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By on February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized with No Comments »

A rallying cry.



To all the inventors, the originators, the artisans, the craftsmen, the artists, the producers, the true geniuses and creators among us… and, within us, all…

When you find yourself waking up in the morning feeling particularly uninspired, it’s time to make time to create.

When the easiest path is to go through the motions of your “to do” list of tasks that you long ago mastered and which no longer stretch or springboard your continued growth, re-invest in yourself for a change. Create.

When the demands on your time during the day overwhelmingly siphon off your innovative energy, minimize them. Do what absolutely must get done, and put aside the rest. Give them attention only after you’ve nurtured your inventive spirit. Instead, create.

When facing a mental block preventing your enthusiastic and brilliant contribution to conquering the mundane – or the challenging — look inside and unearth what brings you joy. Get unstuck. Create.

If you’re not looking forward to a new problem to solve, a new campaign, a fresh canvas… tackle the day with only a single item on your agenda: to create.

After pouring your heart and soul into work that benefits your clients or your employer, leaving you creatively, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually drained and spent, the most essential task you face is to focus on what benefits you, for a change. Create.

At the end of the day, when you’re left with nothing but your dreams and ideas, swimming gloriously through your head, create something.

Whether it’s a new way of thinking. A new way of doing. A new way of being. A new experience or reality. Or just a fresh pair of eyes. Imagine how it may appear to enter the same place by a different door.

This world could use something that doesn’t yet exist. A little original thinking never hurt anyone.

How do you get unstuck?

By on April 8, 2010 in Uncategorized with No Comments »

Rework CoverI recently read Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s ReWork while on a four-hour flight.  Hands-down, it’s simply the best business book I’ve read in years.  For one, it’s actually readable and entertaining.  Even if I wasn’t trapped on a plane, it’s still a book I’d have consumed just as quickly.

Chock full of nuggets of business wisdom, disguised in part as common sense, it’s one of those books I wish I wrote myself.   Some of its best insights follow below, in bold, along with my take on them.

Ignore the real world. Today, more than ever, we need to look beyond current solutions.  The world of advertising is undergoing rapid change, and there are few who understand the need to rethink everything we know about marketing. The customer is king, among other shifting tides. Geo-location apps may be all the rage, but it’s what we do with that information that determines their utility for marketers, and the subsequent benefit for users.

Why grow? Size is irrelevant to success.  Many would argue it could be an impediment to success in this era of ubiquitous technology-enabled channels for communication where customers can both air grievances or start positive dialogues about their interactions with products and brands.  We should waste no time in learning from their experiences and opinions, and put said learning into action to make improvements.   Smaller, nimbler agencies and businesses may even have the advantage here.

Be a starter. It’s no longer about entrepreneurship as we’ve known it to be.  Anyone and everyone can be a starter.  Content creators and curators are among the new small business owners.  For traditional (read: big) business and agencies, this should be a good thing in sparking new innovations and dismantling useless, expensive infrastructures and processes where they’re no longer needed.

Start. Ideas are only as valuable as their implementation.  Doing trumps strategizing. Execution can be said to be not only everything, these days, it can be the only thing.  Scrap the 3-year, or even 12-month plans in favor of dynamic roadmaps that can shift direction with new customer insights and market challenges.

Draw a line in the stand. Don’t be afraid to stand behind the power of your convictions.  It’s often all the momentum you need to propel your success.  Wishy-washy products, services, or even points of view, rarely make waves.  The most successful brands, or agencies for that matter, stand for something.  They subsequently create anticipation and excitement among their customers for new products or simply the desire for repeat experiences.  Or not.  But they’re not afraid to lose fans as they keep their loyalists consistently delighted.

Do you really need? A budget of a half million to execute on that marketing campaign?  Or would a fraction of that fee underwrite an equally, or daresay more, effective approach.  Social media channels and PR are both cost-effective and better at engaging word of mouth to support your product or cause.  You can’t buy that kind of credibility.

Embrace constraints. There’s nothing like smaller budgets and smaller teams to fuel renewed creativity and innovation.  We get lazy otherwise.  All the usual suspects in our collective pool of tried-and-true marketing tactics could use a rest in favor of fresh thinking and new ideas inspired by our digitally-engaged world and communities.  And these days, we’re all working under constraints of some kind, or smart enough to plan as if we are.

Throw less at the problem. Be laser-sharp in your focus.  Keep it simple so you can tell if and what is working, along with what isn’t.  It’s always easier to ramp up volume and budgets when you actually know which marketing tactic or vehicle may be delivering greatest impact.  Or have the option of embarking on a more effective strategy and approach without having blown your wad before you can show any ROI for the campaign.

Emulate drug dealers. Give your customers a taste of what you know will bring them back for more.  If your product or service, indeed your brand, has intrinsic value, they will definitely be back for more.  And you’ll have given them that initial nudge they may need to give you a try. After all, why be shy?  If you don’t believe in the quality of your product or thinking and its power to sell itself, then why should anyone else?

I’ve barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg of Fried and Hansson’s powerful, yet concisely written rules for the new rule-breakers of the business world.  As a small agency owner, I was both inspired and validated by my experiences.  Oh, and for those of you who never read business books, this book is especially for you.

[This piece appeared in Ad Age online at http://adage.com/bookstore/post?article_id=143174 )

By on December 10, 2009 in Uncategorized with 4 Comments »

Or at least have an expiration date after which they delete from your hard drive and fade from wherever they were used (on posters, signs, business cards…). We’re all guilty of jumping on the this-face-is-so-hot-right-now train or the I-chose-this-face-because-it’s-alphabetically-within-the-first-600-fonts-in-my-library bandwagon. But some typefaces should go away…and stay there.

