Archive for October, 2005

Raison d’etre

all rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005

Kathy Sierra rocks. She does. If you don’t read her blog regularly, you’re missing out on some seriously good stuff about passion. Passion in business. Passion in design. Passion in your customers. Passion in the world.

Today’s post is definitely worth a read. If there is one thing I have learned in my years of having worked in what some like to call “the marketing” world, it’s this: You can’t fake it. The best advertising agency can’t save you if your product isn’t great. And by great, I mean REALLY great.

How do you make a product great? Is it by being passionate about it? Of course, but more specifically, it is by being passionate about that product’s place in the world. Its purpose. The way people interract with it.

You have to be obsessed with a simple thought: “Will the people I am making this for really, really love it?”

Will they love using it? Will it make their lives easier? Will it make their lives better? Will it make them happy?

(Questions like will they love it so much that they’ll tell all of their friends about it?, those come a little bit later.)

Remember the story about the homemade cheescakes from Alabama ending up in one of New Orleans’ best restaurants? This is the same thing.

A little old lady in Alabama made cheesecakes. At first, it was probably for her family. For her closest friends. Probably two or three times per year, she made this cheesecake. Thanksgiving. Christmas. A birthday. It was probably a big event in her immediate cirle. Something special. Something to be anticipated. The rest of the year, she probably heard a lot of “so… when are you going to make that cheesecake for us again?”

I would guess that this little old lady started making that cheesecake a bit more often because more and more people got to taste it… and so more and more people started asking for more.

And then more and more people who had never tasted it, hearing so many stories about it, started asking for it too.

“Come on, can you please make one for us? Pleeeeease?”

The little old lady probably started expanding her clientelle by baking one for a sick neighbor. Baking a half dozen for a church fund raiser. Baking a few more for a local diner, just to make ends meet here and there, when the farm didn’t quite pay off on its own this month or that.

I doubt that this little old lady started off by pacing back and forth in her kitchen wondering: “How do I make the best cheesecake the world has ever known?”

“How do I start making tons of cash with this recipe?”

“How should I sell this to restaurants all over the country? Advertising or word-of-mouth?”

Nope. This little old lady simply baked cheesecakes because it made people happy. If she made some money out of the deal, great. If not, well, at least her work would put smiles on people’s faces, and that was reward enough for her.

That’s how her cheesecakes ended up on the dessert menu of one of the best restaurants in the country.

Her approach to baking cheesecakes isn’t all that removed from what makes some designs better than others.

When my Passat effortlessly accelerates past a truck struggling to get up a mountain road, I am happy. When I nail a photo with my old Pentax K-1000 or my new Canon, I am happy. When I clip into my Look pedals and hear that comforting slap of the spring against my cleat, I am happy. When I take my first sip of Orangina after months of not having been able to get my hands on a bottle, I am happy. When I read the first few lines of a Chuck Palahniuk novel, yeah, I am happy.

You can bet that behind every single one of these experiences is the unapologetic application of at least one person’s passion for driving, photography, cycling, drinking seriously good carbonated orange juice, or reading… um… well, reading.

Note that I am talking about experiences here. Experiences. That’s what all of this is about.

If your work is a labor of love, if at the basis of your design, or your idea is the question: “will they love this?” then you’re on the right track. It can be a movie. A screwdriver. A remote control. An mp3 player. A hotdog. A computer game. A lawnmower. It can be anything.

If instead, the driving questions in your product development meetings are more along the lines of “if we make it less ergonomic, can we shave another 7% off the cost?” you may not be headed in the best of directions.

“If we use cheaper materials…”

“If we take away some of the utility…”

“If we only offer it in gray…”

The death of good design happens one unanswered question at a time. One bad assumption at a time. One little sliver of fear at a time. Meeting after meeting after meeting, people who have no understanding of what your customers want or love or wish for take you further and further away from the point. It happens because all too often, the customers – the users – aren’t part of the discussion, and the entire concept of experience is shoved aside and forgotten.

And we wonder why it doesn’t usually take long for the discussion to turn into a monologue.

