Nike and Coke Teach The World, That Participation Rocks

In the fall of 2011 I conducted a workshop based on the New Era of Participation at the 4A’s strategy festival in NYC – and I admittedly ruffled a few feathers when I talked about the end of planning as we know it. I depicted a new era of participation that went beyond the siloed functions of account planning, media planning, digital strategy and even connections planning – to characterize a new way of “uber strategizing.” And I introduced a dynamically inspired and highly collaborative way of thinking, that’s born out of participation as the end of the means of a purposeful idea that fosters deeper levels of human involvement.

Since then, and during the past six months in particular, I’ve been experimenting and thinking about participation as a new form of brand currency that goes beyond the passive behavior of “recommending to a friend,” “liking” or “following” a brand. Increasingly, I am beginning to wonder if participation isn’t quite simply a new measure of tactile brand intimacy and behavioral affinity that exists when “people and brands interact together.” In that way, participation is both shaped and underscored by a measured behavior – or put another way, it’s a combination of behaviors that are defined by proactive brand verbs such as “join, play, buy or share” that only exist when people fully buy into a brand purpose. As an example and to make my point, think of the award winning work for Nike Fuel Band – that unleashed the inner athlete in all of us – and inspires us to “just do it” through the power of technology, to create a whole other level of brand participation that goes well beyond a Nike running shoe.

Now, you may or may not use the words “participation” to interpret or even describe what I am talking about. Although irrespective of whatever you call it, I suspect that you may agree that more brands and more agencies, have woken up to the realization they can no longer just message their way to marketing success. Today, the bar for attaining consumer engagement is much higher – and our brightest minds at agencies are now tasked with finding more skillful ways of tapping into human behavior – that are more about creating ideas that entice participation, and not just advertising ideas. The birth of the digital age, rapid advances in technology, and the voracious human desire for content has given all brands and all marketers the equal opportunity to do that – with or without a big budgets.

Case in point: is a most recent and perhaps my current favorite example of participation for Coca-Cola that I view as a brilliant reinvention of an iconic advertising idea. The initiative is called Project Re: Brief – and its core premise is the reinvention of the famous Coca-Cola Hilltop commercial from the 1970’s and the potential to turn it into a powerful particpatory idea for the 21st century. The initiative born out the ingenuity of google, the genius of Harvey Gabor and a twist of innovation in syncing a vending machine with the web, takes the idea of “buy the world a Coke” and puts it on partcipatory steroids. Put simply, the outcome is that people are able to share a Coke with someone through vending mahines, anywhere in the world, in real time, through the use of smart technology, banner ads and social media networking to literally fulfill Coke’s purpose of “refreshing the world with happiness”. Check out the attached link to the Reimagining Coke Hilltop to see what I mean. In my opinion, it’s very cool.

With all this considererd, maybe it’s time to wonder as strategists, that you should stop planning – and become an uber-strategic catalyst in fostering participation? And if you’re already doing that, then you know what I mean – when I say that participaton rocks. So what are you waiting for, go forth, and participate.

Creatively, Strategic

April 18, 2012 2 comments

It’s oxymoronic. You know it when you see it. Some people like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos just have it. Most of us spend our whole careers striving towards it. It’s that elusive spark of genius that’s simply brilliant: it turns a category on its head, changes the rules of the game – or dramatically redefines the destiny of a brand. For sure, it’s a rare thing that even rigor and inspiration alone can’t guarantee.

I call it being creatively strategic. It’s a bit like having a split personality disorder. And to get there requires a different kind of thinking that often defies conventional wisdom.

It makes you wonder – if there’s a way for any of us mere mortals to practice creative strategic thinking? Well, in applying the right techniques and by trying a different approach, maybe there is.