I’m not saying that font fads don’t have their place or that we all don’t get caught using our favorite “it” typeface. In fact, I’m just getting over my torrid love affair with DIN. While writing this, I pulled out my college yearbook (which I edited) and was completely shocked to find that I was a huge fan of Laser. But wait, it get’s worse, I used the other version of it…Laser Chrome. Of course we had to set the type by burnishing down the Letraset dry transfer lettering…yikes! I recall another story from college, when my friend Lisa and I were introduced to two partners of a design firm who were colleagues of her father. We met over lunch and discussed the industry and our post-graduation plans. We got talking about type fads and I remember saying “ugh…If I have to see another brochure or logo made with Lithos I’m going to shoot myself in the head.” You can imagine my chagrin when we visited their offices after lunch only to discover Lithos being used in 70% of their portfolio.

"shoot me"This past weekend, while driving in Brooklyn, I was assaulted by the ugly stare of the typeface Paisley as I passed a local shop. Set in purple on a hot pink background, it’s curly,swirly letters just screeched mid-nineties. At least I hope it was mid-nineties. If not, then my second biggest gripe is also true: people should be licensed to use typefaces much like you’re licensed to carry a handgun. To some of us, they are equally as dangerous. Do you see me putting on scrubs, grabbing a scalpel and performing bypass surgery? No, you don’t. But it seems anybody with a Mac and Word can claim the title “designer.” You know them, they’re the ones that take a perfectly respectable face, like Garamond, and then spruce it up with an outline and  a drop shadow or maybe a strike-thru. Or, they’ll use the dreaded TypeStyler where they can twist it and stretch it or rape it in other new and inventive ways. (Listen closely, somewhere in Paris the faint grinding of Claude Garamond’s skeleton twisting over in his grave can be heard.)

I’m not saying that you have to go to school to be a great designer (though I certainly encourage it). There are some incredibly talented self-taught folks out there. But you should have a respect for the craft and be full of passion for it (I used to tell people that I’m a designer because I believe that there IS a difference between 1/32nd and 1/64th of an inch!). You should always have your eyes open and look for incredible design everywhere. And your iPhone should be full of pics of great typefaces you’ve seen on street posters or book jackets and of cool color combinations found on a delivery truck or in a window display. And, most importantly, you should be able to understand when to stop. It’s an old adage but a great one nonetheless: Less is more. Which reminds me of the follow-up warning: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

And if “everything old is new again” then we can all look forward to seeing Laser Chrome splattered on the pages of the next Comm Arts design annual (and then listen carefully and you’ll hear the muffled shot of my gun).

By on November 24, 2009 in Uncategorized with 12 Comments »

… Fresh Direct. And the pizza guy. So I can order food without ever leaving the house. Especially when it’s rainy or cold out.The Fresh Direct Guy

Every year, 15 million children die of hunger. One of twelve people worldwide is malnourished, including 160 million children under the age of five. Roughly 790 million people in the developing world are chronically under-nourished, nearly two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific (UN Food and Agriculture; World Resources Institute).

Of the 1.9 billion children in the developing world, 640 million, or 1 in 3, are without adequate shelter (UNICEF).

Glass of water… Drinks. Of all kinds really. But especially as many tall glasses of clear, cool water as I can drink, every day, whenever I’m thirsty.

Without food, a person can survive for weeks; without water, for only a few days.

400 million children in the developing world, or 1 in every 5, have no access to safe, clean water (UNICEF). 3.575 million people die every year from a water-related disease; 98% of these deaths occur in the developing world, and 84% to children 14 and younger (WHO).

… A relaxing shower. Every morning. And maybe another one after the gym.

An average of about 85% of the richest 20% of the world’s population has access to household plumbing, compared with 25% of the poorest 20%. Millions of women and children in the developing world spend several hours every day collecting water from distant, often polluted, sources (WHO, UN Human Development Report 2006).

… A kindle. Well, my business partner’s thankful for that one. But, my wall-to-wall bookcase is stacked to the ceiling with cherished books of every kind. I can read them all twice. Or not at all.books

UNICEF reports 121 million children worldwide are without education. And 10.6 million died in 2003 before reaching the age of 5.

About 72 million school-age children in the developing world weren’t in school in 2005; 57% of them were girls. These are “optimistic” numbers based on enrollment data from the Millenium Development Goals Report for 2007.

… My bedside lamp. So I can read by its bright glow, through the night until dawn, if I choose.

1.6 people globally – a quarter of humanity – live without electricity (GlobalIssues.org).

… Sickdays. Not that I ever use them really. I almost never get sick. My longest-ever hospital stay was to get crutches for a sprained ankle after my high-school basketball game.

An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Worldwide, 15 million children are orphaned each year due to HIV/AIDS (UNICEF).

Every year, there are 350-500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million deaths. Africa is the source of 90% of malarial deaths and African children account for more than 80% of malaria victims worldwide (2007 Human Development Report, UN Development Program).

interwebs on laptop… The Internet. Seriously, where would I be without computers, smart phones and 24/7 access to the Internet. And, for my wireless router, so I can be online from any room in my house at any time, day or night.

It’s a tragedy that I’ve not put this ubiquitous access and time to better use. I’m going to start with a donation online today. Will you?


This post was created as part of a global groundswell of gratitude called TweetsGiving.  In conjunction with 12for12K, this celebration, created by U.S. non-profit Epic Change, is an experiment in social innovation that seeks to change the world through the power of gratitude.  Join us: http://tweetsgiving.epicchange.org/

By on November 17, 2009 in Uncategorized with 6 Comments »

A couple weeks ago, I attended the first-ever TEDxEast conference, and found a remarkably consistent theme to several speakers’ presentations.  The notion of consumers and the public interacting with brands, concepts, and issues, in a manner that ultimately shapes the evolution of brand experiences, urban environments, and even creative thought and performance.


There’s a spirited debate in the design and marketing industry surrounding the pros and cons of crowd-sourcing design work, and even advertising.   The topic’s been covered extensively, from WIRED to Mullen’s Edward Boches.   I’d argue the Victors and Spoils approach  delivers a more professional process, and potentially final product, than does 99Designs, crowdSpring, and others offering crowd-sourced creative — but others may disagree.  I  believe there will always be a market for exceptional creative, at fees appropriately reflecting this quality of thinking and product.


