Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mystery and the spoiler alert

Of the three elements that make up Lovemarks, the one I find most compelling right now is Mystery. Maybe it’s because of the rich mixture of ideas that go into Mystery - myths, icons, great stories, inspiration, the past, present, future, dreams. Even that simple list opens the door to insight, ideas, and revelation.

No one today does Mystery better than J. J. Abrams, the creator of Lost and director of the new Star Trek movie. The early episodes of Lost captured the strangeness of a dream that you weren’t sure you wanted to wake up from. A polar bear on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere – one of the great imaginative leaps of television storytelling.

In a recent issue of Wired magazine, J. J. Abrams spoke about the magic of Mystery in a kind of manual for the aspiring Mystery maker. Provocatively Abrams starts with a spoiler alert. Is there any better use of the Mystery card than that? The tension between wanting to know and knowing that finding out will spoil things forever is one of the great drivers of Mystery. As I have often said, if you know everything, there is nothing left to know, nothing left to enjoy. Anyone who has badgered a magician into revealing how they do one of their tricks knows the deflating disappointment that comes with the often simple explanation. Magic to the mundane in a microsecond. As Abrams rightly points out, the key to creating a great Mystery is to give just the right amount of information. Too little and there is not enough for the imagination to work on; too much and there is nothing worthwhile left to discover.

Abrams goes on to discuss what he calls the Age of Immediacy. This is an age when information is cheap and finding out how things are done is a breeze. Want to know how David Copperfield floats a woman up and over the audience? The patent drawings are on the Web. Want to look them up? I don’t advise it if you still want your heart to stop as Copperfield holds her aloft in the air you’ve just stopped breathing.

I do diverge from Abrams when he suggests something that could be summed up as ‘nothing without hard work’. It sounds like the motto you’d find on a school’s crest or an army pennant. It is a true enough principle but has serious limitations, especially in a digital world. Abrams gives as an example the difference between selecting music on iTunes versus getting out of the house and fossicking for it in a store. OK, I’m with J. J. that a great store experience is still ahead of the online one, but will it always be that way? I don’t think so – and especially for people under 30 (eliminating both J. J. Abrams and I). As retailers become more aware of the importance of online experience, I think we will get to see online music stores play with Mystery in fantastic ways we can’t yet imagine. The shift from analog to digital is truly only in its infancy and it is certainly not going to be simply a matter of everything becoming easi-er, simpl-er, clear-er. Yes, more of the ‘-er’ words I’ve mentioned before.

Someone like J. J. Abrams lives and breathes the complexities of the worlds he creates and the fans follow every twist and turn with huge intensity. That’s why we have the great protocol on the Web by which reviewers and commentators are expected to signal plot revelations with “spoiler alert”. Personally I find it tough to stop reading, but I do appreciate the courtesy. As Abrams concludes, it isn’t so much that spoilers let the secret out so much as that they evaporate the Mystery before it has been played out. This tension between fans who want to know everything immediately and storytellers who love to stretch out a great narrative for as long as possible has been with us since time began. Will our information-packed, digital world undermine Mystery?



Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making sense of the world

One of the best things about living in the Middle East was the way your senses were given a workout every day. The sounds, textures, sights, smells, and tastes are incredible in their variety and intensity, particularly in the way they infiltrate every aspect of life. In a city like Cairo, it feels as though the senses create for every street signposts to that particular reality. A street of utensil makers will be alive with the sound of clanking and clinking of hammers and the raw acrid smell of solder and welding. Spice streets, vegetable streets, laundry streets, each have their distinctive sensual signature. Then there is that wonderful moment you get when you wake up in a new country. In those first moments, you experience a place for the first time with your senses truly engaged and know you are no longer at home.

In the West, we have dulled our senses. A walk down Fifth Avenue isn’t much of an adventure for the nose, although the eyes and ears do have to work overtime. By going back into the past, we can discover something of our lost sensory heritage. This is exactly what Mark M. Smith has done in his book Sensory History. Now sensory history is apparently something rather new, but it appeals to me instantly with its direct connections to the foundations of Lovemarks: Mystery, Sensuality, Intimacy. These three are what nourishes the emotional power of Lovemarks.

