Danny Franklin, Partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive, discusses the critical role of identity when it comes to political research and communications. Danny shares his insights on how brands can transmit their messages into the consumer experience. Danny also reflects on emerging technology such as AI and the Metaverse.
DOUG: What’s the top lesson that communicators for brands and nonprofits can learn from your experience in political communications and research?
DANNY: I think on a tactical level, there’s a lot about the discipline of persuasion because we are looking to change people’s minds from something that they think to something that we frankly want them to think and then pivot that into action. But I think on a broader scale, one of the things that politics has learned a lot about recently is how identity is an important lever to persuasion and the relationship between how people think of themselves, how they want to project themselves in the world. And then what that means in terms of issues or candidates is something that political communicators have spent a lot of time working on and optimizing.
DOUG: Yeah. And I you mention has become such a hot topic and it seems only a couple of months that there was an article about how students at colleges are using it to submit papers and the next thing you know, it’s, you know, dominating all the conversation. Obviously, it’s been a familiar topic to you, way before the public sort of realized it. Are there better approaches to take with it now that everyone sort of looking how they can integrate it into what they’re doing effectively?
DANNY: Yeah. Look, I think that it’s a critical tool and it’s going to like superpower, an awful lot of communications and and analysis of of data. I think that what we’ve learned is that the most important thing is providing as much context to the tools as possible. So, so that the analysis that comes back is connected to the situation as people understand it. Like it’s it’s the context that a human analyst provides that elevates the AI tools to the point where they can be truly useful. Otherwise, it’s just, you know, parlor tricks and, you know, limericks with words, starting with sequential letters of the alphabet about, you know, shoe stores in Ohio. Like you can make it do fantastical things, but to make it do useful things really requires a lot of strategic guidance.
DOUG: Right. And strategic guidance is important. You’ve also expressed thoughts in the past about the need for communicators who focus on reputation and issues management to sort of learn from the marketing side of the business. Can you explain that?
DANNY: Absolutely. I think one of the things that I think the best marketers that we work with have understood is that words and images, advertisements, they’re insufficient now to convey the deep level of connection and create the kind of deep relationships that that people are looking for. And so they’re shaping experiences to convey aspects of the brand that are critical. I think the same is true for the best communicators. We’re looking for ways to weave into the customer experience and people’s experience with a brand. Weave those stories and narratives and the messages that convey trust and build a real understanding of why the future needs a company, a future worth living in anyway, how we can weave those proof points and those stories into the day to day live experience because it’s the experiences that people trust. But there’s increasing levels of skepticism about the words and images, earned media, paid me. It doesn’t really matter, like unless people are seeing and feeling in their own lives, it’s not persuasive.
DOUG: Yeah, I really appreciate your thoughtful approach during this conversation. One challenge that brands often face is, how do they transmit the actual experience of their consumers. How do you approach that?
DANNY: Yeah, it’s it’s not easy because the nature of that relationship and that experience, you know, it’s not just seeing something on TV or being in the store these days. It’s everything is a 24/7 experience. It’s the Twitter feed, it’s the TikTok channel, it’s the online presence. And it is also the in-store or direct experience, but it’s also the conversation you’re having with your friends or your family about the different brands you’re having. So, you know, the most important switch that I think communicators need to flip is stopping to think about a communicating brand trust as a performative act, right, where we are telling our story and consumers are listening. Increasingly, it’s more conversational. And so, communicators again need to be thoughtful about how not just that they shape the things that are said, but what people are saying back and where they’re picking up those stories. But so long as communicators are thoughtful about the story that they want to tell and deeply understanding of the different points of interaction that people are having with the brand so that they can weave that story into those interactions. You can drive a really deep and complex story and accomplish great things.
DOUG: Danny, can you share your take on whether the metaverse offers increased opportunity for more consumer and customer engagement? We’ve recently been doing a number of Metaverse projects and getting inquiries about it. We’re calling it Metaverse 3.0, which is an environment within which you can have press conferences, trade shows and events. I’d love to get your take on the potential for engagement we’ve been discussing.
DANNY: I think that there is, and it could be huge potential. I mean, again, there too, like the customer or the audience like they get a vote and, you know, think that the question that the metaverse asks is like, are they going to show up? And, you know, increasingly we are, the challenge that communicators have is how you can be in the places where people are willing to point their eyeballs. And if the metaverse could be extraordinarily powerful tool because it is so immersive and because the creativity that allows is total and truly total, right? You know, we never get the opportunity to fully shape the communications context as, as completely as we would in a metaverse with the one exception that we need people to show up and put on a headset, at least for now. And that’s still an open question.
DOUG: Yeah. And that really ties back to so much of what you’ve been talking about with how can communications just enrich the quality of people’s lives, whether that’s political, whether it’s brand. Any final thoughts, Danny? Really appreciate your insights.
DANNY: I think that the, thank you, this has been super fun and I appreciate you. I appreciate the chance to talk. I think coming back to like, what’s the core mission of communicators? And even though we’re in a period of eroding trust, I think that the experience of the pandemic has elevated the importance of trust. People give it away more sparingly, but it’s more critical than ever because people are more deeply understanding of their dependence and need for institutions to act responsibly in a way that that measures up with their expectations of society. So, one of the conversations that I find myself having a lot is whether trust is outdated, and we should try to drive for different things and think more like I think that’s a cop out. And there are plenty of institutions that are creating really strong bonds of trust. They’re just doing it in a different way than we used to. And unless you understand how the best organizations institutions are creating those relationships of trust, the future is going to pass you by.
DOUG: Thanks so much for joining us.
DANNY: Thank you.