Many of you know Tom from his book A Clear Eye for Branding, but now he’s back for round two and demanding a little less talk and a lot more action. With his newest release, “A Little Less Conversation,” Tom Asacker skips the typical branding jargon, formulas and hyped-spin and instead cuts to the heart of creating a brand that “attracts customers, engages, and delights them.”
I had a chance to pick Tom’s brain a bit on the new book. Enjoy!
Q: Why the title, “A Little Less Conversation?” I thought the age of web 2.0 is all about conversation.
Tom: Web 2.0 may be about conversation, but this age is about what every age has always been about: people, and their hopes, dreams, and desires.
The title is a play on the Elvis Presley song of the same name. Remember the lyrics?
“A little less conversation, a little more action please. All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me.
A little more bite and a little less bark. A little less fight and a little more spark. Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me. Satisfy me baby.”
Again, Web 2.0 may be primarily about conversations, connections, and participation. But succeeding in business is about opening up your heart and helping to improve people’s lives by providing relevant and meaningful products, services, and experiences.
Q: What’s different about today’s brands, and how is their role changing?
Tom: For people living in a post-modern industrialized world, brands are more than mere functional “solutions to problems.” The rational man, utilitarian view of marketplace offerings is defunct. Today, the brands people choose are also reflections of their sense of self and self worth. Yes, people want the brands they choose to be reliable and fair. And yes, they want to save time and save money. But they also want the brands they choose to look good, be good, and do good. They’re constantly reexamining and remixing their brand choices to find the very best “value” in the marketplace; value which causes them to feel the way they want to feel about themselves and their decisions. Those organizations that viscerally understand this will succeed and thrive. Those that don’t will die a slow death; or perhaps a quick one given the new macroeconomic realities of the foreseeable future.
Q: You challenge the traditional AIDA (awareness, information, desire and action) model of decision making. How does the decision making process really work?
Tom: Think about the upcoming elections. In the AIDA model, voters would become aware of a candidate; seek out as much information as possible; consider the positives and negatives, which would then make one candidate more desirable than the other; and then vote for that particular candidate. Instead, what do people really do? They become aware of the candidates; learn the candidates’ stands on the issues that matter most to them (and/or listen to their rhetoric and watch their mannerisms); seek out information to reinforce their desire for the candidate that best reflects their personality and views; and rationalize their selections. It works the very same way with other decisions. We use information to reinforce our instinctual desires; especially in a marketplace where we have come to expect a certain level of features, quality, pricing, and delivery.
Q: In the book you described five trends that have changed the playing field for brands. What are they?
Tom: Too many brands to deal with; too much information for people to process, most of which is conflicting; customers are no longer passive consumers of marketing, they’re savvy and skeptical discerners; the Internet has enabled radical transparency and message amplification; and, people simply don’t trust businesses or the people who run them.
Q: Of those five trends, which would you say is the least understood by marketers?
Tom: It’s not any particular trend that trips up most marketers. It’s the effect that the combination of trends has on customers’ mindsets and decision-making processes. I don’t think marketers understand how customers are truly feeling today, nor how they rapidly intuit marketplace value. In fact, I’m sure that most don’t.
Q: As the branding landscape continues to change, many brands are struggling to grow globally but still be able to connect with customers locally. How can brands be both global and local?
Tom: If they’re struggling to grow globally, then they’re not doing a good job locally. Growth is an outcome of how well brands do connecting to meaningful cultural insights. Connect locally and you will grow globally.
Q: What does a consumer’s view of self have to do with the brands they choose?
Tom: Everything. Every decision we make is a reflection of how smart we think we are; or how cool, special, caring, funny, “in the know,” etc. Show me a brand choice that doesn’t consciously, or subconsciously, reflect on people’s sense of belonging or sense of self and I’ll show you a slow growth, low profit offering. Think about it: the people that chose to read this particular post, rather than one of the other, say, 990 on the Alltop marketing aggregation, did so for a reason. And that reason is what matters to them, and should matter to you.
Q: What part do social connections play in view of self and in the decision making process?
Tom: We’re social beings. Our constantly morphing definition of who we are and what we believe⎯and the decisions we make to reinforce those evolving definitions⎯are influenced by our many cultural experiences; what we watch, what we read, where we work, where we worship, who we associate with, what people in our various subcultures wear, say, go and do. It’s the material we use to guide our decision-making, and to shape our sense of self.
Q: You write that, “marketers are obsessed with words” and that they, “believe that they are in the communication and persuasion business.” Are you saying that brands shouldn’t worry about what they say?
Tom: To the contrary. I’m saying that marketers need to understand what value they’re trying to deliver through their use of words. It should be strategic and other-focused. Instead of trying to influence and persuade, marketers should be trying to connect. Do you see the difference? Here’s a telling example. Framingham State College in Massachusetts recently sent alumni a letter asking for “your support,” and gave the following rationale: “Blah, blah, blah, blah. . . .” Nearly 40 engaged alumni responded with a donation.
Q: What should marketers be focused on?
Tom: The one thing that truly matters: people’s feelings. The goal of any organization, of any brand, is to create customers (or clients, users, members, donors, fans, subscribers, etc.), and you accomplish that goal by continually innovating to add value to their lives. To make them feel happy, about themselves, their lives, their associations, and their decisions. Everything the organization invests in, and works on, should be laser focused to that end.