Photography Fridays

As a strategist, I consider myself to be incredibly observant, constantly noticing trends, new brands, designs and changing consumer styles. The endlessly diverse, always-moving-city streets of New York has been a gift of inspiration and I find it hard to walk the streets without a camera in tow. I've honed my eye over the last decade as a street photographer, capturing the changing landscape, the ironic, the patterns and the beautiful faces of the city. It's time I share a curated view of the world from my lens. Today's first group of photos was taken right after I moved back from Seattle - at Smith Street, Brooklyn's Bastille Day street fair and the High Line.   

The Slow Discovery Movement

A mere three days after having moved back to Brooklyn ... I met someone. No, it wasn't through a digital algorithm or location-based dating app. And it wasn't even on purpose. Having just moved back, in-between consulting projects, barely unpacked in my sublet and only caught up with a fraction of my New York City network, I was not in the place to start dating. Fast-forward a month in, and I suddenly found myself evaluating whether or not we would be a good, long-term match. The need to flip to the end of the book was occupying my thoughts in a way that stunted me from enjoying the process. Maybe being accustomed to instant gratification, instant Google-able questions, books and music that could flow into my phone at a touch of a finger had a profound effect in ways I couldn't imagine. And then it hit me, like the voice-over of a Sex and the City episode, was I short-cutting the discovery process? 

In the agency world, an all-too familiar frustration with the strategic and creative process is that timelines and budgets are getting increasingly cut. Strategists are forced to come up with compelling insights with the same secondary, quantitative research that every other agency and even every publication has access to. The mere mention of a number, likely measuring behaviors over mindsets, holds more weight than any qualitative observation. Despite the lip-service around nurturing the creative process, strategists (and likely creatives), are asked to birth insights and ideas under impossible deadlines, interrupted every hour with a mandatory meeting that stresses collaboration. And the agency world is in a crisis, with budgets being shifted to social platforms and media in a way that is creating panic throughout the industry. 

Recently, an episode from the Modern Love podcast bubbled up on my feed, "To Fall In Love, Do This." The episode is a reading of an essay by Gillian Jacobs from the New York Times where the author tells a story of the time she tried to recreate a 20 year old psychological experiment in making two strangers fall in love. The technique involves a couple asking each other a series of 36 questions, each question increasingly more intimate. As a final task, the couple must stare into each other's eyes for four minutes. To every romantic's delight, the experiment worked and the couple fell in love. Upon reflection, the author mentioned that the level of intimacy created through the discovery process creates a level of vulnerability that serves as a foundation for the relationship. 

A strategy is the foundation of a campaign. Of a brand. Of a creative execution. Of an innovation. It's built on questions that have yes or know answers to them. The obvious - the who, what, when, where. It's built on answers that come from quantifiable data. But perhaps, most importantly, it's built on the why. It's built on factors that might be hard to articulate, feelings that are hard to convey and intuitions that are a struggle to measure. I'm going to dwell in the discovery phase. I'm prepared to get expose myself to a level of intimacy that makes me vulnerable and gets me out of my comfort zone. I'm excited to dig deeper, feeling the path forward, letting the strategy come to me. Who knows, perhaps I'll find the answers when I least expect it. 

Taking the Scenic Route - 8 Lessons learned on my journey from NYC -> SEA -> NYC

In January 2015, I made the journey to pursue a job and new life in Seattle. Almost exactly a year and a half later, to the day, I headed back to New York City, hopefully slightly wiser and with a new appreciation for New York. So how do I sum up my journey? Some life-lessons:

1. The most important decisions are made with your gut.

I approached my decision over whether or not to take my job in Seattle with an exhaustive pros and cons list and slew of rational reasons like being able to afford a nicer apartment. At the time, I was itching to explore a life beyond New York City. Ultimately, no pros and cons list could have articulated what my gut was telling me - the need for a drastic change in my life.

