Emotional plurality — occupying multiple emotional states simultaneously due to an ever-changing and increasingly complicated world — is one of the more prevalent feelings many consumers are dealing with today. As a result, brands will need to do what they can to improve their mechanisms for more precise emotional understanding and embed it more deeply into brand experiences in ways that go way beyond a cool new font or logo. This will involve everything from thinking about design differently, to infusing a more creatively immersive mindset into all, to understanding what is possible as the future of Web3 unfolds.
With that all in mind, I wanted to speak with one of the few people I have ever met who can elegantly straddle the worlds of art, marketing, and commerce. On the heels of the launch of his highly lauded book the American Experiment, I had the privilege to sit down with Brandon Ralph to discuss the trends outlined above, as well as the launch of his new agency The Unquantifiable, designed to solve today’s most pressing marketing challenges through a strategic mix of IQ and EQ.
Brandon Ralph has been a category creator and creative industry leader for over 20 years and has been tapped as the trusted creative collaborator for some of the most influential figures of the modern era, including Anna Wintour, Arianna Huffington, Lenny Kravitz, Tina Brown, Tomas Maier, and Harvey Spevak. He was the Co-Founder of Code and Theory, Chief Experience Officer of Equinox, and a Fine Artist. He is currently Founder and CEO of The Unquantifiable. Following is a recap of our conversation:
Billee Howard: Tell me about your journey and the American Experiment?
Brandon Ralph: My journey began on Long Island, NY where I grew up on welfare in a middle class neighborhood raised by a single mother. She insisted that I see America as a place of opportunity and possibility. After losing both parents at the age of 18 and 19, I was forced to drop out of NYU and begin a career in marketing. Shortly thereafter, I co-founded Code and Theory in 2001, and it has become one of the largest creative & digital-first agencies.
It was this juxtaposition of my upbringing which included personal loss and professional development that deeply informed my journey into what I am calling The American Experiment, which aims to explore the constantly shifting culture in America. My work presents a vast and varied look at the country and allows the viewer to reexamine the myriad incarnations of patriotism as well as day to day life in America. My images and sculptures present a sense of timelessness as one looks both into the future and into the past. The end result is a collection of moments that will sometimes be separated by years, or, equally divergent, separated by state lines. When they are viewed together, it gives one a look at the landscape and cultural themes during a time in our nation when the idea of what makes one an American is a topic of heated debate.
The work has been globally awarded and shown internationally. In 2022, I became an ambassador to the Leica brand and the book was recently selected to be sold at the MOMA.
Howard: What have you learned that most impacted you as an artist and a marketer?
Ralph: It goes without saying that successful Art and Marketing share a core principle of the power of an image, regardless of the medium, to draw the viewer in. What I have learned, which at times can be a delicate dance, is the balance of overt and covert messaging that leaves a viewer asking a question, feeling a certain way, or even changing a point of view.
With the art I create and the brands I want to continue working with, a bold image or strong design is now table stakes. I believe the next wave of great brands will differentiate themselves with a unified and highly nuanced experience journey as our physical and digital worlds blend together. Brands have multiple opportunities to deliver elegant experiences across channels to overtly and or covertly reach the viewer at an emotional level driving the viewers towards an irrational & inexplicable love for the brand that are facilitated by technology that bridges our physical and digital worlds with meaningful moments for the customer.
Howard: Tell me about The Unquantifiable and how you arrived to create it and what it’s aiming to do?
Ralph: In the summer of 2018, I sat down with Harvey Spevak, Chairman of Equinox, to discuss joining them as their Chief Experience Officer. At the time, this was the first I had heard of this title. To be honest, it made me uncomfortable. We talked for hours about how, historically, creative-specific roles can be limited to just the traditional assets and how the CXO role could fundamentally and culturally change how companies brought these disparate parts together, through a single lens to deliver an end-to-end brand experience.
In 2020, I saw a white space in the market to create an agency that led with brand experience, followed by design, and brought to life through technology. Our vision is to manifest all hidden and distinctive characteristics within a brand’s DNA that deepens engagement, loyalty & love. It reconciles the natural tension between consumers’ rational & irrational behaviors to reach a place of aspiration, leading with a cohesive experience strategy that is brought to life through distinctive and engaging storytelling, IP, and technology. As a result, the brand is positioned between IQ & EQ, in a way that is unquantifiable.
Howard: How do you see Web 3 fitting in to The Unquantifiable vision?
Ralph: Over the last 20 years, there has been a repeatable pattern of innovation that exists and coincides with the principles from Web1 (Access to information) to Web2 (Creating and sharing information), and it’s clear that there will be changes in how brands & consumers engage in Web3 (Ownership of data & information).
We believe the next wave of companies will have opportunities to build more equitable relationships with their customers by allowing them to access their digital assets (IP, Data, Loyalty, Currencies) in their wallets as our physical and digital worlds blend. Our services support understanding and being at the forefront of innovation with a pragmatic approach to see how & if these new technologies could coincide with our client’s strategy and roadmap.
With that being said, although all brands may not be thinking about Web3, we are at the beginning of this next wave and therefore took a strategic investment from the largest Web3 venture fund, Liberty City Ventures. Our partnership delivers a single source for integrated insights while providing clients access to 70+ portfolio companies. It helps educate and inform our strategy, creative, and execution when applicable for our clients to keep them at the bleeding edge of technology.