Greg Johnson Digital native, brand builder.

In the world of modern brands, content really is king.

December 14, 2019 by gj

There’s nothing new about the idea that content is king. Bill Gates rather infamously published that thought in 1996, and it’s stuck around ever since. But for brands — this is more true now than ever. It starts with a rather unassuming premise:

None of your customers know what you do. And marketing at them isn’t helping your cause.

Look across the funnel to see where the flaws are. Brand marketing is focused on being a compelling part of culture. Performance marketing and demand generation is desperately questing for last-click attribution. And CRM is falling into the trap of being always on sale. Who has the responsibility for actually telling the world why you’re relevant and what you have to offer?

But it doesn’t have to be all bad. Done right, content is the jet fuel of modern marketing programming. But you have to think about it as programming rather than discrete activations. Having tonnage of materials out in market doesn’t actually make your brand thrive. You have to get more intentional than that, and start with the value our brand can provide.

It’s time to rethink the funnel, focused entirely around content.

The Content Marketing Institute published their ARC model for demand generation content, really focused on B2B asset creation. Their stat: “Visitors interact with your brand 6-8x on average before they become customers.” This is all entirely true, and we know it’s equally as true for B2C and DTC brands.

Through some work we did with Allstate back in the day, we realized that considered purchases unlocked an extra step in the funnel that no one was talking about — the need for validation. Customers would go happily about their business at the top of the funnel, make their way into consideration and then get struck by doubt and. Just. Stop. They’d hop offline, reach out to friends or family members to get additional perspective. They didn’t have enough information at hand to make a decision they could stick with, and that’s really the brand’s fault. You’ve got your customer engaged. Are you helping them create the confidence of choice?

Introducing the marketing engine.

Doubts exist for all types of businesses. Anything that’s not just an impulse purchase requires more nurturing to get to a commitment. So build your content to service distinct consumers at distinct stages — and make sure to add subsequent value to keep them engaged after the fact.

Each activation the brand offers — which could be advertising, could be an event, could be an offer — should be tied to a distinct landing page that closes the loop for the consumer. But as long as that consumer is properly tracked and handled, you’ve now got a platform for re-engagement on the consumer’s terms. You have the tools now to create long-standing value.

At Stitch Fix, one of the goals of this approach was to bring distinct value to discrete client segments. Having a framework for what mattered most helped us build programming and an architecture for client onboarding that met each prospect where they were in their own journey…and provided relevant value at each stage of the funnel.

You can’t provide meaningful value unless you’re sharing a story.

Let’s be honest: stories are how we understand the world. And for any considered purchase, understanding is key to commitment. This is far beyond “what the brief is asking for” and instead deeply tied to what the human on the other end of the connection needs. Focus there or the rest of this architecture is irrelevant and you’ll lose the opportunity to build that brand connection. Tell great stories. Make great connections. But root them all in human truths and empathy revolving around the specific user you’re chasing. Don’t fall into the trap of one-size-fits-all mass marketing, because in the modern era your job is to be relevant. And relevance is deeply personal.

An assessment of two identities

January 24, 2013 by gj

I loved the Avengers. Joss Whedon was able to capture the spirit of everything I remembered and made it great today. It’s like, well…it’s rough, isn’t it? He just got it. And it’s in this family of films Marvel Studios has brought out of the last few years that are just consistently very good to downright great. They’re on a roll.

So I was watching the movie again the other day, and what struck me most happened before the movie even started really rolling. The Marvel Studios intro identity starts playing.

Marvel Studios Identity

Marvel Studios Identity

It’s the flip roll we’ve all come to expect. It’s their legacy, their history. It’s the visual summation of the moments that make up the pattern of their brand. The energy builds, and the wordmark comes to life. Marvel, quite simply, is the sum of their experiences.

They get the idea of the pattern of the brand and they’re capitalizing on it. They’re changing and evolving from a world of paper and moire patterns into a world of 2.4/1 aspect ratios and motion-first thinking, but not giving up what makes them special or unique. As I’ve said here a number of times, your brand is the sum of all of the experiences you’ve created…whether you’ve intended to create them or not. Customer service, product experiences, targeted marketing — all of these add to the signal received by your customers on what you really stand for. Marvel took the approach with their identity of simply being. It feels like Stan Lee opening his arms wide saying “we’re everything you’ve always known and more.” So smart. And it just adds to my belief that they really just know who they are right now. The executives driving the creative know the pattern of the brand and intentionally know how to push it further. Identity, as you would expect, is the signal of something more than just the visual tag.

Now, let’s compare this against it’s major publishing competitor…whose new identity just sucks.

DC. Yeah, me too.

DC. Yeah, me too.

I’ve been looking for a reason to speak publicly about my disdain for the new DC identity for a while, and this is just a great springboard. You see, DC threw away everything they’ve been for fifty years to create an identity that’s aloof, overdesigned and out of place with the content. But my point isn’t aesthetic. Landor just created an identity that’s not borne of the pattern of their brand.

