Enlightened Market Communications.
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 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 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 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).


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 , 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 3, 2009 in Uncategorized with 3 Comments »

visa_black_2aSo today I came across a banner ad on 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 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?