Podcast

with Jasmine Bina

1: The New Rules of Brand Strategy

insights in culture

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The coming wave of new consumerism, making users pay a premium for the story, and how to create brand strategy frameworks that consistently lead to defensible positioning. In this kickoff episode, Jasmine and Jean-Louis explore the edge cases of strategy in today’s marketplace, and the ideas and trends that are changing the branding landscape.

Podcast Transcript

December 6, 2019

8 min read

The New Rules of Brand Strategy

0:12

Jasmine Bina:
Welcome to the Unseen Unknown podcast. I’m Jasmine Bina. And this is my first episode with my partner, Jean Louis Rawlence. We are the founders of Concept Bureau. If you’ve come to this podcast, you’ve probably come to us through our writing or our videos, our content. We wanted to create this podcast however as a place to showcase conversations. A lot of times the content that we create is about how to do brand strategy or new thinking in the field or understanding why people behave the way they behave and how to leverage those understandings for your own brand strategy.

But we have some really interesting conversations with the people that are inside and outside of our sphere. And that’s what we want to capture with the Unseen Unknown. We’re going to bring in people who are experts in the brand strategy, domain, and people who are experts in other domains, and try to make sense of what we’re seeing in the world collectively. That’s what the name Unseen Unknown is about. It’s the belief that if you can’t see it, you can’t know it. And there are so many patterns and trends and frameworks and systems that are existing right now that are creating the machinery of this world, but we don’t understand them yet. And because we don’t understand them, we can’t really know how to use them for our purposes. 

We’re going to bring in interesting people every time, but you’re going to see a format where every month we launch two episodes. One episode will be with Jean Louis and I, where we try to talk about something thought provoking that gets you to look at the world a little differently after you listen to the episode. And then the second episode will be with an expert where we talk about things like user behavior, identities, cultural narratives, anything that’s new and happening in different spaces and verticals that could relate to our understanding of the world.

And for this first one, Jean Louis and I talk about the big questions, we talk about where are we in the state of brand strategy right now? How is the modern consumer evolving? What are the current frontiers in branding? And I mean, the not obvious stuff, what are those really what if edge cases? That’s what we wanted to explore. If you had to do thought experiments in this space, what would they look like? And so much of brand strategy is about creating frameworks, something that you’ll hear in this episode, I didn’t always believe in when I first started my career as a brand strategist, but now I’m a complete proponent of. But what makes a good, reliable, effective brand strategy framework that you can use to come to a solid answer every time? This one’s a bit more brand strategy specific, but we do expect the podcast to evolve over time. This was a great conversation, and I hope the first of many. Enjoy. Jean Louis.

03:10

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

03:12

Jasmine Bina:
I’ve been working with you at Concept Bureau for at least three years now.

03:16

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. 

03:17

Jasmine Bina:
You have completely changed the way we do everything when it comes to strategy. And so I think you can handle a big question to open this up

03:27

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Okay.

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. Where are we in the state of brand strategy right now?

03:33

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Okay. It’s an interesting question I think kind of like whether or not you appreciate what brand strategy is and kind of like how it operates. In some way or another, a lot of people are asking themselves this question. The way I see it is that if you kind of take a very macro view and you look at kind of like, you go all the way back before 1950 even, you can see that there’s a kind of a very linear progression going from features to benefits, to experience and really kind of behind all of that is this gradual moving up into what people are buying is stories and brand as opposed to the products. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. 

I think one of them is very simple. It’s just the mechanics of brand is that you used to have so few brands that when you bought something everyone knew what that represented about you. And it was very clear that you bought a Rolex and the features of that Rolex said something about you. Now, if you buy a modern DTC brand, if you don’t know that brand, then it doesn’t make a statement about you. And so really it’s not the features anymore that define what you buy, it’s the brand, it’s the stories around them. 

04:42

Jasmine Bina:
I tell this to people and either they, I think gloss over it, and think they really understand that. Or they just don’t believe that people have untethered themselves from buying actual products. I think in some spaces we’re still buying products, but those are spaces that haven’t really been disrupted yet. When you are buying something from Hims, when you get a membership to The Wing, when you buy Ritual vitamins, any of these things, you’re truly just buying a story.

05:18

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Well, I think one way to look at it that is maybe an effective lens is that when you think about there are just so many companies out there, how do you make that decision? This is kind of where the brand becomes important. The brand has become a proxy for how to figure out who to trust. And so in that view, yes, you may still be buying products at the end of the day, but it’s the brand that is letting you make that decision of who to buy. And I think that’s kind of the important distinction where it’s, they have a worldview instead of just a product view.

And so when you decide like, okay, I want to buy vitamins. There’s so many places to choose from and it’s overwhelming. So you have to find some kind of proxy and maybe you find it in the reviews, but the reviews always couched in some of the narrative. And so at the end of the day, your biases will always lean you towards something. And it’s the brands that you end up picking that will make that decision for you.

06:17

Jasmine Bina:
So truly you really believe that it’s the worldview that helps people make these decisions?

06:25

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. I think it’s … We see a lot of brands, especially CPG brands kind of move into content. What they’re really doing is they’re moving into culture, they’re having a cultural narrative and they’re starting to shape these things. And that’s the story, it’s the sort of who am I in this world. And that’s what brand is addressing. And I think that’s kind of one interesting point here especially in Western societies where you have the middle-class is pretty much one of the only demographics globally that is not seeing kind of an increase in wealth that everyone else is. If you’re at the very bottom of the economy, there’s a very good chance that actually things getting better at some rate, minimum wages broadly kind of creeping up slowly. 

There’s a lot of pressures to have more programs to support them, there’s that. If you’re the bottom end of society, things are going well, in the developed society. If you were at the extreme top end, we all know the stories about wealth inequality. And if you look at developing economies, you have the same kind of story. They’re actually doing much better, the rate of progress is really there. But in Western middle class, you have kind of a rate of decline instead.

07:41

Jasmine Bina:
So you’re saying around the world generally speaking, there is this overall growth, except for when you come to a place like America, and if you look at the middle class, we’re not seeing that. 

07:52

Jean Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. The relative income, income has been going up, but it’s not been going up to match inflation.

07:57

Jasmine Bina:
Is it just income or are you talking about happiness too?

08:00

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Well, I think everything sort of goes hand in hand. I mean, my view is kind of economics sort of defines the world we live in. And so happiness is to some extent a function of that. But if you look at the cost of goods and services, you look at just the overall, the macro economic picture. It’s not just kind of have incomes gone up, it’s are we working more or less? Is that money carrying us more? And the bottom line is everything has gotten more expensive, and relatively if you’re in the middle class, you’re earning less. 

