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Archive for the ‘creative types’ Category

Firemen

The topic came up in conversation yesterday: What grouping of skills and experience should a company look for in a Social Media manager or director? I have to confess that my answer sounded more like a list than anything: Marketing communications, PR, community management, blogging, account planning, business development, reputation management, brand management, brand insights and market research, web savvy, etc. And while I was going through my little skill mapping exercise, I suddenly remembered that we had touched on this topic about a year ago – not in terms of social media, but more along the lines of new marketing. Let’s run through it again:

You probably remember Tim (IDEO) Brown’s Strategy By Design article in Fast Company back in June of 2005. (You know, the one that mentioned T-Shaped people.) The article shed some light of the fact that innovative companies – or rather, companies who have shown an ability to innovate regularly – tend to favor hiring T-shaped people and fostering the types of cultures that work best for them, over hiring and managing employees the way our grandfathers did, which essentially consists of assigning specific linear jobs to people who were trained to perform the specific functions of these jobs – no more, no less. (The good old nose to the grindstone mentality.)

It went a little like this:

“We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped people.” They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need. That’s what you’re after at this point — patterns that yield ideas.”


Good stuff. Since IDEO pretty much pioneered the innovation by design business model, Tim knows what he’s talking about. And having suffered the rigidity and lack of flexibility of forethought commonly found in many corporate environments, I have been a BIG fan of the T-Shaped thinking concept ever since I first read about it. It has been my experience that when putting a project team together, opting for one composed of people with diverse backgrounds yields much better results than one composed of specialists in a specific field. Especially if the project involves solving a problem or improving a design or process.

But last year, Dave Armano, from the Logic & Emotion blog, gave us this, which proposed an exciting next step in T-shaped thinking evolution:

“Lately I’ve been wondering—is there another way to look at this? What if we took a more basic human truth. Most of us have some kind of passion in a specific area. For some—it’s a hobby or interest. For others, it’s directly related to their work. I fall into the latter category. If you were to ask me what my “passion is”—I would probably say that at the core, it’s creative problem solving. This is pretty broad and incorporates a lot of disciplines that can relate to it. But that’s the point. What if we start with our passions regardless of discipline, and look at the skills which radiate out from it the same way we think about how rays from the sun radiate warmth?”


Excellent point. The radial pattern is definitely an improvement on the theme of the T-shaped individual. We’re adding new dimensions here and painting a more realistic, accurate picture of the breadth and depth of talent required in today’s much more complex workplace.

Assuming of course, that the said workplace a) recognizes the value of this type of individual, b) is able to foster an environment which takes full advantage of this potential pool of talent and innovation, and c) incites these types of people to want to keep working there.

Sadly, this still seems to be the rub in far too many offices across the US… Which is where smart marketing firms, think tanks, ad agencies and professional services firms can gain a definite edge over just about everyone else.

Here’s more from Dave:

“The majority of those reaching out to embrace this trend have their roots in the UI industry rather than industrial design. While traditional product and graphic design practitioners enter the field with a foundation based on design history, emphasis on form, method and process, those in the UI field come from myriad backgrounds such as software engineering, marketing, and brand strategy. Without a common heritage and education, these designers are more comfortable working with disparate client groups and in interdisciplinary teams.”

Food for thought.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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Sorry folks, I know this has nothing to do with brand development, marketing or social media, but… oh wait, it does! (I’ll come back to that.)  Truth is, I wanted to post this because it made me laugh outloud. And I laugh every time I see it. If you don’t know these guys, it probably won’t be as funny to you, but if you know them it’s priceless.

Check out the full post here.

Oh, and about the brand/marketing/social media thing: One of the many things that sets Orange Coat apart from other web design firms is the fact that they can blend humor with flawless design better than most, and this card is a testament to that. They may make it look easy, but trust me, it isn’t. Turning ideas (yes, even goofy ones) into reality is easier said than done, but not so much for them.

I love it: Taking the most boring, cliche Christmas season tradition in the world and turning it into a conversation-starter? Brilliant.

And as for the Social Media angle, the post has all of Orange Coat’s Socmed particulars (yay Twitter).

I don’t mean to shamelessly plug my friends today, but after seeing this, how could I not? 😀

Transparency Note: I do not currently receive any remuneration from Orange Coat or any of its agents, but this post may earn me a beer or two. Or three.

