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Archive for August, 2006

Fun with design.


You know, working with small companies – especially retail outlets with a very local and specific clientelle – can be pretty fun, especially when they are willing to step outside of their confort zone and routinely surprise their audience by not being… predictable.

Surprising people with something completely unexpected can be part of the appeal of superfly boutique brands. Differentiation isn’t always enough. Without a healthy little dose of style, maybe even humor, and a pinch of the “I know there’s an inside story behind this idea” vibe, you could be dead in the water.

(Super science to sell road bikes? Huh?! There isn’t even a bike or a cyclist in the picture. What gives?)

Sometimes, it’s just about having fun with your customers.

All I have to say is that not every client or employer I’ve had in my short but prolific career would have let me design a tongue-in-cheek promo like this one. (Then again, when a client only gives you three hours to come up with something cool, the result can be a bit unconventional.)

Quick! Think fast!

“Ca passe ou ca casse,” as they say back home.

We could have gone with a classic looking promo with images of the bikes or photos of cyclists and references to the USA Cycling Pro Championships (hosted right here in Greenville this weekend) – but everyone in town already did that. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but… what’s been done has been done, and… what’s been overdone has definitely been overdone. Know what I mean?

So… Here are four things I learned today:

All in all, this is the kind of work that -

a) makes a morning really fly by,
b) makes you feel a little guilty to get paid to have so much fun,
c) makes you thirst for more,
d) makes you realize that taking an occasional wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide design detour can breathe some fresh air into a branding strategy that was starting to become a bit too predictable, and
e) it’s amazing what you can put together in just a few hours if you just… let loose and have fun.

Whether the promo’s design will work remains to be seen, but at least we aren’t boring anyone to death with lame by-the-numbers crrrrrahp. We’re already putting together the next one, and it should be even cooler. (Having a bit more time to plan ahead helps.)

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"I want to be a yes man?"


Many people in the business world today – and especially on the marketing and creative end of things – like to talk about “re-writing the rules” and “breaking new ground” and “being rebels.”

Unfortunately, most if it is just that: talk.

In the end, most of us end up toning down our designs. Our ideas. Our business plans.

Why? Probably fear, mostly.

Fear that we might offend. Fear that our work will turn people off. Fear that we’ll lose market share or clients or prestige. Fear that we’ll push the cork just a little too far, a little too soon.

Fear that the client will walk away.

Fear should be the thing that drives you to train harder, fight smarter, race faster. Fear should be our motivation to excel and break new ground. To seek every possible advantage. Fear should make us bold. Fear should push us to the front of the pack, where the cheetahs or coyotes or wolves can’t get to us.

Fear should not paralyze us. Ever. Ever. Ever.

Playing it safe is not an option. It isn’t what we got into this business for. It isn’t why clients and customers came to us in the first place. Playing it safe isn’t what made Elvis the King, or Madonna a pop icon, or iPod a huge commercial success. Playing it safe isn’t what crushed Hitler’s war machine in 1944. It isn’t what broke world records. It isn’t what put men on the moon. It isn’t what cured polio. It isn’t what made anyone fall in love with you.

Whenever I see boring products on a shelf or boring advertising in a magazine, or boring copy, or a boring political platform, I can’t help but roll my eyes and ask why. Seriously. Why? Why bother? Why did someone waste time on this? Why did anyone spend money on this? Why would anyone think that being indistinguishable from anyone else (or just being… unremarkable, period) is even in the realm of good ideas?

Why?

Why play it safe? Is it smart to play it safe in love? In war? In politics? In design? In art? In business? In sports? In religion and philosophy? In literature? In our thinking? In our cooking?

Fear is a natural response. Fear is healthy. Fear is what makes us run faster, think better, fight harder, search deeper. Fear should drive innovation. Fear should drive us forward.

Fear should never turn us into cowards.

Everyone loves to talk about being bold and innovative. Everyone wants to puff out their chest and speak of the future as if it were something easily grabbed by the throat and pounded into rightful submission.

Unfortunately, most people (and companies) don’t have the oysters to actually go beyond the yapping phase. (If they did, I wouldn’t be so damn excited every time I run into a company or creative agency that actually puts its money where its mouth is.)

