If you're looking for something to read this weekend, here are ten things I enjoyed reading this past week:
If you're looking for something to read this weekend, here are ten things I enjoyed reading this past week:
July 20, 2013 | Permalink
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I've put-up a post on Medium, sharing some of the advice I give to people interested in becoming a planner, which includes an analogy inspired by Bruce Lee's Three Stages of Cultivation. You can find it here.
On a related note, here are some of my favorite Bruce Lee quotes that are applicable to what we do as planners/strategists:
"Man, the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any established style or system."
"Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it."
"There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them."
"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water."
"When there is freedom from mechanical conditioning, there is simplicity."
"Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there."
"It’s not how much you have learned, but how much you have absorbed from what you have learned. It is not how much fixed knowledge you can accumulate, but what you can apply livingly that counts. ‘Being’ is more valued than 'doing'."
Who knew Bruce Lee could be so inspiring for planners?
Last night, while going through some old bookmarks, I came across a David Brooks piece written just over a year ago titled, "The Power of the Particular." I highly recommend you read it—probably before you continue reading here.
What I want to focus on is the end of his piece, which contains valuable advice for brands. He says:
The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.
For me, this paragraph hits very close to home. Too many brands try to attract people by doing what they think will be most appealing to a large audience rather than remaining true and authentic to the brand's roots.
They try on different voices and messages and images in hopes that everyone will like them. They tell whatever story they think is going to get the most attention and make them the most attractive, over being true to their own story. Just as this doesn't work in dating and making good friends, it doesn't work in building a lasting, meaningful brand.
Instead, as I talked about yesterday, the brand should lean in to who it really is and use that to tell their story today. As Mr. Brooks says, the brand should go deeper into its own tradition. Call more upon the geography of its past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.
In reading from George Orwell's essay, Why I Write, a section stood out to me that relates to why I think "Mad Men" is such a terrific show, and contains a lesson for building and maintaining a great brand. Here is the bit I'm talking about:
I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write.
What makes "Mad Men" great are the complex characters and the story lines that unfold because of them. In a world saturated with shallowly scripted "reality" TV and crime dramas ripping their stories from real news headlines, it stands out because we don't see many shows where the characters are so deeply developed.
If you've paid attention to how "Mad Men" has progressed, you'll notice that we have come to know not just the main characters, but also a lot about their lives prior to working together at the agency, including a decent amount about their parents or the people who raised them. As George Orwell notes, our early development has a great impact on the adults we become; affecting how we approach our work, our relationships, and our lives in general.
In watching the characters develop over the seasons, it is clear to me that Matt Weiner has imagined rich back stories for the key characters. We know about their parents, their spouses, their kids, their previous jobs, and in some cases, their childhoods. From these backgrounds, the actors are able to more fully become the characters they portray. By knowing so much about where their character has come from and what they've been through, they can more realistically bring to life how they would behave in the context of the situation they're put in in each episode and season.
So, what does this mean for brands? Well, it's simple really. If you want to have a great brand, you've got to have a great back story. I think this is true of any brand we would deem as being great today. They have a rich history with a coherent narrative. They've stayed true to the bigger purpose for which they were created, regardless of who has been leading the brand over time.
As an example of this, consider how Starbucks began, how it got off path and has been working at getting back on track. Time will tell if Starbucks will be a lasting great brand, but what we've seen so far from them does show how staying true to your story is critical for success. It also demonstrates how going away from that story can be damaging.
For start-ups, this means you really need to think about the story you want to create for your brand and how what you're doing now is making that story come to life. The more you know about where you want your story to go, the more clearly you'll be able to make the right decisions today and down the road.
In this regard, consider Facebook. So far, the story they're creating is one filled with constantly changing things in ways that break people's trust. If they have intentions of sticking around, they better start thinking critcally about the story they're creating and how that compares to the story they want to be told down the road.
As we all know, actions speak louder than words. Along with a clear sense of purpose, having a strong back story is a key component to guiding your actions in a consistent manner over time. Consistency matters because consistent behavior is what builds trust, and trust is a required element to any strong relationship, including those between brands and people.
If your brand is fortunate enough to have a strong back story, lean heavily into it. Let it help you decide what you should be doing, in concert with your purpose and ambitions. If your brand doesn't have a strong back story, start creating one today. Determine where it is you want to end up and start creating the story that takes you there.
Earlier this evening, I was at MSP with a bit of extra time before my flight to Denver. I decided that I wanted to find a good spot to eat and catch up on email. After I passed through security I could see that a little ways in front of me was an interactive kiosk with a listing of all that can be found in the airport. Being curious about how technology is being used in various settings and uncertain of where I wanted to go, I decided to check it out. It ended up being a total waste of time as the touch screen was registering very slowly and quite poorly.
As I walked away from this terrible user experience, it made me think about the importance of stepping back to consider how much of a return on investment (ROI) we're getting for the time we spend making the things we make and the return others get for spending their time with them.
Time is a luxury. With the amount of demands we all have on our lives, we have become very aware of how we spend it. When the world is full of unlimited choices for how to spend our time, we need to make sure that the things we create make people feel like the time they gave us was worth every second.
When you're working on launching something new into the world, ask yourself few simple questions at every evaluation point along the way:
Would somebody I personally know who is actually the target audience pay attention to/go to/do/download/play/use this? If I didn't work for this company, would I?
If the answer is "no" to the first, absolutely don't move forward. Go back and rework it until you can answer "yes." If it's yes to the first and no to the second, pause and consider if you really should still move forward. Unless there is a very obvious and good reason why you wouldn't, odds are that the idea needs reworked.
When you have decided that you should go ahead, ask yourself another set of questions:
Would the person we're trying to reach tell their friends about it? If I didn't work for this company, would I?
Again, if the answer is "no" on the first, don't move forward. Go back and find a way to build in something that makes people want to share it. And if it's yes to the first but no on the second, pause again to consider what might make it better.
Working to get to "yes" on all of these questions might mean that you won't get your new thing launched as quickly as you had hoped. But so what? If you can't answer yes to these questions, it doesn't matter how fast you got your new idea out there because nobody will care to spend time with it and nobody will care to tell others about it.
To bring this to a close, I'll quote an early paragraph from Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:
If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on and think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.
As marketers, we've been given a valuable gift—the gift of being able to create new stories, ideas and experiences for others. If we're not making those things as inspiring as possible, we're not only wasting other people's time, we're wasting our own.
If you're going take the time to make something new, make something with a high time ROI for both yourself and the people you are making it for. If you're going to make something, don't make a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. Make something worth talking about.