Exploring Visual AI Platforms

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Visual AI platforms have revolutionized the way we create and interpret art. To showcase their capabilities, we’re comparing some of the leading platforms by using a universally recognized painting as our base: Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

This experiment was run on June 6, 2024.

Background on The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” created between 1495 and 1498, is significant for depicting a critical moment in Christian narrative: Jesus announcing that one of his disciples would betray him. This dramatic revelation captures the emotional reactions of the apostles, making it a powerful religious and historical artifact.

Artistic Techniques Ahead of His Time

“The Last Supper” remains a masterpiece not only for its religious significance but also for its groundbreaking artistic techniques. Da Vinci’s innovations in perspective, emotional expression, light and shadow, and anatomical accuracy set new standards for Renaissance art and continue to influence artists today.

Linear Perspective: Da Vinci masterfully employed linear perspective to create a sense of depth. The vanishing point is situated at Jesus’ head, drawing the viewer’s eyes toward the center and enhancing the three-dimensional illusion. The composition is symmetrically balanced, with Jesus at the center and the apostles arranged in dynamic groups of three, which adds to the overall harmony and balance of the painting.

Emotional Expression: Da Vinci broke away from the static and stoic representations common in his time by capturing the apostles’ varied emotional responses to Jesus’ announcement. This pioneering focus on human emotion added a layer of realism and relatability to the work.

Use of Light and Shadow (Chiaroscuro): Da Vinci utilized the technique of chiaroscuro, the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, to add volume and depth to the figures. This technique helped to create a more realistic and dramatic effect, highlighting the figures against the background.

Detailed Study of Human Anatomy: Da Vinci’s extensive studies of human anatomy allowed him to portray the figures with remarkable accuracy and detail, enhancing the realism of the scene.

Innovative Use of Medium: Instead of the traditional fresco technique, Da Vinci used tempera and oil on a dry wall, which, although it led to faster deterioration, allowed for greater detail and subtlety in the painting.

Testing AI platforms with universally recognized imagery offers a fascinating lens through which to compare their capabilities. “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci is an ideal candidate for this exploration. Its historical significance, intricate composition, and emotional depth make it a challenging and rich source for AI interpretation. By using this iconic painting, we can vividly see how different AI platforms handle the transformation of a well-known masterpiece into something entirely otherworldly, highlighting their unique strengths and creative potential.

The Prompt

To test the creativity and output of different AI platforms, we used the following prompt: “A surreal and captivating rendition of the Last Supper, with Jesus replaced by an extraterrestrial being. The alien figure, with large, almond-shaped eyes and a slender figure, sits at the head of a long table with various other alien species gathered around. Each alien has unique features, such as multiple eyes or tentacles. The background is a blend of celestial stars and otherworldly landscapes, with a hint of a spacecraft in the distance. The overall atmosphere of the artwork is mysterious and intriguing.”

DALL-E 3 (OpenAI)


–ar 16:9 –v 6.0 –style raw –s 50

Adobe Firefly


Using the original painting as the style reference.



The Results – So Far

Our playful test with “The Last Supper” as the base reference highlighted the strengths and unique capabilities of each visual AI platform. Each platform brought something special to the table. This exercise demonstrates that while AI can replicate and reinterpret classic art, the role of the designer remains crucial in guiding these tools to bring creative visions to life.

Voyager Brand Value Model Exploration

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It’s time for us to move beyond the purpose-driven “why” framework and other brand models that focus exclusively on the customer in a static state. A new approach, focusing on “who” the customer becomes through engaging with the brand, emphasizing their aspirational identity and transformational journey, should be explored. This model shifts the focus from what the brand sells to the value it adds to the customer’s life, underlining how a brand contributes to the customer’s personal growth, identity, and aspirations.

The current generation of customers, shaped by digital innovation and a world of endless choices, demands more than just transactional relationships with their favorite brands. They seek meaningful connections and personalized experiences, with brands contributing to their personal growth and identity. This shift in customer demands highlights the importance of developing a new brand model—one inspired by proven past systems yet agile enough to recognize and adapt to change.

Focusing on the customer’s aspirational identity, this new model positions the brand as a partner in the customer’s journey of self-improvement and actualization. It emphasizes the emotional and psychological benefits of engaging with the brand, creating a deeper, more meaningful connection between the brand and the customer audience. This article introduces the Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM), a conceptual framework designed to anchor brand value in the aspirational identity of the consumer. By shifting focus from the transactional to the transformational, VBVM positions brands as catalysts in the customer’s journey towards their ideal self.

