Innovation Protocol’s Purely Genius Act on Putting the heart back into Brand Strategy and Advertisement

Hello and welcome to another edition of Ephlux Insights. My name is Babar Khan and I’m the entrepreneur in residence for this program. We are honored today to be joined by Sasha Strauss, the Managing Director of Innovation Protocol and he’s also the founder of the same organization and the Professor for Brand Strategy at 2 universities UCLA and USC Marshall.

Thank you for being with us Professor Strauss, huge honor to be here talking to you. Could you give us a very brief introduction to Innovation Protocol, how it came about and the USP of the agency within the agency?

Sure. I’m honored to be here. I’m happy to answer any questions that you have. A little about where my professional experience comes from. I used to work in big ad agencies, and then I went to work at big public relations firm and then migrated to brand strategy consultancy firms and then ultimately what everyone does, in any profession when you get familiar enough with the space and you have clients that are your own, inevitably you start your own organization. So, about 7 and a half years ago I took the risk and started my own company at my buddy’s apartment to tell you the truth. Now, I’m driving a powerful organization that I’m proud of.

That’s really hard to do especially at that point in time, but you’ve grown into a pretty strong team, and I’ve been in a meeting with Matt Damon, so it’s a strong group with great experience and background. This question comes from the CEO of a large organization name and he asks how brands are built using single or multi-communication channels in this era and could you talk about the concepts of innovation, customer experience play into it?

Cool. So, a lot of times people think that when an organization is communicating that it should select a single communication channel and drive the entire unit of understanding through that single communication channel. My inclination is, the audience, doesn’t matter who your audience is, they never consume content from a single source. They’re living their lives, they’re up in the morning, turn on the radio, they’re reading tweets during the day; they might even read the article that you’ve written. All of these pieces together compound, so in this era, an Innovative organization recognizes that you can’t give people a relationship to acquire, familiarity comes with time and exposure through a series of communication channels, then you’re stopping them in their track and asking them to buy it, for instance and like I’ve said in so many videos online that it’s literally not kind, it shocks them, they feel unintelligent and then they ultimately build a resentment to the organization that’s constantly interrupting them. So innovative organizations that respect multi-channel communication, I would say that’s just kindness to a contemporary audience. This is where they go for information – be present, ready to engage within that experience.

That’s exactly what I apply to any consultation work that I do now. The idea is if you’re going to broadcast, have some meaning. Everyone is saying something or the else, so it’s basically the concept there. Even if It’s as simple as something you talk about in a video where people are broadcasting by the clothes they wear on their backs So, if you apply he idea to when you’re going for a job interview and you know everyone’s going to be wearing a suit and a tie, go in a vest, go in something different, stand out in whatever way you can, ask questions that no one expects you to ask , so whatever you do that differentiates you beyond what the norm is, how you should communicate in that particular context, probably you will stand out and impress where you need to impress.

That’s just the perfect example of this. When you do something just for the sake of differentiation, let’s say you wear that great tie, then it becomes the focus then someone says that particular product or that organization is trying to be different through that one differentiating aspect. What I ask you again and what you just said is ‘let’s say you pay attention to that different thing to distract them, that itself is not what they should care about. That distraction is supposed to bring their attention to something else – he person wearing the outfit or a unique organization you’re trying to draw attention to. Where most communicators fall short is go after the distraction alone, they go after the differentiators alone and don’t care that it should be a signature of something much greater.

Second question comes from a former chairman of above the line analog firm in New York and asks what is the role of digital, mobile and social media in building brands as opposed to engaging the audience.

You know those three channels are always discussed as an engagement utility. Get out there and interact with your audiences and he predecessor into going there is to construct your brand strategy in terms of this is who we are and this is why we matter and this is what makes us feel good about topics, this is where our innovative property came from , this is how we want to think and believe and when you have that construct and then when you’re thinking about what to tweet and deciding whether hat instagram post is co-brand, you’re not deciding, you’re just checking that yeah, it complies , this is what is consistent and this will build a relationship, people will see this, be familiar and connect better. Once you construct the social strategy or any contemporary strategy, it has to be built on top of brand definition first. You see a lot of start-ups and entrepreneurs who do it and say I’m just going to talk. I’m going to let all people know about me, I’m going to recruit engineers. The challenge is though when you drive by someone’s house and the façade is all a shuffle, they’re all different colors, shapes and things, it doesn’t matter how wealthy that resident is, your inclination is that looks like a poorly odd business – looks like someone’s not got their stuff together. We think like that as human beings, imagine what your customer or business to business, your buyer is feeling when they walk by your business online and they say to themselves ‘these guys have clearly no idea what they’re doing, they sound different, they look different, they act different, I’m scared to do business with someone so disjointed.