08:27

Jasmine Bina:
And also would you say probably the sense of security has gone down too when it comes to finances?

08:32

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Oh, absolutely. I think there’s so many different things. And so kind of within that, there is some kind of search for meaning that is maybe more prevalent in this group of people in lieu of not having kind of the growth and prosperity that kind of does that for you. I think there’s definitely a cultural subtext there towards brands, and that’s maybe why, at least in my view that we look for brands that kind of insert meaning into things in a way that maybe we didn’t before. 

09:03

Jasmine Bina:
That’s interesting. It’s kind of dovetailing with something that I talk about a lot and finance is one of these things, but generally our cultural institutions have started to crumble and evaporate. I’ve said this many times in different ways, education, the institution of marriage, the career ladder, financial stability like you’re talking about. It’s your hypothesis that because we’re losing meaning in a lot of these things that used to hold meaning for us before we’re open to hearing a new world view or to purchasing meaning in some ways from brands. But we’re giving them permission to go into that space. 

09:41

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, no, totally. And I think another axes of that meaning is this, the notion of belonging. If you look at brands, it’s kind of interesting where we’re starting to see that the value of engagement in a lot of these brands is kind of more important than the value of awareness. They know that once they get a core community around them, that community will be so engaged that it’s kind of more economically viable to focus on keeping that engagement of the community rather than kind of drawing awareness. And the subtext of that is what they’re doing is they’re building tribes, and that’s kind of another source of meaning in our lives. And that’s a very fundamental evolutionary mechanism that addresses us. And it’s become really prevalent. 

If you look at a lot of these brands, it’s the communities that have created value for them. And a lot of M&A kind of reflects that, that it’s these organic tribes that drive much larger valuations for these companies. That’s the source of value there, it’s almost having the people. That’s why when they have cultural conversations, they’re able to show those values and actually connect with an audience. That’s why content works because you’re touching culture. And because you’re able to kind of create a worldview that people can kind of [crosstalk 00:10:57].

10:58

Jasmine Bina:
Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about content. There’s content that touches culture and reflects culture. Then there’s content that sometimes if it’s done right can actually create culture.

11:08

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
I think we’re at a turning point right now. I think we’re kind of at a expansion point in branding where there are so many new ways. We know the mechanisms to reach people more and more is content. And the big part of that is because the cost per acquisition for ads is just getting increasingly expensive and increasingly competitive. And so the best way to do it is organic. So it’s actually a pretty good return on investment in the long term. 

But yeah, I think we’re still figuring out how to do this effectively. It’s kind of like when you look at partnerships with influencers or youtubers, we’re still … To some extent, some people have done a pretty good job of finding that balance of how to create an on-brand advertisement or connect that, but that’s definitely the minority and we’re still figuring that out. And I think this is definitely an expansion point where people are trying a lot of things, and over time we’re probably going to see a few of these things work quite well. The challenges is obviously, it’s one thing to kind of have someone say, “I like this brand, I trust this brand.” It’s another thing to kind of have a standard format for how to discuss culture. I think it will always be evolving to some extent in terms of the type of conversation and the tone and the way it’s told. But as a kind of primary channel for a lot of brands, I see that as being very fundamental moving forward.

12:29

Jasmine Bina:
I think that’s something that a lot of times when we speak with companies, it’s easy for them to miss. You can’t contribute to a culture or to a tribe if you’re not experimenting. You can create a six month or 12 month plan, but you’re not creating content that’s moving anything forward. The brands that push conversations forward are the ones that I think consistently will end up on top. I mean, provided that the product fits the market and everything like that. I think one that I’ve really been impressed with lately has been Mailchimp with all that, the whole new content studio that they’ve developed in house and the short form documentaries that they’re creating and that amazing podcast with Shirley Manson, and a lot of the multimedia content that they have.

If you really look at it, they are … you were asking yourself, why isn’t email management platform creating content that’s touching on such deep human emotional values? If you listen to these stories on the macro, you start to understand that they’re talking about entrepreneurship, and they’re saying that entrepreneurship and risking something is a very important part of the human experience. 

13:41

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
No, for sure. When you really think about what’s happening there, if you watch these things or listen to these podcasts and kind of really internalize that, you are using that as a vehicle to kind of define who you are as a person, that’s an incredibly intimate relationship you’re having with a brand that didn’t really exist to that extent before. Before the people would tell you what they do and how they are, and maybe they would go as far as to say, kind of tell you who you are for buying these products. But now it’s going kind of more and more internal into kind of this very intangible world of kind of worldview and values and kind of like who are you? Who am I to you? Those sorts of questions. That’s kind of a very big progression from where we used to be with brands. And I think a lot of people don’t appreciate the magnitude of that.

14:34

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. I think a lot of brands don’t appreciate the magnitude of effort and vulnerability that it takes to actually do that. And I know that from experience and that’s a huge takeaway if you’re not willing to take risks in order to just inch the conversation forward a little bit, then you’re really missing an opportunity. 

14:54

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Well, I think in some ways you can … If the function of these conversations in kind of defining culture in one way or another, whether you do it through content or not, is to create a tribe and create an identity around a worldview. If your worldview is something everyone can agree on, it’s not really a worldview that defines you, that can kind of specify that. And so to some extent if you’re not on the edge of something, you might as well not be having that conversation at all. If it’s not controversial, then it doesn’t matter if you identify with that to some extent.

15:27

Jasmine Bina:
Something related to this that I want to ask you about, that I want to make sure we cover in this podcast with you and future guests too, is we understand the market, we hope we do. We understand how the climate is changing. What about the consumer? How is the consumer themselves evolving?

15:45

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, I think it’s a really kind of interesting question. It kind of builds on what’s changing in brand strategy. It’s responding to how the consumer is changing. For sure the way I see it is through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy, where for a long time products were about survival. Then for a long time kind of about belonging and acceptance and kind of moving up into esteem. For a very long time the pinnacle of a brand was providing esteem to you. And mostly that was in the form of luxury. You bought a Chanel bag and that was kind of … it was valued because it gave you esteem. And what’s interesting about esteem is really what’s the value that’s being provided is in everyone else’s view of you, or at least the perception of that. 

And I think where we’re moving now, which is very interesting and is markedly different is kind of, at the very top of the pyramid is self-actualization, it’s kind of who can you become? And the difference there, the important distinction is esteem that kind of, the permission is given by everyone else to you, and in self-actualization you’re giving it to yourself. 