2. It's all part of your journey. 

As much as I agonized over which decision to make, and what I wanted, I agonized over whether it was the right decision. And then, when I decided to move back, I questioned whether or not I should have moved to Seattle in the first place. As Oprah would say, it's all part of one, big journey. As I board the subway this summer, often in 90 degree heat, during perhaps one of the subway's most congested times in history, I look around with pride and appreciation. The characters of the city, diversity, something to see on every corner and incredibly rich culture make enduring the challenges worth the price of living in one of the most challenging but greatest cities of the world. It took moving across the country to a beautiful, growing city with temperate weather and a brand-spanking-new apartment (a dishwasher and in-unit washer/dryer!) to realize just how much I valued New York.  

3. Life is too short not to take chances. 

When I finally decided to move to Seattle, I figured, the worst thing that could happen is that I don't like it and I could move back in a year. Having the guts to make that decision was a milestone in major life decisions. It felt as if I was taking an active role in my future and I gained confidence from having done that. In the end, taking the chance, led to exponential growth in a way staying put would not have brought me. 

4. Just do it. 

Last year I read The Achievement Habit by one of the founders of the design thinking movement. One of his tenants is favoring action over thinking. As per this guy's helpful summary, when you do something versus thinking about it, the obstacles just become data to the outcome. It's a proactive approach versus reactive, deciding that "now is the time to become the person we aspire to be." To start that journey, one must take action. In the book, he also talks about how taking action on small things doesn't just give us the confidence to tackle bigger obstacles, but it's a behavioral shift that forms forward-moving habits. When I was a print producer but wanted to expand my skill set, I decided to take a photography class. I hadn't been in a classroom setting or had my work critiqued since college, five years prior, but taking action and achieving that small goal propelled me on the path that I am today. Shortly after, I attended Miami Ad School's Planning Boot Camp across the country and switched careers. Of course Nike captures this perfectly in their 2013 spot Possibilities, with each achievement building on the next, an action towards greatness. 

5. There is priceless value in gaining a new perspective. 

I am a cat-loving, wine-drinking, art-loving, semi-Apple fan gal, city-loving, heel-wearing New Yorker. A month into Seattle, working on a Surface Pro, surrounded by passionate, beer-loving, outdoorsy Seahawk fans, I learned I was mildly allergic to dogs. That same day, our agency was listed as one of the most dog-friendly places to work in Seattle. Fast-forward a few Bernie versus Hillary, debates, quant versus qual data squabbles, beer-drinking-boat-cruising hangouts with coworkers and bike rides along the waters of Seattle, and I've gained a new perspective into another way of living and thinking that I would have never gained otherwise. Shiba-Inu's (cat-dogs!) have a delightful appeal. I can't wait to bring my bike, Bé out of storage and I still use Microsoft's OneNote to keep track of all my research. But more profoundly, I think Seattle's culture is truly unique from cities like San Francisco, New York and L.A. and I'll treasure that unique experience. 

7. Knowing what you don't like is just as powerful as knowing what you do. 

I'd rather be sitting in a people-watching square than isolated in a roomy apartment. I'd rather be surrounded by architecture that spans generations than stunning natural views. I'd rather be squished between people of varying ethnicities on a crowded subway than comfortably riding a bus in a sea of white. I'd rather take off my headphones to respond to a stranger's friendly comments than maintain a level of personal space that isn't even broken with eye contact. I'd rather value the unmeasurable, subjective power of branding and qualitative insights over quantitative analytics that don't ask the why. Learning this gave me insight into who I am and what I want in a way that will guide future decisions from now on. 

8. Regret is a wasted emotion. 

As I formed my thoughts about my move and return to New York, remarking on the differences between the two cities and my experiences, friends asked me if I regretted moving there. No, I told them. As I reflect on my journey, I realize regret is a wasted emotion. It's predicated on the idea that there was a right or wrong decision, or that more was lost than was gained. Either way, nothing is gained from dwelling on regret. How much have we learned from relationships that didn't work out? From mistakes that led to successes? How often do we regret not taking a chance? I don't regret the lessons I learned, or meeting the people I met, or most certainly, having taken the scenic route to wherever it is that I'm going.

