Humans Aren’t Rational

By Jon Cohen

People will forget what you said … what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  — Maya Angelou

There a concept in economic and social studies called the rational actor theory. It suggests that, when confronted with a decision, people assess their options and then make the choice that is in their best self-interest. In economics, that self-interest is usually defined in terms of financial value or gain.

The rational actor theory allows us to build models to study human behavior. The only problem with the theory is that we humans are not rational actors. We place higher value on things that are hard to quantify – feeling safe, feeling inspired, feeling sexy.

It’s true that we do make some decisions based on rational criteria, in limited circumstances.  Those decisions tend to be rote, and they tend to take place in categories where providers have not invested much in helping consumers understand how they should feel about their choices.

The best thing your brand can do is give people a reason to believe. This requires you to abandon your marketing of highly imitable features and benefits – like product formulation, or delivery speed, or price promotions – and instead focus your communications on what your customer is announcing to the world when they choose you. Indeed, the only thing people pay a true premium for is how it makes them feel when they buy or use your product.

After all, we are not rational actors.


We are rationalizing actors.

Logos Shouldn’t Be Based On Personal Taste

By David Radcliff

We can agree it’s a bad idea to build a house by beginning at the roof and working downward.

And yet, countless entrepreneurs begin their brand strategy adventures by coming up with cool logos and catchy names. This isn’t so effective, either.

A company’s logo shouldn’t just take a backseat to the company’s philosophy—it should be thrown into the trunk until the brand strategy journey is complete. Why? Because a well-built brand is one that’s constructed on a strong foundation of research.

All aesthetic concerns must stem from that research and its findings.

So don’t even bust out the sketchpad before you’ve scoured the Earth for competitors who might already be doing and saying the things you plan to do and say.

Don’t go searching for colors and shapes before you’ve chatted with consumers in your field, interviewed stakeholders, dived deeply into competitors’ social media channels, and come to understand the lay of the land.

It all comes down to that simple principle you learned from your mother or grade school teachers: Listen before you speak.

The vast array of social media tools now at your disposal makes it easier than ever to listen to brands and audiences. Subscribe to competitors’ news blasts. Set up Google Alerts for any terms related to your field. Join the Facebook groups of every gaggle of like-minded folks in your category.

But keep your lips sealed until you’ve really figured out what to say and how to say it.

What good is a message that hasn’t been finely tuned for the audience it hopes to reach?

What good is a color scheme that might be off-putting to the target consumer, even as it is a personal favorite of the company’s CEO? Even the best of all businesses will flounder if consumers can’t find it, relate to it, and quickly recognize its value.

Effective brand strategy isn’t selling a product. It’s selling a feeling.

And by targeting that feeling towards exactly the right consumers at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way, your business won’t have to concern itself with selling much at all.

Because consumers will already recognize and feel comfortable with the language you speak.

Because it’s speaking directly to them.

Beginning your business venture with aesthetics that stem from your own tastes, and not from those of your targeted consumers, is a backwards approach to the process of branding.

In truth, there is no substitute for the time-consuming, painstaking, detail-focused gauntlet of research prior to design.

It may not be as easy or as fun as blue sky design thinking, but it’s sure to yield better results.

Think Twice Before You Market to Millennials

By Joseph Olender

Scroll through any business or advertising publication long enough and you’re bound to find an article likening Millennials to unicorns or some other mythical beast that defies the conventional nature of the universe.

What even is a Millennial… and how does one market to a said Millennial? How does one… employ a Millennial? Or tap into the complex spirit that these Millennials seem to want to live their lives with?

Well, thank you for caring, various publications, but you’re doing it all wrong.

It’s important to understand who you’re trying to communicate to. Millennials are not only the face-buried-in-their-phone teenage caricature that they’re made out to be. Not anymore at least. We’re not (all) narcissists who post selfies all day and worship Kardashians. We’re adults. We’ve graduated college. Some of us are married with kids. Some of us have mortgages. Some of us want to be able to host a barbecue in a home we own someday (but are fully aware that it’s a changing market, not an Avocado Toast addiction, that currently prevents us from being able to do so…).

