“It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling.” -- Linds Redding
The advertising industry is in a state of existential crisis, thanks to technology; analytics; migrating, fickle and/or distracted eyeballs; Netflix and other on-demand services; piracy; privacy; attribution; the decline of print as a medium; stagnating television audience numbers; and the fact that we can finally start to understand which 50% of our ad spend is wasted.
And even though the television ad industry is still going strong, any forward-looking strategist will be contemplating how all of those factors will cause the landscape to shift.
Fans of the most excellent “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and Steve Porras will recall the injunction to preserve the core while stimulating progress. It should be no surprise, then, that the starting point for any long-term strategic thinking is to understand the core as deeply as possible. Why are we here? What is our contribution? What is the essence of who we are -- as people, as a team, as an organization?
Until we go back to first principles and question our assumptions, we have no foundation from which to evolve. This is what the advertising industry needs to do -- because there is a chance, just a chance, that we have forgotten what it is all about.
Branding, for example, is not about convincing people to like you more. It is about communicating who you truly are, what you truly care about, what you believe and what drives you.
Marketing is not about selling more. It is about finding those people who resonate deeply with your brand and forging a joyful connection with them. It is about a meeting of the minds, the hearts, and, then and only then, the wallets.
Advertising is not about convincing people to buy stuff they don’t need. It is about helping people who are likely to resonate with you to become aware of your existence and be reminded of who you really are.
Communication is not about you getting your point across. Communication is a dynamic relationship between or among people, sharing information with and listening to each other. Communication is contextual; it depends on both speakers and listeners, their values, their filters, their worldviews, their levels of empathy.
None of these things is a one-way street. They are not about a company sitting at the center of the universe exporting first its ads and then its goods to the gullible consumers orbiting it. They are about a cultural partnership, where an organization says, “This is who we are -- were you looking for us?” and a person says, “Yes! You are exactly what I need!”
The wonderful Hugh MacLeod talks about the internal conversation and the external conversation, and about the need for those two things to be aligned, and about the fact that blogging or social media is a way to poke holes in the membrane that divides the two so that it is easier to bring them into sync. “The big play in corporate blogging,” he says, “is not eyeballs, it’s ALIGNMENT and CULTURE. Alignment precedes eyeballs, not the other way around. Meditate on this.”
Remember why you are here. It is not to convince people to buy your stuff at any cost. It is to do something worthwhile, something that is aligned with your customers’ idea of themselves. And that’s the truth.