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Archive for October, 2006

Happy Halloween!

It’s amazing what you can do with a couple of cardboard boxe, a sharpie, a box cutter, and just a couple of feet of packing tape.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Photo: Ian Curcio, courtesy of Link Magazine.
Knight: Sir Ben Schowe
Costume Design: Helm and helm styling: F360 Photo+Design. Sword and shield: Ben Schowe

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If you have been reading the BrandBuilder blog for any amount of time, you know that I am a big fan of word-of-mouth (WOM) initiatives when it comes to helping a product or brand flourish. (Who are you more likely to believe when it comes to making a purchasing decision: An advertisement, or a recommendation from someone you know and trust? Duh.) By default, I also find myself drawn to word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) initiatives. (I don’t like to call them “campaigns” because the kind of thinking associated with the terminology can get you into hot water, but that’ll have to be a topic for another post.)

Anyway. That’s precisely the rub: Just like The Force, WOMM has a dark side… and for a lot of people whose first encounter with WOMM “campaigns” turns out to be an encouter with shill marketing disguised as WOMM, the very essence of word-of-mouth marketing can be soiled forever.

Not good.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be invited to blog at WOMMA‘s second basic-training conference (WOMBAT 2) in San Francisco. The skinny: Great event, great people, and lots of “I can’t wait to go to the next one.” For details, go check out WOMMA‘s website and dig around a bit.

Unfortunately, I also ran into a few companies who were there to… well, pose as players in the WOMM world without really espousing its precepts of transparency and authenticity. To be fair, they were a very small minority, and their unethical practices will eventually do them in, but there were a few rotten apples in the cart right from the start, and it is worth noting.

The lesson here, or rather, the word of caution is this: WOMM works. WOMM rocks. WOMM works because WOM works, and both are far more effective in a product, brand or company’s success than advertising, promotions, giveaways and cool POP displays… But precisely because it works so well, unscrupulous marketers will try to fake it… and abuse it… and in doing so, will give WOMM a bad name.

It’s easy to get lured by the Dark Side of WOMM. Once you’re there, once you’ve lost your credibility (and your client’s), good luck getting it back. It’s one thing to bend the truth when it comes to advertising (hey, metaphors can be stretched pretty far), but when it comes to something as genuine as WOM, the slightest lie or misrepresentation is simply unacceptable.

And unforgivable.

WOMMA has been aware of this since its inception, and has been working to help companies and marketing professionals stay on the path of WOMM righteousness. Their latest tool is a 20-question ethics gut check that every marketer and business exec should read.

I won’t cut-and-paste the list, but you can browse it here. And don’t forget to also read this, which explains the purpose of the document, and why it concerns you directly.

Now that you’ve read it, copy it and print it.

Once that is done, share it with your staff and your agency of record. Then incorporate it into your marketing and communications procedures.

Before any marketing or sales campaign, review these questions with everyone involved. Not just your project teams, but your agents out in the field (salesmen, buzz agents, and all other human touchpoints).

Trust me on this: WOMM can’t be soiled by even a sliver of underhandedness. In order to be effective and ethical, it must be 100% transparent and genuine. Period. End of story. So do yourself a huge favor and use the list as a tool. I mean really use it. It’s there. It’s free. There is absolutely no reason in the world not to.

From this point on, if you engage in unethical practices when it comes to WOMM initiatives, you won’t be able to defend your decison, or hide behind excuses like “we didn’t know.”

And some of us will make a point of exposing you.

Choose to be one of the good guys. There’s just no upside to being a shill marketer anymore (as if there ever was…). Whether you join WOMMA or not is your choice, but you owe it to yourself to understand the stakes and make a choice for yourself, your client, and your company: Do you wnat to be one of the good guys? Do you want to become a market leader and write your own success stories in the world of WOMM? Or would you rather be singled out as one of the black hats who give our industry a bad name… and end up hurting their clients instead of helping them?

The choice is yours.

Disclosure: Though I blogged the WOMBAT2 conference for WOMMA, I am not associated with or remunerated by WOMMA in any way. I am just a fan, student, and practitioner of genuine, ethical WOMM.

And to Andy Sernovitz (WOMMA’s President and fearless leader), thanks for sending me an advance copy of his book “Word Of Mouth Marketing” earlier this month. The bag of popcorn that came with it was delicious.

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Either commit or stay home.


Commit. Give it everything. Your project. Your job. Your relationship. Your race. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well… and if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing exceptionally well.

Yeah, it might hurt and it might require a certain measure of sacrifice. Time. Pride. Fun. Sweat. Sleep. But that’s a choice you make.

The choice is to either commit, or… not.

And if you aren’t willing and ready to commit, you might as well save yourself and your cient the trouble and… stay home. Be honest with yourself and those around you. If your heart isn’t really in it, if you aren’t willing to hit the ball or turn the cranks like the pro you are, then maybe you ought to sit this one out.

Committing to something isn’t just about hard work, but also smarts, guts, and willpower. It’s about throwing yourself into the game body, mind, sould and all. Even if it’s for two hours a day, or five minutes every hour, that’s what it takes to do something exceptionally well. If you aren’t motivated to give it your all, then do yourself a favor and work on something else. Seriously. Turn it down. Delegate. Wait until your head gets clear and you can put your heart into it.

If you can’t turn it down, if your boss or client forces you to work on something you would rather not spend any time on, then take a breather. Go clear your head. Find that one thing in the project or task that you know you can throw yourself at wholeheartedly, and focus on that.

Don’t ever, ever, ever do anything half-assed. Ever.

Unless you like looking back on a completed project or campaign or achievement and wishing you had given it a little bit more effort. A little bit more heart. A little bit more juice.

