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Archive for September, 2007


Gamers of the world, get ready to have your buying power wooed like never before: According to Gamespy, in its first 24 hours (and in the US alone), X360′s Halo 3 netted over $170M for Microsoft. (Thanks, Bungie.)

Yes, netted. $170 million dollars.

In 24 hours.

Pow.

Per GameSpy, “this trounces big blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man 3 and novels like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

You don’t say.

Now let’s hope NBC won’t get the rights to the TV show.

Read the article here.

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Me Happy.


Kudos to Microsoft for even getting the packaging right. I am pretty impressed with the whole thing already.

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This may very well be the coolest visual narrative for a series of blog posts, ever. If you have been following the unlocking/hacking of the iPhone story over the last few weeks, and like Star Wars, you will get a kick out of this fun little project.

And by the way, Gizmodo.com just became my new favorite tech blog. If it isn’t yet in your blogroll or on your RSS list, you probably need to do something about that.


Follow-up (The Empire Strikes Back). This story is obviously far from over.

And in related news
(from France)…

Have a great Friday, everyone. :)

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I have to admit it: I was actually looking forward to NBC’s Bionic Woman.

Not that the original series was any good, but I figured if a network went through the trouble of reviving a semi-iconic show, they would probably take more than ten minutes to put something cool together. I wasn’t looking for something edgy or original here. This is network TV, after all. I expected a fair share of cliches and bad special effects and cheesy plot lines. I did. But I hoped to be pleasantly surprised, nevertheless. I knew the odds were pretty slim, but I figured it couldn’t be all that bad. I mean… NBC can afford to pay some pretty clever writers. They do sometimes come up with pretty cool shows (like Heroes and Lost). It wouldn’t take much more than a couple of hours for a creative team with a penchant for superhero plots to hash out something kind of different for this show. Something worth watching. Maybe something sort of fresh, even.

But no.

I had no idea it could actually be this bad. Frankly, I am surprised that piece of crap got green-lighted by any network. I am embarrassed for NBC and everyone attached to this project.

I feel especially bad for the actors who got suckered into being a part of such a sorry excuse for noise between commercial breaks. I think that static would have been more satisfying. Or just a solid hour of advertising. Why the hell not? At this point, if this is the best a TV network can do with even such an easy concept for a TV show, then perhaps it’s time for them to clean house and start from scratch.

I can’t help but wonder if NBC actually has real live people working on show development anymore. (I suspect that NBC now uses computerized plot generators to develop scripts for new TV shows.) What I still can’t wrap my mind around, however, is how the networks manage to hire executive producers and directors who stay true to their scripts’ complete lack of substance or sense.

It’s embarrassing. Really.

Maybe NBC uses robots to direct these single-serving shows? Maybe?

(You know she’s the villain because she smokes.
And dresses in black.
And wears provocative makeup.
And has euro hair.
And dishes out cool one-liners – sort of.)

(You know this is a good show because it uses rain
to create dramatic moods for fight scenes and intense dialogue.)

Seriously. This show’s entire script (including every single line of “dialogue”) must have been put to paper in less than ten minutes either by someone with severe ADHD, a sub-80 IQ, or both. Worse yet, a gaggle of NBC execs actually signed off on it, even after watching this pilot.

Unbelievable.

Because I hate to let an hour of TV viewing completely go to waste, let me share with you these 30 random things I learned during my memorable first (and last) hour of Bionic Woman:

1) When you’re a bionic woman, smoking isn’t bad for you because your lungs heal really fast.
2) Bad guys dress better and act cooler than good guys. They also have cool evil names like Corvus.
3) Adding rain to a scene is one of a director’s subtle tools to clue you in on the fact that either the action or the dialogue are about to get intense and meaningful.
4) You can walk away from getting T-boned by a speeding 18-wheeler, getting thrown fifty feet into the air and getting taco-ed into a lamp post, and then perform super-top-secret limb-reattachment sci-fi surgery within hours.
5) Despite #4, getting shoved three feet backwards into a door will cause you to fracture your wrist.
6) Every super top secret government lab has cool furniture, insanely badass mood lighting, and really cool automatic sliding doors.
7) You can actually maintain 55mph on a muddy singletrack for fifty plus miles wearing 3″ heels.
8) Despite having been in a horrific car accident in which you lost 3 out of 4 limbs and almost bled out, your clothes aren’t even wrinkled or stained and can be used at your leisure when escaping from a super top secret underground facility.
9) Super top secret underground facilities come standard with extensive and unmonitored tunnel systems which can be used to escape.
10) The first thing you would do upon realizing that you have bionic legs is jump from rooftop to rooftop (preferably the ones that are 200ft apart instead of the ones just 20ft apart)… because you saw Peter Parker do it and thought it looked cool. (Bonus: You won’t break your heels doing that either.)
11) When you are the boss of the henchmen and all twenty of your henchmen are standing right behind you, the proper procedure to tell them to stand down is to tell them through your walkie-talkie.
12) The bad guy is the one with the foreign accent, the cool clothes, and the sharpie in his pocket (so he can leave goodbye notes on motel room walls).
13) Hanging a laptop out of your window to hide it from your idiot older sister is a sign that you are a delinquent yet resourceful character who may come in handy in later episodes.
14) As always, one of the central characters has daddy issues, so that season 2 (god forbid) can focus on yet another legacy/conspiracy plot.
15) Bad guys would rather monologue, drop lame one-liners, or light cigarettes than kill the good guys when they get the chance.
16) Screaming really loud is a sign that you, as an actor, are pretending to be upset or scared or angry about something.
17) The college professor you are dating may actually be a top secret government-sponsored biocyberneticist (and neurosurgeon) who will turn you into a hyperkinetic cyborg if the opportunity presents itself.
18) The appropriate reaction to learning that you are now super fast, super strong, and relatively invincible is… anger: “WHY did you do this to me????!!!”
19) The appropriate reaction to finding out that the alternative to #18 would have been either death or being a disfigured one-armed, half blind, legless cripple is… anger: “WHY did you do this to me????!!!”
20) The appropriate reaction to finding out that you don’t have enough material for a full hour show is to add a pointless love scene to the script… or more rain. Or a pointless love scene with rain falling somewhere in the shot.
21) Highly trained assassins with bionic eyes, advanced cybernetic targeting systems and state of the art sniper rifles can only manage shoulder shots.
22) Asian actors are visually ambiguous to American audiences, so the characters they play could be either good or bad. We’ll just have to wait and see.
23) Miguel Ferrer plays the same character in every TV show, which is usually not a bad thing, except in this case.
24) The Federal government has become so efficient at providing medical care to pregnant wounded bartenders since the Hurricane Katrina “incident” that getting turned into a cybernetic superhero is now merely an outpatient procedure.
25) Character development on NBC dramas essentially consists of picking a cool song to go with the final two minute scene of a series premiere to make up for an inexistent script.
26) TV show characters change clothes and hair styles four of five times per day.
27) Muggers in NBC’s contemporary American cities are 40-something white guys with switchblades hanging out in back-alleys, just waiting to get their asses kicked.
28) The decision to pick Michelle Ryan for the title role came from a need to make the bionic woman just a little bit pretty so she would seem “believable.”
29) The decision to pick Lucy Hale to play Becca Sommers (the bionic woman’s younger sister) might have had something to do with attracting a younger demographic (anyone watching Drake & Josh or the O.C.), which is just beyond lame considering the vehicle.
30) TV characters just love to hang out and have long meaningful conversations in pouring rain.

