Rethinking Branding through Radical Innovation

A.A.AYou know what it’s like – the brief hits your desk and you know it’s going to hurt you. The client wants impact. Results. Creativity to burn. It needs to be original, classy and out of left field – but you also need to bring this baby in on budget. And quickly. This is a competitive pitch and there are three other agencies lining up against you.

If I was you, I’d read the brief and jot down my first ideas on a post-it note, then file it away in my notepad. Then I’d talk to the team.

Rethinking innovation

But Umair Haque, economist and Director of the Havas Media Labs, suggests that we need to rethink everything we do. A proponent of “radical innovation”, Haque’s approach is to question the foundations of our actions – in short – to question how we innovate (and therefore what it means for us, our clients and our businesses).

Take for example, Haque’s well-known Smart Growth Manifesto where he turns notions of innovation on their heads:

  1. Outcomes, not income
  2. Connections, not transactions
  3. People, not product
  4. Creativity, not productivity

In some ways this seems obvious, but operationalising such innovation requires broader and deeper business thinking. If you focus not on income but on other measurements (such as outcomes) – then this means inventing new metrics as part of the process. How do we measure sustainability for example? What about happiness or wellbeing? The same with focusing on creativity over productivity – or the other two pillars.

This is not to say that such efforts should not be taken. Quite the opposite. You see, embracing such approaches will FORCE you to think and work through the consequences. In the short term, this will lead you to find equivalences – you will create and manage outcomes but find linkages to income. You will focus on people and their ideas, inspiration and energies, yet match it to their productivity and so on. But this journey will not be undertaken UNLESS you take the first step.

Rethinking branding

But how do we apply this thinking to the problems and challenges of branding? This recent post from Umair Haque on Twitter’s Ten Rules for Radical Innovation provides some pointers.

  1. Ideals beat strategies: What is the core problem that your brand is trying address. How is it making the world better in its small niche? Concentrate on the idea and let the strategy come.
  2. Open beats closed: Find the points of interdependence – between brands and their consumers, employees and their customers, executives and their teams. Share and tell the stories that emerge.
  3. Connection beats transaction: The underlying currency of this new way of thinking is TRUST. Build transactions into your branding by facilitating a sense of trust. Do this as a precursor to transactions. Do it without expectation.
  4. Simplicity beats complexity: Your customers want to do business with you. Don’t make it difficult for them. Design your offerings around the experience that your customers can share with others. Make sure that your communications are clear.
  5. Neighbourhoods beat networks: Most brands haven’t figured out that there are real people behind the avatars that flash across a Twitterstream. The network is nice but remembering that we are tribal – and above all – local – means that you have to think, act and behave as if everyone knows where you live. Really. Think of the consequences and revisit your brief.

There are another five rules that Haque shares in his article – but I will leave these to your imagination.

Returning to the brief

In many ways we operate in an echo chamber. We all read the same blogs, websites, forums and magazines. We watch the same TEDtalks and download the same iPhone apps. How do we then, out-innovate when it comes to our clients?

Chances are that your three competitors will be entering their own creative brainstorming space in the same mindset as your own team. Your best chance at out-thinking your competition is to question the foundations of your own work. Rethink thinking. Rethink creativity. Rethink strategy.

Oh, and just as you go to start work on your response to the brief, take out that original post-it note and read what you wrote. That’s your gut instinct. Sometimes you’ve got to just go with that too.

The New Rules of Marketing & PR – Version 2

dmscott-at-smcsyd For those of you lucky enough to have seen David Meerman Scott in action during his recent Australian visit, you will know he is a force to be reckoned with. His sharp thinking and experience comes through in everything he says, his charm disarms the most strident critic and his enthusiasm sweeps you along. It also helps that he is armed with story after story of how marketers big and small have used social media to transform their businesses.

If you are, however, still to be convinced of the opportunities now available through the empowering social media technologies, then look no further than David’s new edition of The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly. It builds on the first edition (which has been translated into 24 languages) – with new stories, additional anecdotes and interviews. Personally, I am keen to see whether Jonathan Crossfield’s sharing of the Cotton On story made it into the new edition.