16:54

Jasmine Bina:
You touch on something here that I think is hard to articulate sometimes, but I see it with luxury. Why are luxury brands struggling? And it’s because they’re failing to adapt the fact that we’re all moving up the pyramid, right?

17:08

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jasmine Bina:
They’re still stuck in esteem. And it’s hard for these brands to really have a world view that can lead to some sort of self-actualization. When your entire heritage is about craftsmanship, and we’ve been around since 18 or whatever, and highest quality and artisans and things like that.

18:02

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
And so scarcity still exists, but it’s kind of evolving there. I think that’s the one place that we’re seeing some success. But for sure elsewhere, just the luxury market kind of falls apart because the values are like, if health is the new luxury, there’s no … scarcity is not a mechanism of that. 

18:20

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, I gave a talk on this at a graduate school in Paris. And I got a lot of pushback from students who did not like it when I discussed this very same thing. And I’m not saying that luxury is going to crash and burn, at least traditional luxury in the form that we know it today like the Chanels and Diors. But I do think that if they don’t start to evolve, there’s going to be a slow, painful death. I think they can coast for a while on what they have. Look at something like Gucci, they’ve gone from an interesting place where before they were all these other brands gatekeeper. It was about this same kind of scarcity, the same kind of authority, and being at that level of the hierarchy in Maslow’s triangle.

But now they are collaborating with all of these cultural keystone people, all these movers and shakers, and they’re expanding the brand so that’s malleable. You can actually literally play with the fabric of the brand. And they’re adopting the world views of these incredible collaborators that they’re working with, and that’s how they’re adapting. And I think that’s actually kind of profound and worth applauding. They’re evolving in the right way.

19:39

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, for sure. I think one kind of industry which is a good kind of microcosm of this is athleisure. If you look a lot of the kind of traditional incumbents that have gone into athleisure, it’s really an extension of the same story. There’s an aspirational lifestyle. And it’s generally kind of to some extent inaccessible costs so that there’s some scarcity there. And what’s kind of interesting is if you look at outdoor voices, which is coming at a very different angle, I think Tihany, the founder, said something along the lines of our real competitor is people’s image of their own body. Now that’s a completely different value system, that kind of coming at this. And you can see the breaking point here where you have the aspirational lifestyle is an extension of the model of esteem. It’s aspirational because of how it’s perceived, the value exists because of how everyone else is seeing it. And if you live that lifestyle, then they see you a certain way. 

Yeah, for sure. I think one kind of industry which is a good kind of microcosm of this is athleisure. If you look a lot of the kind of traditional incumbents that have gone into athleisure, it’s really an extension of the same story. There’s an aspirational lifestyle. And it’s generally kind of to some extent inaccessible costs so that there’s some scarcity there. And what’s kind of interesting is if you look at outdoor voices, which is coming at a very different angle, I think Tihany, the founder, said something along the lines of our real competitor is people’s image of their own body. Now that’s a completely different value system, that kind of coming at this. And you can see the breaking point here where you have the aspirational lifestyle is an extension of the model of esteem. It’s aspirational because of how it’s perceived, the value exists because of how everyone else is seeing it. And if you live that lifestyle, then they see you a certain way. 

And so back to our earlier point about content and worldview, that matters suddenly a lot more because if self-actualization is kind of discovering your potential, then education and kind of informing people of how to find that, and kind of those new values become very important to do that. And if this is a completely new behavior set that we’re emerging into, then we need tools to kind of enter that world. I think the second response to how the consumer is evolving is I have this thesis that we are kind of currently living at peak complexity. My kind of analogy for this is that if you look at how many decisions you make a day, right, and you kind of map this out over a hundred years before and a hundred years into the future. 

Right now technology so far has increased the number of decisions we make. We kind of have so much more information that we have to flood through. It’s not only like how do I get to work on time? What road do I take? What do I wear because of the weather? You’re also kind of like, what do I share on social media? Who do I share it with? What are the hashtags? Is this kind of on brand for me? What is the information I consume? There’s this kind of endless hosepipe of stuff being blasted at you. 

22:27

Jasmine Bina:
Can I make a little comment on the social media piece? I don’t know, like a month ago it was suggested to me that I just take a day off Instagram and I’m very active on Instagram. I love creating stories. It’s my one favorite creative outlet every day, crafting things from my feet. I really engage with my readers. I pose questions. I share my life. I talk about brand strategy a lot. But I took that day off. And I understand people talk about like, “Okay, get off social media so you’re not always comparing yourself.” Fine, that’s one thing that can lead to kind of like … it’s an emotional burden. 

But I didn’t realize how much creating content for Instagram was fricking exhausting. So many choices you have to make, so much creative thinking and deciding what to include, what not to include, how you’re going to tell the story. It’s actually a really complex process to create something valuable on Instagram that will only be watched 15 seconds at a time. And I felt like I got so much time back, but also my attention, because it fragments your attention so much. You’re paying attention to it throughout the day like every hour, it really just shreds apart your time. And it’s an invisible form of complexity that I think there’s so many different forms of invisible complexity in the world. And this is one that I think we’re all experiencing without realizing.

23:54

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Absolutely. There’s a huge kind of decision fatigue, which really is kind of draining your emotional energy and your ability to handle everything else. And you can look at news a similar way where you have so many headlines now are the word that I hate the most is slams. This person slams this person. It’s like, “No, they made a statement and they have a strong opinion.” Okay. That sensationalizing it to hijack our emotional energy because that gets attention. And that’s the kind of the unit economics of news. That’s how that industry operates is clicks, which is attention. 

And so yeah, I think more than ever there are more decisions that we have to make every day. We have climbed the mountain of peak complexity, but the reason why it’s the peak and not just kind of an ascension to an even higher summit is, I truly believe that now that the world is this complex, it’s created a lot of economic incentives to bring that complexity down. We are looking for things to tell us what to do, what to buy, how to operate, what to watch. We are looking for aggregators. And I think the easiest way to see this is if you look at the influencer market. We now use influencers to some extent as a proxy for a lot of opinion making and decision makers. 

25:14

Jasmine Bina:
Okay, let’s pause on this for a second. The huge consensus, the first half of the conversation that the world is having about influencers is that we aspire to be like them, that’s why we value their opinion. But you’re saying that there’s also something else going on that we’re not paying attention to, and that they’re actually making the world less complex for us. 