Commitment is fun and painful and hard all at the same time… But that’s the way it should be.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy to come by.

So make every word count. Every stroke of the mouse. Every release of the shutter. Every turn of the cranks. Every interaction with a customer. Every design feature. Every promotional coupon. Every TV spot. Every meeting. Every element of your web page design. Every media purchase. Every minute. Every second. Every breath.

It all adds up in the end.

It all pays off.

As long as you give it your all.

Have a great Friday, everyone.

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Crayon Launches Today


Joseph Jaffe. Neville Hobson. Shel Holtz. CC Chapman. Need I say more?

If you haven’t heard about this yet, go here and find out what’s up.

This could be the start of something very cool.

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I found this on Seth Godin’s blog today and couldn’t resist putting it in front of a few hundred more pairs of eyes:

Five Common Cliches (done wrong):

The early adapters will use it.
Actually, they’re adopters, not adapters. The mistake in wording represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how most markets work. People don’t adapt to what you make, they adopt it. They can’t be forced to adapt, so they won’t.

Half my advertising works, I just don’t know which half.
Actually, it’s closer to 1% of your advertising that works, at the most. Your billboard reaches 100,000 people and if you’re lucky, it gets you a hundred customers…

Let’s do a focus group, they’ll decide.
A focus group is supposed to focus you, not them. It’s supposed to lay out ideas and issues that mean little to the group and plenty to you. If you’re not prepared to focus, better to not go.

That’s a wacky idea.
Actually, doing what you’re doing now is wacky. Because what you’re doing now is certain to become obsolete, possibly sooner rather than later. Just ask my old boss!

We need a bigger marketing department.
Probably, you need everyone in the organization to do the marketing… from scratch. More brochures aren’t the answer.

Bingo.

photo: Ian Curcio, courtesy of Link Magazine.
model: Rusty Hutchison (Yes, from Team MudPuppies) wearing a sporty and health-conscious Hostess DingDongs costume.

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Being involved in endurance sports teaches you a lot about human behavior. For one, you tend to learn a lot about yourself, especially at mile 22 of a Marathon, or ten hours into an Ironman triathlon, or when the wind chill hits the single digits, it’s three in the morning, you haven’t slept in thirty-two hours, and your navigator has absolutely no idea where you are.

These types of situations also teach you a lot about other people.

It’s one thing to be pleasant, polite and considerate when things are going well. However, when you’re exhausted, hungry, parched, and/or in pain, playing well with others becomes a little bit of a challenge.

And for some people, it becomes completely impossible.

I was just reminded of this last Saturday morning, when I found myself in the middle of Greenville’s Marine Corps Mud Run surrounded by the other members of Team MudPuppies (Randy Hutchison, Amy Carter, and Rusty Hutchison – Team #25). Yes, that’s us up there. The fierce looking bunch with the black shirts.

Let me just say that team MudPuppies was outstanding. From start to finish, everyone had grins on their faces. We had a blast. Crawling through mud, wading through creeks, climbing walls, jumping off obstacles, swinging from ropes, running up slippery hills, we worked as a team. We clicked. We raced for one another… And we finished together.

Before The Mud. (Ignorance is bliss.)


Many of the other teams, some composed of fitter, perhaps more focused athletes, didn’t fare so well. Although this was only a four-mile course (hardly long enough to work up a good sweat), tempers flared. Teammates were left behind. Teammates were yelled at. The athletes who surged ahead of their slower teammates lost their tempers when they had to wait for them to catch up. They resented having to help them.

Ego.


Interestingly enough, the teams that didn’t get along, the ones that didn’t click, the ones whose “leaders” acted like imaptient jerks… didn’t do so well. As soon as negativity poisoned team dynamics, the teams fell apart. Motivation evaporated and died. The performance of individual athletes suffered.

Instead of picking up the slack where they could (and should), they surged ahead and blamed their slower teammates when things didn’t go well. Instead of encouraging them, they yelled at them. Those teams all crashed and burned. It didn’t matter that they were composed of the fittest athletes in the race. It didn’t matter that they had the most experience with this type of race. They crashed and burned because over the course of just four miles, they simply weren’t capable of working together.

We passed quite a few teams on the course, and the ones that were not working together took twice as long to negotiate obstacles as the ones whose members clicked.

Mud pits have a tendency to make you commit.

We all have to work in teams these days. Whether you’re a product specialist in a retail environment, a product manager in a corporate environment or a Marketing professional working with creatives, buyers, clients and copywriters, we all have to get along. We all have to find a way not only to play nice, but to help each other accomplish the task at hand. Witnessing first-hand the difference between teams that work together and teams that don’t or can’t or won’t – in an environment as devoid of artifice as a muddy trail on a cold fall morning – was a pretty good eye-opener.

Based on what I saw during the mud run, here are my new rules of effective teamwork:

1. Agree on a goal.
No, really. Agree on the goal. Don’t just nod in agreement with the boss. Come to an agreement as a team. (It shouldn’t be difficult, but it can be.)*

* If coming to an agreement when it comes to setting a team goal is too difficult, you may need to re-examine your team’s roster. Someone there just doesn’t know how to play well with others.

2. Your role isn’t just to do your part. It is mostly to help others do theirs.
If someone is having trouble with their portion of a project, help them. Pick up the slack as a team.

3. Out on an endurance course, a team is only as fast as its slowest member. In the corporate world, the same is true. Deal with it.
Pick your teammates well, and once they’re on your team, don’t outpace them. Don’t surge ahead. Don’t drop them and leave them to fend for themselves. Slow down the pace. There’s no sense in speeding up ahead when one of your teammates is lagging behind. Stay with them. Support them. Remember: You’re working with a team. It isn’t the “you” show. If the team doesn’t stick together, if it doesn’t work together, it isn’t a team. It’s a clusterf–k.

