Storytelling is Problem-Solving

“Storytelling is not what I do for a living – it is how I do all that I do while I am living.”

Donald Davis, Storyteller and Author

Life throws at us a never-ending stream of challenges and opportunities. Much of our success and happiness depends on how we greet them. This is illustrated in a quote from Ashleigh Bright, “I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.” Or this one from Howard Norberg, “Life is a cement trampoline.” Both are clever but as Voltaire once said, “A witty saying proves nothing.” There is also the fact that how we view and address life matters most.

Our lives are incredibly complex and require life-long, daily problem-solving. Stories help us because they document prior experience and future potential. By reading or hearing the stories of others, we find the strength and insight to help address our own problems and pursue new opportunities. This has never been home-in-line-image-3more true than in our times. Maarten Schäfer noted the reason why, “In this time of ‘information overload’, people do not need more information. They want a story they can relate to.”

Great stories are unquestionably most valuable when they lead us to real decisions. Stories help us make sense of who we are and the world in which we live. They propel and aid us through life. They do so much for us.

Stories help us find a mate, become craftsmen, spurn adventure, convince us of a point-of-view, and challenge us to connect through empathy. They are a basic, yet rich, building block of human interaction and societal construction. And they are incredible problem-solvers.

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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.

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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Brand Invasion

The force that was the British Invasion had never been experienced before nor has there been anything like it since. It has been examined for its musical influence which was considerable. Supporting the talents of these bands was marketing. There is much to learn from how these bands deliberately and accidentally built their brands. So line up for this magical marketing tour. You can download the paper (SC_BrandInvasion) or read it below.

Brand Invasion

Marketing Lessons from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals

In 1965, The Rolling Stones released (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. According to Keith Richards he started the song on March 6th of that year which happens to be the day I was born. The band was on tour in America at the time. “I’d woken up in the middle of the night, thought of the riff, and put it straight down on a cassette. In the morning, I still thought it sounded pretty good. I played it to Mick and said, ‘The words that go with this are: ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’ That was RS1just a working title. … I never thought it was anything like commercial enough to be a single.”

The song attracted attention for its implied, risqué content but I always enjoyed the knocks it made against the media, advertising, consumer culture, and materialism. In the lyrics, the radio broadcasts “more and more about some useless information” while the television advertisements tease with personal improvement and brand status: “how white my shirts can be – but he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me.”

With great irony this stand against materialism launched the Rolling Stones and grew their collective bank account. Along with the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, and the Animals, they produced timeless songs that continue to attract and keep fans. Make no mistake, these bands are brands and music is their product. If you think they did what they did solely for artistic or altruistic reasons you would be wrong.

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Applying Business Concepts for the Greater Good

There is an amazing global organization that we are proud to profile and support. Enactus, an international nonprofit, operates from post-secondary campuses around the world. It is “a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world.”

They are funded by donations and corporate sponsors. The sponsors include Walmart, KPMG, enactushqlogoUnilever, The Coca-Cola Company, Evergreen Investments, ABInBev, Barclays Capital, Campbell’s, Kraft, Microsoft, Tim Hortons, 3M, Henkell, Nielsen, The Home Depot, Genworth Capital, HP, Kroger, PwC, Tesco and many, many more.

Two years ago Jeff Swystun was one of the keynote speakers at AccelerateOttawa, the premier startup event in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, “the Silicon Valley of the north”. The other keynote was Toby Lutke, CEO of Shopify. Toby’s amazing business recently went public and is experiencing a surging stock price.

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The Missing Element of Branding

The belief that people are loyal to brands is coming under increasing fire. I have been privileged to witness and contribute to brand loyalty’s fascinating evolution. Now a new study and article in Harvard Business Review from Christof Binder and Dominique M. Hanssens, Why Strong Customer Relationships Trump Powerful Brands, gives the topic fresh context and sets up intriguing questions as to where branding’s value and investment is heading.

Historically, branding has been deployed with the same intent as advertising. That is, create awareness, prompt trial, and encourage adoption. For the last twenty years or so branding has largely been used as Tom Peters identified, “as a sorting device.” The overriding goal of branding in this period was to make a company, product or service stand out. “Top-of-mind” was thought to lead to a disproportionate “share of wallet”.

Loyalty has always been inferred in branding. If one was delivering a brand that matched the value, beliefs and practices of certain consumers it was believed those people would be loyal to the brand. This gave way to the term ‘brand evangelists’ which has been overused and never properly defined (or delineated from word-of-mouth). Through this period, practitioners like myself largely subscribed to Philip Kotler’s four types of loyal consumers:

Hard-core Loyals: those who buy the same brand consistently

Split Loyals: those loyal to two or three brands

Shifting Loyals: those who move from one brand to another

Switchers: those with no loyalty

There has been great debate on the erosion of brand loyalty. It has already produced a new term that I find entertaining, “consumer promiscuity”. At first, this promiscuity was driven 1ad9e82f-213a-40d3-8731-7f063269550d-mediumby consumers interested in finding a better price or deal elsewhere. Now this brand philandering takes place any time consumers believe their complex wants and needs are not being met. This relates to another new marketing term (we marketers love to name things) and that is, “chameleon consumers”. These consumers defy traditional segmentation (on a side note…most marketers today are terrible at segmentation). Chameleons are hard to read and hard to please making it difficult for brands to hold onto them.