25:53

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Absolutely. And I truly believe that in 10, 20 years that you will probably be able to walk up to someone and say … and they may not see it this way in themselves, but you could ask them, “Who are the five, 10 people that you follow that define your opinions?” In one way or another they will have an answer to that. And there’ll be different buckets. There’ll be, who do you follow for political opinion, or who do you follow for fashion advice, or who do you follow for kind of like, how do you navigate your opinion around the climate change issue and these kinds of things. One way or another we’re starting to use these people as a proxy, because there’s just too much information to sift through.

26:11

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. And we’re really thirsting for it too. I think it was Chris Dixon, I follow his newsletter. I think he’s the one who said it, that the way he deals with that is that he just finds his trusted aggregators. And that was years ago, and before I think we even had a real consciousness around the word influencers, and that’s basically what he was saying, your trusted influencers.

26:36

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. If we were to paint a picture … Maybe this is a bit techno-optimist, but in 10 years there’s a good chance that with self-driving cars, one big bucket of decision-making is gone. When now with Alexa and a lot of these kinds of shopping AI is starting to get to a point where instead of kind of the onus being on you to sift through hundreds of products, they’re able to kind of be much more smart about their recommendation.

27:04

Jasmine Bina:
I’m not entirely sold on that. 

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Well, maybe not now, but I think we’re starting-

27:08

Jasmine Bina:
You know why I’m not sold on that? Because those voices don’t have a worldview. I would rather see what the founder of The Tot is recommending for laundry detergent for my kids than to ask Alexa what laundry detergent I should get for my kids. Because Alexa doesn’t share my interests, but the founder of The Tot absolutely shares my interest for sustainability, for safety, for all that stuff. 

27:28

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, I totally hear you. The way I see it is that in a sufficient amount of time, you’re going to start seeing those things automated and aggregated. I definitely believe that in 10, 20 years, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see kind of a chat bot to kind of take who you follow and recommend shopping decisions based on what those people buy.

27:52

Jasmine Bina:
Oh God, that would be so amazing, because even going through the influencers recommendations, the influencers that I follow is a task.

28:03

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. Well, this is the thing. I think we’re starting to see that there’s so much value now in decreasing complexity for ourselves. And so we’re probably within a give or take 10 year window of what could very well be the most complex time in all of human existence, both past, present and future. And so when you look at that, then how is the modern consumer evolving to go back to your question? It’s definitely this complexity axes is defining a lot of decision-making and kind of the subtext of this point is that what you actually have is the platforms consolidating influence. 

Because if you look at Instagram or you look at Amazon with Alexa and you look at these different platforms, suddenly by using these proxies, you’re having your decision-making controlled by fewer and fewer stakeholders. And really to some extent on Instagram, you have to ask how much is Instagram as a platform facilitating this and kind of incentivizing certain kinds of behaviors versus the influences themselves. Because how visible the advertising is, how well they can kind of do product placement without it appearing as product placement, the line between having an opinion and endorsing something for a paid deal. Those are really under the control of Instagram to set the terms and the culture for that.

And so to some extent, what we don’t realize is we’re giving up a bit of decision-making power, actually quite a lot. And this is the problem, brand is kind of the carer, but a lot of these influence techniques and right now we have targeted ads, and people don’t appreciate how incredibly effective targeted ads are. You can not waste a cent on advertising to someone who’s outside of your target demo. It doesn’t mean everyone’s going to buy, but it means that the only eyeballs you’re touching are the ones that are absolutely primed, and it’s becoming far more sophisticated. And to think that it’ll stop here is kind of to not have studied history. 

30:15

Jasmine Bina:
And we all know, I mean, you and I have both experienced this, we’ll be talking about something. We could be talking in the middle of a damn forest, and we’ll mention socks, I don’t know, like Fruit of the Loom socks. And then once we get back to the city, we’re going to start seeing ads for Fruit of the Loom socks. We all know we’re not only being watched, but we’re being listened to.

30:40

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, 100%. And I think it’s one way, that’s kind of another way this plays out. It’s not only the kind of targeted ads and everything, there’s another mechanic. And I think it’s especially visible in sneaker culture where you have, if you look at what people are doing, you have Kanye West who wears a pair of sneakers that makes a statement and people talk about that because it’s culturally relevant, there’s something going on there, it draws attention. And then you have these people who are by no means influencers, have a small following. But what they’re trying to do by participating in the kind of the sneaker market and sneaker culture is play by the same rules as these influences that they follow, or these celebrities. They’re buying these sneakers to make the same kind of statement that let’s say Kanye West or whoever is making. 

Now they’re making the statement to a very small set of people who maybe will appreciate that, but they’re trying to play by the same rules. And I think we can’t underestimate how much this culture around influencers is kind of trickling down to the layperson, because to some extent it’s still very aspirational. I read about a study recently where so many people, just average consumers will buy clothes, wear them once for an Instagram picture and then return them. Influencers they get sent clothes, they do that, that’s part of their living.

32:03

Jasmine Bina:
I’m pretty shallow when it comes to Instagram, but even I have not done that. 

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
But this is-

Jasmine Bina:
Certain regular people are doing that.

32:10

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Regular people. It’s trickling down. These behaviors, people are trying to emulate. And I don’t think this is sustainable in any way. I think this is kind of maybe a fad, I read recently about, this is kind of … There’s so many lessons in history, you can learn if you just study it. And what’s kind of fascinating is most people don’t appreciate that after the printing press was invented, there was kind of a hundred year period of intense conflict around religion and all these things. Because some of the information was much more readily accessible. 

Now, most people have no idea that happened, but with social media, you have a radical change of social norms. The radical kind of increase in the availability of information in a very short period of time. And it shouldn’t be no surprise that we’re going through similar growth period where there is rapid change and not necessarily in a positive way. There’s arguably a lot of conflict. I mean, we don’t need to get into how there’s all these influence campaigns that are very subversive using social media. But just in the context of brand and how consumers are changing, this is absolutely kind of a critical moment where we’re redefining what norms are. And to some extent, a lot of these things might be very unsustainable. And so they’ll reach a breaking point and have to change.

But this kind of the economics and the lifestyle of influencers defining kind of the aspirations for brand and that trickling down to the lay consumer, that’s probably something that won’t, or can’t last. There’s so much friction and tension and pressure for consumers, and there’s definitely already starting to be a bit of a counter culture emerge around this. I don’t think anyone knows where that’s headed, but I think it’s kind of something to keep an eye on in the sense that this is a very dynamic playing field that is changing rapidly. And just there’s always this frustration where people see how everything has changed so much before us and assume that it won’t change as much in the future. 