4. Don’t complain if something isn’t going well.
Don’t blame anyone. Just regroup, find out where the trouble is, and work out the problem together. All problems and obstacles are learning opportunities, so look at problems as opportunities rather than something negative. Embrace problems. (And plan for them in advance,or your project schedules will be torn to shreds pretty quickly.)

5. Have fun.
Smile. Laugh. Enjoy yourself. Make sure the rest of the team is having fun too. Sometimes, you have to get down to business and work hard, but every hard effort should be followed by some degree of enjoyment. This could be celebrating a milestone or having successfully negotiated an obstacle. It could be the completion of a portion of the project, or the start of a new phase. It could be a brainstorming session or a presentation. The point is: Make it fun, and keep it fun. If you aren’t having fun working on a project or working together, the quality of the work you put out will suffer.

5. There are no bad teams. Only bad leaders.
And in a team context, everyone has to be a leader from time to time. The balance of power shifts from one phase or one portion of a project to the next. When it’s your turn to lead or help or pick up the slack, do it. Don’t wait for others to step in. Volunteer. (And remember #5. This shouldn’t be a drag.)

6. If you want to look good, forget about yourself and make your teammates look good.

7. Make sure everyone on your team lives and breathes Rule #6.

8. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
It doesn’t matter that you’re the accountant on the team. If your group is developing a new product, go hang out in the lab with the designers and quality engineers, and help them test the prototypes. Go out and do research. Broaden your horizons. Get involved with every facet of the project, not just your own.

9. Don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face.
That’s the beauty of being part of a great team. If you fall, your teammates will help you back up and get you going again. It’s okay to stumble when other people are there to pick you up… and maybe carry you a little while you recover. Enjoy it. Return the favor from time to time. Earn good karma points while you’re at it.

10. Be nice to other teams.
Spread your team’s positive attitude and success. Share what you’ve learned. Infect other project teams and departments with enthusiasm. Lead the way. Be an example. Spread the love. Encourage others. Energize your workplace. Invite others to participate in your team’s success and celebrate its milestones with you.

There’s no shame in being carried by a teammate from time to time.

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I’ve been a film fanatic ever since my parents took me to see the first Star Wars movie (now known simply as Episode IV). Since I’ve also been a big advertising fan since… well, since I was old enough to watch TV, it stands to reason that movie trailers (the advertising of movies) kind of rank pretty high on my list of attention-grabbers.

Let me say this again: I love movie trailers. Always have. Always will.

But here’s the rub: Most trailers these days aren’t any good. They used to be. There used to be a certain degree of savoir-faire when it came to cutting movie trailers. They were exciting. They made you want to see more. They made your mouth water.

Not so anymore.

Most trailers now seem to be disjointed and pointless. The rule of the day seems to be “okay, let’s throw as much crap as we can into that twenty-second spot as we possibly can. Priority 1: Explosions. Priority 2: The funniest line in the movie. Oh… and let’s add 20 extra seconds of useless footage at the end just to explain the entire plot of the movie to the portion of the audience who isn’t savvy enough to want to see the movie without having it explained A-Z upfront.”

Yawn.

To be fair, note that I said “most” not “all.” Some trailers are great. The Chronicles of Narnia had one of the most tantalizing theatrical trailers I’ve ever seen, and it’s barely a year old. But it stands out as being one of the very few great movie ads of the past decade.

So before I go on, let me throw a little note to the powers that be in Hollywood: Please, please, please, stop putting out lousy trailers. Please!!! Aside from the fact that bad trailers don’t entice people to go see the movies they advertise (no, really, think about it), those of us who look forward to them are getting tired of having our expectations shattered by remedial, poorly cut junk.

How hard is it to put together an exciting 30-60 second spot with 90+ minutes of footage? If my neighbor’s kid can do it for free on his PC and post it to YouTube, surely, a highly paid studio editor can do a half-decent job. Right?

But enough about that. Read the fascinating (and quick) post on Tom Asacker’s blog about advertising’s effect on expectations rather than simply sales. (It deals with movie trailers.) Here’s a sliver:

“Instead of examining the effect of advertising on sales, we examine how advertising affects the updating of market-wide sales expectations. The focus on expectations creates a valuable advantage. Our measure of expectations, which is derived from a stock market simulation, is an accurate predictor of sales.”

Confused? No worries. Click here to read the whole post.

Have a great Monday. :)

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I was watching a TV show on SEAL/BUDS training this weekend, and caught a fantastic little lesson in management and leadership from one of the demolition instructors who berrated his students when their ordinance detonated several minutes ahead of schedule.

What the trainees did wrong was simple: They didn’t do what they were asked to do, which was to run a test fuse, just to make absolutely sure the delay would be adequate. They tried to save time, and assumed their calculations were right. They were wrong.

The instructor sent them to “camp stupid,”which basically meant they would be spending a week’s worth of very cold nights sleeping on the beach. Not a big deal, but the point was well made.

What he explained to them was what struck me. He said:

“This is how we create micromanagers. By doing stuff like this. How are you going to get officers to trust you to do your jobs on your own if you can’t even follow simple instructions? If there’s something I hate, it’s micromanagers, but this is how we create them.”

I had never heard it put that way, but it made perfect sense.

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I found this brown paper bag of marketing genius in my mailbox’s bulk/junk bin today (yes, sometimes, I like to read spam just for kicks,) and thought I should share it with you.

Before I introduce you to it, I am going to go out on a limb here… and say that this may very well be the most compelling promotional sales piece ever written. It projects the company’s professional image with so much gusto that upon reading the first few lines, I was instantly compelled to invest large sums of cash into its stock.