Reading Into Brand Behaviors: Interview with William Charnock

William Charnock is the founder of Alteration Advisors, a consultancy that he founded after nearly thirty years in the ad world that guides organizations on how to create change from within. Before Alteration Advisors, Charnock led R/GA’s global strategy department, building the award-winning agency’s strategy group from 15 to 90 people in 12 offices around the world. Pre-R/GA, he held planning positions at top New York City ad agencies known for their rigorous brand planning practice. I was fortunate enough to bask in the glow of his brilliance while freelancing at R/GA immediately following my graduation from Miami Ad School’s Planning Boot Camp. Most recently, Charnock launched a deck of “Brand Tarot” cards, designed by Graham Wood, to help brands uncover fresh and exciting strategies that propel them forward in a brand-experience driven landscape.

Q. As you note on your website, brands are now judged on what they do, not by what they say. In other words, as a society, we’re shifting from an emphasis on storytelling to an emphasis on behaviors - from T.V. to digital. Would you say that’s accurate? If so, how would you recommend that brand planners adapt to this changing landscape?

"I do believe though that we know a lot more intuitively than we give ourselves credit for and sometimes it’s difficult to unlock that intuitive side."  

A. Absolutely, I think the advent of universal connectivity (via internet, mobile and connectivity tools) has meant that clients and especially their marketing departments are struggling with the transition from ‘managing perceptions’ to ‘managing reality’.  It used to be that all we knew what the brand was based on what the company put out through formal communication channels. Now, every interaction with every consumer, employee or partner can find its way onto a social platform somewhere. As a result ‘reality’ is more publicly visible and the millions of dollars spent on advertising and communications can be undone by the actions and behaviors of the organization and its employees. 

This is the problem with what I call the “communication’s first” approach to ‘Branding’.  Our industry, our clients (and our planners) are stuck defining a brand from the things that communications can most easily effect (image, personality, symbols, metaphors, attributes, benefits, reasons to believe, etc.) and they haven’t changed their brand thinking to take account the fact that communications are declining in effectiveness, especially where perceptions and reality are out of sync. Planners and agencies need to make in-roads into the whole organization, beyond the client’s marketing department. They need to get deeper into the organizational structures and systems that define the reality of the business. 

"Keeping it real with clients is more important than ever. Don’t fall into their marketing bullshit trap. Call them on it. Challenge their image aspirations with strategies that demand they change the reality of the business, because this is the fastest and most effective way to change perception."

I know this bit is tough from an agency perspective and I think that’s why I work less and less with agencies these days and increasingly more directly with clients and management consultants.  However, it’s not impossible if you stick to the belief that a brand is more than just the story you tell about the company. 

Rather than only doing immersion in the consumer, trends, competitors, etc. make sure that your discovery and insights work starts with truths about the business:
Who runs the company? What is the culture? What do they believe? What do their actions say about them? What are their values and priorities? Are these values reflected in the business decisions they make? Do their actions demonstrate that they are interested in something other than selling products and if so, what? What communities do they care about and engage with? Who are they seen partnering with or collaborating with?  

Keeping it real with clients is more important than ever.  Don’t fall into their marketing bullshit trap. Call them on it. Challenge their image aspirations with strategies that demand they change the reality of the business, because this is the fastest and most effective way to change perception.

Q. Thinking about behaviors, what do you think defines a brand: their origin story or their behaviors? Has the paradigm shifted in your opinion or has it held true for decades?

A. Well, you’re touching on a much bigger topic. I’ll do my best to answer this succinctly. A lot of my work revolves around defining truths for a brand that are true over time, from the origin, through to the imaginable future - truths that can inform behavior, culture, growth strategy and communications. 

The thing that has changed, or will change for most brands, is that growth no longer comes from the same place it used to. The fastest growing brands of Interbrand 2014 are not in singular product businesses, they are creating complex combinations of connected products, services and experiences that evolve over time with the changing needs of customers and the opportunities that emerge from new technology.  So, the successful brands are by definition more complex and much more dynamic in terms of what they do, what they sell and how they engage their customers.  (I call this the “Economy of variety”.) 

"What’s timely about this is that while brand marketers have lots of vocabulary for image and personality, they don’t really have the vocabulary to describe how they currently behave or how they want to behave."

