We live in an attention economy—human attention is a scarce commodity—so your brand story must captivate prospects from the very beginning. Jerome Conlon, former director of brand planning and marketing insights at Nike (among other prestigious positions) says, “More and more, brands are finding their way to the intersection of brand and entertainment, adopting Hollywood’s tools and techniques that lead to blockbuster story brands. Rightfully so in an attention economy that rewards brands that are both meaningful and interesting.”
In a recent article, Mr. Conlon discusses the role of a brand “brain trust” in building a brand story. Pixar Studios has used this concept to great effect to create one winning film after another.
A brand brain trust brings a team together to discuss how products, advertising, branded content, and social media can be fashioned into an integrated, multifaceted brand story. And, of course it can also be used to take a serious look at brand campaigns that have succeeded or failed.
A brand brain trust sounds academic and perhaps intimidating, but the basic idea behind it is pretty simple. Pixar learned that “the brain trust process involved relying on the combined intelligence and instincts (thoughts + feelings) of a cross-functional team to fully understand how key scenes played and to explore with each other how the entire story was playing.” Intellectual and emotional honesty were required of the trust, and its members wrote notes that described how they felt about a story or character.
What else is required for success? Detail is critical. Notes must lay out what is wrong, what is unclear, what makes no sense, what is missing. A good note may not propose a solution but is offered before it is too late to fix a problem. Candor is important, which means the team must have open discussions, without a single personality dominating. In my opinion, this last point is particularly important. I’ve been in meetings where one person with an insistent personality overshadowed colleagues. The result was that good ideas often weren’t heard, to the detriment of all.
What were the key benefits of Pixar’s brain trust?
- It fostered an environment where team members could air their thoughts and emotions.
- It defined what were good—that is, useful—notes.
- It established rules for polishing rough ideas.
- It focused on a single goal—delivering the highest quality entertainment.
- It reduced project risk and improved project quality.
I have certainly done my share of groaning about meetings and the outworking of herd mentality. But here is a technique and the leadership to back it up that has produced good work and has allowed all voices to be heard.