Millennials now outnumber every other generation in the world, and while we may be the first to end up more financially insecure than the previous generation, we are going to inherit a record $30 trillion from Baby Boomers.

So, how can you better market and advertise to these Millennials, who we’ve been told are immune to marketing and advertising?

It’s quite simple, actually: don’t.

Don’t “get on social” and assume this alone will make you seem younger, hipper, and sexier to us silly kids with our silly phones. Don’t hire influencers to peddle your products and assume that will rack up the likes and translate into monumental sales.

Don’t do this. Or this. Or this… and definitely don’t do this.

Link……. Link

#Cringe, right?

Instead, stand for something and then follow through on that stance. Do what you say you will do. Be exactly who you say you are, and make sure that essence seeps through every communication, every visual, every post… and be proactive about it!

And this doesn’t necessarily mean simply “have good CSR” (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). This means communicating your authentic impact that goes beyond dollars and cents.

Put this way, communicating with Millennials is actually really, really simple… if you first know exactly who you are, and exactly why you matter.

This recent Fast Company piece outlines the power in understanding that the Millennial consumer desires to be so much more than just one side of a dollars-and-cents transaction. Rather, the Millennial is a value-seeker who wants to broadcast their purchase as a value-add to their own identity.

When we look at the brands performing well, many of them have a clear mission. Despite being only six years old, Honest Company’s stands for product transparency and healthy families have helped it to a No. 34 ranking for millennials (No. 84 for boomers), significantly above Pampers’ ranking for millennials of No. 76. This is a microcosm of a larger shift: Procter & Gamble’s largest global brand, generating sales of over $8 billion per year, being de-positioned by a millennial-focused brand with much clearer, more overt values.

Similarly, Starbucks has taken strong stands around healthy communities, ethical sourcing, social justice, and environmental progress. Those stands have helped it to a ranking of No. 25 for millennials (No. 111 for Boomers). Always, another P&G brand that has taken a different approach to marketing with its Like A Girl campaign, has effectively championed girls’ potential and won broad support from millennials, who rank it the No. 29 brand (boomers: No. 99).

Our research suggests millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations. Sixty-eight percent of millennials say creating change in the world is a personal goal that they actively pursue, while a minority of boomers do (42%).

Millennials see life as a series of experiences, and we see the organizations we give our money to as being crucial players in that journey. We want (and want to feel) proximity to the impact that your organization wants to leave on the world, and we want to help you leave that impact.

Do we literally think about changing the way the world moves every time we step into an Uber? Nope, but we are drawn to participate in a world where we can be transported across a city with the push of a button.

We are drawn to participate in movements greater than ourselves.

And this is true across every industry.

Mattresses? Yep. Football? Of course. Transportation? You betcha. Citywide safety and security? Absolutely. Beverage holders? Oh yeah…

No clever campaign or filter is going to suddenly make Millennials love you. But you know what might? Vision and honesty.

So stand for something of value, and go be it. It works better than a #hashtag.

Brand Strategy Isn’t So Simple After All

By Alex Bornoff

I have never been one for self-help books, guides to better business, how-to-build a brand instruction manuals, or how-to literature of any kind. Ironic perhaps given my profession as a brand strategist, but then perhaps not.

If I do find my way through the pages of such literature, I struggle with how over simplified everything becomes. As if, all I need to do is check the boxes and I win.

But intuitively I know the boxes themselves are not that simple.

Those boxes crave opening, unpacking, and dissecting, before their contents translate to actionable learnings. But that level of detail is often missing from these resources and so I am often left unsatisfied.

I had one such experience recently re-reading Landor’s Agility Paradox, a report into what makes for successful brands in an era where disruption is the norm. It’s one-part investigative reporting, mining through data attempting to understand the characteristics of successful brands in a modern era. And, one-part instructional manual, giving brand managers a synthesized list of recommendations for how they can set their brands up for success in today’s business landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, this by no means is intended to discredit the valuable work Landor has done. The analysis is insightful and there is a lot to learn, if not empirically validate what one may sense intuitively.

Yet, I struggle when the work is distilled down into six neat little attributes that so long as a company complies, success is abound. These attributes include adaptive, open, global, principled, responsible, and multichannel – six little boxes to check before a brand can feel confident it will thrive in a new world order.

