Friday, November 5, 2010

Break the Cycle of Creative Abuse

I have read more than a few articles in the last 60 days all about top shelf creatives leaving the advertising business. These are not underpaid interns, recent graphic design grads or even mid-level producers, rather they are executive-level creative directors and top-of-the-food-chain creative leads migrating away from high-profile positions at the big-boy conglomerates.

Why is this? Yesterday Ad Age distributed a great piece talking about some of the reasons. You can read Daniele Fiandaca's piece in whole HERE

Basically the article states there are a few core reasons for the industry needing a vast re-tooling. Some factors include the impact of technology, outdated industry in an ever evolving media landscape and burnt out and commoditized creative talent.

I would like to focus on the last point, while made, in my opinion, not emphasized enough. This is a very real, far reaching and long term issue.

I have been in the media industry for 13 years and have worked on the agency side, the client side and the media side. I am currently own a business that services some ad agencies. It is my observation that the industry has a real problem with creative abuse. Similar to other forms of abuse (see child abuse) it seems this creative abuse is hard to break because it is formed in a nasty cycle. Client abuses agency, agency abuses creative, creative/producer abuses partner/vendor based on behavior exhibited or pressure applied to them by account leads. It is trickle down abuse. The net result is under performing work, budgets that do not fit the business objectives and everyone is frustrated, if not down right demoralized.

The agency industry has been complaining and moaning about commoditization of good creative work for decades, this is nothing new, yet they pass that same abuse and commoditization on to everyone they work with. When does the cycle end? How do you break the cycle? I think technology, for all its foibles, offers at least, a potential break. I have thought this for a long time.

Commoditization occurs when the market becomes saturated and the "cheaper" providers can move in and offer goods or services at a level that can satisfy the market at a low price point - pushing away the value from a high quality, higher cost provider. Understanding that, we see the ad business has been commoditized in the traditional services - standard graphic design, copy writing, print services, and traditional broadcast services. Funny how the "big idea" is not mentioned, mostly because it can never be commoditized because it is rarely found within a commodity agency. Have you ever taken the time to ignore the major advertisers that you see on the Super Bowl or that are featured in creative publications? Look at the other 85% of advertising that runs. There is a lot of VERY BAD advertising out there. The industry even admits it. You can chalk up all that poor work to low budgets, clients with low expectations and agencies willing to accommodate and commoditize their offering to serve that market. I am not judging, I am just calling out what I see. The abuse is a big piece of this puzzle.

Lee Clow said in a recent Independent Lens documentary, Art & Copy. I am paraphrasing, but he basically said there is a ton of poor advertising out there because many agencies are not advertising the truth. They are taking money to perform for poor products and services. Maybe that is the genesis of this abusive cycle? Taking payment to promote something that inherently offers little value to the customer? Does that promote a low image of not only the client, but of the agency? Low self esteem certainly fuels an abusive situation. I am not sure, but it certainly provokes thought.

The solution? I want to be a part of it for sure. Getting back to technology. Is this an opportunity to start fresh? To break the cycle? Is it too late? Based on the rapidly advancing evolution of the media industry, based on technology and moving audience habits, I believe this has offered, the past 15 years and continuing, an opportunity to leave the commoditizers in the past and progress towards a more creative, value driven model. Advertising is a creative-driven business. Yes it is fueled by business objectives, but make no mistake, creatives are the gasoline of this engine. To lose the best creatives is akin to running out of gas and being stranded.

So if this opportunity has existed for the past 15 years and is moving forward in an undeniable fashion, why so much flight from the industry? If the horizon is just over the hill, why the frustration? This opportunity has not been embraced. It has been fought and frankly a lot of the commoditizers in the industry have down played the progress even though it can help to effectively free them from the yoke. This resistance to evolve has gone a long way to not only motivate legions of creatives to leave traditional agencies and migrate towards boutiques with a fresh perspective, start their own shops or even leave the industry all together, it has effectively kept fresh blood out of traditional agency recruitment.

I cannot count how many young, talented creatives that I have chatted with over the past 5 years who have expressed no desire to work at a large, traditional shop. They want to work for a smaller, nimble digital shop or a boutique who focuses on smaller clients, and premium work. It has been incredibly interesting to witness. People turning down opportunities with large shops in major metros for small boutiques in major metros or even mid-major cities.

