There’s a parable I love that speaks to the difference between a worker and a leader called “The Three Bricklayers.” Although there are a lot of different versions online, I like the one that has its roots in a true story:
In 1666, much of London was leveled by The Great Fire, and world-famous architect Sir Christopher Wren was brought in to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral. One day, he noticed three bricklayers on a scaffold. One was crouched low, the other was half-standing, and the third was standing upright, working fast and hard.
Wren asked each of the men a simple question: “What are you doing?”
The first replied, “I’m a bricklayer, working hard laying bricks to feed my family.”
The second said, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.”
And the third answered, “I’m a cathedral builder. I’m building a great cathedral to The Almighty.”
Of course, the parable points to the importance of finding meaning and purpose in your work. But as an artist and a designer, I see something else that’s more critical today than ever before: the ability to zoom out and see the bigger picture.
So, let’s take that laying bricks analogy and use a related visual: a mosaic. The word has ancient roots going back to Italy and Greece, and it means “of the muses.”
A perfect analogy for marketing, as in the age of the instant economy, people have micro-second attention spans. And since there are countless digital touchpoints/entry points, brands don’t have the luxury of creating a linear narrative. The way we once knew advertising — and in many ways, even digital advertising — has shifted, taking with it the tools that made a marketer’s job easier like long-lead times, a centrally controlled narrative, and limited media channels to choose from.
In other words, marketers can’t just paint one beautiful picture and call it a campaign. We have to meet our customers where they congregate, and the venues (aka mediums and channels) vary. From micro 15-second-long TikToks to long-form content like this piece with an 8-minute read time, or an hour-long podcast, the options are endless.
So, we’ve got to listen to our muses — both the audience members and the platforms themselves — to thoughtfully create work that moves people to open their hearts, minds, and wallets.
Doing the work takes both artistry and vision, so let’s dive into what it takes to create an effective marketing mosaic.
The Problem With Working in Pieces
A mosaic is an art form that uses tiny bits to create an image. The pieces don’t need uniform attributes like size, shape, or color. But when you put them together, the message has to be clear.
The creation of the mosaic is in the hands of the artist; it’s up to them to take the raw materials and put together patterns that convey the overarching vision.
In my opinion, this is where the creation of cogent messaging and marketing breaks down. Even though you might have the same material to work with, the “artists” involved in creating a marketing mosaic end up focusing on their own tiny pieces. And it’s challenging to find someone skilled enough to zoom in and out, focusing on every component while never losing sight of the bigger picture.
For existing brands, that means starting by taking stock of what works and what doesn’t, then breaking down the channels, tactics, and assets you have to bring the messaging to life. Then, get clear on your metrics of success. That way, you can construct a cross-channel mosaic, so no matter what direction your audience is looking, they’re presented with a consistent message.
Now, I know that sounds basic, but I’ve collaborated with enough agencies, C-suite executives, and highly paid marketing professionals to see how siloed the work has become. In my opinion, strategists tend to pontificate about their vision without paying attention to the pieces they have at their disposal. And creatives want to come up with fun, artistic ideas that might stand up on their own but have nothing to do with what will ultimately drive business results and brand growth. In other words, the people who set the strategy don’t drive the execution. This leads to disconnected thinking.
The real art today is to be able to quickly and seamlessly change your zoom level or the lens through which you’re viewing your brand. Because when you’re at 100x versus 50x, 20x, or even just 1x, the picture you see is very different.
So, for example, let’s say you’ve got an entry-level social media coordinator working on a weekly editorial schedule for posts. It’s so easy for them to detach from the bigger picture and just come up with some cute or funny posts that might have something to do with the zeitgeist (like a holiday or a trend) but have nothing to do with the larger brand story. This is not to put down your staff at all — just to point out how easy it is to skip showing your team members how the little piece they’re working on fits into the emotional terrain of the customers and larger brand story as a whole.
And, truthfully, even people in higher-level strategic roles can lack vision.
So, how do you pull the marketing mosaic together artfully, effectively, and profitably?