But to start out, forget about any approach that’s based on linear sequential thinking. Apply mind-bending techniques, lateral thinking solutions, even random chaos theory – and it’s just possible that being creatively strategic could be within your reach. To get there, perhaps try one or more of the following approaches and see if they work for you:

Don’t Stop When You’re Feeling Groggy

Feeling tired? Cranky? Then get thinking, because you just might be at your creative best. Research by Wieth and Zacks has shown when you’re groggy, your mind is most highly creative – and more likely to yield imaginative insight. As the inventors at Menlo Park who worked for Thomas Edison might also possibly testify – that the “light-bulb moment” could strike at the twilight of exhaustion. But it doesn’t mean you have to work yourself to death to get there – merely open you mind when your brain is on the verge of feeling tired, close yor eyes, and in that moment of pre-sleepiness, you might just come up with a creative solution to that daunting business problem.

Reimagine, Who You Compete Against

Don’t frame your brand story versus the direct competition. Apply blue ocean theory and you can reimagine the category you compete in to find an ownable space that redefines your brand. Case in point: Coca-cola doesn’t compete in the carbonated soft drink business – or just provide effervescent fun. When reimagined in a world of optimism, Coca-Cola refreshes the world with happiness and serves a higher purpose to exist in a highly positive beverage category of one. As Coke is increasing dominance through “open happiness” – Pepsi is losing it’s fizz (pun intended.)

Think Like A Kid

Unleash your inhibitions, see the world with a new sense of naiveté, and explore your inner child to reveal a different perspective that’s simply liberated from the logic of your overly studied mind. Be a kid again, and you look at problem solving with a new set of divergent skills and open-minded wonder. Psychologists have demonstrated that the 5-year old mind has expanded horizons and intuitive skills. As an examle, look at Skittles as a kid and not a grown-up – and you get a more colorful and vibrant view of the brand that’s not just candy, but an unadulterated and wierdly raindbow-inspired child like fun experience.

Study Human Behavior, Not Consumption

Humans make decisions that are influenced by their values, attitudes, passion points, and behavioral motivations. Therefore, just focusing on how people consume brands is a highly myopic view of the connections opportunity. Open up your perspective to observe people and their behavior, in how they consume life – and it will illuminate new insight. For example, being able to observe a behavioral shift in the ownership continuum from owning to sharing, has helped Zip Cars identify a new opportunity for short-term car sharing that the likes of Avis and Hertz just didn’t see.

Look At The World Like An Alien

The people who have extensively traveled – are generally more creative and able to look at things from a different perspective. They can borrow learning from the places they’ve visited and apply knowledge from different cultures to enhance creative problem solving. Try thinking like an alien whose just landed on Earth for the first time – and you can enhance your creative thinking powers. Just ask Howard Schulz who was inspired by a coffee shop in Verona, Italy and then proceeded to build the Starbucks empire after seeing a untapped need for the quality coffee house experience in the US market.

So why not give it a shot? See if any of these methods work for you the next time you have a BHAG of a brand problem to deal with. In your hour of need perhaps resist the temptation to overly logic your way out of a corner. Rather, don’t just be analytically strategic, but get creatively strategic – and you might just find that you create a little piece of genius that will forever be remembered.

Testy, About Copy Testing

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

It can be a creative person’s worst nightmare. And it’s usually a major cause of migraine for any inspired strategic planner who wants to be associated with great work. Yup – that’s copy testing; and the more I think about it today, the more testy it’s making me feel.

Why so?

Well fundamentally, it’s because the underlying premise of how creative work has been traditionally copy tested is flawed – by today’s standards. I mean, think about it? Copy testing is usually based on evaluating ideas – especially TV commercials, under artificially stimulated circumstances and highly controlled lab-like conditions, based on many of the following criteria:

  • as part of a contrived advertising clutter reel
  • commercials embedded in “faux” TV content
  • respondents are recruited under false pretenses
  • evaluated in an unnatural / or highly restrictive setting
  • commercials observed under “forced exposure” circumstances
  • scored based on systematic recall and persuasion measures
  • evaluated against (sometimes really old) historical norms

The problem with all that is that the measured outcome (or derived black box score) is not usually a very good predictor of real success – and can often lead to misinformed although seemingly scientifically based decisions. But I guess what’s really making me feel aggravated – is that copy testing is usually not helping to make the work better, but is more likely to have the opposite effect. It means that being a slave to copy testing protocol can lead to good work being killed – and it can often result in unnecessary adjustments being made to otherwise good TV commercials that end up looking like “franken-mercials.”

