Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

Tag Archives: media planning

Happy ‘View’ Year

Over the course of the past year or so, ad viewability has become one of the hottest topics in digital media. Marketers and advertisers are demanding the digital ads they buy be “viewable” by users. Now, when you plainly state what the quest for viewability is, it sounds pretty ridiculous. “Paying only for ads that can actually be seen by viewers” – how would anyone conceive of paying for any other kind of ad?

And the new focus on viewability points out that for 20-plus years, the industry has been selling ads that provide only an outside chance a reader might stumble across them. Can you imagine if other products or services were sold without even a chance to work as planned? Food that can’t be eaten, clothes you can’t wear, a car that doesn’t drive. Emperor’s new clothes, anyone?

How did we get here, a place where demanding that ads be viewable is necessary, and where 54% of all ads aren’t viewable? There is no doubt that we brought it on ourselves. The digital media world was growing so fast, it seemed that there was limitless inventory to place ads. We force-fit the old media, “push” model into a new media advertising eco-system, unconcerned with the fact that it clashed with new consumer behavior. And deflationary pricing and race-to-the-bottom CPM rates forced inventory to grow and quality to decline, leading buyers to be accustomed (or addicted) to CPMs of $1 or less.

Advertisers should demand higher quality digital media.  And to me, viewability seems to be a pretty low threshold. Nevertheless, here are the reasons I’m interested in this evolution:

1. A focus on viewability will drive advertisers from their “efficiency at all costs” position. Advertisers and their agencies have been focused on gaining ad impressions as cheaply and efficiently as they can. But, as I’ve said before, too much efficiency can be a bad thing. The reason CPMs are so cheap is because they include huge quantities of impressions of extremely low quality. And those impressions don’t make any impression at all. While it’s natural for advertisers to say they only want to pay for ads that are seen, they should be prepared to pay higher costs for them. Imagine that – paying more for higher quality. There’s a concept that would be reasonable.

2. It will make advertisers consider digital ad models, not just old analog ones. Fewer campaigns will simply take display ads (that likely originated as print concepts) and spread them around as many places as a surrogate for awareness. Instead, more teams will consider how a digital media consumer actually engages with content and wants to be engaged.

In addition, changing how media is measured and bought will drive publishers to consider new ad units, new ways to engage with their readers, and more ways to deliver on the needs and expectations of their consumers. It will lead advertisers and agencies to re-think about how to develop campaigns, leveraging the media in new ways to create new stories. And agencies will consider new KPI’s and success criteria beyond impressions delivery for campaigns that relate to the medium, the consumer behavior and the types of conversions that happen along the purchase path.

3. It will begin to orient the discussion around the consumer, not the ad message. If the key is reaching a real person, then ad messaging should be designed to deliver a better user experience. The digital media ecosystem should be built around user expectation, desire and need. It should be about “pull” and no longer about “push.”

My one worry, however, is if, instead, publishers and agencies solve for maximum viewability by creating more and more intrusive ads, more and more pop-ups, more and more interruptive units. Then, it won’t be a happy new year at all. It will be a train wreck.

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Is Annoyance A Media Strategy?

Again and again, I have ads served to me that interrupt my digital and mobile actions. Popups are delivered that force me to landing pages and app store opens I didn’t ask for. Digital ads presuppose my interest in irrelevant products and services with no frequency cap. Despite the well-documented death of push marketing and the rise of the era of consumer control, it seems that many marketers believe that annoyance is still a viable strategic approach.

So, if you want to up your “annoyance marketing” quotient, here’s a simple five-point plan:

1. Ignore user experience and expectations when serving your advertising.

The new world of digital advertising affords marketers a plethora of tools and strategies for developing brand programming and campaigns that are relevant, timely and in-tune with a user’s mind-state and expectations. But flying in the face of this could also certainly help your brand stand out — and never mind the negative light it might shed on your brand.

With this in mind, it makes sense to serve an interstitial to an app user looking for a quick answer to a question like a train schedule or sports score. Or a page take-over to a mobile web browser looking for a phone number to tell a restaurant he’s running late. Don’t worry that you’re annoying them, slowing them down, preventing them from accomplishing a task – they’ll remember you!

2. Count impressions not engagements

By now we all know the hoopla and to-do caused by viewability concerns, ad fraud, bots, and ad blocking. The industry is beginning to realize that, in general, a media “impression” is unlikely to actually make an impression. But the addiction to low-priced CPMs and flowcharts with tens of millions of impressions is too hard to kick.

