Industry Commentary, Agency Initiatives and Inspiration

Is Your Brand Capable of Listening to Your Community?

Agency Initiatives, Best Practices, Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Apr 03, 2013 No Comments

Not Just Another Post About Social Media Overload, but Instead About Our Ability to Actually Comprehend

With all the chatter on the Twitter Machine (230 million tweets are sent each day), the constant barrage of Facebook updates (30 billion pieces of content shared monthly), seemingly unstoppable Foursquare check-ins (2 million every 24 hours), eMail SPAM messages (estimated at 262 billion a day), the explosion of blogs (171 million to date) and their respective posts (900,000 articles published daily), are we losing our ability as a society and as brand managers to listen and comprehend? Possibly.

What’s More Important — Hearing or Listening?

A friend Gregg Voss of the BrandEmpire Blog, poses the following question: ‘What’s More Important – Hearing or Listening? He cites the example of a Twitter colleague who recently tweeted a message to a vendor reminding them to “be nice to customers like him because they can hold the key to other opportunities.” The post clearly implied that something had previously gone awry between the two parties. The vendor’s response Tweet contained a “thank-you for the compliment.” The vendor obviously wasn’t listening.

The Definitions of “Hear” and “Listen”

Dictionary.com
defines the word “Hear” as:

  • to receive information by the ear or otherwise

And defines the word “Listen” as:

  • to pay attention

With all of the ways we and the brands we represent can now interact with customers, are we losing our ability to listen, understand and respond appropriately, as in the example above?

Our Ten Commandments for Effective Client Service

Recently we published a post outlining our agency’s “Ten Commandments For Effective Client Service.” Among our ‘Commandments’ are practices we consider essential to fostering and maintaining successful business relationships. However, the concept of “Listening to Clients” was edited out of the list as we thought we’d covered it in other areas. But Gregg’s post illustrated why it was a mistake to leave it out. And it may actually be the most important of all our ‘Commandments.’

Bad Customer Service is Bad Brand Management

Customer service is sorely lacking in brands across the board. Currently, I’m trying to have a dishwasher fixed, for the 4th time. It was purchased at a big box store. A 2nd big box store provided an extended service agreement. And I’ve found the process and customer service offered by this 2nd retailer unacceptable. Now, I’m waiting impatiently for the agreement to expire so I can replace the appliance and be done with them. My frustration with this brand stems from a breakdown in their ability to provide effective customer service, as evidenced by their inability to actually “listen” to issues raised and subsequently resolve them.

Brand Focus Should be on Listening and Comprehension

With a myriad of ways that brands interact with customers via social media, it’s crucial they make the extra effort to actually listen. Listening takes more time and energy than hearing. Because we’re becoming used to hearing in 10 second soundbites and communicating via 140-character mini-messages, the effort required to listen to what is being said in the social world is more important than ever.

Every brand must ensure they’re listening and understanding what they’re hearing from their customers in order to act appropriately on that knowledge.

In a world where Tweets, Updates, Shares, Check-Ins and Stumblings rule, we can’t permit the art of comprehension to slip away from us. Among the endless daily chatter and information overload, it’s up to us as professional brand managers to make sure our efforts are focused in the right direction.

Artspiration: Breathtaking Aerial Photography of Namib Desert by Mario Gerth

Creativity, Photography, Social Action, Things That Inspire Us Mar 21, 2013 No Comments

Photographer Mario Gerth Flys Above the Sands to Capture the Beauty of Southern Africa’s Namib Desert

Great photography is always a source of inspiration for our creative team, especially when it comes from someone with such a passion to make a difference in the lives of others. German photographer Mario Gerth is just such an inspiration.

Gerth, who spends much of his time on the African continent, recently traveled to southern Africa to shoot a series of breathtaking, mostly aerial, photos of the Namib Desert. Previewed here, and included in detail on his Flickr Stream, Gerth’s images capture the beauty and elegance of the sometimes harsh natural biosphere that is this coastal desert.