Recognizing the limitations of traditional, static models, the VBVM redefines brand-customer interaction by focusing on who the customer becomes—their aspirational identity and growth journey. This model goes beyond mere transactions, driving brands to cultivate deeper, more personal relationships with consumers. It challenges brands to see themselves as partners in their customers’ narratives of self-improvement, acting as catalysts for personal growth, identity development, and the realization of aspirations. With its foundation in both historical brand strategies and contemporary adaptability, the VBVM presents a roadmap for brands to forge meaningful connections, ensuring relevance and resonance in a chaotic consumer environment.


The Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM)

The Voyager Brand Value Model (VBVM) represents an evolution in brand management and customer engagement. It emphasizes not what the brand sells but rather who the customer becomes through their interaction with the brand. This new approach is a model for brands striving to foster deeper connections with their audiences, moving beyond transactional relationships to cultivate a journey of personal growth, identity, and aspiration.

At its heart, the VBVM is built on the principle that successful brands sell better versions of their customers. This principle pivots the brand’s focus towards the customer’s journey, catalyzed by the brand’s interaction. It’s a model that recognizes the evolving nature of consumer desires, emphasizing the necessity for brands to be architects of change in their customers’ lives.  This model also recognizes that brands have an obligation to be a part of their customer’s journey – from the early stages of learning to advocacy and beyond. Download PDF.


Measuring Transformation

Understanding a brand’s impact on its customers is central to this concept. The VBVM introduces metrics to measure perceived identity changes, including self-reported measures of confidence and satisfaction. This quantifiable approach to gauging emotional and psychological shifts provides invaluable insights into the efficacy of brand strategies and their resonance with the target audience.

Insight, Promise, and Engagement

The model is structured around pivotal elements that guide the brand’s narrative and engagement strategies:

  1. Customer Insight: Understanding customers’ current desires, challenges, and identities lays the groundwork for positioning a brand as a catalyst for change.
  2. Brand Promise: At this stage, a brand articulates a clear, compelling promise of transformation, committing to aiding the customer in achieving their aspirational identity.
  3. Engagement Pathway: This outlines the journey of engagement, encompassing not just the purchase but the entire spectrum of experiences with the brand.
  4. Aspirational Identity: A vivid depiction of who the customer becomes due to their journey with the brand. This should reflect both the tangible and intangible benefits of the transformation.

Aspirational Identity: Who the Customer Becomes

Perhaps the most important aspect of the VBVM is its focus on the customer’s aspirational identity. It vividly depicts who the customer becomes as a result of their journey with the brand, reflecting both tangible and intangible benefits of the transformation. This section challenges brands to answer pivotal “Who” questions, compelling them to consider the deeper impact of their offerings on the customer’s evolution.

Implementing the Model

The VBVM offers a blueprint for bringing the brand transformation framework to life through narrative development, visual symbols, community building, and product/service alignment. It encourages brands to create stories that resonate, develop visuals that represent the transformational journey, foster communities of brand advocates, and ensure that offerings contribute directly to the promised transformation.

Transformative Engagement in Practice

This new brand model calls for brands to redefine engagement in a profoundly personal and aspirationally driven manner. It champions a holistic approach, viewing customers not as mere consumers but as individuals on a journey of self-discovery and growth. By aligning brand offerings with customers’ aspirational identities, brands can unlock levels of loyalty, advocacy, and emotional connection.

The Voyager Brand Value Model offers brands a roadmap to engage with customers. It showcases a future where brands and customers go on a journey together, creating narratives of growth, identity, and aspiration that resonate deeply and enduringly.

Brand Transformation Framework

Core Principle: Focus on the customer’s transformative journey, driven by the brand’s interaction. This principle is rooted in the belief that successful brands don’t just sell products or services; they sell better versions of their customers.

Visualization: Picture a metamorphosis cycle, starting with the customer’s current state, moving through the interaction with the brand, and culminating in the aspirational state or identity the customer achieves.

Key Components of the Model

Customer Insight: Deep understanding of the customer’s current desires, challenges, and identity. This insight lays the groundwork for how the brand can position itself as a catalyst for change.