Sensual historians (I guess that’s what they’re called) agree on one fundamental: people of different times and places hear, see, taste, touch, and smell in different ways. I remember writing in Lovemarks that “The texture of both hominy grits and Molokhiyya, an Arab soup, are an offense to many palettes”. I still dislike the former and enjoy slurping down the latter, but I had not realized how much our senses have been shaped across time as well as place. That’s where these historians come in. The kind of sensual shock we might experience today in Bangkok or Sao Paulo is nothing compared to, say, seeing a sailing ship appear in your harbor for the first time or tasting a tomato after its long journey from Peru to your table in London or Amsterdam. Sensual historians don’t back away from how far away we are from experiencing that past, but bring to light what a fantastic source of innovation such historical empathy could offer us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A game played with marbles

I was in Greece last week and was struck by how the local and global have become so mixed in our modern world. Traditional foods favored by Greeks (and we’re not just talking souvlaki) have long been staples in many parts of the world, and in return, a city like Athens offers a rich variety of global cuisine. But local is still best. I had dinner with old friends, and twin brothers, Alex and George Georgitsis at Milos Estiatorio. We had fresh fish from the ice market, Greek salad, and cold beer. Perfect.

One place where this give-and-take is missing is in the new Acropolis Museum. When it opens in June, there will be a large space in its prominent location left empty, reserved for the 160 meter long Elgin Marbles that are on permanent display at the British Museum in London. The reason a home is reserved for this sculptural masterwork in Athens is because it was removed in parts between 1801 and 1812 by the avid collector Lord Elgin. Since then, the Elgin Marbles have become one of the most famous art works in the world. A vintage example of the local gone global.

All the great museums are full of material that has been ‘liberated’ from other countries. Over the last 50 years or so, greater sensitivity has brought about a major move to return some of this material to where it came from. Owning body parts like mummies and shrunken heads, for instance, is now seen by most museums as unacceptable. Nothing is more local than the right to rest in the place you were born. In my own home, New Zealand, the call for the return of the tattooed heads of Maori has been heard by museums all over the world. There is nothing more emotional than to see Maori people welcome the remains of their ancestors home.

A complication in the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece draws on emotion. Over the many years they have been displayed in London, this extraordinary frieze has become a Lovemark. The gallery where they are displayed is always full of people awed by these astonishingly powerful carvings. The British rationale for its stewardship of the works has been that had Elgin not removed the sculptures, they would probably have been destroyed. The imminent opening of the new Acropolis Museum, with its leading edge facilities and conditions, has exploded that line of argument.

Oddly, the director of the British Museum recently argued that the Marbles should remain in the U.K. to "preserve the universality of the marbles, and to protect them from being appropriated as a nationalistic political symbol”. This perspective seems a confusion of global and local claims underpinned by past assumptions of British dominance. The Elgin Marbles are an undoubted Lovemark whether you believe they belong in their place of origin or in the place that has so passionately adopted them for the past 200 years. Everything I know about the local global debate suggest to me that this is the perfect time for this global icon to go home. To go back to being local.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Design Flow

In the race to create a sustainable world, designers will be key players. I’ve always been a big design fan and I salute the new sense of purpose now apparent in every aspect of this industry. It’s becoming more experimental, more challenging, more ethical, and more exciting without losing its core functions – to stimulate ideas, change behavior, and offer help and hope.

Sustainability brings a whole new set of issues to the design table and a grandiose challenge was recently issued by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In a blaze of publicity, Sarkozy invited 10 architects to project 20 years into the future and come up with some ideas for the world’s most sustainable metropolis.

The Italians, Bernardo Secchi and Paola Vigano, came up with an extraordinary idea that upturns urban conventions. Instead of starting with hard infrastructure (roads, subways, walkways), they started with the existing waterways of Paris. The Seine is an icon of Paris but there is a less well-known network of canals, rivers, and waterways. There are already efforts underway to renovate this 81 mile network, but Secchi and Vigano had even grander designs on it shaped by a fantastic metaphor: the sponge.