Gerth’s work is quite remarkable, highlighting the intricate beauty of this expansive desert that stretches for more than 1,200 miles along the Atlantic coast through the countries of Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

Mario Gerth is an accomplished photojournalist who has shot on location in more than 65 countries on 5 continents. His passion for capturing the graceful beauty of these locales and highlighting the cultural dignity of its peoples truly makes him one of the good guys.

His images can viewed on his Flickr Stream, licensed from Getty Images, or you can visit his site at Mario Gerth Fotgrafie.

Mario Gerth - Namib Desert
All images by: Mario Gerth Fotografie / Mario Gerth Fotografie

 

 

 

The #1 Reason You Should Hire a Professional Graphic Designer

Advertising, Creativity, Graphic Design Mar 17, 2013 No Comments

Professional Creatives Need Love Too

The concept of “creativity” is an elusive one. It’s often ill-defined, poorly explained and generally misunderstood by those not working in the field.

So, it’s no surprise that in the smoke-filled room behind that elusive curtain of creativity (where, dare we say, most “suits” fear tread…), professional graphic designers and creative marketing teams gather to discuss the state the industry. It’s in these “secret sessions,” with Pantone chips, bits of discarded web code, and iPhones littering the tables, where we wrangle with what it means to be “a creative.”

Over pints of amber ale and bottles of pinot the question of why creativity is misunderstood, and maybe even undervalued, is frequently a hot topic.

Creativity Need Not be Undervalued

Why is it that graphic design and creative marketing strategy seem under-appreciated by business owners, account managers, department heads and others? While not trying to turn this into an “oh, woe be unto us” conversation about creatives-relegated-to-the-shadows, we think it’s important to pull back the curtain and shine some light on what we actually do as creative professionals.

The 5-Second History of Graphic Design

While the activity of graphically designing things has been going on for a long time, the term “graphic design” was only coined early in the last century — 1922 to be exact. But humans have been creating things for as long as humans have been around. There’s been fire. Weapons. Tools. Clothing. All requiring some level of design to work properly.

Once these necessities of life were taken care of, we began to express ourselves “graphically.” Evidence is all over prehistoric cave walls, in the cuneiform script and hieroglyphics of ancient societies, and in the manuscripts of the Renaissance. Since graphic design has been prevalent throughout time, we wonder if the current misconceptions about creativity also plagued our ancient ancestors.

C’mon, Picking Colors Isn’t That Hard, Is It?

Now in the digital age, the graphic design profession consists of a whole range of disciplines, including print, illustration, interactive, and perhaps even graffiti art. And the list goes on.

Graphic design isn’t just about putting pen to paper (or, mouse to pad…) and making things look pretty. Heck, there are countless toddler artists who do just that with crayon and cardboard, fingerpaint and wall, and even permanent marker and sibling forehead, all in the name of creativity.

Graphic Design Misconceptions

With the explosion of do-it-yourself online design tools, interactive design solutions and powerful software applications available to assist every would-be creative, it seems that many believe an award-winning marketing design concept is a mere click, print or upload away. Slick print ads and broadcast spots say that. So, it must be true. This common misconception isn’t helping the graphic design and creative marketing industry one bit.

The ‘Powerful Design Tools’ of Word and Powerpoint

We can’t begin to count the number of times we’ve quoted a job and then failed to get the assignment because the client decided that they’d be just as capable of handling the project themselves. Perhaps it’s the influence of our own advertising industry, the fact that a computer has landed on every desk, or the age-old desire for self expression, but there are still professionals who feel they’re 100% capable of developing their own creative while saving some dough. To be fair, lots of people can put together a decent color palette and comply with corporate brand guidelines. Everyone has a copy of Word and Powerpoint after all…

Photographer

Creatives Don’t Do REAL Work

We’re asked all the time “What exactly is it that you do?”

The question comes from friends. From colleagues. From parents. And even from the cashier at the corner store.

“Oh, so you take pictures.” No, that’s the photographer. “Oh, then you must draw.” No, that’d be the illustrator. “You do that stuff on the Internet then.” No, that’s the programmer.