The good news is that I am slowly building a network of awesome, super talented, smart, visionary business people, thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs. They’re out there. I meet or discover new ones almost every day, and that’s pretty damn cool.

The bad news is that even if that very exclusive club grows to be several hundred strong, even several thousand, it will still only be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

The 1% of the 1% of the 1%.

Talk about a minority.

We really ought to try and make that number a little bigger. (That’s one of the reasons why many of us blog, if you were wondering.)

We really ought to lead by example. By not being afraid to be bold, and make people react and talk and think. We really ought to not be afraid to fall flat on our faces at times, or to make some people angry, or to step on a few toes.

Controversy isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a company. In many ways, it is the very thing a company might need to define itself as a brand. Standing for something. Style. Integrity. Design. User-friendliness. Something.

We owe it to all the kids who graduate from college and find themselves having to work for thankless companies that will waste their talent and rob us of their creativity for years and years and years.

We owe it to ourselves to be the rebels we once hoped we would be. The leaders. The groundbreaking pioneers.

I am not saying that you should expect to singlehandedly change the world. (I’m not saying you can’t either.) I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be afraid to try.

And that when you do try, there will be hundreds – no, thousands – of us cheering for you.

And yeah, if the first few attempts don’t work, we’ll be there to help you dust yoursef off until your perseverance pays off. It doesn’t matter if you’re a junior-level media buyer or a product manager or a sales management trainee.

Don’t be a chump. Don’t be a yes man. Don’t get suckered into creating average workor falling in line behind all of the other drones who had your job before you came along.

Playing it safe sucks. It always did.

Don’t just talk about rewriting the rules. Do it.

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Wow. I just tested three business owners and managers this afternoon, and all came up with shrugs and deer-in-the-headlights looks when I asked them these simple questions:

1. Do you know the average annual value of a customer to your business?

2. Do you know the cost of a customer complaint to your business?

3. Do you know the total cost to your business of resolving a complaint?

4. Do you know the cost of acquiring a new customer?

Assorted answers from my little test group:

“Um… no.”
“The what?”
“Am I supposed to know that?”
“Maybe the accountant knows.”
(Shrug.) “No clue.”

*sigh*

According to the actual survey, here is the breakdown:

Do you know the average annual value of a customer to your business?
Know: 12.9%
Don’t know: 87.1%

Do you know the cost of a customer complaint to your business?
Know: 9.7%
Don’t know: 90.3%

Do you know the cost of acquiring a new customer?
Know: 8.6%
Don’t know: 91.4%

Those numbers kind of blew me away. Anyone with a marketing budget – which is pretty much just about everyone who either owns, runs or works for some kind of business – ought to have at least some idea of how much each new customer costs, right?

Right?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Seriously, folks. This is something we all ought to know.

Hat tip to Spike and my zipcode neighbors at BoF for the heads-up on this small portion of Strativity Group‘s survey (via Fast Company).

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Big news: Starting next week, The BrandBuilder will start contributing little snippets of wisdom on the I/M/D blog (in addition to the already wicked editorial commentary you may or may not have been enjoying on Corante).

Boo-yah. (That means “flattered” in my neck of the woods.)

Since I haven’t had a chance to post anything of substance anywhere for about a week due to an insane amount of work, I wanted to reassure everyone and let you know that everything is okay: I have not been abducted by angry Plutonian aliens. I am not being detained in Guantanamo. I was not spotted in New York City wearing carboard boxes for shoes and trying to eat rocks. I’m fine. Just a little overwhelmed by a very, very, very busy schedule, an 8-year-old birthday party that somehow stretched into a three day event, a ridiculous TV interview, an overdue return to triathlon, and preparation for the media circus that will surround the US Pro Cycling Championship – which is coming to Greenville, SC next weekend.

And since I don’t want this post to be another self-serving, worthless little monologue about me, moi and migo, here’s something cool I thought you’d enjoy. (And yes, it is relevant to branding… somewhat.)

