On Insiders, Outsiders, Branding & Boredom

Earlier this week I wrote this on Twitter:

Random late night thought: a huge part of stewarding a brand well is defending consistency against the boredom of insiders.

It hit enough of a nerve to warrant a few favorites/retweets, so I thought I’d expound a bit. It wasn’t brought about by any one interaction or client or even brand, really, but having done this design thing for a few years now, you begin to see trends.

The nature of working closely with a brand logically means your interaction with that brand increases exponentially, typically far past the threshold of even the most ardent fans/users. I like and use Twitter on a near-daily basis, but if I worked at Twitter I’d constantly be interacting with it—like a foreign language student studying abroad, learning through immersion. The closer to the source, the more I know, see and experience.

But that presents a few problems, the most perceptible of which is that you’ve ceased to be your audience. If you’re not careful, you cease to build things for your audience and start to build things for yourself. You stop serving them and you start serving self. There’s a tricky line there—some of the best products, services and experiences are born from people building things for themselves—but rarely does anything large exist long term solely to scratch the proverbial itch of its creator(s).

Practical example: I work at a church with multiple campuses, each with multiple services (experiences, gatherings, what have you). On any given Sunday I interact with our brand, our services and our content for hours. I helped create our brand and have worked within those constraints for close to four years. So that video that runs mid-service? I’ve seen it 10 times before that Sunday. I maybe helped plan it, or write it, or set type for it, or review it. I see it run multiple times, on multiple days, maybe spanning multiple weeks. Dozens and dozens of interactions and touch points with the same content. Immersion.

So when I’m tempted to think “I don’t like it, we should try something else” or “this feels stale, let’s change up this sign or that template or that ritual” I have to remember that the average attender—the person we do all this stuff to communicate to and serve—might come to church once every four weeks. Or a handful of times a year. For the dozens of interactions I have with a solution or aspect of our brand, our primary audience probably has one or two, at best.

“I’m bored” is a horrible design strategy for implementing change. It proves you’ve lost focus on who you’re building a brand for in the first place. When you start catering to the bored whims of insiders you start confusing outsiders who are less familiar with your brand.

And when you start confusing outsiders, you stop reaching them.