Let me explain.

The problem with the DC logo is that it doesn’t actually convey anything. The page curl is inherently skeuomorphic (meh), and the letters D and C are the least meaningful symbolic artifacts of what they are or do. The aspect ratio is built to do very little with other than tuck it up in the upper left hand corner where logos traditionally go to die.

But then, they have this idea of adaptation. You can can read more about it over at DesignWeek. Now, being a part of the story that’s being told? Very modern. Absolutely with you. But you have to be something to be a part of the story that’s being told as well. The DC identity is reductionist to the point of being a blank slate (as Chris Claremont like to say, a tabula rasa).  And, as such, dressing up to match a bit of everything DC does actually just reinforces that DC doesn’t stand for anything. There’s nothing additive about it. In fact, there’s nothing there of any character at all. It rips the soul out of DC.

Does this all mean that I don’t want to see Man of Steel, or don’t have an interest in whether or not the Batman movies will continue on? No, not really. But it does certainly mean that I don’t trust DC to know how to bring a coherently exceptional experience to the screen. And that we’re likely rushing headfirst into a range of movies they’re in production with that will likely either be soup de jour or of rambling quality. Green Lantern was crap. The last couple of Superman movies have done their very best to define mediocrity. The brand isn’t able to establish the foundation and springboard of a coherently excellent experience. You might argue — rightly — that the outcomes represent leadership qualities rather than those of the brand,but maybe my real point in this is that leadership creates the identity, and that identity is merely symbolized through the visualization process.

DC appears to be only in it for the buck. Marvel feels like they’ve got a series of stories to tell the world.
And that’s something you just get from how they express themselves.


Is Clear branded?

March 7, 2012 by gj

Why yes, it is.

Why yes, it is.

There’s a lot of talk about one of the cleanest, most sparse apps to show up on the App Store: Clear. FastCo Design did a write-up on it that caught my eye, and I dove in quickly. If you’ve not yet played with it, I’d suggest a download and a few moments to give it a whirl. It’s a relatively straightforward to-do manager with novel UI approaches that approximates a human interface. Small amounts of funging about and you’ve uncovered virtually every piece of functionality you’d need to go about keeping your life on track. It’s cool, it’s simple and it’s unique.

But the question on my mind is, is it branded? Sure, there’s no logo, but that’s not the litmus test anymore. We’ve moved to a stage where the mindless application of a logo – like some window cling meant to ring in a holiday – isn’t able to engender equity anymore. And while we’ve been very clear about bashing the old model, we’ve had very few successes to point to as references of the next wave of branding that’s coming. As for Clear, in my mind it passes a few criteria that make up a new brand:

It’s distinctively recognizable.

You see it, you know where it came from. Note, I don’t mean recognition or recall, which are the function of how much you’ve been able to get the word out. I mean more alignment of what’s shown to what’s understood to be unique.

What makes it distinct is in its relevance rather than its artifice.

Relevant distinction is the hardest attribute for most creative thinkers to wrap their heads around. We tend to think about the competition first, and about how we can stand out. The design team at Clear seems to think the way to do this is to make the app actually work.

And, ultimately, it is what it means to be

Clear is a lovely demonstration of show, don’t say. They didn’t resort to a pop-up window or splash screen shouting about how simple they are (you know the type, with the hard-to-find close button?). Instead, an auto-start tutorial is your first greeting to teach you the interface. Smart.

It’s sparseness works in its favor. The least amount of gibberish separating me from what I want to do. But at the same time, it’s reductionist approach isn’t about lowest-common denominator or rigid adherence to rules long gone by. It works because it’s the fewest amount of bits to carry out tasks exceptionally well and bring them to life in a delightful way. In the written word, we’d call this pithy. So kudos to the Clear design team for giving us a mental reference for pithy design.

Maybe the larger question is, what is the distinction between the pattern of a brand and a properly thought through design language? And is the best definition of the pattern of a brand that which acts as a filter and driver for how a brand looks, speaks and acts? If that’s true, then the answer to the first question is that Clear is unquestionably a brand. But there’s much more to think about as we look to uncork the distinction between language and logic as we move forward the idea of branding in the digital age.

Brands as Patterns

March 3, 2012 by gj

We’re getting set for our SXSW session. For information, see the schedule posting for Brands As Patterns. Apparently, we’ve been oversubscribed so we’re also on the docket for 9:30am (!) on Saturday. And Sunday, we’ll host a brunch and roundtable from 11a-1p at the Social Room at the W (200 Lavaca Street).

Marc’s been getting his Tumblr warmed up, and I’ve got a few thought-starters I’ll post up here by midweek. Robin’s promised to cover the LinkedIn route, so our outreach program is underway. Walter…up to you to cover off the rest of the internet. 🙂

Hope to see you there!