I am not sure I have the solution to break this cycle, but I will leave you with a few paragraphs quoted from the Why Aren't Ad Agencies Rewiring piece referenced earlier in this post, "Mind boggling isn't it? We're relying on a model established nearly 50 years ago to carry us into the future where massive changes are taking place in the wider media world. It's no wonder this model isn't working for us, as evidenced by the fact that industry talent is leaving places they fear can't and won't change.

For the most part, it's not that agencies don't want to evolve. They are simply stuck in old processes and production models that can't adjust. I hear it from my students in every class I facilitate. Well-established agencies are really struggling to figure out how to shift their focus and think beyond single disciplines such as "advertising" and "digital." They are trying to change their DNA -- no small feat compared with the characteristics baked in at smaller, start up agencies born in the digital age."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quote Monkeys Don't Offer Solutions

In the past couple of years I have noticed a lot of interesting things working with many different advertising, public relations and social media agencies. One thing that sticks out, is consistent among them all, and is very interesting to me is the way many (most) of the agencies I have been exposed to feel the need to run around and throw out, what I call, shallow quotes.

Shallow quotes, it seems, are something a lot of agencies feel compelled to do for their demanding clients. I am not sure what came first, the ridiculous request for "quick turn" quote, or the agencies willingness to throw out some willy-nilly number based on little more than a loose idea with no real thought on actual execution, or even real solution providing value. Whichever the case, it seems very few are immune. Even the social media agencies, who position the value of the "conversation" do not seem to be averse to this tired approach. I do not completely blame the agencies, many of these requests come from clients who simply do not want to take the time to think through what they are asking for, and who may very easily interpret unwillingness to play along as an open door for another service provider.

So what is the net result of this exercise? From my perspective it rarely equates to a meaningful project. It usually positions the agency, and their partners, as a price-based vendor who is left to wonder why the client resorts to radio silence once the "number" is submitted.

My solution? In a perfect world when a client asks for this number, agency or otherwise, may want to take a step back, ask the client for their motivation for wanting this "number" and dissect, in an efficient and meaningful way, the true objective and reason for this request. Once that is discovered, you can formulate a real solution based on fact and a very real execution. It may take a little more time, but in this scenario I have seen a much better success rate of actual, and successful, project execution. Moreover, the agency is providing a much higher level of value. If your client does not recognize that, maybe they are not the type of client you want.

Quote monkeys rarely get the reward, and their clients rarely get a solution.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Storytelling Goes Much Further

Compliments of my pal Jim Lefevere at the Digital Strategist Blog, here is a short piece that tells a nice story....created by Pfizer of all people. It is very well done. Compelling, sincere and sparks a bit of curiosity.

Enjoy the piece.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Critics are Good, So Be a Critic

I absolutely love the Internet and the ease with which anyone can offer opinion, insight and even critique with a few simple keystrokes. It has empowered millions of voices worldwide, and will continue to do so for a long long time.

That is a beautiful thing. I have offered many many opinions over the years. Most of them delivered either here on this blog in longer form, or on Twitter in a much more abbreviated fashion.

I appreciate critics. One of the most fruitful learning opportunities in life comes from honest, direct critique. I have learned more from critics than I care to admit.

When does a critic cease being fruitful? The beauty of a critic is typically they are out there, perhaps a little brazen, known to be a critic, and because of their bold opinions, seasoned with reasoning, they earn respect and the public ear.

When you hide behind an alias and lob shallow insults with no reasoning, you cease being a critic and enter jackass territory. I guess good solid critique is always helpful. There is a lot of anonymous chatter online, and thus there tends to be some folks who feel being a critic requires no more than an alias and shallow insults.

This anonymous mud slinging really does not qualify as critique, rather it qualifies for no more than what it is, some shallow mope who has nothing better to do than hide behind a web site and throw cheap epithets at others. That is not transparency, nor is it helpful.

Pay attention to those willing and brave enough to offer honest, up front critique. Learn from it. Allow it to help improve you. The other stuff, ignore it and move on. Do not waste your time responding, it will only drag you down.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Painful Post - When to Say "No Thank You"

This article has been written at least 250,000,000 times before, however there will undoubtedly be someone who reads it for the first time, and undoubtedly it will save that person from a painful experience.

If you are in advertising, marketing services, interactive media services, design, web development, social media or another media services industry you are familiar with the ever hovering request for the dreaded free work (or greatly discounted work, I say in my most hurried, end of the commercial, legal disclaimer announcer guy voice).