Sponges are living creatures that shift and change with conditions and survive on a constant flow of water through their bodies. What a beautiful idea. A city that flows, grows, and responds. A city that is more inclusive. A city that attracts ideas found in the natural world. So often designs founded on compelling metaphors are the ones to capture the public imagination. “Renovate the canal system” or transform Paris into a sponge. No contest. Projects to improve sustainability, or based on sustainable principles, often fail the inspiration test. That’s one reason why at Saatchi & Saatchi we have bonded with Blue as a motivating spirit. As Japanese designer, Fumi Masuda has pointed out, the job ahead is not to “sustain society as it is, but change society for sustainability”. That means inspiring people. The concepts of the 10 architects will be publicly displayed, debated, tested, and challenged in true French style. Paris to the Channel as a single city, Paris as archipelego, Paris as an eight-petal flower, a Paris of urban fields, Paris as sponge.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wrangling Butterflies

Public speaking. We all know that many people would rather leap from a burning building than get to their feet and say a few words, but the website Great Speech Writing gets more precise. The most stressful occasion of all? Wedding speeches. The most worried person of all? The father of the bride. Imagine that! Where do these people get their ideas from? From the father of the bride who is certain that this is the most important day of his daughter's life. No pressure! My youngest daughter, Bex, recently announced her engagement and has set the big day for next February. I plan to break every great speech writing rule and let it rip on the day. It's going to be straight from the heart. I bet the best man is already feeling the heat! I'm told that even frequent public speakers (ambassadors, politicians CEOs) get a mental black-out when they have to stand up in front of a wedding crowd. Go figure.

So here are 8 tips for the big day.

1. Write it down. Even the most experienced comic with a user-friendly crowd does not wing it. Sure you’ve known your friends for a hundred years and have stories that go way back, but a great speech is about pace and that needs to be worked out in advance. The second worst wedding speech fault (after being boring) is speaking for too long. Keep to the point. Don’t ramble. And the third worst fault? Reading your notes word for word! No one said it was easy.

2. Keep it personal, keep it positive. Weddings are about connecting the past, present, and future. Think about where you stand on that continuum and tell stories that make those connections with feeling. People want to be touched, perhaps to be reminded of their own weddings, to look forward, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, to be inspired. And please, leave the personal wisecracks to the professionals. They spend many, many hours honing their seemingly improvised insults. Trust me, you will break the magic circle of inclusion a wedding creates if you play for cheap laughs.

3. Know who you’re talking to. At a wedding this is usually straightforward, but remember you’re not up there to entertain yourself or a few select friends. This is a major social gathering for a lot of people and your role is to touch them all. The simplest way to do it is to stay focused on the newly married couple. Sounds obvious, but so often speakers get diverted and lose that emotional connection.

4. Speak to one person. There will always be someone out there who’s dozed off or looks bored. Don’t take it personally. No point in talking to them. Better to find someone out there who is enjoying what you say and talk directly to them. Everyone else will feed off this focus and you can start to relax and enjoy yourself.

5. Bring something to the party. This is not a suggestion that your next wedding speech features PowerPoint, but pulling out an object that you proceed to show has deep meaning is a very powerful way to animate your story. A favorite pasta sauce, a family locket, a toaster – no matter how off-the-wall the object may at first appear, your challenge is to reveal its special meaning right here, right now.

6. Place your best material at the beginning and at the end. This old piece of advice still holds true. People remember what you say when you start and what you leave them with at the end. I often start my presentations with a clip of the New Zealand All Blacks doing the Haka. It captures attention, sets a high emotional tone, and is a surprise.

7. Practice, practice, practice. The mirror is your friend. If you can get a response out of your toughest critic, chances are your words will be treasured by the people who matter most – the newly married couple.

8. Ignore all the above and open your heart to everyone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stella’s world: friends and neighbors

I like change, and in this day and age it’s just as well. I spent an afternoon recently with my granddaughter Stella and her new Grasmere family – Peter Rabbit and friends (I love that Mrs Tiggy-Winkle!). Once again I got to thinking about the world she will live in.

I often have my preconceptions shaken by a new point of view or a set of facts that land on my desk. It has always fascinated me how distant our perceptions can be from what’s actually going on. It is no wonder some businesses get into trouble – they start believing what everyone is saying rather than what is actually happening in front of their eyes and on their balance sheets. There are so many examples. Whereas many people will tell you that they don’t like flying because it isn’t safe, statistically speaking, you’re safer in the air than walking the streets. A very common fear in America is that children will be kidnapped and never seen again. Not so. Very few of them are in fact ever kidnapped (and seldom by strangers) and the recovery rate is very high.