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Great post from Gavin Heaton over at Servant of Chaos this week about the changing face of business management. Gavin mentions an emerging new breed of business leader that might sound a little familiar if you’ve been paying attention to what our little community of Marketing+ bloggers has been talking about these last few years. Check this out:

By far, the most radical transformation will be the one thrust upon us by the generational change that is now under way. With 60 million baby boomers about to be replaced by 60 million Millennials, the workplace will never be the same again. Managing the “knowledge transfer” that needs to take place over the next 5-10 years will be a fundamental responsibility of the Business Designer.

What is a Business Designer, I hear you ask? Per Gavin:

The Business Designer does not sit in a creative studio. Rather, she operates across business units — touching marketing, customer service and new product design. The BD has a finger on the pulse of finance and lives cheek-by-jowl with the legal team. There is the touch of the management consultant in the way that the BD navigates the org chart — but also the fervour of the evangelist. She may be T-shaped. She may be a green egg. But above all, she is an experienced business professional. That’s right — she knows how to get things done.

The BD will perform the important role of “change manager” or perhaps “transformation manager” — for the domino-like changes that will occur in every facet of a business will change the nature of the enterprise. What has been rough and ready in the consumer space will become refined and repeatable in the business world for the BD will select and orchestrate the practices, tools and approaches that correspond with a company’s business strategy. Of course, this will breed a whole new round of innovation in the technology space — we have already begun to see this with Yammer, the business version of Twitter.

And there will be a corresponding transformation in the process of business, and the goals and approaches of groups charged with managing brand touch points. This goes without saying.

What’s the difference between a Business Designer and a traditional business manager? The way I look at it, the difference lies in a handful of subtle yet crucial traits exhibited by this new biz whiz breed:

1. The T-shaped trait: These folks combine a strong mix of Marketing Management and Experience Design, and understand the importance of storytelling, Brand Strategy, and Experience Design. They are gifted strategists with extremely well developed creative, communications and context-building skills. They are intellectually curious, deeply entrepreneurial problem solvers.

2. The Green Egg trait: Process improvement, an eye to new markets and a passion for Innovation are their biggest professional drivers. These folks are agents of change. These are the people who will take your company to the next level in its evolution (if you let them).

3. The “good enough” aversion trait: These folks are way too passionate to tolerate a “good enough” mentality. Their job is about much more than turning a crank and picking up a paycheck. They’re change agents – not for the sake of change, but for the sake of driving to necessary leaps in a business’ evolution.

4. They ideation trait: These folks bubble over with ideas. They sketch a lot. They prototype. They like to test out their ideas. They seek out peers who can help them bring their ideas to life. They tend to be gadget and accessories freaks, even if they only own a few. They are designers at heart, if not technically in practice.

5. The connected trait: These folks have connected with their time. They understand the underlying strategic shifts going on right now that will change the landscape that your company operates in. They are good at connecting the dots: By being plugged-in to the world today in ways that most are not, they can clearly see what the business landscape will look like in two, five and ten years. This gives them the ability to be the architects of your company’s future. You may frown at their interest in social media tools like Twitter, Seesmic, Yammer and Facebook, but these are the tools of their trade: This is how they connect with their peers, with information, and with the shifting tides that will drive the market changes that will either sink or remake your business in the next decade.

Here’s more on that from Gavin:

We are also reaching a certain maturity in the way that marketers work with social media. There are now case studies on the effectiveness of social media, there are tools that help us measure and react to conversations and there are an increasing number of corporate roles for “community managers” or even “directors of social media”.

In this environment, the focus is no longer on learning the tools, but on refining the way that we interact with them. It is about bringing social media into our businesses, integrating it with our other marketing efforts and focusing efforts in a way that deliver business results.

Read the whole post here.

I am glad you brought up the notion of this new type of business leader, Gavin. I’ve been trying to put my finger on this for a few years now. Still not quite there yet… But for those of us living at the intersection of Business Management, User & Community Engagement, Marketing Communications, Product Design, Innovation, and the evolution of Social Media tools, starting to put a name to the thing is way overdue. With most business leaders spending at least 85% of their time turning the crank and making sure their businesses run properly, who is in charge of actually driving the business to its next evolution? Department managers? Sales? The COO? The CMO? 15% or less of a business leader’s day potentially devoted to improving – not just running – their business. Scary. In a rapidly changing world/economy/market, it pays to have at least one person (better yet, a whole team of them) a) focusing on what’s next, and b) getting the business ready for it.