And because of this request you, like me, have spent precious time of your life debating on whether or not to perform this task. Even the hottest of creative, social media and advertising genius hot shots has had this dilemma at some point in their career. It is almost a right of passage, albeit a painful and ridiculous one.

Let's be fair, once in a blue moon, every third decade or so, the free work pays off. The carrot that has been dangled, actually gets a delicious bite taken from its juicy being. Truth be told, that is the gross minority outcomes. Most typically the post squeeze result is the desire for a long, hot and decontaminating shower.

How do you recognize the request for free work as being a simple waste of your time?

Let's create the ever popular list (this is decent, but by far not a complete list. Feel free to add in the comments section)....
1. The person or company requesting your talent, skill and investment of work has never requested your input before and they have been fully aware of your services for some time. Simply put - you have marketed to them, know they can use your services, but they have flat out refused time and time again. All of the sudden they have seen the light, well, at least the light that shines through a budget consisting of 0 dollars and 0 cents

2. At the first mention of a letter of intent, should your work yield actual payment or a project for the requesting party, to guarantee your place on the agreement defining a paying project, they balk - no signee, no workee.

3. Carrots galore are dangled in hopes that you "see the vision" and "understand the upside" and you hear repeatedly "If they buy off you will get a huge budget."

4. You are not given a seat at the table. If you are putting skin in the game, why not help craft a winning initiative?

5. Questions you ask for clarity and a solid path to execute are dismissed as too time consuming.

6. The time line is not healthy enough to produce quality work.

7. Carrots dangling in every other sentence. Did I mention carrots yet? If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

8. You are threatened (did I say that?), or it is "implied" that if you do not do it, you may not get another shot at working with this "client" ever again. Really? If you do good work, have other paying clients, who cares? Let the beggar go hassle someone else. This of course only applies if you really do good work and are confident in your abilities. Legal disclaimer guy voice used here again.

9. The requesting party tries to leverage their "huge client base" as a bargaining chip for your time/work. Not cool. If their clients knew that they were being used in that manner, they would not be happy.

10. They only time you hear from these "clients" is when they need something done on the cheap or even free for pitching or otherwise. When they spend money on real projects, why don't they call? I know what you are thinking, "This sounds ridiculous, who is this crass?" Really? Ask anyone who has been in the industry for any amount of time and they will tell you it is not. This happens everyday. Trust me, I have seen it first hand too many times.

On the flip side, once in a blue moon one of these free "projects" pays off and you win a big one, and the requesting party actually delivers. That is very sweet and makes all the rest of this post seem worthwhile. Despite all of the hypocrites and loonies that bash free work, yet request it from their vendors regularly, this may be why the practice still occurs on a daily basis in the aforementioned industries.

Or, like child abuse, it is sadly passed down from generation to generation. At some point, someone or something has to break the cycle to make it to stop.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jon Bond's "New" Advertising Services Model

From the original Ad Age article...
"Four months after departing Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal and Partners, the New York agency he co-founded in 1987, Jon Bond -- backed with some $100 million in financing -- is setting out to build a new marketing services entity to rival Kirshenbaum's owner, MDC Partners, and other holding companies, according to several industry executives.

The entity is being dubbed a "cooperative" to prospective partners and touted as an alternative structure to the current advertising and marketing holding-company model. Mr. Bond is said to have met with some 80 to 100 marketing services firms and tech outfits , in the U.S. and in Europe with a range of specialties. People familiar with the situation said Mr. Bond has raised $100 million from multiple resources and has invested his own money into the venture, too

Interesting that Ad Age is touting this model as new. I do not think the concept of a cooperative in this industry is new, but perhaps having an ex-conglomerate executive proceed with serious capital investment and getting national ink upon announcement is.

Independent agencies and boutique studios that are smaller, but put out high quality work have worked within this structure for years. Personally speaking, my digital studio, The Basement, has worked as a co-op partner, maybe in not so many words, with regional agencies, marcomm firms and social media shops (some independent and some not) for the past three years. This was also the model I recommended implementing at my old shop.

My hats off to Jon Bond for pursuing this model, because as we all know, those that try to be all things to all people tend to be good at a few things and perform malpractice at the rest.

I will be interested to see how this works for Mr. Bond.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hard Time Writing

It has been tough lately to find time and topics to write about. I am not motivated to jump on the Apple v. Flash bandwagon, nor do I give a crap about Apple, the iPad or any other iDevice that seems to be taking up space in every fan boys blog and backpack these days.

