100 Staff: An Advertising Agency Tipping Point

Starting any business is a bold move. Not all survive and few truly thrive. Those that do face the challenges of managing growth and staying true to what made them successful in the first place. This is an interesting tension that I recently discovered in working with four advertising agencies.

These businesses had grown to 100 or more staff. Of course, that metric in, and of itself, is not an indicator of sustained success. The good news is the agency leaders know that. In fact, these leaders were concerned because interesting things happen when the payroll hits 100. Here are some issues that arise:

  • Agencies of 15 or 30 or even 75 employees possess a start-up or boutique feel. When you hit 100 this weirdly begins to dissipate.
  • You don’t know everyone any more. Small agencies talk of being saatchi-saatchi-office-funkt-1“family” where everyone has each other’s back. While a strong culture can keep this rolling as staff size grows, it cannot mitigate the realities of being larger. This is compounded when they open up other offices.
  • A bigger payroll and presence prompts new business pressures. This can mean chasing the wrong work to keep the machine humming.
  • Founders and principals move from client service oversight to functional roles. Marketing, people, service and product development and other areas need full-time leadership. This transition can be bumpy and skill-sets are stretched.
  • Specialisms and differentiators begin to lose their luster. You simply cannot make the same claims. Being “nimble”, as an example, gets called in to question.

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“Hang in There, Baby!”: The Tao of Motivational Posters

Do you remember the company Successories? It was responsible for the cheesy posters that hung in offices all across North America. Successories was founded in 1985, by Mac Anderson who, as a hobby collected quotations and motivational writings. Mac took these quotes and added them to a vaguely relevant stock photo. Close your eyes and picture a soaring eagle (setting goals), synchronized rowing crew (teamwork), sharpened pencil (ideas) or mountain climber (perseverance).

These were incredibly popular and at one point the company had stores in malls selling all manner of imagemotivation and inspiration accessories. I saw a lineup to get into one in a Galleria in Dallas. It did not take long for wags to mock the format. This gave way to a wave of de-motivational posters that brought people back down to earth. In some cases the mockery was so well done that it was difficult to tell the two camps apart. This proves that imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but parody is envy of the original idea.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but parody is envy of the original idea.

If you spend two minutes on the Internet or thirty seconds on any social media, you will see Mac’s original idea is alive and well. Instagram and Tumblr is replete with motivational quotes and writings artfully arrayed on various backdrops. Hundreds, if not, thousands of blogs are dedicated to these positive provocations. People the world over on Facebook share these encouragements in hopes of connecting with like-minded souls or, by doing, give themselves a little lift. Twitter’s 140 characters pump out imagethousands of pithy expressions every minute that encourage and cajole.

The original intent of motivational posters was to make people achieve more, or to think differently about the things that they may be learning or doing. It was about challenging beliefs and looking at the world in a fresh way. CBS News concluded that modern motivational posters “are geared more toward things that need to be done than things that are good to believe”. In other words, motivation has become a task or bucket list of things to do or buy versus a perpetual state of being.

Motivation has become a bucket list of things to do or buy.

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The Psychology and Business of Buffets

I remember in my youth in the 1970’s and 1980’s when the competing Ponderosa and Bonanza restaurants first offered salad bars. These were innovative buffets of the time. They had the now recognizable sneeze guards and offered a semi-healthy splash of food even if it was just iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing.

That was probably to distract us from the wafer-thin tough steaks and watery sour cream clotted baked potatoes that were those chains’ signature meals. I always wondered why two competing restaurants mined an old television show for both their names.

Over 20 years ago, I visited The Royal Fork in my hometown of Winnipeg. It was the first full-time, all-the-time buffet restaurant in town. It was if I had become Henry VIII or Caligula. I could fill my plate(s) with a mix of fried chicken, mounds of meatballs and mashed potatoes, pounds of pork chops and pasta, tons of turkey, and well, it goes on. Carbs and meat were preferred to anything feigning itself to be better for you.

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Anticipating through Design: Putting People First

In the twilight of his career, Andy Warhol, stated, “I was always a commercial artist.” Warhol’s success had long invited criticism from design purists. The 6a981a98957a837141a5e2be3fc71c87famous pop artist never saw a conflict, having said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” Today, companies are spending more time, effort and money on design. Apple, Philips, Nike, Nest, and Sonos are making the effort and investing more because it works.

Warhol’s view of business and art helps define an approach I coined called People-First Design. The goal is to make it seem that when someone experiences a product or service it feels like it has been designed for him or her alone. This means cleverly balancing utility and aesthetics. Increasingly customers are rewarding companies for products and services that just seem “to fit”.