Brand Promise: A clear, compelling promise of transformation. This is the brand’s commitment to helping the customer achieve their aspirational identity.

Engagement Pathway: The steps or interactions through which the brand facilitates the customer’s transformation. This includes not just the purchase but the entire experience of engaging with the brand.

Aspirational Identity: A vivid depiction of who the customer becomes as a result of their journey with the brand. This should reflect both the tangible and intangible benefits of the transformation.

Implementing the Model

Narrative Development: Create stories that illustrate the transformation customers undergo. Use real-life testimonials, hypothetical scenarios, or narratives that resonate with the target audience.

Visual Symbols: Develop symbols, icons, or visual motifs that represent the journey of transformation. These can be used across marketing materials to reinforce the brand’s role in facilitating customer growth.

Community Building: Foster a community of brand advocates who embody the aspirational identity. Encourage them to share their stories and experiences, creating a collective narrative around the brand’s metamorphic impact.

Product/Service Alignment: Ensure that every product or service offered by the brand directly contributes to the promised transformation. This alignment reinforces the brand’s commitment to its customers’ growth.

Evaluation and Evolution

Customer Feedback Loop: Regularly gather feedback to understand how well the brand is delivering on its promise of transformation. Use this feedback to refine and evolve the brand’s approach.

Identity Metrics: Develop metrics to measure the impact of the brand on customers’ perceived identity changes. This could include self-reported measures of confidence, satisfaction, or other relevant indicators of transformation.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How does VBVM differ from traditional brand models?

Answer: Traditional brand models often emphasize the “why” behind a brand—the purpose or the reason it exists. They focus on what the brand sells or the static state of the customer. VBVM shifts this perspective to concentrate on “who” the customer becomes through their interaction with the brand, spotlighting the aspirational identity and transformational journey of the customer. It’s a new, forward-looking approach that values brand engagement’s emotional and psychological benefits, aiming to create deeper, more meaningful connections with customers.

What makes the ‘Aspirational Identity’ aspect of VBVM unique?

Answer: The ‘Aspirational Identity’ aspect is revolutionary because it directly addresses the evolution the customer experiences as a result of their journey with the brand. Unlike models that focus solely on meeting immediate needs or desires, VBVM emphasizes the long-term impact on customers’ personal growth, identity, and aspirations. It encourages brands to contemplate and contribute to the customer’s future self, making the brand an integral part of their journey.

How can a brand measure the transformation it promises in VBVM?

Answer: VBVM introduces specific metrics to assess the brand’s impact on customers, focusing on perceived identity changes. This includes self-reported measures of confidence and satisfaction, among other relevant transformation indicators. By quantifying emotional and psychological shifts, brands can gain invaluable insights into the effectiveness of their strategies and how well they resonate with their target audience, enabling continuous refinement and evolution of their approach.

Can VBVM be applied across different industries and markets?

Answer: Yes, VBVM is designed to be versatile and adaptable across various industries and markets. Its core principles and focus on the customer’s aspirational identity make it relevant to any brand looking to foster deeper connections and support their customers’ journey of self-improvement. Whether it’s consumer goods, services, or digital platforms, VBVM can guide brands in creating value that goes beyond traditional transactional relationships, cultivating loyalty and emotional engagement.

What role does technology play in implementing VBVM?

Answer: Technology is pivotal in implementing VBVM, especially in gathering and analyzing customer feedback, measuring transformation, and facilitating engagement. Digital platforms, social media, and data analytics tools can provide brands with real-time insights into customer behavior and preferences, enabling personalized and predictive marketing strategies. Technology also supports the creation of engaging narratives, the development of visual symbols, and the fostering of online communities, all of which are crucial for bringing the brand transformation framework to life in the digital age.

Creative Collaboration With Generative AI – Part One

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Even though I’ve spent most of my professional career developing some pretty advanced digital marketing campaigns, I admit that I am somewhat of a Luddite.  This goes back quite a while, I’m afraid to admit.  I remember when USB 1.0 came out and threatened to replace the precious serial ports on my computer.  I thought it was a fad and would never take off.

That was probably one of many changes I resisted, including abandoning my Blackberry and the double space at the end of a sentence.  As an experienced adult who knows the double space is wrong, I now realize that technology will continue to evolve, regardless of my willingness to adapt. I’ve been right about some of the fads that didn’t quite make it, but more often than not, I eventually submit and try to find ways to incorporate these new technology trends in my daily life.  The trend I will explore in this post is the use of generative AI in marketing and advertising.

