I would like to share with you additional learnings that I’ve gleaned over my 20 years of experience in strategy and planning. I hope you find some, if not all, of these valuable in some way – especially the last one, it’s the most important lesson I can convey.
In no particular order, here we go:
Partnership is Greater than Individual Achievement: Don’t do things alone. Find a partner to write, ideate and create. It will lead to better, more informed product.
But, Start on your Own: This doesn’t mean you can’t take the first stab, that’s the best part of work. You need to try yourself first, even if you don’t know the answer. It helps you grow
Frameworks are the Start, Not the Product: Frameworks are a tool, they’re not the product. They are a good starting point for strategy and help govern the work. But just like a stencil in art, they’re not what you present publicly.
Beware the Flash, Glitz and Glamour: There’s a bias in the industry to tap into the new, the popular. What’s new and flashy can be good, but it may not last. Focus on what works.
Sometimes Old Ways are the Best Ways: It may not be flashy, it may not be new, but some tried and true tactics work the best, sometimes. I’ll say it, direct mail is amazing.
A Cannes Lion is Great, Driving Client Business is Better: Yes, we all want to be on stage and want awards. But, business success leads to longer term prosperity both for clients and agencies. (Fully admitting I don’t have a Cannes Lion)
Process is a Crutch: Those who yearn for process, roles and responsibilities and clear delineations to what they do and don’t do – will fail to advance at the same pace as those who just do.
Surprise and Delight; But Prove It: Just like glitz and glamour, surprising with innovative new ways is great! Make sure you have the reason for it backed with logic.
When Presenting, be Yourself: Scripts only make you sound scripted or like ChatGPT. People want to work with you for your expertise and who you are as a person. Be authentically you.
Simplify your Narrative, Then do it Again: A strong, simple and single minded narrative is essential especially when you’re presenting detailed thinking. Simplify it down to something anyone would be able to follow. Slides are made for presenting, otherwise we would make books.
Less is More on Slides: Don’t write a novel. Don’t repurpose Powerpoint as Excel. Write as a human. Write about what you’re trying to say, and leave it at that. Fluffery and marketing jargon gets you nowhere.
Show up Early: No one likes someone who just strolls in. Arrive early, show your commitment to the work if not the company. Show you care about what you do – it goes a long way.
Ask for Guidance: You’re not expected to know all the answers.
Saying ‘Data’ Means Nothing: It’s what you do with the data that matters. If you don’t know where it comes from nor can translate it into actionable steps, you’re just saying vaporware.
Stand Up for What You Believe, but Back it Up: Standing for principle is admirable and it shows your commitment. But proving it matters just as much.
Present a Problem AND a Solution: Going to someone with a problem may seem like you’re being proactive. Identifying a potential solution WITH the problem is even better.
Ask for a Double Check: Just like writing a paper in school, have someone review your work – you are not infallible.
Collaboration Breeds Consensus: It’s easier to sell something to someone if you include them in the process.
It will NEVER be Perfect the First Time (or ever): There will always be edits. Take the feedback, take the challenges and refine, refine, refine. Work is iterative.
I’ve been giving PowerPoint SmartArt a great deal of thought lately and how beholden we are. More often than not we are reliant on the simplicity of SmartArt, using in it all of our presentations and documents to communicate ideas and our approaches. SmartArt is a simple way of organizing our complex thoughts and representing them visually– in order to communicate more effectively. I admit, I’m a heavy user of SmartArt myself.
However, I’m wondering if SmartArt is, by its own nature, limiting our thinking.
Linear Thinking: It’s so much easier to think linearly, to think in steps, to present in order. The sheer nature of PowerPoint as slides numbered, illustrates this and SmartArt is not immune to this thinking either. By using PowerPoint, we present steps, processes, approaches, you name it in an order that is reliant on the step before.
Forced Frameworks: Trying to jam our thoughts into a pyramid or some sort of relationship venn diagram, forces us to communicate a thought in a language which may not be the right one.
