Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kevin Roberts: It's about Emotion, not Reason

Krass in style and powerful in message, Kevin Roberts, CEO of the one of the world’s leading creative organization, Saatchi & Saatchi, took the stage at the World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Tuesday, dawned in all-black, traditional zen garb with a keen interest for The Rockettes and a strong Scottish-versioned New Zealand accent. Needless to say, he made an impression. I can’t explain it very well. But that’s exactly the point of his presentation. He’s in the business of eliciting an emotional response from us in a way beneficial to his clients (e.g., Procter & Gamble, Toyota, General Mills, Visa to name a few). Say what you will about his style and his purpose, but his talk at the Forum was entertaining, edgy, and most importantly thought-provoking, with frequent use of his firm’s ads to make his point.

One ad was an affected amateur style video. The scene: Balcony view of modern-day Liverpool train station in England. People rushing to their trains, meeting loved ones, or simply lost. Hundreds of them. Suddenly, music blasts over the loud speaker. Good music. Confusion ensues. A few people stop what they’re doing and dance – clearly professional dancers, young hipster types. Many others are confounded. As the music continues, more dancers – likely professional still. As time passes and the music mix varies, even more dancers – but this time, innocent by-standers moved enough to join in. The crowd grows. As the songs change, more and more people join in… even the ones who are on their phones in disbelief, watching, mouth agape. Grandmas, dads, singles. Black, white, brown. It’s incredibly engaging. And you can’t explain why at this point even you are caught up in the moment, dare we say, emotional. Everyone in the train station is now dancing. Incredible. You are emotional and vulnerable - ripe for impression. Then, the company logo flashes on the screen: T-Mobile. The connection to T-Mobile doesn't make sense to us, rational sense anyway. Perhaps it’s about human connection and using T-Mobile to share in life’s random moments. Perhaps it’s simply a brilliant idea executed flawlessly to engage the viral generation. Either way, it touched us - and got over 10 million hits online in just three days.

I will always remember this ad. I might not switch my telecom provider, so perhaps the genius of it is misapplied. But what’s clear is that we are moving into what Kevin calls a participation economy which is driven by inspiration, unlike today’s attention economy which is driven by information. Heading into tomorrow, it’s not about marketing but a movement. Kevin explains that while reason and rationale lead to conclusion, emotion leads to action. In fact, he shared this insight as pretext for his seven ways to win in this new world we’re entering, a world in which companies and entrepreneurs need to drive “loyalty beyond reason.”

Here are Roberts’ gems, in his fragmented staccato style:
1. Face the truth. World is ugly now. Need to get along with less. Consumer research is worthless because consumer is in a different place. Deliver priceless value, not just price. “What are you giving me that’s emotionally priceless?” Purpose-inspired, benefit-driven brand.
2. Reframe beliefs about value. “When you buy a prius… it’s not about better MPG or reliability… you’re making the world a better place!”
3. Measure only what matters. Advertising – only two questions matter: “Do I want to see it again?” and more importantly, “Do I want to share it?” Don’t sell by yell. “Consumer is not a moron, she’s my wife.” Consumer has become the biggest medium.
4. Participation vs. Attention economy. Consumers are now their own medium, they’re their own creator. 14-17 yr-olds call themselves “Creatives”… they’re creating their own medium, their own world. Today, we’re in attention economy – it’s about information. Return on investment. Tomorrow, we’re in participation economy – it’s about inspiration. Return on involvement. Not through marketing, but movement. Not a brand, but a lovemark. Not price, but priceless value.
5. Let emotion rip. Rationale leads to conculsion. Emotion leads to action. We’re in the business of action.
6. Brands vs. Lovemarks. Brands are owned by companies; Lovemarks are owned by people. Brands built on respect; Lovemarks built on respect and love. Brand – for a reason. Lovemarks – beyond reason. Lovemarks drive loyalty beyond reason. Make brand irresistible, not irreplaceable (everything now is irreplaceable). Brands are about performance, reputation, trust. Lovemarks are about mystery, sensuality, intimacy.
7. Be true blue. Blue oceans, blue skies, be sustainable. Role of business is to make world a better place for everyone. Move from green to blue. Green is about fear; Blue is about optimism. Green is about “what is there to be done?” Blue is about “What can I do?” DOT – do one thing.

Roberts closed with another ad, perhaps the 7th or 8th of his presentation. The ad was for a New Zealand telecom company, but don’t let that off-put you, it was moving. Home video of son and dad over the past 30-40 years – first steps, fishing triumphs – grainy colored moments frozen to black-and-white stills marking the passing decades. Fine skin to wrinkles and white hair. Slow motion in parts, pleasant music throughout, strong bond clear. The last image goes up, full of color but also despair. It’s just the son, all grown up, standing on the front lawn. Sun is up but head is down. What’s missing – rather, who’s missing – is palpable. The music stops. On the screen appears: “Keep in touch.”

With an audience moved, Roberts closed his time with just one more line, “When this is done, don’t call your office, call your dad.”

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