Take this to its logical conclusion and brands have to decide pretty quickly what holds their brand together in a world where what they sell, how they sell it and the people they sell it to might at any moment change.  Being resilient to change does not mean not changing, it means maintaining a core character and identity, even if everything else about you might change.  This is what I think defines a brand; a clearly defined Ethos or ideology; a sense of character (as distinct from personality); a clear view of the community that shares both of these characteristics with you.  These have always been at the core of the good brands but they have become even more critical to a brand’s survival because the environment has become much more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.  

Q. In layman’s terms, your Nockwood Deck helps brands uncover who they are and who they want to be - not by what they say, but what they do. You were compelled to create the cards because you felt the traditional 12 archetypes used by brands are antiquated and don’t take into account brand behaviors. For instance, McDonald’s would be considered “The Innocent” according to the traditional Carl Jung archetypes. Personally, I don’t think I need to explain why one would question this characterization of McDonald’s. What is happening in our society that makes the need for a new set of archetypes timely?

A. The Archetypes that Jung created are definitely narrative. They aren’t only used by brands, they are used by writers and storytellers all the time.  I found that in my work, these narrative types were difficult to translate into behaviors.  Additionally, I found that clients hung onto them as drunks hang onto lampposts, for stability.  They were used as a reason to maintain the status quo, rather than to change.  Initially, I started creating pairs of Jung’s 12 archetypes to at least create a bit of tension and originality for the brands I worked on but even this fell short.  

"I think the marketing world could do with a little more mystery and mic. The world is more complicated than science would have us believe, humans are more complicated and diverse than psychologists would have us believe.  I think advertising and marketing could, and should tap liberally into a wide spectrum of ideologies, beliefs and sensibilities that are out there in the world." 

I also realized that Jung was only one of many psychologists and philosophers who had tried to categorize human behavior.  There’s a long history of doing this.  About this point, I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole and did rather an exhaustive study of every historic categorization of human behavior I could find.  I went back as far as Socrates, Aristotle, Hippocrates and his ‘humors’ as well as a whole load of alchemical texts on fire, water, air, earth and aether.  I went through many different psychological frameworks from the California Psychology Inventory 260, Alder’s life tasks, Holland types and Enneagram personality types.  I layered a whole lot of current brain science and biological basis of behavior from the likes of Daniel Kahneman.  At the end of all of this I found there were some core areas of agreement across all of these frameworks and although they all used different words, they were fundamentally describing some similar core motivations.  These became the 6 core suits of the brand tarot deck.  Then, by combining each of these with each other, I was able to define a complete behavioral framework where every type is represented equally and in combination with every other type.

What’s timely about this is that while brand marketers have lots of vocabulary for image and personality, they don’t really have the vocabulary to describe how they currently behave or how they want to behave. If nothing else, the cards present a common vocabulary for us all to use.  And, because of the framework and the symbols that are used on each of the cards, we know exactly what we’re talking about and what we mean.    

Q. How much were you influenced by psychological theory? Are you playing therapist - psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapist with brand clients?

Nockwood Cards

Nockwood Cards

A. I don’t think I was.  While I borrowed a lot from it, I think I’ve stayed away from the deep academic theory. I borrowed just as much from chaos magick, alchemy and other more esoteric belief systems that also attempt to categorize behavior for totally different reasons.  I don’t think I’m playing shaman or wizard with my clients either.  What I wanted was a practical and useful tool for myself and my clients that short-cut the theory and got quickly to evaluating different choices and options.  It’s hard to make decisions when you don’t know what the choices are and the cards simply help articulate a full spectrum of options for them and me.

Q. You mention on your website that you studied philosophers and psychologists like Hippocrates and Carl Jung. What are some insights from their teachings that you found the most impactful and has guided your thinking?

A. I’ve started to love historic wisdoms. Things from the past that were so important that someone wrote them down to be passed on.  Unlike today, that wasn’t easy and only the most important things were recorded.  Our attention these days are so focused on the next, new and ‘shiney’ thing that we often overlook valuable knowledge from the past.  I no longer try to reinvent the wheel.  If you have a wheel, start thinking about how the wheel helps you achieve new and different results.  

Q. I find it incredibly interesting that during a time when brands and ad agencies have become obsessed with measurable data, the methodology for readings include a bit of “magic” and gut instinct. Talk to me about this part of the reading. Throughout your thirty-year career as a strategist, can you definitively say which has led to better results; the gut or the brain?

