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​Jeff Rosenblum: 'Empowerment leads to exponential growth'


'Advertising needs to be redefined. In this age of transparency, brands stand almost naked in front of their customers. Success or failure of a company is first of all driven by behavior and not so much by advertising. So, let's focus on immersive content and experiences,' advises advertising agency founder, filmmaker and author Jeff Rosenblum.

Rosenblum sees himself as a chronic risk taker. He took risks with his own marketing startup, which ultimately helped him to be successful. In an extensive video interview, he tells about the ongoing 'advertising revolution'. Too often brands choose the safe path ignoring opportunities and continue doing the same things. „What I realized is the relationship people have with brands has totally gone through a revolution. Brands need to focus less on saying that they are great and more on actually being great."

„Advertising is not dead. It just needs to be redefined to be about immersive content and experiences, not just interruptive messages," he writes in his new book 'Exponential. Transform your brand by empowering instead of interrupting'. „When brands create content that makes people's lives better, they can stop worrying about whether enough people are watching their 30-seconds ads. They can get fans to invest 30 minutes or more, by engaging them with immersive content they actually want to watch and read."

The naked brand
In his documentary 'The naked brand' he elaborates about developments in the advertising world. The film shows how brands stand naked in front of their customers in the digital age. Transparency is no longer a choice and it is the behavior of a company that counts. „Brands are realizing that looking great is not enough. It is time to actually be great."

In the film people express their views on advertising. One approach is that advertising is less effective than before because it is coming in so many directions. Another, positive trend is that advertising can help companies to be more transparent or more socially responsible. At their best they move the world forward and could help make corporations better, as the documentary states. The film highlights the role of consumers. „It is really a change to empower consumers to tell you what they want rather than you telling them what they should want. That is a big shift."

Exponential brands build in the middle of the sales funnel
His book 'Exponential' and the interview are full of anecdotes and examples of how brands have taken a new path. Take the story of Super 8 by Wyndham, a hotel chain, and its collaboration with the Human Hug Project, a group that sustains veterans suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The agency decided to make a mini-documentary about this veterans' project together with the hotel chain, which turned into a huge success.

From a marketing perspective, there is an important lesson to be learned. When companies start a campaign they often aim at the top and bottom of the sales funnel, but neglect the middle of the funnel. „Most brands overspend at the top of the sales funnel (build awareness) or overspend at the bottom of the funnel (acquire customers). Exponential brands are built in the middle of the funnel with content that empowers and differentiates," Rosenblum says. Funnel brand storytelling happens in the middle of the funnel, in this case a short documentary that went viral on the internet.

The team discovered that one of the hotels had a special parking lot for army veterans - Reserved Because You Served -, an initiative that received a lot of praise. Then they discovered the Human Hug Project where people visited veterans with a PTSD just to give them a hug. Although small, this project was already a success. The team decided to focus the mini-documentary (6 min) not on the hotels of Super 8, but on the story of veterans hugging. The name of the hotel chain as a sponsor was only visible for a few moments. The documentary not only spread the word about the veteran project, but about the hotel chain as well. People started to share it. On social media people were talking about how proud they were of Super 8 for doing something important for the veterans. „It was an example of audience empowerment turning to brand evangelism. (…) We helped the brand celebrate people doing interesting things on the road and depict the brand as a refuge for travelers."

Not every brand needs to be a Patagonia
Brands must first nail their purpose, Rosenblum argues. „That is the role that they are going to play in people's lives. They need to develop their internal culture: the everyday behaviors that bring a brand's purpose to life. With that foundation in place, brands can invest in empowering content and meaningful experiences."

When talking about purpose, many authors mention outdoor company Patagonia as one of the best examples (which it is), but that is a too narrow approach. „Those efforts are great, but most people don't wake up expecting brands to hug trees or save manatees. They simply want their own lives improved."

You just screwed it up
Success or failure of a company happens for a reason. One of the differences between Europe and America is how we think about companies that have failed. In Europe you are successful when your startup is successful. But in America entrepreneurs tend to put more emphasis on failures and what they learned from it. Rosenblum is no exception and in the video interview and the book he mentions several cases where everything goes wrong. It makes the book funny to read while at the same time you learn from it. For instance, how a pitch by his team of an excellent idea for Discovery Channel went completely wrong. He calls the office to hear the result. „We had a million dollars for you. All you had to do was not screw it up." In the book he explains how it happened. It is not just a nice story, it is the way you learn and become better. It starts with a good idea. „Then you bring it to live, one step at a time."

The Pepsi Paradox
An interesting chapter in the book explains how our brains respond to advertising and why people are hardly noticing short interrupting ads. Rosenblum explains how our brains work and that 'brands live in the prefrontal cortex' (which sits behind the forehead). A study known as the 'Pepsi Paradox' (comparing Pepsi and Coca Cola) shows how this works. The paradox is that most people prefer Pepsi in a blind taste test, but prefer Coke when the names of the brands are revealed. But when researchers do the same thing among people with damage to their prefrontal cortex, Pepsi wins in both cases. The research suggests that the prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role.

Armed with this knowledge, as Rosenblum writes, it seems obvious that marketers need to get access to the prefrontal cortex. But not all information reaches this part of our brains, because we filter many things out. We filter out what we consider noise, such as interrupting messages like pop-up ads. We hardly notice them. The question is how to break through the filter and build awareness. Offering valuable experiences and building trust are some of the answers. „The key for brands is to build authentic trust. Key words are honesty and transparency. Brands need to be aware of the importance of acting more human."

Exponential growth and empowerment
Empowerment is a key element to reach exponential growth. When Rosenblum and a friend founded their agency, this was a starting point. „The idea is really quite simple: how do we take data and creativity, blend it together and empower people, actually improve people's lives one step at a time." After some time of gradual growth, agencies may suddenly find themselves in a very fast, exponential growth. It is a next step and agencies need to prepare for it. „Look at the culture in your company, choose the best people to work with and prepare your team to grow on a larger scale."

Give consumers tools to improve their lives
A recurring theme of the book is that purpose should drive all decisions. Brands are naked and customers notice what is going on, so the basic idea needs to be how you can help your customers step by step. „Purpose will drive all decisions," Rosenblum says. „Traditional techniques will become increasingly ineffective. Instead of top-down patriarchal business models, we need nurturing, empowering ones. Instead of silos and rigidity, we need open-ended communication and collaboration. As brands we need to give consumers tools to improve their lives."

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