And if history has taught us anything, it’s only going to change more. And so when we see how all these norms are changing, we’re not reaching a new plateau, we’re kind of exponentially accelerating. And with these new technologies that are, again, going back to that peak complexity point, becoming proxies for decision-making and consolidating that influence, that’s only going to accelerate. And so as far as how people are evolving, it’s that self actualization piece and put it in the context of incredibly dynamic environment that almost year to year you need to touch base on and also industry to industry. 

A lot of what we talked about is kind of relevant for fashion, but when it goes to workplace culture and how kind of business consumers are changing, it’s a completely new set of things. It’s also evolving at a rapid pace and it’s also arguably moving towards self-actualization, but the one kind of constant is that things are changing very aggressively.

35:09

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. As an example, what do you mean about what’s going on in business and workplace culture?

35:14

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Well, in that environment it’s very much about upskilling. Well, there’s a few components, one is kind of upskilling. Going back to our earlier point, people are looking for meaning.

35:24

Jasmine Bina:
Okay, just to be clear upskilling you mean taking a workforce, giving them new skills so that they’re basically upgraded or more sophisticated in their skills for the future of work? 

35:35

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. At least my take is, it’s not so much about the kind of economic potential. It’s more the meaning component. There’s a lot of studies out there right now that kind of show that people are willing to make pretty significant compromises in income and kind of where they live and living quality, because they want to pursue meaning, they want to pursue jobs that are more fulfilling even if they pay less.

36:02

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. You and I have seen this in our research a lot. We’ve worked with a lot of companies that are in the workspace or in the workspace space or in the skills space, it’s something having to do with people evolving their professions. And we see this a lot, work has become the new religion and not in the kind of funny tongue in cheek way where we’re worshiping our bosses and slaving away at our desks. But truly that where we used to find meaning in religious systems, we’re kind of looking for that same meaning in work systems now. And that’s why we’re willing to upskill ourselves to be lifelong learners and to jump ship so frequently between careers and jobs, sometimes taking a sideways step or a downward step, because it’s the meaning that we’re thirsting after.

36:52

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, 100%. And so it’s a similar kind of thing. If you look at that, it’s less about esteem and it’s more about self-actualization, kind of the value goes inwards and it goes like, how do you want to feel purpose? 

37:07

Jasmine Bina:
The thing about the self actualization is that business owners really need to keep in mind that this really destroys a lot of the systems and frameworks that they still take for granted. People still assume in the workplace example, I can see even founders that we’ve spoken to still assume that people are motivated by better jobs with better pay. And that’s just not true because we’re not … remind me again, what was underneath the self-actualization?

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Esteem.

37:41

Jasmine Bina:
Esteem. We’re not looking for esteem anymore. We’ve leapfrogged that. And when you’re looking for self-actualization, this career path of moving, getting better at your job, getting a promotion, getting a better job, more money, better promotion, go to a different company, better job, more money, better company. That’s not the path anymore because we’re not driven by esteem. And you cannot underestimate the fact that when we’re looking for self-actualization, so many of the old rules don’t apply. Okay. This is all really interesting stuff. I hope you didn’t already tell me the answer to this next question. I wanted to ask you, where are you seeing some exciting things? You’re a very much a futuristic person, you’re a futurist, you love to speculate about where the world is going. What are some of your really fringe ideas that can somehow be traced back to brand? 

38:37

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Well, I think one of the kind of more interesting areas is we spoke about tribalism and community, and this is starting to become such an important part of these brands, is really kind of, this is how you construct your identity. And so there are some brands that are doing really interesting work here, but we’re still very much kind of this Cambrian explosion of new formats of how to handle and run communities. And there’s so much more equity that’s sort of tapped into that, that we need to extract or brands need to kind of find a way to pull out. 

One example that you’ve written a lot about is the ordinary, and how there is this incredible amount of organic engagement where they don’t tell you how to use their products. And so the community has stepped in and done that for them. And people have spreadsheets on how to use all these different active ingredients, because they only sell the active ingredients, they don’t sell kind of these fully fledged things, you have to figure out what’s right for you. And the product is very much designed in a way that it forces kind of community engagement. That’s very, very interesting and quite unique to the skincare space. You’re starting to see that around, New York Times does a really good job with the Conception series and the Modern Love series. 

Jasmine Bina:
Which I love. I love both of those series. 

39:58

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. They’re giving a voice to this community or these communities to talk about the difficult parts of motherhood

40:06

Jasmine Bina:
Yes, that’s a good example of a brand taking risks. And this is risky stuff that they’re talking about, very, very debatable meaning of life stuff, and inching the conversation forward despite how deeply uncomfortable it is. 

40:22

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. But I think if you look at the mechanics of what’s happening there, The New York times is not telling you anything about what it’s like to be a parent in the modern era or what it’s like to have a modern relationship. They are giving that community a platform. And I think that’s the difference there, is that what’s so evocative, what’s so powerful about that is it’s not a gatekeeper telling you how to live. It’s them using that platform to really elevate that conversation. 

40:54

Jasmine Bina:
I would push back a little bit. They are still filtering the stories, get on there, and there are specific stories. 

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Well, okay, that’s fair, that’s definitely-

Jasmine Bina:
This are like stories from the Bible Belt, these are definitely like New Yorker, Southern California stories.

41:05

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Okay. You are right. There’s a lot of editorial discretion, but it’s just the difference compared to all the brands is the rules of gate keeping have changed here, I think that’s the point. And that they are kind of creating a community around this, something that you can identify with. And you’re absolutely right, it is a subset, it’s a small group of people that view it a certain way. That’s definitely interesting. 

One thing I think is almost not as exciting as it should be is DTC, or maybe that’s the wrong way to put it. It’s just the story of DTC is a very old story in my eyes, where you have someone coming in with a single product that wants to be best in market, [Casper 00:41:46], the very, very kind of the prototypical example of this, or even Warby Parker. They come in, they say the industry is stagnant. There’s all these problems. We have the new best product and they come in with one product and they try and win the market there and then expand horizontally from that. And we’ve seen this a lot. I think one of the problems is that people don’t appreciate the economics of this, is that it works really well in certain industries where there are gatekeepers where there’s a lot of stagnation.

Jasmine Bina:
And difficulty to change, a lot of vested interests and systems and things like that.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. It doesn’t mean it works for every industry.

