What I Learned This Year: 2018, By Jamie Shaw, Creative Director, Cogs & Marvel

By thesanfranciscoegotist / /

We’re getting close to the end of the year, but our “What I Learned This Year” feature rolls on. Check out what Jamie Shaw, Creative Director at Cogs & Marvel, had to say about the wisdom she gleaned from 2018. We’ll be off Monday and Tuesday, but back it it next Wednesday, so check for another one then. Happy holidays!


This year I learned, both in theory and in practice, the extent to which experiential activations have the power to promote brand love. Or, if handled badly, to squelch it. In this new experience economy, where being there (and sharing it on the socials) is the hottest currency, brands have the opportunity to show up face-to-face, in the built environment, to create an authentic connection instead of coming in hot, trying to score on the first date. The most innovative brands understand that today’s audiences are selective, truth-seeking, and totally over being sold a marketing message. In the age of #fakenews and cynicism about corporate motives, advertising is often regarded with an eye-roll, so brands need to use their marketing budgets to make connections by having a conversation about their values, their story, their higher purpose, or their ability to create cultural content that stands up in its own right. The prevailing desire today is for authenticity, sincerity, personal recognition, tribe signals, and a return to craft. And while plenty of brands can talk the talk, many still default to doing what they want rather than what their audience wants.

Those brands that don’t show up to engage people in a physical environment should.

Those that do should consider a greater investment in that moment.

And all of them should resist the temptation to squander that interaction.

While there will always be a time and place to share the specs, beat the competition, and make the hard sell, the live experience is a rare opportunity to make an emotional, rather than transactional, connection. Today’s buyers know how to find the information they seek online. Competitive pricing and reviews are a few keystrokes away so buying is largely conducted online after some degree of research. If someone is willing to get off their laptop and opt into an experiential happening out in the world, it needs to deliver on their expectations. It should be an exchange of meaningful ideas, a journey of thoughtful touchpoints that evoke a feeling, or a memorable moment of pure, unbridled joy. It shouldn’t be a sales pitch or a trade show.

I saw this lesson play out in an activation I led for International Women’s Day called “That Lady Thing,” which brought a varied group of sponsors together in the spirit of gender equality. While some sponsors saw this as an opportunity to put logos on every available surface, peddle swag, and wrangle leads, others chose to participate in the storytelling moment and amplify the live content that was being generated, bringing their audiences into the conversation in a truly meaningful way. The difference between these two approaches was quite stunning: those brands that showed up in the spirit of the message and translated it to their audience saw significant upticks in trackable engagement. Those that tried to generate leads or transact were disappointed that the audience didn’t play along to meet their sales goals. It’s particularly glaring when an event promises a compelling experience, but then pulls a bait and switch to close a deal.

By starting with what the audience cares about, rather than what the brand wants, an experience can be thoughtfully and artfully designed to serve both.


  1. Dr. Amy Fortney Parks December 22, 2018

    Hey Jamie – Fellow SAS grad – How might you suggest service based businesses (I am a psychologist) approach marketing with this approach in mind?

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