Death to Brainstorms!


I love rants. Especially rants that relate to the world of business. And most especially rants about things that I myself have had to endure. I found this brilliant little bit of catharsis on this week, and since it is relevant to this blog's theme, I thought I'd share.


I hate brainstorms.

I hate running them, I hate contributing to them and I hate using them to solve problems.

They waste huge amounts of time and talent and they are no fucking good at delivering decent ideas.

And so six months ago I cleansed my professional life of this Trojan horse of mediocrity, favoring aggregated individual working or two person thinking sessions.

I suggest it's time you gave them the boot too.

Death to the brainstorm. Long live great ideas.

The idea of the brainstorm was developed in the 1930s by Alex Faickney Osborne, the O in BBDO (which he founded in 1919 with his mates Batten, Barton and Durstine) and popularized in a book he wrote on the subject called Applied Imagination.

Osborne believed that when creating ideas quantity breeds quality - that if you can generate enough ideas somewhere in all the swill will be gold dust.

And so that's what he built his brainstorming technique to do - deliver quantity over quality. Kind of like a Starbucks for creative thinking, you know once in a while they make a decent cup of coffee. Brainstormers are supposed to focus on quantity, not criticize other people's ideas, be as 'wild' as they want and to combine and improve existing ideas.

These rules are so pervasive in contemporary business that even the cretins on The Apprentice seem to have learned them. And it is these rules that are at the heart of the ghastliness of the brainstorm experience . An experience in which too many people, with little ultimate responsibility for the quality of the outcome whitter on for far too long to the increasing frustration of the problem owner. Frustration manifestly worsened by the cult of facilitation.

A facilitators main task is to ensure that 'everyone goes home with a balloon' after a brainstorm - that they all feel that their pointless lives have been made somehow better by this semi cathartic experience and by the lovely little warm up games that they all played. Not to mention that they all got to vote on the most simplistic and incompetent ideas with a little stash of post it notes like some kind of mutant pin the tail on the donkey game. Facilitators like participants to have a nice time more than they like delivering actionable output.

But the thing that really pisses me off about this whole technique is that it brings an unwelcome democracy into the process of idea generation. Democracy is great as a way of ensuring that the will of the people is brought to bear in governing of their lives. But it pretty much ensures that blandness is the output we most readily associate with the brainstorm. In particular democracy leads to production blocking which is the loss of great ideas while people are waiting for their turn or having to listen to the irrelevant ramblings of other participants. And if that were not bad enough it ensures that the more polarizing and interesting ideas are lost at the evaluation stage as everyone showers the flip chart with their 'stickies' endorsing the familiar and feasible.

And there is no evidence they actually work beyond increasing morale, team building and other such airy fairy shenanigans. Productivity loss in an inherent part of the brainstorm approach (Mullen, Johnson and Salas, 1991; Diehl and Strobe, 1987) which results from evaluation apprehension, social loafing and the production blocking I mentioned above. Much of this research shows that brainstorms are in fact less effective than individuals working independently.

for my money the optimum number of people for an idea generation session is two with no facilitator hanging on. Two people that have a vested interest in the quality of the outcome and can switch seamlessly between divergent and convergent thinking until they get to the right idea which they both then build upon.

It is one of the reasons that Bernbach was a genius in putting art directors and copywriters together and a reason that strategists should also be paired, or paired with individual creatives.

And if you need any more convincing that brainstorms (and their euphemistic offspring like 'thought showers') are shit think about how easy it was to get people into the room last time you ran one. The only endevour people want to be involved in less is a four hour powerpoint presentation on the new phone system and they will make up the most outlandish excuses not to spend 3 hours in an overheated room with some idiot prancing around in front of a Nobo board for no apparent reason.

Sure have a brainstorm if you want to do a bit of team building and you don't really care about the outcome.

If not pledge today that you will have nothing to do with the bastard offspring of the advertising industry. Refuse to run them, refuse to contribute to them and never ever find yourself voting on lackluster ideas with post it notes again.

Amen. And well put.

Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)

Photo by Chris Wray McCann

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From T-Shaped to Sun-Shaped.


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 this month, Dave Armano, from the Logic & Emotion blog, gives us this, which proposes 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 that an engaged multitalented individual can achieve in the 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.

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. We'll continue this discussion over the next few days.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)


The price question.


On Seth Godin's blog today (and from more board room conversations than I care to count):

"Maybe the reason
it seems
that price
is all your customers care about
is that you haven't given them anything else
to care about."
If price is all you hear about, if cheaper imports are kicking your butt, it's time you changed the conversation. Give everyone something more interesting and exciting to talk about other than... price.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. ;)

Photo by Chris Wray McCann.



Happy Birthday Gustav!


Celebrity Birthdays Today: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sir Ian Mc Kellen, Jessi Colter, Anne Heche, Lauryn Hill, Mike Meyers, and... Evan Tishuk (a.k.a. Gustav)!!!

Happy Birthday, orange coat's creative & technical honcho!

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In praise of randomness.