FYI: I changed the company’s symbol to ABCD to protect their integrity, but everything else is cut-and-pasted in all of its glory.

Read that message attentively. Here you will find the internal news about ABCD. Please check this news. This information will be published on October 16. It is your chance to buy ABCD for the well price. ABCD going to rock the market and break it. GO ABCD NOW!!!

Recomendation: Read to the end and think after.

(The actual press release went here.)

P.S We will promote that st0ck till the end of the year and the price probability go up. People will buy it and they will earn big cash. Don’t miss that and buy it now cause the price is low. After the 16 October the price will grow up to 1000%. Take it now!

Brilliant.

It doesn’t matter how great your company is, or how cool its products and services are: If you hand over the Marketing keys to hacks or fall asleep at the wheel… whatever you have to offer will all be for nothing.

Attention to detail is exactly that. A company that doesn’t pay attention to something as important as the way it presents itself or communicates with its customers is not worthy of anyone’s business. Period.

I know that spam is spam… but even spam should have some sort of minimum standards for… I don’t know… grammar. Content. Something. The most obvious question is: Couldn’t this company have spent a couple of bucks on an english-speaking copywriter? Didn’t they think it might be just a tad-bit important? There are thousands of American college students out there who would gladly write this kind of copy with relatively good grammar for little more than a good recommendation.

Wow.

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Away from my desk…


Sorry if the posting has been light these past few days. I’ve been crazy-busy with a few projects and shooting outstanding photos of the Greenville Cycling Classic races this weekend. Postings should resume in a day or two.

Thanks for your patience. ;)

photo copyright 2006 olivier blanchard/f360 photo+design

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“One thing I’d like to make clear is that I’m not anti-MBA. Far from it. I value my management education a great deal, and believe that an MBA provides individuals with very useful set of analytical tools, as well as the ability to thin-slice most business situations. However, I do think that the typical MBA program is mostly focused on becoming a master of business-as-usual, which is a critical body of knowledge when it comes to running a profitable organization. One way (and the best way, I believe) to learn how to engage in innovative behavior is to become a master of business-by-design, and that’s what we’re doing in our Business + Design classes at the Stanford d.school. Organizations need to know how to do both. And those organizations need doers and innovators who can bridge the worlds of business-as-usual and business-by-design.”

Diego Rodriguez (Metacool)

Read the entire piece here. Great stuff on the difference between “business thinking” and “design thinking.”

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Okay, here’s your mission for today:

1) Go here. No wait!!! Not yet. Hold on.

2) When you get there, read all of the posts that are up for the “Post of the month” award.

3) Vote for your favorite. (Just make sure it’s “Playing It Safe – Part 2.”)

Okay, now go here and exercise your right to have your opinion be heard.

Free cookies to everyone who votes for my post. (You’ll have to come to Greenville to pick them up though.)

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Kathy Sierra strikes (and scores) again with this post on many companies’ dysfunctional hiring and employee management habits. The above illustration (ripped from her post) pretty much say it all, but here’s more:

In an earlier post I said, “If you asked the head of a company which employee they’d prefer: the perfect team player who doesn’t rock the boat or the one who is brave enough to stand up and fight for something rather than accept the watered-down group think that maintains the status quo (or makes things worse), who would they SAY they’d choose? Who would they REALLY choose?

In his book Re-imagine”, Tom Peters says, “We will win this battle… and the larger war… only when our talent pool is both deep and broad. Only when our organizations are chock-a-block with obstreperous people who are determined to bend the rules at every turn…”

So yes, I’m thinking Mr. CEO of Very Large Company would say that their company should take the upstart whatever-it-takes person over the ever-compromising team player. “If that person shakes us up, gets us to rethink, creates a little tension, well that’s a Good Thing”, the CEO says. riiiiiiiiiight. While I believe most CEOs do think this way, wow, that attitude reverses itself quite dramatically the futher you reach down the org chart. There’s a canyon-sized gap between what company heads say they want (brave, bold, innovative) and what their own middle management seems to prefer (yes-men, worker bees, team players). “

The clip and paste thing isn’t me being lazy. It’s just that Kathy obviously doesn’t really need to be paraphrased.

That being said, here’s more clicking and pasting:

I’m not done with my horse-training-as-universal-metaphor phase, so here’s another thing I learned from the Parelli Natural Horsemanship conference:

“Too many people fall into the my robot is better than your robot trap… and knock the exuberance out of their horse. What you’re left with is a well-trained robot, not a curious, playful, mentally and emotionally balanced living creature.”

“Hmmmm”, I thought, “that sounds an awful lot like some of the companies I’ve worked for.” Not that you’d ever in a million years get them to admit that. Possibly not even to themselves. But the proof is in their practices. Of course some argue that exuberance on the job is not necessarily a good thing. That too much passion leads to problems. I say BS on that one. Real passion means you love the profession, the craft, the domain you’re in. And that may or may not happen to coincide with a passion for your current employer. When some folks talk about too much passion for a job, they’re usually referring to something a little less healthy… the thing that lets your employer take advantage of you, having you work round the clock because of their bad scheduling, or because they refuse to say “no” to clients, or because you have a manager that wants to look good to his manager… and you’re the lucky one chosen to be the “hero.”

If you knock out exuberance, you knock out curiosity, and curiosity is the single most important attribute in a world that requires continuous learning and unlearning just to keep up. If we knock out their exuberance, we’ve also killed their desire to learn, grow, adapt, innovate, and care. So why do we do it?

Why Robots Are the Best Employees:

1) They don’t challenge the status quo

2) They don’t ask those uncomfortable questions

3) They’re 100% obedient

4) They don’t need “personal” days.

5)… because they don’t have a personal life

6) They never make the boss look bad (e.g. stupid, incompetent, clueless, etc.)

