Agency CEOs Are Chief People Officers

I recently had lunch with an agency CEO. It was revealing because the content was raw and real. In short, he lamented the lack of hours in the day to deal with everything on his plate. There was little I could recommend short of cloning and ruthless prioritization.

If you are an agency CEO or if you marvel at the responsibility they take on, then you know that it is overwhelming. CEOs have to be a master of the balance sheet, superior in business development, aware of technological developments, substantive in interaction with clients, Biz Mensavvy in the press, excellent public speakers, tireless in the pursuit of growth and profit, and role models for the agency’s brand.
And all of this depends on people. Any variable in performance is due to the collective talent of the agency. What this proves is that the CEO is as much the Chief People Officer as anything. Every industry and business can claim, “Ours is a people business” or “Talent is our greatest asset” and that would be fair, but it is especially accurate and evidenced in the agency world. The loss of a key person can sink an entire office. The right person leading the right team can propel an entire agency to dazzling new heights.

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Stop Writing to Write Better

There are two terms writers detest. The first is, “writer’s block”. The second is. “The bar is closing.” In all seriousness, getting stuck is frustrating. Writing is a complex act. It is self-expression. Writing shares ideas and stories. Everyone has those in the head and heart. We may understand them but putting them down on paper so others do is an awesome challenge.

I believe in the power of persistence but when you get stuck, forcing writing does not always work. Determination is admirable but it often produces an inferior result. When this happens and it can imagehappen with alarming frequency, you have to step away.

Go for a hike, pick up an adult coloring book, wear out a treadmill – anything that will quiet your mind. If you stop focusing on the block often the solution will present itself. One perceived step backwards can take you two real steps forward.

Even if this does not produce an amazing epiphany that miraculously breaks the mental logjam, you will find a few threads that can be pulled. Those will invariably lead you in the right direction. The point is to walk away. You have to stop writing to write better. There are a few reasons why.

Breathe

It can be a blog, novel, annual report or poem. We pour ourselves into the words and ideas. The sentiment and emotion is draining. Just a few sentences in we have lost all objectivity. It is analogous to having a heated argument with a loved one. They have their point-of-view and we have ours. There is a natural give and take but we are not going to budge on the core bits. You have to take some time, breathe, and see it from the other side.

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What Marketers Need to Know for 2016

In two weeks time I will be a keynote speaker at an event titled, Foresight 2020: Setting the Marketing Agenda of Tomorrow. All content is focused on the marketing landscape in 2020. Looking out five years is a tough exercise when it is difficult even to predict one’s next quarter performance. Strategic planning and forecasting are based on process and science but any positive predictions seem more like magic these days.

In preparation for the event, I did some good old Google research. Once I had glanced over the reams of unsubstantiated ideas of where our world is going, I was left with a handful of credible pieces of work. Credible means they came from a reputable source, employed solid research, andAAEAAQAAAAAAAAYLAAAAJDI0OTIzZDk1LTQ4ZjItNDgyMy05OTBkLWQ1NDhiYTBmODRkMA arrived at substantiated insights. In all of this, I was struck by a trends and insights report from The Ford Motor Company (Ford-Trends-2016).

The PR folks at Ford boiled down the report to this pithy summary, “Ford’s new 2016 trend report reveal a renewed sense of inspiration and ingenuity among consumers striving for a better quality of life in the New Year, motivated more than ever to make the world a better place.” Lofty stuff and a bit hard to interpret until you get into the meat of the matter.

The report speaks of an “underlying sense of disillusionment” among consumers. However, these down and out people will be “more inspired to defy the odds and use innovation to embrace new platforms for change”. In reading the report, I was surprised by the ambitious response it suggests will take place. Ford believes there is a coming combination of “technology, sustainability and collaboration” that will “help create solutions to improve how consumers live, noticia9881hwork and even travel in the future”. Of course, we have to note that Ford has its own agenda and it does not take a marketing degree to see that this preamble serves its purposes rather well.

Still, this underlying sense of budding optimism is worth noting as is the upending of traditional ways of thinking. The report notes that, innovation and technology will continue to rapidly transform culture and consumer behaviour. What follows below are the chief findings with my commentary on what it means to marketing.