Sometimes it’s easier to stop trying, and walk away leaving them with the knowledge that we make things “look good,” when it’s actually much more involved.

A Wise Man Named ‘Jobs’ Once Said…

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is reported to have once said, “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it ‘looks,’ but of course if you dig deeper, it’s really how it ‘works.’”

Mr. Jobs is a very wise man. We should all listen to him.

Designer is a Misnomer

As the old cliché goes, a picture tells a thousand words. But when you look closer, beyond the “pretty,” you’ll see the real work of a graphic designer. Actually, Graphic Designer may be a bit of a misnomer — we’re more like Graphic Strategists.

A Graphic Strategist understands how the human eye works — how and where it will first rest on a printed page. A Graphic Strategist can pinpoint the first pixels you see on the screen the moment your favorite web page loads. We know why one photo is better than another, and that’s not just based on DPI. We’re aware of the emotions created by imagery and color. We understand why blue is better for a bottle of packaged water, than is black or brown. As professional Graphic Strategists, we’re capable of scientifically designing a concept and delivering on the promise of the brand.

Scientist, Strategist, Artist

Graphic designers are actually scientist, strategist, and artist — a three-part cocktail of creativity. And as such, in order to be successful at our chosen trade, we should be vastly more concerned with how our pieces “work” than with how they “look,” like Mr. Jobs says. Obviously both elements play vital roles in the success of our work. But to be considered professional Graphic Strategists, the success of the piece is the bar against which it should be measured.

Your Brand Deserves Proper Treatment

As a creative agency full of Graphic Strategists, we make things pretty every single day. And each piece we make “works” on many deeper levels, far beyond the surface of what is generally seen. To do this right, it takes the combined senses of science, strategy and aesthetics. If for this reason alone, when you’re planning your next visual project, it’s probably wise to take a look at hiring a professional graphic designer, or Graphic Strategist.

However, you can always hire that neighbor kid. He dresses cool — always in black. Has a skateboard. An iPad and an X-Box. And likely knows a little something about computers. Don’t all teenagers? He’s probably even got a torrented copy of Word loaded on one of them too. So you shouldn’t have any problems sharing your design documents.

Is this who you want to trust with the fate of your brand?

—————-

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it “looks”. But of course if you dig deeper , its really how it “works”. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. To design something really well, you have to “get it”. You have to really “grok ” what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it , not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.” – Steve Jobs

Developing Innovative Creative is Like BASE Jumping

Advertising, Branding, Creativity, Graphic Design, Things That Inspire Us Feb 25, 2013 2 Comments

Is Creativity Counterintuitive to the Business Community?

On a basic instinctual level, our whole purpose for life as human beings is to survive and thrive. What that means has been different throughout time. In the modern world, survival is living happily; enjoying the company of friends and family; finding a job–any job these days–hopefully one that challenges us professionally without causing too much stress; and being able to put enough food on the table to feed our kids. So, if our instinct is to survive and hopefully thrive, then it’s completely counterintuitive to human behavior to voluntarily jump off a cliff.

The pursuit of truly creative ideas is just like hurdling oneself over the edge of a cliff and free falling. And, it’s as counterintuitive to self-preservation, professionally speaking, as is BASE Jumping from a 10,000 foot mountain peak.

Creativity Is Not for the Weak-Willed

Not for the squeamish, the task of developing innovative and inspired marketing concepts can be considered dangerous. It instills downright terror in the hearts of many a brand manager or marketing pro. Some don’t even attempt it, preferring to maintain the status quo. Others would rather someone else first take the risk; choosing later to read about competitor successes in industry pubs like AdAge, HOW or Communication Arts.

Like BASE Jumping, the pursuit of creative innovation can be dangerous, costly, and challenging, but also entertaining, exhilarating and supremely rewarding when properly executed.

