Mister Beacon Episode #125
IoT Branding with Adam HanftAugust 03, 2021
Today we have branding and advertising expert Adam Hanft, who has worked with the likes of Alan Kay and Barack Obama on marketing campaigns in the past. In this clip, we're talking about branding in the IoT space and the phenomenon known as "fast brain, slow brain."
Adam has a creative director background, working at many agencies as an advertiser, and has worked with the likes of Alan Kay ("If You See Something, Say Something"), and even Barack Obama with the "get out the vote" campaign.
The truth is, there is no industry or category of business that can avoid the need for branding, and this includes IoT. So today, we discuss ideas ranging from "fast brain slow brain" to grading the IoT space when it comes to branding and messaging effectiveness. We talk about huge successes like Apple in creating amazing brands and huge failures like the Sony Betamax. Showing how the best product doesn't always win and the advantage of having a powerful and effective brand.
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Steve Statler 00:00
This week's episode we're interviewing Adam Hanft, a branding veteran who is run numerous agencies, with clients that include Sony, Procter and Gamble. match.com. He is an amazing writer, as you should really check out the articles. He's written for salame, Huffington Post, CNN, Wired, The Atlantic. He's appeared on television numerous times, including on The Daily Show. So we're really delighted to have them with us today. Mr. Beacon Podcast is sponsored by Wiliot: Intelligence for Everyday Things, powered by IoT Pixels. So as we were toying with what to call this episode, and so the working title is everything and IoT executives should know about branding, but is too afraid to ask. And I don't know what your advice is, as a branding consultant, a very long title. But essentially, the premise of this conversation, just in case people are wondering, why is Adam Hanft on this show, you're not a noted IoT semiconductor designer. You're an amazing branding person who's who's advised politicians, some of whom became presidents of their respective countries, to major CPG brands. But, you know, in on this show, we try to assist solution designers realize the vision that they have for bringing digital and physical worlds together. And one of the things that I have learned is that you can have the best technology in the world, but unless you can get people to use it, it's kind of pointless. So do you think other than being a ripoff of a Woody Allen title, everything in IoT an executive you should know about Branding was too afraid to ask is that a reasonable? How would you critique that?
Adam Hanft 02:14
First, I will just, you know, my wife will shoot me for correcting you. But Woody Allen's ripped it off from a book, that was a very popular book in the 70s. Everything you always wants to know about sex are referred to as by I think Dr. David Rubin, his name was, and then Woody Allen licensed that or whatever. So I don't think there's any category that can evade the need to brand itself either as a category itself, and you have trade associations doing that all the time, right. And we've talked about that, or as a brand, particularly, I would say, in a immature, fast growing and often complicated category, like IoT. So you know, one of the things that we've we've sort of collective we have learned over the years about branding has a lot to do with what behavioral psychology tells us which is, we are sort of wired, you know, the fast brain, slow brain. So basically, it was categorized by Daniel Kahneman. And I forgot to get the I was turski, who's, they wrote a book called fast print slippery, but they did a huge amount of research before, and then won a Nobel Prize for it. So the idea is that we evolved with a commitment to a fast brain, that tells us the tiger is There go the other way. And a slow brain, the rational brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is where executive function flies, and for the most part, marketers for a long time, maybe they intuitively got to slow the fast print slow brain dichotomy, but they never really deployed the insight. And we, as an industry marketed really to the slow brain. So all the concept testing that, you know, has been done over the years, and all the focus groups, and all the other marketing, we ask people something, that's the slow brain at work. And that's not exactly how people make decisions, people make decisions based on the fastspring and the associations of the past frame. So when you understand that, then you say, okay, the brand is really important, because it makes that instant connection with with the fast brain and with the psychologists call all the neural networks and neural associations around it. So if I said to you, Chicly, you know, Nike Marlboro, you know, apple, your fast brain connects it, and then those, those are really deep imprints. An example of that is they've done some work with Apple. It's really interesting. So it took three groups of people and they showed them the Apple logo. Not just the apple. And then they have them do a test that measure creativity. And there are tests psychologists use to measure creativity. And they thought there so the three groups were supposed as follows one, saw the Apple logo, on a level of consciousness that was long enough to register, one saw is so fast second group that it was subliminal, but it registered unconsciously. And the third group didn't see it at all. So the third group performed sort of at the baseline for the creativity test, the first group, the one that saw it and registered it performed at the highest level. And then the group that saw it unconsciously, still performed above the norm above the baseline. So the theory is, and it's just that there's something about all the advertising that Apple did, or all the associations with creativity with think different, the inspirational marketing the brand, the inspiration of the brand, actually inspired, encouraged people to think more creatively. So it shows you the power of a brand. And, and the importance of communicating to the to the fast brain, as well as the slow brain and Apple does both, you know, the Mac versus PC commercials both slow brain It was like, we do this, they do that they do this, we knew that it was classic side by side comparison. But it was in the context of going back to the 1984 commercial all the branding that had been done to make apple sort of the the inspirational brands that got people to rise to new heights of creativity and imagination, can you see it now shot it on the iPhone 12 shot on the iPhone, 11, whatever it is all those huge billboards that you see all over. They're not telling you how many pixels are on the camera, or what the resolution the lenses and all the reviews are a lot of them anyways, they owe the Google phone is better or whatever, or the or the Android phone or the Samsung lens is better. It doesn't matter because the power of that imagery of that brand is so, so great. So So getting back to this category. That's so new, it's really a land grab, nobody owns that brand spaceship. And to your point, Steve about the best brand always wins. You know, the classic example of that is Betamax, for those who are old enough to remember it. If not, you can look it up. It's a class of business schools. Story, the VHS was inferior. At the resolution of the Sony product was better. They could play longer and had a whole host of benefits. But they couldn't convince the consumer or for that matter, the studios to kind of release on the better platform. So it disappeared and VHS became the platform. So if you're and you know, so I think the truth still holds the the heuristic still holds. If you're in a platform business where you need to build an ecosystem, like you did back then hasn't changed really. You need to you need to recognize the power of the brain that to ignore the superiority, the importance, the sphere already, but a lot of a lot of times, startups in tech are division of product people, which makes perfect sense. That's what they do. That's where the breakthroughs come from. And there's often I don't want to say, dismissal, but there can't be of the sizzle, right? Oh, that's just marketing. Like, there's a belief that the best brand or the best technology always wins. And it's just not the case. But it's understandable. And the more enlightened founders recognize that and more, I think more and more we're seeing it and bringing it branding earlier in the process, so that they can have the advantages of that discipline that skills sitting side by side with product.