People-First Design differs from other design constructs because it anticipates nikefuelbanded-1384457340consumer needs and wants. Simply put, it delivers “what’s next”. Akio Morito, co-founder of Sony, and Steve Jobs, Apple visionary, spouted nearly identical quotes on the topic. Morito said, “The public does not know what is possible, we do.” Jobs commented, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The Sony Walkman and Apple iPod are cases in point.

People-First Design can benefit every company. Design needs to lead the product development process. Jobs noted the opportunity this represents, “We don’t have a good language to talk about this kind of thing. In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer… But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation.”

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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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Sonos: The Brand and the Business

This article originally appeared in Sparksheet.

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Still hungry after thirteen-years, Sonos focuses on innovation, originality and desirability. But in an increasingly connected world, the brand wants to go beyond background music to become the central nervous system of your house. Talk about subversive.

Earlier this year, Sonos contemporized the look of its brand with a new visual theme representing amplification. This was just another step in a long-term plan. Sonos has long been sought after as a purveyor of wireless speakers, but now the company is aggressively pursuing something much bigger. Sonos not only intends to disrupt the entire music business, it aims to be indispensable in how you run your home.

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Pop-Up Retail: Where Will It Go Next?

In 1997 Patrick Courrielche devised what was later called a one-day “ultimate hipster mall.” This is notable for two reasons. First, it was one of the first examples of what we know now as a pop-up retail. Second, I was unaware that the term “hipster” existed in 1997. My research shows it was coined in the 1990’s but did not become uber popular until the 2010’s. Did you notice that I fit “uber” into that sentence. Did you also notice that I am wildly off topic because this is supposed to be about pop-up retail?

Courrielche’s event was actually called The Ritual Expo. It was the catalyst for companies that liked the idea of creating short-term experiences to promote their brands to specific audiences. It prompted AT&T, Levi-Strauss, and Motorola to work with Courrielche on pop-up shopping experiences.

This form of retail goes back before 1997. Circuses, ice cream trucks, farmer’s markets, hot dog stands, and even the old bookmobile rate as pop-ups. For decades, Halloween shops have popped h-m-pop-upup prior to October 31st every year. Even the seasonal Christmas tree sellers meet the definition of a pop-up retailer. One could argue that many of the 5th Avenue flagship stores in New York are longstanding pop-up shops. That is because few make money from those locations and maintain the investment for awareness only.

The format has multiple benefits for the brand. It allows an interesting connection with existing customers while making a splashy introduction to new ones. Awareness tends to be the biggest benefit and not only for the foot traffic who happen by. Pop-ups are notorious for gaining traditional media and social media attention. As a whole, the investment is relatively reasonable. The square footage costs and promotion are upwards of 80% cheaper than a traditional retail store.

Pop-ups are also mini-labs of product development, customer service, and brand positioning. They pop-up-shopare active test centers. The format is ideal for launching new products, engaging new consumers and entering new territories. The Lion’esque Group specializes in pop-up retail. Their research shows that the average pop-up sees a 35% increase in sales from doors open to 6 months after doors close. As well, 50% off these pop-ups see an average increase of 30% on social media engagement over the lifespan of the pop-up shop. So they can pay off in multiple ways.

However, like any retail and marketing innovation there can be failure. Location, timing, weather, positioning, authenticity, value, uniqueness and other factors all come into play when conceptualizing and delivering a pop-up experience. Success is determined by pursuing fewer uniqlo-high-line-roller-skate-rink-06goals. I have witnessed Lululemon’s pop-up at the yoga festival, Wanderlust. Sales are not a goal. It exists to help spread the gospel of yoga through henna tattoos, music DJs, and comfortable seating to hang out and discuss downward dogs (by the way, I have never done yoga, the festival is held in near my home).

Creativity is key to pop-ups. Once upon a time, Ebay invited six interior designers to furnish an entire New York City penthouse. The designers were given a limited budget and could only use furniture and accessories purchased through Ebay.com. More recently, HBO funded a Game of Thrones container pop-up in Los Angeles and Marmite spread their acquired taste by popping up in London in the form of a cafe. This August, Dubai Airports’ duty free retailer, Dubai Duty Free and fashion and fragrance house Puig have opened the world’s first airport pop-up shop for its new fragrance collection, Herrera Confidential, at Dubai International Airport.

All this proves is pop-ups have longevity. And they are attractive to a wide variety of brands. Pond’s IMG_0194Cold Cream, Havaianas, Kate Spade, Dockers, Crown Royal, Gucci, HP, Method, Louis Vuitton, Meow Mix, and Hermes have all “popped-up”. UGG, H&M, and Uniqlo are popping up at the moment and Warby Parker will soon be joining with Nordstrom’s on a unique pop-up installation within select stores.