Does the opportunity for such folks exist as a layer between the CEO and the other C-suite execs (CMO, COO, CFO, Manufacturing, Design Engineering, Sales, etc.)  Is the role better suited to function as a team-based cluster of upper-mid-level Business Directors? Perhaps a Brand Czar who provides direction to all departments but answers directly to the CMO? Is there a better name for the role? Can this type of individual force an overhaul of the traditional corporate org chart?

Big tip of the hat for getting that discussion started, my friend.

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Great piece in Psychology Today about the creative personality (hat tip to Hugh MacLeod). I you work with highly creative people – or are one yourself, – then you owe it to yourself to read this. It’ll explain a lot.  😉

Clarification: Creative, is not artistic :

Most of us assume that artists–musicians, writers, poets, painters–are [creative], whereas scientists, politicians, and businesspeople are realists. This may be true in terms of day-to-day routine activities. But when a person begins to work creatively, all bets are off.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s intro:

I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.”

One of ten specific examples Mihaly covers is the question of intelligence and creativity:

Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. How smart they actually are is open to question. It is probably true that what psychologists call the “g factor,” meaning a core of general intelligence, is high among people who make important creative contributions.

The earliest longitudinal study of superior mental abilities, initiated at Stanford University by the psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921, shows rather conclusively that children with very high IQs do well in life, but after a certain point IQ does not seem to be correlated any longer with superior performance in real life. Later studies suggest that the cutoff point is around 120; it might be difficult to do creative work with a lower IQ, but an IQ beyond 120 does not necessarily imply higher creativity

Another way of expressing this dialectic is the contrasting poles of wisdom and childishness. As Howard Gardner remarked in his study of the major creative geniuses of this century, a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, can go hand in hand with deepest insights. Mozart comes immediately to mind.

Furthermore, people who bring about an acceptable novelty in a domain seem able to use well two opposite ways of thinking: the convergent and the divergent. Convergent thinking is measured by IQ tests, and it involves solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer. Divergent thinking leads to no agreed-upon solution. It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure and that most workshops try to enhance. (…)

[Yet] divergent thinking is not much use without the ability to tell a good idea from a bad one, and this selectivity involves convergent thinking.

Other points of note:

Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.

Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. They control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work. This is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned by trial and error as a strategy for achieving their goals.

Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.

Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted [while the rest] are usually one or the other. In current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Most would agree with Rabinow’s words: “Inventors have a low threshold of pain. Things bother them.” A badly designed machine causes pain to an inventive engineer, just as the creative writer is hurt when reading bad prose.

Being alone at the forefront of a discipline also leaves you exposed and vulnerable. Eminence invites criticism and often vicious attacks. When an artist has invested years in making a sculpture, or a scientist in developing a theory, it is devastating if nobody cares.

Deep interest and involvement in obscure subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule. Divergent thinking is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person may feel isolated and misunderstood.

Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.

Go here to read the whole thing.

Have a great Friday everyone. 🙂

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Being a big fan of sketching, visual mapping and drawing diagrams of every idea, process and problem I run into, this post by Guy Kawasaki made me a very happy camper. (I really need to get out more.)

First things first: Go to Guy’s blog and read his post on the subject.

Second: Go read Guy’s interview with Dan Roam, author of T.he Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures

Here’s a taste of the interview:

Question: What problems are you really talking about solving with pictures?

Answer: All of them: business strategy challenges, project management issues, resource allocation problems–even personal problems–can all be clarified, if not outright solved, through the use of pictures. And the pictures we’re talking about are simple ones. If you can draw a circle, a square, an arrow, and a smiley face, you can draw any of the problem-solving pictures I talk about.

Question: What is an example of how a business problem was solved with a sketch?

Answer: The most famous business napkin is the route map of Southwest Airlines. When businessman Rollin King and lawyer Herb Kelleher sat down in 1967 in the St. Anthony’s Club in San Antonio, their intent was to drink to the successful closing of King’s previous airline. Instead, King picked up a pen and–drawing a triangle on a bar napkin as he spoke–said, “Wait a minute. What would happen if we created an airline that only connected Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio?” The world’s most profitable airline was born.

My personal favorite is still a work in progress. I’ve spent time with the senior executives of Peet’s Coffee and Teas helping map out the company’s growth and business operating strategies. In number of coffee retail stores, Peets is second after Starbucks, but it is still orders of magnitude behind: one hundred and sixty stores to Starbuck’s fifteen thousand. Clearly there is the opportunity for Peets to grow, but Peets has long been known as the “best” coffee available. So the question remains, “How do you grow without giving in on quality?”

