Jason Berg
June 6, 2024

Insights Everywhere #004: Karl Isaac

Bringing Out the Best in Your Brand

How to create meaningful, authentic and human brands, products and experiences

In this conversation, Karl Isaac discusses the role of branding in weaving purpose into the company and in creating meaningful experiences for customers today. He emphasizes the importance of thinking holistically about brand within every aspect of a business, from product through to customer support. Karl also explores the potential of AI in creating personalized experiences, versus just being used to create operating efficiencies.

The conversation also touches on branding helping companies to stand out in a content-saturated and multi-channel world. Karl also shares the importance of leaders being authentic and vulnerable to foster a culture of trust and innovation and to support nonlinear thinking. He challenges conventional thinking by suggesting that less time should be spent looking at what the competition are doing and should instead be focused on building brands grounded in truth, using tangible human insights, and with a strong point of view. The conversation concludes with the importance of getting outside, getting curious, and getting connected to enhance both personal and professional growth.

Key Takeaways:

  • Brand should connect everything a company does and says with how it does and says it.
  • Branding is the function that helps to look holistically at every aspect of the business to see what impact it has as a whole.
  • AI has the potential to create personalized experiences that delight customers, versus just creating efficiencies.
  • In a content-saturated world, originality and standing out are more important than ever.
  • Thinking holistically about brand and involving all members of a company can lead to better brand ambassadors and more impactful work.
  • The purpose of a company plays a big role in creating a cohesive brand across various channels.
  • Non-linear thinking is important in business to drive innovation and transformation.
  • Brands should be grounded in truth and have a strong point of view.
  • Leaders should be authentic and open to build trust, inspire teams and foster a supportive and innovative environment, rather than adhering to stoic, impersonal management styles that can lead to isolation and distrust.
  • Brands can also create meaningful connections with their customers by being authenctic and deploying strategies grounded in real, tangible human insights. This involves moving beyond just competitive analysis and focusing on broader cultural trends and genuine customer needs.
  • Getting outside, getting curious, and getting connected are essential for personal and professional growth.

Good morning, Karl. Thanks for being with us. I'm very excited to talk more about what you're up to in the world. I know there's quite a bit that you have going on as well as your background leading some pretty incredible brands. So, I think just as a starting point, would love to get a quick intro from you. And I'm going to pull a line from one of the testimonials that I saw on your site, which is, tell us about the man behind the red glasses.

That was my good friend Scott. Thanks for having me. First off, it's great to connect with you. I've really enjoyed getting to know you better here in LA. Bit of an intro. I have worked in technology for about 25 years, most of that time doing branding and marketing. Had a variety of experiences - started my career as a designer and an architect and discovered the world of branding back in 2003 and have been really immersed in that ever since. I've had the good fortune of working at some really amazing companies - Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, eBay, as well as agency side at Razorfish and Landor and I started my own agency called Hi It's Us. My wife and I live here in Playa del Rey and by the beach in LA and my kids are in DC and in New York City.

Having started off your career in Architecture - what shifted you over to branding? And what have you taken over from that early training and part of your career?

I actually bring a lot of what I learned then in. So, first off, it was a really great career. It's a really wonderful thing to study. I have some good friends that are architects and classmates. I have a master's in architecture from UCLA. And I think I bring from it a really great ability to think concretely and abstractly together. So to conceptualize, but then also to make.

I certainly learnt how to take criticism and creative feedback, as that was a big part of what happened in our architecture studio reviews. And, ultimately, I think a lot about customer journeys is not so different from the way an architect thinks. So "What is the experience you're trying to create from someone? What is the path? How are you trying to get people from point A to point B? And what are those moments of delight that you're creating along the way?"

They say architecture is frozen music. if architecture is frozen music, then branding helps orchestrate a lot of the experiences that we have.

Everybody who's been in brand approaches it from a slightly different angle, but share a lot of the same principles. So, in light of that, where do you see brand as it exists within the construct of businesses today? When you're working with companies, how do you try to implement that brand as the orchestrator of what they do?

I think a lot of companies think of brand as something that you apply. So here's our logo, here's our look and feel, and maybe miss the opportunity to think about brand as the ability for you to really connect everything you do and say and how you say and do it. And so, a lot of the companies I work with, we start by thinking about, what is your purpose? What is your reason for being in the world? How do you create and identify something that differentiates you? Which specifically means something that is important to customers and you can own.