Statistics on pop-ups are a little thin but a new report out of the UK from EE and the CEBR suggests the pop-up retail sector is growing at 12.3% a year. They will hit £2.3bn in revenue 2015 and employ more than 26,000 people. The study estimates that Britain hosts more than 10,000 pop-ups and more than 10% of British retailers plan to open one in the next five years.

For all of the hype and news around online retailing, we still make 93% of our purchases in physical stores. Pop-ups are an interesting linking strategy between those locations and what happens online. For that reason and the others covered, they are definitely here to stay. What will be fascinating is how they evolve. I think they will mirror what has happened in advertising. That is less disruptive ads and more and more native ads. So my bet is they will move from being disruptive “pops!” and instead will be more seamlessly embedded into our society.

The Evolution of the TV Tray Table

Remember those gaudily decorated, cheap metal fold-out trays? With the advent of a television in every home in the 1950’s, families soon needed a way to hold food and beverage items while watching one of the three available channels. The TV tray table quickly became a must-have. Their IMG_2165design and ubiquity make them an undeniable pop culture icon.

So what came first the TV tray table or the TV dinner? National advertising for TV tray tables first appeared in 1952. Two years later, C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced the frozen TV dinner, marketing it as an easy-to-prepare, fun-to-eat meal, with a disposable tray that reduced clean-up time. The TV dinner tapped into excitement over television and the tray table was there to literally lend support. By 1960, nearly 90% of American homes had a television and a similar percentage had a TV tray table set.

My family had one. There is a pretty good chance you had a set too. They were loyal little things. We know Walter Frederick Morrison invented the Frisbee, Gregory Goodwin Pincus devised the oral contraceptive pill, Bette IMG_2164Nesmith Graham came up with Liquid Paper, Richard T. James brought us the Slinky, and William Greatbatch tinkered until he had the pacemaker. Sadly, the inventor of the TV tray table has never been credited.

The original models consisted of a metal tray with grips mounted underneath and a set of tubular metal legs with rubberized tips. The grips secured the legs, which could be opened up to support the tray, or collapsed for storage. When not in use the four trays were housed in a rack out of the way but always within reach.

TV tray tables are retro because for a time it seemed that they had entirely disappeared. That is, unless you happened across them in an aging family member’s home or at a garage sale where they stood like sad sentinels next to dusty wooden golf clubs and rusty gym weights. The fact is they never went IMG_2162away.

I am here to tell you that they evolved. In fact, when I set out to write this I contemplated calling it, “The Return of the TV Tray Table”, but that is inaccurate. They can be found in homes everywhere albeit in slightly modified, more progressive forms. These helpful friends are examples of furniture Darwinism in the home.

Early tray patterns included nature scenes, food illustrations, and later even television characters. The look of the trays emulated aesthetic trends of the day. See, they were always adapting. The original tray tables are still made today, some in retro styles mimicking the IMG_2158old ones. Others now come in sleek metal and wood modernist constructions.

The trays are marketed not only as platforms for food but as side tables, desks, and beverage trays. The recent retro fascination with repurposing and reusing items from yesteryear extends to the TV tray. They are popular particularly in small living spaces given they can be tucked away. In this era of Netflix binge TV watching and continuous Internet connection, more and more meals are being consumed in front of a screen. This may be sad for society but guarantees a long life for the TV tray table in all its incarnations.

You Get What You Pay For: Why Logo Contests Disappoint

The latest example in a long line of backlashes against logo contests is making waves, or in this case, shaking leaves. This one comes from the Government of Canada who invited submissions to mark the 150th anniversary celebrations of the country. The winning design is a multi-coloured, pointed maple leaf shape that has produced interesting criticism.

It is not because the leaf is a safe, smart bet given it is an image that Canada “owns” along with Mounties, beavers and canoes rather the disapproval comes from the professional design community. The Graphic Designers of Canada, the national body that certifies graphic and communication designers, released an open letter criticizing the government and specifically Canadian Heritage who championed the contest. Their chief concerns involve exploitation and the government’s inability to recognize the value of good design.

 

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The Sanctity of the Bookstore

We have a soft spot for bookstore marketing and advertising. Perhaps because they are becoming an endangered species. Here are two campaigns from Barnes & Noble. The first one, which we prefer, leverages the fact that one can get lost in a book. The second attempts to address the sanctity and benefits of the physical bookstore but is less resonant.

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