Archive for January, 2007

A tale of two businesses:

Business A gives away gift cards to their employees every quarter – as long as the company is doing well. So every three months, like clockwork, the HR manager sends out an email to everyone and asks them if they want a $25 gift card to Moe’s or Sticky Fingers, to Target or Publix, to the movie theater or the concert arena downtown.

Number of employees: 300.
Cost: $30,000 per year ($100/employee)
Return on investment: Zero. The employees kind of appreciate the gesture, but it is meaningless. The impact on their morale, productivity, sense of being appreciated is non-existent. It just feels like the company is running through the motions. It is essentially throwing money away.

Business B doesn’t have a set pattern of gift giving. Instead, the owners/managers show their appreciation in a more human way:

– Genuinely congratulating employees when they do something right. No fanfare. No corny award presentations. No plaques or applause. Just subtle, heartfelt, personal ataboys. “Hey Jack, you handled that really well.” “Hey Janice, thanks for taking care of that for me. I appreciate it.” “Hey Chris, quick thinking today. That was a really great idea.”
– Asking employees for advice/involvement regarding minor and major business decisions.
– Occasionally writing them thank you notes and planting pieces of their favorite candy in their desk drawers.
– Treating employees more like colleagues and friends than commodities.

Little things. Real little things.

Number of employees: 50.
Cost: Less than $20/employee per year.
Return on Investment: Very high. Employees feel genuinely appreciated and valued. Respect and allegiance to managers and company are consistently high. Employees feel empowered and responsible for the success of their company. Employees positive attitude towards the company they work for turns them into de-facto brand ambassadors for customers and potential hires.

When employees feel valued instead of taken for granted, when they feel appreciated instead of exploited, when they actually like their managers as people, what do you think the effect on the company they work for and brand they help strengthen will be?

Real brand ambassadors – like great friends – can’t be bought. If your strategy for retaining great employees is to put money in their pocket, remember this: There is always going to be someone out there who will be willing to give them more money than you… or offer something more valuable than… money.

Treat people well, treat them with care and genuine attention, and they will move mountains for you. It doesn’t matter if they’re your customers or your employees.

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Posted by David Burn on AdPulp (via the Yeti):

Author, educator and art director/brand strategist, Robin Landa, spoke with some of the industry’s top creative directors and compiled their best advise in a downloadable document available from Amazon.com for $0.49.

Here’s a small slice:

Robin Landa: “What’s your philosophy about advertising?”

John Butler: “It has to be likeable. It has to inform and inspire. It has to have some emotional hook to it that makes consumers interact with it. It can’t talk down to the consumer. There’s a great quote—although I can’t remember who said it—but it’s hanging on my door: “He who writes the stories defines the culture.” I think that pretty much sums it up. We are given a voice, and we have to be responsible in how we use that voice.”

Butler, a partner in Sausalito’s best agency, nails it in his succinct dissertation.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Ed Roach, from Brand Corral, left this comment on my post about innovation yesterday, and I thought I’d share it with everyone because it’s a great example of what we try to talk about here on a daily basis:


I have a customer who had the same problem. His patent ran out and the orient copied his product exactly (as a matter of fact the tooling was even a little better). And of course they were now much cheaper.

So we put all our efforts into building a relationship with the customer. We put a fresh new logo in position and embossed it into every product, so that the customer would recognize the difference. He put a lot of energy into making the product in a superior range of colours and configurations. Packaging was more engaging. He still keeps up this innovation and has build the brand on being the latest, setting the bar if you will. The brand is used by more professionals in it’s market than the competition.

After about 4 years of struggle we are recognized by our target audience and they identify the product by it’s brand name (not the old name). His market share is up each year over the last even thought the product costs “more” than the orient’s version. Defeating the commodity has worked again by addressing the brand and finding a means to differentiate your products.

It is an on-going battle but we can win if we are true to the brand from every touch point and differentiate strategically.


Build a relationship with your customers. Differentiate yourself from the copycats. Establish a clear brand strategy and line of dialogue with your audience. Deliver on your brand promise. Always. Set the bar as high as possible to keep your competitors at bay and become the brand of choice for your category. Work hard, don’t cut corners, and build on your successes. That’s essentially all there is to it.