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Why Most Brand Launches Fail

This piece originally appeared in Brand Quarterly.

In the old days of branding, and I am talking of just ten to fifteen years ago, there began a very predictable playbook for launching a corporate brand or rebrand. It borrowed a great deal from traditional public relations. It called for some combination of a press release, an unveiling of a new logo at a largish and often garish event, a fresh website, and a mousepad for each employee. Not much has changed in the interim except the mousepads have been replaced with coffee mugs or USBs.

Make no mistake, a brand or a rebrand is a deep, invasive and jarring intervention in the life of a business Needless to say, this is all very vacuous, fleeting, often expensive, and delivers limited real results. Make no mistake, a brand or a rebrand is a deep, invasive and jarring intervention inWhy-Most-Brand-Launches-Fail-Q1-1 the life of a business. If a company discovers it needs branding, I equate that to a serious call for help. Yet, most continue to launch brands in the most predictable and pedantic ways. It is analogous to conducting complicated surgery and then immediately throwing the patient onto the street. Here are the reasons why the approach is wrong:

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Marketing’s New Myopia

The marketing and advertising world is full of lore. These stories often take on a life on their own and grow with each telling. Many revolve around famous campaigns. DDB’s 1960’s ad, “Daisy”, has been given credit for helping Lyndon B. Johnson defeat Barry Goldwater. It also landed Maxwell Dane, a partner in the agency, on Richard Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List”. This political ad, like the “I Love New York” cam paign have many claiming outright authorship or at least participation i-love-ny-t-shirt-whiteon the team.

New York’s iconic tag line is often attributed to Milton Glaser who is said to have creatively borrowed and built upon the idea from a Montreal radio station. It turns out that CJAD Montreal’s campaign titled “Montreal, the city with a heart” was of great influence and represented the creative spark. Mary Wells of Wells Rich Greene also lays claim in her book to this forty year old, highly successful bit of place branding.

Absolut Vodka made a fairly indistinct bottle one of the most recognizable in the world. The original campaign, which featured print ads showing bottles “in the wild,” was so successful that they continuted for 25 years. It is the longest uninterrupted ad campaign in history and comprises over 1,500 separate ads. When the campaign started, Absolut absolut-vodka-absolut-peak-1207had 2.5% of the vodka market. When it officially ended in the late 2000s, Absolut supplied half of all imported vodka in America.

A few years back while working at Interbrand I heard a grand story about Peter Arnell of the Arnell Group. Both businesses were part of Omnicom. Peter was a noted character and larger than life. In fact, he was quite large in stature and took it upon himself later to lose a significant amount of weight. He was also known to be an exceedingly tough boss but most agree he possesses a brilliance for positioning products and services.

This particular story involved a prospective pet food client who was bemoaning the lack of growth in their industry. They presented Peter with undeniable evidence that pet food was a stagnant market. They could at best hope to steal a couple of points from aggressive competitors. Peter’s eyes may have glazed over looking at the pie charts and bar graphs. At this point, he is said to have made a dramatic pronouncement along the lines of, “I know how to double your market and revenue.” Read more

Warby Parker: The Brand and the Business

This originally appeared in Sparksheet.

Jeff Swystun looks at how Warby Parker is disrupting the eyewear industry by blending online and in-store commerce, even while the company struggles to profit.

Brands can become verb-worthy. In my father’s day it was the Cadillac, a car synonymous with luxury and status. If you had a Caddy you’d arrived.

Today, brand-verbs have taken on extended meaning. Start-ups and businesses seek to emulate certain brands: companies aim start the UBERization of their industry. We also hear that whole industries are being “Warby Parkered.” This is funny given Warby Parker was once called “the Warby-Parker-Eyewear-LogoNetflix of Eyewear” in GQ.

The affordable, hipster-chic eyewear company has risen fast but is yet to make much money. In an April 30th article in The Wall Street Journal, Warby Parker admitted it was not profitable. Dave Gilboa, co-founder and co-chief executive, did not share revenue performance but claimed annual sales were picking up.