Would it really have been so hard to come up with something decent? Not even great, but just… decent?

Shame on you, NBC. I don’t think you’re even trying anymore.

PS: Can you believe that ER is still on?

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Halo 3 +1

So… I occasionally turn into a complete gamer geek. (It happens to the best of us.)

Just so you know, I picked up my very own pre-ordered copy of Halo 3 yesterday and played it for a few hours last night, and I have to admit that the game absolutely lives up to the hype. I didn’t think it would, but man, does it ever.

Although the graphics are much better and whatnot, the game doesn’t look a whole lot diffrent from Halo 2, but where the game really shines is in the gameplay. So much so that the changes made to the user interface have so radically improved my playing skills that I went from being pretty lousy to being pretty awesome virtually overnight. For someone like me (who routinely got his ass handed to him by twelve-year-old kids in multiplayer mode), this turns me into an instant fan of the Halo franchise. (Kudos to the development team for having opted to focus on the user interface rather than working on fluff – like better visuals, or whatever. The prettiest games are not always the best games, after all.)

The lesson here is this: User/customer experience should always be paramount to any marketing or process-related endeavor. (Kathy Sierra would be proud.) Giving your users a cool product is going to be exciting at first, but without a radically valuable user experience, the coolness of the product will wear off quickly. On the other hand, focusing on making your users rock right from the start (incorporating a lot of usablity in your design) will lengthen the lifecycle of your product, significantly increase its adoption rate, and generate a whole lot of referal business over time. If using the product is as easy and fun as it is valuable to the user, you’ve created a winner. If all you’ve focused on is style and coolness, but the learning curve is steep or the usability is limited, you’re screwing yourself out of a market leadership position.

Obviously, every product designer should always strive to create a healthy balance of substance and style, but no amount of style will ever take the place of substance.

In the apparel world, if a garment looks awesome but starts falling apart or fading after a few weeks, you aren’t likely to get repeat business.

In the automotive world, if a car looks fantastic but has to be repaired every 10K miles, you’ll soon be out of business.

In the software world, if you design a gorgeous app but it is frustrating (or sometimes virtually impossible) to use, you’ve just wasted a whole lot of venture capital.

Congrats to Microsoft and Bungie for having not only designed an incredibly fun game, but also for having blown all of the previous game pre-order records and having rolled out this product so damn effectively.

In related news, check this out (image source).

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. :)

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From Francois Gossieaux’s brilliant Emergence Marketing blog this week:

Reveries.com conducted a survey on the potential of social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Myspace as media for marketing activities (pdf download of survey summary results and analysis are here). The main finding seems to be that marketers are in the very early stages of truly understanding the potential of these new networks – with only 18% of the respondents calling the potential of online social networks as a medium for marketing “huge”.

Other interesting tidbits from the survey include the fact that marketers see “word of mouth” as the most promising aspect of social networking sites, and that many pointed out that marketers should participate in the conversations that take place on those sites without interrupting them.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many spammers have already invaded Facebook, Myspace and other similar sites. Go check the walls of the most popular interest groups in Facebook to see for yourself – many are littered with posts that are total sales pitches or with information that is totally irrelevant to the group’s conversation.

Speaking of Word-of-Mouth, EM has an interesting post on the subject as well:

The latest issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article on how to calculate the value of customer referrals (article not online yet).

They conducted two studies – one in telecom and one in financial services. Some interesting findings from those calculations include:

  • People refer way less than they say they do
  • The customer referral value is higher than the customer life-cycle value
  • The people with the highest customer life-cycle value are not the ones with the highest referral value
The importance of these findings are twofold. First you need to segment your customers along the customer life-cycle value axis, but also along the customer referral value axis. That will enable you to target your incentives to groups to either increase their usage or increase their referrals, or both. Second, this research shows that customers will low customer life-cycle value can in fact have a higher value to your company through referral value than those with high customer life-cycle value.