From Only Dead Fish Swim With The Water, here is your thought for the day:

In marketing, we like predictability. The more we feel we know the likely consequences of what we do the more comfortable we feel with it. The accountability of online media helps us to believe that more than ever, the game of the future will be all about data and optimisation. Behavioural targeting offers us the opportunity to deliver and adapt our advertising based on how our recipient has acted in the past. With econometrics, we even go so far as to model likely outcomes based on what has happened in the past. We seek to apply science to what we do wherever we can. We like to get as close to certainty as possible.

In many ways this is just good business practice. But in a future shaped by a ruthless pursuit of efficiency and over-optimisation, will there be room for the kind of happy accidents that can be transformational? Will it all simply serve to make brands too predictable? Is randomness really such an enemy of good marketing?

If that wasn't enough, here's a little more thought fodder:

Unpredictability and randomness clearly have a role in the generation of great ideas. The guys at ?Whatif! ('the world's largest independent innovation company') have built their business on their concept of ‘Freshness’, defined as “finding surprising solutions to problems. The habit of always trying new things, of being comfortable with the unpredictable.” One of their four ‘R’ s of Freshness (the others being Re-expression, Related World, Revolution) is Random Links - "making connections and links between the issue and random items found in the world". One of my favourite quotes on this, from Albert Einstein, captures perfectly why this is so important:

“Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which they were created.”

Or with the same vocabulary, for that matter.


Rohit Bhargarva makes a good point about what makes ‘randomness’ such a powerful marketing tool:

“…most theories today focus on how attention can be driven by credibility, trust or brand authenticity. While I agree with these theories, there is another force that works outside of any of these. Curiousity. Randomness drives curiousity, and curiousity drives attention."

Again, good point. So... think about your "process." Your formula. Your mechanism. Think about how you attack a marketing problem or a brand-building project or an ad campaign. Does your methodology allow for happy accidents? Does it create an environment in which transformational randomness is likely to occur?

Or are you just going along the same linear creative process over and over again?

If you've been hitting a lot of stale ideas recently, maybe less structure and more randomness is what's on the menu for you for the next few weeks. ;)

Have a great Thursday, everyone.


Marketing Soup (du jour)


Courtesy of the entertaining and brilliant meme huffer blog, here is a delicious hot bowl of Marketing soup - for better... and for worse:

On why fearing the future is futile:

"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." - John Cage

In my early days as a planner, I remember reading an article by Steve Henry (then of HHCL, now at TBWA London), where he gave his opinion on strategy and effective communication.

The words that stuck with me were "what is = what was" and this simple statement has deeply affected the way that I think about brands and communications.

If we want to cut through the 3000+ messages that the average consumer is exposed to every day, we need to stand out. We need to be different. Merely adhering to the tried and (research) tested category cues won't work.

By definition, new ideas are scary. No one has done them before, so you don't have a convenient case study. Qual research is unlikely to help, as people tend to be uncomfortable about the unfamiliar.

But this is no excuse.

Be brave, be bold and find a way to help your clients be likewise.

...which, of course, is the tricky part:

"No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all your knowledge is about the past and all your decisions are about the future." - Ian E. Wilson

On Messaging - the final word (one can hope):

"To define is to kill; to suggest is to create" - Stéphane Mallarmé

On Innovation and the naysayers:

"The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar... Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted, and always derided as fools and madmen." -Aldous Huxley

One of my favourite hobby-horses, this.

When the consumer research comes back against your brilliant, ground-breakingly original idea, remind the client that Heineken 'refreshes the parts' failed research.

As did the Dyson vacuum.
And the Aeron chair.
And Seinfeld.
And the computer mouse.
And the Sony Walkman.
And the cash machine.
And Guinness 'Surfer'.
And Stella Artois 'Jacques de Florette'

On Insight, context, and the human factor:

If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words" -Cicero

Pretty fundamental, this one.

Get to know your customers, not just as demographic segments but as real people. Use your research budget to gain insight into their lives. Find out what makes them tick. Discover their fears, dreams and aspirations.

On being a complete jackass:

"Thanks for this. As discussed please can you reference the message hierarchy from the revised brief on the 'Revised brief (abridged)' chart and then explicitly spell out the roll [sic] for each media in terms of that hierarchy.

"I think that the key to the success of the plan is to ensure that we have executional alignment in terms of the creative messaging.
please can you make sure that the role of each media is explicitly referenced on the fusion brief in the same way. Thanks."

(Unknown - from an email)

On Creative Problem Solving:

"The best possible solutions come only from a combination of a rational analysis based on the nature of things, and imaginative reintegration of all the different items into a new pattern, using non-linear brain power." -Kenichi Ohmae, 'The Mind of the Strategist'

On How Marketing is regarded by just about everyone outside this industry:

"Marketing is the art of associating products with ideas to bamboozle consumers. For example, a commercial in which a supermodel drinks piss from a thimble will lead ugly viewers to follow suit - which is good news for you because you've got a warehouse of thimbles and an endless supply of piss, and bad news for anyone who hoped the smoking ban might leave the nation's pubs smelling fresher. People in marketing often talk about the "personality" of a given product. A biscuit might be "reassuring and sensual"; a brand of shoe may exhibit "anarchic yet inquisitive" tendencies. Marketers have built their worldview on such thinking, despite it being precisely the sort of babble a madman might come up with following years alone in an isolated cottage, during which time he falls in love with a fork and decides the lightbulbs are conspiring against him. Sadly, the analogy ends here, for while madmen are rewarded with straitjackets and medication, marketers receive six-figure salaries and round-the-clock sexual favours from people 200 times prettier than the prettiest person you've ever seen, even fleetingly, even from afar or in a magazine".