Companies from Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, to Pepsi/Mountain Dew, and others, are experimenting with the concept to harness innovation and creativity from the masses.  For some, like Netflix, it’s a fearless approach that has proven to be marketing brilliance in achieving its goal of refining and advancing new video recommendation technology.


At TEDxEast, discussions covered everything from citizen journalism (i.e. Rachel Stern of Ground Report); to public participation in urban planning – for transportation or common spaces (Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives); to crowd-sourced fundraising for the arts (Perry Chen of Kickstarter); to a mesmerizing performance by Chris Elam of Misnomer Dance Theater, who challenged the audience to become more connected and involved in sharing their experiences with artists to influence creative vision and direction in more meaningful manifestations of art and ideas.


White’s vision of an automobile-free urban commons re-defines public spaces via transportation alternatives, and importantly, the public’s role in assuming responsibility and ownership, and in creating true communities, within the new greener environments that result.


In the same vein, speaker John Wood’s “Room to Read” odyssey led him to developing countries with the goal of crowd-sourcing literacy.  He secured grassroots funding for 7,000 libraries and 765 schools; the sweat equity of local communities to build those structures; and local talent in the form of volunteer writers, authors and artists to make his dream a reality for more than 3.1 million children in 9 countries to date.


In Elam’s words and world, the audience becomes an active participant in broadening and re-envisioning what it means to be an audience member (or one could argue, a consumer).  The simple act of carrying “the world in your pocket” in the form of smart phones, and via social media channels, creates more dynamic and immediate ways than ever to engage and participate in your experiences, and ultimately with brands directly.  Clearly, Comcast, Dell, Zappos, and countless businesses using Twitter for customer service and promotions in driving sales and satisfaction, would agree.  But it’s a novel and intriguing concept when applied to artistic performance.


This new hyper-connected mobile world we live in will amplify and extend audience and consumer engagement with the world, and fuel renewed brand experiences.  We might as well get used to it, embrace it even.  We are our own influentials.  Branding as a push concept that is inviolable, as it’s historically been, is dead.  The new branding is one of push and pull, engagement and dialogue, and increasingly participative and experiential in nature.


In walking out of the TEDxEast conference, I checked my email and found a message from a trusted Twitter friend who was crowd-sourcing blogposts for a particular charity to coincide with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  As a potential online donor, hoping to engage a community of online donors in the effort, I was happy to oblige.  And not at all surprised by the request.

By on September 21, 2009 in Uncategorized with 3 Comments »

Last week, I attended the first-ever “Swagapalooza,” which was billed as an “experiment in viral media” and allegedly featured the world’s most-followed bloggers, twitterers, and digital influencers, all gathered at a nightclub in Manhattan to review new companies showcasing their products and services.


As we know, swag bags (or “goodie” bags) are often superficial aspects of an industry conference, awards banquet, benefit, or other event.  At Swagapalooza, far from being an afterthought, they’re the Main Event.  Nobody in attendance was pretending this was anything more than a series of shameless, promotional plugs by entrepreneurs.  All documented in real-time in a meta, self-referential style by a live Twitter-feed broadcast on a monitor immediately to the right of presenters onstage.  The effect was an entertaining social media Gong Show of sorts.  Live tweets ranged from hysterical and often harsh commentary on speakers, products, and audience members… to annoyingly distracting asides — depending on your perspective.


PR’s come a long way, baby.  In the New PR, the free stuff is the new “pitch” or newshook.  The bloggers are the new journos.   But for emerging businesses presenting at the event, which included mSpot, Switch2Health, Surprise Industries, and Bruise Relief among others, it was an opportunity to introduce and market their products with the goal of creating a buzz online via social media channels.   It remains to be seen what the impact will be on their brands and bottom lines, but considering the virtually zero level of investment of all involved, it’s hard to see a downside.  Any return at all will be a bonus.  Can’t beat that, especially in the current economic environment.


The fresh-faced organizer of the more than 200 people selectively assembled for this Swagapalooza experiment was 24-year old Alex Krupp, who conceived the concept with advice from Seth Godin.   In keeping with the theme of the event, the keynote presenter was Peter Shankman, a PR entrepreneur who boasts experience with viral experiments of his own. Shankman’s latest endeavor applies an efficient crowd-sourcing type model to connecting reporters with sources for their articles.  For those unfamiliar, Help-A-Reporter-Out (@helpareporterout) enables anyone on an opt-in email distribution list to receive nearly a hundred queries daily from media seeking interview sources.  I confess to using the service to promote our clients, as well as securing visibility for our own business where we have a relevant voice to add to a story.


The event was nothing if not innovative.  An illustrator from Image Think, also a presenter, worked in real-time to capture a “graphic recording” to document the proceedings for posting online afterwards.  The result was a fascinating visual map summarizing presenters’ products and key messages.


Participants of the swag-meet seemed delighted with the outcome so far.  Voyage TV, a travel company giving away a free trip for a winning tweet of 140 characters or less detailing a dream vacation, tweeted “Home run at #Swagapalooza! Big news soon” before the crowd was barely out the door.


Undoubtedly, Swagapalooza will raise the ethical bar for bloggers who review consumer products.  The blogosphere has been buzzing for months with debates on the ethical implications of accepting corporate “sponsorships” of blog content.  Absolute transparency in disclosing when bloggers and other digital cognoscenti receive free products is a must for any subsequent or related commentary referencing said brands and products on blogs, tweets, or anywhere else.


One could view the event as a step closer to removing objectivity and credibility from the blogging community, who claim to evangelize the concept of authentic engagement with the public and consumers. Indeed, the temptation to blog for no better reason than landing more swag looms large.


