Brand Names are Illiterate

The last season of the comedy, Parks and Recreation, finished up in 2015 but was set in 2017. Much of the plot focused on a fictional business named Gryzzl that is a thinly veiled amalgam of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google. Gryzzl employees tout collapsible transparent tablets that can be used as a skateboard, use treadmill desks, and don’t really appear to work. Their tagline is, “It’s the cloud for the cloud.” and the hI773Ke-company mantra is, “Wouldn’t it be tight if everyone was chill to each other?”

People surf free Gryzzl Wi-Fi, communicate through Gryzzl’s social network, and Gryzzl drones deliver creepily personalized gifts. A youthful executive of the company says, “I hope you can see now there is nothing scary about Gryzzl. We just want to learn everything about everyone and track them everywhere they go and anticipate what they’re about to do.”

Satire aside, the reason I bring this up is because of the name, Gryzzl. It alone made me laugh when I saw it. The name captures the silliness in brand naming these days. Granted, it is extremely difficult to find an original name so for the sake of legal ownership and URLs, many companies are bastardizing spellings and meanings.

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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 Longer Books Mean to Marketing

When The Wall Street Journal was redesigned using color and added the Weekend Journal and Personal Journal, a colleague of mine thought it was going the way of USA Today. That is, to a dumbed-down publication meant to appeal to the broadest demographic. Personally, I thought the design was attractive and layout inviting. My concern was with the quality of content and the length of the written work. That concern has only grown.

In the past fifteen years, information has been beaten, shrunk, diced, and sliced into bite-sized easily digestible trifle. We too readily accept headlines and “top ten lists” as gospel without a b38a8360-6c45-11e4-8636-37ecb50f6f81_2014925fc206807887c4466156647d8b802c3a5eproper assessment of facts, logic, and argument. Books are so highly prescriptive that they have only the barest minimum of practical application. Once author credibility was sacrosanct but no longer.

We live in a world of grammatically challenged texts and tweets where millions of blog posts are poorly written and mostly irrelevant. Self-publishing has enabled a mess of thinking rife with typos. On the one hand, we claim this is great, as it has given voice to many. Sadly, the proliferation is just horribly bad.

Democratization of thought is a rich illusion. Technology and social media allows us to share but does not ask the questions, should we? Is the content worthy? Writing and reading are meant to be a challenge, a challenge to both the writer and the reader. Conveying compelling ideas that evoke new emotions and thinking and even prompt behavioral change is the goal.

With this goal in mind it is interesting to learn of a new study from Vervesearch. It shows books are getting longer. According to the study, which looked at 2,500 books from The New York Times best seller list and Google’s annual surveys, average book length has increased by 25%. In 1999 books were 320 pages. In 2014, they averaged 400.

It now seems that people who love to read have a preference to a long and immersive narrative. This is an encouraging development and gives hope for all humankind (I am being only slightly dramatic). Life is complex and denying such is much more than a disservice. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening in marketing. Where marketing once informed in detail and credited consumers with intelligence, it now focuses too much on over simplified entertainment suggesting that consumers are lemmings. Marketing has lost meaning by being so demeaning.

Marketing has lost meaning by being so demeaning.

Longer books signal a critical change. People crave more information. This does not mean longer for the sake of length but it certainly means more substantial. People want to weigh the pros and cons to more accurately satisfy their needs and wants. That means marketers have to fight the instinct to be fleeting and slight. Branding has always been a relationship that marketing is meant to nurture. Longer books are indicator that consumers want relationships with brands to be deep, meaningful and predicated on mutual respect. In other words, they want more.

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2015 Top-Drawer Business Books

Welcome to the 8th edition of Top-Drawer Business Books

Too many business book lists are narrow in definition. 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.” The Top-Drawer list is less traditional and duplicative to others. That is why the list includes, and is sometimes dominated by, books not categorized purely as “business”.

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 12.55.48 PMWe always avoid books promising four-hour workweeks because they are fables, over-simplified and prescriptive how-to works that are vacuous and dangerous, and so-called inspirational books that are trite, lite and ineffectual. These are all tossed aside when one experiences the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

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.” We encourage you to read the selections here and make the Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 12.57.16 PMknowledge yours.

The list includes books released in 2015 that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, applicable, thought-provoking, and innovative. Our last bit of criteria makes the selections tougher to determine and that is timelessness of content. We love sharing the Top-Drawer list because so much of success in business is predicated on great storytelling and these selections exemplify that skill.

This year 13 make our list, 4 more than last year, and are presented in no particular order. For the first time, fiction efforts are included for the amazing lessons they carry if one is open to the education. For fun, we have included a separate list of 8 timeless business novels.

Remember, life is too short to drink cheap scotch or to read books that are not Top-Drawer. So keep these selections within easy reach for repeated reference. Access the list here, TopDrawer2015Final.

