Now comes the fun part. However, we might warn you in advance: A Sandstrom Partners creative presentation is technically similar to pretty much every presentation you’ve ever sat through. Hands are shaken, cards are exchanged (but that’s where it starts to get a bit weird: people hesitate as they read the stories on our cards that have won us various international awards), chairs are chosen, jackets are hung on seat backs, someone says something funny, you introduce us, we recap the creative brief, talk about how much fun we had working on this, our CD shows the work, we pass stuff around, answer questions, quell concerns, discuss and debate, thank you for time, more hand-shaking and laughter and lingering and packing up of stuff and eventually we’re out the door.
What was different about this presentation? Something was. Was it the efficiency of words, the lack of buzzwords or marketing clichés? The spartan nature of the presentation with its clean, easy-to-follow logic? Or was it the work itself? The clarity of it? The beauty of it? Or the lack of anything superfluous? Isn’t this what inspiration feels like? Pure, a bit new, a bit scary, a bit sophisticated, even a bit exciting? Note: We’ve been in other companies’ presentations and we generally like ours better.
The process that leads us to inspiration is maybe less important than the underlying beliefs that drive us through that process. It’s a bit like watching a pit crew at a Formula One race. You know they’re changing tires and adjusting this and that, but it’s the knowledge of the people involved and precisely what it is they’re doing—or why they’re doing it—that you might not be able to emulate with any accuracy. So, Sandstrom Partners has a list of dictums, the “How To” manual of being a Sandstrom Partners employee. But we are also encouraged to deviate and test said dictums, should they ever get in the way of inspiration or a great idea. They are as follows:
1. Everything communicates.
Whether we like it or not, and whether we in- tend it to or not, each thing we do communicates something. Every message you send, obviously, but also every message you keep to yourself. Each announcement, each ad, each everything. Which leads to our second idea:
2. Everything is strategic
Since each action communicates, it follows that the content of that communication can be focused and purposeful–strategic. Strategy concerns itself with how something gets done. How you answer the phone. How you field a question in a meeting. The tone of your voice, the angle of your head, the arch of your eyebrow.
This sounds simple–if a little obsessive–but it has profound implications:
If everything communicates, then no part of your marketing program is unimportant. If everything’s strategic, then how you communicate builds value into your brand and relationships with your clients. The simplest thing you do today is directly connected to your success tomorrow. Which leads to our next idea:
3. Everything is connected to everything else.
The ideas outlined here are connected to your business, which is connected to your customers and through them to the culture at large. The line between internal and external, between company and consumer, between you and them–that line doesn’t exist. Together, these ideas suggest that there has long been a misunderstanding about the relationship between strategy and branding. Strategy runs the show, and questions are the engines of strategy. If we live in a culture of questions, we will redefine branding and how it impacts business.
Questions lead to great ideas, and great ideas lead to more questions. In this philosophy there is very good company: Socrates, Galileo, Einstein, every winner of a Nobel Prize. Every innovation begins with a question.
How can you apply this philosophy? Test your hypothesis as it develops. Take more into account. Consider another perspective, and another, and another.
Then take action. Action is risk, but what’s the alternative? The risk you take will define the frontier of branding, and the future of your brand.