Swagapalooza participants, however, took a leap of faith in coming at all, considering the concept was little more than getting bloggers to show up for free stuff.  For now, I’m willing to give this new form of event marketing the benefit of the doubt.   You could even say I’m looking forward to its next iteration.


Oh, and full disclosure: I took home no swag. At least, not this time around.

By on July 23, 2009 in Uncategorized with No Comments »

At this point, you’d have to be under a rock not to have heard the news.  Amazon bought Zappos for $807 million in Amazon stock, plus about $40 million in cash and restricted stock.


The real question, though, is why are we all so surprised?  Both companies are at the top of virtually anybody’s list in customer service, with a fiercely loyal base of repeat customers.  They’re both online retailers who emphasize value in offering the broadest selection of quality products.  They’re both innovative and dynamic businesses that value their employees and customers foremost, inevitably leading to value for their investors and shareholders. 


Oh, and when it comes to ease of site navigation, shipping (free at Zappos; free at Amazon for purchases $25 or above and free for members of Amazon Prime), return policies, and pretty much everything having to do with brand experience, they excel.  They arguably set the standard for anyone else, whether online or brick and mortar, and regularly raise the bar on themselves.


Besides making customer satisfaction a key purpose of any business transaction, both Amazon and Zappos demonstrate a keen appreciation for engagement of their customers.  Both retailers offer the opportunity for buyers to share their experiences with product purchases.  These days, most marketers realize that customer feedback mechanisms, including product reviews, are critical to a shopper whose purchase decision is heavily influenced by peers, friends, and the experience and recommendations of other buyers – whether good or bad.


To its credit, while Amazon acts as a virtual hub for independent merchants and small businesses to promote their wares online, even those businesses are subject to customers’ rating of their experience with products purchased and fulfilled outside of Amazon.  So in effect, Amazon protects and preserves its brand reputation and credibility as putting customers first, even when third-party sellers on its site disappoint buyers with a lame experience.


Not to be outdone, Zappos takes pride in delighting its customers, period.  Stories abound of customers receiving free – and unexpected – overnight delivery, leaving a glowing impression of the purchase experience, and ultimately the Zappos brand (full disclosure: it’s happened to me twice).  I spoke with a Zappos customer service specialist who was disarmingly pleasant and enthusiastic in her role, and who wisely advised me on the generous sizing of a particular shoe style I was ordering based on prior customers’ experience with this product.  She was dead right about the fit, and I’ve never forgotten the call.  I’ve retold the story hundreds of times.  Oh, and I ended up returning the shoes… which seems insignificant, and thus often forgotten.  Yet the part about overnight delivery and free return?  That part I remember.  It’s what brings me back again and again.


When it comes to customer engagement via social media channels, these two brands truly get it. Amazon has multiple Twitter feeds announcing everything from daily deals, free music downloads, special sales, coupons, to books and more (such as @amazonmp3, @kindlenews and @AmazonBookClub feeds, to @amazongames).  It even boasts an unofficial consumer feed promoting products on its behalf (@AmazonHotDeal).  How’s that for social media evangelizing? 


Similarly, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (@Zappos) is a popular Twitter user, and has managed to not only attract more than a million followers of his frequent, insightful, down-to-earth, and often funny tweets, but he’s made communication via Twitter and SM pervasive to Zappos’ culture among his staff (including the COO’s @zappos_alfred, @Zappos_Service, @Zappos_Pipeline, @zappos_helpdesk, @Zappos_Tweetup, and even @zappos_spouse and @ZapposFans).


The distinguishing quality about both Amazon and Zappos as brands is that the customer almost always wins.  So ultimately, what’s most surprising is that this partnership didn’t happen even sooner.  Or that it caught so many off-guard. Either way, something tells me this online retail hook-up is just the beginning of a wonderful union, for better, and for richer — for both brands, and their growing world of customers.

By on June 19, 2009 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments »

Having watched the unfolding of news and events following the election in Iran, Twitter has won my renewed respect.   Simply put, it brought truth to power.  In a more compelling and impactful way than its ever done before.  And clearly, in a way that no other channel or mouthpiece for factual information can match – in both its sheer volume as well as in its eyewitness accuracy of the often-gruesome details.   This is true whether considered from a historical perspective, or even in the real-time 24/7 news-cycle that we expect and demand of our media sources today.


Our international neighbors can no longer gain a propaganda advantage by seizing control of traditional media channels to influence or stifle information on activities and developments within their borders.  Not with the proliferation of computers and cellphones among the masses, even among those formerly most oppressed.  And especially given the ease with which we can broadcast anything and everything, whether text or images and video, from applications readily accessible and available via any desktop or mobile device.  Technology trumps ignorance, and in this case, repression and perhaps outright fraud.


Like many, I’ve questioned the true, measurable value of Twitter, from a marketing and business perspective at minimum.  Clearly, some companies are in fact managing to derive significant benefits from the messaging platform.  Dell’s recent announcement that Twitter users have spurred $2-3 million in sales for the computer manufacturer is a convincing case-in-point.  Small businesses have optimized heavily social media such as Twitter to attract new customers (see Naked Pizza).  For others, it’s a virtual customer service channel, or effective tool for monitoring buzz and consumer chatter on their brand or products.


But the Iranian election has vaulted Twitter’s utility as a real-time communications tool to unforeseen heights, and bestows true credibility for any remaining doubters.  Twitter’s myriad uses include its evolution into a subversive media channel for distributing or receiving critical information, and much like the growth of the World Wide Web from its infancy, through reliance on an army of grassroots citizenry who sustain and support its use and expansion.  A global grassroots communication infrastructure available virtually round-the-clock, at no cost to those who seek to gain or participate in the content exchanged among users.    Including for the U.S. government, whose Department of State relied on it as a primary source of intelligence on post-election developments in Iran.   And for traditional media outlets, like CNN, which a recent Daily Show segment parodied for its unfettered use of Twitter feeds to replace actual reporting and investigative content after the Iranian government’s crackdown on media.


