Evan Winchester and Ray Hobbs are effectively the same person. They are both copywriters at Gold Front—a strategic communications studio in the Mission—where they write for brands like Facebook, Oculus, Jawbone, Stripe and Uber. They do comedy with Mission CTRL and PianoFight, a new SF performing arts venue.
Ray Hobbs: Hey guys I'm Ray. He's Evan. We both work at a little place called Gold Front. It's a creative studio in the Mission and we basically help brands and different companies find their greatness and tell that story to the world.
Evan Winchester: That's right. And today we're going to talk a little bit about how to make brands sound more human, and we're also going to give you a concrete takeaway that you can take with you so that you can do things where you are to move things in the right direction.
Evan Winchester: So when when we start thinking about this idea of brands sounding "not very human," it kind of makes me think of how I talked to Siri. When I talk to Syria I kind of talk like this: "Siri, directions to my own house.
Ray Hobbs: He actually actually does this.
Evan Winchester: I kind of talk like a robot, which I think is great because I'm basically meeting Siri right where she is. You know, if I were a robot like her, I would want someone to talk to me like a robot. But if you're a human being and you go to a website and something comes to you that's like very corporate. Maybe it's appealing to the rational side of you only. They talk to you like you're a robot. There's kind of misalignments, like: does this website think that I'm a corporation? No, I'm a person.
Evan Winchester: At our studio we like to try to think: in order to earn the attention and respect of our audience, the first thing we have to do is prove our humanity. And that's where it all starts. And that's that's when people start listening.
Ray Hobbs: Right. And this is all well and good but if you're at a place of work where there's a lot of corporate speak going on already, kind of like this kind of looks like to me, it can be really hard to right the ship and get things going in the right direction. But we really believe that this starts on an individual level. You have to understand and care for and put your own humanity at the forefront of everything you do. Every day when you come to work if you are going to tackle this bigger issue of making brands sound more human.
Ray Hobbs: Which brings us to the titular slide in our presentation: "The 10 yr-old and the Professional." Every creative has two sides of themselves. And you can think about them like: this the 10 year old and the professional. The way these two sides relate and work together is really key to solving that problem of squashing corporate speak for good.
Evan Winchester: So we're going to talk about the 10 year old first. Every time that you walk into a meeting, you have this 10 year old with you. And the 10 year old is you, except they don't have any of the baggage that comes with being an adult. And they also don't have half as many professional skills.
Evan Winchester: This 10 year old that represents your deep voice: it's the emotional stuff that you're scared to share with people on day-by-day basis. It's some 10 year old is the one who gets scared that you think you're going get fired. They're the ones who gets really excited when you're chasing your dreams. They get sad when they feel like people are being mean to you. And they go just over the moon when things are really working well. And some people wear this 10 year old on their sleeve. And some people will try to hide the 10 year old; they'll try to tamp it down. And then the worst is when some people don't even know that they have the 10 year old in the first place. And that's bad.
Ray Hobbs: Anybody seen that movie? That's "American Psycho" if no one's seen that movie. So some people don't think it's there, but he or she is there and the key to doing great creative work as far as we can tell is making sure that 10 year old is served, and most importantly that they are being listened to.
Ray Hobbs: So let's imagine for a moment that you're starting work tomorrow and you're going in, and it's going to be a really busy day. But you've got your coffee and you've got, you know, your little bullshit artisanal donut. Next to your ergonomic keyboard. You say he to your team - whatever, it's all smiles. And at this point, the 10 year old is probably doing pretty good. Granted, it's only 15 minutes into the day but they're ready to work and create. But then it happens. You receive an e-mail where someone's not super happy with you, maybe a deadline got moved up and now you're really stressed about that. Or you jump into a Slack channel and there's like 50 new messages and some of them are really distressed, and maybe you're like, possibly the source of a lot of that stress.
Evan Winchester: And at that moment the 10 year old just starts to shut down. And like we've all felt what that feels like. And once once the 10 year old starts to shut down, it's really hard to turn things back around. But we have basically a trick that we use to kind of get things back on track, and it works pretty much every time. So basically if you take about 20 minutes of your day and do a simple journal exercise, you can get back to yourself. And it's not always easy because the 10 year old has certain inertia. Right? Like when you start shutting down, everything goes to hell. But if you do the journal entry, it will actually help. It's the best thing we know to get back on track with that part of yourself. We're not saying, "OK go your computer and be like 'our designer Ziv is... ick! today' even though he might be." What we're talking about is a directed journaling, a directed free-writing that you can use to work on specific assignments that you have.
Ray Hobbs: Right. For example: this week at Gold Front (really for the last year) we're working on a new website and a relaunch of our brand. And that's really important, you know? It's the way people see us in the world. It's going to attract business and give people a feeling.
Ray Hobbs: So what I did was I sat down and did a directed free-write on that. And it's super vulnerable, but I'm going to share it with you all so don't laugh at me. I'm going to read from this journal entry and then we'll dissect it.
Ray Hobbs: "OK. I have to write this is stupid. This sucks, blah blah blah. It's dreary outside. I can see different people coming from the two very different grocery stores down the street from my office, and I wonder about them. I'm supposed to write about Gold Front. What we do that's different. But it's hard to encapsulate.
Ray Hobbs: A lot of it is wrapped up in my own hopes and dreams, so maybe that might be why this is a little tough for me. I guard against those dreams jealously... so jealously they might not ever come true. We want to be the best. I do think that there is something truly great and good that lies behind every person or company worth anything. But stuff always gets in the way. The stress of keeping people hired, putting food on the table, awful election cycle etc. can put people at arm's length from the beautiful things within.
