How to Revel in the Ambiguity of the Unknown

ambiguity_road_signThe role of a Brand Leader is very stressful.   You have to find a way to deal with stress or it will destroy you.   Go for a walk, a drive, take breaks, put the feet up on the desk every once in a while.  There are many types of stress:  1) If the Results don’t come in, it can be frustrating.  Reach for your logic as you re-group.  Force yourself to course correct, rather than continuing to repeat and repeat and repeat.  2) Work relationships can be stressful.  Be pro-active in making the first move.  Try to figure out what motivates as well as what annoys them.   Most times, the common ground is not that far away.  3) There is constant Time Pressure.  Be organized, disciplined and work the system so it doesn’t get in your way.   Be calm, so you continue to make the right decisions.  4) The unknown of Ambiguity is one of the hardest.  This is where patience and composure come into play as you sort through the issues.  The consequences of not remaining composed is likely a bad decision.  

And from what I’ve seen over the years, how Brand Leaders deal with ambiguity is one of the biggest causes of stress, but equally one of the biggest separators of great, from good.  

Revel in Ambiguity

Years ago, I started asking the interview question:  “How do you deal with Ambiguity”.   A fresh-faced recent graduate answered:  “No one likes Ambiguity, so what I seek to clarify the issue at hand, I organize all the tasks, and I knock off one at a time.  In other words, I eliminate all ambiguity so I can do my job”.  A fair answer.  Then she turned to me and said “What about you?”.  And I said “I love AMBIGUITY.  In fact, I revel in it”

When marketing is done at it’s best, the brand becomes balanced in the emotional and rational.   Yes, there’s strategy to help ground you, but there’s also the expression of the strategy through art.  Yes, there’s a creative brief we all agreed to, but there might be 10 agencies all executing in their own way to various parts of the marketing mix.

The brand becomes an Idea.

And that’s more ambiguous than the product you can touch and feel.  

Ideas are what makes brands great.  Think Different motivated an entire generation of Apple employees for a decade to challenge themselves to go beyond the status quo.   It provided a benchmark that the iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iPad and the MacBook leaped over.  When Special K became about “empowering women to take control and maintain their healthy body” the brand became more than just a breakfast cereal.

Great marketing is about Ideas.

And trying to organize yourself too early might make you miss the idea.  Marketing is not about tasks to complete.  It’s about making a significant enough impact to move people.  By eliminating ambiguity, you eliminate ideas.  You end up thinking small, not big.  

delicious-ambiguity12Never be afraid of an idea—and never kill it quickly.  If you are struggling with an idea, then go for a walk.  Or put it to the test:  think about it 19 times, test it out, see if you can stretch it or move it, see what it looks like in concept, ask around to see what people think.  It may still fail, but at least you’ve taken it on the journey.  In terms of pressure points, ambiguity and time pressure usually work against each other.  What I have found is the longer I can stay comfortable in the “ambiguity zone” the better the ideas get—whether it’s the time pressure that forces our thinking to be simpler or whether it’s the performance pressure forces us to push for our best idea.  

In fact, I started to use time pressure to my advantage.  Yes, I always hit deadlines.  Don’t get me wrong.  But I took projects to the breaking point of time pressure versus getting the idea even better.  All you have to do is be the most calm person in the room, and knowing the deadline is looming, be the one to bravely ask “So I know this is good but how do we make this idea even bigger and better?”   I’m sure that  caused stress for many people in the room.  I get that.  But this was that magical moment, with everyone’s back against the wall, when the work went from good to great all the way to amazing.   I have never been one to procrastinate, but I know most people do.  It’s the same essential rule.  The time pressure eliminates the over-thinking, it challenges us, forcing the best ideas to come out.  Nine times out of ten, leveraging that breaking point, the work gets way better.  

Stay calm.  And love the feeling of the unknown, longer than anyone else.

I always say, the longer I can hold my breath, the better the work gets.