Read more stuff from Francois here.

Good stuff to chew on. Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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Leadership At Its Best

“Too many times business owners seem to be satisfied spending their careers as managers rather than leaders. When you see real leadership in action, you’re left in awe. Real leaders are active, engaged and motivating. They create an atmosphere that’s electric – both fun and productive.”

Mike Bawden

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I’ve always been a fan of Apple, but I have to admit that recently, my feelings about the brand are starting to sour. The stench of monopoly is in the air: You can buy our phone, but you have to use our provider. You can buy our media player, but you have to buy your music and videos from our store. Starbucks is advertising on Apple’s portable devices and interfacing with them. I hear rumors of further such exclusive deals on the horizon. (Apple portable devices are becoming a tightly controlled channel for highest-bidder companies rather than just simply cool, well-designed multimedia devices. Even early adopters (Apple’s one-percenters) just got fleeced by the company they thought was “different”.

(Hint: Everyone expects to pay a premium to be the first to buy a hot new product, but at least wait five or six months before dropping the price. Not just… two. Apple could have waited until Halloween or Thanksgiving or something. Dropping the price so soon after iPhone’s initial release was wicked bad form, and no one will soon forget it.

The whole thing with AT&T being the sole wireless provider for iPhones? Eh. I think it sucks that Apple decided to go for the easy buck rather than put its customers (err… users) first. What scares me is that the at&t iPhone deal may have only been the tip of the iceberg.

I am not saying that Apple shouldn’t make tons of money. They should. But the way the company is going about it isn’t exactly great for users, and that worries me. Its current strategy may be great for Apple and whomever is willing to pay big bucks to broker an exclusive deal with Steve Jobs, but it sucks for the rest of us who want THE FREEDOM to use Apple’s products with applications we have already invested in.

And let’s face it: We’re the buyers. We’re the users. We decide where the money goes, in the end. If you make it impossible for us to use your pretty little boxes in the way we see fit, someone else will come up with pretty little boxes that will let us do what we want, however we want it.

You are steering the conversation away from design and branding, and towards usability, freedom, and choice, Steve. You may not see it coming, but you are digging your own grave with your autocratic, monopolistic attitude.

This isn’t a question of whose OS is better. We are way past the operating system debate here. We neither need nor want Steve Jobs or any other CEO to make these types of decisions for us: What programs to watch. What coffee to buy. What airline to fly with. What online store to buy our music from. What wireless provider to contract with.

What I am talking about is Apple telling me that if I want to own an iPhone, I can’t choose between Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Alltel or whomever I please. I have to use at&t.

If I want to download music or TV shows into my iPod, I have to do it from iTunes. I can’t do it any other way.

If I want to download a ringtone into my iPhone, I have to do it Steve Jobs’ way too.

If I want to own any part of Steve Jobs’ gadgets, I have to do it on his terms. His way.

And that, my friends, for better or for worse, sucks.

Good thing Apple doesn’t make iCars, because they would probably only work with iGas. Screw BP and Shell or anyone else who isn’t willing to sign an exclusive deal with Steve Jobs.

Sure, you can have an iShower installed in your house, but you’ll need to buy your iWater and your iSoap from Apple.

Give me a break.

I want to go back to Apple. I really do. But I can’t justify losing my freedom in order to become just another Apple sheep. Just being pretty and expensive don’t cut it anymore.

Whatever happened to Think Different?

Oh, I know. It sold to the highest bidder. Kind of like whomever Steve Jobs has been buying his one “signature” outfit from for the last twenty years. (Somebody please buy the guy a shirt or something.)

*sigh*

(Via Orange Yeti) Wil Shipley gives us a brilliant essay on where Apple is screwing the pooch. (He offers some simple advice to Steve Jobs as well, which I hope he will read and take to heart.)

Here’s a taste:

What should Steve do? Well, for starters, give up on trying to control everything. It’s only going to keep hurting Apple, more and more, to control content and hardware and software. It’s going to make them into the kind of mega-monopoly that we always, ALWAYS end up hating. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. 100% of the time.

Apple should license FairPlay, or allow iPods to play PlaysForSure (ha! I love that doublespeak) music. Either one. Basically, Apple should allow other music stores to sell DRM’ed music that works on iPods and iPhones.

Why? It’s simple — then Apple could tell record companies “go fug yourself” if they don’t like Apple’s terms, but Apple would still have a full range of music to play on its iPods. Remember, Apple makes all its money selling the hardware, not the songs. All Apple needs to do is to make sure there is a broad range of content available for iPods, it doesn’t have to sell all that content itself.

And, in fact, it hurts Apple to sell all the content itself, because it makes Apple a focus for battles between the record industry and consumers. If there were a range of stores selling iPod-compatible music, with a range of different DRM rights, then the market could decide what terms it liked best.

The iTunes store could be the white knight — it would only sign deals with record companies willing to “give” consumers the same rights they’ve had for years with CDs; eg, we can do whatever we want with our music as long as we don’t broadcast it or give it to others. Other music stores could sell restrictive DRM’ed music, and, well, if the record companies are right, people would go to those other stores, and we consumers would all get what we deserve.

Read the entire post here.

Apple, please please please stop this nonsense before you become your own worst nightmare.

Other reads: Brian Solis on PR2.0, myblogutopia.com, Andy Dornan’s piece on IW, Thom Hogan’s contrarian view, and of course, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.

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photo: The gang, obviously reading a BrandBuilder post.

I finally made it to one of Orange Coat‘s notorious Bag-Lunch-Thursdays today, and proceeded to get my buttocks handed to me at a game of wii bowling.