All this occurs to me because I’ve just been handed an article called 'The World’s New Numbers' by Martin Walker. If you’d asked me a few days ago about the world’s projected birth rates over the next 30 or 40 years, I probably would have said that European and North American rates were in decline and we could expect China to have the biggest population. Not so. In fact, European rates are on the rise. America? Yes, American rates are up as well to the point that by 2050 the United Nations are predicting that as many babies will be born in the U.S. as in China! (I don’t like overdone exclamation marks, but I’ve noticed they’re making a comeback thanks to the Web and texting, and in this case it seemed well deserved).

Now the UN is thinking that 2050 will find the world's population to be between 8 and 10.5 billion. Note that the difference in those projections amount to around twice the current population of China, so I assume there’s room for movement on this one. The world population figures are accompanied by many other demographic changes that will probably come as much of a surprise to you as they did to me.

Anyone who lives in the U.K. will tell you that the country has changed forever. Huge increases in immigration have made cities like London richly cosmopolitan, but the frequent perception that Europe is being swamped by immigrants and that it is only a matter of time before all the cathedrals are transformed into mosques does not stack up. The Times once announced that the name Muhammad had replaced Thomas as the second most popular boy’s name in England, but the fact is that Muslim birth rates are actually dropping around the world. Changed expectations, education, and women taking on new roles and responsibilities have all played their part. When you add to the equation recent increases in fertility rates, the picture of Europe in 2050 is likely to surprise us. In Britain for instance, fertility rates have increased by 0.3 in just six years. The same trend is in action in France and beginning in the United States.

Aligning perceptions and reality is critical to the way we think about the world. If we are to put down the foundations for a solid future for kids like Stella, we need to be careful and test every prejudice, question, and “fact” that doesn’t feel right. No one believes in intuition more than me, but even the best gut feeling needs to be backed by accurate information.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Top shopping

I was lucky enough to start my career working for an iconic genius, Mary Quant. She revolutionized English fashion in the 60’s with her amazing way of looking differently at everything conventional. Mary and her Ginger Group were a phenomenon.

A couple of years later, Barbara Hulanicki opened Biba on Kensington High Street. Barbara began her career as a freelance fashion illustrator and changed our retail world by creating the first major hangout for the 60’s new generation. This rock ‘n roll and free love generation flocked to Biba, which was driven by little mod dresses, big floppy hats, and incredible corset tops. They were all in wonderful flimsy fabrics, and predominately in aubergine, plum, black, and gray. Now Barbara’s back.

On April 28, Barbara launched a capsule collection at Topshop in the United Kingdom. Some of the pieces that use iconic symbols from the 60’s are irresistible. It’s just great to see her back and in tandem with Kate Moss, one of this century’s rock ‘n roll icons.

Topshop is now in New York. Its prices, quality, and contemporary feel will make it a recession buster.

Great fabrics, great colors, iconic designers, totally mod looks at everyday prices. No wonder Philip Green, Topshop's owner, is one of the U.K.’s richest men.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ben & Jerry’s: Lovemark

A lot of Lovemark stories come my way. People love talking about their Lovemarks and always try to convince others to share the love. We call these people Inspirational Consumers. They’re the ones who start fan clubs, write letters of praise and criticism to businesses, give their ideas on how the Lovemark could be improved, and as we saw a couple of weeks ago with Tropicana, fight for what they love.

A few weeks ago I had an insightful email from Bulent Keles who lives in Istanbul. His Lovemark (along with 20 other people on, including Simone, who says the Brownie Batter flavor makes her heart flutter) is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. On his site, Bulent relates a classic Lovemarks story.

To get the right emotional intensity, you first have to understand how much Bulent loves his ice cream. “Back when I was a student I used to buy and store my favorite brands as if there was a war coming and I was afraid to run out of ice cream.” Get the picture? So you can imagine how Bulent felt when, after spending $10 on his favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor, Vanilla Toffee Crunch, he got home to find this treasure was tainted. As Bulent says, they pay a premium in Turkey for high quality ice cream so he was definitely not happy. In fact, he acknowledges he was angry.