But no matter what level of experience you have with marketing, PR or social media, you will take away plenty of useful information, case studies and approaches from David’s book. It is, dare I say it, required reading.

Genealogy, Streetview and Public-Private Histories

Over the last month or so I have begun researching my family tree. It’s a fascinating research project that involves matching names with stories and stories with memories. It combines official government records with personal letters, and certificates with box brownie photos. I have been amazed at what I have been able to find – and how many traces my ancestors left as they lived their lives.

Of course, the ease with which I can find historical data relies on the digitisation efforts of various government departments around the world as well as what must be massive projects undertaken by various private businesses such as and Genes Reunited who provide scans of various records from electoral rolls to immigration/passenger lists. All this is bolstered by the work of volunteers who manage local historical groups or genealogical societies – producing books, databases and websites.

One of the most interesting pieces of information that I found relates to my grandmother, June. She died when I was about 12 but looms large in my memory. I wanted to delve deeper than the more generic official records would allow. And when I happened across an electoral roll record for her – I was intrigued. What would her daily life look like? What did the streets look like in her day – and how different are they now?

Public school, Pyrmont, SydneyThen I remembered that the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has an extensive collection of historical photos available on Flickr. I trawled through the Tyrell Collection, seeking images of Pyrmont from the 1900s, finding a great image of the local public school. Surely she would have walked past this building as a young woman.

But what of her home? I had heard that a large number of buildings were demolished during the early 20th Century. Bubonic plague, poor sanitation and redevelopment had seen many neighbourhoods razed to the ground. Perhaps her house had 434 Wattle St Pyrmontbeen one of them. On the off chance, I put the address into Google – perhaps there was a story captured somewhere that was relevant. Useful. But it was Google Streetview that made my eyes pop. Clearly this was the house that she had shared with her brothers, mother and sisters – crammed together in Pyrmont.

It made me wonder. We are already sharing so much of our lives online – in a readily accessible, searchable format. In a way, we are self-documenting our lives for future generations. They won’t need archaeologists to dig through layers of sediment to determine what we ate – they’ll be able to read our Twitterstream. My descendents will be able to trace my movements via Foursquare, cross match it to my blog posts and learn about my friends and acquaintances via Facebook.

Our private histories are – with a small effort – open book stories ready to be pieced together by anyone willing to make the effort. From a family history point of view, this is fantastic. It is also a continuum that began hundreds of years ago. After all, I have now seen NSW Governor Darling’s handwritten script permitting the marriage of my fourth great grandmother to a man transported to a convict colony for life. I have seen the signed ticket of leave granting their freedom, and I have seen the X which is the mark signifying their consent to marriage.

In the torrent of life and the every flowing tides of history, sometimes these stories are the only things that anchor us – to our past and our present. And for many of us, the trivialities that we share – a coffee spot, a “tweetup”, a funny website or link – contain not just banality, but the full emotional force that carries across time and space. And this, perhaps, is what “social” media is really all about.

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

I have been taking it easy during the first half of January – catching up on some reading and doing very little writing.

I have, however, been working fairly consistently on the latest instalment of The Age of Conversation (more on that to come in coming weeks) – and I can promise you that this book is even better than the last!

But now I am getting back into the rhythm of the year – and that means sharing with you the five must-read posts from the last week.

  1. Sam Ismail has an excellent post showing that brands, agencies and the digital strategists who work for them often underestimate the power of social media.
  2. Kate Carruthers presents a bloggers eye-view regarding ANZ Bank’s latest social media programFebusave. It’s good to see alignment between a social good (women saving) and brands (ANZ) – and I hope to see more during 2010.
  3. Ross Dawson points out that Australians are #1 users of social media globally. Data from a recent Nielsen report indicates that Australia’s slow uptake of social media has been rectified, and that far from lagging, our USE is increasing. For brands who are experimenting with social media, this is great news – it puts them well out in front of those too timid to try.
  4. Mike Arauz looks at the question of company brands vs personal brands and raises some interesting questions. Who do you recognise first – David Armano, Steve Rubel or the company they work for – Edelman? Does this matter? What does it mean for social participation in the workplace?
  5. Sean Howard kicks off a great series of How-Tos with Social Media Unplugged: The Framework and Guidelines. Excellent, practical advice from one of the best minds in the business.

