Image Counts

Sometimes the best strategy does not win. Sometimes, no matter how much work you do or how much thinking you put into a project or pitch, the results just don’t come to you. The question is not what you missed, but what was your customer expecting that you did not deliver.

Mike Wagner from Own Your Own Brand has a great post on the linkage between teaching and brands that got me thinking. It reminded me of a couple of things in my own life. In my university days  I was certain my career would be in directing theatre or film. I remember directing a play and noticing the difference in the style, presentation and effectiveness of the performances based on how I dressed. When I dressed in a blazer the performance was better than when I turned up in ripped jeans. After a couple of bad performances, I just decided to dress "up", more conservatively, and more obviously attentive to my appearance. I must say that the changes were remarkable.

It was pretty clear to me that if I wanted to achieve a high level of team performance, I needed to dress a certain way. This, in itself, was quite strange — as the work we were performing was considered avant-garde, non-conventional and self-consciously artistic. But the more that the performers were pushed, the greater was their need for a solid and dependable base (which was me). And the more conservatively I dressed, the better the performance was. The troupe and I were building an unspoken, but deep trust.

When it comes to brands, sometimes your clients are the ones who need YOU to look the part. They need to be able to trust in your approach and your reliability — especially when you are pushing their brand to its creative limits. Remember, it is not about YOU, it is about delivering the results for your clients. But equally, sometimes, it is about making your clients feel comfortable with you and your approach. It is a matter of trust.


Marketers v Programmers

Marketers and programmers can work well together … or they can have a love-hate relationship. I am sure you all have stories about where the relationship worked or where it fell apart (send me the funny ones) … but many of you will be able to relate to this post by Seth Godin – the 10 things programmers might want to know about marketers".

Having worked on both sides of the fence, I thought I would try and write 5 things that marketers might like to know about programmers:

  1. Programming sometimes just doesn’t work. Sure the code worked last week … but at the moment it just doesn’t.
  2. Your lack of planning and adequate briefing does not constitute a high level emergency on my part.
  3. I might IM my partner in the next room, but it doesn’t mean I smell bad.
  4. If you can’t define your audience for me, then I can’t make an experience that will suit them.
  5. There is no magic wand. There is no silver bullet. If there was I could have used it on an account manager.
  6. Don’t forget creative because I can make it work correctly (maybe even beautifully), but if the interface stinks, then no one will touch it.

Feel free to add your own!

Under Promising and Over Delivering

Today Nat from Simple and Loveable is riffing about bad service and it made me turn my brain on. As consumers we are used to frustration and poor service. We expect it and we live with it. It reminded me of the difference I noticed on a recent trip to Melbourne where I was struck by the great service and friendly people — it is a place where service is about creating a great experience. A place that is about "being", resting and enjoying, not just "appearing" or "performing".

And the sheer fact that I noticed the difference made me realise how little we, as consumers, often demand of our service providers. As Nat says:

"Isn’t an on-time doctor’s appoinment virtually an oxymoron?"

And as I read this, I was thinking of the 9 hour flight I just had from Sydney to Hong Kong, and the following one through to Shanghai. The first leg just didn’t work for me … the seat was uncomfortable, there was a strange smell in the air (ok maybe it was me) and the in-flight entertainment was boring. There wasn’t anything in particular that was bugging me, but it was the combination of many, small annoyances that added up. The point, however, is that my expectation was so low, that I didn’t really care (that much).

So when I rocked up to my connecting flight, I was handed a piece of paper by the gate attendant. I read it on my way down to the plane. It told me that there were a number of issues with flight clearances on the east coast of China, and that we may not find out about them until after boarding has been completed. It also explained that this was completely out of control of the airline but we would be informed as soon as possible. "Great", I thought.

So when the pilot announced that there may be a small delay of around 10 minutes, I was not bothered. Then, a few minutes later, he informed us that the delay would actually be 2 hours! But again, I was not that bothered because I had been prepared. A steady stream of communications that could be read and listened to perfectly prepared me for such a situation. This demonstrated the use of multi-channel communications — something to read when you need to take in facts and details — and then quick announcements when news comes to hand. Very impressive work from Dragon Air!

Shame they don’t fly to New Zealand, or they may pick up Nat’s business … (BTW If you have not checked out the blog by Natalie Ferguson and Tim Norton, then you really are missing out on some great insight, cool commentary and a practical approach to using new technology in your business.)

Stay tuned … more from the Land of Chin later.

Going to China

I am off to Shanghai next week, and greet it, as I greet any overseas trip … with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. One of my favourite writers, Helene Cixous, explains that she "shivers" every time she crosses from one country to another. I agree that there really is something profoundly unsettling about crossing borders and this is always amplified when you can’t speak the language and the culture is instrinsically different.

