Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Collaborators in Excellence Can Be Hard to Find

I am fortunate to have had several different employment opportunities over the past sixteen years. I have worked for production companies, broadcast companies, tech start-ups, a Fortune 500 corporation and a couple of digital creative studios. Despite the differences from one organization to another, some things are very consistent. One that has always had my focus is excellence, or even just the simple desire to do your best and really make a supreme effort to be better than the rest of the market.

It is always interesting to see how people either get after excellence, kind of try to be better than some, or simply do what they think is "just enough" and are complacent to secure mediocrity. Regardless of where the masses fall in this spectrum one thing has been readily apparent in all of my experiences at different organizations, and that is excellence is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. It seems that many many professionals are really okay with doing just enough to get by, or simply do all that can be done without friction and to heck with working toward excellence. What do I mean by friction? Friction could be internal interpersonal static within a corporate culture, it could be the risk of losing a bonus, or perhaps push back on trying to alter the status quo in the search for a better result or product, or it could even be a personal relationship that encourages less focus on anything other than that relationship. Whatever the cause for the friction, it seems a lot of professionals have no desire to work through these barriers to deliver better, more or even a "best." Many have not wanted to stick their neck out. I don't think this a new phenomenon.

Anyone who works in a creative services industry has experienced this. Probably more than most. To add to the challenge, creative work is subjective, so ceilings and floors often get interchanged. An easy example? No doubt the term "brand standards" have been used for decades to bring excellent work back down to mediocrity, all in the name of consistency aka uniformity. Many times brand standards are an extremely valid and useful platform. In some instances however, I believe,  it is merely an excuse to shelter individuals and/or organizations from the work required and potential friction that comes with moving toward excellence. The saddest part about this infectious mediocrity is that it spreads like a virus. Don't believe me? Turn on your television and log how many pieces of media you believe are truly excellent, that move you, versus the rest that don't. Get online and perform the same exercise. Walk through any large retailer and perform the same exercise using consumer products as the focus. In those instances what is the ratio between what you deem as truly excellent versus just okay? In search of this excellence the service provider is quite often put in a tough spot. How much do you push for excellence? If it is not accepted, when and how do you back off? What service provider wants to lose a client? Who wants to die on the hill? Get in line, do what is required and live to fight for a better product, service or design another day.

On the flip side, when the reach toward excellence is accepted and embraced, that is the sweet spot where great collaboration, work, and market leaders emerge. Yes, it can be more stressful and difficult in the short term because it takes a lot more energy to accomplish, there will inevitably be those that fight it, more friction, and the time required to achieve is greater, however, in the long term the payoff is worth it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Candy Colors and Pretty Pictures Don't Mean Success

Having returned from a week off I find myself thinking about some of my experiences on the road and some of the things I am reading in the trades about big brands.

I have written on this blog numerous times about one of the most important keys to good marketing. That key is to back up the promise made by your strategic message and advertising with a great customer experience (the product or service must meet or surpass the promise of the marketing). I did not create this wisdom, but I have been fortunate enough to experience it executed properly and unfortunately, I have experienced it executed poorly. A simple example of the latter happened last week when I was on vacation.

My lovely wife planned the vacation and she booked a cabin in a mountain for our family to stay in for three days. Wonderful. She was excited and showed me the pictures of this beauty from the rental company web site. It looked great. Clean, bright, and most of all a great unobstructed view of the mountains. Perfect. It was even granted the moniker of "Close to Heaven." Judging by the pictures, it seemed to be just that, assuming of course that Heaven looks just like the Smoky Mountains.

Well, we arrived at said destination and let's just say the pictures were either about 15 years old, and the cabin had not seen maintenance in that time frame, or the pics were altered to make the hellish a little more heavenly. The view? Let's just say it was obstructed about 90% more than the pictures lead us to believe. It was not the end of the world, but the point is that the rental company conveyed a promise that was far from fulfilled - the net result, no future business, negative referrals, and a blog post. Will this impact them today, probably not, but over time it will erode the business. Need more evidence? Please reference Saturn, Sears, Kmart, etc.