A lot of companies will differentiate themselves, but perhaps not on something that matters to customers. That was actually a challenge I had when I was leading global brand at eBay, right? We were very different, but not necessarily in a way that was hyper relevant to customers. Meaning we were a place for people to find weird, hard to find items, but most of the world wanted things in two days or less and fast and free shipping and easy returns. And so we were almost too different. And so, how do you create differentiation that is both ownable and important?

And, in terms of what companies do to work with brands, there's so much opportunity to really weave in your purpose into the kinds of experiences that you want to create. Airbnb has a great example, right? They were all about Belong Anywhere and they launched experiences that was, you know, if you really stand for belonging anywhere, then you should be able to connect with locals that can show and guide you around and help you better experience the places that you're or living in temporarily.

One of the reasons I joined eBay was because we had moved brand out of the marketing function into the product organization. So I actually worked for the Chief Product Officer and we were connecting brand and product because ultimately the experience is the brand, the product is the brand. There's so many things that influence a brand beyond just the look and feel, or even some words that you use. It ultimately is about the experience that you're delivering. And so that was an opportunity to really focus on creating those kinds of product experiences that would delight existing and new customers and really help reshape the brand after we had separated from PayPal.

How do you think holistically about where brand needs to sit within the organization and who needs to be involved?

That's a really tough one. First off, I believe a brand organization should be every member of a company. You know, if you have 30,000 people working at your company, then enlist all 30,000 in being the best brand ambassadors. But of course, you're not going to make effective decisions with 30,000 people weighing in internally. And then of course, the world externally weighing in.

So there are important teams that are set aside specifically tasked with thinking about the brand and the longevity and future and how to evolve it and grow it. That's a luxury. And one of the things that happens in many organizations is oftentimes, people have different incentives or goals and metrics. And so the people in an organization that are thinking about brand oftentimes think about the whole portfolio, not just one part of the business, but many of the colleagues that you might work with that may be critical of brand decisions might be looking at it solely through the lens of the specific product that they're charged with.

So one of the really cool things about brand is that you can look holistically at every aspect of the business and see the impact that it may have, really. So that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

There's no right way to do it. It depends so much on the history of a company and the leadership of the company. Is this a founder led company? Or is this a company that's going through a rebirth? Or is this a company that has literally just started two weeks ago? There's so many variables. I really like to create things that are unique to the clients I work with. And there's certainly best practices to leverage.

A couple of things that I was able to do is really revisit some of the hallmark traditional elements of brand building and kind of reinvent them for the future. So historically, like you have strategy and you define a strategy and then you go into the creative and the creative expresses that strategy. And then you go into your campaigns and your other things that companies create and do to deliver on the creative work that's been generated.

I look at that quite differently. I work much more in sprints and agile methodologies rather than a linear waterfall approach. I love thinking and making at the same time and testing hypotheses instead of saying, “This is the answer”, say, “This is a hypothesis for what we believe is a really strong direction.” “By the way, we have two other scenarios that we've envisioned as well that could be really powerful for the company. Now let's bring those to life and have a discussion around the potential and the opportunity of these scenarios.” And that means thinking about your positioning and your strategy, but also your tone and your creative expression as a specific module, if you will, and replicating that a few times.

Because in my experience, companies make decisions on strategy, and then they see creative and sometimes they get confused. They're like, “What's that?” And you're like, “Well, that's the expression of the strategy we agreed to.” And people are like, “No, no, that's not what I envisioned.”

So when you bring creative and strategy together in these agile sprints, you can actually tell people, "Here's the strategy and here's the implications of that strategy." And so you're better able to make more informed decisions, but then also move quicker. Because now you've aligned not only on the strategy, but maybe the tone and the creative approach and the territory. And so you're often running into campaign and content creation because you have artifacts to look at.

A great example of that, Jason, is like, if I said to you, "This brand needs to be genuine or authentic." And you're like, "Okay." Well, I'm often running creatively thinking what I think is genuine or authentic. But that could mean a ton of different things to different people. And so connecting those dots is, again, not the typical way that the traditional roles follow each other, but has enabled me and the companies I've worked with and the teams I've had the good fortune of leading to do really creative, powerful work much more quickly that has much more impact. Because now everyone's aligned on a common strategy and a common creative vision for what needs to happen.