Disrupting The Creative Process

For those of you not familiar with the traditional creative process, most advertising and marketing campaigns are developed by small teams – starting with a creative brief and ultimately ending up in the hands of a copywriter and art director team who hashes through the ideas in the late hours to come up with a unique visual way to bring the strategy to life.  That’s a simplified version of the process, as there are lots of steps along the way, but for this test, it will serve as a good foundation.

I’m one of those rare creative and marketing directors with copywriting and design skills. It doesn’t make me a unicorn; it’s just the result of many late nights learning these skills as part of the “just get it done” approach I’ve been forced to take on projects when budgets or timelines limit normal approaches. Plus, I like to learn new skills.

For this creative challenge, I wanted to see how generative AI could serve as my design partner as I fleshed out an idea that has been stuck in my head for probably ten years.

The Creative Brief: The Commonwealth of Dominica

For five years, I was fortunate to work with the amazing folks from The Commonwealth of Dominica, often called Dominica, a small island nation in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea. It is not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, a separate country on the island of Hispaniola. Dominica had a limited marketing budget, as it was just a small island of 72,000 people. What it lacked in spending power, it made up with a rich experience had to offer visitors as the island possessed immense natural beauty and offered unlimited outdoor activities for those seeking active holidays.

I wrote up a pretty typical creative statement (or brief) for my own challenge based on what the island has to offer (I’m working backward a bit here, as I already have an idea I wanted to explore).

“The marketing program for Dominica, the “Nature Island” of the Caribbean, will encapsulate its unparalleled natural beauty, vibrant culture, and commitment to sustainability and resilience. Our campaign will leverage a multi-channel approach, focusing on digital storytelling, influencer partnerships, and immersive virtual experiences to showcase Dominica’s lush rainforests, abundant wildlife, and rich cultural heritage.

We aim to elevate Dominica’s profile as a premier, eco-friendly travel destination by targeting eco-conscious travelers, adventure seekers, and cultural enthusiasts. Key messages will emphasize the island’s unique biodiversity, sustainable tourism practices, and its people’s warm, welcoming spirit. Through compelling visual content, engaging narratives, and interactive platforms, we will inspire potential visitors to discover Dominica’s hidden gems, from hiking the Waitukubuli National Trail to experiencing the vibrant Creole Music Festival and excellent underwater diving experiences.

We aim to drive tourism growth while fostering a deep appreciation for Dominica’s efforts to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation, appealing to those seeking meaningful, impactful travel experiences.”

The Creative Strategy: Showcase Unique Travel Options

For this campaign, I want to focus on the two aspects of Dominica that have the most visual impact: hiking and diving.  As a mountainous island, the hiking trails on Dominica are some of the best I’ve ever experienced. There are few places on earth where you can hike through a tropical jungle to reach a waterfall and be the only people there to enjoy it.  The same can be said about diving off the coast of Dominica – the waters are known for their clarity and warmth, including tropical marine life, submerged volcanic craters, and vibrant coral gardens.

With a few exceptions, Dominica does not have what most would consider world-class accommodation or tourism infrastructure. A few new large hotels have sprung up on the island over the past few years, but for the most part, the island has small boutique and family-owned hotels catering to those looking for active holiday vacations.  Dominica is not the Caribbean island where you relax on a white sand beach – although one of my favorite beaches in the world is on the island (that’s a whole other blog post).That means our creative concept should focus on those looking for these active adventures vs. those looking for a boozy beach day at a 5-star resort.  Although, you could technically do that if you wanted to.

Strategic Insight:  Focus on active nature adventures Dominica offers, such as hiking and diving.

Active Adventures: Hiking + Diving on Dominica

One of the things I learned in my Padi SCUBA Diving Certification class (many, many years ago) is that you’re not supposed to fly immediately before or after SCUBA diving.  Flying too soon after diving can exacerbate the risk of decompression sickness (DCS). The cabin pressure in commercial airplanes is lower than atmospheric pressure at sea level, equivalent to an altitude of approximately 6,000 to 8,000 feet. This reduction in pressure can cause nitrogen bubbles to form or expand in the body if you haven’t allowed enough time for the nitrogen absorbed during diving to be fully off-gassed.

