Get Control of Your Expertise
Google and YouTube are dangerous tools for acquiring industry knowledge beyond technical skills.
For anyone new here, I’m the founder of Woo Punch, a brand consultancy rooted in evidence-based brand design. I write about the evidence that debunks brand purpose, differentiation, brand love, loyalty marketing, customer personas, color psychology, mission statements, customer engagement, AdTech, and “hustle culture.”
Thanks for reading Branding Bullsh*t! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH LEARNING
I never had the patience, nor the attention span, to learn information that was being forced upon me. My grades suffered as a result. Then, for the last 2 years of high school, I convinced my mom to let me take an entire half-day TV production class. It was there that I finally excelled at learning. I was, by far, the best student in my class because I was finally interested in something.
After graduating from high school, I was excited to spend all my time learning film in college. That didn’t happen. For every filmmaking class, I got to take, I was required to take at least 4 courses that didn’t interest me and would have no impact on my life.
I guess the point of this was to produce “well-rounded” graduates? My university also charged “well-rounded” fees for these required classes.
I would fail or barely pass every class I wasn’t interested in while getting As and Bs in all my film classes. By the time my 6-year college career was over, I had accumulated a small fortune in debt, continued to believe I was a terrible learner and had already moved on to an entirely new interest.
An interest utterly unrelated to anything I learned in college.
Toward the end of college, the Catholic faith I was brought up with, and never paid attention to as a kid, became the staple of my life. Despite my terrible academic record, I was hired by a Catholic non-profit right out of college. I would remain there for the next 7 years, eventually becoming an expert in 3 separate fields.
I began as an intern. Within a couple of years, I was leading ministries across the country. Helping them to set a vision for the future and organize their day-to-day work around that vision.
I became an expert in Catholic ministry.
Next, I was asked to revisit an old friend as we developed an extensive online resource. My film degree. My boss knew I had a background in film, and we had a desperate need for videos. There was only one problem.
After 6 years and massive debt, I somehow graduated college with no technical skills. Unfortunately, the traditional structure of my film classes didn’t help me learn the basics of how to manually operate a camera!
Instead of getting behind a camera and being forced to figure it out (my favorite way to learn), I was forced to memorize technical terms for exams. Instead of having the freedom to learn at my own pace, I was forced to learn in small windows of time, expedited by arbitrary deadlines. As a result, I wouldn’t be in charge of my own film until my last year of college, when I took a documentary production class.
I was finally free to make my film for that class, but I didn’t need technical skills to make a documentary. Most documentaries weren’t beautifully shot (at that time), so I just used a camcorder with presets. So, here I was, 2 years into my first job. I had access to a nice camera that could capture beautiful footage, but I didn’t know how to use it. That’s when I discovered the power of YouTube.
YouTube is free, contains unlimited access to information, and provides me with complete control over my learning. Or so I thought (more on that later).
Eventually, I taught myself what my college film program didn’t. And I got pretty good at it! After watching hundreds of hours of YouTube videos, I was fully capable of shooting beautiful footage, lighting subjects, editing hours of footage quickly, and even animating!
I became an expert in ministry and an expert in filmmaking.
In the last 2 years of my work at this non-profit, I became an expert in design. We paid thousands of dollars to a local creative agency to design our online and print materials. I was always intrigued by graphic design (I even thought about majoring in graphic design in college, but my university didn’t offer it at the time), so I decided to save our organization some money and learn graphic design.
By this point, I had become an expert in two fields and mastered YouTube. At the click of a mouse, I could learn anything. For free. Why not design?
The YouTube rabbit hole of design would eventually lead me to quit my job and start my branding consultancy. While learning about graphic design, I became intrigued by the idea of designing a brand identity from scratch. It seemed like the ultimate combination of art and business.
I asked my boss if I could design the brand for a new product we were releasing. He said yes. I quickly realized I didn’t know where to start.
I had a lot of questions. How do you design a brand? How much strategy is involved? What does that strategy look like? So I turned to YouTube for answers. I eagerly consumed every video I could. Then I started to notice something. There was an entire world behind the strategy of brand design. The world of marketing.
YouTube introduced me to Seth Godin, Gary Vee, and Neil Patel. I also noticed that my old pal (a YouTube instructor I never met), Chris Do, from my days of learning the technical skills of design, had a lot to say about marketing.
My philosophy around the relationship between businesses and their customers and the role design played within that relationship became solidified. A brand had become so much more than a logo and a tagline. It was an “experience.”