Ray Hobbs: Everything we do should help to find that living, breathing, beautiful thing within and help tell it to the world. Find truth and create beauty. That's what we want to do. That's all I ever want to do. And it breaks my heart when I don't. Will I ever make myself proud. This is a struggle. It feels good but it also hurts my brain. Creativity is a beast in the shadows but also a goal. And when we hunt each other without mercy, that's when it gets fucking good.
Evan Winchester: Nice journal entry, right?
Ray Hobbs: Thank you, Evan.
Evan Winchester: We're going to very quickly break this down. What did he just write? We're going to break this into four different voices. And, by the way, we did not come up with the names for these voices. Somebody named Jack Grapes did in a book that he has called "Method Writing," which we recommend.
Evan Winchester: This first voice is like the "I don't know what to write" voice, which is a good place to start.
Ray Hobbs: I actually cut a lot of that out. There was more self-hate.
Evan Winchester: But it's where you got to start. And so this is what we call (this is this just getting started). The next voice that you'll see in these writings that you do is the "reporting voice" where you're just basically saying what's going on in your day, what's around you, what are the things, what's around you. And then next voice is called the "analytical voice" where you start to you start to analyze what you're writing about. You can start to deal with emotions, but you oftentimes will keep those emotions at arm's length so that you're not in the emotions. Then the last voice is called "deep voice" and this is where the good stuff is. This is the stuff that's vulnerable. It can be overjoyed! It can be really sad, it can be really emotional, it can be super embarrassing. But this is - here in the deep voice, this is where you get all the best stuff.
Ray Hobbs: Right. So this journaling is very useful on its own. I recommend everybody does it just for your brain and your psychology and that person within that once you get out. It's really nice. But also just in here I have some stuff that I can use for the branding exercise. You'll notice that when the voice gets super deep over here, I start talking about the creative act is this kind of beautiful struggle. And I keep coming back to that. Well if I take a step out of that and just think about that, the client is also having a struggle too. Maybe I can meet them there. Maybe I can meet them there and say "hey, I'm in this with you. I want to help you and we're going to climb this mountain together." And that becomes a theme that we can use in our external branding and something we can build a story around, where we have this unique perspective on things. It's got a little bit of danger to it but also a little bit of love.
Ray Hobbs: At this point this sounds kind of like the 10 year old is the star of the show. I mean, it's kind of true. They are. But the kid inside you would be absolutely lost without the professional.
Evan Winchester: That's right. So that good stuff - the deep voice - that's the 10 year old speaking. But we also need the professional and the professional is like the parent. They're like the grownup in this creative dynamic. And they're in charge of things like the structure of your day, deadlines, critical thinking. They play well with others. They know that everybody else at work has the 10 year old kid, too! And it's sometimes I can make relationships at work difficult. The professional looks out for the kid. They know when it's time to take a break, or just go home. The professional also knows how to politely say no to procrastination, It also keeps you from eating your feelings.
Evan Winchester: Now we're talking about this dynamic between 10 year old and the professional and its ideal state. We're talking about how they relate. But in reality everybody has some confusion about when the pro needs to be in charge, and when to hand the reins to the general. This is a lifelong challenge. But if you know this, it's a really powerful thing. So if you know that this is the work you have before you even create a website or you start to create your product, or whatever. If you know that the ultimate creative act is kind of psychological between these two things, then this changes fundamentally how you approach the work.
Evan Winchester: You start to see the whole playing field, not just the to-do list for that day, and this feeling is revolutionary. Does it make brands ultimately sound more human if you understand this process and kind of engage on both sides? You're damn right it does. Because you can't sound human without being human, and to be human you got to bring these two sides together.
Ray Hobbs: That's super deep, dude. You're welcome.
Ray Hobbs: OK. So we're coming to the end of our time here real quickly. When we started talking about how to end our talk, our boss Josh was like "hey what if we did some kind of thing about the 10 year old like how could how would a 10 year old end this? Maybe we could have the 10 year old take control here." And me and Evan were both like, "I don't know, it sounds like I would get super vulnerable again - it's a lot of work." And we ended up losing that argument. So up next we're going to show you guys Josh's journal on how to end this thing.
Evan Winchester: Right. Some I'm going to read Josh's journal.
Evan Winchester: "OK guys we need to think of an ending for our presentation. We want them to love us. We want them to think of us when they hire a creative studio. We want them to think we are interesting and valuable people. But we also want to do it our way. And we've got to put our 10 year olds in charge.
Ray Hobbs: Wait. Not going to screw it up. One second.
Evan Winchester: Reversal: you thought we were going to screw it up!
Ray Hobbs: Wait. OK. Go for it.
Evan Winchester: Start with music that brings us into a scene. Like James Cameron films. Somewhere a helicopter flies by.
Evan Winchester: That's right. And in that moment, that is when you say it.
Evan Winchester: So Ray's, or Josh's deep voice is super deep in the sense that it's really earnest.
Ray Hobbs: He doesn't actually want us to say that.
Evan Winchester: We probably shouldn't actually say that.
Ray Hobbs: Okay. You're the boss.
Evan Winchester: There's a little bit more. There's is a little more here, in his journal. He said: "and then you hug. Go on. We'll wait here all day until you hug."
Ray Hobbs: Do you want to come over here, because I just got to stay on the slides.
Evan Winchester: "Good! It's awkward. Your mics are touching each other. Everyone is staring at you. And then the skies open up. Somewhere Mitch McConnell sheds a single tear, and he was truly moved by it. And now having shown the true power of the 10 year old, we are done with the show and that's when the audience erupts in thunderous applause."
Ray Hobbs: Not quite... And then it... Thank you very much.