So, since all we care about is the delivery of quantities of impressions, then be unconcerned about repetitive ad messages and overly high frequencies. If we believed the old rule of thumb that reaching someone three times was an effective reach, then reaching them with the same message 30 times is 10 times effective-er, yes? So Lyft, please continue to serve me dozens of mobile app ads, unabated. And Game of War, bravo, for your 100+ ad frequency!

3. Do not waste time creating customized and diverse content

It’s been proven repeatedly that having personalized, contextually relevant messaging improves effectiveness for advertisers. And that simply cutting and pasting executions from one platform to another is not only lazy but also frustrating to consumers and sub-optimal for advertisers.

But all that work and thinking is hard. So by all means, take that TV ad and use it as pre-roll. Use your print ad as a banner. And don’t worry about creating multiple executions, stick with a single one and run it to death. Ideas, creativity and likeability are over-rated, right?

4. Ensure click-throughs by all means necessary

Making life painful for your consumers can’t be a good thing. Forcing them to jump through hoops, lengthening their process or experience, and providing disappointment are recipes for disaster. After all, customer experience is the new favorite buzzword of the industry.

However, since getting clicks is often an important data point, let’s make click-throughs unavoidable. Hide the “x” box on the interstitial. Or make the box insensitive to a mouse. Or even better, just open the link anyway even if the user tried to click away. I’m sure there will be some folks who will be happy with where the link leads them, right?

5. Spam away

I subscribe to lots of blogs and e-newsletters. But somehow I get many more than I subscribed to. I don’t like getting what is essentially spam; does anyone?

However, since newsletter subscribers are an important metric for many marketers, it’s a great idea to start sending your email to people who have never asked for it. Or ever expressed interest. And perhaps the best idea is to hide the unsubscribe link. That way you can count them as a subscriber for another mailing!

There you have it. If you believe that annoying your customer is a great way to market, follow these tips and you’ll be up there with the best. Of course, you could also try the exact opposite — if you’d rather avoid annoying them for a better customer experience.

Mobile isn’t just ANOTHER screen…*

When the dawn of mobile media occurred over 10 years ago, the ad industry dubbed mobile phones the “third screen”. There was the TV, computers, and, now, phones. The mobile screen was simply another outlet on which to engage with consumers.

Things have moved full-tilt since then, as the mass adoption of the smartphone has seismically changed all of media, marketing, and information access for consumers and brands alike. Mobile is now most often the first place people search, look things up, and access info. In addition, the reasons, contexts, and ways that people use the mobile screen have evolved to be vastly different than those of other screens.

With all these changes in the media screen eco-system, why are most marketers still approaching mobile as just another screen, and adopting old models of advertising and engagement? This is destined to fail – because it clashes with the fundamental user behaviors and expectations on this newest of screens.

You see, in my opinion, mobile isn’t just a screen:

  1. Mobile is a behavior

People aren’t doing typical web browsing activities on mobile – meaning they aren’t open to clicking away, exploring links or general “serendipity”. Their time is constrained; meaning long copy, elaborate design, and multiple steps are anathema. And, there are many more distractions and complexities due to the real world context – so KISS.

  1. Mobile is an expectation

You expect immediate answers from your smart phone. Who directed that film? How late is this store open? What is the phone number for the restaurant?

You expect the web to be easy and smooth – sites need to load fast, information has to be accessible and readable, and pages need to be designed for size and utility.

And now, consumers have similar expectations of brands on these devices. So why does your mobile site take so long to load? Why is the information I need hard to find? And why is it so hard to find the ‘x’ to close your irrelevant ad that’s interrupting my task?

  1. Mobile is a transaction and tactical

People use mobile to solve and complete specific tasks. And because of this, mobile hates interruption. Which I find ironic, because most advertising on mobile is highly interruptive. If you don’t think that this type of tone-deaf marketing isn’t why a majority of millennials have installed ad-blockers, then you’re as out of touch as your marketing.

  1. Mobile demands relevance

When I see, say, a contact lens ad on TV or the web, I ignore it. But if receive a mobile ad for contact lenses, it feels like an invasion. Due to the intimacy of the device and the amount of personal information and activity that happens on it, there’s an expectation of relevance and individualization. So when marketers choose ‘mass’ over ‘relevance’, they take a big risk of getting it wrong – and earning the enmity of those they are aiming to influence.

The flip side of this danger is the opportunity it presents. Consumers actively seek out relevance and are willing to pay for it with their personal information and data. For example, 61% of smartphone users say they’re more likely to buy from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location (Google/Ipsos, 2015) and 76% of people who opt in to location sharing do so to receive more meaningful content (Salesforce, 2014 Mobile Behavior report). It’s pretty clear that consumers will share their information for relevant value-added offers and information – that respect their time, preferences and actions.