I think all too many times we get caught up in handling a branding project in different stages sequentially. But sometimes it’s helpful to build more creative work upfront as itt helps you really understand strategy and what the potential is of it further because it is a little bit more on the nose, or connects with people.

The best creatives I know are highly strategic, and the best strategists, oftentimes, are highly creative. But sometimes they're creative outside of work. They're like, "At work I just do this strategy job, but when I'm home, I'm a creator, or a potter, or a painter, or a musician." We miss so much opportunity by putting people in these narrow boxes.

One of the cool things about digital is, and maybe even with the rise of AI, is it's changing everything and changing the landscape. And someone's like, "That person is an accountant, but they're also a TikTok celebrity on accounting talk". Or whatever that might be. and so now they're creators. And I think that's awesome because you can ultimately better connect with your customers if you're thinking about your customers as multifaceted, and if you're thinking about your teams as multifaceted. How cool!

Obviously, there's organizations and teams and structures, and people should respect what people were hired to do within a role. But everyone always wants out-of-the box thinking, but then you follow very traditional and narrow roles and rules and job descriptions and how are you expected to get this highly original creative work out of that?

I like to talk a little bit about the fact that today if you apply for a job, some people use AI now to write your resume or review your resume. And then you send that resume in and it gets reviewed and scanned by AI. And so now you have AI talking to AI and then, if you're lucky to get an interview, maybe you've used AI to play out some scenarios to questions you might get asked or answered. We miss the opportunity for these outliers. And it's these outliers, it's these unexpected people, it's the people that I have bet on through my career or that people have bet on me when I wasn't the most obvious fit for something that creates the unexpected. And that's what potentially can result in outside-of-the-box thinking. If you want outside of the box thinking, don't keep everyone in the box.

It sounds so obvious when you say it like that. Out-side-of-the-box thinking is imperative because, despite having boxed roles, we’re all multifaceted. And outside of the box thinking can help people get noticed and recognised better too.

It's hard now. It's hard to break through. It's hard to connect. If you're a job hunting, there's so many people right now looking for work and it's really hard to get through these systems. So you have to look outside of those boundaries and outside of those systems. That's where maybe content creators have an advantage in trying to get jobs because they're doing original things and applying for jobs differently. And sometimes these things go viral of the person who did a really beautiful or courageous or weird thing as part of their job application and that's what got them noticed.

Brands also think like that. What are the weird or courageous or interesting things I need to do to get people's attention? Because we're surrounded by, it used to be seven to ten thousand touch points a day that people were hit with. Now you've got to wonder if that's increased with the amount of time we're on screens and the number of things that we're multitasking - we're on mobile while we're on video. So brands are also clamoring for attention - and you have to come back to why you exist as a company. Or if you're job hunting or if you're an employee, why you want to work at that company and have really good answers so that you can then guide and orchestrate everything towards that goal.

With AI-driven content, being original is all the more important to cut through. I was having a conversation with someone at your Brand and Sand event about this. I’d be curious to know your thoughts - how do we compete with AI in terms of volume of content? what is the counterbalance or force to this? How do brands need to adapt to these new realities?

Well, there was a lot there that you just touched on. Let me also just start by explaining what Brand and Sand is. It's a brand community that I was able to launch about four months ago and got Adobe to sponsor it as well. LA is a bit of a transactional town and people want something from you, or you want something from others. And that was a little bit of the vibe that I experienced here versus my time in the Bay Area where I found people were really open, gracious and generous with the kinds of introductions to people that would spark really exciting conversations and maybe new opportunities. And so I wanted to bring some of that here to LA. So I launched Brand and Sand. It's a monthly meetup by the beach to talk about brand and bring people together. And so that was exciting. I'm glad you've been a part of that and we've gotten to connect and have really, really rich discussions.

You were touching on AI and many aspects of it. I thought I'd share a couple of quick thoughts that I have - which is, I'm not sure people are thinking of AI in the right way. Most people seem to think of AI in the same way people use an electric walkway - to get somewhere faster - instead of maybe thinking of AI like a bridge - to connect you to a new future and a new reality and to get to know each other better and to go from the past to the future.