(Courtesy of The Guardian)

On following your vision... and not everyone's else's lack of vision:

"If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse." -Henry Ford

Good stuff. Have a great Wednesday, everyone. And be sure to add jason lonsdale's blog to your blogroll. As you can tell, it's always a great read.


The 2007 Brand Marketers Report is here!


If you work with brands, this is a must-read. Hell, it's a must-print. No wait... it's a must-use.

Read or download the PDF here.

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THE best brand-building presentation yet.


This is killer. K-I-L-L-E-R!

Very well done, Marty Neumeier. (Tipping my hat right now.)

Click on the image to watch the presentation. There's an option to go full-screen too. The credits will be in the last slides.


Dave Armano offers this brilliant little bit of insight for designers. Yeah, simple, okay... but how many of us actually go out into the world on a regular basis and do this? I used to do it a lot more than I do now... and that needs to change.

Just remember that your designs will live out there... so they might as well be born out there as well. (It all works out for the best in the end.)

Per Dave:

1. Get out of the office
Put down that design magazine and boxes+arrows article. Go out into the real world. Watch. Listen. Observe.

2. Talk to someone
Talk to the people you are designing for. Chances are you won’t be able to relate to them at first. When you get to this point—then you know you’re doing something right. [Don't just rely on market research and focus groups. Actually go out and talk to people. - Olivier]

3. Eat, sleep, dream curiosity
Be curious. Be very curious. Don’t know how? Find yourself a five-year-old, and hang out with them for a while. Then ask the same questions they do.

4. Do what they do
Are you designing for stay-at-home moms? Take the day off and go to a park. Hover around schools during drop off time. Walk a mile in their shoes. Better yet, just walk with them.

Good stuff.

Have a great Tuesday. Oh, and check out the Archetypes & Branding post if you haven't already. It's pretty sweet!

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Archetypes & Brands


Filling The Contextual Void:

Ever since a friend convinced me to read Robert Johnson's "He," I have been fascinated by the role that archetypes play in the genesis and of mythology, relationships, personalities, pop culture, and even brands.

Given my profession of choice, perhaps especially brands.

I was reminded of this connection yesterday when I happened on John Howard Spink's "Using Archetypes To Build Stronger Brands."

As John himself notes, surprisingly, not a lot of work is being done on this front. Knowing what I know about the role that mythology and archetypes play in cultural identity, it surprises me that very few brand strategists and Marketing thought leaders have made the connection between archetypes and brands - or at least that most have not worked to incorporate the notion of archetypes in their operational brandbuilding methodology.

Per John:

Though the development and management of brands is central and fundamental to everything we do, are the tools we use up to the job? Or do they do more harm than good? Brands are complex, abstract and difficult to pin down. However, in endeavouring to define them we often forget this. With techniques such as brand pyramids,we take something wild and untamed and attempt to constrain and control it. Rather than trying to understand brands in their natural habitat, we put them in a zoo. I recognise that pyramids, onions and similar techniques can be useful internal disciplines. But do they really help define the unchanging core values of a brand? We spend weeks debating the nuances of synonyms, performing semantic gymnastics to prove that Brand X is different from Brand Y, and agonising over whether something is an Emotional Benefit or a Brand Value – a distinction we struggle to understand in the first place. At the end of the day, what does this get us? More often than not, a pile of disconnected words that looks like nothing less than an explosion in a bombed thesaurus factory. Unfortunately, having built our pyramid and agreed that our brand is contemporary, stylish, relevant, inclusive and other usual suspects, we fall into the trap of thinking our job is finished. Usually though, we are no closer to articulating ‘core essence’ than when we began – even if that particular box has been filled in. What should be rich, complex and, by definition, hard to articulate ends up neutered and subjected to death by a thousand adjectives. Ironically, our supposed unchanging brand template is reduced to a fluid selection of meaningless or undifferentiating words that even those close to the process interpret in different ways. The result, to quote Shakespeare, is a brand which is '...a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'.

You may feel this is harsh, but ask yourself how many walking shadows there are out there, and if we struggle to find meaning, think how consumers feel.


Enter the archetypes:

There are certain basic characters and storylines that appear regularly in myth, fairytale, literature and film; archetypes that represent core aspects of the human condition, and tap deep into our motivations and sense of meaning. When we encounter these, they resonate in powerful ways that transcend culture and demographics.

This is why, when penning the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas turned to Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to help him understand the archetypal narrative structure and characters found in these mythic stories, and why these three films enjoy such strong and enduring appeal. Whether Luke Skywalker, The Man With No Name, Red Riding Hood, Harry Potter, or real people such as JFK, Princess Diana or Marilyn Monroe, there is something primal in archetypal characters and situations that stirs our emotions, stimulates our memory and sometimes changes lives. In developing and managing brands, are we really so different from George Lucas or a budding Barbara Cartland?