Via OrangeYeti, from AdPulp, here is a little bit of an interview given by Maurice Levy (Publicis Groupe) to Scott Donaton (of Ad Age). If you’ve ever worked for a company that was so set in its ways that it had grown stale, you’ll understand what Levy is talking about:

“I have never stabilized an organization. Crystallizing an organization is freezing the energy. In chemistry, instability is very good because it creates some combinations you don’t expect.”

“Without change, there is fossilization,and that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

“Ideas,are so fragile, so tenuous, that managers must destroy layers that can obscure or damage them. If you have an organization that is too administrative, you are just killing the ideas. As we say in France, when you ask a committee to draw a horse, you get a camel.”

Read the full interview here.

So there you have it: As a business leader, look for flux. Look for tangents. Look for the unexpected. Recruit adventurously. Give your people the freedom and flexibility to contribute in the most personal, passionate of ways. Eliminate silos and procedures when it comes to the sharing of ideas. When it comes to dialogue. When it comes to cooperation. Decentralize “meetings”. Disconstruct the project ideation process. Empower your people to set the stage for extraordinary new products and business improvements.

If you can’t trust your people enough to empower them, to literally give them the keys to the place, then you aren’t hiring the right people. Your job as a leader isn’t always to “lead”. Most of the time, because you aren’t there to bark orders or stand over everyone’s shoulder, it is simply to create an environment, an ecosystem, that allows your team, your army, to do the best possible work they can. It is to create a culture that makes them want to be a part of something greater than the sum of their job description. That makes them proud to be, even.

Ideas are fragile.

Without change, organizations die.

These are the two little mantras you should keep chanting every time you pick up the phone, or a magazine, or your TV remote. They should be in the back of your mind every time you shake someone’s hand or invite them to have a seat.

Embrace instability. Welcome change. Engage uncertainty. Welcome the unknown and love it for all of its infinite number of possibilities.

And they truly are infinite.

Being a leader isn’t about creating the illusion of safety.

(You aren’t a babysitter.)

Chew on that for a while. I’ll be back with more, hopefully tomorrow.

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Can anyone tell me how we got from August 1st to August 24th in like… three days? I know that the older you get, the faster time seems to fly by, but… jeez, I’m not that old!

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The BrandBuilder finds itself in good company once again (BrandXpress, Brand Infection, Brand Autopsy, SNDB, Own Your Brand, Corante, Seth Godin, and a dozen more), thanks to Larry Munn, over at the new Canadian Trademark Blog. Per Larry:


“One of the trends that we intend to track is how trade-marks fit within the brand development process. To that end, we’ve created the list below to help explore the branding blogosphere.”

For the complete list, click here.

Welcome to the conversation, Larry. You guys are already off to a great start. :)

Post Update: Thanks to BlogBridge for including the BrandBuilder blog in their short list of expert Marketing blogs, and to Mike Sansone, over at ConverStations, for also including me in his Blue Ribbon Finale list of top Branding Blogs.

Boy, it’s good to be popular! :)

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“Do not let ambition overshadow small success.”
Your lucky numbers today are 7, 15, 40, 38, 46, and 58.

Thanks for your feedback yesterday. If the BrandBuilder blog ends up moving to a new home (WordPress) this fall, I will make it as painless as possible for everyone… but definitely worth your while. ;)

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Blogger has been the BrandBuilder‘s home for just over a year now… but the grass does look much, much greener over there in WordPress’s yard.

Hmmm… What to do…

… What to do…

On the one hand, leaving Blogger will obliterate my pretty sweet Technorati ranking (holding steady just inside the top 15,000 out of 40 million blogs), and might also slow down my goal of pushing the other Olivier Blanchard off his top Google ranking.

Not to mention that a year’s worth of links and trackbacks will essentially evaporate into thin air.

*poof!*

Just like that.

It’s enough to keep me up at night (and not in a good way).

On the other hand, The BrandBuilder will be sooooooo much better in so many ways as a WordPress blog.

Arghhhh… The agony of it.

What to do… what to do…

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Continuing the discussion over at Corante (Tom Asacker‘s Ten Truths – The countdown), here are my favorite little tidbits of wisdom from the last 24 hours:

“A brand is not a logo, and branding is not a communication strategy. A strong brand is a strong bond, and branding is your business.”