Twitter continues to push the envelope in evolving the role of media in society.  In the beginning, its advantage was its immediacy of reporting news events, though the Mumbai bombing and Hudson River plane landing incidents are in the distant past – in Twitter time anyway. Back then, media and public detractors carped that 140 characters were insufficient to provide a meaningful, or sometimes even factual, account of these significant news events.  Despite the downsides, Twitter remains a powerful tool for communicating news instantly and from the ground.  Who would have thought that only months later, the public and media alike would depend on Twitter as the single functioning news source for this defining moment in international politics.


As noted by a panel of reporters and media during the well-attended “140 Characters” Twitter conference in NY this week, even the media concedes that the “Twitter effect” often improves their performance and their final product.   If nothing else, it succeeds in getting people to take notice and pay more attention to the world around them.


I daresay Twitter is starting to grow up.  And though it’s taken some getting used to for a skeptical Twitter user of a couple of years now, I’m feeling a bit like a proud parent.  Here’s hoping we’ll continue to see similarly inspiring uses of social media, whether for more effective marketing to new customers, or for plain ole’ communication sake.  Tweets have finally come of age.

By on May 13, 2009 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments »

I have a confession: I’m a frequent traveler.  By choice.  Even in these days of predictable flight delays; baggage handling snafus; charges for in-flight meals, snacks, and pillows even; and endless waits in long lines on the tarmac while flights takeoff or disembark passengers.


I make regular trips to the nation’s capital at least nine times a year.  That’s a round trip air ticket, plus rental car for each visit (I’ve travelled to Washington, DC, twice within the past three weeks).  I’m a pretty regular customer for anyone whose paying attention. 


Hertz is.  Every time I bid on Priceline for a rental car at the airport in Washington Dulles, I get a nearly instantaneous reply from Hertz accepting my offer, virtually regardless of the amount bid.  It’s turned me from an Enterprise-by-choice to a Hertz-by-choice customer. Not bad, considering how often I rent cars, including during holidays when they charge a premium. 


I noted recently that Hertz’s Connect service offers hourly rentals in NY with rates as low as $8.50/hour, ala Zipcar and other competitors.  Smart move, considering more and more consumers are reducing their carbon footprint through less reliance on cars, among other promising energy trends.  For this, I applaud Hertz.  Some brands get it.  When the marketplace changes, and it always does, it’s critical to remain relevant and customer-focused.  Innovation is essential, especially these days.


Which is what makes me particularly baffled by the recent experience I had with Delta.  Besides DC, I book at least another 5-6 trips annually; double that if you count travel by car.  Recently, I bought round-trip air tickets on the Delta.com Website for the upcoming July 4th weekend.  Only three days later, the fare was reduced by $100 total. On Orbitz and countless travel sites, for some time now, they guarantee your purchase at the lowest rate. They want to ensure you’re a satisfied customer; and they definitely want to provide a compelling reason for you to return and use their site again the next time you’re booking travel.  It’s a pretty simple formula for creating brand loyalty.  What part of it does Delta not understand?


One might expect, as a customer, that you’d receive better treatment and select benefits by booking directly via a company’s Website over an aggregator site intended to sort and compare competing travel offers and rates by emphasizing lowest fees.  It’s a market opportunity for airline brands to differentiate themselves and offer consumers advantages for choosing their brand over other options.  Jet Blue gets it.  They actually charge a $15 fee for booking on a site other than theirs.  They also charge nothing to have an existing ticket re-issued at a lower available fare.


And like Hertz, Jet Blue is an innovator.  Their Jet Blue Promise Program is a policy that refunds flights or vacation packages in full to anyone whose been laid off recently since making travel plans.  How’s that for counteracting the “uncertain” for those unfortunate enough to experience difficulty during these uncertain times.  You can call it recession marketing, as some have.  Or, I prefer to attribute it to Jet Blue’s exceptional customer focus, which has always been core to its brand experience.


Despite the economic downturn, I’m planning to keep up my aggressive travel and flight schedule. I figure I’m a catch, and a keeper, by anyone’s standards for customers these days.  I think I’ll pass on Delta from now on.  Jet Blue…or anyone else, are you listening?

By on March 12, 2009 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments »

Yesterday I was enthralled, as most of my geek brethren were, by the subtle announcement of the new iPod shuffle by Apple. At first, when I was watching the demo on the Apple site, I thought it was a joke. It’s ridiculously small. Like stick of Trident gum small. And I thought when I bought the very first shuffle, and it was the size of a PACK of gum, that it was astoundingly small. And even though I only used my shuffle 1.0 for a short while (I convinced myself that my first and second gen iPods were just too darn bulky to wear on my albeit short subway rides to the office), I abandoned her when her tiny offspring was born, the shuffle 2.0. The shuffle 2.0 was cute as a button when she emerged from the womb in Cupertino. You could go to any Apple Store and see crowds of men, women and children all cooing over her like new parents in a maternity ward with their faces pressed against the glass.

And she had a clip. A clip! No more lanyard that I never used. Okay, I used it a couple of times, but even that was a bit too dorky, for even me. This baby clipped right on to what you were wearing. And it came in colors. Colors! And I had to have one.  I was convinced that it would make my life oh-so-unincumbered at the gym. Plus I was fed up of strapping my iPhone 1.0 to my arm band and having it slide down while running on the treadmill all the while sweat pooling up against he neoprene case. And let’s face it, everyone had stopped staring at my iPhone once more and more people started buying them. I had to have a shuffle 2.0. And as if to sweeten the deal, they had a product (RED) one. Now I HAD to have one. And so I did. And it did change my gym life—for those times when I actually went. And now it sits on my desk staring back at me just bursting with music, begging to be played. (I swear I’m going to start back at the gym any day now).

apple_shuffle_ad_2

And I think that if I just had this NEW shuffle I would DEFINITELY start back at the gym. Because this one talks to you. Talks! Even if you have to go through a ridiculous pantomime of clicks and holds of the half-Chicklet-sized set of buttons on the ear buds. It’s like learning morse code. And then, this beautiful voice from 1985 says the name of your song. But wait, if you hold it down longer, it will tell you your playlist. All the while leaving you guessing if it was actually speaking English. Hell, it’s worth buying it to just hear it try to pronounce the names of your artists. I’d buy it just to hear it say “Hoobestank.” And I’m sure you’d see me flying off the back of the treadmill as I tried to remember if it’s seven clicks and then two long holds or four clicks, a short hold, and then three more longish clicks before it would tell me which song I was thinking about buying when I got home.

