We invite colleagues, competitors, clients and other skilled people from the industry for a coffee. Today’s guest is Gunther Sonnenfeld, a global brand strategist & social technologist; he serves as the SVP of Cultural Innovation & Applied Technology for RAPP (Omnicom Group), where he oversees experience planning, content strategy and analytics initiatives for clients such as Adobe, Skype, Toyota, Unilever and Bank of America. In his free time, Gunther is an adjunct professor at Miami Ad School, and is the co-Founder of ThinkState, a consultancy devoted to social innovation. He is working on his second book entitled, “A Literacy of the Imagination”, an exploration of the storytelling paradigm and its influence in shaping the collaborative economy. Gunther lives in Los Angeles, California.
What inspires you?
The human condition. Everything creative and exploratory revolves around feelings, behaviors and subsequent actions, and more importantly, how we can create things that can motivate people to think and act differently, to improve the environments in which they live. To my mind, this is the responsibility of media — whether you tell stories, make art, write copy, broker inventory or build technology… Which is why I have involved myself in all of those things in one capacity or another. It’s the reason why I became a “generalist”. It’s ultimately why I believe in brands.
How do you keep exploring and learning?
I am constantly collaborating with people I respect and admire, all over the world. My technology work in particular has offered me enriched perspectives. When you build a technology platform (especially one with a “social” bent), you see things in people and within yourself that reveal nuances in how we interact, express ideas and converge around problems. I say this with the caveat that I definitely learn a ton from people through things like social media, but I’ve gleaned far more from the relationships themselves than the content or ideas we’ve shared. I suppose the lesson is this: Invest in culture and the world repays you in spades.
When where you amazed last?
Yesterday, at a breakfast spot I frequent. I chatted it up with an older gentleman who is a retired journalist and who told me that “all communication boils down to a connection between people, and that connection is what makes a story”. As he checked his Facebook page, he went on to explain that technology means nothing without the good intentions behind it, and the potential to tell better stories that change people’s lives. Pretty sage words.
What is your favourite resource library?
What’s the biggest challenge the digital communications industry is facing right now, and do this lead you to some predictions?
We don’t take enough time as businesses to connect the dots between what we do, why we do it and how it really matters to the clients we represent. We don’t ask enough of the right questions, and we’re often not bold or confident enough to push back on clients because we’re afraid of what they might say or do. Fact is, we create a ton of media in the form of blogs, banners, rich media and the like, and we do very little to sustain those efforts outside of campaigns. This circles back to context: what do we want and need from our consumer cohorts? How can we enlist them in sustainable growth strategies that help a client’s business and solidify our own value as agencies?
A prediction: brands will literally own the content publishing space within the next 2-3 years, and they will also be the gatekeepers in making movies, producing TV shows and delivering multi-platform content experiences. Another prediction: the agencies that can help curate meaningful content, develop utility-based applications and deliver critical consumer insights as well as market intelligence will win in this game and remain relevant; some of these agencies will produce work they never thought possible, blending the lines between “long-form”, “short-form” and “any form”.