42:19

Jasmine Bina:
Well, yeah, also a lot of the advantages of DTC have totally started to disappear, even old companies like Walmart are starting to act more like DTC companies, people are getting really smart to the game. I don’t know that there are too many more built in advantages to being a DTC company first anymore. 

42:42

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. I think for a lot of startups it’s the de facto cause, but it’s not what it used to mean for a lot of people, because a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been disrupted, but also if everyone’s DTC then it doesn’t have the same cache as it used to. Everyone is saying that we have something new and better and they’re trying to be best in class in these very narrow fields. And so it’s kind of, the mechanics have changed. And if you look at some of the kind of the winners in the DTC market and you look at where they’re going, they’re moving into content, just like everyone else, they’re becoming kind of building their tribe and kind of having those mechanics, and DTC is really just not a sort of disruptive format, it’s almost a de facto format.

43:27

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. And I think we went through an uncomfortable period over the last couple of years where people were still being seen as disruptive by virtue of the fact that they had taken something that was brick and mortar and made it DTC. But that model is not disruptive, that’s what they were missing. Warby Parker, Hims, all these other brands, they didn’t do well because of the DTC model, they did well because of something having to do with the product but more importantly with the brand.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah.

43:56

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. I’m going to push you a little bit further. I want more extreme edge cases. If we’re really looking at the current frontiers in branding, not the obvious stuff, but like I said before, those real edge cases. If you had to do a thought experiment about something really fascinating that maybe on the mid to long-term horizon, what pops into mind for you?

44:20

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
I think one thing, we know that brands can be really, really powerful, and really effective at kind of changing mindset and pushing the cultural conversation forwards. What I don’t think we’ve seen anywhere near enough of, that absolutely there’s so much opportunity for is brands that don’t focus on built around businesses. What I mean is, if you take climate action, there is so much equity there to build grassroots brands. A good example of this done right is the Me Too movement. There is a very dishonorable brand around that. There is a strong story. There’s a cultural narrative. They’ve done very well. 

But you don’t see a lot of Me Toos for other spaces or other issues, other causes that aren’t economically incentivized by a product and kind of trying to capture some value. And so it’s kind of interesting, it’s something we haven’t seen a lot of to create kind of grassroots brands, those grassroots action, and definitely kind of a lot of organizations that spin out of these things, but not really strong brands.

45:25

Jasmine Bina:
I suspect part of it is because people believe that a cause cannot be a brand. People believe that a cause should be enough, but causes are problematic. They inspire guilt, like climate change, equal rights, things around the family or children, they inspire guilt and that works in the short-term. You feel guilty for a short period of time. You pay to have your guilt absolved in the form of a donation, but you don’t want to be fricking constantly reminded of this thing that makes you feel guilty. And to their credit, the people behind these causes truly feel the need to make change happen. And they feel that their cause should lead. But I would encourage people to think that the causes may be a secondary message. 

46:18

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, now I definitely agree that to some extent if you can change culture, then that sort of trickles down to everything else. And so the power of brand, I just don’t think these people fully appreciate how effective brands can be at shifting the narrative and creating new norms. Absolutely I totally agree that there’s this way too much guilt in all of these different causes, and the organizations that have created narratives that don’t use guilt, they don’t have strong brands, they haven’t kind of built those vehicles. And I think part of it is that it’s a kind of a tangential investment, or at least it feels that way, that in order to change culture maybe that means that you have to be playing strongly in the content space. And that feels like a waste of money when you should be spending money on all these kinds of direct awareness things.

Jasmine Bina:
Exactly.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
But it’s really kind of the short-term versus the long-term.

47:12

Jasmine Bina:
And it’s missing the self-actualization piece, might give to Smartwater, I want to buy Smartwater or any of those other water brands that build a well someplace in an impoverished community. Where’s the self-actualization piece for me? That sounds so counterintuitive when it comes to cause-based issues, but that’s how you captivate people for better or for worse. 

47:35

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Now they need to tap into current values. If you look to Maslow’s hierarchy to use that as a kind of lens, they’re not even at esteem, they’re down in the survival safety kind of bracket, and it’s a completely different set of needs. And if they don’t start operating like a modern brand, and the thing is, there’s so much equity to do that. In a lot of ways they are trying to change culture. In a lot of ways they’re kind of pushing things forwards beyond what a lot of these brands are doing, they’re far more kind of high-minded and aspirational in the good sense of like, this is what the world can become.

Jasmine Bina:
The parallel here is they have a really good product. 

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yes. 

Jasmine Bina:
They have a really good product, but it’s not being branded correctly.

48:16

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. Definitely as far as kind of like the real front is, yeah, brands around non businesses, I think that’s something interesting. The other thing I kind of been keeping an eye on is political brands. Definitely we’re starting to see the kind of the individual brand really, really, really become effective in politics. And that’s something that is definitely going to keep evolving. One thing I’d love to see personally is we have this kind of demonization of people changing their opinions in politics, and it’s so counter-intuitive.

48:51

Jasmine Bina:
But what are you saying here? That we demonize people change their opinions? 

48:56

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Absolutely. And there are so many studies that back this up, that if you have a politician that you like and they change their stance on something, even if it’s to be more aligned with you, it’s seen as a sign of weakness and you’ll strategically maybe not vote with them because you think everyone else sees it as a weakness too. It’s really kind of, there’s a very toxic brand around the fact that as a politician, it’s dangerous to evolve, which doesn’t make any sense. If there was ever a field where you would want to kind of change your opinions and evolve and be seen as a dynamic figure, that would be the one.

49:29

Jasmine Bina:
Is this only in America?

49:32

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
I mean, I can’t speak for the world obviously, but I definitely think it’s something in the West.

49:36

Jasmine Bina:
Did you see it in the UK?

49:38

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
To some extent, definitely to some extent there’s definitely bias there. And I think it’s a very fundamental thing about how we kind of see people that’s kind of, we put integrity over everything else and that’s kind of the wrong horse to bet on. What I would love to see is to see someone build a political personal brand that accommodates that kind of personal evolution, that would be very, very interesting.

50:07

Jasmine Bina:
You’re saying a politician that creates a brand around the fact that they are constantly exploring, learning and evolving their opinions.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yes. 

Jasmine Bina:
Ooh. I feel like-

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
It’s a tall order. 

Jasmine Bina:
Okay, here’s the thing. I think people have a hard time letting politicians do this because they confuse changing your opinion with changing your values.
Okay, here’s the thing. I think people have a hard time letting politicians do this because they confuse changing your opinion with changing your values.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah.