If a traveler has flown down to Dominica to dive, you will have at least one day in the beginning and one day at the end of your trip to have free time to explore the rest of the island. The same is true if you come down to hike on Dominica. You will always need a good recovery day or so. Diving and snorkeling are great options. The tallest mountain on Dominica is Morne Diablotin, which stands at 1,447 meters (4,747 feet) above sea level – not quite the altitude to cause DCS, but pretty impressive for the Caribbean.

Creative Approach:  Highlight hiking + diving as complementary vacation activities that can be enjoyed together on Dominica.

Visual Strategy: Showcasing the Natural Beauty of Dominica

One of the challenges of print and digital advertising for destination marketing campaigns for places like Dominica is that the photographer needs to work hard to convey the totality of the experience. You will feature a diving photo if you want to make a diving ad.  If you want to make a hiking ad, you showcase hiking.  It’s hard to talk about both activities in one photo.  This was always the challenge I faced when working on this brand.  To me, there were so many great options for people to experience on the island The alternative is to make a collage ad, which pretty much takes away from the visual impact of a campaign like this.

That led me back to the concept I had wanted to do for years but didn’t have the time or resources to pull off.  I always wanted to showcase the juxtaposition of hiking and diving as activities you can do on Dominica – although not at the same time, obviously.  I wanted to find a way to gear someone up in SCUBA gear and photograph them hiking up the side of one of the mountains.  Getting someone to do this on spec proved problematic, so we went with the easier concepts.  The idea stuck with me.

As I started experimenting with generative AI, I wondered if I could use this tool to bring this idea to life – at least far enough along that I could convince someone of the idea.  There weren’t many stock photos to pull from to make this concept work.  Maybe AI could help.

Visual Approach:  Find a way to incorporate both hiking and diving into one photo or photorealistic experience.

Visual Testing: Quick Concept Sketches

I’m not a sketch artist.  In the past, when advertising agencies had the luxury of large production budgets, we hired sketch artists to help us develop our creative ideas with pencils, pens, markers, etc. They were quick ways to dial in the concept without having to boot up a full photography or film crew to take a shot.  I was always jealous of their skills.  I am a good designer but can’t draw or sketch to save my life.

I questioned whether AI could replace the early sketch phase. My sincere apologies to those skilled artists; I swear this is not some form of jealous revenge. For this creative challenge, I wanted to create a series of visuals showcasing someone trying to hike and dive simultaneously – bringing a bit of levity to the campaign.

Technology Approach:  Use Generative AI to create sketches of the campaign concept.

Midjourney: The Power of AI to Generate Imagery

Generative AI is rapidly evolving.  I couldn’t have completed this creative challenge a year ago – maybe not six months ago. That’s how fast the technology is advancing.  Rather than using DALLE from ChatGPT, I selected Midjourney to do this project’s first round of visualizations.  Midjourney doesn’t have the most intuitive interface, as it’s reliant upon using Discord to enter your prompts, but the results are excellent once you learn the basics.

I started with a few basic prompts and continued evolving as I got closer to the results I sought.  Here are a few examples of the early work created using Midjourney.

In all transparency, I did begin the process by trying to achieve the end result, but as I thought about this more as a creative challenge, I went back to using AI the same way I would have used a sketch artist or Art Director partner.  The reality is that using this method produced better results – or at least results that made it feel like an evolving idea rather than “make it exactly like this.”

It took me a few tries to get Midjourney to render out basic art. It wanted to add more detail than I wanted at this concept test stage.  Eventually, I had success.  And by that, I mean this first image is probably better than I would have been able to do with a Sharpie and a piece of paper.



I added a few more details to the prompt to get to this next level of detail.  It’s a pretty dramatic leap simply by changing a few words.  Switching between illustration style would be incredibly difficult for even the most skilled sketch artist.



I wanted to add a bit of color to the scene to start to highlight the rich texture of the island.


At this point, I started to see the concept reach the stage where we were getting some details that needed to be adjusted and dialed in.


Progress: Learning How to Teach AI

As a Creative Director, you learn a lot of ways to “sell your ideas” to the client. You can have the best concept in the world, but if you can’t articulate it in a way that a non-visual and non-creative person can understand, the idea will not go far.  This seems to be the case with AI.  You have to teach the AI what you’re trying to create.  The prompts you see above are the directions I gave Midjourney in hopes of creating the sketch I needed to sell this (to myself) as proof of creative concept. As you can see, it does some things really well, but misses on the details.