Books On My Bedside Table

There is always a long list of things that I want to read. Sometimes they are new, sometimes they are old friends that I need to reacquaint myself with – and sometimes they are unknown frontiers – random arrivals that I hope will tempt me into their brave new worlds.

While I constantly read, I am frightfully bad at actually writing proper reviews. Not that I am not interested – it’s just that reviews often get pushed down my list of publishing priorities, and by the time I get around to reviewing a book, it’s past its launch period. This year I am going to try to be a little more consistent with book reviews – sharing what I am reading AS I am reading it, as well as later reviews and impressions.

Over the last month or so – with the benefit of a little time off – I have indulged in some great reading. I have revisited:

  • Herd by the fabulous Mark Earls – a must for any serious marketer seeking to understand the patterns in consumer behaviour
  • The Brand Innovation Manifesto – John Grant’s excellent, practical guide to out-thinking yourself and your competitors in the world of marketing
  • The Rocks – Grace Karskens’ detailed analysis of Sydney’s earliest white settlement
  • Open Wallets – Stephen Saunders’ great unveiling of the secrets to retail sales success

New arrivals on the bedside table include:

  • Death of a River Guide – Richard Flanagan always reminds me that we do have great Australian writers
  • Stillwater Creek by Alison Booth – new book, new author and plenty to chew on
  • Wanting – Another great Richard Flanagan novel set in colonial Tasmania – documenting our simultaneous capacity for love and inhumanity
  • Celebrity Leverage – Jordan McAuley’s insider’s view on celebrity endorsement
  • The Buyersphere Project by Gord Hotchkiss – a deep dive into the ecosystem of B2B marketing

But what about you – what did you read this holidays? What do you PLAN to read over the coming months?

Boost Mobile to Help Reduce Homeless – there’s only 32,000 To Go

I don’t know about you, but I can remember what it was like to be 24 years old. I thought I knew it all – or most of what “it” was. I was bright, cocky even. But life was tenuous – I was earning just enough to feed and house myself – with very little left over. I trundled from share house to share house, wearing out the already-worn furniture that I could call “mine” – and all the while feeling like I was one unexpected bill away from the breadline.

I remember being told about the poverty cycle – and how, without savings and support, all it takes is an unexpected expense – or the loss of a job – to find yourself on the streets. Through good fortune I was spared this situation – but there are over 32,000 young Australians who find themselves on the street every night.

With sponsorship from Boost Mobile, The Salvos Oasis Youth Support Network are aiming to help reduce the number of homeless young people. For every Facebook fan and Twitter follower, Boost Mobile will donate $1 to Oasis (up to $20,000). Find out more at the 32000 to Go website – and don’t forget to become a Fan and a Follower.

Hive Awards – Unsung Heroes, Apply Here

hiveawards You know what it’s like … you slave away for weeks or months on end. You put your best thinking, creativity and imagination into it. You wait, anxiously, as it begins to reach its audience … first in ones and twos and then, more. Then it is time for feedback, recognition, reward … only sometimes this last stage doesn’t happen. Well, not for all of us.

If you are one of those “behind the scenes” folks who help build websites, create strategies, engage “users” – then the Hive Awards is for you. Celebrating the unsung heroes of the internet, the Hive Awards:

… are designed to reward all the unsung heroes of the internet: the coders, programmers, user experience designers, content strategists, information architects, planners and the like: the people who innovate and create but rarely get the credit.

You only have a few weeks to get your entry in – so quickly, check out the website and start thinking about your favourite project.

