From Friction To Empathy: A New Branding Model

Jeff RosenblumMay 3, 20195 min

Traditional advertising is based on a reach and frequency model, which focuses on how many people brands reach and how frequently they can reach them. While the industry has spent decades perfecting this model, it hasn’t stopped to think what that frequency is based on: interruptions!

Brands Spend Billions Creating Friction

In virtually no walk of life are interruptions considered a powerful tool for building relationships. They are one of the least appealing forms of communication. They are rude. They are annoying. They shut down the audience’s ability to listen. But they have been at the core of the industry’s strategy.

The future for building true passion brands is not about simply buying interruptions on various platforms. It’s about creating meaning and value. This is a sustainable approach based on real leadership—not a continual search for relevance on yet another platform. It will work now and continue to work in decades to come.

Finding friction is only half of the equation. The second half is the exciting part. It’s about replacing friction with empowerment. It’s about brands moving people’s lives forward one small step at a time.

The marketing industry needs to replace reach and frequency with reach and empathy. Rather than relying upon paid media to interrupt people and hope they care, the objective is to create content and experiences that are so powerful people go out of their way to participate in them and then share them with others.

Content and experiences that are so powerful, people are affected on a visceral level, building a true relationship between the brand and its audience. A relationship similar to one they have with friends. One based on open communication, loyalty and understanding. It’s about getting the audience to truly care.

The biggest question in any business decision is: who’s picking up the tab for all this? That’s the easiest part of the equation.

Corporations spend billions each year on paid media for their reach and frequency model. The money goes to TV ads, prerolls, mobile pop-ups, billboards and all the other annoying crap that gets in the way of consumers doing what they want. The great irony is that brands invest billions creating friction rather than fighting friction.

Every new technological advancement—web browsers, social media, mobile applications—seems to bring with it a new excuse to create friction. Marketers keep making ads, and the audience keeps running away.

Right now, for example, the business world has gone gaga over Millennials because they’re starting to have disposable income. They now represent $1.3 trillion in annual spending. But Millennials were raised in a connected, transparent world.

It’s easy to call this insane, but the simple fact is that it’s institutionalized muscle memory. Marketers keep doing the same thing because that’s what they know how to do.

Let’s dig into the changes taking place to understand why friction fighting is so critical. For years, advertising built brands, no question. Launch a product, advertise, people purchase, invest in more ads. Do it at scale, and a P&G is born.

The innovation that first gave consumers the ability to fight back against advertising was shockingly mundane. It was a piece of indexing technology known as a search engine. It had all the sex appeal of a phone book.

If we are in the early stages of a business revolution, the rise of search engines was the Boston Tea Party. It was a signal event that promised violent change. Search engines shifted power from brands to consumers. They no longer had to watch jingles on TV to learn what new toys to buy their kids. They simply had to ask Google. Instead of being mildly helpful, interruptive ads became annoying sales pitches from people they really didn’t trust.

The problem only deepened with the advent of technologies built for outright avoiding ads, such as DVRs, spam blockers, ad blockers and do-not-call lists. But that’s just the physical avoidance of advertising. What’s worse is the emotional avoidance of ads. Up to 89 percent of TV ads are ignored according to recent ethnographic studies—and not because of DVRs or remote controls. The audience simply looks down at their mobile devices. They mess around on Instagram and email for a few minutes and look back up when the ads are done running.

TV Isn’t The Only Casualty

Most marketers regard 2015 as a watershed, because that’s when brands finally woke up to the fact that their customers were not sitting around watching TV commercials anymore. So they shifted the bulk of their money toward digital. 30-second TV spots became 30-second pre-rolls. Print ads became banner ads. Junk mail became spam.

Think about it: Digital has fundamentally changed the way that human beings interact with the world around them. And what was the business world’s response to this world-changing technology? Pop-up ads.

It’s no surprise to find out that they aren’t working. Data proves that you’re mathematically more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad. That’s because the new interruptive ads are even more annoying than the old ones. Digital media has changed the way we look at the world and our expectations of how quickly things should happen.

In this model, advertising still has a core role. An empowering experience without advertising to build awareness is like building a candy store in the desert. Advertising must be used to generate traffic. But it simply needs to provide a gateway to immersive experiences. It no longer needs to tell the complete brand story.

Brands need a shift in strategy that is commensurate with the shift in consumer behavior. We’re asking advertising to do too much. That’s why the new branding model is empowerment over interruptions.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Jeff Rosenblum and Jordan Berg, excerpted from their book Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption, published by powerHouse Books

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our purpose, mission, vision and values and brand culture workshops.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers

Jeff Rosenblum

Connect With Us