But each of those attributes can dramatically change the course of business for any brand. And I would argue (even at the expense of jumping into the “hands off” advice pool) that the art to succeeding at any of them starts with a core dimension the Agility Paradox does not address – the internal brand.

Building a brand that succeeds at all six attributes the Agility Paradox identifies, is by no means simple, especially if the brand was never designed to include them in the first place, of which there are many.

Brand reinvention is hard, rigorous work and along with vision, leadership commitment, and resources, transformations that enable brands to meet these modern standards require the unwavering dedication of those in the business. And getting employees to commit, means getting them to believe in the promise of the brand (before any consumer or shareholder) to ensure success, loyalty, and longevity.

Too many times I’ve seen great brand vision and strategy fall by the wayside because employee buy-in was so deeply de-prioritized. Building employee trust, advocacy and alignment to the brand, is what puts in motion the brand’s ability to succeed externally.  It forces the business to think about process, structure, and evaluate vision against reality so as to uncover what’s needed to close the gaps.

The workforce is a brand’s greatest, loudest, most impactful asset and advocate. It’s a critical dimension to lean into and take seriously as employees can also be a brand’s greatest roadblock if they don’t believe in it. Arming the workforce is arming the brand with the firepower it needs to rise above the noise and standout above the rest.

Building brands is an inside out effort. It’s how authenticity is established and brand reverberation is felt far beyond the efforts of any single campaign. Consumers drive vision but employees drive success of its execution. Over look that and all good recommendations will remain boxes unchecked. Build into it, and you may find yourself asking the “how” question far less.

What is the Los Angeles Brand?

By Charlie Stephens

Just after starting my role at Innovation Protocol, I was eager to dive into my new work and learn my way around Los Angeles. Having just moved from Orange County, California, and with a background in urban research, I figured there’d be no better way to learn the ropes than to immerse myself in the city and take on Los Angeles as if it were my own brand client.

So I set out on a 6 week journey to research, analyze, and attempt to define the Los Angeles brand. This was by no means an exhaustive process, and would take much more work to develop a fully fleshed-out brand strategy. Nevertheless, the insights gained were quite interesting and I think shed a nice light on some story-telling opportunities for the city.


Discovery Phase: What’s in a City Brand?

City brands are notoriously complex. There are many different economic, cultural, and governmental factors that work together to create the identity of a place. There are also different ways and reasons to package that identity and share it with people. In some of the biggest cities around the world it’s been proven that strong brands can increase both tourism and investment, and drive collaboration across the public and private sectors.

Los Angeles is well-known around the world, but there is a huge opportunity for developing a brand strategy to boost its overall performance. An understanding of the city’s core identity and brand essence would be a great starting point for achieving this.

Los Angeles is a behemoth of a city. So in order to really get a grasp of the brand I needed to hear people’s stories and research the things that make the city truly unique. With just a few weeks to interview over 20 people and sift through dozens of websites, reports, and articles, I set out to identify what Los Angeles really means to people.


Discovery Phase: Understanding the Findings

Cities today have an opportunity to shape their perception both in-person and online. However Los Angeles’ websites, press releases, city documents, and social media promote a fragmented image. With many different verbal and visual styles and no core message tying them together, the idea of Los Angeles isn’t being expressed in a consistent way to its people.

I interviewed a number residents, tourists, business owners, and past city employees to get a better idea of how people think about Los Angeles, and I identified a few key themes.

People around the world have preconceived notions about Los Angeles. There’s the good – amazing weather, Hollywood, and ‘individuality’. There’s also the bad – materialism, traffic, homelessness, among many others. There’s an almost infinite amount of ways to imagine and experience the city, all of which affect its ability to attract and retain people and organizations.

A big idea that stood out is that Los Angeles is seen as expansive, with its vast network of highways and neighborhoods. It’s also known as a place where people can express themselves and unleash their creativity. No matter what industry you work in – entertainment, professional services, media, aerospace, manufacturing – Los Angeles is where you go if you’re really shooting for the stars.