Oh, and the good thing is – the Hive Awards is granular. So it doesn’t matter if the latest MTV promotion got more visits and visibility than your finance site. You are still in with a chance. Get your entries in by January 31.

Get the Early Bird Discount for ConnectNow!

The Marketing Now panel discussion

Last year I had a great time speaking and learning at the MarketingNow Conference in Melbourne. Siobhan Bulfin had put together a great program of speakers and created a unique, insightful and very focused event that really got conversations going – so much so that the group posterous site (for speakers AND conference attendees) continues to grow.

After the event, there was a great deal of discussion around the name of the event. What would it be called if it was held again? Was it really about marketing or was the conference, the workshop format and the discussions about marketing – or about broader topics – the changing nature of our identities, the social transformations taking place and the emergence of ubiquitous computing?

I am pleased to say that the next incarnation of the conference is to be held in Sydney, from April 7-9:

ConnectNow is a marketing and communications conference focusing on the convergence of social media, emerging technologies and enterprise. The three-day event brings together visionaries and specialists in the field of new media marketing, community management and social technologies covering the latest strategies, tools and best practices in marketing innovation.

I will be speaking (and would love to see you there). But Siobhan has jam-packed the program with some of the people who I have been reading and learning from for years – Gary Vaynerchuck, Brian Solis, Tara Hunt, Debs Schultz and Katie Chatfield together with Darren Rowse, Laurel Papworth, Jim Stewart, Stephen Johnson, Nathalie Hofsteede and Sharon Crost.

Until the end of January, you can pick up the two-day conference pass for $695, But that’s only for the early birds. Register to You won’t be disappointed.

Your Best Posts of 2009

Last month, as 2009 stumbled towards its own end, I asked you to share those posts that you felt were your best. I was interested in what you wrote, what you thought – and what you were prepared to share.

In response, I received emails, tweets and comments, showcasing the touching, funny and emotional aspects of our lives. This, in turn, revealed what I consider to be substantial social transformations that are currently being manifested via social media – the most important of which, I believe, continues to be “the rise of storytelling”. Each and every one of these posts resonated with its audience (and its author) for a simple reason – the power of its story to touch, engage and connect us. Let’s take a look in more detail …

We are hard wired to connect. Steve Woodruff shared the story of his son’s graduation from the US Marines. There were pictures, videos, ongoing updates – and a whole bunch of comments. The most interesting thing is that the comments were not specifically for Steve, or for the post, but for his son, David. Now, most of the commenters have never met David, but this did not stop them leaving very personal comments. Given the chance and the right context, we will share deeply personal beliefs and concerns in a very public sphere because we are hardwired to connect.

Why work harder when you can work smarter? Martin Shanahan’s schoolboy reminiscences made me smile. While this post looks literally at the way a bit of spit and polish can give your boots a long lasting sheen, sometimes you need to use a bit of nous, and the knowledge handed down from someone who has “been there and done that”. If you are an entrepreneur (or want to be), you could learn plenty from Kim Wingerei’s generous explanation of what CAN go wrong in the world of a startup. Clay Hebert shared some anecdotes from the life changing experience of being mentored by Seth Godin. Many of us think that we have to experience our own failures – but learning from the failures and experiences of others can allow you to catapult yourself forwards. As Clay suggests, sometimes you have to lean in.

Bravely embrace the future. It’s easy to say “no” to new things – to new challenges and opportunities. But Paulo Henrique Lemos suggests (along with Steve Jobs) that we can only connect the dots when we look backwards – and that the uncertain future is where we make our reputation, our mistakes and achieve our greatest triumphs. Interestingly, Trent Collins’ post about becoming a father captures this tension rather eloquently.

Where we rush towards the future, we also hunger for the past. Roger Lawrence reminds us that when “social” takes over, social media is nowhere to be found. During a 25th school reunion in South Africa, the running string of festivities meant that, for those attending, the rest of the world ceased to exist. Roger shares anecdotes, photographs and his experience of “return” – and photographs of the underside of the desk where he and his mates carved their names seems to take on a special significance – for while social media and technology propels us forward, faster, we are also anchored by our personal histories – and there is a richness to be found in the tension between the two.