If your product isn’t designed with your customers in mind, if it doesn’t take into account their experience of it, no amount of advertising, PR or clever marketing will make up for its shortcomings. You have to start with the product itself. You have to start with the product’s raison d’etre. You have to start with a certain measure of passion. Other than recruiting and nurturing incredible talent, that is any business’ singlemost important priority.

If passion isn’t in your vocabulary, then focus on putting something in your customers’ hands that makes them want more of what you have to offer.

I am not talking about keychains with your logo on it.

Design starts with passion for the world, for the way things are used and for making people happy.

When I say people, I mean users.

When I say passion, I mean curiosity.

That’s why when I saw that Kathy’s top suggestion in her latest post was to favor hiring “a creative, user-focused product designer” over a “creative, award-winning advertising designer,” the heavens parted and I heard angels sing. (I did.)

Now, I don’t completely agree with Kathy on every single suggestion she makes. Ad agencies can be VERY valuable. This is especially true of agencies/firms that work with their clients as true strategic partners. (Tom Peters calls them “PSF”: Professional Services Firms, and has a fantastic – and free – little downloadable e-book on the subject right here.) But I do agree with the thought behind her suggestions: Ad agencies and PR firms need to do more than just “sell” to stay relevant.

That means that if you own a company that develops products, you need to invite your strategic partner to the table BEFORE the products are designed. Not afterwards.

Sure, a great ad agency can inspire people to buy your products. A great agency can make a trip to a fast food restaurant look like a Disneyworld vacation. They can make you feel that buying a particular car will make driving an adventure. But… none of this really means anything if you can’t really deliver on their promises.

The burger joint isn’t an amusement park. Most people’s morning commute isn’t the great arctic tundra.

Once the commercials are off the air and your customers realize that your burger wasn’t really all that great, that the service sucked, that your car seat is kind of uncomfortable and that the windshield wipers are too noisy, what kind of relationship do you expect to have with them?

Why should they ever buy anything from you again?

Why should they ever recommend you to their friends?

No matter how cool and well crafted, without something rock solid to back it up, your message is nothing but hot air.

You can’t keep doing this. You can’t. Those days are over.

The solution: Call your marketing firm right now and ask them to come help you design your next product. Ask them to come study your customer service department. Ask them to help you find ways to spend more time with your customers. Your users. Your fans.

Treat them like a PSF and ask them to come help you become the company you know can be. Could be. Should be.

The cool thing is that they can still make ads for you. They can still spread the word and give you the exposure you crave, but just think about how much more effective they will be at doing this once they are truly a part of what it is you do.

Think about how much more successful your company will be once you have shifted your focus away from selling, and back to making your customers happy with you?

Marketing firms are a lot more effective at doing this than you realize. And if yours can’t do this for you, find one that will. They’re out there. I know a few.

Kathy’s original table is a lot clearer than this one.

If you’re an ad agency or a marketing/PR firm and business is slow, maybe it’s time to start thinking about evolving into something more than what you are. Start looking for ways to help your clients evolve rather than just being relegated to creative job shop and media bullhorn status. (You’re better than that, and you know it.) Find ways to coach your clients through the sometimes difficult process of becoming what Fast Company would call a… well… a “fast company”. You owe it to yourself.

Perhaps more importantly, you owe it to them.

(Or hey, if business is great, don’t change a thing.) πŸ™‚

As for Kathy’s very cool 200 dairy cow idea, don’t kill your advertising budget just yet. You can have your cake and eat it too.

Consider this: It only costs $500 to buy a dairy cow for a village or a needy family through Heifer international. But… Why a cow? Here’s why:

“One healthy cow can produce four gallons of milk per day. The protein in milk can transform sick, malnourished children into healthy boys and girls. The sale of surplus milk earns money for school fees, medicine, clothing and home improvements. And because a healthy cow can have a calf every year, your gift of a heifer could eventually help an entire community move from poverty to self-reliance. And that’s a present that’s impossible to top!

There you go.

