Thursday, December 28, 2006

An exciting change, and a new bike

2007 will start with an exciting change in my world. I will join Sullivan Higdon & Sink next week as a brand strategist. I've long admired the creative minds and culture SHS is known for, and am excited to jump into the action.

Oftentimes the best opportunities evade the convenience of timing, and though the time at my current post has been brief, I made the decision with confidence and excitement. I get to work with wonderful brands, a group of talented co-workers, inspiring bloggers/podcasters - all within my favorite part of Kansas City, the Crossroads Art District.

On another exciting note, here's my new toy.
I rode this bad boy to work today, soaking up another freakishly mild December day. I always debate days like this, as I enjoy the opportunity to be outside - in December - but lament the climate change. Maybe by riding to work, I can feel a little more balanced within the debate.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Woman's best friend

This has nothing to do with marketing (except possibly for the Moab Humane Society), but I am inspired and amazed by the story of the dog Taz, who led a rescue team to his owner - and elite triathlete - Danelle Ballengee. Ballengee had slipped on ice while trail running, fell down three rock faces and spent a night in the 20-degree cold before Taz ran back to the trail head, ran around the trail head, and led a rescue team right to his injured owner. Amazing guts on Ballengee's behalf and a heck of an endorsement for furry running buddies.

Rocky Mountain News story.

Whether you're running trails, or pavement with your dog, and no matter the distance, this little addition can help tote safety and first aid items, food for you and Fido, and a cell phone. Oftentimes dogs don't mind the extra baggage, as it feels like the "work" they so love to attend to.

Listening to - Wilco, Summer Teeth

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

If you have to ask why, you'll never find out

(mt. hood, oregon)

Just got back from my morning run and as I brewed some coffee, I paused to hear the latest news from NPR on the missing Mt. Hood climbers. I've been watching this tragic event unfold with interest, as mountaineering and climbing are adventures for which I have great respect.

Morning Edition's Renee Montagne interviewed National Geographic journalist Tim Neville and while talking about the difficulty in winter climbing, asked (I paraphrase): "Why would they (missing climbers) want to do this?" I was dumbfounded. Seriously? Tim responded more politely than I would have, talking about the missing climbers' mountain past experiences and skills.

My response: "Renee, if you have to ask why, you'll never find out."

So which kind of person are you? Do you ask why, or do you ask when.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

The runner's high and creativity

Most runners understand the "high" that comes after a run. Even a couple miles out can produce a more relaxed, clear-headed, happy state (sometimes sticking around for hours). As I've learned by running longer distances more consistently, that "runner's high" gets more profound and often materializes at various points during a distance run to produce enhanced creativity and insight.

My body hits its stride - literally - at mile 10 or so. A floodgate is opened and my mood improves, my thoughts become more vibrant, my ideas larger and larger. Yesterday's 22 mile training run (for the Houston Marathon) was a great example. Once we hit about 16 miles, I could have run forever and during the four hours we were out training, I came up with enough relevant thoughts to fill a page in my Moleskine.

The physical part of this makes sense. It's about endurance, proper nutrition and mental toughness. What has baffled me is the increased ability to think clearly and be overly creative during my runs. I've remarked frequently that I'd like to invent a runner's pad and pen to jot random thoughts or simply record the solution to a problem I'd been agonizing over for days. I just read a great post on "A Trail Runner's Blog" about this enhanced creativity and problem-solving ability athletes experience. Scott cites the book The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being. Seems like an interesting read for athletes, creatives and business professionals.

Dig into the links above, but here are some excerpts Scott pulled from the book with his thoughts:
In the book, he (Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Herbert Benson) outlines four critical stages of the relaxation response:
  • First, you must undergo hard mental or physical struggle. A trail run would be a perfect example of such a physical challenge. A period of mental focus, like knitting or a crossword, is an example of a mental challenge.
  • Second, during the period of stress, you pull out the "breakout trigger" that eases the mind away from the day-to-day stresses. Hanson's research shows this is more than just your mind drifting away - it is a biochemical reaction that pumps nitric oxide through the body. Nitric oxide counters the negative effects of the stress hormone (norepinephrine) that comes with step 1, thereby reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and in general lowering the metabolism. Nitric oxide is also associated with increased levels of endorphins and dopamine.
  • Third, your mind makes a clean break (referred to as a "breakout proper") and in that moment, you have a peak experience. What is the peak experience? In general, it's a positive connection of some sort, such as a new way of looking at a problem, a new idea, or perhaps a personal best athletic performance.
  • Lastly, your mind achieves a "new normal state" of mind and body, with improved performance and new brain patterns. I think this is the hour of creative bliss that I feel after my long runs.
Makes more since...I think this theory is also applicable to the prolificness artists experience during stress and struggle. I'll pick up the book, but more importantly, I'll keep running as its benefits continue to collect in my life.

What are your creativity triggers? What acts, places, inspirations or people set off your flurry of ideas?

Listening to - R.E.M., In Time - The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The fair creative brief

Just found this wonderful campaign, Make a BIG NOISE from Oxfam, which calls like-minded fair-tradeers (coined it?) under 30 (brilliant) to answer an online creative brief and create a campaign. The winner's campaign will be created by a group of creative professionals - judged by an impressive who's who of creatives.