Steve Statler 08:48
Does that still apply in b2b? It's hard to argue against apple in direct to consumer b2c businesses. But
Adam Hanft 09:01
I think it is I think it's very true in b2b and you know, there are a category like cybersecurity, where do you have dominant players, but then you talk to people that are challenging, they're the David's versus the Goliath and they will they are frustrated that why is it that fireeye or Palo Alto Networks is has stuck valuation OSI is growing this much. When we're Our product is better? Well, Android might be better and it often is, but they've got the big brand. They've also the power of the big brand, in a case like that and other b2b verticals is people are willing to sacrifice a part of an end to end solution to get the intense solution. And they're not going to get caught up again is fast brain in the nuances of well, this piece of a daisy chain is not as good as I can get if I went our car and plugged it in, but the complexities of plugging it in The risk of the whole thing breaking or taking longer to implement or anything else is dramatic. So big dot Salesforce, it's there's so many big dominant brands are, are very much today's version of nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.
Steve Statler 10:17
That's I was thinking of exactly that when you were talking about that the IBM brand classic b2b, although some of us bought typewriters from them, but, but basically b2b and it was about fear. It was really about the the fear of, we've got a, I'm a CIO, I've got this impossible job, I know that things are gonna go wrong, right? what's what's my biggest fear? I'm gonna get fired for this thing. But if I bought IBM, then I'd be okay. And that, I think is just a classic branding move. Maybe. I'm just trying to think of more modern equivalent of that in b2b and would you say something like blockchain? blockchain is double edged, I, I sort of have a negative reaction to it personally. But it's also like got this sizzle, which is if you're an innovation person, you got to be doing distributed loads you got to be is that a brand that has been successfully goosed? Do you think? What are your thoughts?
Adam Hanft 11:19
So I think it's interesting to think about blockchain and the ledger as a brand, because it is right. It clearly is. And it is a brand I would say, for a couple of reasons. One is a brand creates a sense of connection value connection between the user and itself. And people who, early on, it's less true now. But as early on, embrace, certainly crypto versus fiat currency and blockchain feel that they are the innovative thinkers, they are the early adopters, they their personal brands, and the blockchain brand. As as a disruptor, of traditional data capture data storage are consistent, right? So I feel that so blockchain has succeeded in starting as sort of the, the operating system for crypto and now has become a brand unto itself. And as a technology. So as you hear jamie diamond and people like that are talking about, we're going to be moving to blockchain, when you hear Powell, you know, at the FE talk about we're going to be looking at blockchain and not dismissing it, and then we have the Chinese against it. So against crypto, sort of deep positioning, and then look who's against it, you know, people who wanted to have a lockdown economy. So I think a lot of things have come together to elevate the blockchain to blockchain brand as a as sort of the future of the ledger as the future of, of the economy in a lot of ways.
Steve Statler 13:01
So we will talk about a few examples of effectiveness of brands, I feel like, you know, success in this business where it's all about storytelling, right. And I realized that I have not done a very good job of structuring the story, because we need to structure the problem. And the the challenge and the existential threat before guiding people to the solution. I do want to talk about what IoT entrepreneurs and solution designers, someone working in a big company can do with branding to sell their idea. But let's let's take a step back and just give ourselves as an IoT industry report card. And let's talk about what the consequences are of the current state of all the worst of branding. You know, what I can say is, you know, I looked at all website, and I thought it was pretty good. And then we started having a conversation with you. And I realized, Oh, my God, this is just, it's just like everyone else's. And it's not digestible. And what how would you grade? The technology industry, the IoT industry in terms of its success in branding, and what do you think are the consequences? assuming that it's not an A plus? Which I'm guessing it isn't? What was your What do you think the consequences of that lack of branding? We don't need to wallow too much. But I think a little wallowing in the problem is
Adam Hanft 14:38
so, you know, I think I think the challenge for anybody in the IoT space is the equilibrium between talking about the moment being here this epic, transformational moment as physical and digital converged, as you said, which is really exciting, but universally applicable across anybody. Go to space, or maybe anybody in NF T's for that matter, which is physical or digital physical combined. So sort of the, the, the equilibrium between celebrating this moment, and then finding your place in that moment that's differentiated. And I think, in general, that is the art and the most difficult challenge of b2b branding, technical, technical b2b technology, b2b branding, which is you have to find that sort of golden middle, if you tilt too far to this is this, the moment is here, the industry is being transformed, then you're lost among everybody who's celebrating that the moment is here. If you drop down too much into your differentiation too quickly, and the bits and the bytes fees and speeds, as they used to call it, you know, and PC marketing, then nobody's going to care enough, you're not going to really build that story. So I think it needs you need to, you know, story, storytelling is about a middle beginning, middle and end. So I think the beginning needs to be up here, you need to have a unique way of talking about it. And then you need to drop down at the right time to where you fit in while you're differentiated. And you need to keep that lens on all the time. I think. And I think the other issue when b2b is and you know, it could be you know, it could be cybersecurity, or it could be digital health, or it could be pretty much any vertical people default to simulate your language. And there's a sort of a mushy value, there's a tepid, mushy kind of vocabulary, that becomes pervasive. And what happens is that you need in this is the advice part, you need a CEO or head of marketing, who is courageous enough to not just to fall to the comfortable, you know, pattern recognition is a powerful thing, it gets back to fast brain, right. That's why we're here we will go to pattern recognition. So we're comfortable if I've heard it before. That's okay. As opposed to, I've heard it before, go back to your office and come back with something I haven't heard before. That doesn't happen enough. And that's why oftentimes, in the marketing world, we do a test where we take the logo off. And we just put all the claims together on one PowerPoint slide and say to even to the, to the somebody who runs the company who runs marketing, which is you and which is your competitor, half the time, they can't tell the difference.
