Monday, March 28, 2011

We used to ask a lot of a logo.

We'd expect it to carry the weight of the brand on its back. Logos were single-handedly responsible for brand recognition and product legitimacy. On the start-up's list of things to do, having a good logo was perceived as a huge step between dream and reality.

Fast forward to a multi-channel, socially interactive, and ever-changing competitive landscape. Logos are important, but they alone cannot do the job.

Your brand needs support. A personality. How does your brand speak? What does it believe in? Can it adapt and inspire relevant content?

Graphically speaking, rigid corporate identity systems have lost traction to more flexible structures. Providing familiarity, but allowing for some interpretation. Think Apple.

Yes, a timeless logo still represents the core essence of a brand. But, your logo is not your brand. Your brand is much more.

Check out this post from Mashable and see where brand identity is headed.

[Cross-posted from Burns Workspace.]

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The four-burner stove theory.

Ever since I stumbled across David Sedaris's friend's 'four-burner stove theory' in a number of articles, I can't help but periodically evaluate my theoretical burner usage. This symbolic stove represents four quadrants of life we all try to balance:
“One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.
If you think about it, it's easy to do. Become focused on a couple of areas and ignore the others. I've done a lot of burner combining as well. Friends at work. Family as friends. Brainstorming while running.

Seriously, can a person really have it all at the same time anyway? Something probably has to give, unless we miraculously find more hours in a day. Or take up speed-laced espresso and clone ourselves.

An extreme example of burner combination: A while back I read an article about a successful agency woman. (Her name and agency escape me.) From what I remember, she was basically running her life on one combined burner. Her and her husband managed the agency together. Full. Freaking. Time. To those inquiring about her success secrets she said, "If you have friends, forget them. There will be no time." They literally lived at work. Home, family, and work were one. She did everything there – from working out to giving herself haircuts. (And yeah, she could afford a sweet haircut, but apparently losing that precious time was not an option.)

Along with reasonably combining burners, we should probably turn them down instead of completely off. Work gets busy… that burner goes full-flame while the others stand by on a low simmer. When you're catching up with family and friends, crank those burners way up to make up for lost time. All of this is fine and well, that is if we can actually control our burner usage.

Unfortunately, this theory rings true at a subconscious level. Whether it's survival or not, we don't always realize we're cutting off burners until the pilot light goes out and it's hard to get them going again.

What if we just simply burn out? Can we get a new stove and start over? Well, maybe. Just make sure it has a good warranty.

Or, if you're so inclined, embrace the craziness and get a fire pit.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Idea intelligence and creative espionage.

This is a covert operation – taking you deep behind the scenes of creative intrigue. Precariously dangling you over the edge of the obvious and testing your ability in the art of negotiation. How far are you willing to go in order to sell an idea?

We didn't really know what my uncle did. We weren't supposed to. Gone for months at a time. Moving from country to country. My aunt went about her daily activities, patiently waiting for his return. Knowing just enough on a need-to-know basis. So, not much. (She says she can relate to The Good Shepard.)

He's retired from the agency. The stories quietly buried somewhere in his mind. Every now and then, you catch a glimpse in his eyes. Something hinting at experiences we'll never comprehend. A world we're not familiar with. Maybe for our own good.

To those of you up for the challenge, I'd like to pass along some espionage traits that may or may not be related to my uncle's influence. Focusing on how we can use these characteristics to sell creative. Incognito ingenuity. Or, something like that.

1. Exude confidence and effortlessly earn trust. – As Wieden + Kennedy pointed out, "trust is the secret sauce if you want to do groundbreaking work." Establish, protect, and maintain it.

2. Blend, but be bold. – The top agents are regular people with extraordinary capabilities. They are your neighbors. Strive for greatness, but be humble.

3. Be able to tell a story. Hilariously. (Bonus: In multiple languages.) – Humor and effective storytelling lead to clients liking your team. Wanting to work with you. And consequently, being open to your team's concept.

(My uncle has endless comedic material. In a battle of wit, he will win. Always. I'd leave the dinner table, having to gain composure after laughing myself to tears. He'd have people rolling in Spanish as well. I didn't completely understand what he was saying, but the locals did. And they were dying.)

4. Observe the room quickly, but extensively. – Be able to read personalities and adjust your pitch accordingly. Picking up on tone and gesture cues early can help avoid potential missteps later.

5. Negotiate, but empower the client's buy-in. – No one likes to be forced into an idea. And yeah, medieval interrogation techniques are generally frowned upon. Give away some ownership by including the client's direction in the genesis of the idea. Provide shared reason not to kill it.