“To those with a dated, mass-market mentality, branding is still all about image and awareness. It’s about tag lines, logos, cute little animal mascots or clever jingles. It’s about spending megabucks on Super Bowl commercials, hiring celebrities to sing your corporate praises, and covering cars with advertising banners. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that awareness is unimportant. (…) But, does well-known equal strong? Not any longer. The rise of the global economy, the rapid adoption of the Internet, and unprecedented access to capital, have all ignited commercial innovation, and put an end to those days forever. Today, like just about everything else, brand logic has been turned on its head.”

“And please, don’t get hung-up on the word brand. Today, the word brand is shorthand for the gut feeling people have about something, some group, or someone. It’s a kind of Platonic Ideal, which stands for the essence of a business, school, organization, person, or even place. If you add up the tangible and intangible qualities of something – the gestalt – and wish to represent the meaning and distinctive character this greater whole conveys to its audience, today we call it . . . brand.”

“Think of your brand as a “file folder” in your audiences’ minds (not a perfect metaphor, since memory is malleable, but stick with me anyway.). When they’re exposed to you (e.g., through advertising, design, a salesperson, word-of-mouth, etc.), a feeling is immediately filed away in that “brand file folder.” As time passes, much of what your audience has filed away – the details – will become inaccessible. However, they will remember where they stored the folder: in the front (positive feelings) or pushed to the back (negative feelings). Given the sheer volume of brands trying to find a place in your audiences’ overloaded “brand file cabinets,” you must not only get their attention and be relevant (a file folder labeled with your brand name), but you must also get it placed in the front of their file cabinet (elicit strong, positive feelings of intense personal significance).

“(…) Despite what the Madison Avenue folks may tell you, the strength of your brand lies not in the fact that you own a folder with your name prominently displayed on it. Repetition does not create memories, relevance does. The strength lies in your folder’s position in your audience’s file cabinet (the emotions that linger in their memory). The strength lies in the bond! So make your brand about feeling, not just familiarity. Make it about shared values and trust. About honesty, vulnerability and presence. A brand is not simply a promise. How can it be, with everything changing at breakneck speed? A brand is a living, breathing relationship. Revel in the messy world of emotions and create a brand that’s about leadership and differentiation; about customer insight and radical innovation; and about clarity of purpose, passion and a sense of humor.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Continuing the discussion going on over at Corante all week: Tom Asacker’s Ten Truths. For the full thing, go here. For my favorite parts, however…

“People today are incredulous of marketing, institutions and the media. The only way to suspend disbelief, cut through skepticism and create trust is to act as a real human being and get to the truth. As the sages say: “Words that come from the heart can enter the heart.”

“What the business world needs now is a return to the idea of amateur spirit. Now, it’s probably not the amateur spirit as you may think of it. The definition of amateur has evolved for the worse over the past few hundred years, coming to represent a dabbler or incompetent. The original spirit of amateur was a positive, noble tag to apply to someone (the Latin root for amateur is “amator,” lover). An amateur pursuit was one you did for love, with a spirit of passion and authenticity. And it certainly didn’t imply a lack of skill. Thomas Jefferson was an amateur writer and philosopher when he drafted the Declaration of Independence.

“Organizations – actually the people in them – must recapture this amateur spirit. Not because it is morally right, but because it’s the only way to succeed in a world stunned by scandals and greed-is-good ideology. Ask yourself these simple questions: Do you want customers and employees to come to you first – and stay with you? Do you want them to recommend you to their friends and associates? Then you have to get them to do what? Trust you. And how do you go about doing that in a post-Enron economy? Certainly not by saying, “Trust me.” That kind of talk immediately causes people to put up their defenses. Instead, you must get them to believe! Success today all boils down to belief. “Who should I believe? Who can I believe?” These are the critical questions. You must be believed to have any chance of success.”

“Within the first few seconds of meeting you or being exposed to your communications, your audience will form an impression that is easily reinforced and unlikely to change. They’ll observe your mannerisms, voice, choice of words, etc. and judge whether you are worth listening to. To cut through their innate disbelief – and very short attention span -simply push past your comfort level and be authentic! Amazingly, that’s all there is to it. Simply take off your mask – your title, your expertise, your bureaucratic language and technical jargon – and connect with them with honest, simple, and engaging language. Be on the level. Be moved to candor. Tell them what you believe and what you think. Speak the unspoken.