Steve Statler 17:32
Interesting. So how do you know you've got a branding problem?
Adam Hanft 17:38
I would say if you fail that test they just described which is if your languages interchangeable. I think if you if you don't clearly have a narrative that speaks to a higher mission of the company than just putting physical and digital together, what are you trying to solve in the world is one of the things we talked about in terms of your the impact on the economy. If you're not solving something that really is monumental, and important. You are you're you have a brand new problem, because you're stuck in your own features and functions. You have to the brand has to find a way to take what otherwise would be features and functions that are fine. And make them even more meaningful. That's how you know you've got a successful brand. When other people who say you know my product is a little bit it's five by 5% improvement, here's 3% better there. But your brand is winning by 100%. That's how you know you've been you won the day.
Steve Statler 18:41
Yeah, I mean, I think we're an industry full of some amazing companies with incredibly powerful, potent technology that are not doing as well as you feel like they should be. And it's like, why are people not getting that and I really feel like we are stuck in a bit of an echo chamber, we end up marketing to each other. And to cross the chasm we need the CEO or the the CTO who's got a million things on her or his mind to make it simple and and we need to be kind of like he RP RP is not a particularly sexy brand. But everyone accepts you need any RP you need an accounting system, you're not asked to do all the things that were asked because it's just generally accepted.
Adam Hanft 19:35
So where do you think? Where do you think the industry is in terms of the challenge? Is it that the technology is not being implemented fast enough? And is that because there's a history of full stars and over promise, you know, it's I think it's called a Maris law, which is technology is always overestimated in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. Do you think we're somewhere in that cycle?
Steve Statler 20:02
Totally. Yeah. I mean, Apple injected a tiny smidgen of branding pixie dust into this when they came up with the ibeacon. And it wasn't much it was just just a footnote on a slide, right? And hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital poured into into the business as a result of that tiny bit of branding, right? Because Bluetooth beacons, indoor positioning existed before that, but it was like, oh, okay, yeah, I'm head of merchandising, I need ibeacon in the store, what is it, just go and do it, don't care, just do it. And we have that we kind of let that slip through our fingers. Because the reality was it took an awfully long time to deploy infrastructure, infrastructure slows things down, and people kind of got distracted. And so we never got the benefits that come from people actually finishing off what they started so. So we've been left with a slow wander towards this space. And I think there's great room for optimism because Apple are back again. Now we've got the air tag, which is telling us Oh, yeah, you don't want to lose things. You want to find things. And so that's
Adam Hanft 21:23
basically their version of tile, which has been around for what, seven years, eight years?
Steve Statler 21:29
Adam Hanft 21:30
I have no apples. kingmaker to your point, Steve. Right. Apple says ibeacon. Apple says air tag and that's the power of a Brian right. It doesn't just impact yourself. It impacts the full ecosystem.
Steve Statler 21:43
I mean, I at the risk of getting political. I look at things, the the irrational beliefs. And you can read this from either sides. So I think it's okay. You look at how siloed we are as a nation, and how fervently people believe things that are clearly not factually true. And you see the power of a brand. And we're kind of missing that in the application of a bunch of IoT technology that does work. Right. You're
Adam Hanft 22:14
right. I mean, that gets back to the fast brain, right? So if we believe something, we hear something that contradicts it. It's called the confirmation bias, then we double down as how conspiracy theories happen, we double down on our existing beliefs, because we don't want to be we don't want to be destabilized. And you know, I mean, take Apple good example. Right? So you can tell people who are Apple fanboys and girls about apples problems with child labor in China all you want, you can talk to you blue in the face snack, I changed their perspective about Apple one minute, but if you have the same conversation with them about Walmart, who they don't like, for whatever reason, they'll be all over Walmart and say we should boycott Walmart tomorrow. So it has to do with the going in perception of the brand.
Steve Statler 23:03
Yes. So okay, we've convinced each other that branding is a good thing. What do we do about it? How can I go and be a bit more like apple or Nike and a bit less like someone with a 10 page value proposition that no one's going to read?