Yet there's so much more AI can do - of course AI can help us be more efficient and productive, and that matters. People are always looking for faster and cheaper ways to do things. But the real power I think of AI is gonna be in the experiences that are created, in the personalized experiences that are created. It's why we gravitated to Spotify many years ago and why people are so excited to share their wrap at the end of the year. Because it's like - look how well the personalization works. Like it really knows all these aspects of me. And maybe I even discover aspects of me I didn't even realize. Like I have something in common with these other groups of people that also seem to like this genre of music that's very specific.

I think that's where AI really shines is in creating personalized experiences. But many of us just are kind of using it. Many clients out there that I see are trying to rely on it to just get things done faster or maybe justify a reduction in their workforce. We don't need as many people. Now we have redundancies. The truth is, I think with AI, we're going to need many people too. They're just going to have different skill.

If you've been in technology long enough, you've seen waves of innovation come through, And there's always the promise of "We're going to do so much more with so much less." The reality is, that may exist in certain pockets, but ultimately there's more to do and there's more variety.

20 years, 30 years ago, you had specific channels to build your brand. Brands cared so much about color initially and why Microsoft, Google, and several other companies all had the same primary colors. Because you were going to print something or put it up on this digital channel that was going to stay there for a long time.

Now there's new channels invented every day. And your brand has to be cohesive, not consistent. And so you really have to start to think about how do you create that common thread across your brand? That's where I think the purpose plays a big role.

We're in a really, really messy era, but the promise of AI, I think, is going to be to create all sorts of new, incredible experiences that really delight us if we use it wisely or scare the hell out of us if we don't apply the right ethics and standards and solutions that need to be put in place to use it in a responsible way.

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's the big debate and unknown today. But I do agree, it's all about - how do you harness and leverage this technology for the best outcome for people?

There's so many cool things you can do. Why is it that you have all these frequent flyer miles, but there's nothing prompting you to say, "Hey, Jason, with those miles, you should go here, here, and here, because we actually know you and care about you. And we've learned from some of your habits of travel and preferences and where you like to dine and where you're going on Google Maps", again, if you offer the permissions.

And if that feels right for you from a privacy perspective, there's a whole travel interface layer that airlines can own or somebody can own that isn't there. And instead we're thinking about "Now you can't talk to a call center, customer service representative when you miss your flight." That's what's happening with AI. It's like, now you can just launch your app and you find out that you've been put on another airline at a different time on a different day, which isn't what you really wanted. Instead of envisioning like the power and future of what travel experiences could be like for you. And, "Oh, we served you up a really cool offer that was tailored just to you because we know that these are the kinds of things that you look for." And customer service, I think is almost getting worse now with AI.

And that's what we're using it for, instead of delighting people on the kinds of experiences that brands and products and companies could be offering. A great example, I've been trying to give my bank a little bit extra money each month for some payments I need to make and I can't do it. I went to the customer service representative and I was like, "I want to give you more money." And they're like, "We wish we could, but the algorithm caps it at this amount is what you can transfer into us." And I had to change banks. I was like, "You don't want more money? I'll go to a bank that is happy to take more money on a monthly basis."

I think we're going to find that more and more, which is humans are going to be excited to want to help problem solve, but they're not going to understand why the algorithm made the decision it made. And they're going to be like, "I wish I could help. Unfortunately, I can't. This is as far as I can take you. The algorithm will eventually adjust itself to you and perhaps solve that problem for you." Like that's a very real thing that's happening right now because we're thinking about AI as cost cutting.

You may remember the Zappos brand that was built, they looked at customer service as a brand touch point, as an opportunity to get to know your customer better. I mean, we'll spend millions on advertising, but here you are on a one-to-one call with a customer and have an opportunity to delight them. And instead, we're treating it as a cost. And again, that's using AI like an electric walkway just to get through something faster instead of thinking about it as a bridge to connect and bring your customers from a problem they're having to a solution or to delight them with an experience that's tailored to them.

I'd have to think more if this is with every new technology, that there's a wave which first starts with the low hanging fruit of cutting costs - “how can we optimize?”, then it moves into “how can we create new experiences, new opportunities, new markets, new revenue streams, new what have you for these businesses that really make a huge impact?” That sounds almost like brand and product level thinking versus operational domains within these businesses, right?