Why do I use such a straight forward and simple example of this common strategic marketing failure? Because it is just that, straight forward and simple. It applies to more complex businesses. When advertising legend Lee Clow was asked, "What is the secret to great advertising?" his response was simply, "The truth."

Simple example #2. I just read where Chevrolet is now painting their two compact autos, the Sonic and the Spark, bright vibrant colors, going against the grain of traditional car colors. See the piece here Who cares? If you look at Chevrolet's track record, especially in the small car segment, you wonder if the bright paint is merely presented to distract the consumer away from other issues. Forbes magazine recently published an article presenting the realistic situation of another possible bankruptcy for General Motors. Why is that when both Ford and Chrysler seem to be on the upswing?

I have been a passenger in many Chevrolet products over the last 20 years and I can say with confidence that the rides have not been pleasant. In short, the cars I was in seemed poorly built and required repairs where other vehicles within the similar age/condition/mileage seemed to hold up with significantly less issues. Going back to the original point, focus on making a quality product that fulfills your commitment to the consumer and the paint will merely be an option, not integral to the campaign.

Chevy states in the piece that despite hesitation to paint cars pink, they have, and now one in every four Chevy Sparks sold in South Korea are pink. Great. If one in four Sparks are not reliable vehicles, is the color going to matter? Hopefully for Chevy, their cars outlast the impulse of buying a car simply because it is pink.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More Internet Television Related News

I have spent more than a few posts on this blog talking about internet protocol television, and what it may mean for consumers, advertisers and my line of work - digital design, development and content. In the years past I have provided thoughts on direct to consumer delivery for brands, and how traditional media properties may just start running their own television networks. The technology has dramatically decreased the cost to produce and the content exists. Building on that thought, check out what Sports Illustrated is now testing. Sports Illustrated Starts Live, Daily Half Hour Video Show . They are just the most recent major outlet to jump on this trend.

It's not just SI, check out this quote from the piece linked above, "Sporting News, which went all digital last year after 126 years in print, is adding five original online shows over the next several months. 'Advertisers are interested in original programming,' said Jeff Price, president of Sporting News Media. 'But we're thinking about the reader first and then bringing in the advertiser in an authentic way.'"

Microsoft had their big XBox announcement last week. Take a few moments to review the XBox One web site and the features being touted for the new entertainment device. It is as much about the user switching seemlessly between apps, web content and direct communication functions as it is video games. Microsoft has reviewed consumer behavior while sitting at the television and recreated cross device use, conveniently into one device. Drop the laptop or tablet and smart phone while watching TV or even playing a video game, you can now switch through all that function on the XBox One with the swipe of a hand or a verbal command.

Lastly, here is a link for some video clips showing media professionals discussing the future of media from Internet Week. Enjoy the clips brought to you by Ad Age.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gamification Can't Succeed in a Vacuum

When done right gamified interactives, such as web sites, apps., touch screen media, etc. are known for being incredibly effective. When you have a clear objective and a defined audience, gamified interactives can push a campaign and customer engagement to levels of success few other media executions can match.

That being said, it has been interesting to see how organizations launch said gamified initiatives into the market. I think a belief exists that since you have this very interactive, often incentivized and fun activity out in the market, that people will automatically flock to it. That is a huge misconception and often a made mistake.

I have seen great opportunities get flushed down the toilet from a lack of media and communications support when launching a gamified audience experience. The next time your marketing plan calls for gamified elements I want you to think about this; would McDonald's launch their Monopoly promotion with no media support? If they launched with no media/communications support would they see the success  like they have in the past with this promotion? If they launched the campaign with a great, fun web site, but did not show the web address for that site, or promote that site address anywhere on their packaging, would they get the traffic tot he site and engagement on the site like they have in years past? Dumb questions, obvious answers. Of course not! So don't make the same mistake.