Adam Hanft 23:25
I would say that you have to start off by understanding two sides of market fit, emotional market fit and rational market fit. And everybody who's the buyer of your product needs to be satisfied. I both loved with that sort of the narrative thing. I was saying it too often product people are just focused on the rational market fit. But there is something called an a more I would call an emotional market fit. And that's really important to understand. And just because you're selling to somebody who is theoretically rational to your point and make checks all the boxes, you know, that's not how it works. So I often like to say that drug bad Big Pharma, selling to doctors, okay, nobody should be more rational than a physician making a decision about what drug teams but if you look at the numbers, think form, I don't know if it's true anymore, but for a long time because of the regulations, but big pharma spent more money on marketing than on r&d fears. Why is that because taking the doc to dinner and you know, get tickets and all the other things which I think now you can do built a relationship between the DCF person and the physician. So if the drug, they're not going to prescribe a drug that they think is completely off base, but the differences between drugs that are approved the same condition, same indication are very often very close. It's not different than what we're talking about with some of these technology brands or IoT. The differences are small and I believe that when the differences are small, the brand has to be big, you have to tell a bigger story around and get people into the, into the change with you. So how do you do that? I think a good exercise is, forget what you have. Now you have it, put it over here. Now look at the market the market needs. and say if we were going to start from scratch, and didn't have all the legacy issues, or this engineer who loves this feature, or that engineer, who's in love with this capability, and we're committed if we had to start from scratch, build a new business, no one what we know the innovator getting around the famous innovators dilemma, which is not just true for big companies, it's true for little companies to start up what we build from scratch, and then compare what we build, if we had a extra sketch, and we can just start over versus what we have, and then find a way to take what you have and make it more relevant. And then build a brand around that.
Steve Statler 26:03
So where were we, I mean, I'm just trying to get to grips with that. So we put to one side, the thing that we had, or we have that is probably talked about the innovators dilemma. So this is just one of my favorite technology strategy books, you end up listening to your customers too much. And you produce this Swiss Army knife on steroids, where you end up missing the bulk of the market. So we're going to dispense with all of that complexity. And you're kind of advising us to reimagine what we've got and just focus on the things that can you can really relate to the powerful forces, the really motivate people, is that what you're saying?
Adam Hanft 26:56
Yes, but also understand sort of your own power. So if I had said to you, or pretty much anybody, like for the pandemic, you know, what's going to happen? American business or global business for that matter is going to have to move from the office to the home, within 14 days, 10 days, everything will have every function, your eirp function, Salesforce, everything will have to move as its SAP everything will have to move your HR department, your legal department, no one can come to the office, the whole economy, they'll say impossible can ever happen. Everything would collapse. Nobody would think, but it happened with remarkable fluidity. So what is the what is the application of that create your own emergency? Like, you always don't like to do that, with good reason, because it stresses people out. It destabilizes them. But I think that's there's a really important lesson to be learned and how quickly we adapt it in a really brilliant way the resilience was there. So companies, I think, and people who work there are often more resilient than in the leadership gives them and sometimes they're looking for the leadership to to pivot more more dramatically, and not be so equivocal about it and not be so reluctant to shock the system.
Steve Statler 28:20
Yeah, I definitely see that there's this CEOs that I recognize they one of their techniques is crazy in crisis, because it kind of frees people up.
Adam Hanft 28:32
It goes. The other thing is related to this branding question. The amount to which CEO CMOS, whatever tend to overstate how the end user or the customer sees them, is wildly exaggerated. So like, how many times have you heard I've heard often, well, we can't change because everybody knows us for that. Well, nobody, nobody really knows us for that. It's like you've said it. So many times in so many sales meetings, there's so many sales calls that you think everybody knows you for that. And you're therefore afraid to risk changing, because you think you're pulling the rug out from your own perception. But in fact, people don't necessarily know you for that. And also, the ability to create something new in this in this environment is so much easier than it's ever been before.
Steve Statler 29:20
This is hilarious, because I take the same principle and I apply it to completely the opposite prescription. My view is just because you think everyone's bored with what you've said, because you've been saying it for free. Can you actually keep on saying it over and over again?
Adam Hanft 29:41
The same thing, but we're different. But it's the same point. Yeah, yes, yes. If it's a right if you believe it's the right thing, don't get bored with it. That's absolutely true.
Steve Statler 29:50
By the way, don't don't assume that everybody knows it, and therefore you can't change it. Right? So you should be free to change but you also need to say Look, 99% of people have never heard this before. And for goodness sake, be consistent and don't change every 10 minutes.
Adam Hanft 30:08
Right? Maybe don't change every 10 minutes piece, but I agree with is it's difficult to maintain in a world of paid social acquisition, or LinkedIn, or whatever it is, and they need to constantly iterate abcdefg tests, right? So we've all seen, like, the most beautiful brand books, and this is what we stand for. And this is our story kind of wither on the vine, when they don't respond well. When the when the users respond, well, the robots between you know, behind the Legion campaign isn't there, then all of a sudden, you know, 30 days later, the beautiful brand book that somebody paid a fortune for goes over here, and you just see sort of more desperation, enter into the marketing cycle. That way, I think, you know, social acquisition Legion, is is sort of the is clearly the enemy of consistency. And it's also the enemy of risk taking, because if it doesn't, you know, Seinfeld was likely to work, the lowest rated pilot in the history of NBC. So it took a while for people to understand it, pick up on the nuances get the joke, right. But yeah, we're now in a world of sort of instant detonation instant, you know, pull the record.
Steve Statler 31:38
Sounds, I think we've been getting to another question that I kind of had in the back of my brain, which is what are the top five things that brands that the companies do that are just terrible branding decisions? And we've already been talking about some of them, but just let's bang, home the simplicity of I mean, a lot of you did this amazing campaign around big. And the beauty of it, it was sure, tell me about why I should be ruthless in terms of short messaging versus messaging. I think it's obvious. But it can't be that obvious, because we don't do it. And the rest of the industry is not doing it. So what's the prescription there?
Adam Hanft 32:33
Well, you know, often when I come up, I gave, I gave talks that venture conferences, to CEOs, actually, and heads of marketing, and I ended with an image and you can find it on the internet, it is tongue in cheek, obviously, it's a mock HR form, it's called the hurt feelings report. And I said, if you're going to be successful branding, you need, you need one of these on your desk, because there is no doubt that somebody is going to be injured emotionally, as they say, what's their product is their idea, their tagline, whatever it is. so short, is really short requires that somebody might not like it. Long is a is a is a crutch because basically gives everybody something to hold on to. And it's, it's really the worst example of sort of marketing by committee, you have a camera was invented all of those. So I think, I think there's a radical minimalism In short, that is, is important. And oh, but it's got to be short. But also, jolting in some way, you know, take two words like, that don't necessarily go together all the time, but you put them together and that, that forces the brain to stop for a minute.