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Top-Drawer Business Books 2014

Welcome to the 7th edition of Top-Drawer Business Books. The listing’s tongue-in-cheek title describes books that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, practical, thought-provoking, and innovative. In short, books that are excellent and should be kept within easy reach for repeated reference.

The Top-Drawer list has always been less than traditional (or duplicative). Too many of the other best business book lists are narrow in definition and focus. As Robert Weider said, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” That is why this list includes books not categorized as “business”.

There are no shortcuts or magic panaceas in business. We have to do the work even when reading, as John Locke stated, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” This list is built on that premise. We avoid books promising four-hour work weeks because they are fables, how-to books that are vacuous and dangerous, and the content of so-called inspirational works that are trite, ineffectual and soon tossed out when met with the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

Life is too short to drink cheap scotch and to read books that are not ‘Top-Drawer’. This year just 9 made our list appearing in no particular order. Enjoy!

Business Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Enterprise by J.C. Spender

00287aIt is difficult to find a book that splendidly marries theory and practical application. Spender’s attempt falls a bit short and leans more towards theory but that is just fine as long as the reader can apply it to their own situation. The author challenges us to embrace uncertainties and create systems and processes to leverage them. This is how innovation truly comes about. As a bonus, Spender showcases the leading strategy tools employed by consultants and academics.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

Isaacson’s last effort was a biography of Steve Jobs. His latest is a meaty and deeply satisfying 560 page history. It takes us back to Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine to Alan Turing and the codebreakers of Bletchley Park and to Tim Berners-Lee and the birth of the World Wide Web. Throughout he reveals the talents that allowed inventors and entrepreneurs to disrupt technology and society. Isaacson explores why some succeed and some fail. There is an engaging thread throughout the historical narrative that is highly relevant to today. Read more

Social Media’s Inaccurate Stereotype?

Let me start with a confession. I am on Facebook. I know, not much of a startling revelation. It is a confession only because so many in my peer group pride themselves on not being on Facebook. Regardless of your opinion of the social network, one must acknowledge their success. As of the third quarter of 2014, Facebook reported 1.35 billion monthly active users. According to Emarketer, this global Facebook population is 53% female and 47% male.

In my Facebook newsfeed it has long seemed that my female friends post more, more often. This led to some highly nonscientific research. Out of my 381 friends (the average Facebook user has 350) just over one hundred of them are female. A rough count of recent postings revealed that my smaller number of female friends were responsible for over 70% of the content in my newsfeed. A quick review of real research normalized and supported my elementary findings.

Rapleaf studied the habits of 13.2 million people on social media. While figures indicate both sexes are using social media in huge numbers, the findings showed that women far outpace men in actual activity. BrianSolis.com and Google Ad when-you-dont-go-on-facebook-for-a-weekPlanner have reported similar findings. Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says women on Facebook have 8% more friends and participate in 62% of the sharing. Women upload more photos, create more status updates, and provide more information about themselves.

Forbes reports that women now average 11 updates a week on Facebook while men provide 5 (this seems awfully low based on what I witness in my newsfeed). A study conducted by The University of Boulder showed that women posted on Facebook 98 times compared to men who posted 32 times (for the period studied). As imbalanced as all this may appear, it is more equitable than Pinterest where over 80% of the users are female and account for 94% of all activity. Women tweet more frequently too as they make up 62% of active users on Twitter. Read more

The Real Impact of Netflix

In order to read this and have a true cathartic and life-changing experience, you must first be honest by answering these three questions:

Did you watch all seasons of Breaking Bad in less than two weeks?

Did you ever tell your significant other that you were working or working out when really you ate a bag of chips and watched The Expendables or The Devil Wears Prada (and you hid the empty bag at the bottom of the garbage)?

Did you ever watch ahead of your partner in the series Nashville or Veronica Mars but then pretended it was all new when you watched it together?

It has only been seven years since Netflix began to alter society. Now they have over 50 million subscribers in over 40 countries. Netflix and other streaming services have broken traditional business models, democratized content, and empowered consumers. It has also changed our watching habits.

93 minutes: average time watched by a Netflix subscriber per day

1 billion: number of hours per month all subscribers watch Netflix

61%: percentage of subscribers who admit to binge watching

80%: television shows account for largest percentage of all watching

88%: percentage of subscribers who watch three or more episodes of a TV show in a single day

If you answered yes to any or all of the questions at the start of this article, you are not alone. Netflix’s influence and impact is amazing and has been well covered. Sociologists have explored the sense of entitlement that results when we getnetflix-movies-expiring-jan-2014 what we want when we want it. The business press has trumpeted the bundle business model that underlines Netflix’s success.

Addiction specialists have explored binge watching relating it to drinking and taking drugs, “It’s like you’re punch drunk, and saying ‘come on feed me another one,” says Greg Dillon, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Netflix has made binging easy now. Television shows play automatically one after another. I know of several people who have watched all of Orange is the New Black in one day.

This leads to the two impacts no one has yet talked about. First up is normalization. These new (seemingly excessive) watching habits were not bragged about just a short time ago. Personally, I never came clean to anyone that I watched all seasons of Community, The Unit and Family Guy while traveling for business. Or that I have watched the movies The Rock, Predators, and Olympus Has Fallen way more than once. Read more