The Category

Warby Parker founders set their sights on an industry with bloated costs and one dominated by just a few sleepy players. The business model cut out the middleman to work directly with manufacturing. The designer eyewear was then sold online to cut retail costs.

All of this was wrapped in a strong brand predicated on being hip and fresh that delivered superior quality and customer service. Warby Parker felt that by greatly improving the buying experience they would make traditional competitors irrelevant. This approach has rocked the complacent category.

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The Value of a Ski Lift Ticket

Ski areas and resorts claim a broad range of differentiators. Competition in the industry is fierce and leisure dollars more elusive so it requires creativity and innovation to fill chairlifts. Most ski resort executives will tell you it is all about snow,as_ski_ticketprices576 snow and hopefully, more snow. This assessment is not inaccurate but it is the equivalent of saying everything in real estate concerns location. Much, much more goes into ski resort marketing.

A visit to any ski area website will reveal effusive superlatives detailing the variety of terrain; the speed, comfort, and number of lifts; competing boasts of groomed corduroy and natural bumps; a plethora of ski school programs; après fun; and children’s activities. This gets more complicated as ski areas can either cater to day-trippers or be longer stay vacation destinations. The latter emphasizes accommodations and related infrastructure to get heads-in-beds and skis-on-slopes. Read more

The Ideal Brand Professional

Years ago I consulted to an extremely successful specialty printer. I was engaged to assist in international expansion. In a lighter moment, over some libations, the CEO shared a personal observation and irritation. “Why does everyone want to go into marketing?” he brusquely asked. Before I could answer he continued on stating there were great careers to be had in production, distribution and new product development.

My response was marketing appears to many as ‘sexy’. It has the reputation as the fun aspect of business. It encompasses advertising with its alluring mystique and Don Draper cool factor. Marketing gets the high profile assignments. At least this is what people tend to think and it is what I subscribed to for a time.

I soon learned that marketing has very unsexy aspects. I personally loathe tradeshows. They do not get you much but you get punished if you do not show up. I Architects Working on a Projectcontinue to question the value of traditional public relations. Who reads press releases except other P.R. professionals and old school media? Maintaining databases seems very uncool but it is critical. Writing and defending copy is a daily event. The company holiday card takes six months to complete and is completely frustrating. Not all marketing is sexy, at least at face value.

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What’s the Story?

Telling Tales: Using Narrative Psychology in Branding

Let me tell you a story. It’s a bit about our past. A bit about our future but more importantly, it concerns what is happening right now. It is also a story that nears 2,500 words because our complex world cannot be dumbed downed, reduced to a vague tagline, summed in a 140 character tweet, or captured in an oversimplified to-do list. True learning and understanding requires time and effort so heat the kettle or uncork a bottle and enjoy. Lastly, it was a dark and stormy night…

With that compelling lead-in, we hope you will read our entire paper on the evolution of storytelling in branding and marketing. Get it here SC_Storytelling.

Story

Ad Agencies Make Their Own Products

I recall the 1999 attention-getting idea by Vancouver agency Rethink. The three leaders of the agency had just left Palmer Jarvis DDB to go out on their own. In order to create buzz for their startup they branded and distributed Rethink Beer. The product helped put Rethink on the map and remained on shelves until 2003.

This is one example in a longstanding series of agency experiments with product development. A new book by Leif Abraham, with an amazingly long title, suggests how Madison Avenue needs to change. His effort is called, Madison Valley: Building Digital Products. Getting the Most out of Talent. And How Madison Avenue Can Be More like Silicon Valley, which is a fine preview of the book’s content. The overriding premise is creative businesses should not restrict themselves to communications but should leverage their talents for real product innovation.

Having worked at, and for, a number of agencies, I know these businesses would love to reap the profits of an iPod or Nike FuelBand as additional revenue or to stave off the long anticipated lower margins resulting from an old business model. Yet, Abraham points out the reality, “Every agency wants to build a lab and make products. Every award show adds product innovation categories. But we haven’t yet seen a successful product coming out of an ad agency. My book gives an analysis on how product innovation is treated in agencies today, what needs to change and why it’s about more than just the product.”

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