50:29

Jasmine Bina:
And that’s what’s difficult for them, especially in a two party system. Andrew Yang kind of I think could be a little different here as a candidate. I think, I mean, I’ve watched him for a couple of years now and I’ve seen him speak and I’ve been a little involved in what he’s doing, and he promises scientifically based research-based public policy.

50:56

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, he’s starting the conversation in a very different playing field, which is really refreshing to see, that he’s kind of bringing the conversation to where the evidence takes it rather than kind of coming in with values driven approach, which is really what the vast majority of politics is about. It’s kind of like, what are your values? And kind of like if you support that, then you kind of go along with the policy. For most people that’s kind of how they operate there. So that’s, yeah, definitely political brands, think a lot of frontiers there-

51:27

Jasmine Bina:
That’s really interesting. You’re right. That is one place where I don’t know, I mean, I’d have to really think about this. I don’t know what it would take to change people’s perceptions around that.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
It’s such an entrenched bias.

51:40

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. I’m going to move this conversation forward. It relates to what we’ve been discussing here, because if you look at things like politics or the Maslow’s hierarchy that we’ve been talking about, this idea of non brands. When you want to approach these things and create new strategies that actually change perceptions and behaviors, we’ve learned over and over again it has to start with a framework. Frameworks are tools that we use to deconstruct why something works the way that it works and reconstruct something that works in a different way, the way that we want. That’s so much of brand strategy. And you actually taught me this when you started working with me at Concept Bureau, this business was very different. It was very creative. 

I’m very much a storyteller and an artist. You come from an engineering background, you studied aerospace engineering, that’s your profession. And I remember it really rubbed me the wrong way that you could take something that felt very human and organic to create a brand, to create a story, and apply these very stark principles on it. And of course I was wrong. And this is what strategy is, it’s building these frameworks. I’m going to ask you, what makes a good, reliable, effective strategic framework.

53:01

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
That’s a big question. I mean, I always try and approach these things from a very kind of first principles standpoint. My process is kind of always the same regardless of what I’m sort of working on when it comes to strategy, which is that there is a phase at the beginning where you want to explore every possibility, is kind of this vast expansion. There’s everything that can be done, there’s maybe everything that should be done that is everything that you would want to do this strategically makes sense, but you really want to start kind of factoring in everything. And so you start with expanding all the possibilities, whether you’re exploring kind of the cultural frontiers or you’re exploring the product level decisions. It’s always what is possible and then finding a mechanism to contract that down.

53:51

Jasmine Bina:
You’re saying a good framework will let you go super wide at first and then give you a device for going very narrow again. 

53:59

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, I see it as sort of an oscillation where at every stage of kind of gathering insights and making decision-making, you have to take into account sort of all the opportunities, all the possibilities, and then contract that down to what should be done. And then again, from what should be done, what is the extreme range of consequences of that? And then again, condense that down. And so it’s that-

54:21

Jasmine Bina:
Can you give an example of what that might look like.

54:23

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Okay. If we’re talking about the education space, for example, and we’re talking about the cultural frontier sort of where are we headed? There are so many different cultural narratives that we may want to play into in this space in terms of maybe we go with themes in terms of the future of work. Maybe we work against the narratives about work and talk about the individual. Maybe we talk about the actual experience of learning.

54:49

Jasmine Bina:
Maybe we talk about the materials, the coursework, the teachers, the philosophy behind teaching, the history of education. It can touch on so many different things. How we gather in spaces even, or the meaning of the classroom, or different learning styles as an example. Okay, so it can go super, super wide.

55:48

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, you need to kind of get this macro view of where is everything headed? And then within that see kind of what are the interesting points? Where is that real equity to move things forward or to be part of that forwards trajectory? Because some of these things just happen as a consequence of things changing. Some of these different changes or trends in culture are leading these changes. And so where do you want to play in? When you figure out where you want to play, then you have a subset of, okay, these are the cultural narratives. And then for example what you may do is you may look at, okay, what are all the kind of equity we have in our product and our community in terms of a brand? Where are all the points of value that we have?

You would explore all of those different things, and then you would condense that down into, okay, what are the points of equity in our brand that we have that our competitors don’t have, that kind of are a little different that are kind of like give us room to grow and evolve, that are in the trajectory of where new value is being created. And so kind of in line with inside of the cultural trajectory is kind of what is the brand equity we have in our product. And then you do the same thing looking at your audience and you would find, okay, what is there trajectory? And so all of these things you’re kind of expanding and contracting down until you get to the kind of the art of it. 

Because to some extent you can systematize a lot of these things. You can get a lot of the insight building and the criteria for a brand to be fairly scientific. But there is always a bit of a leap and maybe I haven’t come up with the right framework yet, but there is a bit of a gap between knowing what the brand needs to do and then finding the narrative to sort of artistically express that.

56:50

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. Well, we talk about this all the time. I think that’s where the art meets the science. When you’ve done all of your strategic work, you will ideally end up with a catalog of like, this is how our brand needs to operate through this, this, this, and this, needs to work like this, this, this, and this, and needs to change this, this, this, and this. You don’t want nine answers for all the things it needs to do. You need to find that one answer, that one mechanism that answers all those nine things. That’s the artistry. It’s finding that one piece that solves so many different problems that you’ve surfaced in the strategy, research and development.

57:29

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. And just to add to that, I think once you get to that central narrative, this is the story, this is the kind of the belief and the values of the brand. That’s kind of the contraction of that entire discovery phase, kind of creating the criteria, having a very strategic belief in worldview. And then you get to the same thing again, and then you have this huge expansion of, okay, this is all the ways that we can express that, this is all the ways we can have this conversation, all the ways we can turn that into experience. And there were so many different ways. One of my favorite mechanisms for kind of discerning a good strategy from bad strategy, there was a great article in the Harvard Business Review. And it was a very, very simple anecdote that works so beautifully. It was basically that if the opposite of your strategy is not a strategy, then you don’t have a strategy. 

58:17

Jasmine Bina:
So many people hear that and just don’t get it.

58:20

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. I mean, the example I think they gave was looking at some kind of service company.

58:28

Jasmine Bina:
I remember the example. I think it was a financial services company that said we are going, our strategy is to give the most competitive products to our customers with the best service. And the opposite of that would be, we would give the least competitive products to our non-clients with the worst service, but that’s not a strategy. 

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
No one’s going to do that. 

Jasmine Bina:
So you don’t really have a strategy to begin with.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. I mean, if that’s not a strategy, then yeah, no one’s going to be moving in that direction.

