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Archive for February, 2008

Way to go, Canada and UK. Making daddy proud! Since I am not exactly growing my readership, all I am doing is spreading the same amount of love to more countries, which is fine with me.

Interesting data on internet users’ adoption of Google Images as a search tool. Be careful Googlemonster: You’ve lost some share (negligeable as it may be) since this time last year.

I don’t have data on February 2007 vs. February 2008 browser and OS changes, but I am glad to see that Firefox, IE7 and IE6 are so close together. I use Firfox at home and IE7 at work… which may be pretty typical of most people who access this blog from a non-Apple machine.

As far as the OS thing… I’m a little sad that Mac’s OS (which only accounts for 6% of the OS market) is still beating the crap out of Vista, but whatever. The masses will come around sooner or later.

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“The problems of this world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

- John F. Kennedy

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Every once in a great while, I cave in to common sense and take a sick day. This was the case today. I rested, I slept, I drank soup and tea,rested some more, and worked my way through a giant box of tissues. The result: This completely derivative post. Read it, follow the link to the original piece, and chew on this idea for a while. In the process, give some thought to the role of design in product development, art, publishing, software, websites, logos, advertising, entertainment, fashion and retail spaces.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

“The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new become threatening, the old reassuring.”

– Paul Rand

Design is such a multi-layered practice that it’s often difficult to define. That being said, I believe that the word “design” is increasingly confused with “style”. For example, to most “I like the way it’s designed” means that they like the way that something looks.
The visual aspect of what we do is highly important, and style has a place in that. For
example, if we want to connect with a particular audience, employing a style can sometimes be helpful. That being said, it seems that style often leads efforts. We have to break this habit.

(…)

As soon as a particular style is hot, legions of designers reverse-engineer the treatment, and imitate it until it’s everywhere.

The challenge here is that as we are bombarded by these styles, designers, by their own accord and that of their clients and peers, gravitate towards reiterating whatever the style-du-jour happens to be. (Think of the swoosh logos of the late 1990s.) It’s easy to do, the pay-off is immediate, and for a short while, one’s portfolio seems deceptively strong. Most times though, this work is void of the research, strategy, and logic that are necessary to do something effective. As a result, it’s in fact a big pile of shiny bullshit.

In turn, we’re left with scads of generic work that doesn’t hold-up for any length of time. There’s no design there, just polish that quickly tarnishes requiring another coat. In the meanwhile, budgets are exhausted, clients are left to with an out-of-date

“look”, and designers are seen as stylists: kooky kids who like to do fun, pointless things. At the risk of being melodramatic, I believe that this approach diminishes the value of our industry and limits our opportunity to contribute to higher-level discussions.

I’m a believer in what I like to call “hardcore” design. This is design focused on results. It can employ any of a multitude of treatments. It’s not personal in nature, unless this is in fact necessary. Hardcore design is driven by insight, strategy and purpose.

This kind of design forces us to see ourselves as intermediaries, who facilitate defined outcomes. To do this, we consider and weigh business, marketing, communications (and other) challenges, and work to resolve them through design. The end-result doesn’t have to look good, even though it might, but it absolutely must work.

For hardcore designers, “does it work?” is the one question that must be obsessed over. Really, this should be the case for any designer anyways; not whether it looks cool, and not if it can win awards. Hardcore design is about taking away the cute, fluffy stuff, and concentrating on what is actually accomplished.
This kind of design typically doesn’t get its due. Many call this work “corporate” (in the pejorative sense), implying that anything “corporate” must be soul-less, bland and the polar-opposite of what we like to think of as creative. This perspective is simplistic and out-of-date. Apple’s marketing is highly corporate and perhaps one of the most stand-out examples of using design to connect with an audience.

The challenge in establishing an effective design solution that reaches a broad audience is in no way less difficult or creative than making work that is personal in nature. In fact, I’d argue that it’s typically much more challenging, as it requires one to dissociate with personal perspectives, in an effort to understand the situation from a more pluralistic standpoint.

Not doing so is, in my mind, what derails so many design efforts. Clients and designers equally fall into the trap of bringing personal aesthetics (that have nothing to do with the task at hand) to projects. As a result, we see lots of pretty, ineffective “design” out there.

(…)

Style will always be there, and it’s for us to employ, just as we would any color, typeface, written approach or photographic direction. And that is just it: it’s a device, and we too often let it drive the effort. You may disagree with me here. You could (rightly) point to a number of groups and individuals who place the same premium on pragmatic design as I; nevertheless, I argue that these groups are in the minority, and that this represents an imbalance in the quality of design actually being delivered.