As I sit here I think about much more important things like when are the wife and baby going to get home from the ER? Is my son in bed or is he running around his room again? The list goes on with family, the businesses and all other things that fill my busy head.

I am finding it hard to write about digital trinkets built to be old news in 3 months, ad network consolidation or even the almighty media landscape and its non-stop evolution.

Perhaps I will get back on the bully pulpit soon, but for now I am taking a rest from it. We have a lot of really cool stuff going on, but it would not be wise for me to start talking about all of it here now. It is in development and will be released in good time.

Until then, check out the Basement facebook page or my twitter feed for sporadic thoughts.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Client Work Knocking Down Walls and Getting Huge Results

One of our agency clients put together a fantastically successful Facebook campaign for Einstein Bros. Bagels. We worked with them on the creative execution for the fan/like page and the design work for the offers that generated the extremely positive results.

A couple of different media outlets picked up the story and you can read those here:
Fast Company Magazine ARTICLE
Quick facts from the Fast Company piece: In less than three days Einsteins went from a Facebook fan count of 4,700 to a massive 336,000-plus
According to the company, this is the first instance of a Facebook advertiser providing a free offer though instant digital coupons

More media about this promotion:
The Louisville Business Journal ARTICLE ARTICLE

These are just a few. It is nice to see The Basement's design work on all of these articles.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Basement Looking for a Lead Flash Developer

Lead Flash Developer
The Basement Design + Motion Indianapolis, IN USA Posted on: April 19, 2010

Lead Flash Developer

The Basement Design + Motion is seeking a Lead Flash Developer to accommodate new growth. The right candidate needs to live flash and have a passion for design, animation and innovation. We are working within AS3.

Required Skills:

• Excellent communication skills with clients and internal project team • 5+ years experience in AS2 and AS3 and a strong understanding of OOP • An eye for motion design and timing • Building or working within frameworks • Experience integrating Flash with php and .Net services required • PaperVision experience a plus • Game design experience a plus • A/R experience a plus• Strong knowledge of Javascript, XML, HTML and CSS • Experience working within a team and using SVN a plus

If you possess the right mix of talent and experience, you can make an immediate impact in this growing studio. This is an in house position and candidates must reside in or be willing to relocate to Indianapolis or a surrounding area. If you wish to be considered for this position please email your online portfolio and a list of urls clearly explaining your involvement on each project along with a current resume. Label "Lead Flash Developer" in the subject header.

The Basement Design + Motion is a growing motion design studio located in Historic Fort Ben, in Indianapolis. Please refer to our site to learn more

Apply at:

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Basement Announced as a 2010 Mira Award Finalist

The Basement Design + Motion Announced as Finalist for Prestigious Mira Awards Program

Five independent panels of judges have chosen 60 Indiana companies, including
The Basement Design + Motion, to compete for state’s top technology honors

INDIANAPOLIS (APRIL 12, 2009) — Five independent panels of judges have chosen 60 finalists to compete for the state’s top technology honors — the TechPoint Mira Awards presented by BKD.

The Basement Design + Motion was named as a finalist for the second year in a row. The Basement Design + Motion is a finalist in the IT Gazelle category. Jacob Leffler, president of The Basement said, “We are honored and humbled to once again be named a finalist for Techpoint Mira Awards. It is an honor to be placed alongside such a prestigious group of nominees and finalists.”

Jim Jay, president and CEO of TechPoint, said that more people are participating in the Mira Awards this year than ever before. He attributes the program growth to a new “Excellence and Innovation in New Media” category, the states thriving health care information technology community, and Indiana’s robust tech industry at large.

“Tech companies based in Indiana realize greater overall business value than those located on the coasts because of our superior tech workforce, educational resources and lower infrastructure costs. I think that’s reflected in receiving a record number of nominations for Mira Awards following the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

Mira Awards judges evaluated and scored each submitted nomination, and the scoring determined which nominees became finalists. Finalists will deliver presentations and answer questions in person before one of the five independent panels of judges during the next few weeks.

The winners will be announced at the Mira Awards Gala, an “Oscars-style” award ceremony being held Saturday, May 15, at The Westin Indianapolis.

Nominees, finalists and the general public can purchase Individual tickets for the gala at the event’s website — Ticket packages and some sponsorship opportunities are also available.