And like ALL Apple products, if it didn’t hook me instantly, by the time I woke up the next morning I would know I had to have it. And why is that? I’ll give you two words: Brand Allegiance. And where Apple is concerned, everyone else can just move the hell out of the way, because nobody has brand allegiance like Apple. It’s an allegiance so strong that one feels compelled to buy not only the products that you “need” but even those that you don’t!

Apple symbolizes all things cool and definitely all things visionary. And it appeals to ALL age groups, from a child getting her first shuffle to my father’s 87-year-old Godfather who bought the newest iMac and carries it in, CARRIES IT IN, to the Apple store weekly for One-on-One lessons with a genius. Now that’s genius.

 

Apple Newton MessagePad 110

Apple Newton MessagePad 110

Apple is synonymous with innovation. And innovation is being able to tell people what they need before they realize they need it. It’s not about keeping up with trends or technology, it’s about blazing the trails of tech and setting the trends that keep your competition chasing after you with their “me too!” products. Take the Newton for example. “Newton?” you say? Yes, Newton: Apple’s Cro-Magnon PDA (weighing in at about a pound without the batteries). It seems silly now but that technology is what spawned the Palm Pilot and Palm OS and the boom of PDA technology. And talk about trends, remember when the iMac came out in five delicious colors and then everyone’s products, electronic or not, were coming out in translucent grape, lime, or orange? It’s not that long ago. Heck, I think I still have a bondi blue USB floppy drive somewhere in my apartment.

And still, Apple can do no wrong in the minds of its more zealous followers. I’ll give you an example of one such follower…my G5 tower passed away recently and it was like a death in the family. And she died a horrible death. She actually bled. That’s right, bled. When I took her to the Apple ER, there was actually day-glo green “blood” dripping out the back. Engine coolant. You see, the G5 chips ran so fast and so hot that Apple introduced a liquid cooling system, much like a car’s, to lower the temperature inside. And all the while I’m reeling from the shock of this horrific, tragic death, I’m thinking “How FREAKIN’ COOL is it that my computer had a freakin’ liquid cooling system inside?!?!!” It’s just so…Apple. Form plus function. They didn’t have to use an LCS (liquid cooling system as EVERYONE in the know calls it) 😉 They could have easily used several large fans that would have kept the costs down and the noise up. But that’s not Apple. That’s not smart. That’s not visionary.

So if anyone wants to come over and see my new shuffle 3.0, just wait a couple weeks for me to stop going to the gym again and you’ll find it on my desk cuddled with my red shuffle 2.0 keeping her company.

 

By on March 11, 2009 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments »

If you hadn’t heard, Barbie had a birthday. Yup, in March the plastic hottie celebrated her big 5-0.

To celebrate, Mattel – Our Toys – Barbie promoted the heck out of its idollic (sic) Ms. B, grabbing nearly as much media attention as the First Lady’s bare arms, the $40,000 Jennifer Aniston haircut and the Cathay Pacific tantrum lady combined. 

And while Mattel’s hot, flashy babe celebrate, this hot-flashing Baby Boomer wonders how, if not why, Barbie always seems to transcend the decades.  After all, the anorexic-looking model has become a fashion don’t, the bejeweled beauty crown has somewhat tarnished, and recently a West Virginia state lawmaker has introduced legislation to ban the sale of Barbie and similar dolls who he finds promote physical beauty to the detriment of girls’ intellectual and emotional development. But through all this, the ubiquitous “pink one” continues to endure the winds of change.  

Admittedly Barbie’s sense and sensibility perplexes me. She came out of the Sixties Feminist Movement practically unscathed.  She later entered the world of business with her own successful beauty salon. Like such notable fashionistas as Donna Karan/DKNY, Kimora Lee Simmons  and Daisy Fuentes who have taken large space at Macy’s, JC Penney, and Kohl’s, Barbie has earned her rightful place at FAO Schwartz.  She not only has been able to ascend the glass ceiling, she earns well more than the average woman’s salary of 80 cents on the dollar,

The question is: How has Barbie continued to mirror the images in advertising, film, and MTV, from early days of Mad Men to Madison Avenue? The answer: Mattel has continued to play its Barbie brand card well.

Barbie’s 50th party celebration is just another example of her parent company’s integrated strategic/creative success.  First it rounded up all the usual rich and famous subjects, including Karl Largerfeld who custom-dressed Barbie for display in the windows of Paris’s trendy Colette boutique.  And a “Barbie room” was being installed on the first floor to present Jeremy Scott’s new collection of Barbie clothing.   

Next there came Fashion Week, where Barbie seemed to dominate the runways, with a variety of designers dressing their models as the female wonder.  Even Tarina Tarantino debuted a Barbie Doll collection. 

The Wall Street Journal published a piece on Mattel’s New Shanghai Barbie Store, a six-story emporium complete with a spa, a cosmetics counter, a cocktail bar and offerings from chi-chi designers Vera Wang, Patricia Field, and Judith Lieber.  Barbie’s sleeveless ivory wedding dress from Ms. Wang costs $15,000. 

I read in The Motor Report about the deal between Fiate Centro Stile and Mattel, who joined forces to offer a special Fiat 500 dedicated to the “pink one,” formerly known for her Ferrari.