Kudos due for a great idea (one of many such competitions, though) - and what will surely be an incredible conversation among an extremely valuable audience for the cause. Not only is consumer-generated content king here, the campaign is judged by creatives (many of whom would enjoy being paid to develop the campaign I'm sure), and it is tailored to reach a specific group. What I like most is the application. Sure, other brands are asking for consumer-generated content...but Oxfam's involvement and it's narrowed-down core audience seems especially relevant to the success outlined in the brief.

I also admire the accessibility in the participation requirement. They're only asking for an idea to answer a brief. Not a fully fleshed out idea. And, participants are asked to utilize non-traditional media. Love it.

Thanks to Russell Davies for the heads up on this. Read through his comments as well - some good discussion on the point of such a contest. I think I'll add my two cents.

Listening to - The chatter of a jam-packed La Prima Tazza (forgot my flippin' iPod).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday inspiration

Busy day today, but wanted to provide few nuggets of inspiration to stretch creativity to the end of the week.

“Don’t think about consumer needs in terms of product categories, but rather in terms of consumer experiences.” -
James Thompson, Vice President of Marketing DIAGEO (formally Guinness), via the Branding Strategy Insider.

Nutcracker video, as played entirely on bike parts, via the Go Clipless blog.

Two consumer-generated blogs that showcase brand culture so wonderfully they should make companies drool:
Moleskinerie (previously mentioned)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Well said, sir.

I got downright excited about the state of corporate communication when i read my AdAge update just now, on GSD&M's refusal to re-enter the Wal-Mart review. GSD&M Co-Founder and President Roy Spence wrote: "I want to thank Wal-Mart for inviting us to re-pitch the business. I have decided to decline. We helped build Wal-Mart from $11 billion in sales to $312 billion. We declare victory. We will do everything to make the transition perfect. We wish our great friends well. And we are moving on."

Excellent statement. It nails the elements of a quality response and positions his company favorably:
He states the issue (I want to thank Wal-Mart for inviting us to re-pitch the business.) and his position (I have decided to decline.), finds a place to showcase his brand (We helped build Wal-Mart from $11 billion in sales to $312 billion. We declare victory. We will do everything to make the transition perfect.) and wraps the sucker up in a helluva bow: "And we are moving on."

Listening to - Joe Purdy, Paris in the Morning

Monday, December 11, 2006

Retail organization and employee evangelists

I’ve blogged many times on the importance of brands engaging and empowering employees – at a retail or customer service level – to be evangelists. No other time of the year polarizes a company’s employees more than the holiday season…it’s when great retail excels and bad retail is a gift-wrapped Pandora’s box of frustrations. And I’d wager that not too many places across our country are as holiday-ed up as Kansas City’s own Country Club Plaza. It’s a Mecca of lights, big-name stores and bustling shoppers.

I was getting coffee and doing some writing yesterday and decided to visit the Apple Store before I headed out of the Plaza. Though I can browse and play in there for hours, I had a few actual questions pertaining to both my iPod and MacBook. So, in I walk: a no-profit, question-asker in the middle of the holiday rush. But the Apple Store was just as prepared for me as it was for the mom who was on an iPod bender.

Oftentimes, at a retail level, the best way to let employees be evangelists is to arm them with the opportunity to interact with consumers. Three ways Apple prepares its stores to ensure each customer gets the attention he or she needs (and lets employees be evangelists):
  1. Construct pay-station kiosks for the most popular products: MacBooks and iPods are sectioned off in a stocked-on-the-floor area with an employee (or two) devoted to simply working that product. This allows the register, Genius Bar and other employees freedom to serve focused purposes.
  2. Devote people and a place to customer service: the Genius desk is a year-round feature in stores, but it further proves its worth in high-traffic by offering current owners a chance to get their product questions answered. Or simply a venue for advice and brand talk. A physical display of loyalty to those who already are interacting with the products.
  3. Offer ample, smart staff: Apple may “over staff” by some retail standards, but I rarely – even on the busiest days – wait for help. Apple's other employee advantage is its training and lack of "seasonal" knowledge. Each of its employees can navigate the brand. And when employees aren’t directly answering inquiries or making a sale, they are messing around with products, showing browsers how to use iPhoto or import music or sync iCal. Brilliant.

By organizing its employees, space and products efficiently, the Apple Store is a low-stress experience, even at its busiest time. This organization ensures the brand’s important experiential environment, which encourages play, interaction and dialogue. All of these things yield sales and brand loyalty.

And most importantly, the organization Apple uses allows its employees the opportunity to engage others in the brand they visibly love.

(Employee/consumer love-fest)

Listening to - Stan Getz, Anniversary

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Friday, December 08, 2006

TerraCycle Moves the Sustainability Needle

I'm always impressed by - and eager to fully support - sustainable companies. Sustainability, however, can be a watered-down buzzword at times. Not the case with TerraCycle. This company is innovative and sustainable darn near every step of the way. This is yet another example of entrepreneurs asking the question of "what if" and delivering with a different process, not just product to reach a profit. Read Tango's post for more on this great company and check out this short video.

