Storytelling Is Yesterday's News, Authenticity Counts Says Brunner

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Robert Brunner, Ammunition GroupConnecting with an audience begins with an idea - a product or service.

Robert Brunner of product design firm Ammunition Group discusses his company's approach in what makes great design - and ultimately a successful business outcome for his clients.

Brunner will speak at AdExchanger's upcoming Human Centered Automation conference on September 20.

AdExchanger: Can you talk a little bit about what Ammunition does and your role in the company?

ROBERT BRUNNER: At its core, Ammunition is a design and development company. What we do is work with clients and partners to create new things and bring them to market. We’re also taking a more broad viewpoint about what the idea is, what's important about it, what matters to people, and how do you bring that out and into peoples' lives.

My title is founder/partner. I started the company and then Brett Wickens and Matt Rolandson joined me. We've built the company out to about 50 people. My role tends to be leader, creative director and business developer. At my core, I'm a designer and that’s why I'm in this business.  I tend to spend most of my time actively engaged in the things that we're making and helping create.

Looking at the client side right now for you and product design, any overarching trends?

There's a couple. At a macro level, companies want to develop and make things they never have before. Typically, the development and delivery of products, physical things, tended to be limited to companies with manufacturing competency. That's changed. Manufacturing competency is relatively easy to acquire - not necessarily easy to manage - but easy to acquire.

You see more companies that are based on content or brands, or have an audience. They have some amazing asset and they think that having a [related] product or service would benefit them.

It's been interesting working with the typical company that has a very linear process and its own resources around development, engineering, manufacturing and logistics. We start putting all these things together for people who may have something else other than that chain, but something of value to bring to the world. That's one trend that's been very interesting for us.

The other one, which relates to [AdExchanger’s] conference is the idea of how people understand products today, learn about them and decide to acquire them. That's radically changed in the last 10 years - and in the last five years, in particular.

It used to be that you developed something, and then, as you got close to bringing it to market, you created a story around it, and launched it. Today, most people learn about products and decide to buy them based on peer review, word of mouth and their small array of trusted sources of information.

By the time they buy something, they know a lot about it. It no longer works to wrap a story around something at the end. In fact, the story has to be real. It has to be authentic. It has to be about what the thing does, where it came from, who's making it, what are the passions. All those things need to come out. Otherwise, people don't believe it, aren't interested in finding out about it, etc.

I think it's radically changed how [Ammunition] thinks about not just designing products, but marketing and communicating them to the world.

AdExchanger’s audience is focused on the data driven advertising and marketing worlds. In product design, how much of what you're doing today is data driven? How do you bring those two together – product and data?

To be honest, we're not as data-driven as you'd think. To us data is context, it's understanding the world and what's going on. You seldom find greatness in the data. I always say that if great design was born in research there would be a lot more great design, because everybody can do research, hire researchers and gather information. It's the rare people that sift through it and find beauty, inspiration and passion, and bring that out. That's what always makes a great product.

When we work with companies, we of course want to know “the data,” what's going on, the trends, what people are thinking, and so forth. But, again, that's just a context to work with and understand. It's not where you're going to find the solution. You may find an opportunity in there, but you still have to do something that is compelling and will captures people's imaginations.

You look at almost every product from small success to earthshaking, and you’ll always find an element of passion, inspiration and excitement. It's bringing something unique to people's lives.

Regarding your upcoming presentation at AdExchanger’s conference about the "Beats by Dr. Dre" story, can you draw a line to the AdExchanger audience I’ve described?

We’ll see. Maybe.  The thing that is there [in the "Beats" story] is rapid, compelling business success around design and communication. Ultimately, everyone's trying to achieve that in different ways. I'll tell you right upfront, it's not a data‑driven story. It's about a few people who saw an opportunity, were very focused on it, passionate about a certain viewpoint and brought that to the world. It's caught on like wildfire.

I view design in a context different from that of someone with a business perspective. Most people tend to view design as a step in the process. “There's 10 things to get from here to there in delivering a product. Design is one of them in the beginning.” - that's not the way it works to be successful.

What design is, is the interface between you, the company and your constituents. The thing that you create - whether it's a product, a service, an environment - you're designing and creating something that becomes your face to the outside world.

You need to do that consistently across all the steps and have that design story there. Otherwise, it's never compelling and never successful.

The "Beats" story is exciting, has celebrity, I've even got videos. It's got crazy people. It's got all the drama that makes telling stories great. And there is this underlying theme - we've always been focused on what the experience is we want to deliver, and being very adamant and maniacal about it.

It didn't start out with, "Here's a big ream of data and, gosh, there's the opportunity." It was more about people who understood the audience and what was going on, and saw this opportunity and decided to figure out how to exploit it.

Follow Robert Brunner (@rdbrunner) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

Read interviews with speakers at AdExchanger's upcoming Human Centered Automation conference on September 20, 2012 in New York City:

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