Even the hospitality industry jumped on the Barbie “brandwagon”. According to Hotelchatter.com , the Milwaukee Iron Horse Hotel was throwing a Barbie birthday bash, inviting guests to bring a Barbie to its Branded bar, entitling them to drink specials and their very own pink boa.  And if you’re headed to the UK for more celebrating, the May Fair London’s pink Schiaparelli Suite is ready for your arrival.   

And seemingly unfettered by the mortgage industry climate, Mattel moved Barbie into the fire and flood zones of sunny Malibu, building an expensive 3,500 sq. ft. manse overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  I hope Mattel provides her plenty of insurance.  According to a report in Associated Press,  Barbie’s real-life Malibu Dream House designed by Jonathan Adler  boasts wall-to-wall pink flooring that would make even pop singer Pink blush, a closet full of pink peep-toe heels that Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods would feel comfortable in, and a pink Volkswagen New Beetle with motorized pop-up vanity in the trunk that a Mary Kay saleswoman would die for.  An Andy Warhol portrait of Barbie valued at over $200,000 hangs on the wall. 

Following the festivities, the majority of Barbie’s custom decor will be shipped to the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, to furnish a special pink-tinted Barbie Suite soon available for bachelorette parties, birthdays or anyone who wanted to live the Barbie dream. Other items will be available from the “Jonathan Adler Loves Barbie” collection would launch in September.  

As always, Mattel remains zealous in its attempts to protect Barbie’s image over the years, launching a series of perceived copyright violation and defamation lawsuits, including the Danish group Aqua, whose hit song ‘Barbie Girl” had lyrics, like “Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky.”  Mattel lost.

This all being said, we all know that if Barbie were a REAL woman, her physical proportions would have her toppling over the runway. I imagine if Tim Gunn were consulted, he would tell Barbie to dress less like a 21-year old and more like the graceful, aging woman she has become.  And while skimpy tight fashions may work for the Real Housewives Orange County, bet your bottom dollar that even Rachel Zoe would prefer to see Barbie appear like Elizabeth Hurley rather than Elizabeth Berkeley in Showgirls on the red carpet. 

I even hear Barbie may be getting a tattoo soon. Who knows where?  Maybe Ken.

By on March 4, 2009 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments »

I have been listening and reading with bewildered awe the vehement anger that consumers have felt over Tropicana’s re-branding, which they debuted earlier this year. And while any discussion about Tropicana is so two weeks ago, the whole discussion has had me thinking about something all together different: Comfort Brands.

In an economic climate where fear and stress are running high and people are going back to basics in spending and consumption, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps, as marketers, we are learning a big lesson in the idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”  

I discovered an interesting post by Ernie Schenck about his idea of Creative No-Fly Zones. In this response to another blog entry about how creativity is changing, he discusses the notion that the United States is in a cultural downslide and how advertising is perhaps the biggest culprit and vehicle for the breakdown of our culture. Ernie is speaking more specifically about how, in advertising and marketing campaigns, we are trying to push buttons and gain traction by delivering bad creative that is smarmy and cheap and, while quite possibly funny at times, denigrates and erodes our culture and society.

And while I agree with his notion of Creative No Fly Zones in terms of elevating the level of work we do without resorting to cheap and gimmicky ideas, I also wonder if we need to perhaps review product categories and Comfort Brands from the sense that perhaps there too we need to establish some Creative No-Fly Zones.

I was sitting in a kick-off meeting with a client last week where we were discussing their rebranding and re-launch for 2009. As we began to brainstorm and discuss the implications of a rebrand, the whole Tropicana packaging debacle came up. I stood there stymied by what I was seeing and hearing: outrage and passion and frustration all mixed together and pouring out of 6 very well-mannered, professional people. Over orange juice packaging?

As Marty Neumeier talks about in The Brand Gap, a brand or product is not what we (the marketers, product managers, and advertisers) say it is, it is what the consumers say it is. So whether you call us all alpha consumers, brand loyalists, or product evangelists, we all have brands that we are immediately drawn to for various reasons.

Which brings me back to the notion of Comfort Brands. Clearly the Tropicana packaging held more brand equity than the product managers at PepsiCo. or the folks at The Arnell Group had tested. Is it just a sign of the times that consumers, feeling the chaos and the sea of change all around them, don’t want to see iconic brands change right now? If PepsiCo. had launched this packaging in 2007 or 2010 would the reaction have been entirely different? What if we changed the packaging for Cheerios? Pillsbury Flour? Crisco? Would people have noticed the shift?

In order to stay relevant in this ever-changing world we have begun the process of re-invention with everything we can. Are consumers coming to a place where they are tired of change so much that they are going to start dictating what marketers can and cannot manipulate for bigger market share and returns?

If a product is not what we say it is, its what the consumer says it is, are we going to begin to see and feel the pressure and opinions of consumers dictate how and what we market? Have we permeated too far into the consumer’s comfort zones? Are consumers beginning to develop Creative No-Fly Zones for us with those brands that they have (or possibly will) deem to be Comfort Brands?

By on March 4, 2009 in Uncategorized with 14 Comments »

I recently engaged in a lengthy Twitter dialogue (as lengthy as that gets) with Robert French, @rdfrench , an insightful teacher of public relations at Auburn University.  Our topic?  The biggest changes occurring in PR during the past ten years.

His question got me thinking.  We read every day about another newspaper or magazine calling it quits, as traditional publishing struggles to create a sustainable business model in this brave new world of social media.  Print and broadcast media have been segmented, de-fragmented, and literally co-opted by new media tools, technologies, and platforms.  Readers and viewers do everything from create and interact with content via blogs, YouTube, vlogs, Flickr, Twitter, Digg, et al, to control where and how they view content both online or off, via Tivo, Hulu, and the rest.  You literally can’t keep up, no matter how fast you’re tweetin.’

My take? PR hasn’t changed nearly enough in the past decade.  PR should be leading its own industry evolution to adapt to the wild, wild west of social media.  Are we doing enough?  The old rules no longer apply.