A. I think it’s well documented on many fronts (not least the advent of behavioral economics) that the rational and behavioral assumptions of economists and accountants are deeply flawed.  Humans simply are not that rational. There are non-rational ‘gut’ dynamics and social dynamics that play incredibly strong roles in determining how we behave.  As planners, we have to understand both sides, it’s not that one is right and one is wrong, it’s not that simple.  Both are right. Both require consideration.  I do believe though that we know a lot more intuitively than we give ourselves credit for and sometimes it’s difficult to unlock that intuitive side.  Magic isn’t necessarily spiritual or mystical.  Sometimes it’s just the exploitation of a surprising reality.  There is a reality that helps the cards work.  Our rational minds process things at a very high level, big picture generalities rather than detailed specifics.  If our rational mind tried to process every specific detail, we’d never get anywhere or do anything.  However, when presented with a very specific detail, our rational brain unlocks information relevant to that specific detail and gives us a couple of different, relevant options. It’s this that allows us to decide how to act. 

"Our attention these days are so focused on the next, new and ‘shiney’ thing that we often overlook valuable knowledge from the past. I no longer try to reinvent the wheel.  If you have a wheel, start thinking about how the wheel helps you achieve new and different results."

My cousin Mary used to toss a coin to make personal decisions.  It really didn’t matter which side the coin landed on because as soon as she saw the ‘result’ she knew that she either did or didn’t want to do that thing.  I think this is the magic of the cards - specific choices and options that unlock knowledge or information that without the cards, you can’t access.  That’s true magic really, isn’t it?

As an aside, I do also think that the advertising and marketing world are very narrow in the areas of influence. It’s not an accident that I tapped into some non-rational arenas of human beliefs such as Tarot, alchemy and esoteric spirituality.  I think the marketing world could do with a little more mystery and magic. The world is more complicated than science would have us believe, humans are more complicated and diverse than psychologists would have us believe.  I think advertising and marketing could, and should tap liberally into a wide spectrum of ideologies, beliefs and sensibilities that are out there in the world.  Even the ritual of doing a ‘reading’ gets much more interest and focused attention than if I had written a book or presented a Powerpoint. My clients take notes, I have their undivided attention at every turn of the card and ultimately the symbolism of the cards get imprinted on their brains, if not on their office walls.  Even the most rational of them secretly hope there is magic.

Q. How would you recommend people apply this thinking to decisions in their own life?

A. Everyone asks me this.  So much so that I started doing a weekly reading on Linkedin, Facebook (@nockwood) and Twitter (@nockwoodcards).  A number of people say they find these readings uncannily accurate.  I think it’s really important in life, and in planning, to get quickly to specifics rather wallowing in generalities. I think the biggest thing that’s wrong with planning and why it seems so detached from ‘making’ and ‘prototyping’ is that it gets lost in overthinking generalities, rather than identifying specific, tangible actions. Sometimes it’s only by doing something that you unlock new knowledge and new information. 

box for cards designed by Graham Wood

box for cards designed by Graham Wood

Q. Finally, given all of the shifts in the advertising world, what are you most excited about? 

A. I’m excited that the skills and talents of people who grew up in advertising are some of the most valued talents in business.  Unfortunately the advertising industry is the last to see their value – preferring to discount them and commoditize them in an effort to achieve greater and greater scale.

I’m excited that most clients are stepping away from their dependency on agencies and the ‘agency retainer’ that caused agencies to be in the business of meetings and miscellaneous activity rather than tangible impact on the business. I hope this means that agencies will have to re-think the value they offer and re-structure accordingly.   

I’m excited that with the robot-ization of manufacturing and the explosion of Software as Services, the only role left for human enterprise is creative thinking in a commercial context. Seems like this is what our business is uniquely well positioned to deliver against, if we could just get out of the mass media communications business. 

 

Making Connections: Can the Virgin America Brand Be Re-Engineered?