To read more about how the love for a brand creates more power and profits:

Other Stories You Might Like
  1. How to Write a Creative Brief.  The creative brief really comes out of two sources, the brand positioning statement and the advertising strategy that should come from the brand plan.  To read how to write a Creative Brief, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Creative Brief
  2. How to Write a Brand Plan:  The positioning statement helps frame what the brand is all about.  However, the brand plan starts to make choices on how you’re going to make the most of that promise.  Follow this hyperlink to read more on writing a Brand Plan:  How to Write a Brand Plan
  3. Consumer Insights:  To get richer depth on the consumer, read the following story by clicking on the hyper link:  Everything Starts and Ends with the Consumer in Mind


Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center


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About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at so we can stay connected.

Advertising Is Everywhere. But there sure is an awful lot of Crap!!!

The average consumer sees about 5,000 ads per day.  You can’t really escape them.  And yet, we are all so busy, how many of those ads do we actually engage in?  10 or 20?  And how many of those do we act on each day?   3 or 5?   Advertising is truly ubiquitous, but is it all that effective?

There’s so much Crap Out there.

When I drive past billboards with tons of information, I laugh and think “what a waste of money”.  Most times you engage in Outdoor ads, you’re driving 60 miles per hour, and the reality is you have 3 to 5 seconds.

Let’s try a few out and test your ability to digest ads.

Test #1:  Read the ad below and count to 5.

How did you do?  I got stuck on the dress joke.  Did you get the brand name or what they actually do?  Do you know the brand benefit or even the message?   The only good news is you just need to turn left.  But it’s a funeral home and not exactly an impulse purchase, so do you really need directions just yet?

Test #2:  All of a sudden you are tourist, driving into a new town called Quartzside and looking for things to do.  Take 5 seconds and read the ad below.

It almost hurts the brain doesn’t it.  Maybe you want to know where the tourism office is.  Did you pick up the directions?   Yet, there’s two websites and a phone number.  And a very odd picture of a camel that we’re not even sure why it’s there.

Test #3:  The good news is that we know they sell houses.  Take 5 seconds and read the ad.  It stil hurts.  Nice layout.

What’s the name of the real estate agent and what’s his phone number?  Ummm, is he helping you to buy a house or sell your house?

One hard and fast rule:  Advertising is not what is said, but what is understood.  In this case, you’ve only got 5 seconds to communicate.  I know it’s so tempting to jam everything into the precious ad space you’ve purchased.  It’s hard to leave stuff out that I want to say.  But keep in mind that with so many messages, if nothing gets through, then you’ve just wasted all your money.  You have to prioritize your messaging:  what’s your shout from the mountain and how do you creatively project that shout in 5 seconds?

Let’s Celebrate the Great Work that’s out there.

Break Through the Clutter but Don’t add your own Clutter:  To break through in the clutter of 5,000 ads per day, the added creativity makes the media work harder and your return on effort much more efficient.   And when someone engages your brand with a smile already on their face, it is that much easier to love your brand.  Have fun with the media choice, and let the creative idea drive that media so that you can showcase what it’s like to experience your brand.


This McDonald’s billboard is incredibly simple, but also talks about the impulsive nature of McDonald’s.  Once you decide you want to go, you just can’t get there fast enough.  Perfect for the McDonald’s fans.

Kit Kat Transit Bench

If you are a fan of chocolate, this bench will certainly trigger an impulse to buy a Kit Kat.  I am hungry just looking at that bench.

Hot Wheels

I love the creativity in the Hot Wheels ad below with the kid looking at the real cars on the highway below.  The kid captures the emotional appeal of Hot Wheels.

Swiss Skydive

And finally, this one takes some explaining, even though it’s a really simple idea.   The floor of this elevator is a photo from thousands of feet above the ground which makes it look and feel like you are sky diving.  Step into this elevator and as the elevator starts to go down you’ll start to feel the thrill of jumping out of a plane.  For dare-devils, they’ll love it.  

If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love your brand? 

About Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do. I have walked a mile in your shoes. My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. I’m now a marketing consultant helping brands find their love and find growth for their brands. I do executive training and coaching of executives and brand managers, helping on strategy, brand planning, advertising and profitability. I’m the President of Beloved Brands Inc. and can help you find the love for your brand. To read more about Beloved Brands Inc, visit  Feel free to add me on Linked In at