Fortunately, Midjourney has a feature allowing variations to be created from your original rendering.  Furthermore, they can re-generate regions of the visual output. To explain that further, if most of your image is what you wanted, but there is an area where a strange artifact is created or they got something wrong, you can highlight that area and ask for adjustments.   For the image below, I asked Midjourey to adjust the bottom half of the woman’s SCUBA suit so that she is wearing cargo shorts.  The results were good, but the AI changed the person’s gender.

I decided to take it one step further by modifying my prompt to see how well Midjourney would do at creating a photo-realistic version of my creative concept with the limited input.  I didn’t use any reference photos to train the AI or any unique commands.  I simply modified the prompt to have the AI change the style of the output.


We’re getting much closer to what we need, but you can still tell that AI doesn’t quite understand what I’m going for.  In this last photo, I wanted to ensure I added back the SCUBA outfit.  It’s unknown whether the AI is smarter than me at this stage.  Does it understand that I’m trying to combine two things that shouldn’t be combined?  From a rendering perspective, the photo is looking good for a proof of concept.  But it’s not quite there.

For this next rendering, I just had it create 4 new versions of the fourth image from above.  No additional edits to the prompt.




I continued to try several times to get the AI to generate a good pair of hiking boots on our SCUBA diver, but I haven’t had many results this round.

Preliminary Results: Not Too Bad

This process took me about a half hour to forty-five minutes to generate these concepts.  If I were trying to sketch out the idea myself or find stock photos to represent the idea, I would still be looking.  I have been very pleased with the results so far.  If I were to mock up these images in an ad for a creative review, I think they would be good enough to present the idea in a way to get approval to move forward with the concept.

While I let these concepts sit here, I’ll work on the copywriting part of the assignment and return with the second part of this series of trying to use AI as my creative collaboration partner.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) vs. Human Intelligence (HI) in Creative

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My initial stance was to be highly skeptical of using artificial intelligence (AI) in branding and marketing. The very idea of AI weaving its way into a space so profoundly reliant on human insight, emotion, and connection seemed, for lack of a better word, apocalyptic. 

After all, the creative industry typically thrives on nuances I was convinced no machine could ever fully grasp. My apprehensions went beyond the mere risk of job displacement; the potential erosion of creative essence stressed me, the possibility of stripping away the very soul of what makes our work resonate so deeply on a human level.

I was terrified that all creative would feel manufactured, contrived, and like it came off the marketing production line. Granted, a lot of creativity feels like this today, regardless of the use of AI.

Shifting Perspectives on AI in Creative and Marketing

Research and exploration into AI’s capabilities and applications in the creative industry showed me a reality I hadn’t fully appreciated: the genie was already out of the bottle. AI’s integration into creative processes was not just imminent; it was already happening. This realization sparked a change in my thinking. It was no longer about AI versus human creativity but about how the two could coexist and complement each other. Here are my thoughts on the subject as of February 2024 (my position will likely change over time).

During my experiments with artificial intelligence (AI), I’ve ventured into various creative experiments, encountering a range of outcomes that span from the enlightening to the underwhelming. These tests into the capabilities of AI in the creative domain have offered mixed results, underscoring both the potential and the limitations of current technology. The undeniable rapid pace at which AI technology evolves—far outstripping my own ability to acquire new skills—has led to a critical realization: the importance of mastering this emerging tool

Embracing AI as a Creative Tool

Recognizing that AI’s development trajectory far exceeds my learning curve has been both humbling and motivating. It has crystallized my resolve to not just coexist with AI but to become adept at leveraging its power. Embracing AI as a crucial component of my creative toolkit is no longer optional; it’s imperative to staying relevant and innovative in an increasingly AI-integrated landscape.

Embracing AI in the creative process doesn’t mean relinquishing the unique value of human intelligence. Instead, it’s about harnessing AI as a tool that can augment our capabilities. For instance, AI can handle data-driven tasks, generate initial ideas, and even assist in the design process, allowing creatives more time to focus on big-picture thinking, strategy, and the emotional depth of their work. This partnership between human and machine opens up new possibilities for innovation and efficiency that were previously unimaginable.