Ironically, in this postmodern age when people are supposedly no longer interested in meta-narratives with common understanding, brand development is nothing short of creating a story that people want to be part of; a character with values that have deep resonance which our target audience want to emulate or be associated with.

This is why a Harley-Davidson marketer can say: ‘what we sell is the ability for a 43-year old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him’ Or why Scott Bedbury, in his time head of marketing at Nike and Starbucks, believes that: a brand is a metaphorical story that … connects with something very deep — a fundamental human appreciation of mythology … Companies that manifest this sensibility … invoke something very powerful’.
Bingo. Right from the horses' mouths.

What seem like "intangible" elements of a brand are really very precise sets of contextual values, emotions, aspirations and projections that can easily be not only identified but plotted, graphed, and inserted into a brand's identity. (All you need is the key - the actual archetypes - and a clear understanding of the role they play in the psyches the folks whose culture you are trying to intertwine your brand with.)

This is actually VERY easy to accomplish. Some brands even achieve this without even realizing it. They instinctively tap into something primal and culturally relevant without really knowing or understanding why or how they did it.

Take Nike, for example: The Nike brand appeals to the "champion/hero" and uses sports as the medium for its allegorical language. The very choice of names - "Nike" the Greek Goddess of victory - has immediate Archetypal implications:

A) Nike is a Goddess. A creature straight out of Mythology - in which every character, god, human and everything in between is the embodiment of a specific human archetype.

B) Nike symbolizes victory. Victory typically comes from bravery, sacrifice, courage, strength... all being the attributes of the brand - or rather, the symbolism that the brand aims to help consumers project onto itself and every product it stamps with its sexy little swish mark.

Once the brand takes on the attributes of the desired archetype (or two, or three), then people begin a sort of projective identification dance. They first project their wants and needs onto the brand, in effect using it as a vessel for the qualities which they cannot articulate or completely manage on their own. They then become patrons of the brand in order to possess these attributes in a form they can understand, use, and express. Once a brand has achieved this type of relationship with the public, it becomes alive. It becomes part of pop culture. It becomes relevant on a level that surpasses traditional marketing, messaging and business-speak. It becomes a power brand.

Understanding archetypes and using this knowledge to build powerful brands is kind of a no-brainer... but still, very few agencies, marketing firms and brand boutiques use this simple tool. Strange.

I'm glad to see that John has tapped into this, and I hope that more of you will as well. Aside from the books mentioned in his piece, I also encourage you to read Robert E. Johnson's "He." It's a quick read (less than 200 pages) that will help you not only understand the roles that archetypes play in our everyday lives, but also understand human behavior (particularly in the Western world) in a way that no other book or university course can. It is pure genius.

The Messaging Crutch:

About a week ago today, I found myself having a conversation with a couple of branding experts. We were chatting about projects that I had worked on, and I sensed that the methodology behind the successes that I'd had in the last few years wasn't clicking with them. Three or four times, they asked me about messaging.

"Yeah, but... what about the messaging?"

You might have thought they were asking me "where's the beef?"

Messaging... Hmmm... It hadn't occurred to me until I was asked the question that "messaging" had stopped to be all that important to my process in quite some time. Messaging. Yeah. In truth, messaging seemed almost superfluous. I explained that with every single project I had worked on since 2004, messaging had been secondary at best. In most cases, when dealing with branding projects and even most effective marketing campaigns, the strength of the product, brand or idea was easier to understand viscerally than when articulated. The clever taglines, the tight copy, the words on the page or the poster or the screen were almost completely irrelevant.

What I found is that the strength of a brand often lies in its power not to have to be explained or articulated. In a way, defining a brand too well may actually hurt it.

No, forget that. Replace may with will.

Does Apple need a tagline? Does iPod need messaging? Does Starbucks? Does Nike? Does Porsche? Does Halliburton? Does PowerBar? Does Disney? Ben & Jerry? Staples? Ferrari? Cartier? Target? Heineken?

PR pros will argue that they do. The reality is that they don't.

If the brand you create is powerful enough - inside and out - then messaging is barely frosting on the cake. Heck, it's little more than the colored sprinkles on the edges. The messaging is nice and it dresses things up a little, but... if you create a power brand or a love brand, it might as well be an afterthought.

Using archetypes in your brand development process can help you tap into the raw nature and identity of a brand better than any brand pyramid, onion, pie chart or whatever cookie-cutter technique you are currently using. It's okay if you don't believe me. But... for your sake (and more importantly, that of your clients), at least look into it. It might be the one thing your practice was missing. At the very least, it will become a great new tool to add to your brand-building toolbox.

Breathing Life into the branding process:

I'll let John make one last important point before we close the book on today's topic:

I find it more exciting to think of myself as the author of eternal brand stories than as someone who writes strategy documents and brand pyramids.

Well, um... yeah. I can relate. I hope we all can.

