“My dad is not an ad-man. But he taught me everything I know about brand building.” – Alvin Teoh - The Coverage
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“My dad is not an ad-man. But he taught me everything I know about brand building.” – Alvin Teoh

There are many Brand-gurus out there. Learned, experienced, articulate, sometimes a little inflated and smart as hell.

Well, I don’t think I am like any of them.

I am just your regular ECD struggling to navigate the world of brand building and story-telling. Which is more or less the same thing, if you think about it. But that’s another story. Now, back to my dad. Stay with me. I’ll try not to waste your time.

My dad is a simple man with simple ways. In my early days in the ad industry, I’d proudly share my work with him. He would pretend he understood what the heck I was doing. You know that feeling, right? That long awkward silence, followed by an unconvincing, ‘That’s interesting…have you ate yet? I made some Char Siew.”

And now that we’re in the digital age, it’s even worse. He’s a little tech-phobic and out of touch with a generation hungering for digital validation and boredom-filler content 24/7.

Sometimes he would catch a glimpse of things gone viral and he’d ask me what on earth is happening? He has little interest in the world of brand, marketing or advertising yet, every time I am tasked to help build a brand, I look to him.

Why?

Well, because the best way to understand a brand is to see it as a person. Let’s forget all that rocket-science terminology and marketing jargon for a while and see if we can make things simpler. Yes, a brand is like a person, like my dad, for example.

So let’s break him down.

My dad is a good man and lives by principles rooted in his Catholic faith. He genuinely cares for people, exercises compassion and freely shares his wisdom and values with everyone he meets. He practices what he preaches, makes people feel valued and expresses his beliefs consistently through his opinions and stories.

So if a brand is modelled after my dad, what would it be like? Here’s what I think:

The Brand would be:

1)        People-centric. Not Customer-centric.

If a brand sees people just as customers, it basically sees them as cash cows. They would ask, how can we make bigger profits from them? But if they saw them as people, people with needs, people with feelings, people not unlike themselves, then perhaps they would rejig their core beliefs about service. They would think, ha, I’m going to help this person because I genuinely care. If I profit from that, fine. That’s cool. If I don’t, oh well, I did some good. And that’s precious.

That kind of vibe will be picked up by people and you know how they are. They have a built-in, inner radar of good and bad. They will feel the difference and will be compelled to like you back and that’s the sort of ‘Brand’ people want to be associated with. That’s how my dad treats people. All people. Every single one of them matters. He gives his full attention and desires nothing back except for that person’s well being.

 

2)        Purpose-driven. Not product driven.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, the product is crucial. But the purpose behind the product is what makes it good. It needs to serve a real human need. When my dad reaches out to people, he’s not driven by his ego. He’s driven by his desire to help. That’s his purpose. It’s pretty simple, actually. How often have brands pushed their wares based on an inflated sense of self? I am No.1. I am the best, biggest, fastest, most awesome and all that nonsense. Who gives a rat’s ass? If a brand is not driven by a purpose that is rooted in the human experience, then it only exists for itself.

 

3)        Promoting values above sales.

I am not against making money. If my agency wants to double my pay, I won’t feel an iota of guilt. Businesses need to grow and expand. But it needs to be guided by principles. I’ll use my dad as an example again here.

Many young people with marital or relationship problems seek his counsel. Obviously, he is not the only qualified person to offer advice but many seek him out. I asked a young couple why. They explained that others seem to ‘enjoy’ being sought after. So in truth, they profited from having their egos stroked. That was their payment. But with my dad, there is none of those. He shares his beliefs unconditionally instead of forcing it down people throats and people respond by buying into his beliefs and walk away enriched by it. He understood he was in a position of influence and he used it to uplift people.

Bill Bernbach once said:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can lift it to a higher level.”

That’s some powerful shit he said there. With great power comes great responsibility right?

So yeah, if a brand narrative is centred on good values, it will inspire belief, do some good in society and guess what? It will have a positive effect on sales because people buy why you do what you do. That’s a classic Simon Sinek quote there.

 

4) Tell people-stories. Not Brand-stories.

A Brand that celebrates itself these days are those that live in an ivory tower. Once upon a time, Brands spoke to people. Then, they began to speak with people. Now, successful Brands are speaking through people. We’re moving from story-telling to story-making and then to story-owning and it’s all centred on people.

We need to find the intersection where the Brand attribute and the human experience meet. That’s the spot where it becomes a human story. It’s a place where people say, ah, that’s me there. That brand validates me, affirms me, understands me, is an advocate for what matters to me and thus, serves a need that I have. When my dad engages with people, he doesn’t talk about himself. Instead, he ignites the belief of what the listener is capable of. He points to something bigger in the life of that person and in some cases, that person is left in wonderment.

If we get this right, we can turn customers into friends and friends into advocates.

 

5) Persuade via feelings. Not facts.

‘Decision making is inherently an emotional business.’ I quote a line from The Social Animal by David Brooks. There is another quote that says… ‘People forget what you tell them but they remember how you made them feel’… I am not sure if I got that right, but you get the idea. Which is why an advice from my dad is easy to swallow. You felt his advice. It compelled people to feel, and that got them to think, and through thinking, got them to act.

It’s like falling in love. You’re in love, period. And from then on, it seizes your thoughts and your will. Try to apply some scientific data into why, and it probably will lose its magic. Yet, Brands that are centred on itself mostly uses fact to push sales. If people don’t feel something for you, they won’t act. After spending more than 20 years in this industry, I finally woke up one day and understood what I am called to do. I now understand my vocation as the marketing of feelings. It’s far from easy, but that is the key to everything.

So yeah, Brands are like people. To build one, ask yourself who’s the coolest person in your book? It’s got to be someone you want to hang out with and have hours and hours of conversations with. Once you identify his or her characteristics, model your Brand after it and be consistent in how you behave and how you tell that story. And the whole universe will conspire to help you. Yeah, it’s like that.

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