It will be my first time in Shanghai, which is from what I hear, one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant of China’s cities. I expect there will be much to see, do and absorb … and I hope there will be no problem posting my observations and thoughts. On my last trip I was overwhelmed by the energy and enthusiasm of the people that I met. It made me think of New York in the 1980s (even though I was never there for it). It opened my eyes to new and different ways of seeing — but I must admit, I am still struggling to know how this translates to thinking.

I will keep you posted on my current state of culture shock as it advances. In the meantime, if you have any questions, thoughts or ideas that you would like me to write about or think through while in China, add a comment and I will do my best.


Where do you belong?

The question of "what is cool" has kept me thinking now for a couple of days … and interestingly has begun popping up everywhere I look.

I was checking out John Moore’s Brand Autopsy blog and saw some links through to Brains on Fire, so I thought I would mosey over and take a look. And sure enough, here it was again — this time in the guise of "campaigns vs movements", referring to the difference between traditional advertising and word of mouth.

From my point of view, I was seeing that campaigns are cool, but movements are authentic. The campaign is aimed at someone (at me, or you) and it gives us something to talk about with friends, colleagues or other bloggers. But a movement is something that I am part of (or not) — it requires a choice, an engagement, a position. A movement asks us to think about where we belong. It requires us to make an authentic decision.

Do you know where you belong?


The Danger of Upgrading

I am in the middle of upgrading my computer, moving from one notebook computer to another. Now, I am a fairly technical type, but even after many such upgrades I know one thing for sure … as soon as I hand over my old computer I will have lost something that I need.

It wont be my bookmark list of websites, it won’t be My Documents, and it won’t even be my WIP files or dowloads from ChangeThis. But it will be something important that is easy to overlook. I just hope that I don’t wake in the middle of the night remembering WHERE that file is!

Know what I am talking about? I am sure you do!


If that is “cool”, then what is “way cool”?

OK, sorry … two Russell posts in a row … but he has me thinking again.

He asked a simple question — what is "cool? — and there are heaps of responses and comments. And many of the comments indicate the challenge of defining something that is transitory. What is cool today, afterall, is likely to be uninteresting tomorrow (or at least for a few years until it becomes retro).

But marketers the world over are interested in what is cool. It the next best thing to being authentic. But at the same time, it is sexier than being authentic, because there is a sense of anguish, of existential decay about "cool" that "authentic" simply avoids. All sounding a bit esoteric?

It reminds me of studying philosophy and also theatre. Where the two intersect is in the concept of "presence" — the point for the actor where personal identity and performance identity fuse to create something that is far more powerful than 1+1. Even more confusing? Not really … you know it when you see it — think back on a performance of your favourite band or actor and there will be a turning point in your appreciation that corresponds with a moment of "presence". This is what gives you goosebumps. It is the moment that you clap or cheer unexpectedly. It is the moment that is not just about the message, the messenger or the audience, but about all three. THAT is what it means to be authentic. Being COOL is about telling the story about how YOU were there at that point and experienced it.

Hmm … makes me think that COOL is about story and AUTHENTIC is about being. I’d love to know what Johnnie Moore thinks of this!?


Russell Flies Solo

Always willing to try new things, Russell Davies has finished up as Planner in Residence at Nike, and is concentrating on writing — books, blogs and a bit of freelancing. Piers Fawkes at IF!/PSFK has a great interview with Russell on his time at Nike, what he learned, what he didn’t in his previous 20 years, and some insight into the future challenges of big and small brands alike. It is a great read and provides a series of insights that raise more questions than answers (but I think that is the point).

At one point Russell explains that "… the crucial challenge for brands is working out how to be less controlling and more influential". This, clearly, is not just about the challenges that blogs and other technologies provide to brands — it is to do with the social movement or social networking that is occurring as part of the use of new technologies. Whether brands and brand managers like it or not, these technologies are changing the ways that consumers interact with brands, messages and corporate stories.

These changes will have significant impacts on the way that we all tell our brand and corporate stories. We will need to listen more than we tell, we will need to tell more than we dare and we will need to dare more than we would like. Sound risky?

Sounds like fun!

In the meantime, if you see a "mercenary army of rogue marketing professionals" my guess you will see Russell there leading the troops. Good luck Russell!


Poetry Off

P Safeway Signage O E T i C S

If you have read my About page on this blog, you will know that I am a liar. Well at least sometimes, and mostly when it comes to storytelling. And when I started this blog, I was aiming to write all the time, daily even … with the aim of producing 999 creative pieces.
But then the blog took over.
And so I have finally moved the more creative pieces (ok there is not that many of them) onto a different site. If you are interested you can find them here.
Happy writing!