Truth: Brands live out there, in the collective ocean of pop culture that we all share, swim in, and contribute to. (Wait... that sounded kind of gross. Sorry.) Where brands don't live is inside agency meeting rooms or in the heads of creatives living in the ad world. They don't live inside your market research or on pie charts or inside brand pyramids. They don't live in your taglines or in your copy or in the dialogue of your spokespeople. Your brands live in the same world as Darth Vader, Ronald Reagan, Brad Pitt, Hercules, John McLane, Rocky Balboa, John F. Fennedy, James Bond, Paris Hilton, Rintintin, Sony Bono, Spiderman, Jack Bauer, Cinderella, and Tony Soprano.

Maybe it sounds like a stretch to some of you, but if you look into this a little more closely, you'll start to see it. Some of you may have to look a little more closely than others... but it's well worth the extra effort.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. ;)

Image by Tom Gauld, via the meme huffer blog.

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Kathy Sierra on... everything.


I was going to write a neat post today about something relevant and clever, but then I dropped by Kathy Sierra's blog and saw that she listed many of her best graphics all in a row, so I figured I'd post some of them here, give you a link to go check out her MANY brilliant lessons for yourselves. Maybe I'll take the afternoon off to go ponder the next evolution of F360. (Oh yeah, it's time to shed our juvenile plumage and make room for the next phase in our inevitable evolution. More on that soon.) In the meantime, here you go:

See? Told you. And those are just the graphics! Check out Kathy's blog here.


"Come on, let's talk."


Before you start shaking an accusing finger at me, let it be known that I still believe in advertising and traditional marketing - as part of a balanced diet for any brand.

Yet, way too many companies still think of traditional advertising and marketing as the cake, when it really is the pretty, sexy, colorful, enticing and delicious icing.

This brilliant mini-movie is for them.

Courtesy of, via brandexperiencelab.

Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)



Bruce Lee and the art of Branding.


Fantastic piece on Bruce Lee and the art of branding over at CultureMaking last month (via the Creative Generalist). Read the entire thing here.

Here are a few lessons we can all take to heart - and start applying immediately:

Bruce says: "Be formless... shapeless, like water”

Translation: don't impose structure on a problem too early or stick rigidly to a process for process sake. Explore freely and allow your mind to wander; work adaptively and flexibly.
Here's another:

Bruce says: "Here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony, now if you have one to the extreme, you will be very unscientific. If you have another to the extreme, you will all of a sudden be a mechanical man, no longer a human being. It is a successful combination of both. Therefore, it is not naturalness or unnaturalness. The ideal is unnatural, naturalness or natural, unnaturalness."

Translation: In the end, a marriage of qualitative and quantitative insight is most sensible (where possible). But my personal preference is 'culture-led' i.e. cast your net wide and understand the problem/category/brand within its socio-cultural context first (via cultural analysis), rather than restricting your vision at the outset with consumer needs and statistical 'facts'. Like Bruce also once said: "True observation begins when one is devoid of set patterns."

Brilliant. Here's more:

Bruce says: "I do not believe in styles any more"

Translation: Don't get caught up with one one-fits-all models that claim to be the holy grail of branding. Mixing and matching different ideas, innovations, communication codes and media platforms often works best and allows you to execute your brand idea in a much more compelling and interesting way.

I love that one. All too often (still) do I run into the 100% old school (command & control / messaging / media-buying monologue) or 100% new school (WOM is the new god) mindset with Marketing firms and ad agencies. Very few actually know how to blend the two in an operationally effective way yet. This needs to change.

Long before the concept of T-shaped Marketing professionals ever surfaced, Bruce had these things to say about the advantage of being a creative generalist:

"The best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style. He kicks too good for a Boxer, throws too good for a Karate man, and punches too good for a Judo man."

And also ...

"Some people are tall; some are short. Some are stout; some are slim. There are various different kinds of people. If all of them learn the same martial art form, then who does it fit?"

Well put. Here is an interesting observation from the author (no, not from Bruce) that... at the risk of alienating many fine Marketing professionals, I have found to be surprisingly true:

As a parallel, this captures how the marketing industry prioritizes endless doing over learning, thinking and personal development. There are people who have worked in the industry for many years, clocked up a wealth of experience, and mastered all of the 'core skills' required, but because they have taken little time to read, explore, and broaden their horizons, they have remained trapped inside the paradigms of old, oblivious to the creative possibilities that lie before them.

I just had a similar conversation about this very topic yesterday with a frequent collaborator: The marketing world should be a lot more forward-thinking than the rest of the business world. Why? Because Marketing departments, firms and agencies are a) populated with wildly creative and insightful people, and b) tend to attract the most creative and forward thinking art and business school graduates. It should be a no-brainer, right?

Wrong. I consistently find that Marketing professionals with 5+ years of agency experience tend to be no less conservative in their approach to problem-solving and process than their "regular" business counterparts. By now, everyone in the Marketing world should have read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. Everyone should be at least familiar with the concept of broken windows and its relevance to the success and failure of brands. Everyone should be looking well past the messaging layer of all branding endeavors.