Marketers have finally hailed the ascendance of the mobile screen. So, let’s treat it more than just another screen.

*Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily 9.13.16

The Tyranny of ‘Scale’ – How scale keeps us playing by old rules*

caution tyrannymass media words old rules of marketing are dead

There it was, in HuffPo, in a listicle called “10 Tricks to appear smart during meetings”. Along with a recommendation to “Pace around the room” and to “Nod continuously while pretending to take notes” was number 6 on the list. This trick read, “Ask ‘Will this scale?’ no matter what it is”. And, it’s true – say this and people will think you are smart. But, unfortunately, it only perpetuates a fallacy.

You see, there’s an on-going illusion about scale. In Digital and mobile advertising, marketers, sellers and buyers are all participating in this illusion day in and out. That is, there’s a desire and demand for more and more impressions, more eyeballs and views, more tonnage reaching your target. But does this tonnage really reach the target? Is this scale actually useful, valuable or even real?

Firstly, let’s remember that the impressions represent only opportunities to view, not actual views. And these opportunities need to be discounted by the fact (or at least taken with the following gazillion grains of salt) that it’s been estimated that 75-85% of these impressions are deemed either fraudulent, unsafe, or unviewable, according to Julie Fleischer of Kraft. What’s left of that scale now?

In addition, let’s consider the exceptionally low (and dropping) click rate on desktop and mobile display ads. When you consider that “banner blindness” has driven click-throughs to less than 1/10th of 1%, it suggests that the message that is being scaled is not even being seen – or at least not being engaged with. Is this the kind of scale brands want?

The thing about this tyranny of scale is it relies on and adheres to the old model of Interruption. That is, gain access to as many consumers as you can and interrupt them with your message. A certain number will ignore you – others might notice you. But even those that ignore you might receive enough information to remember your message. This model worked for years and years – but should have died along with the digital revolution more than 10 years ago. Because consumers no longer simply ignore irrelevant ads (as they used to); they actively dislike them. And that has a negative splash-back effect on the brands.

I think that’s a key problem with scale – it generally trades out relevance to achieve mass. Instead, I’d rather address a smaller universe, but with content, context and consumer relevancy that drives conversion rates into the double-digits.

What is scalable are the many problems with scale:

You can buy scale, but you can’t buy engagement. Any publisher will sell you scale. You can aggregate readers, app users, game players, anything. The problem is that you’ll end up with a hodge-podge of disparate people, likely not prepared or interested in your ad. Scale, by definition, puts a premium on mass – and de-emphasizes relevance. In fact, a drive for scale essentially aggregates irrelevance. And irrelevance is the kryptonite of the digital era.

Not only that, but the modern media consumer is often engaged in his content or platform for a tactical, tangible purpose. Interrupt them at your peril.

Scale breeds irrelevance, which breeds loathing. The price brands pay for irrelevance is no longer avoidance, it’s animosity. Antipathy. And vocal dissension. I believe that it should be much more important to be relevant to some than irrelevant to many.

When people ask, “will it scale”, they are actively rejecting newer approaches and models. They are seeking the comfort of the past, and the seeming confidence of BIG numbers and lines on flow charts. But I have seen that ground-up or mid-to-low funnel approaches can also deliver big results.

Scale discounts the importance of value and impact. Especially when it comes to mobile advertising, the opportunity and role of advertising is increasingly one of adding value to the consumer. This added-value is likely not achievable when the goal is scale.

 

There’s a gigantic opportunity in today’s media world to drive new kinds of brand engagements. Leveraging new levels of data to deliver customized content, finding new ways to hyper-target customers, and partnering with publishers and consumers to create new kinds of value – it would seem we’re in a new, golden age of advertising. However, so much is still being evaluated and judged by that old model – “does it scale”?

Let’s always remember that just because something reaches a lot of people doesn’t make it good. At the end of the day, my belief is that relevance and ideas trump scale. Anyday.

* Originally posted in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily on 12/9/14

The myth of “I prefer their early work”

I prefer their early workfact or mythearly work book

I was talking with someone I know about a band that I love. He’s into music, too – but, to be honest, he’s a bit of a musical know-it-all. He’s a “I saw the them before anyone knew them” type of guy. And after I mentioned said band, he told me the classic saw, “I prefer their early work”.