With all this as a backdrop to many client driven-processes, the industry is sadly at a point where brand managers and agencies are motivated to develop creative work that’s engineered to beat the copy test system, but not necessarily yield great work. The end result is that the creative work produced ends-up meeting copy test expectations but falling-short of real world expectations. It then causes everyone to wonder “how did that happen?” And then guess who usually gets blamed: the brand manager and agency responsible for playing by the rules of copy testing to develop the not so great work? It makes no sense.

As a brand manager, it has to be frustrating – given that a copy test score could impact their year-end performance evaluation, next pay rise, or big promotion – or maybe not? And as an agency, it’s enough to make you go nuts. Creative people don’t understand why it has to be this way. Account directors are feeling hand-cuffed – and planners have become powerless, in their collective inability to steward the best creative outcome.

There has to be a better way?

Well thankfully, there is. Although for sure, it will take more than a wish and a prayer for a brand manager and agency with conviction to pursue the alternative paths – given how traditional copy testing is so ingrained into the institutionalized process of so many clients. But if you have the courage to go against the grain of conventional wisdom, then here are four alternative ways for you to consider – that will likely start your agency down the road to better work:

Apply best judgment, intuition and experience

Don’t ask the consumer if they or dislike your idea. Assess creative work based on the best judgment of smart agency people who have the benefit of learned experience. Follow your agency convictions and philosophy to self-assess the work through the eyes of your senior creative leaders, account directors and strategists. It keeps everyone accountable – and puts the agency to the test in making good decisions based on the potential to “live or die” by great work. Leo Burnett for example, has an internal creative process that calibrates ideas by using a 10-point GPC scale  that evaluates the potential for an idea to change the way people think, feel and act – and ultimately transform human behavior.

Dynamic, real-time, modeling and tracking

By tracking consumer perceptions, behavior and real-time transactions, it’s possible to create a sophisticated model that assesses the impact of creative work in the “real world.” Especially for retail, CPG, and in particular e-commerce brands, developing a highly sensitive and real-time statistical model gives clients the confidence of being able to assess the impact of the creative work (and media) based on their KPIs and potential to yield actual sales within the competitive realm of reality. Taking this approach provides agencies with the liberty to develop their best work without being beholden to copy testing hurdles, while also being able to apply test-and-learn consumer insight to iteratively adjust and optimize the work – and media spend levels, based on how the overall  communications strategy is actually performing.

Evaluate the power of the idea, not the creative execution

A well-executed “bad idea” doesn’t equate to success. Rather, it’s the transformational power of the idea platform that matters. And therefore, designing an evaluation technique that quantitatively measures the pre-post “lift” based on reactions and actions to a conceptual idea (that’s evaluated through a discrete self-complete online survey) can provide a fairly good measure of directional success. Using a rough-video animatic or even a concept statement as a creative stimulus – can allow the client and agency to effectively get a pre-read on the behavioral-changing power of an idea. Thereafter, assuming a successful “lift-test”, it’s down to the inventive craft of the agency to execute the idea in the best way possible.