The three of us were squeezed in the very back row. Every time someone went to the bathroom, there was an awkward moment, a bit of a shuffle between flight attendants and passengers, and some polite conversations. But instead of being annoyed and rolling our eyes, we took off our headphones, put our laptops away and asked each other how we got here. Despite the circumstances of that particular moment in time, we were part of a very exclusive group - the recipients of Virgin America flight benefits. When you fly standby for little or no money across the country, a seat in the last row next to the bathroom is better than no seat at all, especially when that airline is Virgin America.

It turned out that we had more in common than just our flight benefits. Like many Virgin America flights, contact information was exchanged and new connections made. Looking back on my experiences with Virgin America, I don’t think the airline has ever just gotten me from point A to B.

For the last five years, I’ve been sporadically on my friend’s Virgin America flight benefits. I’ve experienced the full value of the Virgin America branded experience. I’ve seen the pride that their employees have; the captain introducing himself over the intercom with a genuine smile that you can hear in his voice, those working the check-in counter, rocking out to hip-hop at ungodly hours of the morning and the professionalism of the flight attendants who manage to perform their job with style. I know the company goes above and beyond to hire special people. My friend left a successful career in the film industry where he worked with Chris Pratt, among others, to start a new career at Virgin America. He believed in the vision of the company and I understood through him that the Virgin America culture was not a facade. It is woven into every employee policy, from hiring to internal promotions. Others have chosen to work at Virgin, choosing the airline over jobs at Google or Apple. As is obvious, it doesn’t just attract a certain type of employee but a certain type of customer.

A Connector in the Sky

Through the usage of his benefits, I have met countless interesting people, made connections, actually had some of those rare - holy shit - can’t believe I just sat next to such a cool, likeminded person on a flight - conversations.

"And why didn’t I get his name. Can you please tell me his name?" “NO. That would be illegal.”

I have suggested multiple times to my friend that Virgin’s next in-flight innovation should be a dating service. I’m sure it would be a hit.

Virgin America has been a trailblazer and frankly, an inspiration to the advertising community. Their original safety video transformed the rules of in-flight education - a form of edutainment that brands have adopted since to explain everything from credit card points to their branded apps. Their brand reaches every corner of the experience - from their website to the modern San Francisco hub and of course, the actual in-flight, mood-lit flight. It has set the standard for a cohesive brand experience. The faithful Virgin America customers are willing to pay more, even in a category notorious for price wars and financial difficulties.

Pro-Tip: always keep your eyes peeled for celebrities in the LAX-Virgin terminal.

Virgin was able to make a splash in three of the most prestigious markets - New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and has been consistently listed as the best airline in travel publications.

Missed Connection

So imagine my dismay when I heard the news. Alaska Airlines vs. JetBlue.

“If Richard Branson has anything to do with this, it will be JetBlue. Virgin has nothing in common with Alaska Airlines.” I debated with my friend.

A few days later, we had our answer. Branson was forbidden to have a say in the sale because of his lack of U.S. citizenship. Virgin fans everywhere began mourning the loss of their gathering place.

Like Virgin America, Alaska Airlines also has a strong customers base. Originally out of Anchorage Alaska, the company is now based in Seattle and has managed to gain a strong presence in the growing market despite major carriers like United, Delta and American.

I’ve lived in Seattle for over a year now after having lived in New York City for eight, with a brief stint in San Francisco. While San Francisco and New York are now growing tech centers, there is no question that the type of thinking that has fueled Seattle is just - different. Seattle is an engineering town through and through with anchoring companies such as Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon. These companies are led by engineers. Rather than a clear, uniting vision, products are paramount. It’s Amazon’s unique algorithm and speed of delivery that keeps you coming back. It’s the ubiquity of Microsoft in institutions that has historically led to their growth. And it’s an element of military precision that has made Boeing the second biggest military contractor. With like attracting like, it becomes very apparent that your average Seahawk, beer-drinking, dog-loving, outdoorsy, Seattle-lite is very different from your average Virgin America customer. In fact, anecdotally, I’ve worked with and met more people from all over the country living in Seattle - from states like Texas, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, than I ever had while living in the coastal-centric, international, New York City. Even geographically, there is a huge difference in where people come from and likely fly to and from between Alaska Airlines and coastal-centric Virgin America.