Integrating AI into branding and marketing strategies allows for a level of personalization and audience understanding at scale, something that’s increasingly crucial in our data-rich world. However, the true magic happens when human insight applies nuance, empathy, and ethical considerations to the outputs of AI. This synergy ensures that the core of our creative work remains deeply human, even as it benefits from the speed and breadth of AI’s capabilities.

AI as a Brainstorming Partner

As a writer and filmmaker, my perspective on artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in the creative process is nuanced, drawing parallels between the advent of AI today and the emergence of Google as a research and organization tool two decades ago. Just as Google transformed the way we access information, making research faster and more efficient, AI and Generative Pre-trained Transformers (GPTs) are reshaping the landscape of creative work. 

These technologies excel as writing and creative partners, offering significant assistance in brainstorming ideas, crafting outlines, and conducting research. Yet, it’s clear that AI’s ability to tell truly original stories leaves much to be desired. AI is a great tool for overcoming writer’s block, providing a springboard to get the creative juices flowing again. Similarly, in filmmaking and photography, the potential to use AI-generated content as a substitute for traditional, often lackluster, B-roll or stock footage is particularly exciting. This technology might create a new era where storytellers can focus more on their vision and less on the logistical challenges of creation and inspiration.

The Commoditization of Creative in an AI-Driven World

My optimism is often tempered by a lingering fear: the possibility that companies and executive management might start to prioritize AI content that is “free” and “good enough” over works that showcase genuine creativity and intellectual effort. The balance between leveraging AI as a tool to enhance our storytelling capabilities and the risk of devaluing true creative talent is delicate. As we explore this new set of tools, it’s important to remember that while AI can augment our creative processes, the heart and soul of storytelling must remain distinctly human.

We must remain attentive to the ethical implications of AI, ensuring that it enhances rather than dilutes the human connection that lies at the heart of all great creative work. The goal is not to compete with AI but to find ways to co-create, allowing each to play to their strengths. In doing so, we can elevate the world of branding, marketing, and creative to new heights, crafting messages and experiences that resonate more deeply because they’re born from the best of both worlds.

Future Evolution of AI in Creative Development

As I reflect on my evolving position regarding AI in creativity, it’s clear that adaptation and collaboration are important. By embracing AI as a part of the creative process, we can protect the essence of our craft, ensuring that human intelligence continues to drive the narratives and connections that define impactful branding and marketing. 

My journey from skepticism to acceptance underscores the importance of staying open to change and innovation in our ever-evolving field.

I would love to keep this conversation going and see what other people in my field think about this topic.  Feel free to drop your thoughts below.


The Future of Fractional Creative Leadership

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Over the past couple of years, I have witnessed the rise of a trend: the emergence of fractional marketing executives as the norm rather than the exception. These seasoned professionals offer their expertise to companies on a part-time or project basis, providing strategic leadership without the full-time commitment.

This model has gained traction across various roles, from Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) to Marketing Directors and Operations Managers. However, amidst this shift, an equally crucial but less discussed role holds the key to unlocking true brand potential: the Fractional Creative Director or Brand Director.

As a veteran in brand marketing (and creative) with two decades of experience under my belt, I’ve seen firsthand the difference a great creative leader can make in bringing a marketing strategy to life. Yet, in conversations about fractional leadership, the spotlight often misses the creative leaders —those who can steer a brand’s aesthetic, voice, and emotional resonance. This oversight is not just a gap in the dialogue; it’s a missed opportunity for companies and consultants seeking to elevate their projects in a crowded marketplace.

The Rise of Fractional Creative Leadership

The concept of a Fractional Creative Director or Fractional Brand Director is relatively unexplored in the broader narrative of marketing evolution. While marketing executives focus on strategy, analytics, and operations, the creative process requires a different kind of leadership. It demands an individual who can dive deep into the brand’s essence and emerge with a vision that resonates across all forms of media. This is where I’ve found my calling, partnering with fractional marketers to breathe life into their strategic visions with creativity that captivates and engages.

Creative leadership is not just about producing stunning visuals or catchy taglines; it’s about crafting a coherent brand story that echoes across every touchpoint. It’s about understanding the soul of a brand and translating that into a language that speaks to the heart of the audience. This requires a blend of intuition, experience, and a relentless pursuit of innovation—qualities that define a skilled Creative Director.