If you have to copy test, tap into a different part of the brain

Admittedly, not every client (and even some agencies) are yet willing to totally give up on copy testing. And so, if you have to copy test, then perhaps the best way forward is a communications testing methodology that gauges emotional resonance and behavior. Companies like Brainjuicer provide an innovative approach to creative idea testing, that give clients the quantitative confidence they need – and agencies the opportunity they crave to develop great work. In short, Brainjuicer applies a progressive and emotionally-grounded approach to testing that uses a methodology called ComMotion. By evaluating the potential to spark different types of emotional reaction – and by tapping into the intuitive and instinctive behavior of the reptilian brain – this type of testing approach increases the odds for brilliant and non-conventional ideas to make it through the approval system. Just look at the Cadbury’s Gorilla work from the UK – as creative work that would have  failed on the merits of traditional copy testing but that got the client green-light based on a Brainjuicer communiations test to achieve phenomenal success.

These types of approaches are just a few of the many possible alternatives to traditional copy testing – given that most agencies have their proprietary approaches and internal evaluative processes – to make the work even better (that aren’t copy test dependent – or just quick-and-dirty focus group disaster test approaches.). Point is, that whatever the approach – even the very thought of looking at alternatives to the old-school copy testing protocol begins to free you from the shackles of restrictive creative practices.

Convince your clients that there’s a different approach to copy testing and it’ll start to make everyone feel better (including them!). Chances are – the quality of the the thinking will be better – the work will be better – and ultimately, the actual end results will be better. And then everyone will be feeling a little less testy.

As for me, I’m feeling better already. Serenity now.

How to keep your head, in advertising

October 4, 2011 3 comments

Advertising is a crazy business, with crazy hours – and crazy people. And yet call me crazy too, but I love every minute of it. But what keeps me sane is the realization that the way to harness crazy and turn it into positive energy is to keep your wits about you and to not lose your head – while others around you might be losing theirs.

Recently, when I was asked to give a talk to aspiring execs at the Met Club in Chicago, I reflected upon what it takes to maintain sanity within the world of ad crazy – and half-jokingly, I came up with what I called The Seven Headly Secrets to Achieving Sanity and Success in Advertising. Admittedly, my first intent was to yield a chuckle or two, but secondly, I was also trying to get across a few points and some helpful career advice.

In short, here’s what I said:

1. Be prepared for your 15 minutes

Andy Warhol told us to expect 15 minutes of fame – but he forgot to mention that moment could arrive when you least expect it. Point is, in the ad business always be ready for your 15 minutes – and seize the moment, otherwise it might just pass you by.

2. Become ambidextrous

Rafael Nadal’s path to success has been enabled by a secret weapon – an ambidextrous ability to play either a left–or-right handed forehand shot. Similarly, as a strategic thinker in the ad business, it’s advantageous to be able to leverage your left or right brain – as a way to heighten the powers of your problem solving skills. Become comfortable with quant and qual research, apply inspiration and rigor – appreciate art and science – and you too will have your own secret weapon.

3. Anticipate and harness change

Don’t let your salary become a piece of cheese in a mouse trap – whereby you become comfortable with the status quo, and live off your past glories. Accept the world is unpredictable – and that change is inevitable, otherwise, your piece of cheese will disappear and you’ll get snared. Prepare for the unexpected – let the power of innovation and positive change guide you, and chances are you’ll get a bigger piece of cheese.

4. Build your own authentic brand

Arguably, Lady Gaga isn’t exactly a great singer, she’s not overly attractive – and yet, the world still adores here. Why? She’s knows who she is, and celebrates what she stands for, in developing her own authentic brand that people can identify with. Same principles apply to the ad business: develop your own distinctly unique and personal brand, be proud of who you are – don’t try to fake it, or aspire to become someone you’re not.

5. Develop IQ and EQ

You have a career in strategy because you’re smart. You have the intellectual capital to make the agency better – both through your thinking and the resultant work. Maybe you have a high IQ, are curiously smart, or you have a brilliantly intuitive mind? That’s all great. But if you don’t have emotional intelligence, then you’re only half way there. Develop your EQ – learn how to read situations, adapt, and connect with people – and chances are, applying your emotional intelligence will enhance the potential for success.

