Visiting La Sagrada Familia, the Catholic Church with an unorthodox and ever-evolving architecture has always been on my bucket list. On my way to Lausanne and Milan for business meetings, I decided to stop in Barcelona to visit this historic landmark. In addition to soaking in the amazing sculptures and stunning architecture, I made an effort to connect the dots from what I saw to what I do.
Vision and strategy come first
Antoni Gaudi, the master architect, designed the church, in his own words, to reflect “all the grandeur of the human spirit in its openness to God.” He wanted to create a sanctuary in which you can feel the presence of the divine. To do that, you need a vision and strategy. He had a grand vision with a vivid imagination; he knew what he wanted to build in order to bring the divine glory to his sacred house. Unfortunately, his blueprint was completely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but his two fellow colleagues were able to recreate his blueprint from memory. It’s really hard to get where you’re going without a map, so this recreation of the blueprint enabled the continuation of the project according to the designs of Gaudi.
A blueprint is also needed for marketing: Your business model and strategy come first.
When marketing is done right, it’s about delivering great user experiences reflecting the essence of your brand to support your business growth.
Vision and strategy require interpretation and execution
Here is the challenge for La Sagrada Familia: while colleagues were able to recreate the high-level blueprint, they did not recall or know enough details to take it to the next level to fully implement Gaudi’s vision. With Gaudi’s passing and the loss of details, those who worked on the project needed to interpret the high-level blueprint and deduce the details required to implement it.
The interpretation can’t be random or without constraints, it needs to be done with thought and intention. There are rules that need to be followed. For example, the new spires need to mesh with existing design elements. With similar aesthetics. Sculptures and statues need to be placed purposefully to reflect biblical references.
Similar thinking is also required in marketing; design guidance is the brand or style guide. The creative and look-and-feel elements of campaigns need to align with brand DNA, brand personas, typeface and other requirements in the brand guide. You can deviate from the essence of the brand, but you need to be able to articulate why and take into account the impact on the overall experience. At the same time, messaging and copy on various channels need to be well-thought out. Ultimately, the user experience is about attention to detail.
To do it right takes time
When Gaudi was criticized for taking too long to build the sacred house, he famously said, “My boss is not in a hurry.” He knew that it was going to take generations and many, many people to build his house of the divine.
Creating something memorable takes time and effort. I have come to realize that this is especially true for digital marketing.
Having said that, I have been fiddling with my own website for the past year. I wrote and rewrote the copy, added/deleted new pages, moved buttons around…Tested and retested what works and what doesn’t. The fact is that websites are like works of art, you can tweak until the cows come home but at some point, you need to lock in the design and let go. The trick is to know when to stop and be OK with it.
In the real world, none of us have infinite time and resources to craft and recraft our marketing efforts.
We have deadlines to meet, products to launch and bosses who are not as patient as Gaudi’s. The key is to start your marketing planning early, especially when campaigns require extensive collaboration with various teams. Even though Gaudi didn’t set a deadline, La Sagrada Familia Foundation aims to complete the construction in 2026. “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.”
George Orwell said it was “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”, while Salvador Dali stated its terrifying and edible beauty should be kept under a glass dome. To start the construction of this alien-like and radical design in 1882, Gaudi was, no doubt, ahead of his time. I actually agree with both Orwell and Dali, it’s terrifyingly hideous and strikingly stunning at the same time. The mix of emotion reminded me of Apple’s 1984 Macintosh Commercial. It’s terrifying and remarkable at the same time.
It’s hard to create a campaign with such grand artistic and provocative expressions. We may not have an opportunity, resource or budget to work on a big campaign. That doesn’t mean you can’t take small steps and optimizations to improve your campaign or digital marketing efforts. Marketing results come from the sum of small efforts that you repeat day in and day out.