“Listen to your innocent, inner voice. Be childlike. Speak in a language that is natural, open, and honest. Get rid of all of the hype and toss in a dash of self-deprecating humor. State what you feel in a candid and caring, yet unapologetic way. And never – never – hide anything. People will then believe that you are being straight with them (warts and all), and as a result, you’ll be worthy of their trust.”

“Daniel Boorstin wrote: “The amateur is not afraid to do something for the first time.” And that’s the measure of great artists, great lovers, and great entrepreneurs (not to mention children). To say, “I don’t know.” To ask the hard question that is on your mind (in a soft way). To take risks. To be bold. To state what you are feeling, openly. To admit your weaknesses. To adopt this amateur spirit takes courage and demonstrates your love for – and connects you on an emotional level with – your audience. They’ll believe you. It will demonstrate your trust in them, and your desire to eliminate their fears and their concerns. And it will inspire them and engender trust because it rings true.”

And this:

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. And it doesn’t take a genius to tell the difference between someone who listens in order to get something, and someone who listens because she cares.”

Pow. Wiz. Bang. Etc.

Come back tomorrow for more of Tom’s brilliant brand of wisdom.

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Over on the Corante marketing hub, we’re taking a closer look at Tom Asacker’s “Ten Truths” this week. In going over Tom’s posts, I was so inspired by what I read that I wanted to allow some of his wisdom bleed over a bit on the BrandBuilder.

I’m going to resist the urge to cut and paste his entire post here…

…nggggnn…

…arrrggghhh…

… but it won’t be… easy.

Here are some of my favorite bits of wisdom from his tenth truth – Truth Ten: From Rah Rah! to Ah Ha! (Enjoy.)

“To flourish in a rapidly changing world you need the ah-ha’s! and not simply the rah-rah’s! Success is a by-product of childlike inquisitiveness and rapid experimentation. And it comes from a culture of curiosity and caring, not from a head down, plow ahead mentality.”

“When they asked Wayne Gretsky, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, what made him more successful than other players, he replied, Most players tend to play where the puck is, whereas I play where the puck is going to be. Or as the professional trend-spotter may explain, Gretsky smartly followed the “drift” or “general course” of the puck. Now, to anyone who has played a game in which hitting or catching a moving object is essential, Gretsky’s insight is absurdly obvious. And to anyone who has developed a successful business from the ground floor up, so is trend-spotting customer behavior (regardless of the fact that major corporations spend a ton of money to frequently have it done for them). Because the truth about trends – and staying ahead – is that it has nothing to do with the future. It’s about being intimately involved with your audience today! Being part of the dynamics of change now!”

“Sam Walton used to say, Whenever you get confused, go to the store. The customer has all the answers. A profound, yet often ignored, truth. Because it’s your audience’s attitudes today that are the best indication of their actions tomorrow. It’s their feelings that are the promised land of the ah-ha’s! – those breakthrough ideas that will lift your brand from the shallows of mediocrity into the full and exciting sea of possibilities.”

“Therein lies the paradox of branding: To stay relevant, your brand must constantly reinvent itself. Your audience will continue to grow and adjust – building on their life experiences – and you must change with them. You have to continuously appeal to their changing predilections with the appearance and experience of your brand. It’s an endless game of seduction. It requires vision, belief in collaborative innovation, and a passion for experimentation. Instead, what do we typically get? Routine tasks and a whole bunch of rah-rah, say-nothings (especially towards the end of the accounting period).”

“(…) We want a higher sense of purpose. We want to be uplifted by a worthy ideal. We want to contribute, to be treated with respect, and to be recognized for our contributions. We want meaning. We want to make a difference. But here’s the rub (the biggest issue in our organizations today): we’re disorganized. There is no unifying perspective that inspires us and guides our actions. We’re not clear about our direction, so we end up running around following our own self-serving agendas. There are no fresh perspectives, since our culture stifles creativity and candid discussions. And, in turn, this disorganization leads to passionless team members, uninspired customers, shrinking margins, layoffs, accounting scandals, Dilbertesque cynicism and a vicious – and totally avoidable – downward spiral.”