The nominees for the 2010 TechPoint Mira Awards, IT Gazelle category, are as follows:

• IT Gazelle
o ENthEnergy, LLC
o Prevel Technology
o BlueLock, LLC
o Compendium
o Marketpath, Inc.
o The Basement Design + Motion, LLC

About the Basement Design + Motion
The Basement Design + Motion is a digital design studio squarely focused on designing and developing cutting edge design and production for interactive and motion-based media. The Basement routinely delivers progressive interactive media, motion graphics, online games and 3D/2D animated content for the web, digital signage and broadcast. Visit

About TechPoint
TechPoint is Indiana’s only statewide technology initiative, representing industry stakeholders including publicly-traded companies, private businesses, colleges and research universities, and local economic development organizations. The mission of TechPoint is to accelerate Indiana’s emerging and vibrant information technology sector by: promoting the successes of IT companies and professionals; supporting the formation, expansion, and attraction of IT companies; and advocating appropriate public policy. Visit

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Shut Up and Execute

This one will be short. With all of the conduits for individuals to shout their expertise there is no shortage of experts, presenters, pundits, critics, commentators, observers with opinion, anchors, et al.

With all of this great information flying around, it seems it has provided a severe shortage of individuals and organizations that can actually do something (of value). While everyone trips over themselves (and others) to obtain the ever so valued "engagement" they seem to run the opposite way from actual execution. After all it is easy to talk about the changing world, it is easy to post wisdom when it is restricted to 140 characters and it is easy to grab facts off of a Google search and regurgitate them through a blog.

It is hard to fulfill a contract, it is hard to make payroll, it is hard provide your staff with good health care, it is hard to make a commitment and actually follow through, it is hard to shake some one's hand, look them in the eye, commit to their business and execute to their success. It is very hard to do all of this with regularity, integrity, loyalty, profitably and over a long period of time.

If all of the aforementioned things were easy everyone would have a successful business and stellar reputation. My mother used to tell me, "Just worry about yourself. Do not waste time worrying about what others are doing." She was right, so I, and my organization, spend less time these days trying to "engage" and we spend much more time executing on commitment and insuring the success of our client partners.

Funny thing that execution, it tends to make people want to continue doing actual business with you. It has proven to be much more valuable than a "follow."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Concrete Comfort

Storytelling. Art. Craft. History. Heritage. Roots. What thoughts do those words invoke in your head?

I think someone is trying to send me a message, in subtle, soft yet plainspoken ways. I had the fortunate luck to spend time with some friends (old and new) last night and engage in conversation that brought a lot of memories back to my immediate consciousness. One, that I have never shared, is from my childhood.

On a cool, clear Fall day I was playing in the backyard all by myself. I am the youngest of four, and often was left to my own imagination to occupy my time with hobbies, play or some other less constructive activity. I found myself in a familiar place - the backyard - shooting basketball, sword fighting with the tree and running around burning away youthful energy.

At some point in my backyard sanctuary, I decided to simply lay down, on my stomach, on the cool concrete. I distinctly remember turning my head sideways and pressing my cheek against that cool slab and feeling every little bump, spike and groove work its way into my skin. As I laid there I remember looking straight ahead and examining with my eyes the very surface, and the random artifacts of nature's litter, that was leaving their impression on the side of my pudgy face. I was completely and totally relaxed. I did not want to move. I thought to myself that I could stay there forever and be totally happy as a result. It was complete and total purity. No lies, no deceit, no greed, no broken commitments, no squabbling. Just simple, serene and absolutely within reach. Many years later, it is as clear in my mind as it was that afternoon.

Fast forward years later, and there I am in a downtown bar, with several young professionals, some staff and even a gentleman that works with a client of The Basement. As I was driving home this memory popped into my head, and I thought to myself, "Why the hell is this memory cropping up now?" I think it has to do with conversation I was a part of moments before. I was listening to one of my business partners talk to these young, aspiring guys about their new business, and what he and I went through seven years ago as we first started out. What was our motivation then, what is our motivation now? Why are we sacrificing? Why do we approach things in a certain way and what is their approach? Listening to these young bucks was a great exercise and something I should do more often. It brought me back to my entrepreneurial beginnings. To the approach we took when we first made the leap.

The reason behind the launch, is rarely the motivation for the landing. That is my conclusion. Was my desire to getting back to the core of our business driving this thought? Was the memory of that time in my life a sign of my desire to get to a comfortable place after seven years of steep ups and downs? Was the conversation of the evening dredging up desires to re-discover earlier motivations for the business?