Los Angeles is also one of the most diverse cities in the world, with hundreds of nationalities, languages, and almost every religion co-existing peacefully. On top of this it’s a creative capital across many industries, leading the nation with its number of creative workers.

All in all, its diversity, creativity, and opportunities were reoccurring themes in my exploration – each an essential component to what Los Angeles has been, is today, and can be in the future.


Brand Position: The Opportunity for Los Angeles

Everyone has a dream waiting to come to life. In Los Angeles, diversity flourishes, creativity takes place, and opportunities to realize one’s grandest visions are available. It’s true that Los Angeles is a city with great amenities and things to do, but more than this, it’s a gateway to a universe of infinite possibilities; a frontier of dreams for all who dare to visit, live, or set up shop there.

Los Angeles is unique in that it has an expansive cross-section of cultures, industries and individuals that enable creative opportunities for all types of people. Whether it’s building community, sparking innovation, or fueling economic growth, the city plays a crucial role in connecting people with the passions, platforms, and people to create the world they want to see.

Of course politics, operations, and basic human nature get in the way of making Los Angeles a complete heaven-on-earth. Inequalities persist, housing struggles, and crime continues, and Los Angeles isn’t perfect. However what a city brand can do is help communicate the city’s values and qualities in a way that encourages community engagement and inspires progress across different issues and areas along the way.

The idea of Los Angeles as a city of dreams has already been floated in Garcetti’s State of the City Address and the latest Olympic bid video. But with fresh clarity, cross-sector buy-in, and belief in its own potential, the city can intentionally start crafting its own narrative in a way that builds upon its strengths and creates a more connected and thriving community for years to come.

The Importance of Internal and External Branding

By Sasha Strauss

Managing Director, Sasha Strauss, explains why ignoring your internal audience when branding is a recipe for disaster. When you focus on both sides of the brand, internal and external, you get a more holistic view of what your value proposition truly can be.

Don’t Call Me Boss

By Anna Drabik

I was sitting at my desk the other day when my company’s controller, Meital, introduced her friend to our VP of General Operations, saying “Meet Jon, my boss.”

Jon turned to Meital and said, “I really hate it when people call me the boss. It just sounds wrong.”

I found this to be a particularly interesting statement, since Jon, by formal standards, is a boss. Jon’s humility really struck me, but his statement also got me thinking about our organizational structure.

Awareness, not title, is what we should strive for.

As described in Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, my company might qualify as a Green organization in its empowerment, family, and values-driven culture. However, when looking deeper, I found that it also embodies a Teal organization in its promotion of self-management, evolutionary structure, and focus on individuals realizing their true potential.

Reinventing Organizations suggests that leaders “put in place organizational structures, practices, and cultures that make sense to them,” if not, an organization cannot evolve beyond its current leadership stage of development. Because the leaders at my company are self-aware, empathetic, and curious about the world around them, they’ve built a workplace ecosystem that urges employees to do the same.

This comes in many forms, but one example is that someone who is interning can speak to or email the VP or Managing Director directly, and they’ll receive a response back that same day. There are many companies that have an automated social hierarchy detection, as Daniel Golemen points out in his Harvard Business Review article “The Focused Leader.” This is represented by how quickly it takes a person of a “higher rank” to respond to someone of a “lower rank.” In our organization, everyone is expected to respond to one another within three hours when they are in the office, and if they’re out for the day, within 24 hours. This simple practice reinforces the fact that employees are not treated differently based on tenure or title — and it pushes individuals to recognize their self-management.

We each have leadership power within us.

From that perspective, I’ve been blessed with leaders who aren’t stuck with a hierarchical view of organizations, but rather, as Management 3.0 Workout author Jurgen Apello points out, have created a culture of creative networkers who “choose to boss themselves.” We’ve been taught to create and grow unique value within our teams. That means an analyst we’ve just hired can bring as much (if not more!) insight to the brainstorm as a consultant who’s been working at the company for ten years.

What this freedom has ultimately allowed me to do is learn about myself quite deeply. I’ve never looked at individuals within my organization as people I should strive to become or even compete with. Instead, I’ve always been able to focus on my personal potential — my strengths — and further evolve towards what I know is already living inside of me.

