrum. Simply put, your customer might buy into the story, yet if the product is inferior, she’s not coming back again. And on the other hand, you might have a great product, but if you’re not making an effort to break through the clutter by communicating your story well, chances are your product is never getting discovered amidst all the others on the shelf (or in that desktop/tablet/app window if we’re talking e-commerce).

As a consumer, and as a marketer, if I had to conclude here, I’d say advertising isn’t a definition that be universally coined and carved in stone. The overall core idea may be similar (people selling to people). Yet the term itself can mean many things.  An artistic effort with a purpose. A duping mechanism. Yet, an unnecessary evil. Call it what you may, but advertising in itself, I know is here to stay.

Focus on voice, the brand will follow

Focus on your personal brand, says every article related to any aspect of career change, or job hunt. Think about what makes you unique. Justify how what you’ve done so far demonstrates what your personal brand is. 

And as a marketing student, I must take even more attention here. On building, displaying and marketing myself as a successful ‘brand’. For the caveat is that I can’t sell products, when I can’t sell myself.

Yet, to an extent, my personal instinct on this is that we’ve started focusing so much on what we want to be seen as, that we’ve almost forgotten who we actually are. Being a personal brand is fine when the amount of dissonance (the difference between what you are and what you think you are) is almost negligible. But when you’re thinking brand first, you’re almost putting yourself at the risk of being individual second. When the only agenda of your brand is to drive your audience’s perception of yourself in a certain manner, I believe we’re putting our authenticity at risk.

To me, this article by Sheryl Sandberg perfectly sums up the solution to the problem at hand. Focus on being a voice, not a brand.

There are innumerable definitions of what the term brand implies . Some say its what they talk about your when you’re not in the room. Some say its a set of associations. Some even go on to call it a ‘promise kept’. And  I understand that the idea synthesis of people being brands comes from the ideology that as people, we too have tangible and intangible values attached to us. And these are what drive our equity, and define our uniqueness when we’re pitching ourselves amongst a crowd of people who are similar to us in terms of academic and/or professional background.

But then, we’re people, we’re not objects. Or products. Objects don’t speak for themselves. Marketers give those products  their persona through a combination of marketing activities, strategies and messaging. But as people, we are our own personas. Our activities, and actions  demonstrate who we are. Even if we walk around with labels proclaiming us to be practitioners, evangelists and thought leaders on certain subjects. Paradoxically , what we do in the real world is who we are, not what we say we do. Because your audience is a co-owner of your brand. Your audience’s perception of you is what drives their opinion of you. Hence my personal thought is that we as living, breathing, walking-talking individuals need to be more than ‘brands’.

As individuals, what makes us different, is our own unique set of idiosyncraties, backgrounds and ‘secret sauce’ that we bring to the party. We’re all passionate about something. Or some things. And they are what makes us more ‘us’. And I personally am a big believer in the fact that everything you do has an impact on teaching you skills that can impact you personal or professional life. For instance, if like me, you’re very passionate about writing, I believe it allows you to be a better communicator at work. If you’re a sports player, it teaches you team spirit. And these are critical skills that no degree can ever teach you enough.  And these make up your individualistic, independent voice. What I also believe is that it is totally fine to let these passions evolve over time, what’s not okay is faking it.

When you’re passionate about something, it shows. When you show you’re passionate about something, that shows too. Think inside out. Begin with some deep rooted thinking inside yourself. Choose what are the things you’re going to put your time, resources and energy into, and don’t be afraid to talk about them. Make that your voice. And it is your voice, combined with other things that becomes your brand over time. Get your voice to align with your principles, values and mission. And the brand will automatically follow.

Why I became a marketer

Yes, I chose to become a marketer.

I became a marketer because I enjoy people. It fascinates me to think how people across race, ethnicities,cultures, communities, classes, genders and geographies feel, behave and react differently. Yet if you dig deep, you realize that human emotions are the same. Love, anger, joy and fear are felt by every single human being. And being able to address this similarity with dissimilitude is what I enjoy as a marketer.

