To Succeed In Digital, You Must Be Magic


There has long been a debate in marketing between appealing to either the “logic” or “magic” parts of the consumer mind. Do I offer them a coupon? Do I appeal to their aspirations? How do I know when to do which? And is there ever a time when I can do both? The very fact of the matter is that logic should matter very little to your brand nowawadays, at least from a messaging standpoint. Whereas logic used to be the “steak” in the marketing and magic was the “sizzle”, our immense capacity for logic as a human race has flipped that equation on its head by making the world magical.

When I look at the events over the last several years, Felix Baumgartner’s death-defying fall from space (brought to you by Red Bull), the 2012 Olympics, the Curiosity Rover, the first person cured of AIDS, and the rise of the Arab Spring, we live in an inherently magical and inspiring world. You cannot turn on your computer, television, radio, or mobile phone without instantly being connected to something awe-inspiring. The simple fact that nearly two thirds of us turn over in bed every morning to turn off our mobile phone alarm and are instantly connected to the entire world is in itself awe-inspiring.

Logic Has Become the Norm, and We Hate It

Furthermore, as soon as we activate these devices we are inundated with deals, tweets, Facebook ads, mobile banners, and YouTube pre-roll that the logic has become completely ubiquitous in the digital world. Facebook gets more than a billion pageviews every single day and there’s at least one ad shown for every single view. The logical benefit, the special offer, the redeemable coupon, is becoming diluted at a dizzying rate.

That’s not to say it does not have its utility. I absolutely redeem the right offers when they are emailed to me, and there are simple times when I want to know the simple brand benefit of a product before making a purchase. But it is impossible to say that the amplification of media consumption, paired with the amplification of advertising has made the signal to noise ratio in the digital world is so high for brands that to focus on logic, why your brand is better than that one, is not enough to stand out anymore. How many times is digital ad spending going to keep growing year over year before marketers realize that consumers are not buying more stuff because they are advertising more.

“You Have to Learn Certain Skills to Present Magic”

The above is not just a convenient header; it’s a quote from David Copperfield, and a truism for marrying magic with marketing. The first skill a brand needs to develop is not really a skill, but more of an act of acceptance. Your brand is not what you sell, it is not what you say it is, and it is not why five blades on a razor are superior to four, it is not the tiger in my tank. Your brand is the millions of customers you have served and all of their stories. Your brand is everything they have to say about you. Most importantly, your brand is everything they are going to remember about you. The internet has extended our memories infinitely backward.

The other skill you have to cultivate to create magic is the ability to tell a story, know which story to tell, how, and when. Stories enrich our lives. They enrich our relationships with our friends and family, the places we live and have been, and the things we surround ourselves with. Your brand needs to learn how to become a piece of that connective tissue that holds those stories together.

Note that I said “a piece”, and not “the whole story”. It is so much more impactful when your brand is associated with a time, a place, a person, a thing. I will never remember the terrifying eleven minutes of watching Felix Baumgartner fall from outer space without remembering the Red Bull logo. I will never be able to remember the 2012 Olympics without seeing those ridiculous neon sneakers Nike used to steal the show, without buying a single advertisement. And I will probably be showing my kids my Instagram Photo Map and telling them about how once, when I was young, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube helped the world access information and topple regimes around the world (hint: those are all great ways to tell a story).

Magic and Sustainability Can Be the Same Thing

I did not mean to imply that if your brand is going to sit on the logic side of the marketing equation that you cannot be successful. Offers will move units, your brand benefit could very well make product fly off the shelf if it’s good enough. But what I am trying to imply is that your brand cannot be impactful in the digital space without giving serious thought and resources to the things that make the magic side of the equation.

Bottom line: if you never create magic, you will never be associated with anything lasting.

Alec Painter – has written 20 posts on this site.
Alec Painter serves the dual roles of Associate Director of Search Marketing for Empower MediaMarketing and Content Engineer for the Empower Group's content marketing offering, Magnetic Content Studios. His passion for digital began in high school, when he began using digital tools to record and market his music through websites and social media. Since then, he has honed his digital strategy skills working with a myriad of brands, including Fortune 500 financial, CPG, retail, and entertainment industry brands.

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2 Responses to “To Succeed In Digital, You Must Be Magic”

  1. Andy Brownell
    January 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Great post Alec. So much of that magic is now driven by the whims and individual passions of consumers thanks to digital technology and social connectivity. Brands have to help facilitate some of that magic by inspiring or connecting with simple truths people can relate/connect to – perhaps tell their own story. Then let go and see what happens.

    • Alec Painter
      January 15, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      You make an excellent point about “letting go”. I feel like too many brands are afraid of letting control over the outcome of something that has the potential to be magic. What would have happened to Red Bull if Fearless Felix had broken the record for world’s most amazing suicide attempt? We’ll never know because they pulled off an amazing feat of magic that is going to land them in the annals of history for capturing the imaginations of millions.

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