As an old-school PR vet, I began my career building contact databases consisting of thousands of reporters, editors, and producers… clearly, the ground has shifted under our feet.  The shift happened subtly, yet with profound implications for the PR business.  Does it still make sense to use news releases as a core tool of outreach?  If real-time, personal communication blasted out 24/7 in the form of mobile data is now the norm, should we still focus our resources and priorities on how media used to function in producing news content for our society?  

Today’s social media environment demands collaboration and engagement with your audiences.  Often directly, no media required.  There are great examples of pioneering new efforts to inform and mobilize the grassroots via social media.  Witness the Obama campaign.  Ditto for boutique PR agencies forging new paths, whether harnessing social media for clients (@TDefren at SHIFT Communications, @briansolis at FutureWorks) or achieving remarkable success as “virtual” operations  (@missusP at PerkettPR).  This ain’t your grandfather’s PR, kids.

As the latest imbroglio over Skittles’ home-page-cum-Twitter-newsfeed experiment attests, one can always get attention.  In the old world, all publicity was good publicity.  By that measure, Skittles’ execution was brilliant.  By today’s standards… it’s a lot less clear.  PR practitioners need to cede control.  Accept that “engaging” may be the new PR, as much or more so than educating and influencing.  How about focusing on helping clients create and produce original content, whether blogs or otherwise? Craft stories designed for them to interact directly with their customers via social media.  Help them identify whom to target in social media conversations, how, where, when and why.  In short, facilitate and enable conversations. Then get out of the way.

Would love to see some of the behemoths in the PR industry (you know who you are) take a leadership role in re-defining PR for this new era of communication and marketing.  Not by attaching a “new/social media” arm or other reactionary move, but by reconstructing the business with social media integrated at its core.  We’ve made progress, but still have a long way to go.    Who knows, maybe we’ll even improve and evolve our own image as a profession in the process. 

What are your ideas for the new PR?

By on March 3, 2009 in Uncategorized with 3 Comments »

visa_black_2aSo today I came across a banner ad on buy.com that was introducing “The Black Card” by Visa. “The world’s most prestigious and versatile credit card” boasts a limited membership, 24-hour concierge service (whatever that means), an exclusive rewards program, luxury gifts and, wait for it, a Patent Pending Carbon Card…all for the low annual fee of $495. $495? Seriously?


Is it just me or is this the absolute worst time to launch a card like this? This is Visa’s contender to Platinum Card® from American Express as they carry about the same features, benefits and price tag. Visa would typically have called this a “Platinum” card if they hadn’t totally devalued the word by saturating the market with it on every card they offer, which is what they did to the word “gold” years before that.


Although the “experience” is like the AMEX Platinum Card, what Visa is alluding to is the elusive American Express Centurion Card aka the Black Card–a card so special that they don’t even advertise it. In fact, there’s no mention of it at all on americanexpress.com. It’s the Sasquatch of credit cards; the Loch Ness of luxury. Many have only heard rumors of such a card and only a few actually claim to have touched one (no doubt while working at a swanky boutique somewhere in New York’s meatpacking district). Those rumored few who hold the American Express Black Card use it to buy islands or Learjets not groceries at Sam’s Club or tires at Costco. And with a $5000 initiation fee and a $2500 annual renewal, you can see why. All of that aside, it’s the mystery that makes the American Express Centurion card so desirable. The fact that they don’t have to advertise at all, or even acknowledge its existence, is marketing genius. And the result: scores and scores of people applying for an AMEX Platinum card and spending their little hearts (and wallets) out in hopes that someday, they’ll get that exclusive invitation. That’s creating desire. And to this, Visa appears to be, well, colorblind.


Marketing aside, you have to ask yourself this: Do we really need cards like these in today’s economy? I don’t think so. I think what we need are cards that don’t keep hiking up interest rates for those in trouble. I think we need cards that offer you cash back when you pay your card in full every month – now that’s a reward. I think we need more cards that give a percentage of your purchases to charities. I think we need cards that identify those with spending problems and rather than keep increasing their credit limits, they offer them a low-interest rate to pay them down while also lowering their credit limit until it gets to something they can manage. Or cards that identify those same people and offer to close their accounts while transferring their balance to a low interest, or even no interest, loan to pay it off without screwing up their credit report. We need cards that help you out not help you get into trouble and prey on you when you do. If you really must have a card with color, go to the UK and get an American Express RED card, part of the (PRODUCT)RED campaign. That’s a color worth having.


We’re living in a world where thousands of people are being laid off from work every day and even more are going hungry or homeless. And yet the Visa Black Card offers this tagline: The World Awaits. Clearly we’re not living in the same world.

By on February 20, 2009 in Uncategorized with No Comments »

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

A recent study from Forrester Research confirms what most would presume to be true:  a business’s customer experience is often closely linked with its brand loyalty.

Customer experience was evaluated based on usefulness, ease of use, and enjoyability.   Not surprisingly, customer experience strongly correlated (in most cases) with buying more products or services from the company, a likelihood of recommending the company to others, and the reluctance to switch to competitors. 

Apple, Amazon, Canon, The Wynn Hotel.  These are just a few of the brands that consistently deliver delightful customer experiences for me.   They all had me at “hello.”   For some, I’ll pay a higher price without question and without any consideration of alternatives.  For others, they’re my first and often only resource for online purchases.  For still others, I rarely fail to respond or commit to whatever promotional offer they send my way.

It seems so obvious, but too often we forget that the main reason for being in business is for your customers.  If you’re not prioritizing them, improving your services and products for them, and engaging them in your continued development and refinement of such… someone else will.

More importantly, as nearly every product or service is commoditized over time — particularly in this economy, it’s a customer’s experience with your brand that can often be your most significant differentiator.  It can either make or break your relationship with customers.  And it can be the game-changer for your entire sector (i.e., see “coffee”).

What have you done to delight your customers lately?