Bruce Lee and the art of Branding.

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Fantastic piece on Bruce Lee and the art of branding over at CultureMaking last month (via the Creative Generalist). Read the entire thing here.

Here are a few lessons we can all take to heart - and start applying immediately:

Bruce says: "Be formless... shapeless, like water”

Translation: don't impose structure on a problem too early or stick rigidly to a process for process sake. Explore freely and allow your mind to wander; work adaptively and flexibly.
Here's another:

Bruce says: "Here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony, now if you have one to the extreme, you will be very unscientific. If you have another to the extreme, you will all of a sudden be a mechanical man, no longer a human being. It is a successful combination of both. Therefore, it is not naturalness or unnaturalness. The ideal is unnatural, naturalness or natural, unnaturalness."

Translation: In the end, a marriage of qualitative and quantitative insight is most sensible (where possible). But my personal preference is 'culture-led' i.e. cast your net wide and understand the problem/category/brand within its socio-cultural context first (via cultural analysis), rather than restricting your vision at the outset with consumer needs and statistical 'facts'. Like Bruce also once said: "True observation begins when one is devoid of set patterns."

Brilliant. Here's more:

Bruce says: "I do not believe in styles any more"

Translation: Don't get caught up with one one-fits-all models that claim to be the holy grail of branding. Mixing and matching different ideas, innovations, communication codes and media platforms often works best and allows you to execute your brand idea in a much more compelling and interesting way.

I love that one. All too often (still) do I run into the 100% old school (command & control / messaging / media-buying monologue) or 100% new school (WOM is the new god) mindset with Marketing firms and ad agencies. Very few actually know how to blend the two in an operationally effective way yet. This needs to change.

Long before the concept of T-shaped Marketing professionals ever surfaced, Bruce had these things to say about the advantage of being a creative generalist:

"The best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style. He kicks too good for a Boxer, throws too good for a Karate man, and punches too good for a Judo man."

And also ...

"Some people are tall; some are short. Some are stout; some are slim. There are various different kinds of people. If all of them learn the same martial art form, then who does it fit?"

Well put. Here is an interesting observation from the author (no, not from Bruce) that... at the risk of alienating many fine Marketing professionals, I have found to be surprisingly true:

As a parallel, this captures how the marketing industry prioritizes endless doing over learning, thinking and personal development. There are people who have worked in the industry for many years, clocked up a wealth of experience, and mastered all of the 'core skills' required, but because they have taken little time to read, explore, and broaden their horizons, they have remained trapped inside the paradigms of old, oblivious to the creative possibilities that lie before them.

I just had a similar conversation about this very topic yesterday with a frequent collaborator: The marketing world should be a lot more forward-thinking than the rest of the business world. Why? Because Marketing departments, firms and agencies are a) populated with wildly creative and insightful people, and b) tend to attract the most creative and forward thinking art and business school graduates. It should be a no-brainer, right?

Wrong. I consistently find that Marketing professionals with 5+ years of agency experience tend to be no less conservative in their approach to problem-solving and process than their "regular" business counterparts. By now, everyone in the Marketing world should have read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. Everyone should be at least familiar with the concept of broken windows and its relevance to the success and failure of brands. Everyone should be looking well past the messaging layer of all branding endeavors.

But that just isn't the case. Most senior folks I run into are still holding on to Marketing assumptions and methods that were better suited for the 1980's and 1990's than to the era of emails, blogs, text messaging, and social networking sites. Most do not take the time to read the more influential books and blogs on branding and marketing. The Marketing world as a whole still exists in a strange operational timewarp, and frankly, I have no explanation for it.

Fortunately, Bruce does:

"[W]hen clans are formed, the people of a clan will hold their kind of martial art as the only truth and do not dare to reform or improve it. Thus they are confined in their own tiny little world. Their students become machines which imitate martial art forms."

Yeah, great creative is fun and effective, media buying is a great money maker, and despite what you may have read about recently, traditional marketing isn't even close to being dead... But the people you are trying to reach are increasingly tuning you out. If all you have to offer is messaging, the very small majority of people you do actually manage to reach won't believe you anyway. Among those who do believe you, without a remarkable brand experience to back up your marketing monologue, whatever you worked to hard to say will go in one ear and go out the other. (Yes, "sticky" should be part of your operational vernacular now. If it isn't, you've fallen, way, way, waaaaaaay behind.)

With this in mind, how much more advertising do you and your clients really want to buy? At what point are you prepared to sit down and consider the enormity of the ROI that traditional marketing and branding methods alone truly have to offer anymore? At what point do you come to the realization that something needs to change in order for your clients (and you) to stop spinning your wheels so damn much... and actually get some serious, consistent, repeatable traction?

One of my smartest friends - the best kinesiologist on the face of the planet - Frank Roth put it all in perspective for me this morning. We were talking about websites and structure, and he suddenly had this spark in his eye, as if he had just remembered something true and raw and powerful that had been lurking underneath layers of superfluous verbage for a very long time... and it was this:

It's just like dancing, sports, art and just about everything that stirs the soul and provokes reaction: First, you create the structure. You create a perfect, solid, symmetrical and harmonious architecture. (pause.) And then, you break it. You smash it. You shatter it. You completely destroy it. That's when it becomes powerful. That's how you release its energy.

As Marketing professionals, as brand strategists, as whatever it is that we happen to do for a living, work lacking in energy and momentum is just boring, dead, and stagnant. (No matter how clean, accurate and pretty it may be.)

I am sure that Bruce would agree that there is no power, no strength, no effectiveness in stagnation.

Step away from groupthink, if only for an hour a day. Free yourself from your corporate culture, no matter how cool or fun it may be. Read a book. Adopt a new point of view... or none at all. Shatter the structure of something beautiful, just to see what comes out of it. Attack a branding or marketing problem from this angle: What if I had a budget of zero dollars? How would I accomplish this? How would I turn this product or this brand into a media darling without advertising and brochures and websites?

Like Bruce, be mentally and operationally flexible. Keep an open mind. Don't be limited by old thinking or traditional mindsets. Learn new skills. Adopt new tools. Improvise. Experiment. Rewrite the rules. Break new ground. Don't settle for the little box you have carved for yourself in your market - and by doing so, don't ask your clients to settle for their little box either.

You can all do much better than that. Um... we all can.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)

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