6. Never stop learning, work on your weakness

Just like a chain, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. To become stronger, find the weakest link in your skill set – recognize it, develop it and keep working it – until you can master it. If you don’t improve on your deficiencies, it will only become more of an issue as you move up the ranks, and one day – it might just catch-up with you in your hour of greatest need. To avoid that, never stop learning or improving.

7. Learn to walk the tight rope, mindfully

A career in advertising is like walking a tight rope – make a big mistake and you might fall. Run recklessly and become too self-absorbed by who’s beneath you – and you will increase the chances of falling off. Too much career and no life will also unbalance you. Be courageous, stay focused on what’s ahead – walk with purposeful ambition and you’ll stay balanced.

Of course, there’s no money back guarantee or full-proof advice in any of what I’ve outlined here – given how unpredictable the ad business can be. But hopefully, there’s more than a half-serious truth in here somewhere, that might just help you along the road to achieving outrageous success as a strategic planner in the agency world – even maybe beyond.. Ultimately, I guess that’s up for you to decide. But at a minimum, I’m hoping that at least a few of these points might help you keep your head on straight – as the inevitable pressures of the ad business start to consume you.

But then again, maybe that’s all just plain crazy?

Stay sane my friends.

New Insight Without Insanity

January 11, 2011 3 comments

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results – then perhaps the way that many brands approach research today is good enough reason to question their sanity. After all, doesn’t it seem crazy to adhere to a brand discovery process that’s restricted to traditional focus groups and old-fashioned methods of quantitative research – while hoping you might discover something new? Especially when past experience tells you the outcome is likely to fall short of yielding new, mind-blowing, or game-changing insight.

I’m not saying focus groups and quant research studies are no longer relevant. Because to the contrary I think there will always be a need for artfully moderated focus groups and skillfully designed quant surveys. But what I am saying is that in an era of market research breakthroughs in neuroscience, behavioral psychology and biometrics – why would a brand limit their potential to learn? To me, it just doesn’t make sense as to why so many brands are unable to break away from the straightjacket of “the way we’ve always done things” and are unwilling to try something new.

Maybe it’s as simple as institutional inertia. Perhaps it’s fear of the untested? Because admittedly, there are some newer methods of insight mining that do require a leap of faith – given their unproven premise and methodologies. But for sure, there’s also a lot of merit in trying something unconventional and in taking a “nothing-ventured nothing-gained” approach to research. After all, there’s always the chance that your brand might just uncover some type of mind-bending insight – and garner a better understanding of how humans think, feel and act.

And so, by way of example and in no particular order, here are a couple of highly progressive research methodologies that I’ve come across during the last few years:

Sentient Decision Science – a methodology that’s grounded on measuring consumer response times to automatic brand associations and also provides a way to model underlying drivers of brand behavior.

Emotion Mining – a way to mine the human subconscious, get to brand truths, and identify behavioral drivers by using a free association technique and asking the fundamental question of how consumers feel.

Protobrand Meta4 – uses an imagery-inspired projective technique, “metaphor elicitation” and interpretive analysis to provide richer qualitative and quantitative understanding of brand feelings.

BuzzBack – applies the use of an online tool to leverage the power of projective psychology by using e-collages and thought bubbles to provide a faster read on brand imagery and perceptions.

Innerscope – the application of biometrics and eye-tracking technology to measure subconscious reaction to brand, messaging and media stimulus and to ultimately map emotional engagement.

To all of the above options, I say very interesting and worth exploring. Although I hear you ask, if any of these methods (or other forms of new world research like this) are really worth a try, given how much is always at stake when making insight mining decisions? Well, I guess that’s ultimately up to you and other responsible brand stakeholders to decide. But for me, it’s hard not to say that I think many of these approaches have real potential – especially for brands that compete in undifferentiated or highly commoditized categories.

And so in conclusion, what’s really the definition of insanity when it comes to brand research? Well, maybe it’s just downright insane to not at least try a new approach to insight mining and to see what’s possible.

As always, I welcome any thoughts, added commentary, or different perspectives.

Happy New Year.


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