But that just isn't the case. Most senior folks I run into are still holding on to Marketing assumptions and methods that were better suited for the 1980's and 1990's than to the era of emails, blogs, text messaging, and social networking sites. Most do not take the time to read the more influential books and blogs on branding and marketing. The Marketing world as a whole still exists in a strange operational timewarp, and frankly, I have no explanation for it.

Fortunately, Bruce does:

"[W]hen clans are formed, the people of a clan will hold their kind of martial art as the only truth and do not dare to reform or improve it. Thus they are confined in their own tiny little world. Their students become machines which imitate martial art forms."

Yeah, great creative is fun and effective, media buying is a great money maker, and despite what you may have read about recently, traditional marketing isn't even close to being dead... But the people you are trying to reach are increasingly tuning you out. If all you have to offer is messaging, the very small majority of people you do actually manage to reach won't believe you anyway. Among those who do believe you, without a remarkable brand experience to back up your marketing monologue, whatever you worked to hard to say will go in one ear and go out the other. (Yes, "sticky" should be part of your operational vernacular now. If it isn't, you've fallen, way, way, waaaaaaay behind.)

With this in mind, how much more advertising do you and your clients really want to buy? At what point are you prepared to sit down and consider the enormity of the ROI that traditional marketing and branding methods alone truly have to offer anymore? At what point do you come to the realization that something needs to change in order for your clients (and you) to stop spinning your wheels so damn much... and actually get some serious, consistent, repeatable traction?

One of my smartest friends - the best kinesiologist on the face of the planet - Frank Roth put it all in perspective for me this morning. We were talking about websites and structure, and he suddenly had this spark in his eye, as if he had just remembered something true and raw and powerful that had been lurking underneath layers of superfluous verbage for a very long time... and it was this:

It's just like dancing, sports, art and just about everything that stirs the soul and provokes reaction: First, you create the structure. You create a perfect, solid, symmetrical and harmonious architecture. (pause.) And then, you break it. You smash it. You shatter it. You completely destroy it. That's when it becomes powerful. That's how you release its energy.

As Marketing professionals, as brand strategists, as whatever it is that we happen to do for a living, work lacking in energy and momentum is just boring, dead, and stagnant. (No matter how clean, accurate and pretty it may be.)

I am sure that Bruce would agree that there is no power, no strength, no effectiveness in stagnation.

Step away from groupthink, if only for an hour a day. Free yourself from your corporate culture, no matter how cool or fun it may be. Read a book. Adopt a new point of view... or none at all. Shatter the structure of something beautiful, just to see what comes out of it. Attack a branding or marketing problem from this angle: What if I had a budget of zero dollars? How would I accomplish this? How would I turn this product or this brand into a media darling without advertising and brochures and websites?

Like Bruce, be mentally and operationally flexible. Keep an open mind. Don't be limited by old thinking or traditional mindsets. Learn new skills. Adopt new tools. Improvise. Experiment. Rewrite the rules. Break new ground. Don't settle for the little box you have carved for yourself in your market - and by doing so, don't ask your clients to settle for their little box either.

You can all do much better than that. Um... we all can.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)


Taking to the friendly skies again.


I probably won't get a chance to blog much Monday or Tuesday, as I will be spending most of my time flying around US airports. St. Louis, MO, here I come!

Have a great start of the week. :)


What's on the other side of the fence.


Trying to predict the future is a lot like trying to peek over a big fence to see what's on the other side: Will this campaign work? Should I invest in this company? Should I bet the farm on this brand new product our star designer just prototyped? Should I hire this agency? Should I buy waterfront property in Florida? Should I go to war with Iraq? Should I order the extra-spicy buffalo wings?

Ah... if only we had a chance to take a peek over that fence from time to time, and see what's on the other side.

But then, what would be the fun?

Be prepared. Do your homework. Create nightmare scenarios and devise contingencies. Expect the worst, but hope for the best. Be ready to improvise. Don't ever bet the farm on anything... unless you can afford to actually lose the farm. Be bold, but be smart.

More than anything, don't ever find yourself stalled or paralyzed by fear of the unknown.

"Qui ne risque rien, n'a rien." (He who risks nothing, has nothing.) Or as they say here, "fortune favors the bold."

Next time you find yourself standing at a crossroads, don't just stand there. Use your brain, listen to your gut, make a decision, and keep moving.


Naturally aged 36 years.


My paternal grandfather fought in both WWI and WWII, and somehow walked away with all his fingers and toes, and a chestful of medals.

My paternal grandmother escaped Russia with her only surviving brother and sister during the revolution, and made her way to France via the German red cross. The rest of her family was slaughtered.

They had one child: My father.

My mother's parents left Poland a few years before the Nazis pushed through their borders. Their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters stayed behind even after the war started, perhaps hoping for the best, perhaps because they didn't want to let an invading army scare them from their homes. Those who weren't killed before being shoved onto death trains died in extermination camps. Aside from my grandparents, there were no survivors from either of my grandparents' families.

Upon arriving in France, they had only one surviving child: My mother. She spent most of WWII hiding from the Germans. She still stocks ridiculous quantities of butter and sugar in her kitchen - two things that were in short supply during the German occupation - just in case the Germans ever come back.