Now in my experience, most people when confronted with this situation feel surprised, then disappointed, and then usually decide never to buy the product again. Sometimes they’ll return the product to the store but often weeks go by and their only connection with the product that remains is the determination not to buy it again. That is not the way it is with people and their Lovemarks, and it is certainly not the way with Inspirational Consumers.

Bulent did not return the ice cream to the store. His emotional relationship was with Ben & Jerry’s, not the store, so he was not about to be put off by a stand-in. He went to the source and called customer service. Lovemarks always have some love in the bank that encourages people to work through a disappointment rather than be turned off forever. We’re talking Loyalty Beyond Reason. And that’s why this story got to me. The people in customer service got it right – they were concerned and they made Bulent feel he mattered. As Bulent explains, he started to feel comforted and reassured. The next day a man with a name (a real person, not a sales operative) called to make an appointment for delivery and duly turned up with two tubs of replacement ice cream. They could have sent them by courier, but they didn’t. They transformed a routine transaction (replace faulty product) with a relationship (send Mr Nadir) and enhanced Bulent’s commitment to Ben & Jerry’s.

Now none of this is a big deal from a process perspective, but brands so often fall down at this critical point. You can talk about consumer focus and service but there are moments of truth when you deliver or you fail, you deserve Lovemark status, or you don’t, you protect your premium, or you lose it. When every sale counts, the power of Inspirational Consumers cannot be over-estimated.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Today's yesterdays

I was in Grasmere a few weeks ago and it was fantastic to be eating fresh food again. All the restaurants serve produce from within 20 miles, ranging from Morecambe Bay shrimps to local cheeses. Then there’s the home baked bread, lamb, venison, and beef. The taste of a free-range organic chicken compared to the mass market version is beyond compare. What’s even better up north is that their traditional recipes have not been tampered with. Sarah Nelson’s gingerbread shop in Grasmere is world famous, as is the Kendal Mint Cake, and Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding.

These days the shops up here are doing a roaring trade in nostalgia food, drinks, and snacks. The Wateredge Inn pub in Ambleside is offering “retro treats in a basket”. Anyone who grew up in the 70’s will remember them: scampi in a basket, chicken in a basket, and garlic mushrooms in a basket. The good old days.

We’ve just been involved, through Fallon, in bringing back the Wispa chocolate bar for Cadbury. And I can tell you, Cadbury believes this is the most successful launch ever of one of their chocolate bars. Birds Eye has reintroduced Steakhouse Grill and their Arctic Roll frozen desert – both 70’s/80’s staples. Then there’s the dear old great British institution of Marks & Spencer introducing a range of sandwiches with fillings your mother used when you were going to school: strawberry jam, ham and salad cream, and corned beef. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The recession is one driver of the return to old fashioned values, though a desire for security plays a role too. Waitrose is bringing back low cost meat, cold forgotten cuts, and sales of Fray Bentos pies are way up. The foodies, and the critics, may take a dim view of this return to tradition, but they are forgetting that The Consumer is Boss. Bringing back a loved old brand is completely in tune with today’s tough times – reviving yesterday’s successes with today’s marketing tools. Wispa was driven by the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Hundreds of thousands of fans were brought together to produce communications that have already delivered £25 million in sales from a standing start. Now they are trying to convince Cadbury to introduce Wispa Gold.

And let’s hear it too for Vimto and Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The human mirror

The economy may be slowing down, but everything else is speeding up. Margins collapse like a deck of cards, profits plunge (Fortune 500 companies earned 85% less than they did last year), and shoppers turn their backs in a flash. John Bargh from Yale reckons that we evaluate everything as good or bad in 0.25 seconds. That’s fast!

When we started exploring Lovemarks, we looked closely at some work done by Susan Fournier of Boston University. It was compelling. She had analyzed the kinds of relationships people have with brands in terms of relationships they have with other people. Is your relationship that of best friend or family, casual or childhood friend, arranged or romantic marriage? There were 14 kinds of relationships to consider.

As an aside, we developed a parallel idea in sisomo: the Future on Screen by looking at the relationships people have with different kinds of screens. From mobile phones to billboards to that totem digital screen dominating the living room. We even gave the different screens favorite songs. The totem screen? "Look at me" by Buddy Holly.

When you’re dealing with people, using human relationships as both model and inspiration makes compelling sense – and all the more compelling right now when speed is added to the equation. Everything is moving so fast it can be hard to keep track, so using our everyday relationships as a mirror can really help.