I became a marketer, because I appreciate creativity. I firmly believe that there’s magic in picking up that boring can of soup and making it Andy Warhol-esque art, or in writing that jingle that in the years to come,will become an anthem, or in designing that logo which millions across the world will recognize immediately.

I became a marketer because I want to tell stories. Of real people, and their journeys, and challenges and experiences.

I became a marketer because I believe in the power of design. Great design speaks a million words. Whether its how something is packaged. Or presented. Or communicated.

I became a marketer because I believe nothing communicates like communication does. To people, by people, for people.

I became a marketer because strategy is my playground. Whether is planning channels of distribution, or customer segmentation, or media buying, I love integrating the strategic business element to my creative outlet.

I became a marketer because there’s Big Data, and loads of it. But my job doesn’t end at data collection, in fact, it begins at insight generation. When my real-time observations are backed by quantitative figures.

I became a marketer because I enjoy working with numbers. And tying them back to my strategic efforts.

I became a marketer because I want to harness the power of technology to create seamless, meaningful, interactive experiences for people.

I became a marketer, because I love it when people come back for more. And even more, when by sharing their experiences and stories, they become marketers themselves.

And all you thought I did, was sell products.

Book Review – The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Its been a while I read a book that elucidated human behavior in a manner that’s lucid and relatable.

As a marketer, its critical we understand human behavior, which isn’t just complicated and heterogeneous across demographics, societies and communities, but also anything but rational. And Gladwell, in his Tipping Point, takes the readers through a journey, where through citing specific real-life stories, he explains why certain groups of people behave the way they do. And how that impacts other people. He tries to insert logic into why certain incidents tend to leave more of an impact on you than others, and a marketing student, I found it interesting how this explanation of human behavior, and the people, environments and situations that have a long-lasting effect on them, shape their own thoughts and experiences, and how these insights can be understood from a business perspective.

Key takeaways from the book:

  1. Mavens, Connectors, Salesmen – The three groups of people, who mostly subconsciously, end up affecting masses.  And who can be very useful, particularly from a marketing context, for the purpose of effective communication. The mavens, the people who tend to be extraordinarily passionate about topics and subjects which to others may appear quite random (Coffee art, 3-D Printing, Stamp collection, anyone?), and aren’t unafraid to share their extensive, handpicked knowledge with anyone who’s willing to listen, making them thought leaders, or what in marketing jargon could be described as ‘influencers’. The connectors, exceptionally socially well-connected beings, who tend to know more people than most of us, and whose connections could be leveraged upon quite effectively, when you wish to reach masses quickly. And finally the salesmen, people whose superior communicative abilities make people sit up and notice when they try to convince you about something. And what’s incredible is how while you’re reading, you can think of several real-life examples from your own social circle of family and friends.

2. Power of Context – We normally tend to think of incidents and specific examples of people’s behavior as happening in isolation. But what Gladwell highlights here, is the criticality of the context in which it happens, which you cannot ignore, particularly in the event that you’re trying to analyze the reasons behind why it occurred. The one example that stands out in the mind, is one of the crime rate in the New York subway receding over time, correlating to removal of graffiti from the walls of the subway. Context is critical.

3. Law of the Few – Remember Pareto’s principle? Big changes happen due to small changes. And quite analogically, it takes few people, within the masses, to create big changes.

4. The ‘stickiness’ factor – Stickiness occurs when a message tends to resonate with people, and stay in their minds for a longer time than the multitude of  thoughts that affects them otherwise. And you know you’ve achieved communication nirvana when that happens. While at first glance, stickiness may come across as something that is accidental, or that only has a creative motivation, Gladwell argues that it’s equally strategic  with factors such as frequency and method of delivery having a crucial role to play.

Yay or Nay? If you’re looking for an insight into human, maybe specifically consumer behavior, from someone who explains it from a casual, personal, yet relatable perspective with examples that may not necessarily be universal and current, this is a great read. However, if you’d like something that has a more scientific, figure backed explanation, particularly touching more on how human behavior has evolved with the digitization of the globe, you could give this a pass.