The Synergy Between Strategy and Creativity

One might wonder, why the need for a partnership between fractional marketers and creative directors? The answer is in the symbiotic relationship between strategy and creativity. While marketing executives excel at defining the roadmap based on market insights and business objectives, creative directors bring this roadmap to life with compelling narratives and visual storytelling. This partnership ensures that a brand’s strategic goals are not just met but are amplified through creativity that resonates on an emotional level.

This collaboration is especially crucial in a world where brands are not just competing for market share but for mindshare. In the digital age, where consumers are bombarded with information, it’s the creative execution that can make or break a brand’s ability to stand out. When I partner with other fractional marketing executives, I aim to navigate the often complex process of achieving great creative work—work that not only aligns with the strategic vision but elevates it.

The Future of Fractional Creative Leadership

As the landscape of work continues to shift towards more flexible and specialized roles, the value of fractional creative leadership will only grow. Companies, especially startups and SMEs, stand to benefit immensely from this model. They can access top-tier creative talent without the overhead of a full-time executive, allowing them to punch above their weight in a competitive market.

For those of us in the area of creative direction, this presents an exciting frontier. It’s an opportunity to redefine our roles and impact within the marketing ecosystem. By forging partnerships with fractional marketing executives, we can ensure that creativity remains at the heart of brand strategy, driving not just aesthetic excellence but emotional connection and brand loyalty.


The Strategic Advantage of an In-House Production Studio

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In a marketing world that demands real-time responses to customer demands and sometimes urgent crisis responses, having an in-house production studio is a luxury and a strategic asset. Having some form of -in-house production space offers a blend of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and creative flexibility that is invaluable for businesses seeking to produce high-quality photo and video content.  Don’t get me wrong, I love getting out of the office, either from an agency or even a corporate perspective, but sometimes it’s just nice to stay home and get the job done so you can focus on bigger challenges in the future.

I have helped build and manage multiple studio spaces over my career.  They don’t need to be fancy; they just need to be functional.  Some of the best work was either generated in the studio space or at least brainstormed.

There is a lot of value in creating a dedicated space to create such as:

Rapid Turnaround Time

The most immediate benefit of an in-house studio is the ability to produce content quickly. Traditional setups often require scheduling time at external studios, which can lead to delays. With an in-house studio, the time to set up and dismantle sets is drastically reduced, allowing for a more spontaneous and responsive content creation process.

Cost Efficiency

External studio rentals and the need to transport gear and equipment can be expensive. An in-house studio eliminates these costs. The savings are not just monetary but also in terms of time – a crucial factor in a deadline-driven industry.  You will need a small upfront investment in basic lighting and gear, but the return will be immediate.

Versatility and Control

Having an in-house studio doesn’t mean forsaking external talent. It allows the flexibility to use both internal and external resources. You can still bring in outside shooters, but now you have the added benefit of controlling the environment to suit your specific needs.

Creative Hub

Beyond its practical uses, an in-house studio can transform into a creative hub. When not in use for production, it can serve as a space for pre-production meetings, brainstorming sessions, and creative workshops. This environment fosters a culture of creativity and collaboration, which is vital for generating innovative content ideas.

Customization and Brand Consistency

An in-house studio offers opportunities for customization. You can design the space to suit your specific needs, ensuring consistency in lighting, backdrops, and overall production quality. This consistency is vital for maintaining brand identity across various content pieces.

Education & Training

An in-house studio can be a fantastic educational resource. It provides a hands-on learning environment for team members to develop and refine their production skills, keeping your content creation capabilities sharp and current.

Networking and Partnerships

Finally, an in-house studio can be a valuable tool for networking and partnerships. Inviting collaborators, clients, or influencers to your studio for projects can strengthen relationships and open new opportunities for creative partnerships.


Visual Storytelling: Four Dimensions of Brand Engagement

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I love visualizing process. I know this is an odd affinity, but I’ve come to accept that not everyone has a visual brain.  Or rather, not everyone can visualize the chaotic maze of ideas that stream through the mind of creative person. For thousands of years the world was believed to be flat and to say otherwise would mean certain persecution. It wasn’t until advanced science joined the conversation, introducing basic physics and observational  data, that the belief of a round earth started to expand. Then, one day, someone had the audacity to create a globe – the perfect visualization tool to help humans understand the vast nature of our world.