7) They dress and talk the way you want them to

8) They have no strongly-held opinions

9) They have no passion, so they have nothing to “fight” for

10) They are always willing to do whatever it takes (insane hours, etc.)

11) They are the ultimate team players

12) They don’t complain when you micromanage (tip: micromanaging is in fact one of the best ways to create a robot)

13) They don’t care what their workspace is like, and don’t complain if they don’t have the equipment they need

14) They’ll never threaten your job

15) They make perfect scapegoats

16) They get on well with zombies

Image shamelessly stolen from Kathy’s post.

What does any of this have to do with branding? Everything: At the core of every successful brand are people. Happy people create happy brands. Unhappy people create unhappy brands.
If you think that sounds ridiculous, think of it this way: What company do you think will fare better? Company A, where employees are engaged, empowered, passionate and inspired to do great work, interact with their customers and create a positive culture, or Company B, where employees are unfulfilled, afraid to speak up, stressed, scarcely rewarded and micromanaged?

Duh.

Happy employees create happy customers. Unhappy employees create unhappy customers. It’s just science. The question is, what kind of company are you managing?

And if your company is more like company B than company A, when did things go wrong? Why did things go wrong? What are you doing about it?

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Death By Innovation?

Informative little piece at Brand Central Station last week on innovation.

According to Mike Bawden (BCS), more than 80% of the companies surveyed by Brand Central Station said their businesses were more innovative than they were just one year ago.

I’ll just be lazy and pull a little cut & paste again:

“It’s the key to being competitive,” explained Denise Dorman of Write Brain Media in Chicago. Dorman works with a variety of clients located around the country, helping them to spot the innovative and creative, then bringing it to people’s attention.

Her statement was echoed by several others survey participants. “Change can bring success on many fronts,” wrote one manager from a national retail chain. “Merchants, marketing and our stores have the responsibility (for innovation).”

But businesses must be careful to avoid innovation without reason. Product innovation without suitable backing of customer insights can lead to some unpleasant consequences.

Consultant, author and speaker, Reva Nelson puts it this way:

“… what happens with innovation gone wrong, innovation for its own sake?

It forgets its roots, it moves too far away from the main trunk, it tries to disconnect and communication gets shot to hell. There are some consultants, managers and CEO’s who forget about connection and communication, and think innovation is an end to itself. It’s not. All innovation, like all change, must be well-communicated. It needs to take its time, and stay connected to the source.”

This is something I touched on recently on Corante, but far be it from me to try and plug that piece here. Ahem.

So… in I kind of agree with Reva on most points:

1. Innovation for its own sake usually ends up backfiring because it serves no real purpose. Innovation must serve a purpose. It has to fill a need.

2. Innovation is not an end to itself. As a matter of fact, innovation without purpose isn’t innovation. It’s tinkering. Years ago, when I started running competitively, I switched from Nike to Brooks shoes. Brooks makes great shoes, but I got tired of their innovation policy: As soon as I found a pair of shoes that worked for me, that model was obsoleted the following year and replaced by a different shoe. The result: I had to waste 2-3 months each year in a trial-and-error dance just to find another shoe model that worked for me. All I wanted was a shoe that I knew I could race in that wouldn’t contribute to overuse injuries. Brooks wasted my time by constantly changing their line for the sake of having something new to present each year. (They’ve gotten better about this since then… But I’ve switched to Mizuno and never looked back.)

3. Innovation must stay connected to its source. Though Innovation happens at the crossroads of industries and cultures and lifestyles and tends to come from the churning of completely different waters, there is a narrative to all great brands. A history. A sense of continuity, through the brand’s evolution. BMW, Michelin and Apple are perfect examples of companies that constantly ride the evolutionary wave of innovation without ever losing track of who they are. There is a common thread tying all of their products through the years. That’s what you’re after.

What I don’t completely agree with is that innovation must be “well communicated.”

Often, innovation doesn’t need to be communicated all that well. A tiny, almost unreadable fine print section on the back of the package is all you need. Why? Because most of your users don’t really care to get into the details. It’s already understood that a new product (which is usually the result of an upgrade) is going to be much better than previous incarnations. Think about the Playstation 3, for example. How many kids can really recite the specs or tell you precisely why it is better than the PS2? All they really care about is that it is the new version, that gameplay is going to be insanely better than it was on the PS2, and… oh wait, that’s it.

Details are nice, but unless you’re a tech geek (and I say this with complete respect for detail-oriented folks everywhere), you aren’t going to buy you next iPod, Cervelo P3C, iBook, Canon DSLR or Jaguar because their new and improved features were “well communicated”. You are going to buy them because something about their design speaks to you and your needs.

You are going to buy them because you like them.

Or because everyone who uses them can’t stop talking about how much they love them.

Or because the ad was cool, or the packaging was beautiful, or because the pricepoint inspired you to relieve your wallet of a few layers of wrinkled paper.

You could argue that in the best products, the innovation is “well communicated” through the product’s very design (and that is often the case)… but I don’t think that’s what Reva meant.

Innovation translated to marketable features is simply this:

- Bigger. Better. Faster. More fun. Sleeker. Sexier. Smaller. More customizable. More user-friendly. More affordable.

Everything else is just fine print.

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I’m a Canon shooter, but I have to confess that Nikon just scored some style points with me. Basically, what Nikon did was this: 1) They selected some regular photographers whose photos they found on Flickr. 2) They sent them D80 cameras to play with. 3) They are using some of the photos in their ads. (Brilliant!)

Footnote, they could have just paid for advertising banners, but opted for a much smarter.

Joseph Jaffe’s post on Jaffe Juice echoes my sentiment exactly:

* This is CGC (customer generated content) with a purpose. No “do our jobs for us”, but rather “meet us halfway”

* Speaking of which, the agency found a great balance here in terms of working with consumers

* This speaks to all 3 new marketing roles for advertising, namely “to involve”, “to empower” and “to demonstrate”

* It further speaks to the rise of product (or product as brand). In this campaign, the brand experience is all about the product in action and therefore in context.

Awesome idea from the folks at Nikon (who clearly understand their market and took a huge step towards making prosumer DSLR technology accessible to everyone who likes to take pictures). And great comments from JJ, as usual.

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Business Week Online recently published Marissa Meyer’s 9 Notions of Innovation, which is a cool little slideshow depicting some of Google’s guidelines when it comes to… well, fostering innovation within their organization. Each little image is followed by the notion, and a quick one-line commentary. In some cases, I have added my two cents (in orange) – just because… it’s what I do.
Ideas come from everywhere
Google expects everyone to innovate, even the finance team

Yes!

Share everything you can
Every idea, every project, every deadline — it’s all accessible to everyone on the intranet

Again, that’s great, but when you’re dealing with patents and designs that have to remain secret, the intranet isn’t always secure enough. Secure admin-protected project folders accessible only to key users/project contributors are a better option.

You’re brilliant, we’re hiring
Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin approve hires. They favor intelligence over experience

Amen!!!!!

A license to pursue dreams
Employees get a “free” day a week. Half of new launches come from this “20% time”

I’m not sure how this doesn’t get abused, but having flex time devoted to training, brainstorming, applied research and “field trips” is definitely a great idea. You just want to make sure that the free time isn’t being wasted on… well, picking up your dry-cleaning, updating your resume, or hanging out by the water cooler.


Innovation, not instant perfection
Google launches early and often in small beta tests, before releasing new features widely

In the case of companies for whom “beta” tests aren’t relevant or possible, prototype/field testing is essentially the same thing. Test as much as possible. Word to the wise: Test to failure. Look for the flaws. DO NOT test in optimal situations simply to “validate” your design. Testing is about finding out your product’s flaws more than it is about finding out its strengths. Use that time to discover what you missed, what you didn’t know about your product. Better to find out now than when you’ve spent tens of millions of dollars and it’s too late.

Don’t politic, use data
Mayer discourages the use of “I like” in meetings, pushing staffers to use metrics

It was bound to happen: I disagree with this one. (It may apply to Google, but it doesn’t always work for other companies.) Data can be completely meaningless. It can be corrupted. It can be misinterpreted. Heck, it can be manufactured. (It’s happened at one of the companies where I once worked. Not good.)

Gathering the right type of data in the right way can produce wonderful depths of insight that can help guide a decision, but data alone should never drive a solution.
More often than not, the “data” that is presented to decision-makers is at best incomplete, and can easily be taken out of context. (Not to mention that data will usually pull designs back to the safe “middle” of the bell curve instead of the edgy remarkableness, where it belongs.)

Leadership isn’t about hiring data monkeys to take a show of hands and hand over the most popular answer to a general question. Leadership is about vision, purpose and instinct.

(So I’m not saying data is worthless, but it isn’t the end-all, be-all either.)

I would encourage comments like “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” (I prefer words like “love” and “hate,” but that’s a whole other story.) As long as you qualify your answer, there’s a place for that kind of feedback. You cannot discourage emotions and tastes when it comes to feedback and project direction. It’s a very bad idea.

Creativity loves restraint
Give people a vision, rules about how to get there, and deadlines

Nope. Nope. 100x nope. Give them the vision, yes, give them deadlines, yes, but throw out the rules. Burn the rules. Tear them into little pieces and mail them to your competitors for Christmas. If you’re lucky, they’ll tape them back together and incorporate them into their innovation process.

Worry about usage and users, not money
Provide something simple to use and easy to love. The money will follow.

Trust me on this: It works every single time.

Don’t kill projects — morph them
There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged


Hey. When life gives you kernels, make pop corn.

Okay… that was lame. Or… not. But every project worth anything is going to contribute something to your company. It could be customer/user feedback. It could be market data. It could be discovering the limitations of a material or of your manufacturing capabilities, or of your design engineering’s ability to problem-solve.

Every project yields lessons that should always be reviewed, shared, and applied. If you get far enough, some of the testing you do on prototypes and new designs can add a tremendous amount of bones to your knowledge bank. Even if the project is nixed, there should always be a mountain of invaluable info and insight associated with it up to that point. Use it.

Without fail, every design project I worked on in my career uncovered insight that helped improve other products that either shared parts or certain technical characteristics. Every project is a learning experience. (If a project isn’t, then you are doing something wrong.)


Thanks to Tim Coote at Bcom for the heads-up.

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“The thing that’s most to be feared is doing the same thing over and over again.” – Paula Scher
I read that in my latest issue of Fast Company today (yes, I’m only now getting to it.)

Here’s more great stuff from Linda Tischler’s FC article:

“Most organizations rely on a system of checks and balances to ensure that (the) design adheres to some particular corporate strategy – that’s the language MBAs understand. Trouble is, (graphic) design is inherently subjective. (…) Without a passionate advocate, a strong initial design may be nibbled away by bureaucrats, each eager to prove his worth with a tweak here and a nip there. (…) The key (is) having a client with both the vision to recognize good work and the power to pull the trigger. It’s what Steve Jobs brings to Apple, or A.G. Lafley to Procter & Gamble.”

If you’ve ever worked on projects that involve new ideas, new designs, or new technologies – essentially departures from the routine “this is what we’ve been doing for twenty years” modes of thinking – you know that Design By Committe always spells the death of design.

And the death of great products.

Hell, design by committee usually spells the death of anything original and worthy of note.

The reality of “committees” is that the wrong people usually make up a good chunk of the roll call. Everyone with their eye on a bigger office and an accronym under their name on their next set of business cards wants a seat at the table. Everyone wants to have a say. Everyone wants to be an authority when the big boss is watching.

Everyone wants to add their two cents.

Don’t get me wrong. Great design can – and often does – come from teamwork and interactions between designers, manufacturing engineers, users, materials specialists, and whomever else has something relevant or inspired to contribute. Inspiration can and should come from as many different and seemingly disconnected places as possible. Dialogue plays a role here. It really does. But some people have the power to give bad ideas credence, and influence changes that will turn great designs into… well, crap.

Or boring.

Same difference.

Want to know how to spot them? It’s easy. They are the ones whose “public” contributions run along the lines of:

“Our customers won’t understand this.”

“But… It doesn’t look like one of our products.”

“Can we make it more like (our competitor’s product)?”

“What if you made the grip look more like (enter lame idea here).”

“Why do we need a new product again?”

“It looks too expensive.”

“Nobody’s ever done this before. There’s no guarantee that this will work.”

Interestingly, these are also the people who NEVER use the product (or don’t really get off on using it) – even though they work for the company that makes it. These are people who haven’t spoken to a customer face-to-face in years. These are people whose “contribution” will pull the design away from the edge, and back to the safe, boring, irrelevant middle.

I want to say that these are also people who have horrible taste in music, movies, clothes, art, humor and food, but there is always the odd exception.

Sometimes, though, a meeting can uncover a sleeper contributor (or champion), right there in your office. Someone whom you didn’t expect would be a great addition to your project team but obviously will be. How do you spot them? By the types of questions they ask (and how they ask them):

“How does it fail?”

“Pretend I’ve never seen or heard aout this. What’s the coolest thing about it?”

“How is this going to change my life?”

“What was the inspiration behind your initial design?”

“How many new patents can we apply for?”

“Can you make the final version even better?”

“Fast forward 3-5 years. What will the next version of this look like?”

“How can we make this stand out even more?”

“What obstacles do we face?”

“What do you need to make this happen?”

Great project teams happen one person at a time. One hire at a time. One conversation at a time. (Sometimes, one beer or cup of coffee at a time.) You meet people who inspire you. Who give you ideas. Who challenge you to explore new directions. Who open your eyes to new angles. Who have the skills or the talent to turn your ideas into an actual product. Who know the ins and outs of your market or audience or users’ lifestyles and tastes and loves. These are the people you want on your project team.

If they don’t already work for you, hire them. If not full time (why wouldn’t you?) then hire them on as consultants for the duration of the project. If you don’t bring them in, you will be at a severe disadvantage. Unless your company is already progressive and pro-innovation, you will end up having to bow to pressures from the Manufacturing VP’s pet infiltrators, or the VP Finance’s Porsche-driving bootlick, or the boss’ girlfriend who just got promoted to Vice-President of Sales and wants to flex her new corporate muscle. They will change little things. They will back you into a corner and use their influence to make you cut this corner and that. They will force you to make compromises. They will infect a perfectly great project with mediocrity and won’t stop until there isn’t an original left in the final design.

Mark my words. This will happen.

(If you don’t believe me, look around you. How many millions of Americans work for companies that design and manufacture stuff? How many truly great products are there? Now, do the math: What percentage of the US workforce actually gets to be a part designing and building great products? Yeah. Scary. And it isn’t for lack of talent.)

When you find yourself having to defend a design or project, just remember this: There is no place for fear in design.

Or Marketing.

Or business.

“The thing that’s most to be feared is doing the same thing over and over again.” – Paula Scher

Design is about evolution. It’s about combining beauty and function. It’s about pushing the needle forward… not making sure it always stays in one place.

In your own studio, it’s easy. In the corporate world, however, it’s about winning daily battles against the lowest common denominator. It’s about having to fight tooth and nail to prevent great work from being picked apart by clueless, data-driven, execs who are more worried about not screwing up than they are about creating something great.

If you want to succeed – and more importantly, if you want your projects to succeed – you need to make sure that you don’t wind up fighting these battles alone.

Surround yourself with great people. Let them be your commandos. Your A-Team. Let them shoulder some of the weight of the fight, and back you up when you go into battle. The more voices sing the praises of innovation in your organization, the more difficult it will be for the pro status-quo crowd’s cluelessness and fear to be heard and get in the way.

Innovation and design are worth fighting for. And I mean really fighting for. The kinds of fight that leave your ears ringing and your mouth tasting like blood. Oh yeah.

Fight for what you believe in. And win. That’s what separates folks like Paula from folks like… well… the ones you’ll never hear about.

Make it happen. Don’t cave. Drive it forward. It’s what you get paid to do.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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Embracing Obstacles

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

Call them cliche, but those sayings about finding the silver lining and making lemonade when life hands you lemons, they aren’t just hot air.

When I was in the French Navy Marines, the unspoken motto, the underlying mission imperative was always “make it work.”

The intelligence is wrong? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

The insertion routes are compromised? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

You got dropped 15 miles off target? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

Nobody ever had to say it. Nobody ever had to bark the order. From day one of training, it was pounded into us:

Make it work.

Make it happen.

Find a way.

If you don’t, people will die.

The first officer I served under, 1st Lieutenant Rannou, had a saying: “There are no problems. Only solutions.”

He was right.

Sometimes, everything just clicks and works perfectly the first time. You don’t have to do a thing. You may as well be on autopilot. From start to finish, your project, your law suit, your surgery, your product launch, your hostage rescue mission, your ad campaign, your theater production, it all goes well. The planets are alligned. The cosmos is on your side. Everything goes so smoothly that you wonder if you aren’t dreaming.

Most of the time, things don’t go your way. The unexpected happens. Gremlins. Ghosts in the machine. Flies in the soup. Whatever. The cosmos has a way of throwing obstacles your way at the most inopportune times.

That’s just a given.

A butterfly beats its wings in Buenos Aires, and a week later, your stamp machines in Taiwan are down for a month.

A health crisis in East Africa forces the cargo ship carrying the first shipment of your brand new product to spend three extra weeks at sea.

Your movie’s star tumbles off a truck and breaks his arm filming a stunt half way into production.

Your new boss is an self-serving imbecile.

Your client – the publisher of a pro-family magazine – just got arrested for a D.U.I., and you’re handling PR for her company.

Or in the case of teammate Jay Hewitt (photo above), you lay your bike down going 30mph at mile 51 of a Half-Ironman distance triathlon.

What do you do?

No… really. What do you do?

Let me take a quick break from the full list of mishaps and just say that – in case you hadn’t guessed – skin + gritty pavement + speed don’t feel great.

Imagine getting thrown out of a car moving at 30mph, wearing nothing but your underwear.

Not fun.

Now imagine brushing yourself off, finishing the ride as fast as you can, switching out the cartridge in your insulin pump, and then completing a very, very fast half marathon.

Why? Because no matter what happens, there’s still a finish line to cross. A reputation to preserve. A project to complete. A movie to finish shooting. A new product to launch. An essential part to manufacture.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a military officer, a product manager, a movie director, a chef, a fashion designer, a newspaper editor or a CMO. This is something you can be absolutely certain of: Though sometimes, everything will click and flow smoothly as if by divine intervention, most of the time, obstacle after obstacle will get between you and your goal.

Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it whatever you want. It’s just life.

And in real life, shit happens.

No matter what you do, something almost always goes wrong.

The more complicated or ambitious your endeavor, the more likely it is that obstacles will find a way to get between you and that finish line. Expect it. Plan for it. Train for it.

Heck, embrace it.

You might as well.

Still, I notice that most people freak out when their plan goes awry. They panic. They lose their cool. They suddenly find themselves feeling lost. They make everything come to a grinding halt while they regroup.

Why?

Poor planning. Lack of training. They didn’t take the time to plan for failure. They didn’t think to come up with contingency plans.

Most of the time though, it just comes down to one simple thing: Lack of experience.

So for those of you who are just getting started in this wonderful world of paychecks and clients and cool, crazy projects, here’s a little bit of advice:

Rule #1: Never expect things to work right the first time. (If they do, great, but judt don’t expect them to.)

Rule #2: Expect everything to take at least twice as long as you know they should.

Rule #3: Expect the unexpected.

Rule #4: When everything is going well, worry. (You probably missed something.)

Rule #5: Find out what doesn’t work before your customers do. (That’s what prototypes are for.)

Rule #6: You learn more from how and why a product fails than how and why it works the way you expect it to. (So push your prototypes to failure as often and in as many different ways as possible.)

Rule #7: “Design By Committee” never works.

Rule #8: Trust your instincts.

Rule #9: Listen to the people who will use your product. Their opinion matters more than anyone else’s.

Rule #10: Have fun.

Back to Jay: Jay has crashed in races before. Jay knows how broken bones feel. Jay knows that even with no skin on his shoulder, he can keep racing. He’s been there. He’s done that. He has already faced and concquered pretty-much every obstacle in the book when it comes to endurance racing. As a result, when problems happen, his resolution time is almost instantaneous.

Experience builds confidence. Experience breeds forethought and insight. Experience takes doubt, uncertainty, and fear out of the equation. Jay knows that if he crashes, he can probably still finish the race. He knows how to fix a flat. He knows how to repair a broken chain. He knows a dozen ways to fix problems on his bike or with his body, and the ones he doesn’t know how to fix, he can probably improvise if need be.

There are no problems. Only solutions.

Simple enough.

More often than not, projects that appear to have gone smoothly from the outside didn’t go smoothly at all. Every day brought a new hurdle. Hundreds of fires had to be put out. Thousands of split-second decisions had to be made. Course adjustments. Quick fixes. A folder-full of improvised solutions. Personel changes. Vendor replacements. Timeline adjustments. Budget attrition. Whatever. The list never stops growing.

That’s how it really works.

Perfect illustration: Below is Jay at the finish. From the right side, he looks fine. His injuries are out of sight. He looks like a guy who just breezed through a Half Ironman the way most of us breeze through a Taco bell drivethrough.

To an outsider, a bystander, he had a flawless, fun race.

To someone with inside knowledge, he finished despite a horrible bike accident that could have cost him a whole lot more than another medal.

He crashed. He got up. He quickly assessed the situation. He got back on his bike. He finished the race. He added the experience to his knowledge bank.

He made it happen.

If that doesn’t perfectly illustrate the way a project is driven forward, I don’t know what does.


Project manager. Triathlete. Adventure Racer. Creative Director. Platoon Leader. Customer Service Rep. Design Engineer. Toolmaker. Sous-Chef. Football Coach. It’s all the same.

Great project managers aren’t just natural multi-taskers. They’re also natural strategic masterminds. Improvisation kings (and queens). Crisis jugglers. Fearless creative acrobats. Their job (their nature) is to constantly find and implement solutions to problems, foreseen and not. Their job is to embrace hurdles and obstacles, because each one brings them one step closer to their goal. They thrive on making things happen. The more untraveled the road, the better. The more complex the gameboard, the better.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to a) do that kind of work well, and b) love every minute of it.

It isn’t for everybody.

Excuses and blame don’t exist in this little world. There’s only what you did and what you didn’t do.

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

For most people, that’s not a good thing…

…and for some of us, that’s when the real fun begins.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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