Today’s a good Monday because it reminds me of a Monday I had twelve years ago. I got up. Opened my computer. And then started Dosage.
I didn’t know what Dosage would become then. I didn’t have much of a plan. What I did have was principles, some theories and a plan to learn whatever I could and get to know as many people as I could.
Today, I’m grounded in a couple of simple ways of looking at things and operating.
1) People live through cultural stories. Today’s world is about “living within” different stories. Tomorrow’s world becomes real when we learn about new stories and grow into them.
2) Marketing is about outfitting those stories with brands and branded experiences. Marketers are the prop makers, costumers, advisors and scene designers of people’s lives.
3) The best strategists are the ones who identify, design and outfit stories in way that helps business.
4) If you mix of curiosity, passion, energy and proprietary thinking tools, you’ll come up with ways to help clients grow that no one else would have thought of.
If today is your first Monday and you’ve found this post, here’s a couple of things I’ve learned along the way. The list below is a mix of wisdom from various people and some conclusions I’ve come to. I don’t know what I’ve learned from whom when. I’ll attribute where I can and for the rest you’ll have to accept my apologies.
• Stimulus and response are different. (Just ask yourself what you think about someone who says “Trust me”). If people understood this one thing, marketing would immediately be 90% better.
• Brands are responses. A brand is a cluster of associations inside a person’s head. Those associations are conclusions that a person has come to after experiencing lots of stimulus from lots of places. Brands are memories that form expectations. It still amazes me how many people get this wrong.
• It’s not a principle unless you lose money (I think this is a BBH thing that I learned from Stephen Walker). You have to walk away from money if it contradicts what you believe.
• Today’s standard for “a good marketing idea” has to start with newsworthiness. An idea must be newsworthy in its nature (and before being crafted). Yes, creative craftspeople can create newsworthiness at the execution stage but the goal of any idea — packaging, media, etc. — should be “an inherent newsworthiness.”
• Assuming “a people POV” is always the best place to start. It is also the best territory on which to collaborate. It puts everyone in the same frame of mind.
• Getting the challenge right is easily over half of any assignment. Most people skip this and jump to solutions. The world is full of solutions to the wrong challenges.
• All of us are smarter than any one of us. Also, all of us can be dumber than any one of us. The conditions that people work within will determine which of those two dynamics will prevail.
• How you do things makes all the difference. If you get this right, everyone will do better.
• Always try to be the dumbest person in the room. It’ll help you grow. It’ll challenge you. It also keeps you humble.
• There isn’t enough training.
• If you work different what you will produce will be different.
• Give away as much as you can without harming your business. It’ll make you keep your R&D projects top of pile. And whatever you give away will always come back in way that helps business.
• If you like someone or like their work, tell them. People never hear compliments enough.
• Creative marketing is an energy game. Keep your energy up and you’ll go far.
• You have to be fluent about what you do. It’s not enough to know things. You have to know what you don’t know, what you need to know, and what you don’t need to know. Fluency about people, decision-making, category dynamics, marketing conventionality, etc. give you the altitude to see all that.
• Start by being open. Then listen. Really, really listen.
• Stand up when you are thinking.
• We need time to do what we do. Nine women can’t make a baby in a month. (Credit: First heard from the founder of eMusic)
• Marketers and agency people around the world are a more homogenous group than you would think.
• Even if you work alone, establish an informal Board of Directors. Everyone needs perspective and advice, especially the kind you don’t want to hear. We wouldn’t have lasted very long without Stephen Walker of headmint, Tony Wright of Lowe, Fred Bertino of MMB, Neil Cotton of GMT+8, Patricia Favreau of The Church Pension Group, Rosemarie Ryan of CO:, Megan Kent of JWT, Lorraine Arado of JWT, Rich Wartel of Two Labs Marketing and Jim Magary of Boomient Consulting. I’d like extend a double thanks to Stephen Walker who has been nothing short of amazing all these years as a mentor, employer, sometimes partner and friend. And the biggest thanks to my wife Elizabeth, who has been a great sounding board and advisor.
• If it smells fishy, it is. Move onto the next thing.
• Travel for work. It breaks things up. It forces you to look at things anew. It is stimulating. It gives you time to talk to collogues and clients.
• Don’t wait for briefs or RFPs or the phone to ring. Pitch ideas proactively.
• Lots of top people are lonely and need someone to talk off the record. Some of the most productive, enlightening and valuable conversations I’ve ever had were born from someone just needing someone to talk to without any consequences.
• A presentation and what should be given to a client as a record of a point-of-view are two different things. A point-of-view needs to be a well-written argument and “stand alone.” A presentation should be theatrical, emotional and compact. They are completely different things. Yes, it is more work.
• Don’t tell craftspeople what the answer is in a brief. Don’t tell them what to say. Give them a creative question to think about. Frame the assignment in a way that makes sure they know to where we need to get people. Suck them into a conversation about what could be done. Setting the conditions to solve a challenge is the primary role of the brief. Then, give them examples of different ways that you’ve thought of to solve the challenge. Those examples should be solid ideas, inspiring and provide proof that this can be solved. And then, lots of people (yourself included) should go off and come up with ideas. All of you are responsible for what the team makes.
• A brand is a combination of what people are buying (product, price, etc.) and what they are buying into (stories, intangible thoughts, perceptions). Credit: Stephen Walker, headmint.
• A mix of collaboration and competition is the best way for an organization to produce its best work.
• Pressure never helps. People need to be loose.
• Having ideas is a volume game. Tom Watson was right when he said “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”
• Dan Wieden said something like “Brands are not nouns. Brands are verbs.” This changed everything for me. Brands help us to do things. Products, services and media are the tools. This is essential for making marketing today. If you don’t have a good answer for “what’s your brand as a verb?” you need to go back and find an answer.
That’s all I can think of right now. Happy Monday.