Two Dimensional Thought: Every piece of SmartArt represents two dimensional thinking. Whether it be a process, flow, hierarchy, relationship or list, it’s all about the presentation of thought in two dimensions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a three-dimensional thinker by any means, but wonder if it limits our ability to attempt to do so.
Forward, Rewind: Most SmartArt forms represent some sort of flow to a determined end point or goal. However, I have not seen one that allows for moving forward and moving backward or any sort of free flow of journey.
Too Simple: I understand the goal, as mentioned above, is to reduce complexity to simplicity. However, I would argue that most thoughts are not as simple, nor are actions. There is a vast amount of complexity, a consumer journey as an example and it’s difficult to articulate those nuances or complexities using SmartArt; it limits the thinking too much.
High Expectations: It also appears that if there isn’t some sort of SmartArt or derivation of SmartArt, people assume there’s no strategy. When did this become a thing?
I would argue that linear thinking imposed by SmartArt, where it’s easy to communicate thought, may wind up limiting our collective cognitive growth and may innately present an inherent bias in our strategic presentations. I would recommend trying to create something as it is, rather than force an idea into a preconceived image.
I have been working in strategy and planning for the majority of my career, and it has been a learning experience every day. I guess that’s one reason I love working in this field, I’m constantly learning. Strategy and planning wasn’t my first career, I was a designer, a creative thinker to start, then pivoted into strategy.
This is my effort to encapsulate what I have learned. My hope is that someone finds these observations valuable and if not, that’s cool; just want to share my learnings with others as others have shared theirs with me.
In no particular order, here we go:
Find Simplicity in Complexity: There’s a lot of information out there, and that’s an understatement. The role of a strategist or planner is to sort through that complexity to achieve simplicity. That’s it.
Briefs Are Not Commandments: More often than not, we perceive briefs as the end-all-be-all roadmap for the project. This is not the case. Briefs are not infallible nor are they concrete, they are fluid documents that are meant to direct not dictate the journey.
Briefs Require Action: This may be a no brainer, but every brief needs to direct some sort of action. If briefs become a compilation of observations, a translation of what clients said and or pithy statements, they do nothing other than showcase “how much you know” – briefs need to illicit or inspire action.
Cleverness Versus Understanding: A strategist can be clever, their words can be clever, but a really good strategist or planner understands what truly needs to be done, what the target cares about, how the category is evolving, etc. and convey that understanding to others in a clear way. Save the cleverness for poetry.
Find The Jewel: A jewel is a valuable piece of information, shiny and precious. The hunt for precious knowledge, an observation you need to nurture, something someone has overlooked, or something so pure and right for the moment is what our strategic search is all about; the hunt for the purity of thought in the chaos of information.
Aha Is Not An Insight: Aha is surprising and new. An insight is an observation based on data, mixed with a human behavior or truth, that has some significant tension built in or wrapped around. Simply, insights take time to craft and hone unlike “aha” which is just something new.
Also, Observations Are Not Insights: This is one that we have to try every day to fix. An observation is just something that has been discovered, an insight is crafted. To call observations insights is to confuse what you see with what uniquely needs to be done.
Everyone Wants To Make Their Own insights: I’m just going to say it, I don’t know where or when creatives were told, trained or taught to make up an insight to set up ideas. it’s a relatively new endeavor, but one that confuses strategists and planners as we have long been told, by creatives, to provide them insights. But, as you will read later, everything is iterative.
There Is No Ownership, Only Partnership: Long have I thought that deliverables or briefs that I write are “mine,” and that is most definitely not the case. Work, all work, is developed in partnership. The idea of ownership only manifests in what is assigned to you – and those two ideas are different.
Who, What And Why Are Your Most Important Questions: As a strategist, you must always ask “who…”, “what…” and “why…”. If you don’t ask those questions on every assignment, in every meeting, you have extreme difficulty understanding the “how”.
