We are digital humans in a global sea of streaming noise somewhere in a cloud that has made every one of us a broadcast network—a network of influence that can efficiently deliver shared experiences anytime, anywhere, and on any screen.
For the most part, where we are no longer matters. And that concerns me. Let me explain.
My father was a writer, producer, and creative director at Leo Burnett Chicago, during the early years of television. He espoused the value in owning a place from which to tell your story. Almost every brand-identifier he created had this sense of place, which continues to this day. Tony the Tiger’s place is breakfast in the kitchen. The Pillsbury Dough Boy is in the oven. The Jolly Green Giant has his valley of fresh vegetables. The Marlboro Man has the wide-open spaces of the West. The Keebler Elves have their tree.
Few companies understand this sense of place. Those that do stand out. General Electric, for example, does an extremely good job embodying everything it does through its “Imagination at Work” brand identifier. This conveys GE’s imagination is found at its place of work. GE owns workplace imagination, which is timeless yet allows it to evolve as the world changes and digital technologies disrupt business.
Place doesn’t only have to be physical, either. After the launch of the movie “Spider-Man” in 2002, for which my company did the marketing, Unilever asked to hear more about our creative process. For us, it starts with uncovering a story’s authentic place. Was Spider-Man’s place swinging through the canyons of the city? No. Spider-Man’s place was vertigo. Peter Parker’s internal struggle, as well as the physicality of hanging and swinging through the city, creating a visceral feeling of vertigo. This one word became the place from which all creative was developed, from the main title design, poster art point-of-view, outdoor campaign, and style of the film’s trailer.
Find Your Place
As far back as I can remember, my father and I would analyze the latest television, print, and radio commercials. Time after time, we agreed that it didn’t matter what genre the advertiser set its story. What made an ad most effective and memorable was it was grounded in place.
Fast forward to today. Our world is noisy, confusing, and uncertain. Companies I meet with say they are concerned by this challenging environment and how to best navigate it. As with my dad, our conversations (and answers) inevitably find their way back to owning their place—not what they make or sell.
Without a defined place to ground your brand’s existence, being everywhere is more like a homeless journey that often telegraphs a loss of direction, opportunity, and soul. Looking ahead, that will become ultra-glaring as the digital world becomes even more immersive in our daily lives.
So pick your place. Then own your place. And do so carefully and authentically.