Now, I have to admit that I’ve said it myself. And I’ve probably repeated all the same, standard rationale – they put their whole lives up to that point into it their first work; they were raw-er; it was from the heart back then; it was before they were “in the business”, so it was for the art of it. Okay, I get all that. But upon further thought, it should rarely be true. Because, first of all, any good band, artist, writer, and basic human learns more as they go along. They learn about themselves, the world, their craft. Anyone worth his or her salt gets better. The more they play together, know each other better, play with and develop their sound more, they should almost certainly improve. They make mistakes, they learn from trying, they find what works best. And, over time, they come in contact with additional resources – other artists, producers, etc. – that drive further adaptation and evolution. If they don’t, then they’re probably not truly special. Right?

But the more I thought about it, I also started to think that saying “I prefer their early work” also says some not-so-nice-things about the person who is saying it. And, about the person he or she is saying it to.

It suggests “I know more than you”.  Because it usually is said in response to someone saying he or she likes something, it’s kinda like saying “I used to like them, too – but I learned additional stuff that caused me to stop liking them. I guess you haven’t learned it, yet.” Which is smug (and here’s what I feel about smugness).

It says “I’m more discerning”. This person is saying that he has made a distinction in their work – he can probe deeper and critically dissect the better (earlier) from the less good. If you like all of it, then I suppose you don’t have the faculties to make the distinction.

It suggests “I’m more of a leading edge person than you”. This person is consciously pushing beyond what’s popular or well known to find what they like (a good thing) – and is letting you know in a way to place you with the pack, the average, the non-explorers.

It says “you’re lazy for still liking them”. Similarly, this person is always looking for what’s new. And you? You’re still sticking to them, despite their clearly disappointing later work? You’re obviously are lazy.

So, after all this thought, I’ve decided that I’m not going to say “I prefer their earlier work” ever again. Perhaps what I’ll say if I really am disappointed with the path someone or something has taken after early promise is “I really like some of their work. I’m interested in seeing where they’re headed.” What do you think?

What you DON’T do is as important as what you do*

just don't do itdon't do it street signdon't do itrelax don't do it shirt

It being Academy Awards season, I thought it made sense to give the Oscar for best Marketing Effort of the year. And that would go, hands down, to CVS, for their decision to stop selling cigarettes in all their stores by October 2014. Saying that, “the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose”, CVS is removing cigarettes and tobacco products from all its stores – representing an annual loss of $2 billion in revenue from tobacco shoppers. Yep, that’s right – I said $2 BILLION. But this simple act solidified and clarified what the company does – “help people on their path to better health”, as their President and CEO stated. It doesn’t take a genius to see how cigarettes are in conflict with that goal.

Now, I’m not aware of any Oscar (or Addy, Clio, or Cannes Lion) being given out for what a brand or agency didn’t do, but I think maybe there should be. Because often in Business and marketing, it’s just as important what you DO NOT do as what you do. There are number of reasons this is so.

Firstly, there is nothing more important than clarity. Most companies have complex, 100-page strategies that allow for all kinds of activities and lots of interpretation. That might be fine for diversification, but it’s terrible for clarity of direction, purpose or meaning for consumers. And when consumers aren’t clear what you are about or stand for, forget about being anything but a commodity. As a drug store that sold all the stuff you find at any drug store, CVS was a commodity. But CVS now firmly differentiates itself as being in the healthcare business.

Nothing makes things more clear than contrast. In fact, there’s a concept in Neuroscience called the the “Contrast Principle”, which states that we understand something better when we see it in comparison to something else than in isolation. So when a company makes it clear what they will not do, that helps us understand what they do. For example, when Yorkie said it was “not for girls”, people knew they were a manly candy bar – maybe more so than if they had said whom they were meant for.

Strategy is about making choices. Strategy should not be arcane, academic or abstract. Being strategic is all about making choices about actions – those which you do and those which you won’t or don’t. Closing one action in favor of another requires the courage of conviction and confidence to abandon things, which provides a necessary focus internally at organizations, as well as providing clarity for consumers. Sure, it’s easy to be wishy-washy, to say “well, it’s ok if we do this thing or that thing, even if it’s not exactly on-strategy”. But that’s not the right thing to do.

Making Trade-offs. Here’s the thing about your strategy – no consumer ever sees it. They only see your brand’s actions and activities. So you need to line up your activities with your strategy – that’s where your competitive differentiation takes place. And showing that there are limits to your activities – customers you won’t serve, and activities you won’t do (as CVS decided) – is a critical part of your efforts. As Michael Porter says, the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

So let’s have a big hand for CVS this year as they walk down the red carpet. And here’s to hoping all your brands get their chances to win awards next year for what they stopped doing or refuse to do.

