Dad, I have a dream. I want to sell my ideas.”
I was 13 years old. My father looked at me in the way parents sometimes look at their crazy children and said, “Son, I think we have a problem.”
Years later, I’m glad to say I’ve been fortunate enough to keep my early mission statement alive. My father shouldn’t have worried; there wasn’t a problem, just a rewarding way of life. But what about the next generation of dreamers? Surely they’ll have no problem selling their ideas in this hyper-connected world.
For one thing, it’s never been easier to put ideas into the marketplace. Today’s teenagers have been training for it almost since birth. Sharing and connecting are second nature. Their interactions with friends, family and the world beyond flow into a river of information. Everything they do, think or feel is ready to be packaged and put “out there.” And transaction and competition are at the heart of their young lives, too. How many friends or followers do I have? Will I get retweeted? How many “likes” did my Instagram photo get? Am I the center of the conversation? They’re in selling mode all the time, whether they realize it or not.
So this should be a golden age for dreamers. With more speed and connectedness, we’ve never had a greater ability to project ourselves onto the world.
But self-projection is only half the story. What made my dream a dream, rather than simply an ambition, or a career option, was not the selling part, but the ideas part.
And this is where brands and their marketers should take note: yes, you have so much more power to connect, but it’s wrong to think you can simply pour your presence into every channel available and expect a return on investment. People are already numb to that approach.
If you want to live the dream, if you truly want to connect with people in a numb world—as well as ignite them—you must never underestimate the power of an idea to separate you from the noise.
In the new world of marketing, businesses like to believe they’re in a “conversation” with their customers, when in reality many have forgotten what it really means to talk to people. It is easy to point at the numbers and say engagement is happening—the digital world is good for people who like metrics—but who’s measuring relevance? Does any of it move us as human beings?
For an idea to have value in the world of marketing communications it must make you feel; it should provoke laughter, touch a nerve and create excitement for a brand. There should be generosity of spirit in what we do. Even if we have messages for the head, we should always seek to gain entry through the heart. To be humanly relevant our work should be founded on emotion. That’s true for every kind of customer whether it’s a consumer or a business decision maker.
In every choice we make, whether it’s what brand of coffee to buy or whether to sign a multimillion-dollar contract, emotion always comes first. Yes, our rational brains have a crucial role to play, information has to be on hand and facts must be straight, but that’s the easy part. The challenge is to remember this truth: our laughing, crying, loving, loathing, silly, serious emotional minds are always in charge.
This is something the most successful—and iconic—businesses understand instinctively. They’re dreamers too. In fact, they’ll tell you they owe their very existence to dreams. These companies weren’t born to churn out product; they were started by people who dreamt of ways to change the world. For them it’s not about what they do; it’s about why they do it. And the why that drives many of the brands prospering today is a humanly relevant idea.
Whenever I interview someone, I ask, “What’s your dream?” The most common response: “Wow, no one ever asked me that before.” But for anyone in the communications business, it’s a question that’s more important now than ever.
There has never been a better time to reach our customers, but we have a choice. We can use all the technology and channels at our disposal merely to amplify our messages to the point of noise. Or we can use those gifts to give life and purpose and never-ending expansiveness to our ideas, to reach people in ways that matter, to ignite emotions. That’s my dream.
Illustration: Sergio Membrillas