I think I may know the answer to these questions, but for now I will keep them to myself. Not sure why I am feeling compelled to write this out on this blog, but in doing so I feel better for it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Marketing Perspective

I just finished reading this piece by Pete Blackshaw, in Ad Age, CMO Strategy.

The piece is titled, Marketers, Get Back to Boring. well when I first saw the title I thought to myself, "This will suck." However, once I started reading I realized this guy was pretty much spot on. He is not advocating lame communication or ad strategy, he is advocating sound, grounded and most importantly effective communication, marketing and advertising strategy.

A few excerpts...
"I call this out for good reason. Social media and digital marketing will only succeed -- and sell through the organizational layers -- if we ground it in deeper, more established marketing truths, not ephemeral campaigns, one-trick pony moments, or hypocritical oaths or proclamations."

"Leadership: At the end of the day, what truly matters is less about social smarts than good, old-fashioned leadership. Leaders inspire and drive change -- irrespective of platform, cause or brand. Most important, great leaders always follow the consumer. Whether the consumer's hanging out the in living room, or hanging photos on their Facebook page, we have to be here. If you dissect the great case studies behind what's happening in our marketing transformation, especially on the social-media scene, the DNA of great leadership is unmistakable."

Hopefully that was enough to compel you to read the entire piece HERE.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Social Gaming or Social and Gaming - Either Way, Go the Distance

A quick new post to get you thinking about how you can use social gaming or simply social elements incorporated into online gaming to help increase sharing and good will toward your brand.

Social gaming has been a hot topic recently with the success of such Facebook embedded giants Cafe World, Mafia Wars and Farmville. The company bringing you these gems is Zynga . Zynga specializes in social gaming. What is social gaming you ask? Here is an unofficial definition with some player detail brought to us by our friends at gaming resource IGN, "Game titles played on social networks like Facebook and MySpace -- are an increasingly important part of the overall game industry, with a projected revenue of more than a billion dollars in 2010." There is a lot more great information, summarized for your convenience HERE.

When considering either a social game or a game that has social components (sharing with friend features, community based score boards or even multi-player function, as a brand, to get more time with your target audience or to couch promotional and/or marketing value in a fun entertainment experience, simply creating a game is not enough. As the title states, go the distance.

What does that mean? It means take the time to understand what will excite and engage the audience through game play, design and social tools. Will the game offer enough value that your audience will feel compelled to share with friends once playing is complete, or even tell their friends to come play with them in real time? Will the game successfully offer the player value as it relates to your brand? This is a bit more tricky. You do not want to turn off your audience with a blatant advertisement disguised as a game, however you want to engage through the game, but still push the needle for the brand. Maybe baking in hidden offers (real offers, not the same old crummy coupon for a $1.00 off) that are genuinely exciting for your audience? Maybe motivating the player to reach a certain level with the promise of a valuable product or service, and giving them a bonus for sharing with a friend. If the offer is solid enough, your audience will most likely not need much prompting to share. I want my friends to enjoy the same perks I get, so I share when offers are good, and my friends appreciate that.

Too often games produced for brands focus too much on enlarging logos, and not enough on what real value is offered to their audience, which yields more long term value for the player, and the brand. Going the distance will insure your game is a great investment in resources for you, and in time for your audience.

Friday, March 5, 2010

YOUbiquitous Media and the Soul

Atheists do not waste your time reading this post.

If we all agree that we have a soul, and it is our primary meter for the sum total of good and bad we create, perform, absorb and distribute in our lives, then I think we can take that concept and use it, not literally of course, for how we establish, perpetuate, engage and produce in our professional lives.

By this I do not mean how much work do you do, as a professional, for not for profits or for "causes." That is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is how you establish yourself as a credible professional, execute on that credibility and grow your "good deeds" vs. your bad.

We are human beings, and as such we are prone to make mistakes and whether we commit them knowingly or by accident, these flaws tend to affect others directly or indirectly. On the flip side, we do good and that too has an impact on others.

As a business professional, and more specifically, as someone who works heavily in the digital space, I see lots of both sides of that equation - the good and the bad, and yes even the ugly. The digital space is ripe with very bright and intelligent people. Let's be honest, to stay up with technology in this day and age you have to be very resilient, persistent and determined. The other side of it is that the technology sector tends to make those who understand how to deliver within it successful by most standards. In a free market, capitalist society, that attracts a lot of bright go-getters. It also attracts a lot of what I like to call fly-by-nighters, or by others' terminology, douche bags. I am talking about people who simply pimp out the latest and greatest to try and obtain a quick pile of money with little regard for those who may experience the ill affects of this engagement - for reference see Internet bubble at the turn of the 20th century.