It was a company’s values, differentiators, attributes, archetypes, personality, logo, and tagline. But symbols and slogans were secondary. Customers don’t want to buy great products. They want to have relationships with the brands behind those great products.
Business always felt sleazy to me. Branding, on the other hand, suddenly felt personal and meaningful. So I ate that shit UP! Before long, I was daydreaming about starting my branding consultancy.
If I could help clients execute this well, I could make much more money than I was making at the time. The best part is, I could do it with a clear conscience! I wouldn’t just be helping my clients sell more shit. I would be helping them identify, connect, engage, respect, admire, relate, and start a conversation with, their customers.
I would find my excuse to stop daydreaming and take a leap of faith when I met my wife. But unfortunately, for various reasons, my life at this non-profit, and the life I desired for my family, didn’t match up. So, I quit my job and finally started my branding consultancy.
Equipped with deep expertise in branding and marketing (acquired on YouTube), I finally had the freedom to change how business was done for the better. I became a “Brand Matchmaker,” helping my clients “attract and hold onto the customer of their dreams.”
Then, I got a library card.
GET A LIBRARY CARD
It was my first library card since I was a kid when my mom forced my siblings and me to read novels over the summer. My fiancee had to return some books she checked out. I assumed they were novels until I realized they were non-fiction books. I laughed.
“Why would you ever go to the library to learn when you can at the click of a mouse?” I compared the library, in my mind, to college. Although it was quite a bit better (it’s free, and you have complete control over your learning), it seemed inefficient. Regardless, here I was. I might as well have a look around. I left that day with a new library card and a stack of books so tall I could barely carry them. The library has become a magical place for me ever since.
One book I grabbed, written by Daryl Weber, was titled Brand Seduction.
It sounded right up my alley! Maybe it could give me more ways to articulate the beautiful relationship between great brands and their customers. Then, I read the subtitle. How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands
Neuroscience? Interesting. I brought the book home and read the introduction.
Right off the bat, Weber challenged the idea that brands can be boxed into neat archetypes or attributes in customers’ minds. It might seem silly to some of you, but brand strategists on YouTube are all about archetypes and attributes. So I was hooked and read the book.
Daryl Weber connected neuroscience (the study of the brain), behavioral science (the study of human behavior), and psychology (the study of the mind and its functions) with branding, making the opposite case that many branding gurus were making.
Months later, I listened to a podcast featuring the author. He mentioned a formative book for him written by Robert Heath called Seducing the Subconscious. I checked it out from my library.
Seducing the Subconscious begins with an in-depth history of advertising research and theory.
Robert Heath takes this wealth of research, combines it with his respected study on the matter, and makes a compelling case for a new advertising model. He argues that the traditional persuasion model of advertising (essentially the Don Draper method from Mad Men) is rarely effective.
Customers are rarely persuaded by advertising to buy products. This is intuitive to most of us. Unless you’re a marketer. ;) What isn’t intuitive is that advertising is highly effective even when we don’t even pay active attention to it.
When we look down at our phones during a commercial break, we aren’t directing our gaze at the TV. However, our peripheral vision sees more than we think, processes it, and stores it in our long-term memory.
Robert Heath proves that processing an ad in the background is more effective than when we process an ad consciously. It was initially hard to believe this, but I was curious. The research was sound.
In Robert Heath’s book, he mentions a book called, Thinking Fast and Slow by behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for economics (which wasn’t even his field) and (along with the late Amos Tversky) expanded our understanding of how human beings make decisions.
Kahneman’s book makes the compelling case that most of our decisions are automatic. We rarely put deliberate thought into our choices. This book affirmed Robert Heath’s argument and made me highly suspicious of the idea that customers desire relationships with brands or that they think about brands at all.
My suspicions were correct. As it turns out, an entire field of research has been proving my suspicions true since the 1950s!
My library card led me to Daryl Weber, who led me to Robert Heath, who led me to Daniel Kahneman. Then, I discovered Byron Sharp, who solidified everything for me.
Byron Sharp, and his mentor before him, the late Andrew Ehrenberg, have been directly studying consumers’ purchase behaviors for over 80 years.
Unlike Robert Heath and Daniel Kahneman, who primarily conduct experiments, Byron Sharp studies how brands grow in the real world. So if I still had doubts that customers didn’t care about brands after reading Brand Seduction, Seducing the Subconscious, and Thinking Fast and Slow, they were put to rest when I read How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp.