Helping a company be successful – and teaching execs how to continue to make their companies successful long after you’re gone… Yeah. It’s all pretty rewarding. 😉

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

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So, what does a French Brand Strategist living in the deep South do on his day off?

Brush teeth. Get dressed. Walk dogs. Clean kitchen. Do dishes. Clean bathroom. Put away laundry. Finally get around to fixing the garbage disposal unit (or rather diagnose the problem through trial-and-error, then perform surgery on a defective power switch in the wall). Go buy new swimsuit to replace the one with the see-through behind I was forced to wear yesterday. Drop in at Orange Coat just to say hi… and check out the new wii. Drive to gym and change into Lycra monkeysuit. Ride bicycle up and down mountains for three hours. Get out of wet, freezing clothes. Head back out and run for 45 minutes to make sure that my legs are shredded all the way. Swim for 30 minutes to stretch out and relax a bit. Shower. Drive home. Eat vasts amounts of food. Check email. Check messages. Check blog posts. Have lunch. (Kidding. Lunch happened before the bike ride.) Work on some sweet graphics concepts for a client’s website. Help kids with homework. Ponder my weekly 24 vs. Heroes scheduling dilemma. Get stuff ready for next day. Pass out.

This is how I clear my head sometimes. Today was a good day. 🙂

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Yeah… So a few years ago, I was sitting in this Senior VP’s office (She was responsible for about $56M in annual sales), and we were discussing the fact that her company’s sales were kind of flat. Inventories were growing. Margins were eroding. She blamed “those damned Chinese imports” and price cuts she couldn’t keep up with for her company’s stagnant sales. When I started talking to her about product innovation, she made a face and said something along the lines of “We’re not an innovating company. It’s just not what we do.”

She also wasn’t too keen on the value of brands – unless of course you happened to be talking about Prada or Chanel… which always kind of puzzled me: She understood and appreciated the power of brands… but couldn’t see the value of the one she was being paid to strengthen.

Two years after that meeting, when the company’s competitors – including many of the damned Chinese imports – started coming out with cool, smart, appealing designs, she was overheard exclaiming “hey, why couldn’t we come up with that?”

Cute. Marie Antoinette contemplating brioches as the mob approached the palace gates.

Please don’t be this lady. And don’t be that kind of company either. There’s just no reason for it.

The good news: Innovation isn’t necessarily expensive. The bad news: If you don’t get with the program fast, your days are numbered.

“To create innovate products, we have to secure insights not only into the products and but also into their business opportunities by having an observant and empathetic view of the world… Only T-shaped people, who have well rounded personalities and broad interests, can obtain such viewpoints. Sophisticated engineers who do not understand the market and customers will never devise items, which have a shot at becoming a grand slam…

“In Korea, just engineers are responsible for creating products. They can make good products, which sell pretty well. But that is not enough at all. We need trend-defining merchandise that makes our competitors invalid, just as iPod or RAZR did. Towards these ends, we need more T-shaped people than narrow-sighted engineers. Local firms have to change their recruitment policy.” — Tom Kelley –

“Any U.S. technology company hoping to remain competitive with global rivals and exploit new market opportunities — whether it is Internet search or China (or both!) — must make a commitment to hiring, developing and rewarding top-level R&D talent. The lesson is clear: technology companies must first win the battle for R&D talent before they can win the battle for market share. The cliché that “the company’s most valuable assets walk out the door each night” has never been truer. Time and time again, companies with the best R&D talent win the battle for market dominance.” — Dominic Basulto –


Australian business magazine BRW has released its list of the Fast 100 – top Australian companies that are innovating their way to success. After pointing out that “problem-solving and constant curiosity are at the heart of innovation for fast-growing companies,” BRW goes behind the scenes at 100 up-and-coming Australian companies that have made innovation a key component of their future growth plans. At the end of the article, BRW provides a handy innovation scorecard:

75% Of BRW Fast 100 companies say they have developed a unique product or service