It's said that with every new wave of technology, people overestimate its potential in the short run and underestimate its potential in the long run. I mean, you know, over the last five years, we've gone from talking about cryptocurrency to metaverse to AI alone, right? And, and so there's always this hype factor, but the reality is all those things are going to be really powerful and part of our life in the long run. And we just have to see it through.

But I think one of the challenges, Jason, that I've encountered, having worked in corporations for a long time, is that companies follow linear processes, right? That's why there's things like net present value, right? This is predicated on a linear process. And when you do budget planning - that is linear. How much do you need this year? How much did you use last year? Let's forecast how much you can spend next year. And then they're like, "I'm gonna get efficiencies if I can allocate that spend upfront. I know what I'm gonna spend this year. I've now allocated certain portions to certain classes of marketing, let's say, and media budgets and thresholds for audiences." But then what happens when something new and unexpected happens in the market? How does that change your business?

I was at eBay when Amazon acquired Whole Foods. So should we think about that as a different moment in our business and business planning? Or even in smaller things, like when something really cool happens for your brand, like when Beyonce gives a shout out to a brand that suddenly is overloaded with attention that they hadn't anticipated. Can they seize on that if you've planned everything linearly? And so to be more clear and crisp, I'm a non-linear thinker in the world of business, which is a linear world. And there's many people like me out there. And that's why certain careers invite that kind of person, like maybe a creative career.

There may be nonlinear thinkers in other places, but some things like finance and accounting really require that sort of linear approach, whereas creativity can come from anywhere. Insights can come from anywhere. And action can come from anywhere. And that's why you'll see some themes that I've been touching on, which is like being open, embracing the skill sets of the people that are already at your company. To capitalize on that. And to really think about how you can use technology to radically transform, not incrementally get a little bit better at something, but make a big bet at something. And I've been at businesses that have made those big bets and realized tremendous opportunity. And I've been at businesses that think incrementally and sort of stagnate for years and years to come, or years and years in their past.

What it's been like for you as a non-linear thinker in these organizations? And how do you fuse these ways of thinking together to get to really the best outcome? Because it can never be one or the other, it has to be both.

I mean, I'll be honest, it has not been always so easy. I've been able to do some really great things because I've been able to bring in really amazing people into an organization and support them. And I've had leaders and people that have supported me and taken those bets on me. But as a whole, it's not easy. And, to be honest, the more you advance in a company, I would say the lonelier it gets.

I had a business coach who's amazing and she has a business literally called It's Lonely at the Top. And so the further up sort of the ladder you go, potentially the more isolating it becomes because you don't have as many people around you to seek guidance from and you don't have as many people around you. You're now supposed to be orchestrating and guiding and being that resource for others and that is I don't think the right kind of thinking because it turns out even at the leadership level those people are there you just have to be vulnerable enough to ask. And many companies don't want to see vulnerability from their leaders. So then that becomes really isolating.

But true leadership, I think, can come from vulnerability and putting yourself out there and bringing people in. And that's what creates collaboration. That's what leads to people thinking you're empathetic. If you are just stoic and maybe even a little self-righteous, that results in putting up walls and barriers and fiefdoms. People don't want to work with you. People may not want to follow you. People may not want to believe in you. But when you're vulnerable and you put yourself out there, well, now you're building those bridges and your people can see you as a human and can see you as a person trying to make change. And maybe they'll agree with you. Maybe they won't agree with you. But they'll certainly appreciate that you're being real with them and open.

To me, that's a cornerstone of what it means to be collaborative, and that's the way of the future. So it doesn't have to be as lonely at the top if you're willing to put yourself out there more. And if you're in an organization that feels safe in which you can do that.

Now, with the rise of AI, are people feeling safer or more threatened? Are people feeling supported or more like having more demands on them or more room to create and innovate.

More and more you see that leadership in the best-in-class companies is authentic, open, and transparent. That fosters a much better environment for nonlinear thinkers,  creativity, and breakthrough thinking. But unfortunately it often goes against the quarterly business cycle and results that need to be driven, especially with public companies.

These public company leaders might get themselves in a little bit of hot seats. And we give these  rote answers that just sound robotic because that's what was scripted for them. And then people lose confidence in those kinds of leaders.

