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Online Interview with Paul Isakson (Strategy / Planning)



As head of the strategy team at space150, Paul oversees the brand planning and user experience design disciplines across all agency clients and new business. Paul deeply believes that brands should use their marketing to help make people’s lives better rather than simply telling them that their _____ is better. His thinking, presentations and experiments related to building modern brands have been endorsed and covered by leading industry publications including BusinessWeek, Wired, USA Today, Adweek, Ad Age, The NY Times, the Guardian and by several marketing thought leaders around the globe. You can find out more about Paul by following him on Twitter (@paulisakson) or by checking out his blog at paulisakson.com.

NewsDrillDigital: How did you get into planning / strategy? What do you most like about it?

Paul: I first found out about planning in college when reading “Truth, Lies & Advertising” by Jon Steel. I knew as soon as I started reading it that planning is what I wanted to do for a living. The thing I like most about it is the constant challenge of understanding how culture is changing and what that means for helping companies develop marketing that is meaningful to people.

NewsDrillDigital: Do you think it’s better to be in marketing/branding now compared to 10 or 20 years ago?

Paul: Absolutely. Then you had far less opportunities to connect with people than you do now. It makes it a lot harder with this being the case (today), but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think marketing is heading in more fun directions than we can even imagine as things continue to evolve and converge at the same time. I’m very excited about the future of this industry.

NewsDrillDigital: An economic downturn is, surely, a great opportunity for building up a brand story (they managed to build up their brand despite the odds type-thing). Do you have any favourite brand stories right now?

Paul: I think my favorite brand stories right now are all the little ones. I love seeing stories on how social media is helping small businesses succeed and making people’s dreams become a reality. It’s very exciting to watch.

NewsDrillDigital: What do you do to get into a creative frame of mind? How / where do you find ideas?

Paul: You know, that’s a tricky question. I don’t think you can force creativity. The thing I’m always doing is taking in information. Like I say in some part of my “about” section on my blog, I never stop thinking about brands and seeing opportunities for them. As all this information floats around my head, I spot opportunities where bits and pieces can come together to create something different or new for someone. Then from there you just keep pushing it until it’s different from where you started, but still on strategy and still will be meaningful to people. If I ever am in a push to be creative, then I try to clear my head of whatever it’s doing, put on my headphones with some good background music and start writing, drawing or reading something inspiring.

NewsDrillDigital: What would David Ogilvy find most different about branding/advertising today?

Paul: I think he’d say we’ve forgotten that we’re supposed to be selling things for our clients. I think he’d feel that too many ads have gotten lost in trying to make a brand cool or sexy or whatever while forgetting that the ad’s job at the end of the day is to help drive sales. I also think he’d look around and still think people are being disrespectful to the people they’re trying to sell to.

NewsDrillDigital: What are the most important competencies a client should look for in an agency?

Paul: First, they need to look for culture fit. Far and away. If the client and the agency don’t fit culture-wise, it’s never going to work. Secondly, they need to look for an agency who can think beyond a medium and can apply creativity to solving business problems, not just creating ads, web sites, press releases, etc. Thirdly, they need to look for an agency that plays well with others. The days of having one agency do everything have to go away. Clients need experts who can work together to build ideas that drive business forward, not agencies fighting over who does what and trying to steal work from each other. There are definitely more things than those, but I think I would rank these three the highest.

NewsDrillDigital: Are there any areas of non-digital marketing that are, currently, being overlooked / undervalued?

Paul: You know, really I think TV advertising is getting beat up unfairly. It’s still a very needed and effective medium for reaching a broad number of people. People still spend a great deal of time in front of their TV sets watching live programming. Far more people than are actively participating in social media. And it’s great for getting a message out that many people might not know if they didn’t see it in a TV commercial. Now, could it be done better and does the way we approach it need to change? Yes. Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean it should or needs to go away. It still has a very important role to play. It just might not be the same role it has played for the past several decades.

NewsDrillDigitalHow important is the role of marketing/branding now in product design?

Paul: One of the things I always bring up where appropriate is that the product is the marketing. That being the case, I believe that marketing/branding needs to be considered when the product is being developed. Now, I can hear all the industrial designers out there wanting to tell me off, but I don’t mean this in the way “branding” has traditionally been done. What I mean is that the product designers need to work with the marketers to figure out what they can do to build in things to the product that make people want to talk about it, or enable that conversation to happen much easier.

Everyone’s favorite example here is Apple of course, but it’s that way because they truly do focus on creating products that make people want to talk about them. Starbucks did a great job of this when they first launched. Nintendo did it with Wii. To some degree, Method (soaps and home care products) has done it.

The key is to focus on what you want the emotional experience to be with the product when it gets into the hands of the consumer and then do every thing you can at every turn to reinforce that. When you design the product and everything thereafter with that in mind, you’ll likely succeed.

NewsDrillDigital: With the variety of ways (and variety of reasons) that consumers use media (both traditional and digital) today, isn’t a more creative approach required in planning than ever before – or not (i.e. planners should maintain the disciplined approach of old)?

Paul: A more creative approach is definitely needed. Planning has largely been concerned with what the key message was / messages were that would “connect” with a consumer or what the brand idea should be. It can’t be just about messages and brand ideas anymore. We have to start looking at people’s behaviors as they relate to our clients’ brands and understand what we can do to encourage the behaviors we like (i.e., purchasing our clients’ products and telling their friends about our clients’ products) and discourage those we don’t. Changing these behaviors isn’t going to come through a message or a brand idea. It’s going to come from really understanding the people you’re working to build a relationship with and inspiring the creative teams to come up with ideas that actually facilitate relationship building with them.

(at the time of this interview, eyeconomy.co.uk was spotlightideas.co.uk)

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