The Persuasiveness of Great Language

The advertising industry has a rich history. Much, of course, is based on lore made greater with each telling. It is rife with characters both created and those who lived. The Marlboro Man, The Morton Salt Girl, Cap’n Crunch, Aunt Jemima, Mr. Whipple, The Jolly Green Giant, Miss Chiquita Banana, The Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger, Mr. Peanut, and the Coppertone Girl are Pillsburyiconic brand representatives. Many of these creations were spun from the agencies of Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach.

These Madison Avenue greats produced intriguing quotes. The thoughts of these revered and referenced gentlemen continue to be trumpeted and contextualized to be made relevant today. Leo Burnett is economical and bit gruff. David Ogilvy was prolific having identified the power of a soundbite from his earliest days. Bill Bernbach was a furious and detailed writer. I know this having sat close to his archives while Chief Communications Officer at DDB Worldwide.

One bit of the latter’s writing recently came to my attention. I had not seen it while at DDB. It Mr. Bernbach’s 1947 resignation from Grey Advertising. It is a delightful but forceful blast of prose. Firm in conviction and clear in intent, the letter is a summary of his disappointment and hope for advertising. It is rant in defence of craft over technique and science. It is a cry for differentiation and distinction.

Yet, what I enjoy most is the emphasis on selling. In recent decades, marketing and advertising has become entertainment. You are hard pressed to hear the word “sales” and “selling” in agencies. That is the industry protecting itself against age-old indictments of being deceptive and manipulative. The irony is, all business communications exist to sell something whether it be a product or idea…so why cover up that fact?

Below is the text from the letter and the original. Read it and come to your own conclusions. I think he does a wonderful job of proving “to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.”

Dear collegues,

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.

There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best bernbachgame. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.

In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique.

But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.

All this is not to say that technique is unimportant. Superior technical skill will make a good ad better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability. The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising. The danger lies In the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.

If we are to advance we must emerge as a distinctive personality. We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.
Respectfully,

Bill Bernbach

BillB_Letter

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

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

Lofty Quotes Concerning Social Media

Forgive us for taking license with some of these as the person quoted was not necessarily talking about social media but you will get the intent. We encourage you to share these widely on social media and help distribute irony to all.

“Distracted from distraction by distraction.” T.S. Eliot

“You are what you share.” C.W. Leadbeater, We Think: The Power Of Mass Creativity

“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’re thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.” Chris Pirillo

“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.” Clay Shirky

quote-Erik-Qualman-social-media-has-made-the-web-all-98234“Tempted to type meaningless twaddle all the time on Twitter…with alliteration, no less!” E.A. Bucchianeri

“More voices means less trust in any given voice.” Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You

“Followers, followers. Sometimes, with some things, it’s best to keep your tally down.” Donna Lynn Hope

“In an age of constant live connections, the central question of self-examination is drifting from ‘Who are you?’ towards ‘What are you doing?” Tom Chatfield, How to Thrive in the Digital Age

“Who would have thought that a means of communication limited to 140 characters would ever create misunderstanding.” Stephen Colbert

“What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.” W. H. Auden

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Words Need to Stand on Their Own

Warning: Jeff has included no pictures in this post.

In the past five years anyone in communications could not escape the term “content marketing”. It made me smirk from first hearing. I mean, has there ever been, “non-content marketing”? The best, that is, the most engaging, relevant and entertaining marketing tells a story. People do not buy something unless they can insert and see themselves in the product or service’s narrative.

For a long, long time those stories have been influenced and marginalized at the earliest stages of development. Why? Because their authors begin thinking about the pretty creative pictures and different fonts that will accompany the text along with the myriad of communications channels where the story can appear.

Good copy must stand on it’s own. The reader should be blown away the words on stark, black type displayed on plain white paper. Recently, I spent thirty-five hours on planes in a hundred hour period. As a voracious reader, I took that time to chew through magazines, newspapers and everything else I could devour on my iPad.

One print publication was The Walrus. It is one of those magazines that you never want to see go digital. I find beauty in print and that may betray my age more than the lines in my face. The Walrus is a Canadian magazine focused on “provocative long-form journalism, innovative ideas, and continuing the Canadian conversation.” In short, it is a brainy piece that is approachable yet delightfully pompous. Read more

‘Top-Drawer’ Business Books 2013

It was a relatively lean year for outstanding business books even though Sheryl Sandberg grabbed attention and book sales with Lean In. Her well-intentioned but unremarkable plea for empowerment will go down in history as one of the most skillfully promoted books. In fact, a great book for 2014 would be one that examines the marketing lessons from the launch and support of Lean In itself, a work that was highly irrelevant to the vast majority of working women but was unavoidable in the media and on shelves.

This year in business books reinforced something long known. Being successful in business is incredibly hard. Whether you are leading a startup or managing a team within a famous blue-chip company or rising early to open your own dry cleaning business, there are no shortcuts or magic panaceas. Books promising four-hour work weeks are fables, how-to books are vacuous and dangerous, and the content of so-called inspirational works are trite, ineffectual and soon tossed out when met with the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

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