Great brands unearth

English: Howard Carter (kneeling), an Egyptian...

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In his recent post on imputing, Tom Asacker used a single word that for me clinched the mystery and the power of great marketing, and explained why so much money is spent on communication that just inspires a change of channel.

That word: unearth.

Unearthing is about discovering. It’s about seeing for the first time something that has been hidden for a very long time. It’s about revelation. It’s about something that inspires.

Great brands release emotions that people are not asked to feel most of the time. They uncover the irrational drivers that impel busy, pressed, distracted human beings to stop doing nothing or something else and instead make the time to take an action.

Because that action is worth it to them. And it’s worth that time because it feels worth that amount of time.

Most brands don’t work that hard to win our time. They are unsurprising, uninspiring, unprovoking. They unearth nothing. On the contrary, they monotonously state the obvious. They go over and over and over the same old ground. And in the process, they dig themselves into a hole that sees you, me and everyone else turning the page, changing the channel, looking away. Bored, frustrated, interrupted. Just wanting them to go away.

Tom Asacker suggests that “most brands haven’t a clue about how people actually feel, think and act.” He’s right of course. But I’m even more disturbed by the reasons why. You see, I think many marketers have lost the quintessential trait that should single them out from every other aspect of corporate function: a deep understanding of, and love for, people and the primal emotions that fundamentally motivate them.

They lean so heavily on research and focus groups and in the process, marketers have forgotten how to observe. Or more particularly, to perceive what is really going on. They can’t detect what moves people. Or motivates them. Or stirs them. Beyond the obvious.

The same obvious that everyone else sees. The same obvious that everyone relies on.

And because they have lost those traits, they do not trust their instincts. They cannot speculate. The need to explain and rationalise and prove and justify has killed their ability to divine – to find what moves people as people to the very core of their being. They struggle to find the unexpected value and the unexpected truth that separate likeable brands from also-brands.

And because they can’t do that, they cover their tracks with data, run another highly predictable, highly analysed, deeply comfortable campaign and hope somehow that it gets them the breakthrough and the results they crave.

According to Howard Carter’s diary, on the day that the tomb of Tutankhamun was finally revealed to the modern world, Carter peered into the darkness through a hole in the doorway, his eyes straining to make out shapes, a candle his only light.

“Can you see anything?”, Lord Carnarvon asked.

“Yes,” replied Carter, “it is wonderful.”

Most of us, sadly, will never get to feel what those explorers felt on that extraordinary day. But let me ask you this. When was the last time you unearthed a brand that provided even a tincture of amazement? In a world swimming in ads and noise, discovering such brands might indeed be as rare an encounter as an intact Pharoah’s tomb.

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