Are You Brand Facing?

Special to Blade by David A. Morris

In the constant disruption of the marketing landscape, the importance of being the face of your brand increases. As branding professionals, we can no longer graft ourselves to the groupthink of megabrands. If the IBM way, the Kodak way and even the GE way, have visibly gone away, how long before Google, Apple and others erode? Micro-businesses, upstarts, insurgents, and game-changers come from everywhere. What we thought we knew yesterday becomes obsolete the minute we know it. The metrics we once relied upon are brought into question by standards of measurement issued from endless multiples of digital and virtual platforms.

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and China’s wealthiest individual, is a current star of the business world. In this video from Bloomberg, Ma talks about ‘catching shrimp instead of whales’ as a secret of his success.

The Hollywood Reporter: Alibaba’s Jack Ma Attends Lakers Game With WME’s Ari Emanuel, Patrick Whitesell

Seeking the secrets of successful shrimping, Hollywood executives like William Morris Endeavour’s Ari Emanuel actively court Mr. Ma.

In case you missed it, WME has moved aggressively into the branding space, becoming a go-to group for companies who want to move the needle using Hollywood star power. But more significantly, WME is taking a stake in major events like Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

Vogue: New York Fashion Week’s New Name?

In conversation a few months ago with a long-time Hollywood agent, I learned that talent agencies now consider corporate branding and event sponsorships as a key revenue stream.

So if WME, once known as a ‘talent agency’, courts Alibaba whose e-commerce tentacles envelop global spend and mindshare, this is only one more piece of evidence that the 20th century definitions of marketing and branding are dead.

What does that mean for you, as a marketing and branding professional? It means big (and small) dogs keep getting bigger, they want to eat your lunch, and they will – unless you become ‘brand-facing’.

Brand-facing means you – not your agency, not your client – must now take ownership of each and everything you do as a professional. If you’re not creating value each day for yourself, you are losing value in the mind of your client.

Because your client is ready to consider, more than ever, that maybe they don’t need to spend that extra dollar having you tell them what they should do.

Because maybe, just maybe, they’ve hired a Gen Z genius who can do everything you and your agency do, with an app that Gen Z-er invented while multi-tasking on World of Warcraft, Angry Birds, Snapchat or who knows what.

Look around the mediaverse. There’s a perennial parade of brand gurus who all suggest they have the answer to optimizing your resources.

But the really, really, really smart people at the top of the pyramid know better. They know we are entering a new era where nobody really knows anything.

Forbes: Five Tips For Marketing To Generation Z

The boomers with disposable income are dying off, the credit-strapped baby boomers aren’t far behind, the Gen-Xers are mired in existential angst and the Gen-Yers are trying to figure why their parents are so clueless. Meanwhile, the buzz is all about Gen-Z.

Beneath all this surface noise, the marketing and branding professional can only look in the mirror and ask, “Okay, how do I keep my head while everyone around me is losing theirs and blaming it on me?”, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling.

Confessions of an Advertising Man
Confessions of an Advertising Man, 1963

The answer resides in ourselves. Our authenticity endures, even if fashions change. The great David Ogilvy, in his timeless book “Confessions Of An Advertising Man”, said he would never advertise a product he wouldn’t use himself.

If Mr. Ogilvy were with us today, he might very well be considering making himself a product. Instead of an advertising man, he might re-invent himself as a brand engineer. Or brand advocate. Or…

So if you’re a brand advocate, do you walk the walk? Is your face congruent with the face of the brands you represent? Is your unique value apparent to your clients and collaborators? If not, why not?

When it comes time for that annual review with your client, that’s the question they’ll be asking themselves. If they’re not asking that question, maybe you need to ask them. Or maybe you need to move on.

You are the face of the brand. You are the brand. Any questions?

David MorrisDavid A. Morris was born in Ottawa, Canada. He has been an international branding and media professional for the past three decades. Mr. Morris has worked with Fortune 50 companies, blue-chip brands, NGOs, cultural organizations and non-profit entities, in North America, Europe, Russia, Latin America and Asia. He has produced award-winning advertising campaigns, television commercials and short subjects.


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