58:54

Jasmine Bina:
Because a strategy is not a best practice. A strategy is how are we going to do things in a way that we can own and carve out a niche for ourselves in the market that would be hard for others to follow. 

59:07

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, for sure. And it’s always a good heuristic just to measure these things by it. You mentioned a good point about best practices and it’s definitely kind of in the latter stage of a brand strategy where best practices become really, really effective. But yeah, at a very broad level, kind of going back to the bigger question around, how do you create a framework? There is a lot of, sort of science, a lot of formula that you can provide to get all the insights and condense them down. But there’s definitely just that last sort of 5% of knowing what it needs to do and then knowing how it does that, that to some extent that’s the value of the experience, having someone who’s experienced in this and knows that best practices can guide you, but there’s always that little bit of a gap.

1:00:01

Jasmine Bina:
It’s a last mile problem. Getting to that last mile, there are systems and ways to get there super efficiently, but making that last mile happen is full of friction and it’s super hard.

1:00:13

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. And I think if we could figure out a formula for that last one, then that’d be AI coming to eat our jobs soon enough. 

1:00:22

Jasmine Bina:
To wrap this up, I think this was a great conversation. What a lot of people don’t actually know about you and me is that we’re not only partners in Concept Bureau, we’re partners in real life. You’re my husband, and we met about three and a half, four years ago. Now I had started this agency before I met you for a number of years. And then you came and completely changed everything for the better and just completely changed the way I approach things, the way I saw brand strategy and really just took this company to the next level. And that’s also when I started publishing a lot too.

And people ask us all the time, how do you do it? I could never work with my wife or husbands. And it wasn’t easy all the time, we definitely earned our strides. I’m very, very strong-willed and passionate is the word I would use. And you are also equally strong-willed and passionate about your ideas as well. I’m going to ask you not just about working couples, but to create a true partnership because so many of our clients that we’re meeting more and more of are actually founded not by an individual founder, but by co-founders. So many huge, amazing business successes of our times have co-founders behind them. And that’s a very intimate relationship to have someone because you’re literally building a life together in many ways. What is your advice to people? I don’t think I’ve ever really asked you this. What is your big takeaway from this huge experiment that you and I have undertaken? 

1:02:01

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, it’s a big question. I think what makes it especially difficult in terms of what we do is the fact that it’s creative work. If you’re two accountants working together it’d be a very different story because you could argue there’s creativity in accounting. But the point is that with creativity you’re really putting your ego on the line. You’re saying, I have this idea, what do you think about it? And they’re not always good ideas. And the process of collaboration often requires shooting people down. And if you don’t do that, then you don’t have an effective culture to work in. 

And so to some extent, I think one of the biggest challenges is ego. And it’s not easy, but learning to kind of separate your ego from a lot of these things, because the bottom line is you have a shared goal and you’re working towards that shared goal. And the thing that gets in the way is the ego. It’s not anything else usually, it’s usually somehow you’ve hurt my feelings in one way or another and we pretend like it’s creative differences, whatever. But really I think a lot of disputes come down to that. Ego I think is definitely a big part of working well together, trying to get rid of that, trying to create a culture where you’re almost encouraging that. I think the more you encourage failure, the more you kind of can throw things at the wall and see what sticks.

1:03:27

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, that works too. I’ve never been good at failure ever. And I have always had a fixed mindset that I am only as good as I am and I constantly have to prove that to the world. Instead of a growth mindset that believes that I can get better. Accept that I’m not at the level I want to be at, but I can get better. And I’ve really had to push myself out of that mindset in the course of my career and working together was kind of a crash course in that. But creating an environment where you are constantly failing as part of the process, failing by design. I think people get that on paper when it comes to product dev or UX or things like that. But we never think about it for when it comes to interpersonal relationships or professional relationships.

1:04:12

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, definitely. I think part of that is that it’s not a true failure to some extent or not a valuable failure, unless you can pause and reflect on kind of that experience and how to move forwards from it. A lot of the time you fail and it’s frustrating and it dims your ego and it creates that little bit of tension and that just kind of continues under the radar. And I think part of it is that you have to kind of get back to that point especially if there’s some contention where you can kind of realign on values and say that, where like … Or at least when you have that success after those failures that you have that kind of alignment and that shared vision, because otherwise you’re sort of, you can be working against each other, even though you’re trying to do the same thing, so I mean, yeah.

1:05:05

Jasmine Bina:
I think also framing the failure. I know in the beginning of our working relationship I saw failure as failure, period. But now we’ve made a real habit of when we looked back at our failures, we look back at them in a grateful way, kind of fondly. We laugh about it or we tie it to like, oh, because of that failure we went to this whole new space and we had this other success. It’s how you perceive the failure that I think matters. And that’s a habit that you build with your partner. It’s not something that comes naturally. You have to constantly recontextualize what it means to not get it the first time.

1:05:44

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah. I think the soft way of addressing it is to call it iterations, and that’s really what … I mean in branding that’s what we do. And I think what we’ve found over time is that the more we do this work, the more you need to kind of get it wrong because then you’ll learn. That’s the only time you’ll find out what’s right. A lot of the time when we’re dealing with an executive team and it doesn’t quite feel right, that’s the first opportunity they have to actually articulate what it is that is right. If you don’t have that, if it’s always, yeah, this is good, yeah, this works. That’s the worst possible thing. It’s the same kind of situation.

There’s always this anecdote that I appreciated where the worst people to work with are the B players. The A-players are all-star, they’re great, they do the work and they’re fantastic at it. The C players are so bad that you get rid of them straight away. It’s the B players that aren’t quite enough to get rid of. I mean, that’s more about kind of hiring and employees, but it’s the same kind of attitude where if you think it’s not quite bad enough that it needs to be addressed, that’s probably absolutely when it needs to be addressed.

1:06:57

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. Yeah. I would also say just as a last note, for people who maybe are thinking about working with their partners, it’s very, very hard. But if you can get through the hard parts, it’s extremely rewarding and worth it. Because imagine if you could take your successes at work and have them have a halo effect over your personal life too, and that’s the benefit of this. So yeah, anyways, I think this is a good place to wrap up the interview. We explored a lot of interesting things when it comes to branding. Hopefully this has set the tone for what people can expect from the Unseen Unknown. We have a lot of really interesting people who are on the roster for interviews that are coming up. Thank you, Jean Louis, and talk to you again soon.

Jean-Louis Rawlence:
Yeah, that was fun. Thanks.

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Jasmine Bina

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