We have to get our collective heads out of the sand. Everything we do must be held to a higher-standard. Read the entire article here.

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“When you actually ignore reality for years on end, payback’s a bitch, brother!”

– Bruce Sterling

Research shows that half of the agency/client relationships out there last less than two years. This is from a sample of about 140 companies with an annual marketing spend of at least $2 million, including Citibank, General Mills, IBM, GE, and ESPN.

After nearly 15 years in agencies, this percentage sounds about right. But where the research tries to determine why this is the case, I take issue with it.

The other big reason [for the short tenure] is likely the fact that agencies take their eye off the ball. When you examine the reasons why clients get rid of agencies, a lot of it has to do with weaknesses in strategic thinking, creative, and service. Too many agencies try and do too many things well. They are in the business for being great creative and strategic thinkers and do-ers…not to be a great lead generation/business making machine. Too many agencies take their eye off the ball soon after an account is won, only to look for the next new win. Staying more focused on existing clients and leaving the business of building business to experts is likely a more productive strategy, long-term.

A lead generation firm sponsored the research. This fact turns the above excerpt from a research insight into a thinly-veiled ad.

It’s Not You, It’s Me.

So who’s fault is it? Part of this churn is a natural cycle vs. it being someone’s fault. Marketers are restless creatives at heart. The shelf life for any type of creative work is getting as short as consumers’ shrinking attention span. And, while it’s expensive to select a new agency and get them ramped up on your business, doing an agency review is often seen as the best way to get new ideas. Even the research notes (depressingly) that “more than 40 percent said they ‘look forward to’ or ‘find it exciting’ to search for a new agency.”

But there are also external factors that impact the client/agency relationship. Many of these factors are out of the agency’s control, including industry economic climate, client contacts changing jobs, client politics and client chemistry. These are just a handful of items to deal with and we haven’t even discussed the work yet.

Since moving client side three years ago, one of the biggest benefits I’ve discovered is time. I’ve been able to prioritize and grow our marketing efforts strategically. With a few years of momentum, and plenty of results along the way, I’m looking forward to doing even more in 2008.

This may read all Pollyanna, but I think clients and agencies need to rethink ways to keep their relationship vital to realize this kind of return on investment. Yeah, who am I kidding. Anyone want to be a client/agency counselor? LOL, I can see the role playing session now.

Other likely culprits:

- Clients’ inability to work with their agencies as a true partner in developing marketing solutions, growing their brand, etc. This is RAMPANT across all industries. The fact of the matter is that most companies tend to a) not understand marketing, b) be afraid of creative, c) lack the insight and tools to adequately measure the value of great marketing/the opportunity cost of bad marketing, and d) promote douchebags with no concept of brand development to CMO positions – when they even bother to have a CMO position.

- Many agencies’ inability to see the client as anything other than a cash cow.

- A business-as-usual attitude towards “marketing”. This starts on the client’s side but eventually infects the account team on the agency side. (Usually characterized by a “job shop” attitude by the client towards the agency.)

- Fear. Fear of pissing off the client. Fear of taking a chance with the creative. Fear of making a statement. Fear of standing for something. Fear of standing out from the competition. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of looking like asses. Fear of trying something new. Fear of asking the right questions. Fear of letting customers voice their opinions. Fear of losing control of the brand. Fear of paving the way. Fear.

- Really, really, really REALLY lousy, clueless, lazy or otherwise dumb AE’s.

- Really, really, really REALLY lousy, clueless, lazy or otherwise dumb marketing managers/CMO’s on the client side.

- Risk-adverse decision-makers.

- Lack of focus on both sides. Client: “Hey, we need something awesome for this new (XYZ).” Agency: “Right. What do you have in mind?” Client:”Um… We don’t know. We’ll know it when we see it.”

- Complete, total and utter emphasis on overrated brain-rot like “messaging” or “brand consistency.”

- Overbearing reliance on 1980’s “channels” to reach the masses.

- The notion that “it’s worked great for us for the last fifty years. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?”

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

As usual, post comments from the main page, not the from the permalink.

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The latest images from Roby’s world:








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My good friend and super personal trainer Holly DiGiovine sent out an email over the weekend that struck a cord with me. Here’s some of what she had to share:

When you have a goal that is as huge as the marathon-it will “keep you honest.” It’s not like a smaller goal that you can announce and then put off or fake your way through. Once you sign up, commit months to training, and take your first step on race day-you better have done your homework.

The beauty of this is that it goes against 99% of the natural tendencies of our culture that favors gratification without effort or devotion. But is that kind of achievement ever as satisfying? Linda Hill once told me she loved the quote, “There is no glory in training, but there is no glory without training.” In no way is this more true than in running.

