Branded In Boston: The Power of Making Meaningful Connections

January 17, 2014

Earlier this week I attended the “2014 Edge Conference - Branded in Boston,” hosted by the ICA and organized by the AdClub. With speakers representing companies ranging from Google and Fidelity Investments to Bully Boy Distillers and Island Creek Oysters, the event celebrated the brands that live, breathe, and grow in Boston.

Although the overarching theme of the event was all brands Boston, there was an underlying commonality that became clear as the day progressed - the power of making meaningful connections. While each company had a product to sell or technology to market, when their presenter took the stage the audience was reminded that it’s not about the thing we’re building, but why we are building it. The why is what connects people to what we are doing. As Ben Jones, one of the presenters and Creative Director at Google, says “If it’s meaningful for people, it’s meaningful for your brand.”

I believe we all know this, however the presenters did an excellent job of reinforcing and validating this truth. As marketers and advertisers, we know all about telling a meaningful story. We talk about the connections that matter and how the emotional response we get from people using our products is what propels our brand forward.

In our industry, we are constantly asked to build things. Most clients start off with the tangible in mind and it is our job to help them step back and ask the bigger questions. The conference was a reminder of that. In the end, priding ourselves in our research and exceptional user experience gets us nowhere if what we’re building isn’t meaningful to someone.

Take PayPal for example. Seems simple enough. You can argue it’s technology that makes it easier to buy things or as David Chang, COO of Paypal framed it, “PayPal connects consumers with goods.” In other words, it gives consumers the ability to have what they find meaningful.

Bully Boy Distillers found the power of the story in their family’s legacy as Massachusetts farmers. They are two brothers who decided to continue their family legacy by creating a distillery in Boston. For them, the Boston story resonates with their consumers and moves their brand forward. Being a family business helps their cause because people can form an emotional connection when hearing those family stories. According to the brothers, every time they post a picture of their mother helping out at the distillery, activity on their Facebook page increases instantly. This adds legitimacy to their brand and helps them understand what their consumers find meaningful.

The conference also included a moderated discussion focusing on the One Fund and its path from idea to execution in 7 hours in the day after the Boston Marathon. The Honorable Thomas M. Menino participated in the panel and helped illustrate how the One Fund is a great example of our ability to spring into action when motivated by of something greater than ourselves. I like to think of it as using our power for good.

The One Fund was born out of the urgent need to help the families that were tragically affected by the Marathon bombings. In the immediate aftermath of the marathon, Mayor Menino reached out to Mike Sheehan, Chairman of Hill Holliday, and James Gallagher, EVP of John Hancock Financial, to create a charitable fund that would help unite and empower people after an unfathomable act of terror. Sheehan and Gallagher acted quickly, producing a logo in 15 minutes and building a website in just hours. Everyone involved volunteered their time.  In the end, the One Fund raised $61m in less than 90 days and distributed that money to those who most needed it. Initially 200,000 people donated to the One Fund without being solicited and because everyone involved volunteered their time and services, there were $0 expenses. Clearly the Marathon bombings were an unprecedented event and the One Fund is a cause that should rightfully demand people’s attention, but it is also an inspiring example of the power that people find in themselves when they find meaning in what they are doing.

During his presentation, Ben Jones, Creative Director at Google, told how Google launches technology first and then waits to see what people will do with it. He described his team as “chasing the behavior of people” and explained that it’s the experience that matters most. He went on to say, “…Today, we need imagination more than technology.” I couldn’t agree more. In reality, we may have project constraints that don’t allow us to move the needle very far, but we should always be challenging ourselves while remembering that it’s the creativity that matters.

After all, everything starts with one idea. The tangibles matter, but imagining the possibilities gets us to a more meaningful place. 


Great spot for photos right outside the conference venue!


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