Brands Need To Think Like Artists

Posted by

It’s amazing how content finds you, isn’t it?

Brands feel the need to impress. They do this by trying to create something grand that people will like. If it clicks, if it works, they lather, rinse and repeat. There’s a reason consumers have so much fatigue when it comes to brands and their marketing initiatives (and how quickly it sets in). Keeping attention is hard (very, very hard) work. Most brands don’t have the intestinal fortitude to see it through. Most brands have senior leadership that shifts and changes so much, that the very DNA of what the brands stands for can never, truly, be maintained and nurtured over time.

Watch this:

There was one major lesson for brands here… did you catch it?

Let me help you along: "If you address yourself to an audience, you accept at the outset the basic premises that unite the audience. You put on the audience, repeating cliches familiar to it. But artists don’t address themselves to audiences, they create audiences. The artist talks to himself out loud. If what he has to say is significant, others hear and are affected."

Does your brand "talk to itself out loud"?

I’m starting to like the analogy of "the work that we do as our art" more and more with each passing day. Eerily enough, when I blog about the more random musings (be they personal or more related to my interests outside of marketing), these seem to be the types of blog posts that get the most attention, amplification and shares. If I were a brand manager of Six Pixels of Separation and I had to show to my c-suite what was "working" when it came to my content, my guess is that this same c-suite would tell me to "shut it down," because the most talked about stuff is the content that is most unrelated to the raison d’etre of the blog in the first place.

We’re missing the point.

The bigger message here is that brands seem to live and die by the numbers and this forces them to create messages for an audience, rather than creating something of significance that will find its way to the people who matter most. It’s not a slight shift in thinking, this is a true paradigm shift. How often do you find yourself asking, "what is it that my audience wants?" instead of saying "let’s create this because it’s who we truly are."?

What’s your take?

hat-tip to Bob Lefsetz for pointing this video out.


  1. Great post; I think it’s a really heart warming way to look at branding – however I don’t think it makes a lot of business sense. I don’t agree that brands should be thought of as people; they’re artificial creations that aren’t “truly” anything unless someone makes them stand for something.
    I think branding should be thought of more like natural selection, where brands should gear themselves toward certain audiences & niches – the ones that have enough support will be maintained, the ones that don’t will be discontinued. The brands with the strongest following will end up succeeding.
    I think the fundamental issue this post brings up is whether corporations are qualified to manage a brand, considering corporations are primarily concerned with revenue. Those corporations will always opt for making more money, over standing for something.
    (i.e. If an market analyst went into the Kraft office and said: You have two options. You could spend 100 million dollars on advertising and see a return of 200 million dollars; or you could spend 100 millon dollars sending food to the hungry and be known as the brand who’s cured world hunger. This would have a return of 50 million dollars. Unless there was a way to justify a potential loss of 150million, Kraft would probably choose option 1.)
    I don’t think brands should be tasked with thinking at all; but if they were going to think, I think they should think like their customers because their customers tend to believe in things, sometimes important things. If a brand can adopt the causes that are most important to their customers, they can stand for something important while securing revenue targets. (Obviously, this is the complete opposite of “Stand for who we truly are” – and is much closer to “What does my audience want?”)

  2. I LOVE the idea of talking out loud to yourself. It’s funny, I often feel that way and wondered how to describe it. It may very well be a large contributor to our success with our audience.
    Thanks Mitch.

  3. Where did this girl/woman come from, she is fantastic!. I think this post ties in perfectly with SPOS 304 “Creating Brand Movements” a post that will never be deleted from my iPad.

  4. This issue is very real to me. I have been writing what I thought would be useful to people for three years. Yesterday I checked Google adwords and discovered that virtually none of my topics have high keyword rankings. Some of them don’t even appear when searched for.
    I have a different take on human behavior that doesn’t fit “keywords.”
    So I write what I think is important and look for an audience comprised of people who agree, instead of trying to write about what people are searching for. It seems to be working. I have almost 50,000 on my mailing list.
    By the way, I have been reading your blog and listening to your podcasts since I read your book. Brilliant material. Love it. And can’t wait for the new book.
    Thanks, Morty

  5. Mitch…This is one of the most moving posts I’ve read here. It was one of those enlightening moments where something is explained to you, and you realize you’ve always known it to be true but have never been able to articulate or capture the basic concept. It really got me thinking about how I write for my very small (but highly treasured) audience.
    I’m not so sure yet about the application to the brand world, but I’m truly excited about how this may change my writing.
    Thank you for sharing. I’m always amazed by the volume of great posts on your blog.

  6. Mitch, you’re mixing two entirely different species.
    Artists are driven by:
    * Direct passion
    * Internal motivation
    * A desire to communicate a personal experience
    * Inspiration from eclectic sources
    * An expression that is fearless of reaction
    * Indifferent to the schedule
    * Joyously consistent
    * Crafted execution more important than profit
    Brands are driven by:
    * Indirect passion (capitalizing on the desires of others)
    * External motivation (shareholder profit)
    * A desire to attract attention
    * Inspiration from specific sources
    * An expression which will capture maximum interest for the least amount of controversy
    * Paranoid about the schedule
    * Neurotically consistent
    * Profit nearly always takes priority over crafted execution.
    Not all brands and artists follow the above rules, but it is a rare apple that bucks the trend.

  7. As a cartoonist, I have always thought this way. But as I got more and more into online marketing and business, many entreprenuers tried to tell me what I thought was wrong. It will not work with my type of audience. But as an artist, I never sought out my audience. y doing what I enjoyed and love, then just sharing it to whoever whenever…my audience came (and grew) to me. I thought this was the real way to build a fanbase (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc.)…to build a business…Hell, I made money this way several times. But I’ve been told over and over again that my way didn’t work. But, all I’m discovering as I’m about to launch my business in the best way I know hoe – that’s being myself – that every person that has massive success did it in a way that has appealed to them as an individual…and in some ways…like an artist. That’s why they have a following that resonates with them. They did those top three reasons she read in They Became What They Beheld and they also didn’t search for their audience…they created them.

  8. I think another word for this is that you have an authentic voice. It’s true to something (in the case of the video, it’s true to the producer). Some brands have an authentic voice. I think of Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Chipolte…
    Others do not, many don’t have a voice at all.
    As someone who’s been writing for MY brand for a decade, and recently started trying to blog more intentionally, I get the tension. More audience, or more authentic voice. I have to believe that authenticity wins. At least if you are trying to build community, conversation and loyalty. But short term sales aren’t bad either…

Comments are closed.