20% Say revenue growth this year will come from new products and services

78% Personally champion innovation

75% Search the world for new ideas

93% Encourage employees to be creative and innovative

72% Are satisfied with the financial return on their investment in innovation


Fact: “Most executives underestimate their company’s resistance to change. That’s a big reason why half of all new initiatives fail… managers don’t start with a plan to get enough buy-in.” — Laurence Haughton

Okay… so now that we’re all on the same wavelength…

On January 30 at 12:00pm ET, bestselling author Laurence Haughton will be leading a free online workshop called “More Buy-In for New Ideas and Innovations.” During the presentation, Laurence will help business leaders arrive at a strategy to overcome resistance to change and improve follow-through rates within the organization. Registration is free (and relatively painless) by clicking here.

Thanks to Dominic Basulto over at The Business Innovation Insider for the heads-up.

Have a great Monday, everyone.

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It isn’t every day that you run into a blog post like this one. It isn’t for everyone, but gosh darn it, that mad angry bearded George Parker guy from Adscam does tell it like it is.

I don’t know for sure… But I may have at long last found my daily five minutes of Zen in George’s blog. Peace and love, everyone. Peace and love.

And for the record, if CP+B’s creepy Orville crank zombie sells any popcorn at all, my name ain’t Nathan Arizona.

PS: Shame on you CP+B. Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.

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A little over a year ago Ernie Mosteller wrote this, over on Tangelo Ideas‘ blog. (I never grow tired of Purple Cow thinking.) Here’s the skinny:

Family resemblances are a good thing. For families. But for agencies, it can get you into trouble. When the stuff you create for your boat manufacturer client starts to look or sound or feel just like the stuff you’re making for that software startup, oh, and the athletic-shoe retailer, and maybe the fast-food restaurant, too; you have to ask: Are you doing what speaks best to the audience? What’s best for the client? Or are you doing what you personally think is cool? Worse yet, are you doing what the competition is doing, too?”


I was flipping through some old issues of Fast Company this morning, when I found this very cool little article by Christine Canabou entitled Fast Ideas For Slow Times (May 2003). In it, Christine makes the argument for the fact that offering something different/unique is now a crucial part of any company’s success.

Creativity is no longer exclusive to the ad agency world. Likewise, innovation is no longer exclusive to the design world. In order for businesses to thrive, creativity has to become part of their product operational DNA. In order for agencies to keep doing exceptional work for an ever-growing list of quality clients, they have to breed curiosity, exploration and innovation into their DNA.

It isn’t change. It’s evolution.

Here’s the thing: If you keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing, nothing new is going to happen to you. Your sales aren’t suddenly going to double. Your market share isn’t going to enjoy a sudden increase. Nobody is going to really notice you. If you’ve been growing at 6% per year for the past ten years, it’s probably safe to say that you’ll keep seeing 6% growth for a while longer.

A little while.

As Christine puts it: “Do nothing new, and you won’t make a mistake. But do nothing new for too long, and you risk making the biggest mistake of all.”

Yep. It’s easy to let your successes pigeon-hole you into Sisyphean repetition. Before you know it, companies come to you with requests to do for them what you did for your other client(s): “That thing you did for Spalookaboo, Inc… the thing with the talking cow and the karate-chopping mongoose… can you do something like that for us?”

Look. The last thing the world needs is another subservient chicken. More to the point, the last thing Crispin Porter + Bogusky needs is another subservient chicken project.

Something is only original once. Something is only creative once. After that, everything becomes derivative and stale. Copies of copies of copies are just what Seth Godin would call brown cows. (No matter how good and cool they are, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.)

It’s completely natural to see a competitor’s latest product or ad and think “Doh! Why didn’t we think of that?” It’s also natural to want to jump on the bandwaggon by doing something similar. (The reasoning being that if it works for your competitor, it’ll work for you too.)


Copying for the sake of not being left behind is an expensive and terribly ineffective business strategy. (And it’s lame.) 1) You’ll come across as an “also in”. 2) You’ll back yourself into a price comparison corner (kiss your revenue goodbye). 3) You’ll be turning your back on your biggest competitive advantage – the practical application of your creative power: Innovation.

