The Plumber for Female Republicans with Kids in the North Dallas Area
I want you to think about why you clicked this link. It's going to prove a point.
I read. A lot. Before it was my job to sift through and write news daily, I would read constantly. Novels as kid and throughout my education, but as I grew, my reading material shrank. Tomes 400-pages thick were replaced by short story compilations, which gave way to magazine articles, and they in turn were replaced by rapidly shrinking news briefs. It's almost as if, as I became older, my attention span shrank. That's not how it's supposed to work, is it? Isn't that interesting?
That paradox, that dichotomy between what is expected and what is, is interesting. It creates interest because it is not superficial. It is something to think about because you have to think about it, because it cannot be understood at a glance. If I said my attention span increased with age, you wouldn't think about it because it's expected. But when presented with something you do not expect, it sticks with you. You want to understand it. You need the conflict resolved. You click the link titled "The Plumber for Female Republicans with Kids in the North Dallas Area" because you have to know what it means.
That phrase was taken from an article in Forbes, The Paradoxical Secret of Obsession-Worthy Branding. Author Michael Ellsberg, despite looking like an evil Patrick Dempsey, has written a thought-provoking article on the subject of marketing and branding that is very worth your time. The crux of his argument is that all truly good branding is the result of creating a paradox that causes the audience to stop, think, ponder and, ultimately, remember. The idea is that taking a name or phrase that is known, then making it unknown, can make it stick.
Kind of like "evil Patrick Dempsey." When you read that, did you picture it? Or, as Lewis Black once said in a famous bit, "If it weren't for that horse, I wouldn't have spent that year in college." When you hear that, you can't help but think, "What?!"
I enjoyed the entire article, but what is really worth your time is the second half of the piece, where he discusses how these concepts work with business. "For the purpose of this article, I'd like to distinguish between two types of businesses," Ellsberg writes, "those that solve a problem, vs. those that create an experience." He continues:
The vast majority of books on branding out there are focused on businesses that solve a problem, because that's what most businesses are focused.
In these books, you'll read about how the secret to great branding is to be extremely clear who your customer is, and what problem you're solving for them, all clearly articulated in a focused Unique Selling Proposition. These books advise you to pick the most focused, segmented niche possible. (Don't just be a plumber. . .Be "The Plumber for Female Republicans with Kids in the North Dallas Area" etc.)
If your business is focused on solving a problem, this is all great advice. However, useful as it may be for most businesses, this type of branding advice overlooks a second type of business, for which it is completely useless: businesses or individuals which are focused primarily on providing an experience.
For such people and businesses, all the talk about niches and USPs must go out the window. Instead we should be playing in the land of mystery, intrigue, creative tension, and human paradox discussed at the beginning of the article.
You've heard that before. It's one of the sea changes that's been sweeping over our industry for years now. The phrase "salesperson" gave way to "solutions provider" to better describe what a promotional consultant actually does. Now, with clients demanding more in terms of marketing campaigns and online interactions, the ability to provide an experience is becoming a requirement.
Ellsberg applies this concept primarily to large corporations and celebrities, but the idea of selling an experience rather than a solution is a lesson we can all learn from. As he points out, Madonna wasn't born Madonna (well, technically, she was), but by contrasting a holy name and sultry image, she emerged fully formed as singular celebrity and rode that to international superstardom. She wasn't solving anything, but she sure made an experience that's lasted 30 years.
Give the article a read, and think about how you can use the concepts Ellsberg presents when you are pitching your next campaign to a client. I'd love to hear what you come up with. Hopefully it's better than something about a plumber deep in the heart of Texas.