Listening to - Beck, Odelay

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The big small

I downloaded Seth Godin's "Bootstrappers Bible" e-book a week ago and have been digging into it over coffee this morning. It's free for downloading for a limited time. Anyone who deals anywhere near business or biz owners/entrepreneurs/marketing will benefit from this read.

One of Godin' main points is that size (small size for small companies, thinking small in big companies) can be one of the most powerful advantages over competition. The e-book is written for the bootstrapper entrepreneur, but also speaks to the organization of larger businesses, especially retailers. As I'm reading his thoughts on the customer service opportunities afforded to small businesses, my phone rang. (I must be in Godin mode, because this transition/illustration feels very Godin)

It was Tom from Aesthetica, a great little gift store in the Crossroads. About 8 months ago, I received a Retro 51 wallet as a gift. The wallet was perfect, as it held a small notepad and a great Tornado Classic Lacquers pen inside. Most who know me know I jot notes obsessively, carry Moleskine Cahiers in my coat/pocket/backpack/car, and feel as nude as Woodstock if I'm caught somewhere without a way to collect thoughts.

No surprise that I burned through the wallet's notepad (front and back, and cardboard support insert) quickly. When I went back to Aesthetica (three months ago) to get a replacement pad, they were out. The company had the stock on back order. Aesthetica employees have called me four times since then. Never with the news I wanted, but with an update. So when Tom called today, he let me know the pads are in ("We have 24 of them" - maybe thinking, as I did, that I should go ahead and buy all 24). He also apologized for my wait. Wow.

We've all had great customer service experiences and darned if we don't tell them to the world. I've found, especially in the retail/service industry, that the simple act of being considerate of the customer goes an incredibly long way. Tom transcended customer service. I consider his call a sincere gesture. And I'm equally impressed that somewhere in Aesthetica's files, my name and number are penned in as a reminder to call me with updates.

The most telling part of Aesthetica's customer service is that they know I've never been a paying customer. The wallet was a gift. The two times I've been in the store, I've left empty handed. I am, profit-wise, worth nothing to them. Yet they've invested a large amount of staff hours on communicating with me, and keeping me happy...with the goal of selling a replacement notepad!

Many people will say, "Sure, they can do this...they're small. Someone was bored and found the note to call you. Amazon would have had those inserts in stock months ago."

The big small, though, is a concept I've been thinking of for a while. Especially when I'm thinking of the lessons learned with small businesses. On the flip side, many of the "large" companies are most successful when they small-down their layers and concentrate teams for R&D, marketing and sales. Big companies that were started as garage-corner bootstrapper-launched ventures often grow with the big small mindset. Keeping customer service, quality and organization at a manageable - and successful - level. We're seeing this mentality in many of the Web 2.0, neo-bubble companies now. Small mindset that hasn't changed during buy-outs and increased funding.

I read Jason Jennings biz book, "Think Big, Act Small" about a year ago and found it an essential part of my understanding of how big retail can keep customer interactions tailored. Some excellent examples are included to illustrate Jennings' points. Check it out.

I'm always baffled when marketing plans don't include equal parts campaign/promotion development and agency input - or at least some carved-out, strategic muscle - to address a brand's front line relationships. The responsibility falls on agencies to stop the train and shove a few hours in to focus on those relationships. Whether that input addresses a brand's on-shelf display, customer service process, new-employee training manual, loyalty programs or internal communications, it's our job to think of the little things when the big benchmarks must be reached, national campaigns executed and encompassing in-store design approved.

Listening to - Badly Drawn Boy, About a Boy Soundtrack

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Four F's of Citizen Marketing...and Monk the Snow Dog

Great stuff on the "Four F's of Citizen Marketing" from the thought-leading brains at the Church of the Customer Blog. Ben and Jackie cite Filters, Fanatic, Facilitators and Firecrackers as the ways to classify user-created sites.

What excites me about the research and results above is the quickness in which the citizen/social media arena is evolving and the necessity to focus efforts to ensure relevancy and appropriate reach. As we continue to dig into the differences within this category, conversations will be better tailored, audiences will be reached in more relevant ways and ultimately, great relationships will be built.

And speaking of relevance, here's something that's probably not at all relevant:

Most know that our fair state-line-bisected city was involved in its first winter storm this week. Many of my friends have asked (as they do each year) whether my dog Monk likes the snow (I think this is the dog-owner equivalent to "how's he sleeping/eating/pooping" baby questions). Anyway. As with all things Monk, he likes the snow as long as I'm with him. Yesterday he spent about an hour plowing snow into his mouth as I shoveled my and my neighbor's driveway. This morning, the neighbor dog was outside waiting for him to run the fence line. They did. And by the time I bribed him away from the fun, he was covered in snow, looking more like a brave Iditarod musher than the co-dependent Labrador I love.

(Monk's favorite thing to do at the dog park) (Tougher dogs...with booties)

Listening to - South San Gabriel, Welcome Convelescence.

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