As I develop into my own version of a leader, and as I move from organization to organization (and maybe even start my own!) I will strive to have the self-awareness, empathy and understanding that Jon has. I never want to be a leader who is stuck with an outdated view of organizations, but instead I aspire to one who stays grounded, focused, open — and ultimately — aware of myself and others. After all, I believe that this is the only way we’ll raise our leadership consciousness.

Are you willing to do the same?

How Brands Come to Life on Social Media

By Stacey Derkatch

Which are the right social media platforms for your brand? Stacey Derkatch, Associate Director Brand Development at Innovation Protocol, gives advice on how to optimize social media for branding efforts, and what to focus on when posting on behalf of your brand.

Millennials and Food

By Jamie Sperling

If we want to understand the Millennial generation – the largest generation, the ones whose attention we’re all vying for and whose psyche we’re desperately trying to understand – one way is to look at their relationship with food. We can use food as a proof point for explaining how they think and what’s important to them, and make sense of the environmental trends that are driving their other purchasing decisions.

Millennials who came of age between 2000 and 2010, were impacted by two economic recessions. But unlike the depression-era generation, when money for the most basic things, like food, was scarce, this economic downturn allowed Millennials to prioritize their spending for experiences rather than “stuff.” While both groups lived through similar hardship, technology, social factors, and wealthier parents and grandparents have been key contributors to Millennial’s differed response. This group continuously seeks to supersede function (and is financially able to) with something that is actually meaningful.

As a result, they believe that food is experience, food is community, food is a shareable moment and food is identity-defining. They care about where their food comes from, who is behind it and how it is presented. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 food truck or a Michelin rated restaurant, the experience of it all is the driver for this group.

We’ve seen this trend grow in real-time with the considerable amount of social media accounts dedicated to food, the millions who view Buzzfeed Food cooking videos, in addition to the number of food-based television programs. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a way of life. And associating yourself with this food-value lifestyle, says something about who you, the Millennial, are personally.

If Millennials are this particular about how they choose to express themselves through food, their demand for meaning has profound implications for all brands targeting this demographic. With that in mind, here are a few considerations and examples for how brands can live, to better engage the Millennial audience:

  1. Technology: While Millennials are reliant on technology for work, school and social engagement, it’s not just a functional tool – it’s a social bullhorn. Through technology, Millennials gain access to social networks, thoughts and ideas. As a result, social channels are the main source of how they learn about and influence others. Many brands that want to attract Millennials think the first step is to have a presence on social channels to push their message to this targeted group. But more often than not, Millennials reject this approach because they don’t want to be sold to; they want to be understood. Brands like Apple and Nike do just that – they relate to Millennials on a personal, psychographic-level, promoting the idea that these brands are an extension of who they are, not just a targeted sales pitch.
  2. Experience: It’s not enough to just go somewhere, you need to immerse yourself and experience it. When did doing something need to become an experience? It’s now and it’s here to stay. Millennials crave meaning, they crave purpose, authenticity and real action. Whether that experience is in-person or online, it needs to be memorable. As seen with the community-focused brand, SoulCycle, they’re not just looking to check boxes, they’re looking for something that will enhance them.
  3. Shareability: If you don’t share it on social media, does that mean it even happened? This may be the question of this generation. Creating experiences and crafting ways to share them is as important as the experience itself. Sharing ideas, images, and videos is how this group connects with others in the social space. It means that whatever your brand creates for Millennials needs to have the ability and accessibility to share and align with their need to share something that furthers their point of view. This group is not shy, they want people to know where they’ve been, what they’re doing and who they were with. Brands that practice this approach are Red Bull, Oreo and Taco Bell.

Brands Beware: More is Not More

By Emmanuel Probst and Jeremy A. Tucker

Triple, venti, soy, non-foam latte anyone? Or perhaps any of the hundreds of drink combinations available at your local Starbucks? On-menu or off-menu, the pursuit of customer satisfaction means if you want it, they’ll usually find a way to make it. If you find this overwhelming, your local market has surely figured out the trouble with choice in their finely curated aisles, right? Nope. The average supermarket has 35,372 different products. Of which the average consumer purchases a whopping 260. The entire year. (1) And if like most evolving consumers that find the real world just too overwhelming, think twice about seeking refuge in the freedoms of simplicity in online shopping: a search for ‘Popcorn’ on returns over 800 results.