*Originally posted in TalentZoo on Friday, March 7, 2014

You Can’t Polish a Turd – so just stop trying.

turd polishnew & improvedit's still a turd

As a student of human nature, I’m always amazed at the obsessive way we, the human race, go out of our way to fake ourselves, and our brethren, out. To avoid the hard realities and make the false, true. We rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, make molehills out of mountains, we call a heart a spade. Which is why I have always loved the idiomatic phrase, “you can’t polish a turd”. Because it points directly at our desire to try to tidy up disaster, to keep up a good face, and to avoid reality, telling ourselves everything is fine. However, let’s be honest. Everyone poops, as the children’s book tells us – and it seems that everyone then tries to turn it into something else.

And no other arena has made turd-polishing more of an art form than marketing. From “new and improved”, to “nothing works better, to “delicious AND nutritious”, marketing and advertising has consistently polished turds in order to make the lame sound good, make the weak feel strong, and make the lazy feel dynamic. Hurrah!

Well, it’s high time we stopped deluding ourselves, trumping ourselves up in the eyes of others, and taking shortcuts in order to keep us from doing the real work.

Stop deluding ourselves to make ourselves feel better
When confronted with a marketing situation that is less than positive, turd-polishing and spin doctoring begins to take place at a high level. Years ago, when I worked on Wisk Detergent, the marketing department decided to reduce the amount of cleaning enzymes in the product as a way to reduce costs. That’s right, they decided to make the product perform worse. But they convinced themselves they were giving the consumer the right level of cleaning – instead of that “over-formulated” product they’d produced for all these years.

Similarly, I worked on AT&T many years ago, and they were looking for ways to increase the revenue they made from long-distance calling (as I said, it was many years ago). They knew that most residential calling was happening after 8PM, when the rates went down – so they decided to raise the night-time calling rate. They also lowered the day rate, in order to create a single rate for the entire day. Because most calling happened at night, it was effectively a price hike for nearly everyone. But AT&T spun it as a “simpler” and more consumer-friendly plan. There, that turd is polished!

So what can you do? Ask yourself – is this really what the consumer wants? Is this based on a true human insight? Would I want this? What makes this a good thing? Consumers, more than ever, demand honesty and transparency. Anything less will be exposed, ignored and ridiculed. New and improved, my arse.

Stop trumping ourselves up with veneer and shallowness
One thing the industry has no shortage of is buzz. As in buzzwords, the “latest big thing” and the new. But so often people use this buzz to cover up a lack of substance, knowledge or honesty. How many times have you heard someone rattle on and on, using the latest terminology –  DMPs, RTB, “brand as publisher” and “native advertising”, anyone? – and, afterwards, you aren’t really sure they said anything at all? The turd that’s being polished here could be ignorance and insecurity, or, worse, a lack of ideas being masked with shiny words. So, instead of buzzwords and generalities, speak in plain English. That’s the only way to see if you’re really saying anything.

Stop taking shortcuts
When it comes to the real work we do, so many people seem to prefer to do as little as possible – and cover up the lack of effort and quality with a shiny wrapper and a nice bow on top. They’ll take below-average work and cover it with gilt – production values, technology, fancy talk. I’m here to tell you that no “content amplification system” can make crappy content successful. No amount of algorithmic optimization will make a bad campaign more successful. Calling your product “new and improved” doesn’t make it so. No fancy talk, over-jacked production quality or celebrities can make a dumb idea or poor product successful. If you’ve got a turd on your hands, the likely best thing to do is flush it down and start the work of producing something good. No amount of polish will change it.

Despite what I’ve said, people really do seem to think they can polish a turd. In fact, I’ve found that even the phrase this article is based on has been made “new and improved”. I found the edited phrase to be “You can’t polish a turd. But you can roll it in glitter”. Well, I guess that is kinda polished…

Don’t Vote For Yourself – A case for kindness

20140120-Napoleon-Dynamite-Heck-Yes-Id-Vote-for-Yoube kind blackboard vote for someone else

Mike Figliuolo and his Thoughtleaders has been one of my favorite bloggers for a long time – he’s practically one of my heroes. Today, he’s featuring a guest post from ME on his blog… and I’m pretty psyched. Please check it out (also in its entirety below) – it’s about the fact that leadership demands kindness. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments and rants below. And please share!

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“If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless.” – Moliere

In 6th Grade, I ran for class president. President of my class, my home room, mind you, not my entire grade. In any event, the election results were tight. And when they were read out to the class, I found I had lost by one vote. “At least the person I voted for won,” I told my friend and campaign manager, Tommy Markham. “You didn’t vote for yourself?” he asked. He couldn’t believe it. “If you had, you would have won”. The funny thing was, voting for myself hadn’t even occurred to me. The only question I had was which other candidate I would vote for. And, as it happened, I voted for the winner.