Even when you know that people make decisions fast, sometimes how fast is a real surprise. A recent study clocked the time men take to fall in love at 8.2 seconds. Well, that was the headline anyway. In a rather weird test, Dutch and Canadian researchers studied how 115 students reacted when they mixed with good-looking actors and actresses. And yes, the better looking the person, the better the results were – for the men anyway. Men only took about four seconds to decide whether or not they were interested in one of the women, and after 8.2 seconds: game, set, match. Women were not influenced by looks in the same way and gave all prospects almost equal contemplation. Research on speed dating comes up with similar results. It also parallels the time needed for a purchase decision to be made in store: three seconds.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Homes of Football

Ambleside is the village next to my Grasmere home. A typical Lakeland spot with some eccentric retailers, including the talented and ubiquitous Lucy's for all things cookery, a Peter Blake art exhibition, a funky independent record store, and the world’s best football gallery.

Homes of Football is a permanent display and collection of Stuart Clarke's photography of football, festivals, fairy tale, and Cumbria. It is an amazing experience.

Stuart Clarke became a photographer during the Thatcher years. His monochrome street photography led him to begin "Homes of Football" (albeit in color) just as Lord Justice Taylor put together his recommendations to reshape the game after The Hillsborough Disaster.

"Here was an opportunity, as football changed, to make a big artistic record, having been immersed in the playing and staging of football matches from an early age (indeed we even had a football ground in our back garden!)...I took another chance in basing myself in the rural Lake District - to do something considered an urban phenomenon. I called it "The Homes of Football " (plural) as I was after something pluralistic. Long-lasting. Authoritative. Quirky. Not throw-away.”

So with a home at Ambleside, Stuart went on the road with a show – putting together the longest ever touring art exhibition before gallery audiences nationwide. At first he found that curators were dismissive of having football in their art galleries, but Stuart fought his ground, going over their heads and engaging the Heads of Leisure Services. His line was that football is the nation's game and that he had created a special treatment that went beyond copious newspaper coverage. His recent photography has done something similar with "Scenes From a British Summer Country Pop Music Festival".

But back to football. As Stuart says, “Football, season-long and outliving us all, is multi-layered and ever engages my artistic curiosity – putting the collection in The Lake District is a way to hearts and minds prized open by spectacular surrounds releasing the poet in us each...I want to see my pictures ever before all and sundry in galleries, exhibitions, in my books as well as in your imaginative adverts when it can become the turn of the creatives to translate and renew what was first seen. There is no sacred text – it's what we make of anything that matters."

Make sure you put Homes of Football on your next itinerary. I just brought two Manchester City pieces and there’s more brilliant stuff just waiting for you as you walk through the door.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Stella's world: learning from babies

When my grandchild Stella was born back in December 2007 (don’t ever let anyone tell you that time isn’t fleeting when it comes to children growing up), I was once again mesmerized by the strange wonder of babies. You don’t have to be a parent to know that babies have remarkable powers. The most remarkable? They survive. That’s what they are designed to do and they survive because they learn with incredible speed. For a long time, the general view of the scientific establishment was that because babies only had small brains, there couldn’t be much going on in the thinking department. I’m not sure how much time the scientific establishment spent living with babies to reach that conclusion. Stella and my own children have always struck me as highly sophisticated thinking machines.

Now we learn that science has recently caught up with parents in the baby stakes. Turns out that the average baby’s brain is on fire when it comes to absorbing information. I've used the sponge as a metaphor for cities before and it’s not a bad one for babies either. While human beings as adults tend to filter the world and only take in what suits them, babies go for anything that’s out there. So when you see a baby looking about aimlessly, she is actually soaking in everything around her with all her senses on high alert.

Great artists often talk about wanting to draw and think like children. Picasso even claimed, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”. The idea here is that a childlike state puts us in a more receptive mode. Out of this state comes creativity and innovation. At Saatchi & Saatchi we have used this principle in developing a form of consumer research called Xploring. Rather than go in with pre-set questionnaires and surveys, we hang out with people wherever they happen to be, observe whatever they are doing, and (just as babies do) soak up what’s going on. No preconceptions, no expectations. Only after that stage is over is it time for insights and analysis.