So while a gift of 200 cows sounds pretty damn cool, one cow woud be a good start… and then two… and twenty… and fifty. (Sometimes, starting small and letting something grow is a lot more rewarding for everyone involved than just throwing a big chunk of money at it.) Getting employees and customers involved might be a great way to keep your advertising… er… PSF budget and still raise enough money to fund a whole lot of cows. Maybe even a whole lot more than 200 by the time you’re done.

Incidentally, if you want to do something now but a cow isn’t in your budget yet, a water buffalo is only $250 (they’re vital to subsistance farmers in Asia). A pig is $120. A goat is $120. Check out the site for all of the options. It’s pretty cool.

Anyway. Back to the point: Passion. Professional Services Firms. Inspired product development. Happy users/customers. Triggering cultural shifts. Dairy cows for 3rd world farmers. Get the idea?

Okay. Since you’re still here, I have a treat for you.

A Haiku:

Ripples in a pond

reach every shore.

Your heart is the pebble.

Kathy, you rock.

One last thing: Check out the Sarah McLachlan video that inspired Kathy’s post here. Even if you aren’t a fan, what she’s done with it is pretty awe-inspiring.

Read Full Post »

all rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005

I was driving back from the veterinarian’s office today, pondering a new business opportunity I kind of tripped on, when the term “microventure” popped up in my buzzing little head. I did a quick google search as soon as I got home, and of course, the term had already been coined. *sigh*

Anyhoo. My definition of a microventure may be a bit different from what an economist’s would be. In my little world, a microventure is just a small 1-2 person startup that requires virtually zero capital and probably won’t, by itself, make anyone rich anytime soon. I am talking about ventures that start very, very small.
Stuff you’re already kind of doing… just… without the money-making part.
Do you knit really cool sweaters for your family and friends? Are their friends asking you to make some for them too? Are your pies winning local awards or state fair contests every year? Do you grow the most amazing tulips anyone in the tri-county area has ever seen? Are your pesticide-free vegetables turning heads at the local health food store?
You might be sitting on some pretty amazing potential.
I remember eating the most fantastic cheesecake in a posh New Orleans restaurant two years ago. I mean… this thing was unlike any other cheesecake I had ever tasted. Culinary heaven. Seriously. So I asked the waiter if they were made in-house, and he told me that no, they were baked by this little old lady in Alabama who lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere.
I should have asked how the little old lady and the restaurant came to form this wonderful relationship. How do you get from creating a unique recipe and baking cheesecakes for your church in your old kitchen stove to supplying one of the best restaurants in the country?
With no advertising.
With no capital.
With no infrastructure or representation or technology.
Pretty cool.
Microventures can be about anything. Growing the juiciest tomatoes. Writing inspiring children’s books. Breeding gorgeous cockatiels. Making really cool looking art. Designing even cooler furniture. Designing stunning websites. Making gorgeous cabinets. Whatever. Microventures are about doing something unique. Something you can be the best in the world at. Something that will help you change the world, even if it’s just a tiny little bit.
What separates microventures from other small businesses is the fact that they are completely unique. They don’t follow a model. They aren’t a copy of what someone else is already doing. You won’t find them in infomercials. There’s no kit. There’s no program. There’s nothing to buy into. There’s no pyramid. It’s just you and your own highly specialized contribution to the world.
At their core, they are about new ideas. Serious talent. Hard work. Patience.
And most importantly, not relying on them to pay the bills anytime soon.
You should dream big, but you kind of have to start small. Build your business, one brick at a time. Be happy with a positive cash flow, but don’t expect to quit your day job just yet.
Note the “micro” in microventure.
Note the emphasis on “yet”.
So, back to my irrelevant little story: The veterinarian’s office. The lightbulb moment. The drive back to my house. The subsequent blog search to see what (if anything) had already been written about it. Fast forward to Hugh Macleod’s “The Global Microbrand” post on gapingvoid. Pause on the WOW moment when I realize that there must be some kind of weird eureka synergy to this blogging thing.
Hugh’s global microbrand theory is kind of like the third and fourth steps in my microventure concept. (Step 1: Start. Step 2: Make money. Step 3: Work out the kinks and get really, really good at it. Step 4: Reach far beyond your zipcode.)
Here’s some of what he has to say:
Since I first used the term here in December of last year, I have been totally besotted with the idea of “The Global Microbrand”.