What is relevant about this story? On the face of it, probably not much. The idea of not taking actions to help yourself seems at odds with all our learnings and beliefs. But as a leader, the concept of “voting for someone other than yourself” should not be so crazy. And, in fact, good leaders need to see themselves as working for their direct reports, and, in a way, being more invested in their success than their own.

Here are some key ways to apply the “vote for someone else” ethic in your role as leader:

Give Away What You Have

“Man hoards himself when he has nothing to give away.” – Edward Dahlberg 

There’s a concept called “Abundance” that is a critical character trait for successful leadership. Abundance, as you might expect, is having presence, confidence and energy – so much so that you can be confident in giving to others your time, your ideas, and your help. You don’t need to take from others in order to be successful.

Having abundance helps attack one of the core cultural problems of many large corporations – the tacit zero-sum game of success – where employees seem to be pitted against each other for attention and rewards. This naturally has an inhibiting effect on sharing, helping and giving among co-workers. However, when you’re abundant, you know you are always re-filling your own kitty – so you’re comfortable giving to others. You are happy to share your thoughts and ideas. You’re happy to take the time to help others solve their problems. And you’re generous with praise and attention. It will all come back to you – in trust, respect, and ever more abundance.

Don’t Worry About Credit

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman

Because leadership so often is intangible, people can feel they need to claim their successes. And the pressures to deliver “big wins” can cause leaders to trump up their achievements at the cost of their teammates. But this type of politicking and power-hoarding breeds fear and insecurity – and doesn’t have to be the case. In the words of Arnold H. Glasow, “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit.” So, praise your team members and lavish credit on them. Everyone will know that you helped steer that ship. Simply let the credit accrue to you due to your team’s successes.

Cheer the Successes of Others

“A person places themselves on the level with the ones they praise.” – Goethe

In these “zero-sum” cultures, individuals tend to feel jealous of peers who achieve success. This negative energy creates competition and in-fighting. But it isn’t really true that others’ successes somehow limit our own opportunities. Confident and abundant leaders know that they will experience their own successes on their own terms. Instead of feeling that mix of envy and Schadenfreude towards your co-workers, practice the Buddhist concept called Mudita – “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.”  This breeds stronger, more productive relationships, better long-term connections, and general good karma.

Lead with Integrity

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sure, everyone knows it’s important to be honest, to understand morality and ethics, and to act accordingly. But it’s easy to say it’s important; it’s another thing entirely to walk-the-talk. As Oprah Winfrey said, “real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

Unfortunately, it’s too easy for people to find loopholes or play fast and loose with their ethical code. People at all levels in business become overly focused on themselves, and end up bending with the tide, selfishly chasing their own gain. However, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “the person of integrity lives in a fragile balance” between the all-too-human traits and pressures surrounding them.  Always stay balanced and true to yourself and your code.

Be kind

“Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain

Today, business is not for the faint of heart. It’s never been more competitive, more urgent, and more pressure-packed. Sales and market-share are fought for, competitors are battled with, and consumers are stolen. It’s an all-out-war. It would seem that kindness and being nice are out of synch with this battle.

But, in the end, it’s people who lead to any company’s success. And people, well, tend to like kindness. They respond positively to being treated well. And a happy team and a happy culture correlate more highly with success than an every-man-for-himself, Machiavellian one. So be nice. Be careful how you speak to someone. Treat folks with respect – and never expect anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do. And appreciate people’s efforts and always say thank you. You’ll be surprised how well kindness can be your competitive advantage. And, as Aesop said, “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Who knows what I’d have done differently if I’d won that election. Would my life have taken a very different course? It’s impossible to know. But the lessons I learned from my vote that day – give to others, don’t worry about who gets credit, cheer the success of others, demonstrate integrity, and be kind – are well worth the lesson.

Want What You Have – and not what you think you want

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“It is better to want what you have than to have what you want” Philemon

When I was a youngster, people would always mention my wavy, curly hair. “I love your curls”. “I wish I had your hair”. “So jealous”. But I hated it. I wanted straight hair, not the wavy, “naturally curly hair” that everyone with straight hair seemed to want. (Now, of course, I’m just happy to have hair at all.)