And business.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that many of the folks I train with (and race against) are for the most part as devoted to their jobs (if not more) as they are to running or cycling or triathlon.

Unlike participation in say, golf or softball or basketball – no offense to club/league sports – the type of determination, discipline and emotional focus that comes with training day in, day out for extremely challenging endurance events (often by yourself) tends to bleed over into people’s 9-5’s.

Whether you’re training for a marathon, a century or the Ironman triathlon, one thing you quickly find out is that there’s no room for bullshit out there on the pavement. You either do the work or you’re screwed. Politics won’t get you to the finish line. It doesn’t matter who you know or how well you can work the system. When you’re out there, every weakness bubbles up to the surface and stares you in the eye. Lack of prepapartion, lack of motivation, lack of dedication will all come back to bite you in the ass. there’s nowhere to hide. They will all find you and jump up on your back to stop you dead in your tracks. The choice becomes this: Do you let them stop you, or do you accept them and keep going?

You learn a lot about yourself, training for that type of event.
You learn a lot about how to break thresholds and get past your own little ego, training for events like these. When you’re tired and sore and hungry but you still have four miles to go, guess what? You still have four miles to go. How you get through these last four miles is entirely up to you. Nobody cares whether you walk those last four miles or run, or hail a cab. Nobody made you set 26.2 miles as a goal. Or 100 miles. Or 144+.
Once you’ve broken past your lack of will and learned to keep going, you are transformed. A similar thing happens to Marines during training. At some point, who you used to be before you went beyond what you thought your limitations were, before you kissed excuses goodbye, before you left all of the bulllshit that stood in your mind’s way ceases to exist. You become someone else.
That someone else, the marathoner, the long distance cyclist, the triathlete, the Ironman, he or she walks into your place of work with you every morning.
We all work with two types of people: Partisans of the least amount of effort, and dedicated professionals.
The latter aren’t all marathoners and triathletes, but I have yet to meet an Ironman or marathoner who didn’t take his or her intensity and dedication to their job.
Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking a case of beer and watching sports on TV all weekend, but who you are outside of your work does have parallels with who you are when you are at work.
Something to think about.

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John Moore – whom I ran into yesterday – posted these very cool little Seth Godin vignettes on his blog. At first glance, I thought “Cool! This is a really sweet idea.” I set out to check each one out… and… quickly realized that although the action figure and quote montage thing was indeed very nifty, the selection of Seth quotes was… well, surprisingly bad.

At first glance,it looks and sounds great… and it comes from Seth, so you put on your Seth filter and expect it all to be very wise and true and insightful… but not this time.

Frankly, having been a big fan of Seth’s work over the last decade, going back to his days penning killer editorials for Fast Company, this was a huge surprise.

Feeling like maybe I had stepped into some weird Twilight Zone episode where everything is backwards, or stepped through an alternate opposite dimension like in that Star Trek Episode where Spock sported a goatee and Captain Kirk was shagging all the female members of his crew, I quickly turned on the TV and flipped to Fox News to see if their version of the news made sense. (A true litmus test for alternate realities if you ask me).

Alternatively, if you happen to have more “conservative” propensities, getting your hands on a copy of “It Takes a Village” would certainly do the trick.

Anyway. Long story short: The Fox Box turned me off in about two minutes flat. Verdict: I hadn’t stepped into an alternate universe. Ergo: Seth Godin had indeed lost his friggin’ mind.

Let me illustrate:

Wrong. Those of us who live in the real world still do come in the front door quite a bit. And even if the initial contact with a website is not with the home page, the next click or two will invariably take us there. So will most of our return visits. Perhaps Seth meant to say something else, but being that he makes a living writing articles and books and whatnot, that is pretty unlikely.

Wrong again. Old Marketing is simply a methodology, and as such has nothing to do with the quality of the products it aims to serve. Old Marketing is Old Marketing whether the product is great, average or plain lousy. The same is true of New Marketing.

True. But I’m curious about whether we’re talking about New Marketing or The New Marketing. I shouldn’t make fun. Seth just needs a better editor, that’s all.

Wrong. It demands better marketing as well. Hence the term “marketing.”

Wrong. I see plenty of brand new companies with crappy product, crappy customer experiences, crappy organizations and crappy marketing. Likewise, I see plenty of established companies turn their troubles around by adopting what Seth would call “New Marketing.” New Marketing is not the domain of fresh new entrepreneurs at all. I find that kind of thinking pretty disappointing, actually.

This is the kind of generalization that I would never have expected from “Papa Seth.”

Well… the end of the second part is true… It must be embedded into the experience of the product, but there are plenty of great “big” ideas everywhere, including the world of Advertising. And yes, advertising ideas sometimes travel VERY well.