Sharp doesn’t conduct experiments in a lab. Instead, he looked at actual purchase data over the last several decades and found that marketing gurus are entirely and utterly full of shit.
Among the findings:
Not one brand ever recorded has grown by prioritizing customer loyalty in 60 years. Ever!!! WHAT???
Differentiation is minimally helpful, if at all, in convincing customers to buy brands. Customers rarely perceive differentiators in the first place!
Building a brand around a specific “ideal” customer wastes time and even destroys future growth!
To put it simply, customers don’t give a shit about brands.
Customers walk into grocery stores like sheep, buying the biggest brands in each category without thinking twice about it. And thank heavens!!! People shouldn’t think about brands! They have real problems to worry about! So instead, people buy brands to make their lives a little easier, signal wealth, save money, experience simple pleasures, watch their weight, keep warm, tell the time, look good, avoid unreliable products, etc.
Brands help us reduce our cognitive load when making decisions. That’s about it. When we know a brand, we trust it won’t screw us over.
I help clients sell these days, and I have a clear conscience.
The “brand love” philosophy is rooted in seeing business as an end and not a means to an end. It’s a belief that marketers should take up more space in customers’ lives, and customers should take up more space in marketers’ lives. Customers need marketers so they can buy products without thinking about them and move on. Likewise, marketers need customers to support and spend time with their families.
The “brand love” philosophy forces marketers to beg for attention, yelling: “Notice me! Love me! Want me!” What’s more, it doesn’t even work. This philosophy allowed me to waste my client’s money with workshops that offered an illusion of value.
Thanks a lot, YouTube.
GET OFF YOUTUBE
YouTube helped me learn the technical skills of graphic design, but it stopped being useful. The fundamentals of readable typography are more straightforward than how to grow a business.
On YouTube, distinctive presenters and content factories are kings.
Gary Vee’s F-bombs and Napoleon complex, Seth Godin’s pithy sayings and yellow glasses, and Neil Patel’s wealth of low-production value videos drown out everyone else. Just because someone is all over YouTube doesn’t make them right. YouTube is a battle for who can be the most distinct and make the most videos.
GET OFF GOOGLE
I’ve talked much about YouTube, but Google search is just as bad. Google search has completely lost control of its original intentions.
In the 1990s, they set out to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Instead, they have organized the world’s most popular information, made it universally accessible, and completely disregarded the useful part.
Aided by Google’s algorithms, websites like Hubspot have hijacked the internet with elementary articles written by 20 years olds straight out of college and loaded with trending keywords. As a result, Byron Sharp, Daniel Kahneman, and Robert Heath have been drowned out by shitty marketers who found a way to cheat the system with SEO.
YouTube and Google do not give you control over your learning. Not by any stretch of the imagination. However, they do give you the perception of control.
Don’t let algorithms fool you. Question everything.
Ultimately, my free library card gave me something I scoffed at in college. A well-rounded education!
My interest in branding led me to an interest in science and, eventually, even math! I ran as far away from these two subjects as I could for years! Now I had a reason to learn them. Today, I still occasionally go on YouTube and Google to learn. However, my approach is entirely different.
Now, I can weed out fact from fiction by leveraging the wealth of information I’ve acquired from books at my local library. Books from various fields that aren’t related to branding at first glance. Books with information that YouTube doesn’t know I’m looking for.
Watching me while I searched for information online, you would see both hysterical laughing and shouting. That’s because, on the one hand, many of the search results I see are so ridiculous that they make me laugh. On the other hand, I’m shouting because Google often delivers the exact opposite of what I’m looking for.
As an experiment, I searched for “customer loyalty debunked” on YouTube and Google. A human can understand the nuances of these 3 words strung together. A search algorithm still can’t. YouTube and Google completely ignore the word “debunked” and deliver me hundreds of articles and videos preaching debunked claims.
If you want to learn your craft, get control of your learning. Go to your local library, and follow the rabbit holes. When you like a book, look at the citations in the back (either that support or contradict the author’s case). Then read those books.
Try checking out books on general topics that go beyond your specific industry. Then, get that “well-rounded” education on your terms for free. For example, if you work in politics, read books on philosophy. If you’re an engineer, read books on how bodies function.
Whatever you do, get offline. Get a library card.
You can thank me later.
Thanks for reading Branding Bullsh*t! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.