“Here’s your way out: Your brand! Understand and embrace your uniqueness, that simple, yet powerful emotional idea that distinguishes you and motivates clients. And then use your brand to inspire confidence and risk taking. Use your brand to attract attention. Use your brand to convey order and focus, and to achieve clarity, coherence, and commitment from everyone. Use your brand to instill a sense of belonging among your customers and associates. Use your brand to inspire sharing, open-mindedness and teamwork. Use your brand to bring creativity to life in the form of new and exciting products and services. Use your brand to prevent panic from creeping in during dufficult times, and to prevent arrogance from settling in during the good ones.”

“(…) Disturb the comfortable. Comfort the disturbed. Never let your brand become bland. Surprise people! You’re not in the “make stuff” and “do stuff” business. You’re in the life improvement business. So use your brand to heal the psychologically wounded, and to bring some excitement to the complacent and uninspired. Remember: Feelings are the only value proposition left in our developed economy. So rediscover your unbridled imagination and idealistic hopes and tap into that proposition and create new and preemptive benefits. Shatter what conventional wisdom tells you that your audience needs. Try wild ideas. Go for the extremes. Stay passionate!”

Lastly:

“The business world is like an old dog guarding a meatless bone. It chews on grand concepts like “customer-centric” and “employee-empowerment” and remains hungry. The simple solution is to get back to the basics. Be passionate about your story. Be obsessed with the details. Experience the real world of your audience. And make a difference in people’s lives. William James wrote: I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or the capillary oozing water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride. The time has come for a brand new world. The time to act is now!”

There’s a reason why Tom’s blog is one of my favorites among favorites.

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When it comes to website designs, there’s a fine line between too basic, and too heavy. (Flash, like every other type of spice, is best when used in moderation: If I have to wait for a little flash ap to load, I’ve already moved on to your competitor’s site.) The MGM Grand’s website though, is one of those rare exceptions to the rule.

Log on to their welcome page, and what you get is a nicely produced one-page design with just the right amount of information and tools. You get a good feel for what the MGM Grand is about and what it has to offer, you can book your rooms, take a tour, etc. So far so good: The perfect blend of simplicity, utility and style.

But if you click on the little link on the right hand side of the page – “Enter Maximum Vegas” – the site literally comes alive, so strap yourself in. The concept is brilliant, the immersive storytelling beautifully produced and executed, and I have to admit that it kind of blew me away. (And for about 45 seconds, I really thought I was a millionaire supermodel.)

I really don’t want to knock anything about this website, because it is one of the best I have run into yet, but I have to throw in my two cents.

Yep, I’m a party-pooper.

As much as I love the Maximum Vegas experience, it’s a little too heavy on the fantasy side to be effective: Pristine, deserted pools, gorgeous happy people in perfect designer clothes, no crowds anywhere, super hip suites… I don’t know. It’s gorgeous, it’s cool, it’s prettyto look at, but while the point is to pluck you from your chair and immerse you in the excitement of the MGM Grand experience, it fails to do so because it sells an obviously impossible fantasy instead of something even remotely genuine or authentic.

Maybe a more diverse selection of models and actors might have helped a bit. Maybe a few more people in the background here and there might have made the experience seem a little more plausible. A few subtle changes could have helped bridge the gap between this insanely posh fantasy and any semblance of realistic expectations about my stay (or your stay) at Vegas’ MGM Grand.

I am not saying that selling fantasy is a bad thing, but if you can’t fit a little bit of substance into your flash, you may be able to wow your audience, but you won’t connect with them.

And that’s bad.

You’re supposed to get people excited about your hotel and casino… not just a page on your website.

Great marketing isn’t just about showing off your skills, talent or technical prowess. If you don’t make it all work in the right context, you may be producing very entertaining work, but… you’re not doing what you were paid to do.

Definitely check it out and let me know what you think.

Hat tip to I / M / D .