The problem with advertising is that the US had never been all that great at it anyway. Yeah, sometimes you get a good one, but all in all, it’s a lot of noise aimed at the “good enough” middle of the bell curve. (We’ll come back to that in a bit.) Back to the point: Big ideas can indeed be advertising-based.

Let me add that if – as Bruce Mau suggested – “creativity is not device dependent,” neither is it industry-related. Seth’s anti advertising religion is starting to cloud his logic.

You wish!

In a perfect world of mavens and super cool intellectuals with unlimited greenbacks, maybe. But out here in the real world, market share matters. Volume matters. Why? Because massive amounts of revenue buy business, mind share, government regulation, premium shelf space and whatever else is necessary to either maintain that market share or increase it.

Simple illustration: I don’t care how great your burger is and how cool the setting of your new cool fast food restaurant, you aren’t going to displace McDonald’s.

Who is going to defeat companies in markets defined by volume and market share, Seth?

What little startup will defeat Verizon, at&t, Microsoft, Ford, HP, Gilette, Miracle Whip, Coca Cola, or Nike?

It’s a nice thought that may be true for some smallish businesses, but deeply flawed as a generalization. As much as I hate to admit it, the old model is very much alive, and no amount of daydreaming or ideation will change that.

I am not even going to touch that one. It’s… ugh. Never mind.

Earth to Seth! Earth to Seth! Come back!

iPod is neither remarkably weird, nor remarkably well priced. The same can be said of just about anything made by Starbucks, Nike, HP, BMW, VW, Ford, Chevy, McDonald’s, KFC, Victoria’s Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, RayBan, Microsoft, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Verizon, cingular, HBO, Trek, Pepsi, CNN.com, Colgate, Speed Stick, Whole Foods, Levis, Fruit of the Loom, Exxon, etc. I don’t think I need to go on, but I can if you want me to. For hours. Days, even.

And advertising still matters. A lot.

You are so wrong it hurts.

You say everyone is a critic.
And you want to satisfy the critics.
Which means you want to satisfy everyone.
Yet… you can’t satisfy everyone. Surely, you realize that.

So I have to ask:

1. What the hell are you babbling about?
2. How does pleasing everyone play into the whole “marketshare is irrelevant” thing?

Even if I agree with you on this point, how is it different from what every company has been trying to accomplish since the dawn of enterprise?

Dude. You’re scaring me.

What are you smoking, man? Breadth and depth are not mutually exclusive.

Until recently, marketing was all about breadth because the tools weren’t there to reach people individually, based on specific criteria. Now that these tools are getting more accessible, effective and affordable, companies will be able to combine breadth AND depth to drive sales, product adoption, mindshare, or whatever they want.

To say that mass isn’t important is to say that generating revenue – and growth – are not important.

I’m worried about you, Seth. Seriously.

Kinduv. I’ll give you that one. I could argue it, but I don’t feel like splitting hairs right now. I’m getting a headache trying to make sense of your ramblings.


Obviously, you have never set foot in a K-Mart or a WalMart. Or a restaurant chain. Or pumped gas into your car. Or walked down the street.

Seth, people buy average crap every day, seemingly by the pound. They can’t get enough of average, in fact.

Average food, average cars, average clothes, average haircuts, average music, tickets to average movies, hours of couch time watching average TV shows… Our entire culture is based on the premise that the fat middle of the bell curve is where the lion’s share of the revenue (and value) is. The point here Seth, is that the majority of people actually do go for what’s “good enough.”

The sweet spot for most businesses, is right there between “not good enough” and “very good.”

And um… “people avoid the deceitful?” Really? Tell that to Exxon, McDonald’s and the current administration, for starters. People don’t give a crap about the deceitful. They’re jaded. As if integrity was even a blip on the radar anymore.

We’re kind of into denial, Seth… in case you hadn’t noticed. Check out the stats on how much money is spent each year in the US alone on weight loss products. Deceit obviously sells just as well as anything else.

The very fact that over 93% of Americans eat red meat is proof enough that people don’t avoid the deceitful at all. Come on, man. What country do you live in? Our entire way of life is firmly anchored in denial. Deceit doesn’t even enter the picture.

I don’t mean to be critical, but I have to call bullshit when I see it. (Even if John did a kickass job for you on the improvised presentation.)

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Seth. Everyone goes a little crazy sometimes… but… wooh. You don’t do anything half-assed, do you.

I think I’m going to go drown my sorrows in Kambucha now.

Or better yet, go watch some “good enough” TV.

It’s a world gone mad I tell ya.

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