This seems to be human nature. Short people want to be tall, brunettes want to be blonde, intellectuals want to be athletes. And I get it, when it comes to people. But with brands? Why do brands (and Brand Managers) seem to think it’s critical that they develop in all the areas that research tells them they don’t own, and match the attributes and characteristics of their competitors, instead of focusing on the areas they are already strong? In general, it just doesn’t work – and it’s suicide. Instead of striving to be what you’re not, be what you are instead.

  • Don’t dilute what you are in order to be all things to all people
    It’s like clock-work. A new Brand Manager takes over a brand and looks at equity research. He sees the “outages” the brand has on various category attributes and vows to put the brand’s resources to bear on correcting them. I’ve seen it a million times. For example, I once worked on Wish-Bone salad dressing. The brand was known as a bold, zesty italian-style brand – and owned those dimensions in the category. But it was weaker on attributes of “creaminess” and “all-family appeal”. So the company put emphasis on building its Ranch/creamy attributes, and did it’s best to tone-down the brand’s robustness. Ignoring that this is what made Wish-bone what it was – and was the only reason it existed in the world. The brand may have gained a few users, but lost it’s way.
  • It’s good to be clear about what you’re not
    Being happy with what you are also allows you to celebrate what you aren’t. In the Wish-Bone example, it would be ok to allow Hidden Valley Ranch and Kraft to own the “blander”, “creamier” stuff. It doesn’t mean that Wish-Bone shouldn’t offer those flavors – it’s just that they should deliver them in a Wish-Bone way. Pepper-corn Ranch, Chipotle Ranch, Zesty Ranch. Those make sense, coming from Wish-Bone.

    And brands can also make a statement by saying what they aren’t, or who they aren’t meant for. There’s the famous example of Yorkie chocolate bar – they didn’t just position themselves as a manly candy meant for men, instead they actively marketed themselves as “not for girls”. That’s a strong statement of “wanting what you have”. And this type of clarity and purpose is especially attractive to the type of people who are already interested in you.

  • Don’t think that merely claiming to be something you aren’t will suffice
    When you don’t have what you want, you may simply try to grab it or claim it. And, sure, it worked for Marlboro 60 years ago (Marlboro was a female-targeted product that simply proclaimed boldly that it was a manly product). But we all know that doesn’t work today. If you’re not authentically true to yourself, it’s easy for all to see. So, sorry, Tony the Tiger, but Frosted Flakes are NOT a healthy breakfast, try as you might. And Cheetos “Natural”? Nah.

Never forget how hard it is to be known for anything. So when you have something, celebrate it, don’t soften it. Don’t run from it. Instead, find a way to infuse what you are into everything you do. Demonstrate what you are and have everywhere. Because it’s dangerous to have what you want. Because it will end up being nothing.

“Creative” Is Not Just a Department – Creativity is everyone’s responsibility*

keep calm and be creativecreative department signI%22m not creative

“Everybody has creative potential, and from the moment you can express it, you can start changing the world” Paulo Coelho

When I tell people I work in advertising, they invariably ask, “are you a creative?” I have always struggled to answer this appropriately. On the one hand, no, I am not in the creative department. On the other, I have always felt responsible for the creativity of the thinking and work on the teams and accounts I have led. While I don’t normally come up with the creative ideas for ads, I help my team generate them, I foster them, I direct them, and help build them. I also help sell them in and help realize and activate them. So, yes, I am a creative. And I believe everyone in business needs to be one, too.

Because, contrary to popular belief, everyone is capable of creative thought and new ideas – it’s not just the bailiwick of a select group or type. And creativity can and should blossom everywhere across your company – not just in the “creative” areas. As a leader, you need to find ways to foster it with everyone, especially those who function further away from the typical creative arena. Here’s how.

Stop “ghetto-izing” creativity
“Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right or better” John Updike

As I mentioned, most leaders don’t expect creativity from finance, operations, HR, project management. There’s this belief that “some people are creative, but most are not.” But it’s just not true – some of the most effective and productive creativity can come from those beyond those most directly generating the creative work. You must get everyone to view their jobs as critical to the delivery of great work, no matter what they do. In this way, they’ll always be thinking of ways to enable and facilitate it, in order to make it more and more successful.

For example, research/planning creativity, on Milk, helped them look at what life would be like without milk, vs. simply researching how people consumed the product. This led to a completely new way to showcase it – showing how lacking some of our favorite things (peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies, cake) would be without milk.

You can also be creativity with budgeting. On LEGO, we took a different approach to our client-given budgets – by grouping budgets by targets – enabling a more macro-/top-down approach that drove greater creativity and more big ideas.