Piece It Together
The first thing you have to realize is the art of creating a mosaic involves a lot of trial and error — there is no one rigid framework that tells you just how to make all the disparate pieces fit together neatly. The process that works best to create a cohesive marketing mosaic is more free-form and relies on collaboration, iteration, and ongoing visualization. And the glue is a continuous desire to keep getting 1% better every day.
However, there is a roadmap that my team and I use that we call an Xmap or an experience map. It’s a visual audit and inventory of all of the brand’s aspects and assets throughout the full customer journey, starting from its founders and origin stories to the marketing technology (Martech) tools, platforms, and partners that are in the mix.
Taking this approach makes it super simple for everyone to collaborate across teams, timezones and roles, and this open way of working and seeing the mosaic of this brand resulted in a 200% ROAS on the rebranding campaign and a 2.7x increase in monthly revenue over 3 months.
Creating an effective mosaic always begins with a survey of the pieces you have to work with. And so, we use the Xmap to take a visual inventory of all of the key components. Using analytics and customer listening sessions we’re able to quickly benchmark what’s working and what’s not, and detail quick wins (tactical examples) and big bets (concepts or ideas). And, of course, we do a deep dive into the most crucial piece that always goes in the center of a marketing mosaic: the customer.
Unlike other mosaics that are literally set in stone, the marketing mosaic is a living, dynamic expression of the brand. So, in this case the materials we are working with are something we call the Brand DNA — everything that contributes to the essence and expression of the brand from the name and visual identity through the purpose, values, beliefs, positioning, benefits, personality, voice, tone, and experience language.
Another reason I love the mosaic analogy: doing the work to create a robust Xmap involves excavation. Much like the most profound artwork has been excavated from the foundations of storied structures, brands are built on legendary founders and experiences. So, for example, I’ve worked with company archivists for brands that have been around for 100 years to study their roots and traveled around the world to interview founders in person. The nuggets you get from such careful work and craftsmanship are invaluable; it’s all about getting clear on every place that a business or brand exists.
Once you have a complete inventory and you’ve used a visual collaboration tool like Miro to collect all the pieces, you’re ready to map your mosaic.
Mapping your marketing mosaic
Where do things intersect? Where do they connect? What is the brand’s throughline? Is it a person, a story, or a set of moments?
A mosaic isn’t a hodge-podge; it’s an artful arrangement that tells a coherent story when you zoom out and accentuates the individual components when you zoom in. You’re looking for consistency and parity as you create your Xmap. Because once you spot and group the brand aspects and attributes that complement each other, you can build a stunning vision that everyone, from your team to your customers can see, understand, and embrace. And internally, you have a lexicon for your brand that is easily shared and understood.
This is a departure from the old way of thinking, where brands have traditionally thought in terms of campaign life cycles, which run anywhere from a month to a couple of years. Instead, there’s this mosaic that you’re continuously building out, so any new idea or messaging you have is viewed through the lens of what the brand stands for. This creates continuity over time, as you come up with everything from big promotions to single social media posts. In a sense, you’re changing the zoom levels and, in doing so, can find opportunities to surprise and delight your customers while still projecting a consistent brand image.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a social media ad that leads to a landing page for the customer to buy your product. After the purchase is complete, they get a thank you email. Often that’s a handful of different people or teams working on a campaign (i.e., social media marketing, graphic design, and comms teams). If they’re siloed, then creative continuity is challenging. But if there’s an Xmap that everyone has access to, then there’s a shared creative consciousness, which makes everything from voice and tone to visuals clear and simple to align.
This brings us back to our bricklayer story: there’s a big difference between the person who sees the work as just a job and the person who sees the bigger picture and understands the significance of their work — not just for themself but also for the community. With a mosaic marketing mentality, you and your team have the tools necessary to zoom out. And in our age of remote work and the gig economy, making sure that you have that visual inventory system that is actively maintained is crucial. People may come and go, but your brand must have a consistent, persistent presence. Get your marketing mosaic right, and you’ll create something beautiful — and profitable — that lasts.
What piece of the marketing mosaic are you responsible for? I’m curious how you see your work fits into the bigger whole, so leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter — DMs are open.