That hard fact rears its head more frequently than I care to say. Enter social media and it's rise to fame and glory.

One of the primary beauties of social media since its infantile stages is its ability for relatively non-technical users (like me) to easily and quickly, get in the game, so to speak. A non-technical user can create a blog (their own little web site that they can alter), a twitter account, a Facebook page, a MySpace page, and the list goes on and on and on and on......

This is great! This leads to new relationships, new ideas, new perspective, new business models, market shifts, etc. and it leads to, as one wise man recently told me, "lots of open ears." What does that mean? Lots of open ears. It means due to the sharing and breadth of information, it does not take someone a lot of time to get up to speed and become an "expert." The experts are vast and eager to self proclaim. Those that are so averse to technology, or are simply too busy to learn about this new opportunity, then rely on these folks for their information or to provide service. That is great, unless the shallow "expert" is creating more bad than good. Then you have a ripple effect not only for the expert and client, but also for the industry as a whole - again reference internet bubble at the turn of the century - or even something a bit more widespread - open today, gone tomorrow mortgage brokers writing and approving unsubstantiated mortgages during the housing boom, which yielded our most recent crash in the market.

So this brings us full circle to the soul of our industry. Everyday I see more and more social media, mobile and digital marketing experts popping out of the woodwork. I see less substance backing much of it up. As someone who was in the industry in the middle of THE internet bubble working for a tech-based start up, those lessons were burned in my mind forever. I ask the market to self patrol and not be so quick to absorb and accept every Tom, Dick and Mary that twitters 1,000 times a day, not be so quick to pat the back of a "presenter" simply because they were on stage. Watch and execute with a critical eye. After all, the souls in our industry that are creating good, will insure that real value remains, insures real goodwill amongst the greater business community (those that pay us to execute), and will ultimately help our industry continue to grow within a legitimate value proposition.

The alternative, I am afraid, is another burst bubble.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sell to the Sellers

I recently read a piece and it made some very good points about how to activate brand messaging and sales communication not only in a way that your customers and potential customers can understand and participate with, but also in a way that your sales team can understand, learn quickly and utilize consistently, in lock and step with the brand.

The article made the point in a very smart and sophisticated way. I am so frustrated with myself for not saving it and linking out to it in this piece. Not like me at all - just a result of being busy.

Anyway, it used an example from Hyundai. Yes, the same Hyundai who has utilized unique and value added marketing tactics to increase sales at a time when most car manufacturers are losing their shirts.

They were operating under the premise that when they spend a ton of money on things like TV spots during the Super Bowl, why should that investment die when the trophy is handed to the winning team? Great point!!

As an example, Hyundai, in an effort to get their brand messaging and experience in the customers hands and provide communication tools for their dealership sales force, take their Super Bowl ads and run them on touch screen kiosks at their dealerships. Their thought process?? To not only extend that investment directly to their customers for interactive brand experience at the point of purchase, but to also provide a tool so their sales people can be on message with the brand and insure that they communicate consistently, and focus on the most important selling points as dictated by the brand. I like their thinking. I like their execution. Evidently their customers do too. Lots of sales growth is the result of this effort integrated with a comprehensive strategy that includes this effort in addition to new car offerings, the best warranty in the business and their customer assurance program. All of this can be delivered through the touch screen alongside their super spots.

I think the main take away here is delivering consistent messaging from all points of the brand, and delivering it from the sales force, both human and electronic. Back in my corporate marketing days, consistent messaging from the brand, national and local, paired with solid operations, insured solid results. Whenever we had inconsistent messaging, it faltered.

Next time I will remember to keep the article so you can read the source.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gen X, the Forgotten Purveyor

I have seen this video tweeted about a lot in the last couple of days and it sparked some thought regarding Generation X, believe it or not.

There is a lot of ballyhoo about Gen Y, and their impact on everything from the economy to social media, to education and more. I find it interesting and valid, however it is amazing how Gen X often gets looked over in the passage from Baby Boomers to Gen Y.