1. It’s Inherently Risky

It’s common, among the unadventurous, to avoid taking their lives into their own hands and leaping from a mountaintop. Developing innovative creative can be a risky undertaking, especially for less-enterprising marketers. Pushing the envelope on creativity crosses the line of comfort for many. Doing so entails potentially risking your professional career, often giving even the most seasoned brand manager night sweats. When considering stepping off the creative ledge, it’s important to have a professional creative team that understands your business and is invested in your brand. To develop truly innovative ideas, it’s crucial to have partners who have the ability to lead you safely through the process and appropriately deliver on your brand promise.

2. It Can Be an Expensive Undertaking

BASE jumping is by no means cheap. Those awesome looking wingsuits that make you look like Rocky the Flying Squirrel can set you back several thousand dollars alone. Then there’s parachutes. Head gear. Travel costs and more. Developing inspired creative, executing graphic design, building web apps, and securing media placements has the potential of busting your budget.

Creative development is considered a luxury for many businesses, primarily the smaller ones. Others question the inherent value of forking over money to pay for it. But in order for a brand to remain relevant in a world where we’re bombarded by innovative creative, it’s more necessity than luxury. You must invest the appropriate amount of dollars and time into developing creative for your brand. Otherwise your message is likely to be drowned out by the media cacophony.

Budgeting for creative development is frequently low on the priority list for small businesses. It’s just the opposite for the big brands. If nothing else, that should tell you if you seek to control the message, you first need to be heard.

3. It’s a Challenge Getting There

You don’t just wake up, get out of bed and leap from El Capitan. Unless you spent the prior night on the face of a rock wall, which is another challenge altogether. And you don’t get outstanding creative “Click, Bang, Zoom.” The process takes time. There’s planning. Collection of consumer insight. Strategy sessions. Creative brainstorms. Establishment of goals. Definition of measurement criteria. And more. The creative process is like preparing for a long climb up a shear rock wall. It requires planning. You need the right tools. You need to plan a careful and thoughtful path. Work your way to the jump point. Psych yourself up. And then run toward the precipice and let fly. It’s the “fly” part of the process that everyone is most excited about, but it can’t be rushed.

4. Don’t Chicken out at Last Minute

Even the most experienced BASE Jumpers still experience a twinge of fear, no matter how fleeting, just before letting go. It’s normal to question whether actually jumping into the chasm facing them is a good idea after all. Once you’re there, the prospect of decidedly sprinting toward the edge and off, beyond the comfort zone is something most creative teams struggle with. The secret is not to question a decision already made. Remember, your gut once told you this path was a great idea. And, you’ve done your due diligence in planning. But now, your gut is telling you the opposite. That ain’t your gut talking. That’s fear. Don’t listen, or it’ll take you back to the comfort of your cushy sofa of mediocrity.

5. The Final Results are Exhilarating

Then there’s the payoff. The rush of free fall. The satisfaction of landing on both feet with your head held high. Your goals are realized. Customers are storming your website. The telephone rings off the hook with qualified leads. Your products are flying off the shelves. You get that nod from your boss. Or even better, your competitors. You took the risk, and your efforts paid off. Truly relevant, innovative creative generates measurable results. And, a job well done is truly an exhilarating experience.

Giving Credit for Inspiring This Post

Giving credit where it’s due, inspiration for this post came from Camp 4 Collective and Jimmy Chin whose innovative talents have resulted in this amazing video shot in Yosemite National Park while on assignment for National Geographic. And also to our friend Thomas Marzano for originally sharing the video link with us on Twitter. You can follow Thomas yourself @ThomasMarzano.

Social Media is a Tactic Not a Tool

Advertising, Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Jan 29, 2013 No Comments

Where the Heck Does This Social Media Thing Fit In?

Social media activities should be viewed as tactics that enhance a brand’s overall marketing efforts, not as a new tool replacing traditional methods of promotion. While social media has forever changed the landscape of marketing, beware the thousands of self-proclaimed social media experts, gurus, and authorities offering up opinion on using social media as a substitute for traditional marketing tools.

Has Social Media Replaced Advertising?

The short answer is no. Shouting advertisements at your customer base on social media platforms just doesn’t work. No one in the Twitterverse or on Facebook wants to be bombarded by direct advertising messages couched in 140 character tweets or wall-clogging updates.