A small, tiny brand, that “sells” all over the world.
With the internet, of course, a global microbrand is easier to create than ever before. But they’ve existed for a while. Imagine a well-known author or painter, selling his work all over the world. Or a small whisky distillery in Scotland. Or a small cheese maker in rural France, whose produce is exported to Paris, London, Tokyo etc. Ditto with a violin maker in Italy. A classical guitar maker in Spain. A commercial sign maker in New England. Or a sheet metal entrepreneur in the U.K.

And with the advent of blogs this was no longer just limited to people who made products. We saw that any service professional with a bit of talent and something to say could spread their message far and wide beyond their immediate client base and local market, without needing a high-profile name or the goodwill of the mainstream media. (…)
The Global Microbrand is sustainable. With it, you are not beholden to one boss, one company, one customer, one local economy or even one industry. Your brand develops relationships in enough different places to where your permanent address becomes almost irrelevant. (…)
Of course, “The Global Microbrand” is not conceptual rocket science. You don’t need a Nobel Prize in order to understand the idea. What excites me about it is the fact that I now live in a small cottage in the English boonies, and careerwise I’m getting a lot more done than when I lived in a large apartment in New York or London, for a fifth of the overheads. For one fiftieth of the stress levels.
(Read the rest of his post here.)
So anyway. Yep. Blogging is a crucial element of creating (or at least nurturing) your own global microbrand. Global microbrands fit much better in the web 2.0 world of quality discussions, solid referals and passionate clients than in the splattergun approach of traditional advertising’s high traffic/high exposure model.
The microbrand’s highly specialized nature is exactly what makes it so relevant… and successful.
The old lady in baking cheesecakes in Alabama. The blanquette maker in Languedoc. The cabinet maker in Antwerp. The Christmas ornament maker in Sri Lanka. The business consultant in Lima. All potential global microbrands. All potential really cool little stories.
All potential agents of change.
Building a whole new world economy, one little brick at a time.
In closing, I will leave you with Hugh’s parting words from his post:
“There are thousands of reasons why people write blogs. But it seems to me the biggest reason that drives the bloggers I read the most is, we’re all looking for our own personal global microbrand. That is the prize. That is the ticket off the treadmill. And I don’t think it’s a bad one to aim for. (…) as long as we keep blogging, avoid high overheads and keep making the best suits in the world, nobody can take it away from us.”
Put your passion to work. It’ll be one of the most rewarding adventures you’ll ever go on.

Read Full Post »

Blog Appreciation Day

all rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005

Okay. Some days, I don’t have anything really all that relevant to write about. It isn’t so much that I didn’t do anything interesting today (I did), but… I’d rather yield the floor to fellow bloggers whose posts were particularly good.

First, grab a cup of java and go hit Kathy Sierra’s latest post: if you could change only one thing. Not only will you learn about kerning and trapped white space, but it’s a damn good exploration of the potential for change… one observation at a time.

Then hop on over to hugh’s gaping void blog for a brilliant Seth Godin paraphrase: “The future of marketing is being able to create stories other people will want to tell.” Then check out his blog cards and buy a set. (You know you want to!)

And then there’s an afternoon’s worth of reading with Tom Peters’ The “PSF” IS Everything! , which is probably the coolest thing I’ve read all month. (Over three pages anyway.) Be ready because it’s 109 pages long… But they’re short pages. And they’re GREAT pages. Great great great great great. Really.

And if you’re hungry for more once you’re done, feel free to pick any of the links on the right side of this page. Some are about marketing. Others are about advertising. Design. Photography. PR. They’re all really good.

Discover a new voice today.


Read Full Post »

Fear Is Irrelevant.

All rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005

“Dear President Jackson,

canal system in this country is being threatened by a new form of transportation
known as β€œrailroads” . . .

