Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
A person might know he has a pile of bricks. But without imagination, they will remain a pile of bricks instead of a patio, a pizza oven, a life-size chess board. Without imagination, nothing new would ever be invented, no architectural masterpieces would ever be built, no sculpture would emerge from a slab of marble.
As a creative person in marketing, I like to think that what we do is to re-imagine knowledge. Curiosity is what we are, by nature. We try to take facts, figures and data and find ways to make them more relevant, accessible, and even fun for the audience we’re speaking to. No matter what we create, it must be grounded in some essential truth, about a customer, a brand or a product. But imagination is what lets us shape those truths into compelling artifacts to create your brand sculpture.
And yet, when faced with the greatest threat to society in our lifetime, what have many marketers done? Resorted to platitudes, euphemisms and mimicry. They knew that people were shaken and afraid, that they needed solutions, reassurance and information. Instead, many responded with a virtual “there, there”. (I’ve always wondered what that actually means…)
Years of basing every message on performance testing, and graphs and charts and data have made many companies rigid, paralyzed, and fearful of intuition or emotion. Everything must be on science, not art. They can no longer be agile, because every decision requires reams of justification. So they defer to vacuous or repetitive messaging instead of imagination.
There are, of course, a few who’ve allowed imagination to work for them. Burger King, for instance, started putting extra onions on their Whoppers to encourage social distancing. Breweries, distilleries, even L’Oreal began making hand sanitizer. Some engineers at a sporting goods company, Decathlon, figured out how to convert snorkeling masks into makeshift ventilators.
Even some companies that are usually data-driven temporarily de-emphasized process to address issues quickly. DTE, one of our own clients, was in both traditional and digital media within days, providing information and reassurance, with word of shut-off protections, help with payments, and aid to families, emergency workers, and schoolchildren across the state. They knew that with an essential product such as energy, their customers looked to them for guidance.
And it’s not just re-tooling, it’s re-telling. Some have found lighthearted or empathetic ways of informing people about new rules and safeguards in place for their employees and customers. One imaginative group, Happy Data, even found a way to make data compelling, hopeful, and, well, happy.
Every one of these started with human insight and ended up with stories that have made them look pretty darned great.
What’s your story? How are you solving problems? How can you create a smile, earn a nod, fulfill a need?
The point is, your bricks are just bricks until real vision rearranges them differently. That means looking at knowledge and turning it around and around until a shape presents itself.
You can’t build brands without imagining them first.