At best, being a brown cow guarantees stagnation.

At best.

It also guarantees that you will have to spend huge amounts of resources to promote yourself over and over and over again. That’s time, money, people… all of which could be better spent actually doing something rewarding and relevant that will help your business grow.

You could be creating WOM-worthy work for smaller clients, for example. For non-profits. For NGO’s. For niche markets.

You could be broadening your horizons… meeting new people, immersing yourself in cool new subcultures. You could be making every day a learning experience. An exercise in curiosity. A creative harvest. (By the way, the cross-polination of ideas and disciplines is the lifeblood of innovation. Ask IDEO and FROG Design, how it’s worked for them.)

Yeah, Hybrid Thinking. That’s where it starts.

By default, you would also be broadening your reach across a wider range of industries than any other agency in your sphere of influence (not just because it makes great business sense, but because it’s fun.)

Fun feeds creativity at least as much as new experiences.

Think about it. What if instead of chasing big clients, you focused on helping great little companies grow into extraordinary ones? What if you only worked with clients that you want to work with? What if you turned away work that didn’t interest you? What if you did what every innovator has done since the beginning of time: What if you changed the rules, one client at a time, one project at a time?

Would you rub a few people the wrong way? You bet. But they’d get over it.

There are also other options beyond simply increasing the breadth of your playing field. The very nature of the way you approach your work, your services and the way that you market them doesn’t have to be set in stone. Don’t sell yourself short.

Tom Peters, for example, makes a good argument for agencies to evolve into more deep-reaching Professional Services Firms (see his downloadable ‘PSF Manifesto’). After all, if creatives can come up with great advertising ideas, they can surely come up with insightful ways to improve a company’s customer service call center, design unforgetable retail spaces and help create groundbreaking new products, for starters.

This kind of transition won’t happen on its own. Client companies certainly won’t be the first to suggest it. (“Hey um… you guys make great ads, but… do you also do product design?”) It’s one of those build it and they will come things. Create the service. Create the market. Become a purple cow all over again.

More importantly, help your clients become purple cows in their own fields. (Ultimately, that will be the key to your success.)

Trust me on this, many of them wish they had access to this kind of insightful innovation for hire. Not everyone can afford to keep top-notch designers on staff. Or brand strategists. Or marketing communications specialists. Or graphic artists. As for consultants… well, they can be terribly expensive and often too narrow in their approach.

Similarly, not everyone can afford a PR firm and an ad agency and a product design studio and a retail design consultant. (Assuming that, even if you could, all of the pieces would fit together properly… which is pretty unlikely.)

Enter the fully-integrated PSF/Agency: Cost-effective, versatile, nimble, responsive, insightful, completely immersed in their client’s culture. One-stop shopping for all of your innovative needs. Beyond its core team, imagine a network composed of the most brilliant minds and creative talent in the world, just a mouse-click away. A phone-call away.

Imagine if a PSF/Agency like the one I just described suddenly opened shop in your town. What if it were courting your clients? What if it had more talent than you could hire in a lifetime? What if they were a lot cheaper than you are?

What if, although advertising were only one of their revenue streams, their work still blew yours away?

What would you do?

What if they cut your revenue in half inside of two years? What would you do to stay alive?

Advertise more? Lower your prices? Work for free?

Purple cows don’t have to shake their baby rattles to be noticed. They don’t have to put up billboards all over town. They don’t have to engage in price wars. All they have to do is be purple cows.

Pistachio cows.

Tangelo cows.

Here’s a fresh little bit of Set Godin insight:

“Ad agencies have been backed into a corner and mostly do rattling. It’s the
high-cost, high-profile, high-risk part of marketing, and the kind that
rarely works. What a shame that some of the smartest people in our field
aren’t allowed (by their clients and by their industry’s structure) to get
behind the scenes and change the product, the strategy and the approach
instead of just annoying more people with ever louder junk.”

Yesterday’s purple cows are today’s brown cows.

Tomorrow’s purple cows won’t look or feel or sound anything like you.

The question is, what are you doing about it?

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

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