Another aspect of fear comes into the next question; this comes from the CEO and Founder of a traditional agency in UK. He’s built capabilities over the years – analog and ATL and non-digital capabilities, slowly moving towards the future but its taking a bit longer than expected. So, it’s kind of a fear – he says we don’t have the expertise in the areas of technical and strategic perspective, but we’re getting there, we’re trying and would like to know what their role is as a traditional advertiser.

Another consistent question that I get from my students and my clients – is this the end of traditional advertising? Not only do I not believe that it’s the end, I believe they have a very special place in the entire understanding. Again, tweets are frivolous and free, a super-bowl commercial is very expensive and monumental in its mark. Together, they can create a very powerful impact. Alone, they feel disjointed and uncertain.

There’s this homework assignment that I tend to give some of my start-up buddies because they want identity, they want online identity and what I say is to use them solely as a research facility. Use them as listening devices, pay attention to your competitor’s advertising, pay attention to your competitor’s communications online and just create a data set to affect your business decisions. You don’t have the time now actually; don’t have the time to spend on all of these things, no need to have just one ad out. Don’t waste the money, don’t waste the creativity. Instead just use all of that resource to just use the internet. Just by that comprehension alone, you’ll be more particular, you’ll be in the pitch and you’ll have enough experience about what’s going on in the universe of your category. Your awareness will be more powerful than some public ad that doesn’t matter.

The same person has another question. There specialty is in healthcare, so they built an agency brand, whether it’s the supplier side or buyer side, or even from the service side. Now they want to know how brand building can differ in different sectors or different industries. How does the customer behavior cycle affect the campaigns?

Any student, any person or any business visionary can ask that question and say ‘What do I do to brand build in this very category?’ The questions though remain the same which is not only ultimately who will buy what you’re selling, who’s going to influence them or who’s going to inform them? When you answer all those questions that the end user is becomes a fairly easy question. You’re no longer just trying to stop them and convert them; you’re informing them along their awareness journey. My answer, like in the medical devices sector, I’ve done this for very large global associations, where I have went through hospital parking lots with huge paychecks to ask a radiologist a brand related question. Excuse me sir, I know you’re late, but let me ask you two questions. No one has ever empathized with physicians, everyone’s just selling them stuff, ‘hey use my device’ so, ultimately you respect them, and the end users are frazzled by the disruption. We go all the way back to the journals, to the university researchers, how they’ve published their work on the topic, aware and speaking about the product. When you get back there, you’re speaking her language, you’re relating to the way she was trained, you’re relating to the patient that she’s currently seeing. Or is it just through patient analysis. There’s no disruption here, and there’s no way you can insult her with the curiosity and engagement that will intrigue her. End summary again, it does not matter who the end audience is, what influences most is the contacts along the way. Brand building in that environment is cheap, easy, directed, it’s one on one, one on five, it’s those that influence the decision making of the user.

Anyone who’s interested in learning what Professor Strauss just said, you have to look at a case study on a brand called Synagro. It’s just brilliant, if someone came to us, any business I know, and said this is what we want, we’d laugh for half an hour. A pretty bad idea of how to go by, thinking about just one stakeholder group, but this particular campaign that they ran touches upon pretty much every group. You can just close your eyes and put yourselves in the shoes of any stakeholder of the 1t-27 people who’d be involved in this campaign and actually communicate something that everyone wants to hear. In my opinion, that was one of the best work that Innovation Protocol has done.

I’ll just give 10 seconds on what you just said. First of all, thanks for the compliment on the work. All we did was we took a business and a topic that people including the employee base were not interested in talking about. The company was the human waste recycling system, so it was already disgusting to the editors and publications, disgusting to university researchers but because we were objective about it, because we said it doesn’t matter how we feel as organisms , what matters is that all of the people in the system, what they understand and that all of the efforts of this organization, how are the concepts that people and planet can actually synchronize like instead of beating the planet up with our actions every day, if we were to engage in the global human waste recycling program, we would now actually be able to establish a balance – maybe that came from science, maybe it came from quantification – the point is we had to give all of their poise, something to celebrate. That is why that case worked so well.

I believe the person asking this next question is asking regarding a brief he received from a client and is stuck. He says that Amazon and Facebook may have built their brands advertising, but can an existing FMCG or bank, can they build their brands without advertising?

You know it’s still interesting that people think that Facebook and Amazon have never advertized. Let’s take the word advertise out and let’s just talk about communication. Amazon and Facebook have communicated consistently, aggressively, they’ve built relationships with editors – that’s public relations. I disagree that they haven’t advertised, in fact I consider them the most prolific communicators. When it comes to a bank or anything that we’re talking about in that respect, the questions that can you be, if you’ve never advertised? My answer is if nobody has ever heard of you, or people don’t know that you exist, what do you think is going to tell them to come to you? You think they’re going to do hours of work, digging you out of the computer, so they can give you their money? If your audience is unaware, just you must, advertise or market or public relations or something to bring that awareness. Back to the question, No I don’t think you can build a business without “advertising”. There’s no business to be had!

There’s a famous quote that gets shared around the office, at least once a year, especially when there’s a really good campaign, Doing business without advertising is like making out with a girl in the dark. Only you know what you’re doing. This question comes from us: share some videos, put up a website; we want to see teasers, like fans like myself.  This last question comes from me, I do a lot of pro-bono consultation and a couple of other business that we do work with, get a lot of funding but they don’t know where to go beyond funding, and majority of the business that we work with are technical start-ups so they only know how to communicate in the first place. Their only communication style is informative communication but they don’t know how to be persuasive, they don’t understand the concept of brand building from a story-telling perspective. Informative advertising is usually boring and in this era we need to build a compelling emotional reason. How does a brand go global?

You’re not going to like my answer. What’s the point? Someone came to me, u know I heard Uniclo, the clothing manufacturer on the radio the other day. The CEO said we want to be the biggest clothing manufacturer and retailer in the world. My reaction is <silence>.. So your goal is not to clothe people, or give them creative expression, or bring democratize design to the masses, just want to be the biggest. I’m supposed to like you for this?  I’m supposed to want to buy your clothes because you have some sick dominance goal? How is that supposed to relate to people? Back to the question: how can a brand go global? Global is a misnomer- you live in |Pakistan right now, and I live in United States, we speak the same language yet we live completely different lives. To suggest that there’s a thing as global assertion that all will love is unfair to the culture, needs of the global populous. The work that I do is always tailored to localization – it’s not just localized colors or localized words, its localized attitude, localized buying behavior. If Americans buy in a heartbeat and Pakistanis buy in a week because they kind of look after their families first, great! Before anybody says that I want to be global, please have a human reality check and ask yourself what are you really goaling to do here. Do you want to be able to get out in an airplane and look at tall the sides and say look how great we are, we’re big important company – none of your consumers or partners have any idea what you’re doing then congratulations  you went global, but have you created good business? Do you have a stable business that can survive tumultuous economies? To me that is so much more important than ‘Ha! Our brand is the biggest loudest’

I will definitely take this forward. But this sort of notion – when I talk about your ideology to people they says this is how we feel but it requires an enormous culture shift. Any organization that is so sales-driven, ROI –driven, which is great, but the concept that there’s some patience in there. So with an idea, how will an organization bring that to the call? Usually people say it starts from the top – the CEO communicates it down the pipeline and everyone will start following it, like serving people , their product is fulfilling the people’s needs – whether that need Is monetary or emotional – it comes with time. I’m sure you’ve got skeptics, who say this is how the world works? How did you respond to strike a change that is positive?