Among the topics of discussion:

- Who actually started OC’s BLT tradition?
- Would you pay $150 to spend cocktail hour with the most evil person on the planet?
- Do the French secretly love McDonald’s?
- Where is Julia Child actually from?

For the photostream, go here. For the story, go here.

The final scores. That’s… me… on the far right.

The all-knowing Orange Yeti may have won this time… but I will have my revenge.

Things I’ve learned today:

- There are worse ways of spending your lunch hour on a Thursday.
- I suck at wii bowling.
- Cucumbers and balsamic vinegar go well together.

Have a good one. ;)

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Judging by the quality of most of the account execs I have had the misfortune to work with over the years, something fishy is going on in the ad world.

Here’s a tip for ad agency principals everywhere: Your creatives rock. Your media buyers are the bomb. You’re doing everything super well, for the most part… but most of your new account execs suck. They don’t get the client’s business. They don’t take the time to understand the cultures of the markets they are assigned to work with. They have no worldly experience. They’re ill-equipped to do their jobs, period. Most don’t last a year.

So I have to ask: What’s going on? What seems to be the problem?

Are you not paying well enough anymore?

Is it that difficult to find good people these days?

Or is it just that you’ve opted to just hire fresh batches of kids every few months so you can pay them as little as possible, work them to death, and then send them off to their next agency jobs with a few more fancy account names to paste to their resumes?

Is the HR revolving door your new MO?

What’s the tenure of an account exec these days anyway? Ten months?

Is this really what’s best for the client?

Check out this piece from Toad Stool.

Back in the Mad Men days, advertising agencies generally recruited out of the Ivy Leagues. Not a boon for diversity, but they did get the best people, smart, creative people who were attracted to a frequently glamorous industry that offered the possibility of serious cash. Ask any (very) senior account guy- back in the day, b-school grads all wanted to work for the agency, not client-side. These days the situation is reversed.

We are never going to be taken seriously if we don’t change this perception. If clients regard agency employees as a bunch of second-rate talents who couldn’t land a job elsewhere, they’re not going to take our opinions very seriously. Or even entertain the idea of treating us as equals, let alone experts. And while I realize that much of this is a result of most agencies being owned by publicly traded holding companies whose business models are based on getting more value from fewer people, I’m afraid the net result is just going to be fewer people, as the value of retaining an ad agency becomes less and less apparent.

Come on, ad agencies everywhere (except maybe in NYC): Why is it that you are ready to invest heavily in your creatives, planners and buyers, but not on your account execs? Am I missing something?

I invite your comments on this one.

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This is scary.

This is clever.

This is serious.

This will make it difficult to get around in the city without a kayak.

We may feel like we are one of the smartest generations in the history of humanity, but when it’s all said and done, we may go down in history as one of the very dumbest.

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Creating a lovebrand.


Remember that being the best at what you do isn’t about making grand declarations of intent. It’s about the small decisions you choose to make throughout the day, every day.

It’s about choosing to be better, just because you can… and because you should.

It’s about never cutting corners or taking the easy way out.

It’s about being true to yourself and to those around you.

It’s about inspiring others to be better as well.

It’s about changing lives. It doesn’t matter if you do it with a photo or a book or a cup of coffee or a set of carbon fiber wheels or a pen.

It’s about doing your best work every day, because the alternative… well… isn’t an alternative at all.

You want to build a lovebrand? Okay. Do it. Step 1: Don’t believe the hype about how tough it is. Nothing could be easier. It’s all right here: Make the best products. Create the best customer experience. Craft the coolest ads, just for the fun of it. Through everything you do and offer, strive to inspire. Strive to change your customers’ lives for the better.

Change the rules. Write your own. Become a legend.

Easier said than done? Not on your life. ;)

Have a great Tuesday.

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It occurs to me that most things are cyclical in nature. Tides. Days. Seasons. Hunger. Sleep. Relationships. Your laundry situation. Projects. Success. Fitness. Popularity. You name it, if it is something that is enduring in some way, it is dependent upon some sort of cycle.

In the world of athletics, cycles can be looked at in two ways: The first is an annual competitive macro cycle, starting with pre-season training, then taking you through an increase in intensity, or endurance or specificity, then to a series of peaks, and then back down to a post season-recovery (which leads you back to the pre-season training). The second type of cycle is a micro cycle, which instead of looking like a circle, looks more like a wave pattern of small peaks and valleys along the way.

The idea behind this type of training is simple: Stress the body, adapt, recover, & repeat.

Most endurance training micro cycles are 4-5 weeks long: Increase intensity and distance for 3-4 weeks, and then reduce this intensity for 1 week to allow your body to recover and adapt, then start again. (4 weeks up, 1 week down.)

Just as every consecutive week gets harder, every micro-cycle gets harder.

The object of the game is to push your body to produce progressively faster times.

If done correctly, this type of training works like a charm.

If done incorrectly, however, the progression stops, and you get stuck in what we call a performance plateau. I know a lot of people who fall into this trap. It’s always frustrating for them.

What do they do to get stuck in a rut? Simple: 9 out of 10 times, they don’t stick to their training plan. (They miss a few workouts.) Their initial reaction is to make up the workouts. Next thing you know, they’re trying to make up the missed sessions. Because they have now increased their training load, they are not able to train at a high enough intensity on their hard days. Because of this, they feel guilty about their low intensity days, and train too hard on their easy days. (The intensity gets pushed away from the effective extremes, and falls somewhere in the soft ineffective middle.) They stop recovering adequately. They feed a vicious cycle which – while burning calories and keeping them fit – doesn’t help them move forward in their training.

Their performance stalls.

If you were to track their progress on a chart, it would start looking completely flat.

They start putting in more training time. They increase their mileage. They rationalize that they aren’t getting better because they aren’t training enough, so they start training more.