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Because I am way too busy actually meeting deadlines to post anything of value today – and also because our internet connection has been flirting with 3rd world quality for the last six hours – I give you the first official Fortune-Cookie Friday: All the fortune and none of the calories!

Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend.

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Seth Godin asks yet another astute question on his blog this week: Do you need a boss?

Here’s his answer:

You don’t realize how much you need a boss until you don’t have one. Bosses don’t always do the following, especially when they’re not very good bosses, but here’s what we know about good bosses:

Bosses organize your time for you.
Bosses decide what’s urgent.
Bosses give you cover when you work on something stupid (“she told me to!”)
Bosses pay you even when the client doesn’t honor the invoice.
Bosses can be sued.
Bosses create deadlines, and stick with them.
Bosses make sure you show up in the morning.
Bosses pay for the Postits.
Bosses give you someone to complain about.
Bosses carve up the work and give you just that piece you signed up to do.
Bosses give you a role model. (Sometimes one to work against, but that’s a different story).

The main thing a boss does, though, is give you the momentum you need to get through the stuff that takes perseverance. The main thing that ends the career of a Free Agent is the lack of a hand pushing on the back, someone handing out assignments and waiting for the deliverables. Who keeps you going when you don’t feel like doing it?

If you don’t have a boss, you may need to invent one.

There’s a lot of truth to everything on that list… but I think that free-agents might be better served by handing over a chunk of their responsibilities to a manager, rather than a boss.

The job of a good manager – no, a great manager – is to take care of most of those things for you. They can manage your day-to-day activities, your PR, “brand you”, your career’s direction, your clients… They deal with all of the things that are necessary to keep your business healthy while giving you the freedom to actually do the work that your business is famous for. Actors and musicians have them for a reason. Politicians have them too (they’re called chiefs of staff). Thought leaders and business world superstars (er… consultants) need them as well (and no, executive secretaries and personal assistants aren’t the same thing at all).

These aren’t yes-men. They’re your wiz-bang personal executives. The trusty magicians who make it possible for you to do what you do best by keeping you on track and making sure that the machine that is your professional life performs like the fine-tuned high-performance machine it ought to be.

The other option, if a real life manager isn’t enough, could be to create a virtual boss service that allows independent business folks to create a custom boss online (yes, you get to dress and name them), and then design the kind of relationship you want to have with them. Maybe you decide they need to send you five or six condescending emails every day… or maybe you’d rather have them send you kudos instead. Whatever works for you. (For a small fee, I could even have an actor call you at odd times to request a progress report or remind you to call a client.) The beauty of this kind of service is that your virtual boss could be as abusive or as inspiring as you want to make them. Could be fun… and a sweet tool for those of you who need that little extra push.

Hmmm… Food for thought.

I’m tempted to go on a tangent and discuss the difference between managers and leaders, but I’ll save that for another day. :)

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The BrandBuilder Blog is a year old today!

Wow. A year old. Crazy.

Feel free to sing Chico a little song so he can blow out his first blogger candle.

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On my way home from a photo shoot this afternoon, I noticed a billboard for the Biltmore house. I guess if you haven’t lived in close proximity to this beautiful estate, you probably wouldn’t think it strange to see a giant billboard ad for it in Greenville, SC. After all, little old G-ville is growing by leaps and bounds. Its outskirts get every bit of traffic that links Atlanta to Charlotte. BMW is here. So is Michelin. There is a ton of industry moving here, and with it, tons of people who have yet to discover this architectural and historic marvel.

So a billboard advertisment seems to make a whole lot of sense: All of these new people need to be introduced to Biltmore, and in light of all of the new entertainment that wasn’t available to Greenville residents twenty years ago, people who once visited Biltmore religiously kind of need to be reminded that it’s there.

And there’s the rub. I could be wrong, but Biltmore doesn’t seem to be advertising because it wants to, or because it has something to say or something new to offer. Biltmore seems to be spending advertising dollars because it needs to. Because its wallet share probably isn’t what it used to be. (Let’s face it: Are most families going to spend their $100 day-trip budget on Biltmore, or are they going to head up to Carowinds or Frankie’s Fun Park, or down to Six Flags? It’s a retorical question.)