Steve Statler 34:01
Like so you throwing a speed bump?
Adam Hanft 34:05
Or a metal speed bump? Exactly, exactly. It's like you know, there's a company of the beauty, you know, things like that, things that you don't expect, and then your brain forces itself to try to deconstruct it, I think, I think short can be brilliant or short. Also could be you know, cliche, you know, how many brands have said the future of x, you know, transforming why the new era of z. So, short is good, but it's not the sole determinant is what do you short is actually the acid test of differentiation because within that compression, you really need to say something that is meaningful.
Steve Statler 34:53
And novel, does it have to be novel? When does when does novelty? I mean, if it's also completely novel that you can't relate to it, then that's kind of too novel. But the thing that makes me cringe is when I read stuff, and I'm like, this has not been written by a human being, it's been written by some kind of Soviet committee. And I reject this just on principle, I'm not even gonna just go near it, because it's so offensive to me that this is, you're not giving me the respect that you think I'm a human being you think that I'm going to absorb this?
Adam Hanft 35:29
I agree with you that manifesto holding the Politburo test. I agree. And I think we know it intuitively. And I think we've talked about copy messaging, we haven't really talked too much about visuals. But I think that's also true that this that the lack of respect is true for stock photography, right? So we know what stock photography is, we've seen it a million times, and we intuitively recognize it. So you know, if you're going to show me if your HR company, you're going to show me a shot of a lot of happy people going like this, you know, at a off site. I know it's bold, and I'm not going to believe it. And in fact, you're not respecting me because you think I will believe that that is actually authentic, right? Yes. Now, this gets back to budget. So it cost a lot more money to shoot for photography, shooting Getty Images, license, right. And if you don't believe in the power of branding, and the aesthetic part of branding, you're not going to you whoever that you is, is not going to say I'm going to approve, you know, whatever the number is 50 75,000, whatever, for this video for this photography, shoot, why not? Why can't I just get some stock imagery or stock photos? But that's like saying, you know, why can I just, if you were designing a product, you wouldn't say well, why can't I use this off the shelf? IoT configuration, I got this on my own, that's my brain, you would never you would never think about going to whatever is the Getty equivalent of I'm sure there is of, of, of a chip configuration chipset, right? You'd want to make it your own because it's got to live up to you to your product promise, well, your brand promise is just as important as your product promise. Now, if you don't believe that, then you're going to spend, you know, you know, 5% of the money on Getty Images and the future of x.
Steve Statler 37:21
Yes, yeah, I, when I wrote this beacon technology book, which this spawned this podcast, because basically, I didn't want to stop doing the research, I wanted to keep on talking to interesting people. I used a bunch of stock photography. And and and it's kind of a legacy of maybe it was me, or maybe this is the way things were done. Five years ago, I was just too naive. But now, I feel like there's a premium on authenticity. And you know, that's why social media works is because it's, you know, seem to be authentic, the most horrendous things get by because they're deemed to be authentic. So maybe we can give up on some production? Can we give up on some production values? If we think so.
Adam Hanft 38:11
I just saw a study, I'll send it to you about produce versus crowdsource, or handmade videos and social and this was consumers. So it's a different world. But I do think that while the manifestation of authenticity is different in tech, the principle behind it, I think, is consistent. I think people to your point about when you read something, you know that it's just vomited back from 100, PowerPoint decks. People, you know, people, people know that. I worked on a really interesting HR tech platform in southern Israel, but its global called Hi, Bob. And basically, it disrupts the traditional HR industry with the tools that are very much like what millennial often employees are used to dealing with on their phones. So it's a very app based, it's very socially based. It's not bogged down with the traditional tools that are built for HR leaders. So push the consumer or the user first then so that when you go to the website, which has just really interesting graphic imagery, not just let's talk retire with the first thing he says is glad you're here, which is the statement about graduate working for this company. Glad you're part of Hi, Bob. It's a very welcoming invitation or message as opposed to the HR platform that helps you know, companies manage their employee satisfaction or whatever the traditionally is. Its colloquial. So I think that's selling this b2b and You know, it's a, you could argue to point earlier about IBM, our point, you know, you're ripping out workday or your weapon at ripping out a traditional HR platform, you're putting in some some crazy Israeli startup called Hi, Bob, and says glad you're here. But there was something so honest and disarming about it that it captured attention, it's doing extremely well, it's raised a lot of money. But it recognizes this audience too. It's not it's starting is sort of a land and expand strategy. It's not going to be going after Ford right away. It's attracting like minded companies who share its values, who recognize how hard it is to keep and attract talented employees. And they've got an interesting product model. So everybody does traditional org chart, right. But they use AI and a lot of data that they collect to create a different kind of an org chart. So you may fit here in the organic, traditional org chart. But if if you understand who you're connected with in the company, they have a lot of clubs and groups. So who you connected with clubs and groups, who did you maybe recruit into the company, looking at data, how important to you to others, all of a sudden, you may be down here in the organization. But if you leave, you pull that piece out, a lot of people become vulnerable. So it's a it's a, it's a three dimensional org chart that looks at a lot more data than just traditional rank. So so that's a good example of we didn't that's important product innovation, but it's just under this idea of Hey, we're glad you're here. Welcome.
Steve Statler 41:41
Excellent. Well, I think the essence of this, or at least part of it is the humanity of it. I think doing branding, well, is fun, as well. And I am what role does humor have in?