As one of the researchers on the baby learning program said, “We had a very misleading view of babies. The baby brain is perfectly designed for what it needs to do, which is learn more about the world.” Now that sounds familiar. Next time you are developing a consumer research project, think like a baby.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Start with the Answer #2

As I wrote last month, Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman Bob Seelert has written a book – 'Start with the Answer' - based on the wisdoms he has acquired during his career to date. His book is being launched today at the Harvard Club of New York (the opening story of the book is about how he “took a flyer” on Harvard and got in). To celebrate this new publication and to give you a taste of Bob’s style, I have run one of the 94 stories in the book below. It’s called 'You’ll Need to “Work Your Ass Off”' – a 1970s version of “Winning Ugly”. This story comes from the Managing Your Career section of the book. KR
By the time he addressed our team at General Foods, Jack Twyman had strung together three careers, each impressive in its own right. He had been a Hall of Fame basketball player in the National Basketball Association; a successful sportscaster on the NBA Game of the Week for ABC television; and finally, Chairman and CEO of Super Foods Services, Inc., a major food distributor in the United States. A man with three consecutive career successes surely would have some important advice for us, and he did.

The most significant lesson we learned from Jack was the importance of hard work, preparation, and dedication. From early in his life, he felt anything was possible, as long as the person was willing to pay “the price”. The definition of the price is an absolute and total commitment to what you want to accomplish.

Jack went to Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where basketball was a highly competitive sport. He tried out for the team as a freshman, sophomore, and a junior, and was cut each time. During the summer between his junior and senior years, he wore out three pairs of sneakers practicing basketball on the playground. As a senior, he made the team, went on to play at the University of Cincinnati and the NBA, and ultimately was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. What an incredible record of achievement and testimony to personal commitment, preparation, drive, and energy.

Jack’s selection by ABC as Game of the Week announcer was not happenstance, but a result of his thorough preparation for the job. For Jack, there was never any magic formula for success. Rather, as he said, “I worked my ass off!”

Bob’s Wisdom: There is no substitute for dedication and hard work.

Monday, May 4, 2009

New marketing in the new reality

I’m often asked, “Will this current economic downturn change marketing?” My first response is that calling this a downturn is like calling the sinking of the Titanic a boating accident. What we are facing is a catastrophe. While a catastrophe is classically defined as an event resulting in great loss and misfortune, its darker side can also lead to utter ruin. We are facing economic and commercial challenges that require levels of stamina and imagination not faced before in business.

We’ve been living in a global economy which has been content with running on credit for more than a decade. Crazy credit that allowed people with no money to buy houses with three garages. Credit that tempted the financial sector into slice-‘n-dice mortgage mode. Credit that maxed out every card in the wallet. Credit that led to major reversals of fortune. That's all come to a screeching halt and now we are left with bankers, economists, politicians, and experts all telling us how it happened. The truth? Nobody knows.

The new reality is simple. Money is either scarce or just not there at all. This means big adjustments personally and professionally. It means we have to look at this new reality in the eye and accept it for what it is. It means we have to get back to living within our means – a tough call for anyone under 35.

This will be a difficult year for marketing as for everything else. Advertising Age reported that the $2 trillion value of the top 100 brands held steady over the past year according to Millward Brown’s annual BrandZ report, but there are no guarantees. Next year may be worse, may be better, who can possibly tell. That’s the plain truth we face, but the French have a saying I believe will serve us well: 'Nous croyons en l’homme'. We believe in mankind. People are adjusting and many are doing more than that. They are adjusting, taking a deep breath, and seeking out opportunities with new intensity.

Fashion designer John Galliano nailed it. “There’s a credit crunch, not a creative crunch.” He’s French, he occupies the most rarefied heights of the fashion industry, and the man gets it. With that attitude he’d be a perfect CMO! This is exactly how smart marketers – expert consumer inspired marketers – can win. With ideas. Marketing as an industry will change as marketers themselves change. I have no doubt of that. They will lose a certain arrogance about what they really know. They will understand what priceless value means to consumers. They will play across media. They will love interactivity. They will revolve around great experiences. They will set out to delight and inspire. Any success story post-catastrophe will be dedicated to sustainability, trust, love, and new ideas. Sounds like Lovemarks to me.