Biltmore’s ad seems to be saying: “Hey, remember me? Please, please, please come spend your dollars over here again!” If I’m wrong and business is as good as (if not better than) it used to be, then they just need to hire a better agency!

Every day, I see billboard ads for new grocery stores, new restaurants, new movies, radio station shows, the Cartoon Network, new cars, new wireless plans, non-profits, etc. Some of those billboard ads are pretty lousy. Many are pretty cool. Most of them don’t seem desperate. They’re saying “hey, we’re here. We’re already part of your world. Make us a bigger part of it. You won’t regret it.”

That isn’t what Biltmore’s ad seemed to be saying at all.

When I finally left billboard alley behind, it occured to me that there are two types of billboard advertisers: Those who see advertising as a necessary evil (desperate times call for desperate measures), and those for whom advertising is one of many everyday extensions of their brand (establish a relevant, memorable media presence, and maintain it).

The first don’t really like advertising, see it as an unwanted expense, and usually commission forgetable ads which produce very little ROI. The second group, which understands the value of advertising, typically produces effective ads. Think iPod, Absolut, hp, Jaguar, XBox, Sony Playstation, etc.

So… my question to you is this: What kind of advertiser is your company?

Are you growing? Do you have a story to tell? Are you the best in your business?

… or are you hitting a bit of a rough patch?

Perhaps a better question is this: What is your advertising really saying about you?

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Huge thanks to BuzzCanuck for including The BrandBuilder blog in his list of Top 11 Word-of-Mouth blogs:

Church of the Customer
Experience Curve
Creating Passionate Users
The Brand Builder Blog
Emergence Marketing
Marketing Monger
Seth Godin’s Blog
Brand Autopsy
The Viral Garden
Walter Karl’s Word of Mouth Communication Study
Oh yeah, of course Buzz Canuck themselves. (It goes without saying.)

;)
It doesn’t suck to start off the week in such good company.

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Kathy Sierra makes yet another astute point on her blog this week, this time about co-creation. (Thanks to Francois Gossieaux for the heads-up). In her own words, it’s this:

“In this Web 2.0-ish world we’re supposed to be all about the users being in control. Where the community drives the product. But the user community can’t create art. (And I use art with a lowercase a as in software, books, just about anything we might design and craft.) That’s up to us…

“Our users will tell us where the pain is. Our users will drive incremental improvements. But the user community can’t do the revolutionary innovation for us. That’s up to us.”

- Kathy Sierra

There’s an important distinction to be made here between a) giving customers a voice and listening to them, and b) turning their feedback into design solutions. Aside from occasional exception, your customers can only steer you in the right direction. They can’t actually do the work for you.

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Here are some great marketing/branding/business tips from Mike Wagner, over at “Own Your Brand“:

1) Being different is not enough, you must also be relevant.
What makes you stand out and useful at the same time?

2) Scarcity unleashes creativity.
Some business people blame a lack of resources on their failure. Not having money and resources forced me to be resourceful. Creativity is one’s greatest competitive advantage.

3) Customer empathy makes for great products and meaningful sales.
Feeling the pain (and the pleasure) of your customers results in marketplace magic. Your customers should be charging you rent for living inside their heads!

Definitely read the full version (with his very cool waterballoon story) here.

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You don’t need a G5.
You don’t need a superfly loft or studio.
You don’t need to hang out with the artsy crowd.
You don’t need the complete crayola set or Adobe suite.
You don’t even need the gnawed leftover stub of a #2 pencil.

I’ve watched untrained design teams build prototypes for everything from faucets to surgical equipment out of old markers, paper, and scotch tape.

I’ve watched wet fingertips trace revolutionary product and architectural designs on coffee tables.

Creativity has absolutely nothing to do with technology, tools or digs.

Anyone can come up with the next great idea. With the next great design. With the next great discovery.

Anyone. Especially you.

Don’t ever decide not to take part of the creative process because you don’t have “the right background” or “the right tools.” Don’t you dare. The world doesn’t work that way.

Most of the world’s greatest ideas came from way out of left field, from the most unlikely sources.

“Creativity is not device-dependent.” – Bruce Mau.

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