I would ask you to consider a few things before you jump on the bandwagon that professes Gen Y's impact on US society to be supreme. Gen X, aside from the World War II generation, has experienced the largest amount of global turmoil, living through the first Gulf War, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the current ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, several large economic recessions (including our current mess - so called the largest since the Great Depression)and enough political scandal to last two lifetimes. In addition to being old enough to not only live through these events, Gen X is old enough to have worked and supported families through these events. In addition to national and international stress, Gen X has been largely responsible for ushering in the information age. Gen X has and continues to develop and innovate technological breakthroughs, that allow for things like social media, increasing utility on the Internet and other engineering and technological breakthroughs.

What is the point of this post you may ask? In the fervor to crown Gen Y as the be all and end all in terms of spending power and the future of our society, I ask you to take five minutes to think about our "the most forgotten" generation, Gen X and all of the crap this generation has endured to continue to deliver the US innovative solutions, the Information Age, and more technological breakthrough than this country has seen in a very long time.

No pats on the back necessary, Gen X will gladly continue to serve.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ford's Missed Opportunity and Why the Basics Still Apply

Another day, another corporation pissing off customers. Have you ever read the book Raving Fans? If not, I highly recommend it. It is a great exploration into how a business can service its customers in a way that turns customers into raving fans. In this day and age with social media and hyper sharing of information, it is more critical than ever for a consumer brand to do its best to not only service its customers, but treat them like royalty.

I have another personal story that is a great example of one reason why our American auto manufacturers are in the mess that they are in, and it has to do with servicing customers.

My wife and I purchased a 2009 Ford Flex last year. It currently has 25,400 miles on it and already is requiring new brake pads. The dealer service manager, who was embarrassed to inform me of this required repair, was obviously uncomfortable telling me about the brakes. I asked him why this was not covered under the warranty and he said that brake pads are only covered for 1 year/18,000 miles. I also have a Toyota 4Runner and I can tell you those brakes last in excess of 40,000 miles. I was and still am incredibly frustrated by this so I reached out to Ford via Twitter and via their web site/customer service email. I informed them of the situation, and why I felt their product was failing their customer. The fact that a new car already had repairs needed was a failure of theirs, and as a customer I wanted them to be aware of this. The response from Ford was less than reassuring. In fact it was down right sad. Too bad Alan Mulally, who seems to be doing his best to resurrect Ford, is being undermined by an inept customer service process.

First off, Ford is not using their social outlets to have "conversations" with their customers. At least not their customers that require attention beyond "What model should I buy?" They basically have some PR folk pumping out the same old self promotional crap that you would find in any press release, except it is limited to 140 characters. They had a great opportunity to not only engage me and help me convert to a raving fan by addressing my situation, helping me resolve it and bask in the glory of my praises, they completely ignored me. They ignored the issue and the result was more ranting about their crappy product, which in turn has been seen by hundreds of other potential or even existing customers and now is being plastered on a blog which has a decent number of readers. Too bad Ford, you slept on an opportunity and now the perception about a lack of quality is being shared with thousands.

The email response I received from Ford was very long, but really did not say a thing. I would post it here, but frankly it would be a waste of space. The sum of Ford's response basically was that they were "sorry I felt that way" and blah blah blah. They offered no solution, no recommendation, no assurance that they even gave a damn. Basically they did their best to dump me off back at the dealership and to "make sure I used quality Ford parts" on the repair. LOL. Why would I replace POS parts with the same POS parts???? Hello, your parts failed within 25,400 miles. That is not a quality product. That is failure. That is junk! Why do Toyota and Honda outsell all US auto companies? The Asian autos DO NOT BREAK DOWN, especially in the first year of ownership. The basics Ford, the basics.

It is no secret that American cars have a reputation for breaking down, thus not delivering on the brand promise of quality. This is the primary reason US auto manufacturers sales are down, and have been trending down for years. The saddest part is they do not seem to care. The thousands of employees laid off, and the huge ripple effect across numerous industries are a testament to this lack of care for the customer.

So, where does this leave Ford and their customer? Well, in this case, I took one last chance on Ford when I purchased this car. I admired Ford for not participating in the ridiculous federal bail out program. They have made several smart decisions in the last couple of years. All that being said, it boils down to the basics - produce a quality product, fight for your customers, love your customers and once you have those down cold, innovate and market your success story. As it sits right now Ford cannot seem to even get the first one right. I will not buy another Ford product until they prove that they give a crap about their customers. Right now, they do not seem to care about much outside of posting fancy 3D renderings of their cars on various media channels and crapping on their customers. If this persists, their resurgence will be very short lived and the raving fans will continue to reside with Asian competitors. It is a sad commentary and one I would rather not feel compelled to write.