6. If the creative becomes significantly compromised, retreat. – Have a colleague helicopter you out of there. Change your identity and go into hiding until it blows over. If you can, grow a beard. Train in a reclusive dojo perched next to a ridiculously-steep ravine in some random arctic location. Whatever it takes.

7. Always reemerge with a better idea. And mean it. Your clients can sense doubt. So, never give yourself a reason to have it. Believe in the work. (Or repeat #6.)

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Manufacturing happiness.

Happiness is contagious.

Definition 6 proved that Coca-Cola could enable happiness. But, what was the catalyst for the Happiness Machine's success? Yeah, college kids like free stuff, but that wasn't the magic. For the people in the videos, it was the element of surprise. An unexpected disruption during a mundane activity. For the video viewers, it was more about watching people's reactions to the machine in action. The happiness ripple effect. 

Corporations are manufacturing happiness.

Believe it or not, Stanford's MBA program offers a coveted class on designing happiness. Tomorrow's leaders are learning how to leverage happiness – boosting employee productivity and inspiring meaningful customer connection.

According to the Fast Company article, Professor Jennifer Aaker focused on: "how people find happiness, keep it, manipulate it, and use it as a resource."

And, successful companies are doing just that. Zappos is delivering happiness. In fact, after future Zappos employees go through training, they're offered $4000 to walk away from the job. If they stay, they want to be there. No question.

Google's infamous 20-percent time project demonstrates the benefits of allowing employees to pursue something they're passionate about. Some projects turn into Google-funded reality. One guy is trying to buy a country for his project. How will that help Google? Who knows. But, he loves his job. And that will come through in his work.

Happiness is a benefit superseding pay or even product feature incentives. If you legitimately offer happiness, you have our attention. Even BMW's campaign boldly seeks ownership of "Joy."

Aaker defines happiness as "a state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy." Younger people equate it with excitement. As you age, it's linked with serenity. But, meaningful experiences make people happy at any age.

So, it's as simple as that, right? Make happiness. Experience happiness. Be happy.

On a personal level, it's not always that simple. The desire for happiness is stronger than the feeling of fulfillment when experiencing happiness.

It's human nature. The endless pursuit of happiness is a double-edged sword. Anticipated possiblities and over-zealous expectations can hinder joy in the now. We search for more happiness, but don't always realize when we have it.

Does happiness mean as much when you don't know what it's worth?

It really is the little things, and learning not to take them for granted. The blessing of family and friends in difficult times. Career success after years of hard work. A tragically-beautiful song called Happiness, that drags you through darkness before enlightening you with an optimistic chorus. Or, when Edward Norton says, "This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time." And you realize, it is. And you should be happy. And you should find a way to manufacture happiness.

Because, like I said, it's contagious.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Music, vision, and story.

It's been ten years since I first saw this movie. It still breaks my heart. Hell, I even watched the original Spanish version. It's a movie people either love or hate. Well, needless to say, I still love it.

Never before had I been so moved by a soundtrack visually intertwined with a story. For example, "Everything in its Right Place" perfectly captures the film's concept. There are hardly any lyrics, but it stays with you. Yorke wrote this song at the band's reluctant transition into major fame. It set the tone for Kid A – an album delving into how technology was changing human interaction. It's eerily prolific.

"Vanilla Sky" blends songs with the story. The combination creates a visually-lucid, audio-drenched environment. Almost like another character – interacting with scenes and hovering above like a dense fog. Giving us nostalgia. Evoking panic. Making us question what's really happening.

Roger Ebert sums the plot and potential for confusion best, "Vanilla Sky," requires the audience to do some heavy lifting. It has one of those plots that doubles back on itself like an Escher staircase. You get along splendidly one step at a time, but when you get to the top floor you find yourself on the bottom landing. If it's any consolation, its hero is as baffled as we are."
Confused yet? You're supposed to be. The end of the movie explains how we got confused. What really, uh, might have happened. However, when the dream element comes into play, you don't really know what character to trust.

Though exhausting, the movie is full of thought-provoking dualities. Mortality and immortality. Perception and reality. Success and happiness. Meaningful and meaningless. Vanity and value. Emotion and numbness. Decision and consequence. And the lesson we walk away with? "The sweet is never as sweet without the sour."

At each step, we're confronted with determining the 'what is' and longing for the 'what might have been.' And then, just when we think it's over, it takes us full circle. Opening our eyes at each end.

[For more examples of music and vision perfection, see my Digital Kitchen rant.] 

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