Adam Hanft 42:01
Okay, let me just say about humanity, because it connects human humanity. Right. So yes, I think that, you know, IoT is about as we started off by saying the convergence of the digital and the physical. I think we've seen with zoom fatigue and a lot of other manifestations that we have the pandemic we're hungering for humanity, right? We're hungry for connection. So I think maybe there's too much emphasis on the digital side and not enough on the convergence with the human side of IoT. Maybe that's an area for some innovation and some fresh thinking. Because clearly, at the end of the day, like with William, when you put an IoT pixel on a product, some human being at the end of the day, either consumer or a technician or doctor who's looking at a prescription vial, is it going to be part of that continuum, that chain and we got it, you know, that is important, sort of that is our version of sort of Apple's connection with people is what that what what that tech brings you in that moment? The the palpability of those insights. So I think you are so Umer, you know, you were obviously watch the Super Bowl, I mean, you know 80% of the commercials are designed to make you laugh and make you cry. Umer is something that we talked about courage before a lot of marketers are afraid of humor. Humor is threatening, because it is something that maybe means you're not serious, you know, that's not using a lot of humor. When I started off this business that was like certain like Procter and Gamble, you said, CPG, you Merck can't do humor trivializes a product. Now, of course, you know, they're doing really funny commercials. So there's a lot of different kinds of humor, obviously. I think that it plays a huge role. It builds relationships. Why do you think that? The when a politician is up before a hostile audience, the first thing they'll do or even a friendly, the first thing to do is they'll tell three jokes. Ronald Reagan, the master of you were right. You were breaks down barriers and builds emotional connection between people, particularly self deprecating humor says we're all the same at the end of the day. I don't think brands use it strategically enough. In fact, I think it's a really powerful weapon used right.
Steve Statler 44:36
So yeah, that classic I refuse to use the youth and inexperience of my opponent. He basically what won the election?
Adam Hanft 44:47
I think Mondale knew it at that moment, too. So yeah, I mean, I think it's, it's, it's easy to dismiss humor. It's nuanced, and it's not always easy to use it in the right way. It's like a spice you put too much in and it becomes too jokey. But it I think it has a really powerful role, particularly, I think with younger people with millennials, because this an anti umur, obviously is the famous weapon of the powerless, right is the weapon of the oppressed. That's why during the Soviet period, all these jokes are is a huge history of human being used by the, the disenfranchised. So and a lot of millennials feel that way. They feel that you can tell by those survey data that the system was rigged, it's working against them, they're not going to live as well as their parents the first generation to be in that position. So I think you I think humor is under leveraging, and particularly as they say, but this generation who was looking for somebody who can use wit and irreverence, to challenge authority.
Steve Statler 45:57
So Adam, as you may recall, we have this weird tradition in the show of asking our guests about their musical tastes, and in particular, the songs that have some significance. And you are, we've done over approximately 150 shows you're the very first person that actually knew where I stole that idea from Desert Island Discs. So congratulations on that. If I had a trophy, I'd send it to you. What are your three songs?
Adam Hanft 46:32
So I chose three songs that are meaningful, clearly, but also that I thought had some broader cultural relevance since there's just so many songs that one one might love. So I, I thought I would choose some that told a bit of a story, and probably reflect well on me since it's a branding conversation. So every choice you make is a brand choice, right? So the first, the first song I thought we could talk about quickly is take the a train, classic jazz song. And many, many people have covered it, elephants jerell. Included Duke Ellington wrote it although if you kind of go back deeper, he, he stole it actually from a guy named Billy Strayhorn, who was a gay collaborator of his and didn't really have the confidence to kind of come out if you will, in take credit for the song. So the sort of an interesting piece there. And so it's a it's an incredible, rollicking, memorable, you know, jazz piece, but also sort of, in this post pandemic world, when people are thinking about what's going to happen to cities. So take the train up to Harlem. It was written right around the time of the Harlem, Harlem Renaissance, which was the fasting period of history. So I, so that's, that's a really multi layered sort of resonant piece of music. For me.
Steve Statler 47:54
Very typical of you to look at things from multiple layers. Is that a time when you heard it that comes to mind? Or is it just something that's omnipresent?
Adam Hanft 48:05
You know, it's hard to remember. It's a good question. My parents were big jazz fan. So there was always some kind of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, you know, Billie Holiday music going on in the background. So I think maybe that's part of it also sort of made an imprint. But it's just full of joy and, and a period of history in New York when anything was possible. And hopefully, it can be that way. Again. I've made a wacky choice for the second one. So I have two actually. So I'll do them quickly. One is from the Wizard of Oz, believe it or not dig down the witch is dead. So everybody talks about, you know, over the rainbow from from music Museum, but I like that particular song, because I don't play it all the time. But there's something about it. That's powerful, because it's a celebration of victory. Maybe it's because of the pandemic, dingdong, the witch is dead. It's sort of metaphorical. You know, the Wizard of Oz was written by basically two immigrant Jews, Harold Arlen, whose father was a cantor in Buffalo and your Paul Barry who, I don't know who's spoke, you know, Yiddish and English at home. So it's sort of like an immigrant triumph also, you know, Ding Dong, the witch is dead. It's about immigrants kind of rising to the top of sort of American culture. So that's kind of cool. I think. Um, I was gonna I was I was going to say a song that I really hate to love but kind of love and that's smile. You know, Charlie Chaplin modern times because it is the schmaltzy is corniest song in the world. Like coming out of the pandemic, you know, maybe it has a surprising meaning to add. And then a hardware is going to pull up Bob Dylan. So it seems like you know, that's a song about warding at about. We're going to end up paying for our verse. Seidel sins obviously was written in the 60s. But you know, the heart rate is fallen. Now, by climate change, the heart rate is falling about, you know, social inequity. I don't want to get to sort of pretentious about it. But one of the things about that song is so incredibly powerful is is universal applicability. You know, there are consequences to behavior. So, yeah.