36 years ago today, my parents became the proud parents of a little boy who now lives in the US and has a branding blog with a chihuahua for a header. He spends much of his day using magical devices like cell phones and laptops and MP3 players. He rides space-age bicycles and competes in crazy sports like triathlon. He can make video phone calls to his relatives half a world away for free, thanks to a company called Skype. He doesn't have to worry about things like Nazi invasions, bloody revolutions, concentration camps and polio. The biggest danger facing his neighbors and peers these days isn't famine or disease or war, it's obesity. The biggest hurdle he has to face every day is rush hour traffic or the occasional bratty client. He hasn't been in a real fistfight since 1993. He hasn't been shot at since then either. He has never been forced to plant, harvest, or kill his own food. He has never known famine or pestilence.

It's a different world we live in today.

Thanks for reading. ;)

Have a great May 9th, everyone.


What is a transumer, and why should I care?


The folks at NameWire (the team behind the Strategic Name Development Blog) posted an interesting piece last week about company names and the fear of commitment. One of the terms I came across in the post was "transumerism." I had seen it before, but I have to admit that I had forgotten all about it. Since it was hyperlinked, I clicked on it, and found this fantastic article from that put it all in perspective... and then some.

So... what are transumers? According to
TRANSUMERS are consumers driven by experiences (instead of the ‘fixed’), by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom, who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible.* Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present, living for the 'now'.
Sounds a little existensialist? Okay... The term initially began thus: transumers are consumers in transition (like travelers). That was it. The trend just focused on them and "the many novel and innovative shopping opportunities at airports, train stations and hotels catering to this crowd."

The term, by the way, was coined by Fitch - the global design and business consultancy - back in 2003.

Things have obviously changed since then, and the trend is evolving fast.

So why should anyone care about transumers? We're getting to that. Here's a multi-part tip:

Observation #1: "Luxury is an ever-reliable indicator of what next generations will consider basic necessities (thus often revealing the Next Big Thing)."

Observation #2: "Luxury consumers are spending more, in many cases lots more, on life-changing experiences, while their need for luxury goods is waning."*

"With experiences starting to trump goods, many fixed items run the risk of becoming synonymous with boredom, with hassle, with quickly-out-of-date, with maintenance, with taking up too large a part of budgets, if not lives.

Now let's look at the definition of a transumer again:
TRANSUMERS are consumers driven by experiences (instead of the ‘fixed’), by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom, who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible.* Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present, living for the 'now'.
For better or for worse, this trend is growing fast. Think about how most people buy technology now, from MP3 players and digital cameras to laptops and cell phones. Think about recreational gear like golf clubs, triathlon bikes, sunglasses, tennis rackets and fishing poles. Think about clothes and accessories. Even big ticket items like cars and large flat screen TV's. Think about the appeal of Starbucks, Whole Foods, Aveda, and all of the other stores whose bread and butter isn't the quality of the product itself, but the entire experience surrounding a consumer's interaction with that product and the brand in general.

I would venture to say that transumerism is probably much more relevant to US consumers under the age of 40 than over the age of 60... but that's just a blind assumption.

Okay, maybe not so blind, but whatever.

I really urge you to read's brilliant little primer on transumerism, and find out more about how transumers interact with spaces, surprise, pleasure, freedom, and causes. It's a great read.

It's also a fascinating take on shifting consumer behaviors and how smart branding can help companies take full advantage of this growing trend.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. ;)

* Spending on luxury experiences in the US, including travel, dining, entertainment, spas and beauty services and home services, nearly doubled, from an average of USD 11,632 in 2004 to USD 22,746 in 2005: a 95.5 percent increase" (source: Pam Danzinger, Unity Marketing).

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Manage your customers' expectations.


Mike Wagner, over at Own Your Brand made some great comments about customer service last week in this post. Here's my favorite one:

Customers need you to manage their experience.

Great customer service anticipates confusion, concerns, and questions.

When clients face something big, new or scary, great customer service must map out the experience and manage it every step of the way.

I’ve always been mystified that customer service jobs in most companies are among the lowest paid and least respected positions. There should be nothing more important than serving your customer. These employees enforce or kill your brand every time they answer the phone or greet a client. Shouldn’t your most experienced, well-compensated, and engaged employees be serving your customers?

Take a look at how your organization serves your customers from initial contact through follow up customer service. Do you strengthen or weaken your brand at every client interaction?

Ask these questions now, be truthful about the answers, and take corrective action, if necessary.

Yep. Have a great Monday, everyone. :)


The people principle.


There are two types of companies in the world today:

The first kind recruits people based on their ability to match the requirements of a specific position. (i.e. the right degree, the right range of experience, the right list of specific skills like... the ability to work with Powerpoint and Excel.) Each job is a box, and the perfect candidate fits comfortably in that box. When an employee leaves the company, another is hired, and the box gets filled. Posititions take precedence over people.

And there's nothing wrong with that... as long as your company isn't looking to grow... or evolve.