We’re created a simple back of the napkin sketch that outlines Peet’s approach to maintaining quality while growing, and it has been circulated around the company so that everybody gets it and sees exactly where they fit into the “quality chain.”

Read the full thing here.

Simplicity works. A picture (or sketch) is worth a thousand words. Why bore your audience with numbers and bullet points when you can tell the entire story in one simple slide – or by sketching something on the back of a napkin? I thought I was weird for doing this, but now that I feel all vindicated by Guy and Dan, I am going to have to turn this quirky little habit of mine into standard operating procedure.

Next time someone asks you if you want them to draw you a picture, puff out your chest and proudly declare “yes!”

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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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From AdPulp’s David Burn:

Want To Put Agencies Out of Business? Make Better Products.

ClickZ had a party on Wednesday night to celebrate 10 years of innovation and excellence in online marketing and advertising.

They invited author and academic Douglas Rushkoff to speak.

Rushkoff exhorted marketers to convince their clients to come up with compelling products. “Teach them how to get back into the business they are in,” he said. “Then you don’t have to make up a story about them.”

I’m attracted to this kind of lofty message. Yet, I can’t help but chuckle. Most agency pros are unable to help their clients grasp the intricacies of marketing communications. Trying to help them reinvent their product or service offerings seems, at least on the surface, an esoteric idea that could only be cooked up in a school.

Not really. While it’s true that most agency pros couldn’t wrap their minds around that concept if a hundred diamond-encrusted Addys were at stake, those of us who have done it know how simple it actually is. Sure, you have to manage a lot of moving parts and you have to live in a lot of different worlds (design, engineering, finance, manufacturing, quality control, marketing, advertising, PR, sales) but it can be done, and done well – at least by certain types of people. Sadly, the business world’s tendency to compartimentalize skills into finite job descriptions (yes, even in ad agency org charts) makes it nigh impossible for anyone with the proper skills to a) market themselves properly, b) capitalize on their talents, and perhaps worst of all c) help their firm and their clients capitalize on those talents.

A firm capable of grasping David’s concept, and putting in place a team of people who know how to do this could make some serious waves over the next few decades – and beyond. Easier said than done? Nope. With a little bit of digging, you could be ready to roll inside of six months at the most.

I tried to explain this to an upper-level honcho at a local creative firm several years ago, and his answer to me was: “We are not – and will never be – in the business of helping our clients develop better products.”

That was probably the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard come out of a creative professional’s mouth – especially since they were in a position to do something really special. But no. The potential I see wasted every day to the lure of the media-buying profit model is astounding. It really is.

You would think that the most creative people in the world would be a bit more imaginative when it comes to monetizing their talents – and maybe a bit more ambitious when it comes to applying their creativity to problems organizations are so desperate to find smart solutions for.

In the end, the product comes first: The message, the creative, the channel and the choice of media don’t mean jack diddles if your product isn’t all that great to begin with.

Paint me blue.

Have a great Friday, everyone.

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This month on BrandingWire, the team is focusing on auto dealerships – a topic likely to produce some funny posts and hopefully identify certain specific areas in dire need of attention (or rather improvement) in that industry.

Let’s face it: Of all the “for profit” companies across every conceivable industry, independently-owned auto dealers arguably have the worst marketing in the world, and a significant image problem. If you don’t agree, you obviously never listen to FM radio in your car, you probably have TiVo, and your European-made cars either cost upward of $45K, or if they’re pre-owned, came from a nationally-owned car dealership chain like CarMax.

For the rest of us, dealing with car dealerships in any way shape or form is neither a pleasant nor a relaxing experience: What could be a fun shopping endeavor is usually ruined by slimy and overly aggressive salespeople. The slightest lapse of focus during the hours-long haggling dance will cost you thousands of dollars you could have shaved off the final price. The marketing is as annoying and uninviting as it gets: Loud, cheap, poorly produced, dumb, and often even deceptive.

Simply put, everything about dealing with an auto dealer – especially when it comes to used cars – is about as fun and relaxing as bobbing for pennies in snake-infested swampwater.

In light of this, and in order to maybe inspire some auto dealers to make some positive changes in the way they do business, here is The Brandbuilder’s list of the seven deadly marketing sins of automobile dealers. Some of the commentary on each one will provide some helpful advice to help dealerships avoid these pitfalls, and others are so self-explanatory that simply doing the exact opposite will have beneficial effects on both their business and their own personal reputation.

Maybe.

In no particular order, the seven deadly sins of auto dealers are:

1. Deception:

Have you ever spotted a killer deal on a car in a Saturday paper ad from a local auto dealer, only to find out when you get there that the car they were advertising has already been sold or has mysteriously gone out of stock? Yeah. Nice. How about those “We’ll give you $5,000 cash back on any car trade! Bring us your old beater, and we’ll give you $5,000 cash!” And when you put that offer to the test, it isn’t exactly that easy?

Maybe it’s just me, but tricking potential customers into coming to your retail location by lying to them isn’t the best way to get things started on the right foot. Making contracts and fine-print too complicated for even experienced lawyers to understand every detail clearly is not all that kosher either.

Sleazy Salesmen didn’t get that reputation by accident. I’m just not sure why so few of them (sales managers included) aren’t doing more to make that negative image history.

2. Screaming in Ads:

Maybe my brain is wired differently from everyone else’s, but here’s how it works: If I am listening to the radio while in my car, and an ad comes on in which some annoying guy is screaming some sales pitch at the top of his lungs, I’m going to jump to the next preselected station faster than you can yell “NO MONEY DOWN!”

Listen… I understand the whole “screaming to be heard” thing. I get it. I’ve been to open air markets. I know it’s a competitive world out there… but when you’re recording a radio ad, you don’t have to compete for anyone’s attention. You have a captive audience. Literally. They’re inside their cars. They’re probably strapped-in, even. They’re already listening, and as far as I can tell, they can only listen to one station (and one ad) at a time. Is it really necessary to scream at them? Perhaps more importantly, is screaming really the best way to communicate with potential customers?

Nope.

If Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, and just about every auto manufacturer’s national ads can manage to be cool, effective, and even sometimes inspiring without being loud, why is it that local dealers have to act like overcaffeinated lunatics on a cocaine high? Do they know something about a link between high decibel levels and the decision-making areas of the human brain that major national advertisers don’t?

Nope. I didn’t think so either.

3. Awful Creative:

There is a huge divide between the types of ads being produced by auto makers and the ads being produced by independently-owned auto dealerships. The first category is usually pretty effective, while the latter is absolutely horrendous in every way. Before some of you start proposing that major companies like Volkswagen, Volvo and Jaguar have huge Marketing budgets that allow for great creative, let me counter with this:

If “creativity is not device-dependent” (Bruce Mau), then creativity is not budget-dependent either: Anyone with a video camera, a laptop and $50 editing software can produce a clever, effective, and creative 30-second spot.

Likewise, anyone with a half way decent consumer-level 35mm or digital still camera and cheap photo/graphic design software (like JASC’s sub $100 Paintshop Pro if Photoshop or other pro level software is out of reach) can produce fantastic print ads and website designs.

I routinely encounter terrific work being done on nickel-and-dime budgets, and horrendous work that I know cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If high school kids with absolutely no work experience or formal training can produce world-class home-made “ads” for Apple, KFC and other brands to post on You Tube just for fun, surely, auto dealerships (no matter how back-woods) can come up with a) better ideas for their ads, and b) half-way decent ways to turn these ideas into effective productions. If they aren’t accomplishing either task, they simply aren’t really trying.

4. Circus-Act Mojo:

This could fall under #3, but it deserves its own category: Some auto dealerships like to use circus animals like elephants and chimps in their ads. Others like to dress up their staff in ridiculous outfits and act out lame little “skits.”

*sigh*

The two latest local dealership ads to pollute the 864 airwaves with their horrendous skits involve a) a scuba-diving sales manager being eaten by a plastic toy shark in what may possibly be the worst blue-screen special effect sequence ever devised, and b) a not-so-sexy schoolteacher trying to create a parallel between a sex-ed filmstrip and… used cars at dealership XYZ. (The smirking greasy-haired tool sitting behind her in the empty classroom is either the sales manager, the dealership’s owner, her boyfriend, or possibly all three.) The ad would just be dumb and poorly produced, but Greasball Fred putting himself in the picture with his paramour is downright creepy.

Please make it stop.

Really.

Sure, people will remember your ad (grinning chimps in diapers are memorable, as are toy sharks eating fat white guys in mumu swimsuits, as are two guys in tuxedos throwing buckets of water at each other – I’ll give you that), but chances are that they won’t remember the name of your dealership or what your latest promotion was. What do circus acts and bad costumes have to do with buying or selling cars? Nothing.

This isn’t comedy. It isn’t even entertainment. It’s just dumb.

5. Poor Production Value:

Perhaps because most auto dealerships buy their advertising directly from media outlets (or through self-appointed middle-men) the creative and the production values tend to be pretty poor. Very few dealerships take the time to hire a creative (ad) agency to produce ads that don’t look like the family videos Uncle Ralph edits on his Windows 98 PC.

And beware the lure of the “agency” that specializes in dealership/automotive marketing and advertising. Unless they also develop ads for one of the area’s office of tourism, sporting events, cultural festivals and a plethora of other clients in a gaggle of industries, forget it. They’re probably going to suck too.

Because many car dealerships may not know where to go to get help with their production needs, here are several tips anyone can use to make a cheaply produced ad look a tad bit more professional:

– If you can’t find or afford a real stylist for the shoot, at least hire an experienced hair & makeup person. They aren’t that expensive, and trust me, you need one. (Shiny, sweaty foreheads look horrible, and bad hair doesn’t help sell anyone’s image.) Maybe they can help with wardrobe a bit too while they’re at it.

– Don’t shoot people in bright sun. I know that the default ad concept is to have folks be outside, walking the lot to show off the cars and whatnot, but there are ways to shoot outdoor ads in such a way that the sun doesn’t make them squint, blow out their skin, or make bright colors give viewers a headache. When in doubt, take a lighting guy on the shoot with you. And maybe an assistant or an intern to carry some reflector panels or diffusers or something. I might be a stickler for good lighting, but it makes an enormous difference in the way your ad looks.

– Don’t use cheap transition effects. They were cool in 1980’s Flock of Seagulls videos, but not anymore.

Correction: They weren’t cool back then either.

– Get a sound guy to come along on the shoot. Especially if it’s windy. Believe it or not, in the editing room, the big board with all of the knobs that looks like a giant equalizer can actually be used to clean up the sound quality and make the ad sound like it wasn’t made in your neighbor’s garage. Use it!

– Blue screens are banned from all auto dealership ads. Period. You aren’t 20th Century Fox or Imagine Entertainment. What you’re doing with blue screen technology isn’t CGI. It’s just crap. Don’t even think about going there ever again.

I mean it.

– If your people can’t look or sound natural on camera, hire actors. If you can’t hire actors, hire the Quiznos thingamajingies.

– Likewise, anyone with a strong regional accent, a mullet, more than three gold rings on the fingers of any one hand, or whose wardrobe is inspired by Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas is forbidden from ever being featured in any auto dealership ads,or my name ain’t Nathan Arizona.

– Before you shoot a commercial, develop a storyboard. (Sketch out a comic-book like concept for the ad.) Actually go through the visual narrative you are trying to achieve and put it to paper. Think about silly stuff like camera angles and flow and context. Figure out how to best shoot and edit a 30-second spot that will have the visual and emotional impact you want it to have. There’s a reason why the big boys of advertising do this. Copy their process. Learn how to produce professional work. Don’t settle for the A/B/C method of A) Shooting somebody verbally delivering the copy by talking at the camera, B) inserting panning footage of the product and location, and C) inserting crappy graphics at the end of the ad. Bleh. Come on. You can do better than that.

Most locally produced TV ads are horrible because they are produced directly by the TV station’s sales & marketing department – which isn’t all that creative to begin with. That makes the ads cheaper and easy to produce, sure, but it ensures that they will be average at best. (Somewhere between cheap and terrible is usually the norm.) Do yourselves a favor and hire someone with talent and the know-how to write, produce, and possibly even direct your spots.

Again, it isn’t that much more expensive, and you will more than get your money’s worth.

The radio and print stuff is usually less bad, but when your control group rests squarely at the very bottom of the production quality bucket, it’s hard to do worse, frankly.

6. Not Actually Building Value:

Q: Can every dealership really have the best deals and the cheapest prices?

A: Technically, no. Only one dealership can have the best deals and prices at any given time.

It’s just science.

And since every sale comes down to a tedious haggling process anyway, is a dealership’s main appeal really cheap prices? Is this what a dealership’s marketing should mainly focus on?

How about shifting the conversation to things like the quality of their cars, the excellence of their service department, their steadfast honesty, or even the unusually pleasant experience of shopping for a car at their dealership?

(I don’t care that it’s locally or family-owned, or that everyone who works there goes to Church on Sunday like good little boys and girls. Give me something genuine and relevant to hook my hopes to.)

Speaking of trying to project a positive image, nothing screams “classy” like a bunch of bored car salesmen huddled outside the front door, smoking cigarettes while they wait for their next victim to drive in.

Automatic turnoff.

Overly aggressive salesmen don’t work for most car shoppers either. All we really need from a car salesman is a friendly hello, and space. A good salesman is like a good waiter: Be there when I need you, but be out of sight when I don’t. I don’t need a chaperon, a buddy, or a stalker. I certainly don’t need to be bombarded by pitch after pitch. I’m a grown-up. Your cheap cracker-jack box Jedi mind tricks don’t work on me or anyone else with an IQ above 40.

(And at least, I can hang up on telemarketers, which makes them significantly less annoying than car salesmen. And that’s saying something.)

But back to the point: When you sell cheap, you sell desperate. What you should be selling instead is reliability, performance, honesty, and peace of mind. You should be selling the brand behind every car in your lot. You should be selling class and professionalism. You should be selling value, and not discounted promises. This isn’t just about the message you incorporate in your ads, but also (perhaps more so) about all of the actual shopping and aftermarket experiences your customers will get to enjoy.

7. Acting like a typical car dealership:

Let’s play a quick game of word association. I’ll write a word, and you tell me the first word that comes to your mind. (Try to make it an adjective that best describes that word.)

Here we go:

Lawyer.

Telemarketer.

Soapbox preacher.

Used car salesman.

See where we’re going with this?

As I’ve mentioned before, car salesmen (especially when they’re selling used cars) already have pretty poor reputations. They’re usually seen as a being sleezy, not particularly trustworthy, etc. So car dealerships have some trust issues to overcome. A forward-thinking car dealership owner/operator would be well served by an effort to distance himself/herself from this type of image and negative expectation.

What’s the smartest thing a car salesman can do? Casually but enthusiastically greet the customer with a smile, but without walking to them. Tell them you’ll be with them in a couple of minutes. Ask them if they need anything before you come back. Then disappear, and come back to ask them if they need help, and take it from there.

Why? Because the reflex of any and all shoppers is to say “I’m just looking, thanks.” Even if they have a question, they will automatically push away a salesperson who walks up to them. Better to give the customer their space, make them feel comfortable and appreciated, and let them dictate the way in which the conversation will take place.

Give them their space. Respect their space. Meet them half way and sell yourself as being helpful, friendly and honest instead if just trying to make a sale.

Aside from the specific sales tips, what we’re talking about here is differentiation: Making your dealership stand out from other dealerships – not just by producing better creative, but by truly being different – perhaps starting with the appearance, attitude, friendliness, charisma and mindset of your sales force. This is a good first step in effectively building a great reputation and developing a strong referral business.

Here are the five basic steps to get you started:

1) Decide that you need to be different.
2) Understand why you need to be different.
3) Decide how to be different.
4) Decide to commit to 1-3.
5) Create means by which this can be communicated to both employees and potential customers. (Advertising, word-of-mouth, customer experience design, revamping internal processes, hiring the right people, extensive training of employees, attention to detail, etc.)

The answer to #1 and #2 could be simply to be better than the competition for the sake of having a more successful business. It could also be about having moral reasons for not cutting corners where others have (deceptive advertising, sleazy sales tricks, etc.) It could also simply be about wanting to be better. (Pride in one’s work and fostering a good reputation are more important than maximizing profits at all costs to many people, and I can certainly relate to that.)

The answer to #3 is simply about observation: Find out what you and your potential customers hate about your competitors, and do the exact opposite. If you find that most people hate being followed by salesmen, teach your staff to be more subtle with their stalking. If the haggling process is a drag, get rid of it, or make it more customer-friendly. Find out if cheap ugly ties and dirty shoes on your sales staff are a turnoff. Look at everything, from the way cars are organized on your lot to how you choose to design your lobby and offices. Details like the type of coffee you brew and how it alters the way your offices smell can make a huge difference. Do you offer your potential customers a cup of delicious coffee or some home-made cookies when they walk in? Are you using cheap paper cups, or actual china? Are your people friendly and happy? Is your lot a place where customers will feel comfortable, or uncomfortable? Will they be impressed with it, or turned off? Will they want to actually hang out there, or get away as fast as they can? Are you giving them any reason to talk to their friends and co-workers about you? (This could be positive or negative.) Do your research.

Get past the lure element of your business. The object of the game isn’t just about getting as many people as possible to come to your lot, or throwing an ever changing team of salesmen at them. I know it’s a numbers’ game but if you are turning off 94% of your visitors, you are giving away 94% of your business to your competitors. Why spend all of your budget and energy on bringing so many people to your business if all you manage to do is chase them away when they get there? That makes absolutely no sense.

The decision to be different, to actually stand out, to create a positive reputation for yourself in your industry, and to actually create a brand for yourself could be all the momentum and sense of direction you need to turn that 6% closing rate into 12%. Or 20%. Or more.

* * *

Car dealerships are retail businesses, just like restaurants, night clubs, record stores, hotels and coffee shops, to name just a few. As such, there is no reason why their marketing, ethics, or focus on customer happiness should be any worse than businesses in other industries.

Bad ads are worthless and send the wrong message.

Deceptive marketing tactics will destroy a business faster than you can say “lawsuit.”

Dreadful customer experiences are the kiss of death for any repeat business or word-of-mouth referrals.

What would happen to your bottom-line if 90% of people who come to your restaurant took a look at your menu and walked out? What would happen to your business if your reputation was so horrendous that 90% of your customers told all of their friends, family members and co-workers never to do business with you? Why should car dealerships be any different?

Wowing the customer, creating a bond of trust with them, making them feel happy and excited about their purchase before they even get to test drive a car, during the signing, and even long after they’ve driven off the lot (making them want to come back or share their positive experience with others) are all crucial things to focus on.

Call me crazy, but a car dealership isn’t just a sales organization. It has to be much more than that.

On the flip side, being just like everybody else, focusing on pushing the sale instead of helping it along, not taking care of a customer as well after the sale as you did before, being deceptive, selling discounts instead of value, spending money on annoying and ineffective ads… these are all ways to earn get absolutely nowhere fast, and in this case, perpetuate a negative image that does nothing to help anyone in the auto dealership world grow, prosper, or even feel unabashed pride in a good day’s work.

Why more car dealerships don’t get this is still beyond me. Hopefully, this and the rest of the posts from this month’s BrandingWire project will help change things for the better.

One can hope.

Have a great week, everyone. 😉

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Guy Kawasaki spent some time with The Myths Of Innovation and The Art of Project Management author Scott Berkun, recently, and the highlights of the conversation they had can be found on Guy’s blog. Below are a few pertinent textbites.

Perhaps you’re a project manager, designer, or a creative working for an organization that may not always understand the value of original ideas – or may not be willing to accept the risks that come with being a market/industry leader. Perhaps you are a manager or department leader in charge of a few very creative people but don’t always know how to hold on to them, or how to recruit them. Or perhaps you are a business leader who understands the power of innovation but doesn’t know how to foster a culture of innovation within your organization. Either way, Scott is probably someone you should spend time with. (I’m sure he’ll let you buy him a beer, but reading his books will be a good start.)

Here a good place to start:

Guy: Where do inventors and innovators get their ideas?

Scott: I teach a creative thinking course at the University of Washington, and the foundation is that ideas are combinations of other ideas. People who earn the label “creative” are really just people who come up with more combinations of ideas, find interesting ones faster, and are willing to try them out. The problem is most schools and organizations train us out of the habits.

Guy: What the toughest challenge that an innovator faces?

Scott: It’s different for every innovator, but the one that crushes many is how bored the rest of the world was by their ideas. Finding support, whether emotional, financial, or intellectual, for a big new idea is very hard and depends on skills that have nothing to do with intellectual prowess or creative ability. That’s a killer for many would-be geniuses: they have to spend way more time persuading and convincing others as they do inventing, and they don’t have the skills or emotional endurance for it.

Guy: Why do innovators face such rejection and negativity?

Scott: It’s human nature—we protect ourselves from change. We like to think we’re progressive, but every wave of innovation has been much slower than we’re told. The telegraph, the telephone, the PC, and the internet all took decades to develop from ideas into things ordinary people used. As a species we’re threatened by change and it takes a long time to convince people to change their behavior, or part with their money.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. 😉

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Another brilliant insight from Mike Wagner:

“Business thinkers complain their creative types are too slow by business standards, inflexible, and way too cynical about the moneymaking goals of the company. And that’s usually not too far from the truth.

“Creative types lament that their bosses see everything they do as “just a billable deliverable”. Worse yet, clients agree with the boss! No one appreciates great design or beautiful code (yes, programmers are artists too).

“Artists fantasize about clients and bosses that “get it”. Business leaders want someone who will just “get it done”.

“Brand ownership is a balance. Creative, technical and even artistic results must be balanced with the relevance of day-to-day business demands.”

Go here to read the rest. And just so you know, you can book Mike to speak at an event, conduct training seminars, and provide some pretty on-the-money brand coaching.

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