For most businesses large or small, advertising continues to be the primary method to effectively generate awareness for your brand. This is not going to change. Social media hasn’t, nor will it, replace traditional advertising, whether your “tradition” is print or digital.

However It Has Made It Better

To be fair, social media platforms have fundamentally changed the way that brands advertise. Social media has made advertising more effective by providing better audience targeting, increasing overall advertising impressions and ad effectiveness. Social media platforms integrate analytics and measurement tools that help marketers adjust campaigns based on the message that works best. As a tactic, social media will not replace advertising, so next year’s budgets should still include marketing dollars for traditional advertising as well as social. Where the ad dollars are spent — outdoor, print, digital, etc. – will depend more on the nature of your business, not on your social media activities.

Social Media Has Forever Changed Public Relations

Back when Edward Bernays started the Public Relations industry, industry professionals carefully crafted and controlled messages in an effort to influence consumer perception, generally via unpaid methods like media placements. PR spinmakers of the past could maintain a stranglehold grip on a message, but in the social media enabled world PR is a new beast altogether.

PR firms have had to refine their efforts, accepting that brand messages are no longer controlled by agents of the brand, but rather are heavily influenced by consumers using platforms like Yelp!, Google Places, and Facebook. As a result, social media tactics are crucial to the tool of public relations. In order to control the message, PR mavens and social community managers must build relationships with a brand’s consumer base where that base congregates on the web, in order to have an impact on how a brand is perceived.

Social Media is Great for Sales Incentives

After Public Relations, offering sales incentives is likely the next best fit for your social media activities. There are social media venues where sales promotions are effective, including both Facebook and Foursquare. Facebook is rife with examples of B2C brand marketing that develops and nurtures a brand-loyal following open to receiving special promos. Coupon sharing and product deals remain some of the most prolific Facebook updates, and have proven success to quickly and efficiently grow a qualified consumer fanbase.

The Power of Social Proofing and Foursquare

And since everyone wants to be the mayor of something or other on Foursquare, the platform offers a unique way to connect with your customers. Relying heavily on the concept of Social Proofing, Foursquare works on a very basic premise — that people are more inclined to support one product or business over another when that product or business is supported by the masses.

By using geolocation tools, Foursquare allows users to scan nearby businesses, viewing exactly how many others (both friends and strangers) have “checked-in” to each business, thus psychologically influencing their choice to patronize one business over another based on sheer numbers of supporters — social proofing. When faced with the option, wouldn’t you choose the full restaurant over the empty one next door? We are creatures of habit, easily influenced by the habits of others. And, Foursquare brilliantly makes use of this phenomenon.

The Bad Marriage of Social Media and Personal Selling

Social media platforms have not historically been good venues for direct or personal selling. However, social media tactics are quite effective when developing general brand awareness, extending customer service activities and overall networking; ideally leading to direct sales. Of course, depending on your business, some social media platforms are more effective than others for such activities. B2C businesses will likely find a better fit with Facebook and Twitter over LinkedIn. Whereas LinkedIn is the #1 tool for B2B networking activities.

Whatever the platform, your activities should focus on developing community. To decide which is best for your particular business, you should probably find an integrated agency that understands that social media activities are tactics, and not tools, that can help you connect with your audience wherever they may be on the web.

Social Media is a Tactic, Not a Tool

We view social media activities as extremely effective tactics that must be part of your arsenal in order for your marketing efforts to be successful. This view won’t make us popular with social media-only agencies, but we strongly believe that social media tactics should be utilized to connect with your audience and reinforce your brand’s promotional elements across your marketing mix. Social media is not meant as a replacement for other activities, but rather a necessary and valuable enhancement to those activities.

After the Social Media Honeymoon

As we move beyond the honeymoon phase with social media, agencies and professional marketers who rely solely on social media as a tool will either cease to exist or will find it necessary to adjust their focus. If you’re working with a strictly social media agency, you’ll likely be looking for a new agency next year.