Sadly, quantity over quality doesn’t work. This is not the type of problem you can just throw more mileage at. More man-hours at. More technology at. More money at.

This is simply a question of stress and recovery.

This is a question of adaptive progression. In order to get better, you have to keep stressing your system and then let it recover and adapt. If you stop increasing the stress levels, your system will settle for whatever performance level it has reached and adapted to, and you will plateau.

In other words, do the same thing every day, every week, every month, every year, and you will not move forward. You will plateau. Your performance, however great it may be, will flatline, and that sucks.

Do things differently on a consistent basis, manage progressive change, keep throwing new challenges at your team and allow them the time and opportunity to adapt, and you will see progress on every conceivable level.


In every industry, there are busy periods, and less busy periods throughout the year. There are weeks or months best suited for preparation and recovery, while others require a very high level of intensity and focus. Map them out. Get a visual understanding of what your annual business cycle looks like, and start putting together a plan that takes this progression, this evolution of performance into account. Understand how to push past performance plateaus, and gain progressively better numbers where they matter.

Remember: Most people (and companies) are too busy dealing with day-to-day crises and busy-work to actually look at each workweek as being a very specific piece of a carefully crafted annual business cycle (designed to generate notable improvements from month to month, year to year, and decade to decade). This is an area in which someone with a bit of insight into the world of endurance sports training methodology and a bit of ingenuity could make a big splash.

Food for thought.

photo: David Zabriskie on his way to winning the 2007 USA National TT Championship.

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On being remarkable, from Seth Godin’s “Is Good Enough Enough” post (via metacool):

First, it would require significant risk-taking. Which would include the risk of failure and the risk of getting fired (omg!). Can you and your team handle that? If not, might as well admit it and settle for good enough. But if you’re settling, don’t sit around wishing for results beyond what you’ve been getting.

Second, it would mean that every single time you set out to be remarkable, you’d have to raise the bar and start over. It’s exhausting.

Third, it means that the boss and the boss’s boss are unlikely to give you much cover. Are you okay with that?

Yep, striving to be the best is hard. It’s risky. And it’s a lot of work.

Which is why it isn’t for everyone: Special Forces operators. Superstars. Neurosurgeons. Olympic Athletes. Marketing superstars. First responders. Novelists. Race car drivers. Fighter pilots. Designers. Architects. Trial lawyers. World-renowned chefs. Whatever the discipline, you either get to be the very best… or you don’t. In the immortal words of… somebody:

“We’re Number One. Everyone else is Number Two.”
There you have it. Either you are the best, or you aren’t.
Success at the very top level never comes easily. It comes with more hard work and sacrifice than everyone else is willing to put in… and also with a certain measure of risk that goes beyond what the average person is comfortable with.
You don’t get to win the Superbowl without taking some serious chances. You don’t get to win Ironman Hawaii without putting everything on the line. You don’t get to become Apple, Microsoft, BMW, Canon, Cervelo, Starbucks or HBO without being willing to take chances with design, innovation, format, hiring practices, marketing, or something. You might have to stand up to an obtuse CEO. You might have to fight to defend a design or a programming decision. You might have to look your boss in the eye and tell him “you know what, if you don’t let me do this right, you can have my resignation.” You might have to eat crow, or brush yourself off and try again if your big idea doesn’t quite turn out as well as you thought.
Following the IDEO prototyping model, you have to be willing to fail often in order to succeed faster. In a society that rewards immediate success and frowns heavily on failure, it takes courage to follow a methodology that embraces failure as a learning tool. Yet, believe me when I tell you that learning how a thing fails teaches you more about that thing than learning how it works. This is as true in the world of product design, as it is in the world of customer service, copywriting, military strategy or the culinary arts. Every manager I have ever met who didn’t understand this basic fact of life suffered the consequences of their reluctance to cover all the angles and be prepared for the worst.
Being risk-adverse works well if you don’t mind being part of the soft middle. If you don’t mind being just another company in a sea of unremarkable companies just like yours. If you don’t mind being just another applicant armed with a clone of a clone of a clone of a resume.
If you have your eye on being great, however… eh, get ready to push waaaaaaaay past your comfort zone in every conceivable way. It’s a hard road, but a worthwile one.

Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)

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“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”

- Sir Ken Robinson

Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)

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Here is something I never really gave much thought to, for some reason. Yet, here we are, in the era of superterrorism, with organizations recruiting globally, waging war against superpowers, and raising billions of dollars worldwide to fuel their criminal endeavors. As strange and twisted as it may seem, terrorism is big business, and as with every big business, brand identities and logos play crucial roles in their success.

The Nazis had the swastika, stark gothic architecture, and a penchant for tailored uniforms. The KKK had the white robes and hoods and burning crosses. Mussolini’s fascist thugs had brown shirts and noisy leather boots. Skinheads have shaved heads, nylon flight jackets and combat boots. Today’s evil would-be empires have their own brand identities as well: Think about how terrorists usually present themselves to the world: Ski masks. AK-47s or RPGs. Suicide bomber vests. Red bandannas. Black bandannas. Green bandannas. Whatever. They all have their gang colors. Their own distinct cultural identities… and their own logos.

From the Ironic Sans blog:

Terrorist groups, like any organization, need brand identities. With so many groups claiming credit for terrorist acts, and so many videotapes being put out featuring men in ski masks, it’s hard to keep track of which group committed what violent act. So terrorist organizations have logos. It recently occurred to me that someone had to actually design those logos. But how did they decide who gets to do it? Did the job go to whichever terrorist had a copy of Adobe Illustrator?

I did some research and rounded up as many logos as I could find from terrorist groups past and present. While I hate to give terrorists any more attention, I still think it’s interesting to see the various approaches they took in their logos, and wonder what considerations went into designing them. Does the logo successfully convey the organization’s message? Is it confusingly similar to another group’s logo? Does it exhibit excessive drop shadows, gradients, or use of whatever font is the Arabic equivalent of Papyrus?

Quick Disclaimer: I picked these terrorist groups from a list of designated terrorist organizations on Wikipedia. Since Wikipedia is a user-edited website, I can’t verify who decided these groups are terrorist organizations. So if it turns out one of these groups is an actual army or a legitimate non-violent organization, don’t blame me.

Continue reading the post here.


above: more terrorist logos (the single gun motif group)

For those of you whom this post might offend (after all, terrorism is one of those things that most of us may have trouble trivializing), Dave (the author of the post) offers these words:

Note:This weekend, an Al Qaeda suicide bomber killed 150 people in a market north of Baghdad. Another 250 were wounded. When this news broke, I had already begun working on this blog entry, and thinking of those victims made it hard to finish. So I just want to be clear that, although this entry focuses on a relatively trivial aspect of terror organizations, it is in no way intended to make light of terrorism. The guns, the blades, the maps of Israel, and other elements in these logos do effectively communicate with painful clarity what some of these groups intend. While my overview of terrorist logos is meant half-seriously as an examination of graphic design in a place we might not think to look, I don’t want to minimize the devastation these groups have wrought.

Interesting stuff.

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… and they all go directly to my junk box.

I have to wonder what the point of junk email is. I mean… does this sort of online “marketing” exercise actually generate any business at all? Does anyone who gets a poorly written email about some unknown stock jump at the chance to invest in that stock?

This is my favorite one this week so far:

Tuesdays Trading Could Be Huge!

ww Energy Inc.
Symbol : wwng
$0.02
Already 100% gain today!

WWNG is releasing huge news Tuesday.

Hot news can provide huge profits. (???)

Set your buy for open and beat the news.

Get WWNG Tuesday. Morn.

Let me set my alarm clock to Tokyo time so I can get in on this before anyone else on the planet!!!!

I just wish I’d bought my one share when it was still worth $0.01 so I could brag about how my latest energy stock split after just one day! Woohoo! Genius.

At least, the English was half-way decent this time around.

photo credit: if you have to ask, you don’t need to know.

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One of the perks of being a blogger is that I occasionally receive advance copies of marketing books. So far, they’ve all been good, but I received one about a month ago that kind of stands out from the rest because it is so well put together. Part cofee-table book, part textbook, part collection of case studies, Design Matters// LOGOS is also a beautiful book: On top of being smart and informative, every layout is eye-candy, which is a very nice touch. (It makes the book engaging, at the very least.)

If you are in the Marketing business – whether it’s in graphic design, brand management, brand planning, copywriting, or even in the world of sales – you owe yourself to get your hands on this book, and add it to your working library. You will find yourself going back to it over and over again, either for inspiration or reference.

Design Matters//LOGOS covers brand strategy, planning, research, understanding customer cultures, collaborating with other businesses and groups, typography, logo creation, logo evolution, logo flexibility, and dozens of other elements of any successful brand management project, including some excellent case studies that help you put everything in context. Essentially, the book is a step-by-step “how to” brand communications strategy guide for both strategic and design-minded brand managers everywhere, and will hopefully show up in college and Masters level Marketing programs across the English-speaking world very soon.

Buy it here.

(And no, in case you were wondering, I am not being paid to tell you any of this.) ;D

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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This month’s BrandingWire exercise takes us to the IT world. The following brief maps out our little strategic challenge:

Company Description:

We are a small company based in Canada. We do just about everything IT: proactive work (such as network maintenance), monitoring of critical systems, emergency work (IT fixes, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), new user set-ups, procurement of hardware and software (at a discount through our top vendors), consulting work (which can be anything from upgrading all 100 of your Windows computers to Macs, or something simple like what open-source software alternatives would we recommend instead of Photoshop).

We are also offering services in a new area called Green IT. It is all about transforming the way IT is used to help cut down on energy use and waste. Solutions could include datacenters with virtualized servers, remote access of datacenters (to keep the systems in a stable environment), or sending software electronically to eliminate packaging waste. We want to get more into this area!

Target Customers:

Small to medium sized business in our city and the surrounding areas. (Note: we do provide support to branch offices of our customers across Canada.)

We seem to attract a lot of non-profit (environment, research, health) and financial/accounting clients. I believe we aimed more for non-profits when the company was first started, both because of the President’s contacts in that sector and also because they easier to access than other businesses and they have formed a tight knit community in our city. The issue with non-profits is that, because of their tight usually government-controlled budgets, we’re in a constant struggle to get paid for our extensive work.

Our clients are typically not technically-oriented. Companies are both B2B and B2C, ranging in industry from financial and accounting services to commercial real estate, health care services, non-profits, and some retail.

We’d like to aim for businesses with younger staff that understand technology and can appreciate the need for IT, as well as the critical nature of technology services in relation to their business operations. But it has proven to be hard… which leads me to…

Biggest PR/Marketing Challenge:

We charge hourly for consulting, project hours and support time; the hourly price is lower with a contract than without a contract, where we would come out and do things on a case by case basis. It’s difficult to convince SMBs that our services are worth the amount we are charging – however, to draft a legal document, they’re more than willing to a pay a top notch lawyer $500/hour. If your IT services – your computers, your printers, your network, your data – are done incorrectly, you’re out of business. Customers view IT issues as a pain (ie. my email is down again) instead of as a critical part of their business (ie. without IT, we can’t function as a company).

Customers just don’t always understand the value of IT services.

