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High Concept, High Touch Marketing

April 25, 2009

platoonIt was one of those movie moments I will never forget. I was at the cinema watching the movie, Platoon. Director Oliver Stone had just put me through what seemed like hours of the hellacious climactic night battle with the Viet Cong, told ground-level in tight shots from the perspective of U.S. soldiers trying to hold off the enemy. The sequence was brutal, terrifying, and unrelenting.

Mercifully, the battle was over. It was morning. From ground level, the camera panned the landscape showing the carnage of what had taken place in the darkness. And then it happened. The camera revealed and held on a doe standing alert in the steamy jungle clearing looking like it was trying to figure out what this was all about. The innocence of that deer took my breath away as the shot contrasted the beauty of nature with what men had done to each other. In that moment, I comprehended in a new way the destructiveness of man compared to how things should be. It blew me away.

This moment of clarity was a combination of the director’s brilliance and my brain comprehending it. It worked on a poetic level for me because the right side of my brain performed a “high concept” activity seeing not a literal doe standing in a field, but rather a statement that connected “seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.”

A Whole New MindSuch is the subject of the 2006 book that I read last year, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The World, by Daniel H. Pink. Affirming and describing right brain functions, Pink talks about how we are leaving behind the Information Age and emerging into the Conceptual Age. He focuses on six essential aptitudes “on which professional success and personal satisfaction will increasingly depend: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning.” The book spends its time defining these senses and giving exercises for the reader to sharpen them.

It is an age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life–one that prizes aptitudes that I call “high concept” and “high touch.” High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new. High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.–Pink

Since beginning this blog, I’ve been wanting to write about this book and this conceptual age when design and story become more important than ever. Think about what’s been happening in marketing. Think Target doing a brand makeover and becoming “Targét.” Think Kleenex setting up couches on busy street corners for people to tell their story. Think Chrysler selling the 300 as though it’s a work of art.

Think Ford. On April 4, in his blog, The Social Media Marketing Blog, Scott Monty, head of Social Media for The Ford Motor Company, wrote “Everyone’s Got a Story.” In this blog post, Monty describes Ford’s campaign, “Mustang Stories,” and includes the winning essay from a U.S. soldier in Iraq. Monty’s right on. Storytelling connects with people, just like cars connect with people. Having customers talk about their love affair with their car is more than effective, it’s meaningful.

BJ Birtwell

BJ Birtwell

I’ve found this to be true in affirming history and shared values in a university community. In revamping our quarterly magazine for alumni and friends, we determined that we would tell our university’s story through the stories of our alumni and students. Many university magazines talk issues and news. Some do it really well. Our decision to tell stories, however, created an award winning magazine that was a hit with alumni and friends. We told compelling stories and our readers made the connection that the university helped make that life story possible. We told stories of older alumni who sacrificed to make the world a better place, and we told stories of young alumni success. One of those stories was of BJ Birtwell, who was behind the marketing of the Chrysler 300.

I’ll be writing more about this book. For those of us marketing higher education, its messages are worth noting.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2009 7:20 AM

    Interesting post, Rick.Glad you liked A WHOLE NEW MIND. Your movie reference was so intriguing, I just added PLATOON to my Netflix queue.
    Cheers,
    Dan Pink

  2. Rick Hardy permalink
    April 26, 2009 7:59 AM

    Thanks for responding, Dan. Yes, great book! It rings true to what is happening and is promising to one who has a healthy right brain… Enjoy the film!

  3. April 27, 2009 6:02 PM

    I have heard that students who have a Liberal Arts background have proven to be more flexible and more able to adapt to a changing environment. It would appear that Pink’s book would substantiate this. In this world of Social Media, I think we are connecting more even though it may not be face to face. I am not surprised that the format change in your university’s magazine garnered greater interest through story telling. Are not Facebook, Twitter and blogs simply different ways of telling a story?

  4. Rick Hardy permalink
    April 27, 2009 9:09 PM

    tippingptmedia, you are right on. I think the affective side of our brains that is relational is the side that enjoys storytelling. Social media offer new ways to tell a story and to find self-expression. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

  5. April 28, 2009 7:30 PM

    Rick, really enjoyed reading your blog and the comments.

    I certainly agree with the importance of storytelling, and, for the Gen-Y crowd, would add the critical element of “relevance” to the mix. My freshmen classes always tell me that is their number one criteria for any college course these days.

    • Rick Hardy permalink
      April 30, 2009 10:08 AM

      Thanks, Harry. I really appreciate your response. Good point about relevance.

  6. January 7, 2011 2:02 PM

    Hey Rick, just read your blog, you’re right story is king. A big part of what I do is interview people. Even I, the astute interviewer at times find my eyes glazing over. And then it happens, the interviewee’s story slips out. It’s personal, authentic, and immediately more interesting than mere transmission of information. And so it is with Ford – more captivating than stated maximum horse power is the story of what happened when you actually put the pedal to the metal!

    • Rick Hardy permalink
      January 7, 2011 3:02 PM

      Thanks, Randy, for your comment. Well said! Yes, when the story emerges, it grabs us.

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