Yeah. I completely believe in the metrics, just like you said. I believe in measuring and refining and reconstructing your efforts. Let’s just do this as human beings for a second. You and I have been part of companies, teams, clubs, and religious groups and ask you of the memories of those times. You might be able to remember the people or friends you worked with, but someone who believed in the team success the most maybe was the team captain or the coach, you could never be your best. I don’t care how physically fit you were, or skilled you were at that time. The greatest athletes have got coaches; presidents of the worlds have got advisors. If a CEO is not interested in taking a belief leadership role, you’re right, they could be traditional, stick with the measurement, and hurt people’s feelings every time they bring creative to the table. Whereas what I tend to do when I get invited to just as many meetings I get welcomed into, they are holding onto antiquity, they believe, like when the blackberry first showed up, they said only idiots will check their emails every day. <Silence> All day. Babar, what do we do? We wake up. Maybe it’s an email from our family, point being they said we were idiots , this would never happen ,people wouldn’t have email all the time, you and I talk to Twitter, there’s a constant flow of information, so sorry traditional CEO but you’ll have to wake up to the contemporary reality, but the most important point is that it doesn’t matter how big your organization is, it doesn’t matter how good your product is, if there’s no model of true belief in the business or what its fighting for and what impact it has on its audiences, you will never motivate the employees other than meet their job description. Clients call that 501 don’t they? At the end of the day, when the client calls, can you help me with this, I need some guidance, and we care, don’t we? And our answer is, yes! I can’t wait to help you, celebrate these ideas of global escapade, the person with the highest degree, the person with the most job experience – those two people are not leading most of the world’s organizations. The ones who are leading now have woken up to the reality that their employees don’t know who they’re working for or why or what those people are thinking about every day, how are they going to motivate themselves, how are they going to work every day and create value when they don’t even know who the people across the hall are? This is just humanity. We can just go back to the old ways of advertising; we can just go back hundreds of years before that and these still remains true. Tribes were being built and communities were being discovered. Sorry for my land, but what I found internationally is if you cannot assert a belief that can be actualized in a human being, you are just going to be tightening the bolts on your employees , tightening bolts on distributors, on the retailers, please put us on the second shelf not the third, are you going to push hardest? Let’s just be real here – be honest and respectful. Everybody deserves someone who they can believe at work. Without it, we’ll just be people to bone.

At the back of my mind, I had this belief of how a brand should be built. All these years of working for people, who had the other mindset, I slowly became corrupted down the road. Your videos were discovered, and our chief investor working with Matt on various projects, I’m not sure exactly what but they have this entirely new way of going about business. I thought it’s not possible, it’s probably a gimmick, but it’s not. From the executive assistant, all the way to the CEO believes in the same message. The culture that you’re bringing to the organization. Myself and other fans, we’re spreading the word because we want to get the word out there – this is what we believe in and this will work in the future. We’re growing up, and a brand should be honest to serve the humanity. You reference religion a lot. Someone asked you which is the best book on advertising, getting the word out there and you said, the Bible, I mean read any religious context, that’s the biggest brand reach there is. I mean no brand in the world has done what religion did in that era of no communication channels, no TV, no print, no Facebook. And reached a large population. In that stone age, the communication tools were word of mouth. With that accomplished, if you can just replicate that, with that honesty and cater to that spirit or a person’s soul that has more value than these other mediums.

One last point. Yesterday I gave a speech to t0 Catholic Priests. They get it. They get what you and I feel and believed since we were children. These are very traditional people .we’re in the middle of an awakening. I call it a new renaissance. I’m not sure what it is called. No matter what books we studied, no matter what graduate school we went to, we know what’s true. It is worth writing for – all day, every day.

There’s a video where you tell people you come from a non-catholic background but you’re relating to them, and people in the audience are cheering for you and they say he sounds like us even though he’s not like us.. So that’s that… thank you Professor Strauss for taking out time, I hope to have more sessions with you with all the interviewees and ideation kind of interviews. Wish you the best for the speaking session. Please share more videos. I can’t have enough of your Thinksight video. We can put up a website for you for free!

Thank you so much Babar for your advocacy. I can just be so much thankful to have your support and appreciation.

We’re all winning at the end of the day.

Yes, there’s plenty of space for all of us to win.  

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