Our monthly support contract covers just about everything “IT”. Then on top of that, say you’ve signed up for a 10 hour contract for support – we don’t just send a bill at the end of the month: we send you a full report of every single minute of work that was done for your company and what was accomplished. We log every incident and track all time and documentation within our Helpdesk. And because we’re a small company at heart (growing now; we’ve doubled our size in the past 2 years), we do give great customer service – our clients know us and they know if something goes horribly wrong with their email at 3 in the morning, they can reach us with one phone call.

Main Marketing/PR Goal:

1. Help our current clients understand why our services are worth the price tag. This may be an inherent problem in the industry (it’s known that IT is on average never properly budgeted for), but EDS and other huge IT corporations don’t seem to have a problem. We want them to see us as a partner for their business, not just an “IT repair service”.

2. Bring in clients who understand the importance of IT services already, and get them to pick us above our competitors for our value-added work.

How we would like BrandingWire to help us:

I feel like we’re too entrenched in the technology/service provider perspective to understand how our clients and potential clients really see IT. Hopefully BrandingWire can help us see our company from a purely marketing perspective. Our company is great – we just need to get that idea out there to our current clients and to those that have yet to hear about us.

1. First things first: Build a KILLER website. Make it fresh. Pick crisp, bright organic colors. Give your website a color scheme and structure that convey the fact that by hiring you, your clients are hiring the very best in the business and their lives are about to become a whole lot more pleasant. List the menu of services clearly on the main page, but keep the text areas to a minimum. Take some pointers from luxury consumer goods websites. Think fashion-oriented brands. Look at your competitors’ websites, and do the EXACT OPPOSITE. You don’t want to distract your potential clients with a whole lot of boring copy and overused keywords. Instead, please their brains with clean structure and appealing colors, while giving them an uninterrupted list of what you will do for them. (Then make it super easy for them to navigate the site and find out what your story is on their own terms.)

Your objective here is to a) differentiate yourselves from the hundreds of other typical IT companies out there that all look, sound and feel the same, and b) inspire not only confidence, value and professionalism, but excitement about your company. (We’ll come back to that.)

2. Don’t just present yourselves as an IT company (the answer to IT problems). That’s already implied. Everyone gets it. Instead, take it a step further and present yourselves as the answer to other IT companies. Be easier to work with. Be less geeky. Be less boring. Be less in the way. Become every mid-sized company’s “no hassles” IT partner. Don’t hesitate to tell your potential clients “Look, you don’t need to worry about the IT stuff anymore. We have it handled. Go take care of your business. ;)”

It probably wouldn’t hurt to schedule regular meetings with some of the principals to make hardware and software recommendations, but be careful not to turn into salesmen. Be advisors. This type of endeavor can’t be self-serving, or it will backfire. If you want to be seen as more than an IT repair service and more as an IT partner, become more involved in the shaping of your clients’ tech infrastructure.

3. Always keep it simple. Use words everyone can understand. Don’t bore anyone with unnecessary details. Be relevant. Be geeky, but only minimally so.

4. Understand your clients’ business, and help IT truly become an active part of it. The problem that most IT firms wrestle with is that they appear to only focus on IT. That’s bad because IT is a weird, geeky, necessary-evil kind of thing, and that makes you a weird, geeky, necessary-evil kind of service. In order to be effective and not seen as merely IT repairmen, you have to change the conversation. You have to distance yourself from the IT conversation. You have to help your client change its relationship with IT.

For starters, you have to understand how your clients use technology at every level of their organization. I would suggest interviewing employees in every department, and finding out what works for them and what doesn’t. Understand their struggles with technology. Listen to what they want and what they wrestle with. This humanizes the technology. It helps turn the conversation from “what happens in the server room” (which is irrelevant to most people in the company) to “what I do when a customer calls and I need to pull up his account” (which is pretty damn important to everyone).

Then, give them what they want, and fix what they wrestle with on a daily basis. If you can fix human problems that relate to technology rather than simply fixing technical problems, you will become their IT partner forever. Most IT companies claim to do this, but they don’t. (I have never known an IT company that even comes close to doing this.)

That requires a different approach from Day 1: It forces you to make interface assessments throughout the organization and look at potential IT problems from both a human and an operational perspective rather than a purely technical one.

Fixing IT problems in a human and an operational context, has a lot more value to a company exec than fixing a problem that he/she perceives to be purely IT-related (too complicated,too out-of-sight, and too expensive).

As a bonus, your techs will seem more human and more helpful… instead f the typical “who’s that dude?” “Oh, I think he’s one of the IT guys” conversations I’ve been a part of my entire career.

IT management is not something that happens in the back after everyone goes home. That’s what you need to get through to your clients. IT is an integral part of their business like Marketing, Finance, Sales, Purchasing, etc. Help integrate it into your clients’ company cultures. Make it not be an alien, complicated thing.

Don’t feel bad: Marketing departments working for most engineering firms have similar value-related problems.

5. Definitely push the Green IT angle. If you can show clients that the Green IT program will save them cash and earn them good karma points, you’ll have something very valuable to offer. If there is already an industry-wide program with its own logo, display it on your site, all marketing collateral, and even your invoices. If there isn’t one, have a graphic designer create a logo for you, and propose to national and international regulatory bodies within your industry that it become the mark of Green IT initiatives. The objective here is to give clients a visual cue they will either recognize or want to inquire about.

6. Become friends with your best clients. Join the same organizations they belong to. Let their professional and social networks become your networks. This is the best way to grow your business in an environment which will value you as more than just an IT repair service.

7. Publish articles, white papers, how-to guides, etc. Help sponsor or organize tech-related conferences or seminars. Sit on tech-related boards. Work with local universities and other educational facilities. Become an IT authority in the business world. (Become more than just an IT company.)