Gamified interactive experiences, for all their potential, can't succeed in a vacuum. Support their launch and promotional time frame appropriately.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Coke, Again, Shows Why It's #1

I am not a big soda drinker, however, there is no denying the place soft drinks hold in our culture.  I came across this piece this morning and wanted to share it for a few reasons. Check out Coke Targets Teens With Its First All-Digital Effort published by MediaPost. The piece goes into detail about how Coke intends to focus on teenagers in the coming years.

From my perspective, the takeaways from this piece are:

1. Coke is focusing on segments within a segment of their consumer audience. Yes, they are focusing on teens, but they are breaking down that profile even more by going after specific types of teens.

2. Most of the content Coke is using is less like traditional ad messaging and is actual non-ad content. Short videos, games, interactive activities. That being said, all of these individual pieces of content are tied together under a central theme (er, long term campaign).

3. The initiative is integrated and Coke is in it, according to this piece, for the next couple of years. It is clearly stated in this article that Coke will be measuring the effectiveness of all of the released content/activities and will be making adjustments throughout the initiative. Coke clearly gets that this is a marathon and not a sprint, hence the long term approach and the reliance on measurement for long term improvement. This is not a 6 week campaign, or even a 6 month campaign. This is an evolving campaign to span years.

4. Innovation. This is creating a platform/audience for Coke to introduce product and packaging innovations to an audience who clearly has no problem sharing things they think are cool or interesting via social channels. That is not to say the audience will love everything Coke does, they may not, however this is a a great market testing apparatus. If you want my thoughts on the critical role innovation plays in any business, feel free to read through the numerous other posts on that topic contained within this blog. 

In summary, I believe this will be a solid initiative to keep an eye on in the coming months and years. If Coke sticks to their guns on this and it shows results, you can bet other consumer brands will follow suit.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Labels Labels Everywhere

I had the opportunity to listen to a guy speak this past weekend. He was speaking on the topic of labels. He pointed out the insanity of some points found on labels he had read on various household products. Things like Draino, which had a warning on the label stating (I am paraphrasing), "Do not use this container to store consumable beverages." He also commented on the use of labels to help us make purchasing decisions - name brand versus generic, etc.

Obviously, labels serve an important purpose, some less obvious than others. A big trend in the last several years has been branding yourself. The thought was, "Like a product, you have value that you offer. Create and leverage your brand like so many successful products in the marketplace."  Another way to put it is labeling yourself. With the advent of social media and a very competitive job market, I get that basic premise, however, I believe individuals need to be very careful about how they pursue their own "labels."

There is something to be said for focus and honing in on your strengths and experiences, however, typecasting, especially within a career, can lead down a narrow and thorny path. You need to look no further  than many of the "brand yourself" gurus that have popped up via social media, seemingly in the millions, in the past several years. To exhibit my point take a few moments, look them up online, and see if they are still at the same "social agency" or the same employer 2 - 4 years later. If not, what is their new title/label? Many have changed their label to achieve employment, and many no longer wear the social title/label they once had, often breaking their own advice from just a short time ago.

Labels can provide a lot of preconceived notions. When labeling yourself, perhaps you can thoughtfully consider more than the next five months, maybe consider your label for longevity. People change. People evolve. Certainly we, as human beings, will grow, learn and evolve in a more valuable way, than say, dish soap, sneakers or floor polish. Let's treat ourselves less like commodities and more like the valuable people that we are.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cranking This Blog Back Up

Wow it has been awhile since I have consistently posted to this blog. Apologies for being absent. Spending quality time with my wife and children and starting, managing and growing a couple of businesses takes a considerable amount of time so please accept my absence as nothing more than me living a productive life.

In the coming weeks and months I believe I will be able to devote a bit more time to post more here, as I have done in the past. Moving forward the posts will be a bit more focused, shorter, but hopefully no less opinionated and with any luck, deemed valuable to those choosing to read.

Thanks and stay tuned for a new post in the next day or so.