Steve Statler 50:23
30 thought provoking love, and original, no one's ever chosen any of those songs before. And we actually have quite a lot of repeats on this. What are the results? What other Oh, there's a lot of David Bowie kind of Ziggy Stardust space, right? related things, which is great. I love David Bowie. But it's, you know, it's, it's, it's a, it's after, after, I can't The only time I don't like it when someone's chooses life on Mars is it's like, it's not really about you. It's this. It's clever. But it's not really about you. And I love the song choices when it tells you a little bit about the person. And I think it's really interesting when these songs evoke childhood memories as well. For me, jazz does that as well. And actually, we gonna go I'm just putting together music for my father's Memorial, he passed away at the beginning of the COVID thing, and there was an England and so we can finally get back to England. And so we're gonna have Dave Brubeck, which is kind of one of my, my songs. Which, because that was a five. Take five Yes, yeah. Something.
Adam Hanft 51:45
You hear the first, you know, chord and you know, what, if you know what, you know it, right, it's like,
Steve Statler 51:49
yes. Or maybe unsquare dance, which I really liked, he died. You know, he did, saw him perform even when I was a student. Wonderful. Well, thanks very much, Adam. I'd love to hear a bit about your career. We're very fortunate to be working with you. And I was kind of in a guilty kind of fashion, looking at you on Wikipedia. And I'd already read a few things that you'd written and just loved them. But I'd love to how did you get in this business? And it seems like you, you were a writer in showbiz. Before you were.
Adam Hanft 52:32
Yeah. Well, first, I have to say I think I'm lucky to work we work with you guys. So feeling's mutual. I started in advertising, not during that during the madman period, I was sort of the next generation. But there was a lot of the the residue of the free Martini lunch still around, I have to say. And I was working at what was then a hot creative agency, and I was enjoying it. But I always when I was a kid speaking of childhood memories, I had always thought that comedy writing would be like the coolest thing in the world to do. And just by happenstance, I had shot a couple of commercials with folks who were in some of the was in the cast members of some of the Gary Marshall shows at that time, Gary Marshall servo, became a film director. But at that time, he had learned surely happy to see sort of owned by primetime. So I got friendly, you know, with some of the talents, including the guy named Phil Foster, who was lebrons. Father, if you're a key guy, if you're a nick at night geek, and he said, you know, show me some of the things you've written now stumped Gary, so I in those days, there was no email, obviously. So I put a few things together shortly, Gary. And I had never worked in Hollywood. And Gary said, This is great. come work with me for like a couple months and see what happens. And to his credit, obviously, the Writers Guild runs, you know, Hollywood, and it's incredibly undemocratic, very difficult to get into the Writers Guild. So what Gary would do to open it up, he would hire people as researchers, because you didn't need to be approved by the Writers Guild, you can hire any jerk to be a researcher. So I was one of those jerks. And I went out there, Paramount law, and it was very glamorous for I did that for about two or three months, maybe a little longer. I take a leaf from the agency. And I enjoyed it. But I didn't know if I wanted to kind of keep doing it. Maybe I should have. So I went back into the agency business. I'll say that, you know, you learn a tremendous amount about particularly from Gary, you know, about storytelling about structure, but character development, about all those things that are bad working in, you know, a half hour compressed time period, which is really invaluable. Because storytelling is so much a part of what we do. It's part of marketing. It's part of branding. You know, it's was true then, in the era of the 62nd commercial, believe it or not, now You know, you got six second internet videos, but the same principles apply. So But back to the agency, then I had a series of jobs, you know, as people did in those days moving from one creative agency to the other. It was an exciting time, as they said in the business, because people felt like they were creating work, that was really breakthrough. And everybody was trying to outdo everybody else. And you run to the office of the art director that right next to you say, look what I did, look what I did, sort of the memory of those classic Volkswagen ads was still there. And then I eventually left and started my own agency. But, you know, I think, because I came from a creative background and creative director background for me now when in terms of the strategy work I do, I connect the dots in a way that a lot of people end quote, branding don't, because a lot of people in branding come from the MBA side of the house, and they're very theoretical, nothing wrong, nothing wrong with it, as they say, but you know, unless you've sold something to somebody, unless you've written a commercial, radio, commercial TV commercial start course when you started off, you're not doing TV, you're doing little print, as we used to call them traders. Now it's b2b, we saw them trade ads, you learn the mechanics, the physics, if you will, of marketing, and I think it's hard for somebody who's never really been a practitioner, to kind of come in with a theoretical model of here's what the brand should be without understanding how to execute it.
Steve Statler 56:30
Who did you learn the most from? If you look back at your career, who are the people that you look back on that?
Adam Hanft 56:41
You learned? a great question, I think you've learned different things for different people. So I worked for a woman named Mary wells, who's still alive at 92, or something like that. I think she just won a medal at college, she was the first woman to run a New York Stock Exchange company, and if anything, that's just an agency. So obviously, in those days, you know, it wasn't easy. She was fearless. I learned fearlessness from her. And the ability to sort of understand what a client needs, but still come back at them. But something they didn't expect. And, and challenge them, but not threaten them. So it's a nuance, but I she was a she was a great, a great figure. And she also, you know, ran an agency with a great deal of creative energy. And you know, the suits if you were, we're not really a coward, this suits coward, because she wouldn't take any crap. And if they couldn't sell the work, she sent it back again, if they couldn't sell it third time she pick up the phone and call the client and say, you know, what the fuck basically. So I learned a lot from her in terms of leadership and, and sort of human dynamics. I worked with an art director. earlier in my career, named Alan Kay, who is well known for the if you see something, say something campaign, and he's still a friend of mine, he's retired now, he would like me to say that he's, he's still working. But he's not. He's just he sold his agency. And I just learned about the power of a simple idea and stripping things away. And, you know, result resisting the risk of over complication, which is a real risk in any category, but particularly b2b, which we know we're going to be talking about because it's complex. And the temptation and smart people are reasonably smart people, people think they're smart. I'm pretty good at adding layers of complexity to things. So sometimes what I do is they say cut it, the answer is there, we just have to kind of strip everything away. It's pretty sometimes a psychiatrist or psychologist does that they somebody says something, that's their truth. And then they make sure that that emerges from all the all the noise around it. So signal to noise ratio is super important, didn't what I do, and Alan was a good teacher, they're very good. I was young, I was just out of college and he had a he had been working for a decade. So he's a good person to learn from.
