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:

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  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.