The second kind of company, however, focuses on people rather than job descriptions. This company tends to recruit people for their skills and talents rather than because they fit a specific bulletpoint job profile. These are the companies that hire innovators, problem-solvers, offbeat talent, and folks with unusual backgrounds. Sure, they hire to fill positions too, but they value talent, new ideas and momentum more than they do the simple ability to perform basic business functions.

Yes, some companies operate in a safe "maintenance" mode (sub 6% annual growth and "don't rock the boat" attitude), while others look to break new ground, redefine their industries, and become market leaders.

The difference between the two can usually be seen in the way that new hires are screened and recruited... and later mentored.

It's the age old battle of "asses in seats" vs. "what will make our company better?"

Seth Godin, commenting on the possibility that Microsoft may end up buying Yahoo gives us this little bit of timely gold on the subject:

The real point, I think, is people.

The best things to ever come out of Yahoo, as far as I'm concerned, have been the work of individuals. Not of some hyperbolic purple and yellow machine, but from people, strong-willed individuals willing to buck the bureaucracy. And all the worst stuff the company has done has come out of committees. (...)

What we haven't figured out how to predict yet is which people will perform breakthroughs, which people are the ones that will change everything. What we do know for sure is that some organizations are more hospitable to that sort of behavior than others. Microsoft has gotten good at developing pockets of this sort of innovation. The challenge of an acquisition is going to be: Can the combined company make it a lot more likely that mavericks actually bring great stuff to market?
Well... actually, you can identify the innovators pretty early on - before they ever earn their first paycecks. (In many cases, even as early as elementary school.) It's just that very few companies in the west (if any) are using the right tools to do so... or are even thinking along those lines.

It is definitely true that some companies do make an effort to attract and hold on to these types of individuals, and these are the companies you hear about every day: Yahoo. Google. Microsoft. Apple. GE. IDEO. Frog. Pixar. Starbucks.

People can make or break companies.

People make the difference between relevance and obsolescence.

People foster innovation, or kill it dead.

People are your ticket to growth and success.

Recruit wisely, and do whatever is in your power to keep great employees happy, engaged and excited to be part of your company's journey.

Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)


Adding some clarity to your brand: A simple exercise.


So... How is your brand doing?

I don't mean your company. I mean your brand.

Are people talking about you, or are you another name in the crowd? Do you find yourself having to cave to price pressures, or are you comfortably charging fair prices (or even a premium) for your products and services? Are your customers enthusiastic about your brand, or could they care less? Is anyone wearing your T-shirt... or your competitor's? Are people proud to tell their peers that they do business with you, or are you not important enough for them to really waste their breaths?

Good questions all. If the first portion of each of these questions had you smiling and nodding in the affirmative, good! You're on the right track. If not, perhaps it's time for a little annual brand checkup.

No worries, you don't need to go see a brand practitioner quite yet. A little private self-exam is all that's required at this point. Here is an easy place to start:

Understand who you are, what you do... and clarify it.

Brands aren't just logos and taglines. Brands, at their very core, have a very specific identity. Even if it isn't easy to attach words or adjectives to a brand, everyone who comes in contact with a strong brand should have an immediate understanding of what that brand's identity is.

If not, somebody is dropping the proverbial ball.

Here's a little warm-up exercise for ya - Quick: Define McDonald's. Define BMW. Define Calvin Klein. Define Nike. Define Ben & Jerry's. Define the Wall Street Journal. Define AT&T.

In fifteen words or less.

Note: It's okay to be subjective and biased, but be ready to back up your claim if someone calls you on it.

Examples: Cervelo makes the fastest time trial bicycles in the world. Garmin makes the most dependable personal GPS systems on the market. Volvo makes the safest production cars in the galaxy.

Okay. Your turn. McDonald's. BMW. Etc.

One of the most grossly overlooked elements in most brand evaluation initiatives is the part that deals with clarity: The questions you want to ask here are "do people (inside the company and outside of it) understand the brand? Do they understand its identity? More importantly, can they define it?"

Do they understand the brand's place in not only the world, but their world?

(In other words, are your branding efforts actually sticking, or are they floating away in the breeze?)

And by the way, we aren't talking about clarity in advertising.

Try it on yourself. In fifteen words or less, explain who your company is. Define your brand.

Here are some examples:

We're the hottest design studio in Paris.

We're the largest manufacturer of spark plugs in the world.

We're the guys who strength-train the US Olympic team.

Hopefully, your identity isn't along the lines of...

We're kind of like H&R Block, but with an orange for a logo.

We're the electronics store on the corner of Broad Street.

We're a consulting firm with a full portfolio of business services.

Your identity is more than just what type of work you do. It is specific to YOU.

Your identity isn't defined by A. It's defined by THE.

We are THE (fill in the blanks).

If you still have a hard time with the exercise, start with your job: I am the person who does XYZ. Then work your way up to your department or division: We do ABC for our company. NOW define what your company does. Start small, and work your way outward.

Now go ask ten of your employees and co-workers to define your company. Ask ten of your customers or clients to do the same. Ask ten people off the street as well.

For better or for worse, the results of your little experiment might surprise you... which is why it's worth your time.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. ;)

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