If the canal boats are
supplanted by railroads, boat builders would suffer, and towline, whip, and
harness makers would be left destitute . . .

God never
intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”


Martin Van Buren
Governor, State of New York, 1829

There will always be a railroad coming. Chinese factories being built. Evolution will happen, in nature as in business, in science as in politics, in art as in manufacturing. Change is as inevitable as hurricanes and floods and wars and revolutions. Change is the vehicle through which cancer will be cured and people will walk on Mars and we will eventually wean ourselves from fossil fuels. Whether you like it or not, entire industries will crumble and others will sprout to take their place.

Whether you like it or not, you will either be a catalyst for change, or a victim of it.

Innovation and market disruption will either make you successful or irrelevant.

You will either change the world or watch it race right by.

This is the reality of the world, and you need to face it now.

Starbucks changed the world. Yahoo and Google changed the world. Apple changed the world. Ford. Tolkien. Picasso. American Express. HBO. Xerox. CNN. Netflix is changing the world right now. Ten years from now, some of these names will have stopped innovating. Some of these names will have settled for “safe”. Some of these names will fade away.

Fear won’t stop the train from coming. It won’t make the barbarians turn around. It is completely irrelevant.

Fear is an illusion.

Either embrace change as an opportunity to become something great, or pack it up and go home. There is no middle ground. Not anymore.

Imagine. Create. Invent. Lead. Chart your own course. Make up new words for what you do. For what you are. For where you’re headed. Make up new words now, because you’ll need them later.

Fortune doesn’t favor the “also in.”

Don’t settle for being the best. Instead, work your ass off to be the first. This isn’t about beating the other guys. You can’t. You won’t. Those kinds of victories are short-lived and meaningless. Be unique. Become an icon. Become a legend.

But expect to fall on your face a lot. It’s the price you pay for getting there, and getting there first. By first, I don’t mean necessarily first to market. I mean first to success.

Remember IDEO’s mantra: Fail often to succeed faster. It isn’t just relevant to rapid prototyping anymore.

Come close, because I am going to tell you a little secret. Come on. Lean in a little. Lend me your ear and listen.

Ready? Okay, here it goes: Failure is a point on a learning curve. Nothing more. It’s nothing to be afraid of as long as you keep those little feet moving.


The only true failure is to never have tried… or to have given up too soon.

Trust me on this one.

Related post: Seth Godin’s “What Are You Afraid Of?

Read Full Post »

Top 25

Ooooooooo!!!! Look who made Technocrati’s top 25 list of Branding blogs:

1. gapingvoid
2. Johnnie Moore’s Weblog
3. Thinking by Peter Davidson
4. The Social Customer Manifesto
5. Media Culpa
6. everyhuman
7. Influx
8. superchefblog
9. Piaras Kelly PR
10. IF
11. Advertising/Design Goodness
12. Emergence Marketing
13. Brand Infection
14. Cherryflava
15. 360east
16. brandXpress Blog
17. Jane Genova: Speechwriter Ghostwriter
18. Media Orchard
19. Jefte.net
20. Marketing Usabile
21. Shotgun Marketing Blog
22. Casual Fridays
23. My Name is Kate
24. The Brand Builder Blog
25 Day Care For Your Brain

I’m not usually a joiner, but this is a club I can definitely be proud of.

Thanks for reading. πŸ™‚


Read Full Post »

Substance vs. Flash

In his latest post about viral marketing, the always dead-on John Moore serves us another platter of wicked wisdom tapas:

“My advice to clients is to spend dollars to make the product more remarkable, not to make the word of mouth tactic more remarkable.”

So yeah, while BK’s subservient chicken and the “Wake Up With The King” campaigns are clever, cool and the subject of oodles of attention, they only serve to perpetuate themselves. They do absolutely nothing to get me into a Burger King.

(Now, a $0.99 whopper, on the other hand…)

Don’t het me wrong: Cool ideas, especially in advertising always get my attention… BUT the “cool factor” (or in this case, the “fresh” factor) of a campaign is quick to fade when it does more for the agency that developed it than for the brand it was intended to represent.