8. If you don’t have one already, create a simple menu of services relative to client company size, level of need, and budget limitations. Limit it to 3 or 4 levels. Keep it super simple. (A la carte services work too, but if you can create easy-to-understand packages, you will simplify the client acquisition process.) The kinds of companies who select menu-style services won’t be your best clients, but they may become so once they get to know you and start asking for more custom services and a greater level of attention.

9. Make your brand of IT sexy. Don’t laugh. I’m serious. Shake the geeky image. You’re in the high-tech business, and you’re at the very top level of it. Act, look, speak and work accordingly. Drop the boring golf shirts, the droopy socks and the cheap sneakers. Get better haircuts. Hire a fashion consultant if you have to, but find a way to make your team look good, act cool, and look like they just flew in from Madison Avenue – not the local GameSpot store.

That’s right: I’m talking about an IT makeover here. (Hey, you’re tired of being treated like IT repairmen, right? Change the way you look and act, and the way people perceive you and treat you will change accordingly.) It sucks that looks matter, but welcome to the real world: The way you present yourself does indeed matter.

The sad reality of the world is this: Nobody cares what a nerd has to say, except perhaps another nerd. Think back to high school. College, even. Watch what happens to nerds in politics. Watch how differently people are treated in retail outlets, board rooms and at a doctor’s office based on how they look and carry themselves.

I have spent years watching IT guys, salespeople and execs from other companies walk in and out of meetings, and let me tell you: Smarts, knowledge and ability aren’t enough if you don’t first project confidence, cool, and a bit of style. Shake up the stereotypes. As a matter fact, shatter them. Present yourselves as cool guys who happen to be IT pros, and you will find that most people in your client organization will be a whole lot more willing to listen to what you have to say than if you looked like every other computer nerd they’ve watched walk through the door.

That’s it for me, but feel free to read the rest of the BrandingWire team’s recommendations here.

Have a great Monday everyone. ;)

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From the ever entertaining and brilliant meme huffer blog, here are some thoughts to take you into the weekend:


On why fearing the future is futile:

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” - John Cage

In my early days as a planner, I remember reading an article by Steve Henry (then of HHCL, now at TBWA London), where he gave his opinion on strategy and effective communication.

The words that stuck with me were “what is = what was” and this simple statement has deeply affected the way that I think about brands and communications.

If we want to cut through the 3000+ messages that the average consumer is exposed to every day, we need to stand out. We need to be different. Merely adhering to the tried and (research) tested category cues won’t work.

By definition, new ideas are scary. No one has done them before, so you don’t have a convenient case study. Qual research is unlikely to help, as people tend to be uncomfortable about the unfamiliar.

But this is no excuse.

Be brave, be bold and find a way to help your clients be likewise.

…which, of course, is the tricky part:

“No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all your knowledge is about the past and all your decisions are about the future.” – Ian E. Wilson

On Messaging – the final word (one can hope):

“To define is to kill; to suggest is to create” – Stéphane Mallarmé

On Innovation and the naysayers:

“The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar… Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen.” -Aldous Huxley

One of my favourite hobby-horses, this.

When the consumer research comes back against your brilliant, ground-breakingly original idea, remind the client that Heineken ‘refreshes the parts’ failed research.

As did the Dyson vacuum.
And the Aeron chair.
And Seinfeld.
And the computer mouse.
And the Sony Walkman.
And the cash machine.
And Guinness ‘Surfer’.
And Stella Artois ‘Jacques de Florette’

On Insight, context, and the human factor:

If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words” -Cicero

Pretty fundamental, this one.

Get to know your customers, not just as demographic segments but as real people. Use your research budget to gain insight into their lives. Find out what makes them tick. Discover their fears, dreams and aspirations.

On being a complete jackass:

“Thanks for this. As discussed please can you reference the message hierarchy from the revised brief on the ‘Revised brief (abridged)’ chart and then explicitly spell out the roll [sic] for each media in terms of that hierarchy.

“I think that the key to the success of the plan is to ensure that we have executional alignment in terms of the creative messaging.
please can you make sure that the role of each media is explicitly referenced on the fusion brief in the same way. Thanks.”

(Unknown – from an email)

On Creative Problem Solving:

“The best possible solutions come only from a combination of a rational analysis based on the nature of things, and imaginative reintegration of all the different items into a new pattern, using non-linear brain power.” -Kenichi Ohmae, ‘The Mind of the Strategist’


On How Marketing is regarded by just about everyone outside this industry:

“Marketing is the art of associating products with ideas to bamboozle consumers. For example, a commercial in which a supermodel drinks piss from a thimble will lead ugly viewers to follow suit – which is good news for you because you’ve got a warehouse of thimbles and an endless supply of piss, and bad news for anyone who hoped the smoking ban might leave the nation’s pubs smelling fresher. People in marketing often talk about the “personality” of a given product. A biscuit might be “reassuring and sensual”; a brand of shoe may exhibit “anarchic yet inquisitive” tendencies. Marketers have built their worldview on such thinking, despite it being precisely the sort of babble a madman might come up with following years alone in an isolated cottage, during which time he falls in love with a fork and decides the lightbulbs are conspiring against him. Sadly, the analogy ends here, for while madmen are rewarded with straitjackets and medication, marketers receive six-figure salaries and round-the-clock sexual favours from people 200 times prettier than the prettiest person you’ve ever seen, even fleetingly, even from afar or in a magazine”.

(Courtesy of The Guardian)

On following your vision… and not everyone’s else’s lack of vision:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” -Henry Ford

Good stuff. Have a great weekend, everyone. And be sure to add jason lonsdale’s blog to your blogroll. As you can tell, it’s always a great read.

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