Steve Statler 59:18
Um, do you feel like you've maybe this is too easy a question, but please go ahead. You give me an easy question. Um, how did you figure out what you wanted to do when you grew up? My my kids are just really wrestling with that. And I feel like I should be able to solve that problem, but I I can't What was it that happened in your life that the
Adam Hanft 59:46
good news for them is it's not what they want to do when they grow up? It's what things they want to do. I mean, the the year of one career is gone. The stigma of jumping around is gone. In fact, A lot of employers want somebody who's had just a wildly unpredictable diversity of backgrounds, you know, when you read some, I'm just rambling here, but it's sort of interesting when you read, you know, a blur of bio in a book, right? It used to be, he's a novelist. He went to college, he went to get an MFA. And he became a writer today, what does it say? He worked as a janitor. You know, he was a drug addict. And then he became a writer. So tell your kids, they don't have to decide forever. So I just thought I, I enjoyed. I like the I'd like the art meets science, aspects of advertising. I guess I was too lazy to be to try to be a real writer, you know, to write the great American novel, or as many people do, as you know, from madman, right? So if you if you're, if you're, if you love language, and you love being able to express something in a new way, and you need immediate gratification, hey, it's the greatest career in the world, because you get pretty much immediate gratification. Right? client says, Hey, this is great. I love it. You know, you don't have to work three years. And you're Garrett and then have the publishers and you're back.
Steve Statler 1:01:13
Yeah. And how do you feel about the Don Draper, the role of Don Draper, this is this sort of icon. It's very easy to compare you to that, that
Adam Hanft 1:01:26
maybe because I worked for a woman for a long time. And I never really were, I never really saw the kind of licentious, you know, sexist, misogynist behavior. Never honestly. And I saw I work for a woman. So a lot of women were promoted in that agency. And then I worked at smaller boutique creative agencies where he didn't have that kind of politics where the work was paramount. And, you know, women were treated equally not just to say that causing presses bad. But that went on in big agencies, there's no doubt about it. I mean, it might have been exaggerated. And, but there was a lot of that behavior that went on. And a lot of, you know, a lot of smoking, obviously, I worked. The agency I worked at which was run by Mary wells had Philip Morris as a client. And in those days have obviously smoked at the office. Every every seat at the conference room had an ashtray and a packet, Benton hedges was a client pack of Benson and hedges there. And you literally had a smoke to work on the even if you had to fake it to work on the client. So we've come from now. Yeah, it's changed. But a lot of a lot of cannabis to going on. So now one of those things is socially acceptable.
Steve Statler 1:02:46
And from that to Obama, I'm sure you get asked about that a lot. But I was, again, stalking you online. And I saw an article that you wrote criticizing one of No, no, Obama, one of his ads, you see, it was tepid mash. Is that how you ended up working for him? He is no
Adam Hanft 1:03:09
i and i ended up we had a mutual friend he went to he went to law school with with a friend of his and friend of mine, Julius Genachowski, who ended up running the FCC. And Julius was putting together a team of people who understood technology, because that was really the centerpiece of the campaign and his sort of view of the world and the economy. So I was brought up the committee, I was on the committee and my, my role was focusing on the get out the vote, particularly in colleges, but just what's interesting is, people are talking about it now. But it really I don't think that the credited really deserved. So obviously, it was a small team, you know, hard to raise money in those days before he started to really gain traction. So basically, in a traditional campaign, you have a very top down very, very hierarchical organization. Nobody, other than someone who was on the campaign, could really do phone banking, because they were afraid the message would get out of control. But we realized early on, this was a few people that we had to empower, we had to flatten the hierarchy. So we there was phone banking, that any volunteer pretty much can do. We had to deliver the technology in order to make the voter rolls available and to create some kind of an infrastructure. This is before Facebook. But the idea was that volunteers, if you give them a script, would represent the campaign well, and if they didn't, if they went off script, if that was a problem, you would deal with it. But you would still then have the power we now call crowdsourcing we didn't call it crowdsourcing of all these young people were just so passionate for Obama. It really changed the game in a number of states because The coverage was so much more fast that you can get if you have a traditional, you know, politician or political candidate or not political if you had volunteers directly working from the campaign as opposed to just come together in a loose agglomeration. So that was pretty exciting to to watch that capability being constructed.
Steve Statler 1:05:22
Yeah. And obviously to great effect, actually, what my wife works in voter registration. She works for a nonprofit called inspire which is set up by a civil rights lawyer and they can use East Texas. Yeah, yeah. Adam, I think this is been a bountiful discussion, a lot of great ideas. A lot of humanity. A lot of fun. I've really enjoyed it. Thanks so much. I loved it. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Well, that's the end of this week's show. I want to thank Jessie Hazelrigg production, Aaron hammock for doing the editing. I want to thank you for listening to what it was an enjoyable conversation. Do tell your friends like us. ritas really important to get the word out. And look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks time with the next episode of Mr. beacon.