So Close You Can Feel It

Merriam-Webster defines engineering as:

“The application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people."

But not everything can be measured. There are a set of data points that are so nuanced, so small and so varied that there is no algorithm that can put a number on them, but their collective power is priceless.

A recent article in Fast Company by Liz Funk notes this phenomenon.

“Why is trusting your gut so powerful? Because your gut has been cataloging a whole lot of information for as long as you’ve been alive. "Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences," says Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and professor of human behavior at Hunter College.”  

Richard Branson and his Virgin team have always understood the value in the immeasurable - curating the tiny little details of each brand touch-point to appeal to their customer's gut. In fact, Branson has put a price on it, as a licensing fee to the Virgin brand that Virgin America has paid year after year, no doubt shaping the success of the airline.

Industry experts have noted that Alaska bought Virgin America in order to get their gates in major airports like JFK, SFO and LAX. Virgin America was put up for sale because it was having trouble competing with bigger carriers, blocked from expanding to other cities beyond these metropolises despite their brand loyalty. Ironically, two very different companies were in the similar predicament.

But does that mean that merging is the right step in competing against bigger carriers? Will Virgin America customers now move to Alaska Airlines or flee to more likeminded carriers like JetBlue? Is Alaska Airlines' logic sound or is it a thinly veiled excuse to squash Virgin as their immediate competition? Could Virgin have survived in the long run on their brand equity while still being blocked expansion into other gates? Obviously the merger brings up more questions than answers.

While I mourn the loss of the Virgin America brand, it begs the question of which side will win - the engineering, almost militant, chess-like moves of the Alaska Airlines’ takeover, or the immeasurable, passionate customer loyalty and near movement that the Virgin America brand has created. There is beauty and power in the abstract, that gut feeling that compels us to make some of the most important decisions in our lives from who we marry to what life-path we take. But the sheer growth of Seattle, fueled by Amazon and other tech companies has proven an increased thirst for useful, practical solutions that give us what we consciously know we want. One can only hope that Alaska Airlines and Virgin America figure out a way to merge these powerful elements. Perhaps the new merger will turn out an expertly engineered, memorable flying experience, where like-minded people can take off their headphones, disengage from their phones and make an impactful connection - because isn’t that really what travel is all about?

Stratifesto

Our passions are what drives our strengths. They are what makes us lose track of time. Gets us into a flow. It's what encourages us to keep going even when all we want to do is quit. It's that moment when our heart races and we're on a high, the thrill of discovery. The feeling of being blessed, knowing we are doing exactly what we want to do in life. And that grateful moment, like we are beating the system, knowing we are getting paid to pursue our passions.

Here are my passions. Maybe they're yours.

People

I strive to explore and understand human motivations. Why do we do what we do? Are we more similar than different? Is there any rationale to our decisions or is it all emotional? An excel chart full of useful data is like a light in the dark; qualitative, honest one-on-one interviews like water in the desert.

Culture

We are the product of a specific time and place - of our background, of our upbringing. Of "low-brow" cultural influences and "high brow." Of music, of film, of celebrity and of ethnicity and religion. Of politics, of climate change and the economy. What a beautiful, sometimes frightening, often hopeful world we live in that I have an insatiable appetite to explore.

Brand Building

An intangible set of values, of unquantifiable worth has the power to pique our desire. It's that allusive set of behaviors that makes us willing to pay more, a tone of voice, design and overall experience that tickles our senses. It's that element that introduces us to likeminded people, makes us feel like someone else gets us. A club we are proud to be a part of.

Transformation

The only thing constant is change. How thrilling to offer clients a new perspective that is a catalyst for change? A website design that turns a sales-led business to digital-first, consumer-first. A campaign strategy that inspires action through doing versus saying. A brand re-fresh that better reflects the cultural shifts while retaining the brand values. An innovation that is mutually beneficial to the customer as it is to the business.

Storytelling

Have you captured someone's attention? Made them actually feel something? Have you brought an idea to life through imagery or film? A compelling story has the power to convince people of your point of view. It can get clients on your side, consumers in the door. What a powerful tool strategists have at their disposal, one that I love having the opportunity to continually hone.