To be honest, there's a lot of research right now about the trust deficit that exists in the world. You can look at Pew Research, you can look at Edelman's Trust Barometer, you can look at a lot of resources right now that indicate that people tend to not really believe companies. They don't believe what they say. And that's so important when you're thinking about your brand and when you're thinking about your messaging. How do you create that level of believability?

Now, why is that? Well, maybe it's that their actions aren't connected with what they're saying. Maybe it's because they don't appear as like human and relatable. There's a lot of reasons. Maybe it's because instead of personalization, we've moved to an era of polarization, right? A lot of these businesses thrive on people being angry at one another. I'm thinking about the social media businesses, right? Engagement levels go through the roof when we're really polarized. That's really good for advertising revenue if you think of social media as a media. But if you think of social media as a connection, then it's terrible for that. That means we're using the same media that could bring people together to actually disrupt and pull them further apart. And we see that play out time and time again.

So, part of being vulnerable might also be to take some responsibility for what's happened with how AI has been used in social media and the problems that are occurring. And this is really real stuff. I'm really passionate about it, Jason, because I don't think people are generally okay.

We've sort of glossed over the fact that there's been COVID. Glossed over the fact that there's social isolation from working from home. Or glossed over the fact that people are doom scrolling on their phones. We gloss over the fact that the kind of content that is most engaging is destructive. We gloss over research that talks about challenges people have with mental health. Major challenges. We're talking about people at work having challenges in the workplace.

And then we're asking those people to do even more with less. It's like we're creating these little pressure cookers, and then we want brands to come out and be funny and engage people. And there's totally a role for that. I'm all for it. But as long as it's real and you're really supporting your customers and you're really thinking about what they need and how to create a better future together. Otherwise, it's just like zany whimsical humor that people may disbelieve or not believe because they don't trust or they're so distracted by all the other touch points in their life, they'll forget who that was from.

I wish more brands were more vulnerable. I wish leaders were more vulnerable. I wish organizations were kinder and kindness doesn't mean nice. It just means treating people with respect that they deserve. And when they don't, you get those viral moments where like, a young woman videotaped herself about to get fired and it went viral and the CEO was shocked at how the layoff was handled. But should they really have been shocked? They knew it was going to be some scripted insensitive thing. And so how do they better take accountability and bring that level of empathy to their employees and to their customers to use AI and other tools to create experiences that people can really crave?

There are companies that do that. They do it great. there's so many interesting brands. We talked about Airbnb earlier. Look at like A24. Look at what they're doing. It's really cool stuff. They started as an independent film house and now they're creating the kinds of experiences that people really, really crave and are delighted by. And that was a little bit of a counter move there as it wasn't the most obvious kind of content that they started creating.

With the extensive experience that you've had in the industry leading global brands through the different phases of where work, culture, and brand has evolved to today. How does this translate into what your approach is now?

Thanks for asking, Jason. Well, I start by making sure that businesses are grounded in what's happening in culture. I like really exposing them to that kind of thinking. So many businesses like to think about their competitors. But competitors are only part of the equation. The other part of the equation is what's happening in the world today that's relevant or maybe doesn't seem relevant, but actually is relevant when you just open the aperture a bit more. And so I really like to start by immersing. I do these workshops and I'll bring people through, “Here's what's happening in culture and what it means to you and your brand. Here's what's happening in your category and what it means to you and your brand. And here's what's happening at your company and what it means to you and your brand.” And so when you look at all through the lens of your customer, but when you look at what's happening in culture, what's happening in your category, what's happening at your company, you establish a foundation of truth.

I have this one slide - it's a bench, one bench. And it says, "This is a bench." and next to it is another bench and it says, "This is not a bench." Maybe any of us who have worked in corporate America might relate to this sensation where sometimes you're in a meeting and you're like, "They're saying that's not a bench, but I know it's a bench. Why can't we just call it a bench and just acknowledge what it is?" That happens all the time in my experience. So grounding people in the truth of where they are relative to culture, category, and things that are happening at the company is a great foundation from which to build your brand. But if you didn't really start at that point, well then, you're building a brand on shaky ground, because you're sort of pretending that you're something else.