The important story is the story you tell. Sometimes people wonder what story they should tell about their business. They wonder whether, if they start a blog, whether they could sustain it. The worry about running out of content. Or ideas. But Sornie shows that the truth sometimes gets in the way of a good story – it happens in fiction (which is why it is called fiction), and it happens in marketing too.

Stories need connections. Marketers often have trouble pulling together different strands of a story. They get caught starting – or in the middle – and forget to link each piece together. Rich Nadworny highlights the importance of pulling all your narrative threads together – making sure that the connections are made, that the hero wins and that there is sufficient drama to carry us all along for the ride. And Leo Hillary shows just what happens when we get a story just right – beautiful!

It’s time for business, PR and social media to grow up and get along. Craig Pearce sheds some light on the culture of public relations and  Sean R. Nicholson weaves personal and professional experience together to show how some of the fears around social media make us look like ostriches (with our heads in the sand). And on the same topic, Stuart Foster demonstrates exactly how some brands and businesses are using storytelling as part of their experiential marketing strategy. But then Stefano Maggi provides the insight into HOW you do this – building and curating content within a social ecosystem.

Learn and iterate. We can learn from everything that we do – but sometimes, in our rush for the next, new thing, we forget to reflect on our successes and what made them work. Scott Mendelson has a great, in-depth article looking back at the Batman movie – what made it unique and how it set the scene for all that followed. And yes, it was over 20 years ago.

Complexity breeds resilience. Not only are we experiencing vast amounts of change in our lives – from society and culture to the workplace and politics – the rate of change is accelerating. But rather than hiding from this, Mike Chitty urges us to embrace the complexity. While we may get a buzz out of collaborating with “like minds”, in working with those who are vastly different, we will be exposed to opportunities that would never otherwise arise.

The devil is in the details. If you are like me, you pride yourself on your big picture ideas. But I also have a secret – something that my bosses seem to have all known – that I am actually all about the details. Dennis Price points out that in any business there are only a handful of people who really NEED to be big picture people – and that you (and I) are unlikely to be one of those people. It’s a great post that reminds us all to keep our eyes on the prize – but attend to the details because, as Heather Rast reminds us, that’s where the gold lies.

Everything is personal. No matter how hard we try to hide behind our professions, our roles as parents or children or our place in a community, at the end of the day everything is personal. And what makes something stick – what makes a story remarkable and an experience memorable – comes from this understanding. Heather shows that sometimes you need to bump some heads to get your point across, while Tim Berry brings a much needed personal perspective to the world of business, with some excellent practical advice. And Jasmin Tragas shows just what can be achieved when you put your creativity, passion and energy into a worthwhile cause.

Sometimes a story can stop you in your tracks. Mandi Bateson’s post Remember Ruby, is the pure telling of a story – a tragic and powerful story; while the searing honesty of this story from Zana literally knocked the breath from my body. It’s the story you read for which there are no words. It’s called Stop – and I did.

Holiday Card – From Idea to Finished Product

When I worked in an agency I was always amazed at how much time it would take to put together the year end holiday greeting card. We would have illustrators, designers and programmers poring over the details in the last minute rush before holidays. Hundreds of hours would be racked up. But the end result was, perhaps, the best advertisement for our work – internally and externally. Internally it would remind the Board of what we were capable of and externally it would show what COULD be possible if creativity could be unleashed.

Unfortunately, most corporate holiday cards don’t take this approach. Too many appear like a tick in the box – something to be done and sent. It’s a shame, because they really do provide a great vehicle for your own branded story.

Here’s a nice video showing how the folks from MindCastle Studios turned some sketches into a holiday gift card. It steps you through the various key points of creative production – and shows just how good photography can transform your branding. And the video builds a fantastic story that highlights not just capabilities, but personality and approach. We could all learn a little something on that front!

our creative process/. 01 from Casey Warren | MIND CASTLE on Vimeo.