Embrace uncertainty
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties” Erich Fromm

It’s been proven that people and organizations often fear creativity and innovation because they tend to increase uncertainty. But uncertainty is a given – as I’ve written before, most issues are so complex, multi-faceted and dynamic that the dialectic of “right vs. wrong” is inappropriate. Instead, you’ve got to get comfortable with ambiguity – and preach that shades of grey are expected. As Andre Gide said, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

This is one of the reasons I advocate holding interim “tissue sessions” when developing ideas. These sessions give permission to everyone to not have all the answers yet. And to begin with a bunch of hypotheses to build, or kill, along the way.

Provide clarity in objectives and purpose
“Give me the freedom of a tight brief” David Ogilvy

While there’s no avoiding ambiguity, you can help stimulate creativity with a clearly defined brief and with crystal-clear objectives. Define the problem as laser-sharp as you can. Provide the details, structure, realities, constraints, etc. – so folks can think inside the box.

For example, when I ran Porsche a few years ago, we found that 911 sales were off. We believed it was a combination of recession-related factors that made affluent people not want to show off in this atmosphere, as well as “green” sentiment suppressing demand. But rather than briefing against a broad set of issues, we did research that enabled us to hone in the reason – a negative “value” perception due to people not seeing the cars as daily-drivable. This tight brief led to the Effie winning “Everyday Magic campaign.

In addition, clarify your purpose so everyone can rally around it. It’s incredibly motivating when employees believe in their company’s mission and genuinely like what they do. If your teammates and employees have passion, just try to stop them from being creative!

For example, when I worked on Wisk Detergent, we reframed the business we were in, from simply selling products that cleaned clothes, to being a brand that promoted a lifestyle that embraced diving in to life. This purpose turbo-charged creativity across the entire team.

Fight against conformity
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”Edward de Bono

When surfacing new and groundbreaking ideas, your team may end up challenging long-held company beliefs or ways of doing business. So you’ll need to attack insider thinking that restricts creativity – by benchmarking other companies and industries, by bringing in fresh thinkers, and by diplomatically saying, “we might be wrong”. And, you, too, have to be open to ideas that break rules or shatter your in-going preconceptions. This is often a lot harder than it sounds.

This is why it’s very important to instruct everyone involved to react viscerally and naturally to ideas first – thinking like a real person, a consumer, a non-insider. It’s too easy to kill things that feel “off” to your corporate eyes and ears – but make sure your consumer would find it off, as well.

Take responsibility
“Creativity is a highfalutin word for the work I have to do between now and Tuesday” Ray Kroc

Whether you are leading a project, a team or an organization, only you ultimately are responsible for the creative output. Regardless of the fact that you aren’t directly doing the “creative work”, you’ve got to do a tremendous amount of effort to enable it. This requires attitudinal work, interpersonal work and quite a bit of physical work.

First, you’ve got to aspire to produce great work. Give a damn. Have the ambition to set the world on fire, and make that fire contagious. Secondly, you’ve got to develop the types of relationships across your team that generate trust, instill courage, and deliver collaboration. This allows you to help build on ideas as they are developed, question them and iterate on them, unconditionally and without fear.  And finally, you’ve simply got to do the work. Remember that quote about “…99% perspiration”? It’s true. You’ve got to ask questions, make tons of connections and lateral leaps, and help distill initial ideas and re-build them. And get out and read, do, see, act – as Einstein said, “the legs are the wheels of creativity”, so keep ‘em moving.

Reduce fear
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes” Scott Adams

As a leader, one of your key jobs is to reduce the fear of failure and mistakes. This is the natural enemy of creativity. As a leader, you should be encouraging failure. Let it be known that there won’t be blame or backlash. That failure means movement and learning. That it’s an important step along the way to success. If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re likely not trying, doing anything new or advancing much.

Give time and space
“Lying around doing nothing is an important, nay critical, part of the creative process” Tom Hodgkinson

It’s been said that time pressure creates great creativity. But it simply isn’t true – studies show that people are the least creative when fighting the clock.

In addition, people need time to work through the predictable to get to the unexpected. To make further and more lateral-leaps. To iterate. And, to put the work down, look away for a bit, and let things percolate. So make sure you have enough time for your creativity.

This is another reason an interim, “tissue session” during idea development is helpful. It allows those brainstorming ideas to spend their time thinking them up, not perfecting yet.

If you take these actions, you will no longer look to a “creative department” for all you ideas and creativity. You will seek creative thinking from Finance, Research, Data/analytics, operations. And you’ll find that, lo and behold, your entire, cross-functional team is filled with Don Drapers.

*This article ran previously in the Troyanos Group November Newsletter.

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