I worked for a company - they wanted to be Google, but they did carpeting and chemical bound polymer work in a lab in South Carolina. And I'm like, "You're not Google. Be you. Be great at who you are. Let's ground you in your truth and build from there." Rick Rubin has a great quote, "Aiming for greatness is different than aiming to be better than someone else." People always think about their competitors, but what if you just be informed by that, but park it for a minute, and now envision where you can get to - those are the cool, courageous brands that are willing to transform and grow and do.

I was part of the historic Adobe transformation where we moved from selling box software to offering cloud-based subscriptions. It doesn't seem so radical now, but back in 2012, that was a major thing. We were the first major brand to go in the software category to shift to a subscription model like that from a box product. It was a huge transformation that others have since followed. But there weren't really great examples to draw from then. We had to fly without a net, if you will. And if we got it wrong, it would have been the end of the company. Fortunately, we didn't and it launched a lot of great things for years to come.

Grounding your brand in the truth should be the obvious start, but there's too many shiny objects that distract and pull you away.

Sometimes it's hard. It's nerve wracking to call.

I was there in the meeting with the founders of eBay in a boardroom. And it's a little daunting to explain that we're a challenger brand. It doesn't quite sit right with people that invented a whole category of the online commerce, ratings and reviews, and transparency. There's so many things that are built on the eBay model, but the brand itself became a little less relevant than the model and the things that they developed.

Fortunately, eBay was really receptive to that, and we were able to reposition the brand across the globe for significant growth and really tap into something that was unique to us, but also important to customers. So we talked a little bit about that foundation of truth being so important.

The other part that's really important, Jason, I think is bringing tangible human insights to bear. Like real human insights that aren't just observations, but they shed new light on how to think about the business or the brand or your marketing or the opportunity ahead. And then having a really strong point of view as a brand.

These things all factor in. I know we've been chatting a while. I wanted to mention just one other thing, which was for people starting out in the career of branding, or even better seasoned professionals, how do you get better at it? Now a lot of people are gonna tell you, just chat GPT or any LLM out there is the greatest gift to any individual, because now you can sound brilliant or funny or weird or whatever it is you want to do or unleash your creativity.

Personally, you know, those are fine companions to have with you on your journey. But to me, my three things would be - get outside, get curious and get connected.

You're not going to create the next amazing thing by just staring at the screen. You need to get away sometimes and go for a long walk or play guitar or go to a restaurant or go to a meetup or go meet people and have real human interaction. Take public transportation, go for a long walk in the city, whatever it is, but get out. Get away from your screen for a little while and let your mind wander a bit and dream up those scenarios. So then when you work with your chat GPT buddy, you can actually have something interesting to tell it versus just relying on it to tell you what to do.

And then the other is get curious. How do you get an insight in something? The insight comes from continuously asking the question why? Be like, "I had that observation, I saw that thing and that struck me. Well, why, what was it?" And the more you keep asking why, the deeper into the insight you'll get and. you might put a little bit of yourself in there. You might be like, "I'm vulnerable. It's a little vulnerable." Like when the insight gets so deep and raw that you're taking a risk and you're a little vulnerable to say it out loud, but then you do and other people are like, "Yeah, I feel that same way." Or "I know what you mean." That can be game changing for organizations, for brands and for the people.

And then lastly, get connected. It doesn't have to be lonely at the top or lonely at the bottom. Have conversations with people in real life or by phone, but there's a lot of social isolation going on out there and we're at risk of having AI be a better friend to you than actual people. And those are the kinds of things because in the end, Jason, brands are built by people.

We might use the tools of technology and we might really rely on them now more than ever. But it's people that are hiring the brand leaders. It's people that are making the decisions in the end. It's people that will stop great work or fuel great work based on all sorts of reasons. But if we don't know how to sell in ideas, if we don't know how to be there for people to rely on, if we don't know how to be a shoulder for someone to cry on or be a fan to fuel someone's trajectory in their career. Those are the things that'll make a big difference. And those are the things that help brands accelerate.

My ability to call up people from 25 years of being connected to them and say “Let's go do this thing.” When I hacked the Adobe logo, which is something that came at great professional risk, I invited artists to come in and tinker and experiment with the logo after being told not to touch it. I was able to do it because I was able to call people that trusted me and create a safe space. And so that comes from being connected and investing in those connections.