If there’s no substance behind an ad, its shelf-life will be counted in single-digits. In other words, while viral is fun, it’s also a tricky medium. It has to be backed up by something actually worth talking about. A new product. A product Improvement. Something.

Case in point: Giantology‘s brilliant faux archeological digs (complete with videos and nessy-esque reports) is the perfect viral vehicle for Sony Playstation 2’s upcoming “Shadow of the Colossus“. (Thanks, Spike.)

Chick-Fil-A’s “Eat More Chickins” campaign has been going strong for as long as I can remember. The latest in the collection of quirky cow fetish head trips is a loosely medieval calendar of famous cows, including bovine versions of Lancelot, Joan Of Arc, Robin Hood (and possibly even Vercingetorix, but I’ll have to double-check that one).

Granted, seeing the renegade cows dangling from giant billboards doesn’t make me instantly crave a chicken sandwich, but they do help me identify with the brand. Moreover, next time I do crave a chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A will most likely be the first company I will think of.

The cheekishly creepy king and the subservient chicken, on the other hand, make me crave more creative advertising, but not a trip to Burger King.

But back to the point: Without something of substance to anchor a viral campaign to, you’re left with essentially… um… nothing more than flash.

If Burger King were to finally develop decent fries (think McDonald’s and Wendy’s), now THAT would be something worth talking about. Know what I mean?

What’s on BK’s menu these days anyway? Why should I bother to find out? Neither the king nor the chicken are telling me, and that’s really too bad.

Read Full Post »

That Bond Called Trust

All rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005

In 1998, I decided to get back into running, so I grabbed my old Nike running shoes and hit the road. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to develop some aches and pain. Not the kind that you can just brush off, mind you. The kind that threatened to stop my comeback dead in its tracks.

When I walked into Jeff Milliman’s store that March, it wasn’t to buy shoes. It was to get advice on how to get rid of the sharp pain that burned out of the side of my right knee every time I passed the six mile mark.

Jeff listened to my problem and smiled. He had me take off my shoes and roll up my pants. He watched me walk around his store. And then he gave me a pair of shoes.

“Here. Try these,” he said.

“You mean like… here?”

“No, I mean take them home. Run in them for a couple of weeks. If they work for you, come back and pay for them. If not, we’ll try another shoe.”

Just like that.

Jeff had never met me before. He didn’t know my name. If I had gone home that day with those shoes and never came back, he would have had no way to find me.

He took a big chance, trusting a complete stranger.

But ultimately, it paid off.

The shoes fixed the problem, and my ITBS quickly went away.

Two pairs of shoes later, I ran my first marathon.

Four more pairs, and I completed my first Ironman.

Add the shorts, the shirts, the energy drinks, the gels, the bars, the race belt, the hats, the sunglasses, the bodyglide, the socks, the decals, and you’ll get an idea of of how well Jeff’s gamble paid off.

That doesn’t take into account the dozens of people I sent his way over the years.

It doesn’t count the free publicity he got from my triathlon club’s website and newsletter.

Yeah, it paid off nicely.

I’m just one guy. Multiply this by a hundred customers.

The point is that I didn’t go into his store to buy shoes, but I walked out with a pair anyway.

I ran in those shoes every day for two weeks.
By the time I walked back into Jeff’s store to pay him, I was more interested in thanking him for having been such a cool guy. The moment I walked out of his store with that pair of shoes, I was a customer for life.
Imagine a restaurant manager telling you “here, since you liked our food so much, take this pie home. If you like it, come back next week and pay for it. If not, it’s on the house.”
Imagine a wireless service provider telling you “hey, take the phone and try the plan on for size. If it works for you, come back next month and we’ll finish the paperwork. If not, we’ll try something else that’ll suit you better.”
Refreshing? You bet.
Ultimately, it wasn’t about the shoes. It was about the gesture. It was about the trust. It was about essentially putting me completely in the driver’s seat.
And it was about getting me back on the road.

Establish that kind of bond with your customers, and they’ll never, ever leave you.
So… The question begs to be asked: What kind of bonds are you forging with your customers?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »