Enter The Marketing Ninja


Here is some discussion-worthy Eastern wisdom for you (or at least some Eastern clarity) from Tim, at BCOM:

The Japanese have been putting their cool as hell ninja-in-the-fog tilt on contemporary marketing for about 2000 years, apparently. The Japanese have two expressions which should be part of every marketing curriculum:

One is hinshitsu which roughly translates to as a type of taken-for-granted quality. This is obvious in every interaction, the quality of what is being presented must be above reproach. This is what people are employed to do and have been slaving over in an analytical way since the industrial revolution.

The other is miryoku teki hinshitsu, which refers to a type of enchanting or bewitching quality. This is the quality which kicks-in after we accept the functionality and reliabilty of a product or brand, and become emotionally involved. Miryoku teki hinshitsu appeals to our sense of elegance, our desires, our need to find meaning in what we do.

I can't believe we don't have names for either one on this side of the big pond. (Although "Qwan" comes to mind for the second one.)

Lessons learned today:

1) Our vocabulary is always a lot more limited than we think.
2) My gift for languages does not apply to Japanese.


Shopping For Gems, Employee Engagement, and Branding


I dug up another BrandXpress gem for you guys today, which speaks to the whole branding & human resources theme we've been engaged in all month: Employee engagement's role in the success of businesses. Here is the post in its full glory:

A recent study by Standard Life shows that the employees the felt part of the business and understood its goals were willing and able to contribute their best to achieving those goals. Your internal communications plan and branding is a huge step toward employee engagement and here is a list of eight things to do about it:

1.Cultivate a culture that reinforces your Brand Contract and encourage employees to “live the brand”
2. Measure the effectiveness of your internal branding strategy to maximize the ROI on your internal branding initiatives
3.Insist that senior management models brand-focused behavior and cultural values
4. Set communication alignment goals (are you even measuring the effectiveness of your internal communications?)
5. Make positive examples of employee behavior that represents your values, mission, brand and business strategy
6. Reward employees for demonstrating their commitment to your brand contract and values
6. Show daily how commitment to mission and values is the touchstone that drives your decisions
7. Harness the entire creativity of every employee in bringing the brand to life
8. Involve all departments in branding, not just marketing – HR, operations, customer support, development, finance, and more.

I have no idea what #2 is about, but the other seven make a whole lot of sense.

(Okay... that's not true. I know what #2 is about... but I can't stand business-speak so I completely tuned it out.)

I particularly love #7 and #8:
"Harness the entire creativity of every employee in bringing the brand to life, and involve all departments in branding, not just marketing – HR, operations, customer support, development, finance, and more."

Wow. And yes. I've seen this in action, and it is absolutely magical. This isn't to say that every employee is creative or has something revolutionary to offer, but... well... wait a minute... Why not?

I guess it all depends on whom you are hiring, why you are hiring them, and how you are recruiting them to begin with.

Some of the questions you have to ask yourself is this: Are you hiring people who really click with you and your staff? Are you hiring people who were born to work for you? (Really.) Are you hiring people who embody your brand (or who at can at least rock it for you every day)? Are you hiring enthusiastic people? Brand embassadors? Creative problem-solvers?

If not, why not? I mean... really. Why not?

Is it that you can't find peoplelike this? (If so, you aren't looking very hard, because I run into two or three of them every week.) Is it that your HR/Recruiters can't find them? (Are they throwing safe choices at you instead of finding edgier candidates?) Or is it that you just choose to hire conservatively?

It's a question you really need to ask yourself... and answer truthfully.

Employee engagement is at the core of your business' success, and it starts with HR. It really does. Marketing and Sales might seem more important, but trust me on this: Get more involved with recruiting at your company, from the "search" phase to the selection phase to the actual interview phase. If you're too busy, bring HR into your department's fold. Invite your HR department to sit in on your departmental or project management meetings. Don't just make them sit there, though. Invite them to participate and contribute. Ask for their advice. Bring them into your department's culture. Let them experience your department's strengths and weaknesses firsthand. By doing so, give them the tools to recruit people who will add value to your team and fit-in with a minimal amount of friction.

Don't just give them a list of skills and attributes to look for in potential candidates. Help them understand what you need so completely that even if you can't find the time to be as active as you would like in the search for your next great executive, they will be able to find the perfect candidates for you. Not just the cookie-cutter applicant with the right keywords on their CV or the right career profile, but the kind of person who will also energize your company, engage the rest of your staff, and help you take your brand to new heights.

Your employees are your most valuable investment. Bar none. Take the time to invest wisely.


Great Brands Never Die.


From BrandXpress and Influx Insights:

Lacoste has come roaring back from obscurity to become one of the hottest sports/apparel brands around. The company's US sales grew in the US of 1000% in 5 years. Not bad for a brand that was once languishing under General Mills's ownership.

What can other brands learn from Lacoste's comeback?

1. History Can Be Made Relevant to Today
Lacoste was established by Rene Lacoste, a brilliant French tennis player, who in the 1930s, won three French Opens, two Wimbledon championships and two US Opens. Lacoste are proud of their history and don't try to hide it.

2. If You Have an Iconic Identity, Use It
Lacoste's crocodile is one of the most widely recognized brand identities in the world .

3. Seize Relevant Trends
Lacoste profited from the return of the "prep".

4. Don't Be Scared to Innovate
A problem for classic brands, is that they are scared that they will loose their authenticity if they innovate. Lacoste weren't afraid to evolve their iconic shirt, to appeal to a new generation of women.

5. Patience Pays
The company has opened just 46 stores since 1995. A smart strategy, slow and steady growth allows a solid brand foundation to be built.

6. Scarcity Adds Value
When Robert Siegel took over the brand in 2002, the first thing he did was to cut back on distribution, taking the brand away from mass retailers like Macy's.

Lacoste is now at possibly the most difficult stage of its brand maturity. There's an opportunity to "cash-out" and expand the brand rapidly through licensing, the brand has just signed a deal with Movado for watches. In 2005, it signed a $25 million deal with tennis star, Andy Roddick, that it could be tempted to over-maximize.

Lacoste's return shows that brands with real history and authenticity have a surprising level of durability, they have the power to ride out storms and return a fresh, but only if that return is carefully managed.

I love it.

Incidentally, here is a bit of brand history (and fantastic cocktail party chatter) from the Lacoste site, that may or may not recount the story of how brand logos came to appear on the outside of an article of clothing (other than on buttons), instead of just on the lining or inside label:

The true story of the "Crocodile" begins in 1927. René LACOSTE liked to recount how his nickname became an emblem recognized throughout the world.

"I was nicknamed "the Alligator" by the American press, after I made a bet with the Captain of the French Davis Cup Team concerning a suitcase made from alligator skin. He promised to buy it for me if I won a very important match for our team.The public must have been fond of this nickname which conveyed the tenacity I displayed on the tennis courts, never letting go of my prey!"

"So my friend Robert GEORGE drew a 'crocodile' which I then had embroidered on the blazer I wore on the courts.

An attentive spectator at René LACOSTE's Davis Cup matches was the winner of the BRITISH Womens golf title, Mademoiselle Simone THION de la CHAUME, who soon became his wife and constant support.

In 1933, René LACOSTE and André GILLIER, the owner and President of the largest French knitwear manufacturing firm of that time, set up a company to manufacture the logo-embroidered shirt. The champion had designed this for his own use on the tennis court, as well as a number of other shirts for tennis, golf and sailing - as can be seen in the first catalogue, produced in 1933.

To the best of our knowledge, this was the first time that a brand name appeared on the outside of an article of clothing - an idea which has since become extremely successful.

This shirt revolutionized mens sportswear and replaced the woven fabric, long-sleeved, starched classic shirts.The first LACOSTE shirt was white, slightly shorter than its counterparts, had a ribbed collar, short sleeves with ribbed bands and was made of a light knitted fabric called "Jersey petit piquéIt continues to offer the same quality, comfort and solidity on which it built its name and which constitute its uniqueness.
The Lacoste site does a great job of showing you what the brand is all about, and... I have to admit... (as much as I hate to) I might be getting back on the Lacoste train pretty soon. (Their optics and footwear are pretty cool.)


Unhappy Employees = Unhappy Brands


This photo is real.
It is a photo of a real meeting in a real meeting room somewhere in corporate America.
This day-long meeting cost about $16,000. (Money well spent, obviously.)
The people in the background are real people and those are their real facial expressions.
They really
that bored.
This was the day when I discovered that Powerpoint, like cars, should require a license.
Only one guy noticed the tiny puppy toy on the table and my camera, but he is still too bored to even crack a smile.
Seriously. Look at him. He is completely numb to everything going on around him.
The others are doodling.
And yes, there is a powerpoint presentation going on at that moment.
Enthusiasm, productivity and engaged workgroups rock my world.

Wow. Judging by the number of posts I have run into recently that deal with unhappy employees (and the nefarious effect unhappy workers can have on everything from customer service to product innovation - which are two pillars of every strong brand,) September must be disgruntled employee month. Is there something about September/back to school/shorter days/ year-end deadlines and fall trade show season that tends to stress people out?

(If you have any studies on this in your back pocket, please forward them my way.)

I just ran into this great piece on the dumb little man blog, cleverly titled "50 Ways a Manager can get Employees to Quit." (In case the title wasn't clear enough, the piece gives us a list of 50 ways a manager can get - yes, you guessed it - his employees to quit. Or at least the ones who aren't so desperate for a steady paycheck that they'll cling to a job they hate. ... Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

If you want to check out the original post, click here, but if you want to stick around, here's the skinny:

I polled the other guys in my group and we built a damn good list of things that our IT manager did that led to him losing his $100K/year job. Note that I left a few specific things out because I don't need anyone getting pinched. If you repeat these things successfully, you too will get your team to hate you. If you are a reporting to someone that does these things, print this and do the old Office Space under the door routine.

50. Assign enough projects with tight deadlines so that your team has no choice but to work a 60 hour week while you only work 30 hours
49. Cap overtime pay.
48. Do not offer project pay.
47. Constantly underestimate the time it takes to get things done and then penalize employees' bonuses because they didn't hit the goal.
46.Talk more than you listen.
45. Tell the team to begin planning for tons of deployments but never obtain the budget to actually implement any of them.
44. Don't trust written time cards. Make employees email you when they get to the office so you can see a timestamp when they get in.
43. Always take sides in disputes instead of moderating.
42. Avoid looking people in the eye.
41. Reprimand employees in front of the entire team.
40. Hire someone that is very weak to take the place of a veteran and expect the same results from the team.
39. Reprimand Mark but don't reprimand Tony when he makes the same error.
38. Consistency is good. Never ask you employees if they are challenged enough or want to take on more responsibility.
37. Make promises to internal customers but have no idea on the elements involved in getting the task done.
36. You know that Tony is a slacker, but he is really cool to hang out with so keep him around and give him good reviews.
35. Suzy can take 20 minute breaks instead of 10 because she's a little cuter than Paul.
34. Give your employees 2nd tier systems to work with but expect top tier results.
33. Never cross train anybody on anything. The skills they walked in with are the skills they are leaving with.
32. Mandate a new policy without consulting a single person that will have to live with it.
31. Give employees low raises because the more you save, the higher your bonus.
30. When talking to an employee on the phone, type away at your email. That's a great time to catch-up!
29. When someone comes to you with an issue regarding another employee, use a lot of big words to explain the situation but really take no interest or action.
28. Create a desk cleanliness policy.
27. When Suzy comes in late and leaves early, and we complain, do nothing about it.
26. Instead of offering to help hands-on, watch from a distance and provide support over email.
25. Mandate that the entire team use a single to-do list application simply because you think it's best.
24. Make your best employees train the newbies for weeks at a time but insist that all deadlines be met.
23. Never answer your cell phone.
22. Never be the on-call guy to share in the team burden.
21. Have a group of employees that you get a long with and go out to lunch with while those that you don't like get left out.
20. Send employees lots of chain letters, poems and other crap spam when they are hard at work.
19. Constantly give your employees vague project plans and get pissed when the result is not what you wanted.
18. Refuse to upgrade a system after the entire team asks for it and then be sure not to give a valid reason.
17. Blame everything on your boss because no one will ever call you on it.
16. Make all men wear ties.
15. Do not let employees expense cell phone use but require a cell phone number for the on-call guy.
14. Shut off access to Google and Ebay because it's not "required for work".
13. Never let employees hangout and use the corp. network to play games after hours.
12. Tell employees to do plan B because you will save $11 even though plan A is the safer, more efficient way to go.
11. I don't care what they are working on. No one should get a monitor larger than yours
10. Insist employees come to your wife's silly Barbecue.
9. Give advice on topics you are only partially educated in.
8. When the kudos are handed out, you should take the credit because you managed the team. Do not give credit to anyone else.
7. Monitor all phone use.
6. Charge someone .25 days off for a dentist appointment.
5. Lecture the team at least weekly.
4. Hold team meetings to provide updates even though the updates only pertain to one-third of team.
3. Buy the team lunch and always forget that Vegan in the corner...he'll come around.
2. Make the team fill out self evaluations but provide very vague feedback on what they type.
1.Sleep with that girl Suzy on the team. No one will suspect she's getting preferential treatment.

Um... wait... there are more than 50 on this list. Darn.

0. Call the redhead guy on the team Rusty. Everyone will laugh and you are sure to win their hearts.
-1. Make sure the cubicles are as close to each other as physically possible. The open areas surrounding the group will be used eventually.
-2. Make the entire team read a book and then set aside 3 hours to discuss it. This is sure to increase productivity.
-3. Let a couple people work from the house, but provide no reason for it or ways for others to obtain the right.
-4. Insist that employees complete projects that even you admit are worthless.

Here are a few more from F360 to make it an even 60:

-5. Hire. Fire. Hire. Fire. Hire. Fire. Keep that revolving door a-spinning. (There's an endless supply of recent college grads willing to work 60 hours for piddles, so use it.)
-6. When something doesn't go as well as you'd hoped, always pass the buck.
-7. Ask your staff to come in on weekends. (Tip: Start with one weekend here and there, until you bring them in at least one weekend per month... then two.) If you run out of reasons, start scheduling "team building" seminars and whatnot. (Why should employees have a family life when they could be helping each other tackle rope courses and "Survivor" style beach challenges all weekend?)
-8. After denying decent raises to deserving employees because "things are a bit tight," show off your new luxury car and talk incessantly about how much of a pain in the butt that enormous new house you're building is starting to become. (Those damn custom pools are a bitch on the landscaping.)
-9. Make no effort not to be clueless about your team's projects when it's just you and your people, but act like you're 100% on top of things in front of your boss. For bonus points, act impatient with your team members anytime they can't answer one of your irrelevant questions. After all, you're a bit annoyed about having to do everything for them these days, and it's cool to show the boss a little sliver of your human side.
-10. Deny any and all requests for additional training or certifications because there's just no time for it.

Nothing will wreck a perfectly great team's vibe faster than a boss who a) makes them feel exploited and unappreciated, b) makes them feel that they are being treated unfairly, and c) gets in their way when all they are trying to do is a great job.

Yeah, it's that simple.

Still... what's with the employee unhappiness thing going on these last two weeks?

Before you answer that, check out this blast from the past (and especially the wheel of customer service and brand identity doom... or whatever).

Maybe it's a seasonal thing.


Defining Success...


Here's another Corante post from last week that I thought ought to get some play time here:

John Winsor points us to this post by Seth Godin today in which he poses this astute question: "What is success?"

Per Seth:

"It's a serious question. How do you know when you're successful--when you have enough market share or profit or respect or money? How do you decide what success is?"

I've run into my share of people for whom success was simply owning a Porsche, a few great sets of golf clubs, and having a 6,000 sq.ft. house on the right golf course. I've met a few for whom success meant designing products or ads that would be used or seen by millions of people. For some, success is being on the cover of Vogue or Elle. It's winning the Tour De France. It's having your own sitcom. It's celebrating 50 years of profitable business. It's getting 5,000 hits per day... or 500,000. It's hearing yourself on the radio three times an hour. It's a title on your business card. It's the corner office. It's a 75-year wedding anniversary. It's an award. It's a 4.0 average. It's the size of your garage or of your yacht or of your third home. It's how much you can bench press. It's beating the S&P. It's being able to spend your own weight in cash every day for the rest of your life. It's beating cancer. It's winning a war. It's curing Polio. It's watching your kids grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. It's serving 500 plates in an hour without making any mistakes. It's getting a big fat check from a VC. It's increasing profits or expanding operations to Asia. It's rescuing every hostage. It's fixing Social Security. It's winning a Gold medal at The Games. It's winning the election. It's getting that promotion. It's graduating. It's getting the account. It's breaking a record. It's kicking heroin. It's getting her to say yes. It's winning the lottery. It's walking on the Moon. It's making your first dollar.

The thing is that every single one of those definitions of success is personal. These are all individual measures of success. They don't involve other people's expectations. They don't involve the success of groups or organizations. And that's precisely the rub.

Per Seth:

"Too often, we let someone else define success. Critics, for example, want a movie to be only modestly popular and modestly approachable. Geeks want your brand to be new and edgy. Alexa-watchers want you to be bigger than MySpace. Stock analysts want you to beat the numbers that they told you they wanted you to meet. Your boss wants you to show up a lot and work late, regardless of what you actually do for her... A lot of organizational conflict comes from mismatched expecations of success."

More often than not, the definition of success is not well defined at the start of a project (which could be as simple as the design of a print ad or as complex as... well, I'll just let your imagination fill-in the blank there). The project manager or CEO typically goes straight to the "goals" but forgets to take a few minutes to go around the room and poll his team (and/or his bosses) to a) find out how they all define success as it pertains to the project, and b) make sure everyone associated with it understands the many different elements that will either make the project successful, or not.

(Sales and profits are usually pretty important on the ROI list, but they aren't always the end-all, be-all.)

Some measures of success may very well be "having the best _________ on the market," or "having the coolest ______________ on the market," or having "the most user friendly ______________ on the market," or having "the most durable ______________ on the market." The smallest digital camera. The flattest phone. The fastest assembly line in the world. The fastest flash card on the market. The most arresting ad campaign of the decade. It could be getting the most out of every penny in the budget, or getting designers and accountants to speak the same language. It could be a side-effect, like creating a cultural phenomenon, or giving birth to a fashion icon.

It can be hundreds of things. Thousands, even.

The point is that all of these things must be 1) communicated at the project's launch, and 2) agreed upon by all relevant parties.

This is not something you can afford to skip.

"As we launch this new company, we will measure success thus..."

"As we launch this new product, we will measure success thus..."

"As you begin your new career, you will measure success thus..."

Simple concept, yet too often overlooked.


Challenge of the I


Check out this very cool video of Joseph Jaffe discussing Marketing and new media as he arrives in Brussels (Belgium) for the Challenge of the I conference.

Speaking of Joe, here's a little something I found on his blog that I liked a lot. The first 17 statements come from a post on "preserving the status quo" by Seth Godin, but 18-30 are his:

1. "That will never work."
2. "... That said, the labor laws make it difficult for us to do a lot of the suggestions [you] put out. And we do live in a lawsuit oriented society.""
3. "Can you show me some research that demonstrates that this will work?"
4. "Well, if you had some real-world experience, then you would understand."
5. "I don't think our customers will go for that, and without them we'd never be able to afford to try this."
6. "It's fantastic, but the salesforce won't like it."
7. "The salesforce is willing to give it a try, but [major retailer] won't stock it."
8. "There are government regulations and this won't be permitted."
9. "Well, this might work for other people, but I think we'll stick with what we've got."
10. "We'll let someone else prove it works... it won't take long to catch up."
11. "Our team doesn't have the technical chops to do this."
12. "Maybe in the next budget cycle."
13. "We need to finish this initiative first."
14. "It's been done before."
15. "It's never been done before."
16. "We'll get back to you on this."
17. "We're already doing it."

18. You have to understand...this is the [insert company name here] company
19. Be patient with us.
20. We move slowly, but we'll get there.
21. You've obviously never worked in the [insert industry name here] industry
22. There just isn't enough budget for change
23. Do you have best practices to go with that?
24. No one ever got fired for putting TV on the plan (yesterday's excuse)
25. No one ever got fired for putting (traditional) Interactive on the plan (today excuse)
26. Our marketing mix modeling doesn't incorporate the approaches you're suggesting
27. Well that might work in [insert country A here], but this is [insert country B]
28. What you say is terrific, but it would just be too hard to implement
29. We need a certain amount of reach in order to be successful
30. Change is good...but not on my watch.

I think that #23 is my favorite. ;D


Kathy Sierra on being provocative:


image shamefully stolen from the Creating Passionate Users blog

Ripped from Corante:

Ah, Kathy Sierra... What can I say. Kathy writes one of the most consistently great blogs dealing with business, marketing, and all things related to them. One of her latest entries on Creating Passionate Users deals with capturing and keeping someone's attention. For the purposes of this discussion, that would be... your customers, or potential customers, but the concept can definitely be applied to other parts of your life as well. (Students, cute girls, managers, parents, readers, etc.) In her own words:

"When you want to get--and especially keep--someone's attention, what's your competition? What else could they choose to focus on at any given moment? The belief that we have 100% conscious control over what we pay attention to is a myth. The belief that users can and will choose to pay attention to our message/ad/docs/product/lesson, etc. is a mistake. So what can we do to up the odds of getting and keeping attention?"

In true Kathy form, the answer is never far from the question. Here, she quotes David Lichman:

"The secret is to be more provocative and interesting than anything else in their environment."

Aha! Okay. Nothing new there. We've already heard about Seth Godin's "be remarkable" argument, and the value of being a "purple cow."

But you know what? It's worth revisiting frequently, and Kathy does a great job of reminding us of this essential strategic ingredient.

I'll be lazy here and quote Kathy again (and again and again and again...):

"If we want our users (members, guests, students, potential customers, kids, co-workers, etc.) to pay attention, we have to be provocative. We can moan all we want about how the responsible person should pay attention to what's important rather than what's compelling. But it's not about responsibility or maturity. It's not even about interest. It's about the brain."

Here are some of her suggestions on how to capture the interest of our customers:

1. Be Visual

Pictures are more important to the brain than words, and unless you've already got their attention and are a good enough writer to paint pictures in their head, you'll do better with visuals. The more stimulating the better. Even graphs and charts are a huge help.

2. Be Different--Break Patterns and Expectations

As long as we're doing what everyone else is doing (or what we have always done), the brain can relax and think, "Nothing new here... whew... what a relief, that means I can now go back to scanning for something that is". Ways to be different include doing the opposite of what you normally do, or doing something expected in a different domain, but which is wildly unique in yours.

3. Be Daring

You know the story on this one--being safe is often incompatible with being provocative.

4. Change Things Regularly

This is about continually breaking your own patterns. Consistently shaking things up whether it's look and feel of your website to the product itself. (Obviously the definition of "regularly" and "things" varies dramatically depending on the type of product or service. MySpace can change daily to the delight of its core audience, while a financial app better keep its UI stable for a much longer time and find something else to change regularly (like the website, tutorial style, or online forums).

5. Inspire Curiosity

Humans often find puzzles and even questions irresistible. Just try to walk by a TV playing a quiz show and not think about the answer to the question you heard walking by. How many times have you watched to the end of a movie you didn't particularly like, just because you had to find out how the story ends? Our legacy brains love curiosity because it usually means more learning.

6. Pose a Challenge

The level and nature of the challenge work only if they're within boundaries that work for your audience, of course.

7. Be Controversial and Committed

Take a stand. Mediocrity is not a formula for holding attention.

8. Be Fun

Remember, brains love fun because fun=play, and play=practicing-to-survive. (And as we've said many times here, fun does not have to mean funny.

9. Be Stimulating. Be Exciting. Be Seductive

Keep in mind that seduction does not have to mean sexual. A good storyteller can seduce me into sticking with the story. A good teacher can seduce me into learning. A good software app can seduce me into getting better and better.

10. Help them have Hi-Res Experiences

This gets back to the notion of being-better-is-better. The more your users know and can do, the higher resolution experience they have. Whatever you can do to give them more expertise will help keep them interested in wanting to know and do more. But they need to be up the skill curve a ways before this really kicks in, so we must do whatever we can to help get new users past the rough spots (i.e. the "suck threshold").

See? I told you she was good!

The theory of "attention share" ("wallet share's" right-brain twin) has been earning serious points with me for the better part of a year now. By the way, for a great little article on the shift from "mind share" to -and relationship with - "wallet share," click here. It's pretty basic, but that's okay.)

Kathy's post also echoes John Moore's post this week about the Ann Taylor brand, which introduces us to Ann Taylor's Kay Krill, and her five tips on reviving a fashion brand:

1: Know your client—not only what she wears, but how she lives.
2: Have an action plan, and have total agreement from the senior leaders who need to execute the plan.
3: Evolve. Retail is not a static business; there’s great danger in staying still.
4: Constantly communicate with employees at all levels.
5: Stay positive and optimistic.

Compared to Kathy's fresh and energy-infused list, Kay's fabulous five list may seem a little... sober, but it is equally important. Kathy's tips deal with being remarkable. Kay's tips deal with not only staying relevant, but also making your organization get from the strategy phase to the execution phase. The two go hand in hand. Being remarkable without being relevant basically equates to just grabbing people's attention. (Like... being a clown.) Likewise, being relevant without being remarkable is just boring. ("Bueller? Bueller?")

I may be stating the obvious here, but... hey, that's not always a bad thing: When looking for potent ingredients to add to your brand's magic recipe, equal doses of remarkable and relevant work best when used together...

... and preferably in very large quantities.

Have a great weekend, everyone. :)


For Bear:


I could be completely wrong about this, but I doubt that the guys who came up with this product were sitting at a desk doing busy-work when the idea popped into their heads.

More often than not, inspiration and brilliant ideas do come from those precious zen moments when work stops being "work" and shifts into more of a "play" mode. Tim and Natalie, over at Simple + Loveable, call it "focused relaxation." I kind of like that, though I am starting to grow fond of the oxymoronic and slightly Orwellian "Workplay."

What's interesting about Reef's marketing strategy is that the bottle-opener feature at the bottom of the sandals is hardly mentioned at all, even though it is the most remarkable feature of an otherwise cool but classic looking piece of leisure footwear (or business casual footwear, if you're... well, Bear). Heck, it could hardly be any more subtle. This kind of qualifies as what is often referred to as a 'free prize.' Per John:

"In the marketing world, a 'Free Prize' is the added bonus of a product/service which give us something to talk about. For example, the Chrysler Sebring comes with cup holders that keep drinks hot or cold. These temperature controlled cup holders are not the first reason someone would buy a Sebring, but they are probably the first reason why someone tells others about their new Sebring. Dig? Credit Seth Godin for the "Free Prize" concept."

Hat tip to John Moore @ Brand Autopsy for digging this one up.

PS: In the world of bottle-opener fashion, I tend to be more partial to belt-buckle bottle openers, but this is still a neat, WOM-worthy idea that kind of makes you wonder... "hmmm, why didn't I think of that".


The BrandBuilder is moving.


Yep, you heard right: The BrandBuilder blog is moving.

But not yet. The move will not happen for at least another month, and I will give everyone plenty of time (and easy-as-pie tools) to make the transition painless and as quick as a wink.

Why am I moving? Lots of reasons, not the least of which is that moving to Wordpress will make the BrandBuilder blog better, more functional, and more enjoyable for everyone.

In the grand scheme of things, the obliteration of my relatively enviable technorati ranking will be a small price to pay, and only a temporary annoyance. If you already like this blog, you are going to LOVE the Wordpress version. I promise.

This is going to be fun.


Yay for South Carolina!


So, we've all heard about South Carolina's bottom-of-the-barrel public school system. No need to kick a dead horse. Our fine state has been famous for this for as long as I can remember. Maybe even since the first public school this side of Charleston opened its doors.

Well, we have something else to be proud of: According to the Greenville News, the Palmetto State now has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation!


That's right: South Carolina, the booming economic powerhouse of the South, the East Coast's new mecca of industrial development has a higher unemployment rate than West Virginia, Louisiana, and even Alabama. The only two states to beat us are Mississippi and Michigan, who tied for the #1 spot.


Really. Think about it. It's a heck of an accomplishment.

Now... don't let me suggest that over a decade (or two... or three) of having one of the worst public school systems in the nation has anything at all to do with our stellar unemployment numbers.

Seriously. The two numbers are completely unrelated.



To add some spice to the mix, in Greenville County alone, the unemployment rate jumped 0.5% between July and August, and since the trend is on the way up throughout the state, with any luck at all, we'll be #1 in the nation this time next year. (Or maybe just in time for Christmas.)

Now that's something to celebrate.

Good karma note: To be fair, South Carolina's GDP is also one of the fastest growing in the nation, and some of the companies that are following BMW, Michelin, and Hubbell Lighting out here are pretty impressive. The state's economy is shifting and these may simply be growing pains... but we can do better, and our public school system might definitely be a great place to start.

Yeah, we're getting pretty good at attracting business, but we still aren't very good at creating the kind of diverse and adaptive workforce that we need to get out of the embarrassing employment hole we seem to have dug for ourselves.

The second highest unemployment rate in the nation. Sheesh. That's just inexcusable. I'd love for someone to explain to me how things were allowed to get this bad.

(Climbing down from my soapbox now.)


Leaders vs. Managers: Hiring Kung Fu.


And just when I thought I was done with this topic, I run into this:

"Managers make sure that work follows an established process. They don't like change. Leaders, on the other hand, are restless creatures like gamblers who get excited about doing things a new way.

"Now, here's the problem: There's a great need for talent and a glut of unqualified candidates. It's going to take a leader to figure out how to move forward. And, Recruiting is full of managers.

"One solution: take recruiting away from HR and give it to marketing people who know how to sell. Another: give it to the operational leaders who have the knowledge needed to assess the candidates technical skills."

Per Kevin Wheeler, via The Recruiting Animal blog.

If you think that's genius (or if you think it's complete bunk), read Kevin's entire article here. Whatever side of the fence you happen to be on, it is well worth ten minutes. (And if you're an HR professional, it's the kind of internet research that you can defend to your internet-on-the-job-hating managers.)


Creativity Destruction Follow-up:


Here's a nice little closing point to cap off my last post, courtesy of Tim Coote, over at BCOM:

"[W]e must consider the possibility that if Design Thinking is critical, maybe restricting it to designers and protecting them from business people is not actually the most productive avenue to pursue. Perhaps eliminating the need for protection by turning business people into Design Thinkers would be more effective. To create a Design Thinking organization, a company must create a corporate environment in which it is the job of all managers to understand customer needs at a deep and sophisticated level and to understand what the firm's product means to the customer at not only a functional level, but also an emotional and psychological level... ...The great firms of the 21st century will be those that recognize the goal isn't to supplement analytics with design; it is all about integrating design and management."

> Roger Martin.

That's so brilliant, I'm on the verge of shedding a tear of joy. Seriously.


Tales From The Trenches: How to kill creativity


(this is where the image should be, but blogger.com is hungover today, apparently. Way to go, blogger. Thanks a lot.)

I just received this story via email and thought I would share it with you. Yes, it's emotional, and yes you can take some of the writer's opinions with a certain amount of reservation, but it is nevertheless real, heartfelt, and pretty common across most industries - which makes it relevant to this blog. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a few comments by yours truly.

How to destroy creative talent.

I've just witnessed a horrifying example of how some of our seniors managed to take down one of our most promising creatives.

The whole thing started when the planner complained about one of our designers surfing the internet. He kept complaining loudly until he got the attention of our creative director.

"Shouldn't he be designing the x-book instead? Doesn't he have other things to do than to surf the web."

(CD) "What? Is he surfing again? Of course he has other stuff to do. What the hell is he doing? This guy is nothing but trouble."

"Yes he is."

(Suddenly they are aware that I am listening. That's kind of normal 'cause my desk is right between theirs.)

(CD) "Is it possible to disable someone's internet connection?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, is it possible to make it impossible for someone to have internet access?"

"Who someone?"

"Well, you know."

"Ah, yeah, we'll ask the tech guy (who happens to be an account as well)."

The next day, the tech guy comes in, and immediately the three of them team up around the CD's desk.

(CD) "Can you disable X's internet connection?"

(TG) "Yeah, sure. Why?"

(Pla) "He's surfing again."


(TG) "I can do this and then do that. But shouldn't I notify him first?"

(CD) "No, not at all."

(TG) "But he'll ask his colleague Y to fix the thing."

(CD) "Then we'll tell Y not to fix it. Oh, and by the way, do it this evening, while he's away from work."

(TG) "Consider it done."

This conversation made my blood boil. First of all none of these people cared to ask the designer about this face to face.

I went down and I did (more than once). The answer was pretty simple. The guy told me he cannot use his design applications while he's writing PDF-files or uploading images. It takes a hell lot of time and it bores him to death. So while his machine is busy he's visiting wikipedia, design websites and blogs.

While asking around I noticed that all creatives do surf once and a while when their computers keep them from working. Most of them surf private anyway.

Secondly, the Tech Guy as well as the Planner are constantly visiting sports and gunclub websites themselves, exchanging silly e-mails and playing games. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as it doesn't affect their work (and believe me, it DOES!). So who the hell are they to cut the wings of one of our best designers?

But the most frustrating thing was that I knew that the CD and the Planner were waiting for quite some time for an opportunity to nail this guy.

Here's what happened a couple of months earlier: this young designer "dared" to contest the CD's view, not in a rude, but in a polite, but decisive way.

Instead of telling him to tone down or even bullying him, the CD went straight to the boss, complaining about this designer's misbehaviour. Mainly the CD complained about his sloppy look, him taking his shoes off at work and just being too different to get a grip on. But he couldn't complain about the guy's work.

The same evening our designer had to come "upstairs" where he was told that he would be fired. Luckily for him (well, sort of) he started questioning the boss and the CD about why they wanted to fire him. In doing so he managed to counter every single argument. The boss started to like him and decided to give him a second chance. Our CD was outrageously frustrated.

Getting the picture?

Back to our internet story again. When I tell our designer what's about to happen he's pretty pissed off and so am I. We both have the feeling that this is not the right way to treat your employees.

Be straight with them, be honest. But stop scheming in the board room because people notice. And how on earth can these people claim any authority while they are too cowardly to confront people with their so-called mistakes?

Live update. My boss came peeping over my shoulder (I'm writing this while I am having my lunch break), and I feel like I've been ran over by a truck.

Frankly, I don't give a damn, 'cause I've made up my mind. People who treat their employees in such a degrading are not worth any of my time and effort. There not worth working for at all.

So here's the deal: I'll quit. Not only because of what happened to our designer, but because I don't want to work in a company that sells so-called communication-advice and creativity while restraining all creativity and neglecting to communicate with their employees and customers in a proper way.

(Oh, by the way, as a copywriter my work isn't valued as it should either. In our company people think everyone can write professionally so they rewrite and edit my copy whenever they want, however they want without asking. And if things turn out bad, they blame it on me without even asking me. So there you have it, definitely no place to stay.)

And believe me, I don't believe in fairy tales anymore although I am still very fond of them. But I still believe that honesty is the best policy. There's still a huge difference between telling something in a strategic way and telling a lie. In our company they think they're doing the first, while actually doing the second. During my time at university, I got stuffed with post-modern literature, so I know what it means to present things from different angles without telling a lie.

Yeah, it sucks to work in a place that a) doesn't value your contributions, b) has allowed petty politics to poison the culture, c) micromanages its people to death, and d) just doesn't get it. The creative who sent me this email is obviously not happy where he is... and should probably look for greener pastures. (They're out there.)

There are several things here that I need to highlight:

1) Honesty is always the best policy. As a matter of fact, it is the only policy.

2) Whenever possible, act like an adult: If one of your employees is doing something you don't like, let them know. Give them a chance to make the changes you would like to see before ratting them out to the principal.

3)Your people are your most important assets. If their job is to be creative, let them be creative. (Managing creatives and accountants are very different tasks. Be aware of that.)

4) Micromanagers need not apply.

5) Can't we all just get along?

This reminds me of the design engineering department at a company I once worked for that had meetings every Friday morning, to go over everyone's project status, discuss new ideas, new designs, etc. The department's manager usually brought in doughnuts, coffee, and made the meeting relatively informal. I sat in on these meetings on several occasions and found them to be productive and insightful. Not only that, but they usually went into brainstorming mode towards the end of the hour,which gave designers a chance to get feedback on design ideas and engineering problems they were trying to solve. My take: Every other department in the company should have tried to incorporate some of these meetings' elements in their own weekly schedules. Unfortunately, the meetings came to an abrupt end when an influential VP (who disliked the engineering manager) repetedly complained to the CEO that Design Engineering spent their Friday mornings having "parties" and not doing any work.

The result: Five months later, most of the Design Engineering department walked out and moved on.

Here's another example (from the same company): Two creatives shared an office. Both spent about an equal amount of time reading business and design magazines - something which helps creative types - kind of like reading blogs. Call it research. Call it inspiration. Call it staying current. Call it conceptual optimization. The fact is that reading trade pubs does help creatives do a better job... at their job. It isn't goofing off or lounging around, especially if they're taking notes or highlighting portions of the articles. At any rate, one read them at his desk. The other read them on the couch. (Ironically, she was the one who produced the best work and met her deadlines. The read-at-desk guy wasn't very good at his job and generally pretty clueless.) Guess who was "called in" about her "lounging" habits. Guess who was told not to read trade pubs at work anymore. She took a position with another company very soon after that meeting.

Note to employers everywhere: If you are lucky enough to have talented, hard-working people on your staff, don't worry about whether or not they read marketing and design blogs when they should be looking busy. Don't come down on them if you see them reading trade pubs instead of typing away at their keyboard. Don't sweat it if you hear laughter coming out of the conference room they are using for a team meeting. As long as their work is fantastic, as long as deadlines are met, give them their space. Let them decompress during the day. Let them find their own path to engagement. Let them find in their daily work the inspiration they need to continue to bring fresh ideas and flawless execution to the table. Let them create and design their own place within your organization.

Guide them, help them, and whatever you do, don't interfere.

The "nose to the grindstone," "look busy," "work and no play" might work if you're on an assembly line, assembling widgets, but it doesn't work at all for anyone whose job description involves creativity or coming up with brilliant ideas.

Making employees feel unappreciated and ganged-up on doesn't make anyone work better, smarter, or harder. It just makes them look for the door.


The never-ending adoption curve


Statistics are always interesting, especially when they indicate something you didn't quite expect about the world. These numbers kindof fit in that category. From Seth's blog:

31.4% of Americans don't have internet access.

90% of the people in France have not created a blog.

88% of all users have never heard of RSS.

59% of American households have zero iPods in them.

30% of internet users in the US use a modem.

Detroit (one million people) has six Starbucks.

1% of internet users use Digg on an average day.

.37% of the US population reads the paper version of the New York Times daily.

Brazil consumes 11% of the world's coffee.

20% of the world speaks English.

98.2% of the households in the US have a TV, and virtually all of those TVs have cable.

The point of this list isn't to persuade you to give up your quest and become a producer for the Today Show or to go work for People magazine. No, all the growth and the opportunity and the fun is at the leading edge, at the place where change happens. I just thought it was worth a moment to remember that Rogers was right, and that we're living on a never-ending adoption curve.


Margaret Mead's Widsom


I was fortunate enough to study anthropology in high school (yes, ISB was pretty well ahead of its time), so Margaret Mead and her work had a pretty big impact on me when I was still impressionable. Running into her words like this after kind of having lost track of her for a few years was a really nice surprise today. Thanks to Bruce Fryer for posting these:

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

"If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one's subject matter."

"What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things."

"Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on."

"You just have to learn not to care about the dust mites under the beds."

"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else."

Simple wisdom you can apply to marketing, life, and whatever else matters. :)

Happy "Speak Like A Pirate Day," everyone.


GoinGreen - A "2.0" success story


Via Simple + Loveable, meet the super cool UK-sensation known as the G-Wiz.

Before I get to what's really cool about this idea and it's execution, here are some facts about the car itself:

Part I: What GoinGreen has to say about it:

"The G-Wiz was designed in California, and is manufactured by Indo-US Reva Electric Car Company. Using just one quarter as much energy as a similar size small car with an internal combustion engine, the G-WIz is the most energy efficient car on the road (source: Energy Saving Trust). The G-Wiz is emission free, with no exhaust emissions, ever. Even when pollution generated at the power station to charge the G-Wiz is included (called 'well-to-wheel') the emissions impact of a G-Wiz is at least 74% less than a car with an internal combustion engine. When charged with electricity from renewable sources (available throughout the UK, sometimes at no extra cost), the G-Wiz is 100% non-polluting and sustainable. Compare juice from npower, Good Energy, and Ecotricity.

"Uniquely, the G-Wiz is also carbon neutral, because GoinGreen off-set the CO2 produced during the manufacture, shipping and first two year's driving of every G-Wiz sold, via contributions to Climate Care.

"the G-Wiz is fully automatic, is quieter than a normal car (because it has no engine), has nippy acceleration from standstill, with a top speed of either 40 or 45 mph*, enough for urban driving conditions and speed limits - particularly as the average speed in London is 10.5 mph and the speed limit either 30 or 40 mph.

"The range is sufficient for daily urban commuting needs. The G-Wiz features regenerative braking - pressing the pedal works like a dynamo, recharging the battery and increasing the range by up to 15%. It also has optional climate-controlled seating. Each seat has tiny heat or cold-releasing holes which warm or cool the body rather than the air in the car.

"Uniquely, the body is available in 100% recyclable, colour impregnated, lightweight ABS plastic over a steel space frame with side impact bars for safety. "Refueling" is as easy as charging a mobile phone: Just plug it into any standard outdoor outlet. Charge time is only 2.5 hours for 80% of the range and 8 hours for the full charge."

You can buy one of these babies starting at £6,999.

Part II: What I have to say about it:

You can get it custom painted or wrapped. (Leopard skin is one of the most popular options, but a giant chihuahua head is a definite possibility.) You can park it in a motorcycle parking space. It doesn't pollute. Fuel costs per week are about equal to a candybar. You can fit about six of them in a two-car garage. The most tricked out model costs less than $16,000, and the basic model less than $10,000. A Yakima or Thule roof rack would look HOT on this thing. All three of my dogs will fit in it. (The kids can't, but they can get their own.) Yes, Cute is the new sporty. It plugs into an outlet, for crying outloud. How cool is that?! 45mph isn't great on country roads, but for city driving, it's more than enough - unless you happen to live in Paris. Ahem.

Damn. I want one.

Part III: What GoinGreen did right:

Okay. Now, let's talk about how GoinGreen is scoring big with this idea, again per Small + Loveable:

1. GoinGreen sells small electric cars CHEAP to commuters in London and they do it at a profit. By being smarter, better and more passionate than everyone else, these guys have produced the top selling electric cars in the world, while creating a devoted customer base.

2. GoinGreen Really (and I mean REALLY) embraced word of mouth, selling 600 'G-wizz' cars "without dealers, showrooms, advertising, or sales staff." They did it by thinking outside the accepted square.
a) If you want to test drive a car, simply arrange a meeting and they will come to you.
b) Their cars are mini land-marks - with beautiful (tacky?) animal prints they can't help but stand out in a crowd.
c) It's a club. People who buy these cars enter the club, have get togethers, tell stories, have rallys...

3. For its launch, GoinGreen focused on a very targeted audience: Londoners. (G-wizz cars wont go fast or far, but commuters in London don't need either.) It isn't meant to be all things to all people, but it will be everything to some people.

4. GoinGreen redefined the concept of investing in a car.
a) Priced under $10,000, annual savings made by going electric will pay off your car in no time at all. Maybe even in its first year.
b) Yes people will pay a 1000 pound deposit online if you ask them to.

5. These guys have put their heart and soul into these cars. In everything they write and every interaction they have, their passion oozes out. Seriously, the best way to get people excited is to be the most extreme, the most evangalistic believers in the benefits of your product.

It's a tough challenge to move several billion mindsets and get us thinking seriously about our combined impact on the world. Faced with a car market that is dominated by massive dinosaurs, who would have thought a couple of guys banding together with no marketing budget, a revolutionary approach to sales and a product that ignores everyone who says it's too hard and IS 100% carbon neutral would stand a chance?

Bravo. Couldn't have said it better myself.


Exorcise your organization's inner dysfunctions today.


Yep, we're still talking about how creating a workplace that embraces leadership, innovation, and creativity. Why? because people - not just clever marketing and cool messages - are at the heart of your brand.

I think it goes without saying that passionate, engaged, talented people will yield far superior results than equally talented but bored, stressed, and unhappy people.

If your workplace isn't engaging, fun and rewarding, if your team members aren't on a mission, if they don't feel excited about the work they do for you, you may still be able to attract talent (especially if you're a big name brand,) but a) you won't be able to tap their full potential - which sucks, and b) you won't be able to hold on to them for very long.

If you haven't taken the time to make an honest internal assessment of your company or department lately, maybe now's a good time to start planning for one.

Whether you hire consultants or create a simple annonymous feedback or survey program, here are some of the positive and negative things to look for:

(Thanks to David Armano, of the downright awesome Logic+Emotion blog for pointing us in the right direction with this post. All of the references are posted there.)

First, here are the Seven Deadly Deficiencies most likely to turn up in professional organizations. These are pretty general negative traits or attitudes that trickle down from poor leadership. (Remember the line in G.I. Jane? "There are no bad crews. Only bad leaders." Yeah. That one.) These can all be traced back directly to lousy leadership.

Note: They don't affect high-performers specifically, and thus fall under the category of equal-opportunity dysfunctions.

For extra style points when discussing any of these dysfunctions, you may use any of them in the same sentence with the word "malaise." Here we go:

1. Contempt for others
2. Obsession with self
3. Commitment dysfunction
4. Inflexible mindset
5. No productive focus
6. Unrelenting pessimism
7. Embraces Dilbertian views of leaders

If any of these turn up in your own back yard, seek outside professional help immediately.

(If all seven turn up, the Vatican may be able to hook you up with a good exorcist.)

Second, here are the Eight Ways to Wipe Out High Performers. These are, as the header subtly suggests, problems that will specifically cause the superfly talent you've spent so much time and money recruiting to start looking for the emergency exit:

1. Work overload
2. Lack autonomy (micromanagement)
3. Skimpy rewards
4. Loss of connection
5. Unfairness
6. Value conflicts
7. Let low-performers ride
8. Create an environment of fear, uncertainty and doubt

Think of each one of these as a 10% reduction in that high performer's efficiency. (I completely made that number up, but it seems about right.) Put three of those together, and your talent will leave you inside of 18 months. Guaranteed. (#8 counts for 30% instead of 10.)

Now that we've taken a little tour of all the things that may be wrong with your organization, here are things you should strive to do right:

Ten Ways to Build Passion

10. See greatness in those around you and share your vision
9. Express constructive feedback in terms of "the vision"
8. Believe that things can be different and approach the improbable with optimism
7. Set high standards for performance and hold EVERYONE accountable
6. Demonstrate courage, judgement, risk-taking and continuous improvement in your own performance
5. Recognize and celebrate success
4. Design growth experiences that stretch but don't break people
3. Invest in trust and even love
2. Respond maturely to failures and setbacks
1. Push power and decision making down

"Success depends more on the strengths you emphasize than the weaknesses you minimize."

Pow. Exactly.

And lastly, here are a few insightful quotations about how to deal with high performers, also from Logic+Emotion:

"High performers drive you nuts sometimes. You need to enjoy that. Steer them, frame their objectives, but don't repress them." --Terry Leclair, Senior PD Director at Intuit

"High performers are like 'thoroughbreds'. They require lots of care and feeding - but boy can they run." -- Tobey Corey, Founder US Web

"As a leader you have the obligation to define the 'what' to the nth level - to get to goals for the right level - to make sure the 'what' is right. But you don't want to dictate the 'how'. You want to give the team and the individual the determination of 'how'. -- Pankaj Shukla, VP, Quickbooks PD at Intuit "

Pass it on.

No, really. Pass it on.

Have a great day, everyone. :)


Keeping marketing fun


It isn't like I don't have a million things to write about. Really. It isn't. But I'm just swamped with work this week and find myself unable to steal enough time to devote to the brandbuilder blog.


Everything should be back to normal in a day or two. No worries. It's just one of those things. In the meantime, I wanted to point you towards Puma's very cool Starck microsite (which made me laugh outloud). My first reaction was "wow. Somebody actually got paid by a major brand to create a playful and original microsite that's as much about having fun as it is about the shoes." (Which is perfect.) My second reaction was "wow. A major brand actually gets it." A few personal notes: The starck shoe collection is pretty cool in and of itself, but the naked ape-like puppetman kind of steals the show a little bit. (Tip: Move him around or scroll through the shoes for about a minute or two, until the monkey head falls into your screen. Then click on it. It'll let you download and print a monkey mask, and links to a fairly complete menu of monkey party activities - perfect for the socialite anthropologist in all of us.)

What does any of this have to do with shoes?

Nothing. Everything. It doesn't really matter. The point is this:

1) The site and Puma's marketing aren't boring,
2) Puma knows how to differentiate itself from its competitors,
3) Puma knows how to create specific identities for its various product lines, and
4) it isn't taking itself too seriously.

Score on all counts.

Progress. Progress.


Reader Appreciation Day


I just wanted to say a little G'day to my readers at Sacred Heart College, in Australia. You guys are my top referring site so far this month, and I thought that was pretty darn cool. Thanks for reading... and linking.

(And thanks to everyone else for reading and commenting as well. You guys rock.)


Playing it safe - Part 2.


, Spike wrote:

"Playing it safe puts your job in danger. You were not hired to play it safe, were you? I’m not saying that you have to be a loose cannon – but come on. DO something. Will your resume say, “Played it safe at company X for 5 years,” or “Moved the needle. Changed the culture. Pushed the boundaries. Shrunk comfort zones. Made a difference.”

Unfortunately, I have to admit that back when I was a corporate monkey, I was actually hired to play it safe. (The interview was all about innovation and risk-taking and big change, but the reality of the job turned out to be the exact opposite.) After three years at my last wear-a-tie-to-work job, I was told by the HR manager to not to try and change the company's culture. Not to push the boundaries. Not to test anyone's comfort zones. Not to try and make a difference.

And the walls came crumbling down...

Spike, Jason, this one's for you, guys. This is an exerpt of that conversation:

"Olivier, perhaps you should stop sharing ideas with people."

_ I'm sorry... what?

"Ideas. I said you should stop sharing them."

_ I'm... not sure I understand what you mean.

"You have a tendency to share ideas. A couple of people here have complained about that."

_ About ideas.

"About the fact that you share them."

_ You're joking.

"No. They've complained to me about it."

_ Who?

"It wouldn't be fair for me to say. A couple of people."

_ Were my ideas... offensive?

"No, they're actually very good. They're fantastic ideas. Everybody really loves them."

_ ... But... this couple of people complain about them anyway.


_ Were they unsolicited ideas?

"No. That isn't the issue."

_ Um... I don't get it.

"It makes them feel that you're telling them how to do their jobs."

_ (Chuckle.) Seriously?


_ How so?

"Frankly, if you can't see it, I'm not sure I want to explain it to you."

_ What ideas are you talking about? I mean, what ideas specifically are you talking about?

"I don't know. I can't think of an example right now."

_ Well... It's kind of important that you do because I really want to understand this. These are good ideas that everyone loves and thinks are great... but a couple of people are complaining about them? I... They must have complained about specific instances. They would have.

"I can't think of one right now. But you should stop sharing ideas with other people. It's just not something everyone is comfortable with here yet. We've been doing things a certain way for fifty years, and not everyone here feels comfortable with change."

_ Um... You do realize that it's my job to actually come up with ideas for products and marketing and business opportunities, right?


_ And that we've already made and saved a lot of money because of these ideas, right?


_No, I mean. That's what I was hired to do. It's my job.

"Yes, I understand that, but these people would like you to just focus more on your other work."

_ That is my work. There is no other work.

"I'm sure there are other things that you do."

_ Actually, no. It starts with the ideas. Without the ideas, there is no work.

"Look, I am just conveying to you what has been brought to my attention. There are people here who have worked very hard over the years to put this place where it is. You have no idea how much we've grown over the last twenty years. The advances that were made before you came. When you share your ideas and it gets back to those people, they feel like you don't appreciate that and are telling them how to do their jobs."

_ You can't be serious.

(Incredulous and condescending look from the HR person) "I honestly have a difficult time believing that you didn't think that something like this would happen."

_ Believe it. Look. I don't know what we're even talking about. Other department managers send me articles about stuff that's marketing related, or design related... I send them stuff too. We have meetings to discuss them. It's a dialogue we have. It's collaborative and enriching. It's simple stuff. Good stuff. I learn, they learn... It's actually a very cool way to be exposed to new ideas, technology, and emerging trends. It helps us get better. It isn't like I say Hey, you're doing this wrong. Do it this way instead. It isn't like that. We share case studies... Most of the modernization in the plant has been a result of this dialogue. Are you telling me that's all been a bad thing?

"They don't like it."

_ So... wait. I still don't get it. Is it the ideas? The delivery? Am I being condescending or arrogant in any way?

"No, no, no. It's nothing like that. They just don't think it's your place to be sharing any ideas."

(Stunned look.) _ Huh?

"Olivier, I am going to be candid with you. You think that we don't see your talents, but we do. We're all very aware that you are years ahead of the curve. Decades, even. That you're smarter and more market and design savvy than anyone here. You are undoubtedly the most articulate and creative person that has ever worked for (this company). Bar-none...."

(picking my chin up from the floor.)

"...But you've only been here three years, and these people have been here for over twenty years. You just haven't paid your dues yet. You need to be patient. When the time comes and you are asked for your input, then maybe your role here will evolve. But right now, you have to understand that some people... who have never worked anywhere else... can feel threatened by someone like you. So you should keep your ideas private. I'm not suggesting that you dumb things down. Just that you... give people time to adjust to the fact that things in the outside world have changed and that they may not have all of the answers."

_ I'm sorry... I'm still stuck on what you said a few minutes ago. So... you guys realize that I have these skills? That I know what I am talking about? That I am right about most of this stuff?

"Yes. We are very aware of that."

_ But... you're asking me to put a lid on it. To stop sharing ideas and no longer participate in the dialogue.

"Until you've been here a lot longer than three years."

_ Like, how long?

"There's no set amount of time. Most of our VPs have been here more than twenty years. One day, if you keep your nose to the grindstone, you might move up the ladder enough."

_ The grindstone? You think I plan on still being here in twenty years, having conversations like this one?

"I've been here almost that long. They've been great years."

_ You know... we don't have twenty years. The market is changing now. Today. Things need to be done this year, not twenty years from now, in order for this company to be successful again. Second, why wait? You have me now. I can do this now. You've seen the work my team has been putting out. The changes we've already brought about. Our customers are coming back, our reps are excited again, we actually have a story to tell now, for the first time in twenty-five years. You would have me stop all of that? Put off innovation for what... ten more years, just because a few people feel uncomfortable with... change?

"Don't worry. (The company) will still be here in ten years and we'll have plenty of time to catch up then."

_ You can't be serious.

"It wouldn't be the first time we've done it."

_ Let me get this straight... you actually realize that I know what needs to be done and how. That I can help you win back a huge chunk of market share... that my team can do all of this... That we can do it now and that there's a need for it now.

"Yes. I do."

_ But... you're asking me to sit back and do nothing.

"Not nothing, no. Just... less. More um... routine work."

_ Until I've paid my dues.

"Until you've paid your dues, yes."

_ And you equate my "paying dues" with sitting on my ass in a back office rather than continuing to make this company loads of money like I have been, and helping put you back on the map?

"It would make things easier for a few key people, yes."

_ And when you hear yourself say this, it sounds reasonable to you?

(Pause.) "I am just telling you how it is, Olivier."

_ That's quite a business model you've got there. Really. You guys should be proud.

"Yes. It's worked well for us over the years."

(end scene.)

Conversations like this can be pretty entertaining if you have a sense of humor, but they're also heartbreaking. It's kind of like watching your best friend who had been sober for three years fall off the wagon and start drinking again... Or like watching one of your kids give up on a dream.

It's just sad.

I guess the questions you have to ask yourself are these: Do you really want to work for a company that doesn't value innovation? That refuses to push the boundaries of its comfort zone?

Do you really want to spend your life "safely" tucked in the belly of a slowly sinking ship? (Even if on the outside, the ship looks cool and has a popular name?)

These are serious questions, and yes, you do need to answer them.

Sometimes, doing something, moving the needle, helping make a company great again goes completely against the grain, no matter what the soundbites and taglines say. Lots of companies love to talk the talk when it comes to innovation and growth and taking chances, but very few of them actually walk the walk.

Playing it safe is still the corporate religion.

To quote Jason Oke again:

"Most people are driven more by the desire to avoid failure, and more specifically to avoid blame for failure, rather than a desire to achieve success.

"(...) Most companies compensate people based on short-term growth, rather than long-term vision, and stigmatize failure. Nobody wants to be the person who lost a chunk of shareholder money. Really, how many organizations actively encourage risk-taking and challenging convention? Not a lot."

This is clearly a leadership problem. If the people who write the rules for their companies don't create environments, ecosystems, cultures which systematically empower their employees, encourage their involvement, and reward them for their contributions, who will? If they don't publicly kick stale methodologies and outdated business models to the curb, if they don't turn their backs on the death-trap that are "playing it safe" strategies, who will?

Sometimes, not playing it safe, moving the needle and breaking through barriers does put your job in jeopardy. When that happens, trust me on this, it is a sure sign that you are working for the wrong company.

Life's too short to be a tool.

Just remember this: More often than not, a job is just a job. It isn't a career. Don't waste your time working for a company that isn't right for you.

Have a great weekend, everybody.


Playing it safe - Part 1.


Spike - over at Brains On Fire - struck a major cord with this post today:

"I just don’t understand how SVPs of marketing departments can afford to play it safe. Playing it safe means trying to please all the people all of the time. Playing it safe is the bedfellow of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” (...) It’s the antagonist of courage…and of change. It’s paying attention to office politics. It’s the tradition in traditional advertising. It’s complacent. It’s the same spread in the same pub for the fourth month in a row. Playing it safe has never, ever merited good results. Playing it safe always gets found out. Exposed.

"Playing it safe puts your job in danger. You were not hired to play it safe, were you? I’m not saying that you have to be a loose cannon – but come on. DO something. Will your resume say, “Played it safe at company X for 5 years,” or “Moved the needle. Changed the culture. Pushed the boundaries. Shrunk comfort zones. Made a difference.”

"Is the choice really that tough?

"Marketing can be meaningful. But you have to make it that way."
Equally insightful is this post left by Jason Oke - over at Leo Burnett:

"I’ve been thinking about this exact point for a while as well. In my experience, it seems that most people are driven more by the desire to avoid failure, and more specifically to avoid blame for failure, rather than a desire to acheive success. Most people would rather have safe 1% growth on their brands than aim for 50% or 100% growth and changing the category, because that entails risk of failure (if it was guaranteed, everyone would have done it already). This is partly driven by the inherently conservative nature of people - people who have kids and mortgages and so on - to not want to put their neck on the line. It’s partly driven by a cultural belief that failure is bad and demeaning, rather than an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s also partly institutional culture and economics - most companies compensate people based on short-term growth, rather than long-term vision, and stigmatize failure. Nobody wants to be the person who lost a chunk of shareholder money. Really, how many organizations actively encourage risk-taking and challenging convention? Not a lot.

"This is why so many decisions are not made by individual judgement, but by committee, or by research. These are structures that mitigate individual responsibility for a decision. I’ve seen people approve something which no one really believes will work because “the research said people liked it” - even if everyone kind of knows the research was flawed. But they approve nonetheless, because if it fails, they’re blameless: “the consumers told us to do it.”

"It takes a brave individual to base a decision on their own judgement, especially in defiance of conventional wisdom or company politics or research. That makes it a rare individual. But these are usually the people who change the world."

I have worked for the company that Jason describes... and chances are that anyone reading this blog has as well. (If you're still in school, you haven't yet, but you will.)

It basically comes down to management culture... which sometimes changes not just from company to company, but also from department to department - and is completely people-driven: One manager or director may be a bold visionary who drives innovation and fuels excitement in the marketplace, while her replacement may be a conformist functionary who will let internal politics dictate his decisions. Subtle HR changes like these can make or break departments, divisions, companies, and... yes, brands pretty-much overnight.

I've found myself caught in the middle of these types of management shifts, and I am here to tell you that they suck. There is nothing sadder than seeing a company with enormous potential throw its success away by "playing it safe." By not having the guts to stand out. By not having the oysters to try and be the best.

I could tell you stories that would make your blood turn to ice. I really could.

Like Spike says, taking chances isn't about being a loose cannon. Quite the contrary. I hate to use sports metaphors because they're so cliche... but they're also easy to understand. Here's the thing: No matter what sport you're into, games are won not by playing defensively. They are won by playing offensively. You have to score in order to win.

I will say it again: You have to score in order to win.

Heck, you have to score more than the other guys in order to win. The tougher your competition, the more you have to up your game. The more you have to score. As we all know, every successful goal or point or touchdown comes after a string of failures. You try and fail. You try and fail again. You keep trying and failing until you finally score the point. The faster and systematically you can do this, the faster you will score more points. No matter how good you are at anything you do, success is always a numbers' game, especially when it comes to innovation. Remember IDEO (the design juggernaut that brought us the computer mouse, for starters)? Their product development motto is pretty-much this: Fail often to succeed faster. Sound familiar? You bet.

The point is this: Defense doesn't win jack diddly. Sooner or later, defense fails. It aways does. Playing it safe is a sure-fire way to make sure that you, your company, your career, your relationships, your life, your talents will never go anywhere. You have to take chances in order to win. Calculated risks. You have to be willing to risk tripping all over yourself in front of everyone... and chances are that you will. A lot. And that's okay. If it falls into your methodology, if you make it clear from the start that it is part of the game plan, then no one with a brain and a drive to accomplish something special will have a problem with your planned failures. I guarantee it.

Within the right context, failure is not failure at all. Every hurdle, every speedbump, every obstacle is a point along a learning curve, and a step in the right direction. It is part of a process. Nothing more.

I used to get excited when the products I was in charge of developing failed a test during their prototyping phase. Why? Because the failure exposed a weakness we hadn't anticipated (or confirmed one that we had). Because failure in testing meant that the engineers would quickly find a solution to it... and that we were one big step closer to being ready to go into production. Every new product, every new idea, every new campaign has a finite number of inherent weaknesses and flaws. One of the jobs of a project manager, no matter the discipline or indusrty, is to uncover each of these flaws BEFORE its final release. Every discovered flaw reduces the pool of unknown flaws, until there are none left and the product is ready. In this way, failure testing is a wickedly effective process.

In this context, failure is good.

Very good.

The "safe" execs don't always understand that. Interestingly, the products they were in charge of bringing to market (copies of copies of copies designed and made overseas) never failed in testing, but had a very high failure rate out in the real world. (But by the time these problems occured, it was easy to pass the buck and blame the failures on manufacturing and quality control issues. Lame.) The products that my group designed hardly ever failed in the real world, but getting them launched was a much tougher battle. (Wow. Was it ever.)

And our products were cool and exciting, but that's a whole other story. Ahem.

One of the fundamental differences between the "safe" execs and the visionary ones is always this: In a meeting, the safe group always asks "tell me how this thing works," but avoids the tough questions. The visionary group asks "tell me how it fails," and immediately starts working on finding solutions to the failures and make the idea work.

Some people are afraid of challenges, because of the risk of failure. Others get excited by challenges because of the possibility of success. Belonging to one group or the other is a choice we make every single day: We choose to work for innovative companies, or settle for the relative safety of boring cubicle jobs. We choose to go for it and risk failure, or settle for average. We order something new off the menu or go with the same old chicken sandwich. We take charge of our careers or let other people mismanage them for us. We choose to make a difference or to not. We choose to be successful, or to be... safe somewhere in the middle of the bell curve.

When it comes to innovation, to revolutionary product design, to the way that you interact with your customers, to the way that you create fans... to the way that you create something extraordinary, there is no place for safety. Sorry. It's just the way it is.

If you want your business to succeed, not just survive at 1-6% annual growth, you have to take the wheel, put your foot on the gas, and take the lead. You have to take chances. You have to make decisions. You have to be the one to pave the way. You have to be willing to fail, learn from your mistake(s), and keep going.

If you are a business leader, a CMO, an athlete, a military officer, a researcher, a movie director or a politician, unless you are willing to do exactly that, you might as well pack up and go home.

(Tomorrow, we'll talk about how - more often than not - most of our "jobs" are weighed down and stalled by "don't rock the boat" swampwater.


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