Brands and the “persistence of context”

At Dcamp in Palo Alto last Saturday I made it a point to see Sarah Allen’s presentation called “Cinematic User Experience.” It featured slick UX technology from Laszlo (blog) that enables a user’s web experience to approximate the unitary experience of seeing a movie. When a website is created using Laszlo technology, everything unfolds in front of you in the context of a continuous dialogue or story. Instead of discontinuously jumping from web page to web page, you use tabs to unfold additional views that quickly appear in the context of your present web space. You become, in essence, the director of your own web experience. Very interesting approach. Brand builders should check it out.

Brands and the cinematic experience

Sarah’s presentation got me thinking about “brands and the cinematic experience.” As soon as she finished, I grabbed a Peets coffee from the food table, stepped outside to the cool shady courtyard (the Bay Area is unconference Nirvana) and scribbled 20 minutes of notes and diagrams. I usually link “cinematic” to the phenomenon called “persistence of vision,” that peculiarity of the human eye (or brain) that enables us to watch 24 discrete frames per second and translate them into continuous motion, instead of chaos. A movie becomes our own “fiction” of those 24fps.

In a brand experience, we interleave frames from the brand with frames from our own lives, effectively editing our personal “demo reel” with cuts of brand context, images, brand fx, grainy b/w clips, or whatever the brand brings to the table.

Brands and “persistence of context”

Brands, of course are very different from motion pictures, but they do share some “persistence” qualities. Brands operate in a zone that I would call “the persistence of context.” Products come and go like individual frames of a movie, but a brand provides a “persistence of context” that keeps customers in touch with the core narrative (value dialog) that’s taking place. This is largely because brands are created in the context of the customer, not that of the product, or the company.

The brand narrative is all about the customer

Yes, the brand narrative (all those frames of context) is about the customer. The brand narrative is a brand interaction in which the brand frees the customer to experience new facets of life. (If the brand is any good, it should have the power of an awakening, and a revelation.) Through the brand, the product tells a special customer story. Or, more generally, brands plot a customer course, and help the customer shape his or her own unique narrative. The brand narrative is never a top-down “telling.” It’s a collaborative process of discovery.

“Cinematic” or “landscape”

Question: Is “cinematic” the right metaphor for brands? Maybe not. Brands might be more “landscape” than they are “cinematic.” The cinema is a passive theater. Landscapes invite exploration. Brands have a lot in common with vast spatial expressions: topographies, maps, horizons, worlds. What’s clear to me is that mankind was not made for piddly caves. (Or silos.) We crave the wide open spaces.

And the point of brands is to create new customer spaces.

Breaking through the prescribed heavens

See that guy in the banner at the top of the page? He’s breaking through the veil of the “prescribed” heavens to gaze into a wondrous vault of the real universe. What he sees is only the first layer. Beyond that glorious vault there is another vault, and then another. Brands are the rips in the firmament that enable us break free from the dictated world into a world of discovery. When you “create a customer” with your brand, you enable him or her to break through an imposed veil to grasp a larger truth and a larger reality. Brands are the dynamic adventure that rips through the static here-and-now.

Brands as metaphor

Brands are the metaphors of products, and of customers, and of customers “customizing” products. I’ll say more about this in another post.

Brands: portrait view, or landscape view?

After thinking about cinematic and landscape views a bit, it dawned on me that we could go a step further and analyze brands as to the type of “page view” they represent: portrait view, or landscape view. Traditional brands are hierarchy-driven, much like the standard “portrait view” page, a hierarchy of top to bottom. They put the brand at the top and their customers on the bottom. Customers become brand derivative, within a brand silo. The traditional brand agenda is to lock them into the page.

The landscape view of value-based brands

In contrast, value-based brands are “landscape view” because brand innovation and customer opportunity need the wide open spaces of a landscape, the opposite of the restrictive silo. Landscape brands are full of new vistas, fresh horizons and soaring vaults of heavens, where brands and customers can collaborate to create new value. They’re superior to portrait view/silo brands because customers themselves are creatures of landscape mode. They want their brands to open out, so they can leverage the brand experience to grow themselves.

Semi-bottom line

I will have to get back to these thoughts at a later date. There’s more here than I can sort through at the moment. I would say, though, that if you’re in the process of designing and developing brands, get the biggest cinema display that your business can afford. You might as well envision your brand through the widest customer eyes—across the widest customer spaces.

Photo: mikefats — Flickr

Note: updated August 11, 2007

Added photo and some new material, links and new heads.

Note to self: Instead of updating an old post, write a new one. Well, a new one on this subject is now in the queue.

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4 Responses to “Brands and the “persistence of context””

  1. Brands Create Customers » Blog Archive » Widget innovations open new brand avenues Says:

    [...] Widgets, of course, are those clever little window-on-the-world web apps that bring you updated information on topics of your choice. They are compact brand interfaces. Each one has its own visual style and presence. While widgets began as cute, visual data displays like a weather report, or a world clock, they are rapidly gaining expressive power. Behind their happy face on your computer screen is the power of RSS feeds, which automatically pump the widget with updated info. Thanks to RSS, widgets can invoke “persistence of context.” Via widgets, you can “publish your brand,” assuming your brand has something worth saying that customers (and not your own marketers) care about. [...]

  2. Raju Bitter » OpenLaszlo and Flex are not really comparable Says:

    [...] Real Time Information: Traditional Web sites only update information when a page is reloaded. Laszlo enables live data push into standard browsers. This real-time messaging enables Laszlo-powered Web sites to provide integrated instant messaging and real-time inventory or financial information displays. Brian Phipps saw Sarah Allen’s presentation on the Cinematic User Experience at DCamp in Palo Alto back in 2006. Here are some of his ideas on the concept: At Dcamp in Palo Alto last Saturday I made it a point to see Sarah Allen’s presentation called “Cinematic User Experience.” It featured slick UX technology from Laszlo (blog) that enables a user’s web experience to approximate the unitary experience of seeing a movie. When a website is created using Laszlo technology, everything unfolds in front of you in the context of a continuous dialogue or story. Instead of discontinuously jumping from web page to web page, you use tabs to unfold additional views that quickly appear in the context of your present web space. You become, in essence, the director of your own web experience. [...]

  3. Chris Lee Says:

    I found the cinematic analogy a bit hard to pin down. I agreed much more with the view of branding as a landscape.

    Another point I would like to contend is the view that branding is something that opens the eyes of the customer to new planes of being:

    “Brands are the rips in the firmament that enable us break free from the dictated world into a world of discovery.”

    Branding is more a marking of territory or ownership. The landscape analogy works only insomuch as the owner of the brand is opening the gate into her particular pen. In this scenario, branding is limiting, just as a pig in a pen has fewer options than a wild boar.

    Thanks for the post though – most through-provoking.

  4. Brian Phipps Says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for the comment. That’s an old post, so I went back and updated it a bit, adding new content and links. It really calls for a new post—or maybe several: one on the cinematic context of brands, one on landscape, and at least one on brand narratives.

    As for the idea of a brand landscape being a property that a brand can mark and own, and use to contain customers, that’s the traditional view, but my thesis is the opposite. Containing customers is a dead-end strategy, for a long list of reasons. The top two are 1) it forces brands to be agents of propaganda or indoctrination, limiting their creativity; 2) it delivers little brand value to customers, and it really limits the downstream value that customers, using their initiative, can add back to the brand. In the revised post, the link on “brand agenda” has more detail.

    Rather than have a brand try to “contain” its customers, I’d rather have the brand partner with customers on compelling adventures of innovation and discovery. It’s the brand as collaboration rather than containment.