In 2004, psychologist Barry Schwartz described this phenomenon as the paradox of choice, arguing that having too many options is detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being (2). We just don’t know what to do with all that input and freedom. Schwartz’s theory is even more relevant now than it was 13 years ago as options to buy, and where and how to buy them, have skyrocketed. Overwhelmed with choice, shoppers buy only 260 different items per year on average, out of 35,372 available; that’s less than 1%. On a quarterly basis, they purchase just 0.23% of those available (3). And when they can’t decide on what to buy, some people end up walking away empty-handed, a trend online retailers (with guidance from their therapists we presume) call ‘cart abandonment’.

But fear not modern brands, data, and a profound paradigm shift, can help.

The modern consumers’ life has been improving drastically, thanks to the expansion of advanced marketing analytics such as big data, predictive modeling and programmatic advertising. These approaches allow marketers to target their audiences based on life stages, needs states and interests. People will increasingly be exposed to products that are relevant to them at a particularly relevant point in time.

For example, if Tom bought moving supplies last month, it is fair to assume he will need furniture for his new home next month. Based on his life stage, he will more likely buy a convertible sofa bed if he is starting college, a sectional couch if he has a family or a recliner if he suffers from back pain. Tom doesn’t care about all furniture options at the supermarket, he cares expressly about what he cares about, when he cares about it. At max, he cares about 3 to 5 furniture options, not 300 to 500.

Which means marketers in the next era of seeking eyeballs and billfolds don’t need to harass their respective targets with so many different options like we had to do before data helped us focus the pitch. We may still have a vast variety of product on the warehouse shelves, but consumers don’t need to see them all to find what they want anymore. Or rather, what we the modern brand wants them to find.

“As apps like Snapchat, WeChat and WhatsApp show, we are quickly moving toward a reality in which everything happens in real time. From communication to coordination to purchase, marketers will need to react with the pace of consumers (think “right time, right message, right place” on steroids).” (4)

Big consumer-savvy brands figured this out at the very first glimpse of advanced analytics. Ever wonder why you may see a specific ad in your Facebook feed for a specific chair on a specific day? Hint: It’s not random. It’s not something everyone sees. It’s an ad served just for you, because guess what, Ikea knows what you want when you want it, and is just trying to throw you a bone.

Chipotle, In-N-Out, even the more modern McDonalds experiment ‘boutiques’ are now flagship brands for taking smart marketing a step further into the very core of their brand strategy by understanding that less is more with menus designed to make things easier through limitations, not freedoms. Where Cheesecake Factory and your local Diner menus reeked of (delicious) desperation, these simpler menu ‘experiences’ somehow smell like refined sophistication in their elegant simplicity. A confidently constrained expression of purity. Animal style.

And where there’s even the slightest whiff of elegance there’s the opportunity to charge more for the selective items that are highlighted, making up for the pickled tuna lasagna option rarely glimpsed on page 17 of the menu.

So to the bloated brand seeking modernity, we urge simplicity. To the modern brand struggling for engagement, we ironically recommend cutting the options to engage. Find the top sellers, get smart on how to read the analytics, take a shot of aged bourbon if needed (Innovation Protocol does not promote bourbon-informed decision making unless it’s really good bourbon, then, I mean, hello), and boldly trim where others have added. Don’t follow the brand masses to the supermarket excess of more upon more upon more because what you have already isn’t selling. Follow the frontrunners of fewer choice, and simply offer your focused strengths in simple, personalized ways. It’s what Tom really wants, after all.

Emmanuel Probst is a brand growth and advertising effectiveness strategist. He counsels advertisers on measuring and optimizing the effectiveness of their campaigns and teaches Consumer Market Research at UCLA. Emmanuel holds a Doctorate of Business Administration in Consumer Psychology from the University of Nottingham Trent.

Jeremy Tucker is Director of Brand Development at the Innovation Protocol New York office, and regularly teaches, speaks, and writes on brand strategy for dynamic modern brands.