Strategists And Planners Are Business Development: Planners and strategists, by their nature, are generators of new business through the discovery of new avenues, new ways of thinking, or new problems (or the right problems). Since they’re unafraid to ask questions, dare I say need to ask questions, the answers lead to new discoveries.
Time Is Your Best Friend And Worst Enemy: There is no perfect amount of time to write a brief. Each brief or project is under some sort of constraint and a planner or strategist must be accommodating to each scenario; you can’t rubber stamp insights. Pressure is the necessity of strategic thought. The same thing holds true to the notion of too much time; if you have too much time, it’s the absolute worst.
Challenge And Concede: It’s within everyone’s right to challenge preconceived notions, directions or agendas; even more so as strategists or planners. However, know your boundaries, conceding is just as important – you may be wrong.
Humility: You’re not always right; there’s always someone who knows more than you.
Creative and Account Leads Are Your Best Friends: You need to make a partnership with creative and account; the relationship turns out the best in all. It’s like the Avenger’s, each has a unique superpower and together you can take down the worst of the universe.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Excel; There Are Jewels In The Data: It’s a tricky platform and feels daunting if not intimidating, but in most Excel documents there is a nugget of information that is incredibly valuable. It’s okay, I’m not an expert in Excel either.
Ask For Help: This is agnostic of any particular role or discipline, but ask for help when needed – you can’t solve the world.
Anthropology And Psychology Are Essential: The understanding of the human condition, where we’re from, the why we act the way we do and the reasons why is what we do; you must have at least a basic understanding of both.
Find The Problem, Solve The Problem: Sometimes the problems we are provided are not the correct ones or sometimes we don’t even get a problem to solve. Finding the problem is just as essential as solving it; if we don’t have a problem, then there’s no need to write a brief.
Never Stop Reading, Learning, Questioning: This seems to be another no-brainer, but seriously, don’t stop reading, learning, or questioning… it has to be in your nature. Offer a fresh and new perspective. (Note: It doesn’t always have to be about work either.)
Keep Writing Briefs, Even If They’re Not Used: Get in the habit of starting off all your assignments with even the most basic brief, it keeps your skills honed.
Frameworks Matter Less Than What’s In Them: Every agency has their own “proprietary framework” but the irony is they’re all similar if not the same. What matters most is what is IN the framework then the framework itself.
It’s been a long time since I published on this blog; I figured I would go back and revisit one of the more popular posts since the blog’s inception. I’m going back 10 years ago to the resume infographic post. Back then, I was aspiring to become part of the agency landscape once again after taking on my own clients for a while. Since then, I have been on a long and very productive agency career which has yielded some of the best experiences of my professional life; everything from creating a global social media infrastructure for a consumer electronics brand, to developing best in class eCommerce strategies for the world’s largest CPG brand, to collaborating on the strategy to launch the first mass-production electric vehicle in North America.
I’m happy to present to you my updated resume infographic. For those of you who don’t know how the first version was structured, here’s an overview:
At the top, you will see the title of the graphic, my name, title and contact information. Section Two:
Probably the most visually appealing graphic of the document, the work wheel. This graphic represents the work timeline from 1999 to now 2019. And wrapped around the wheel is the visual chronicle of my work history separated by colors. Lines coming from segments of the wheel define where I worked and when. Section Three:
At the bottom of the infographic is more of a linear timeline of my career path. Color of the timeline corresponds to the place of employment just like in the work wheel above. This timeline is simple, linear and gives you a different representation of work history.
For those of you who would like to learn more about my career history and strategic trajectory, I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn. As far as the next infographic to come out; well I have no idea what it’s going to be just yet. I’m working on finding a subject matter. And of course, if you have a suggestions, don’t hesitate to let me know.
Apple and HBO announced the release of a new on-demand service called HBO Now, exclusive to Apple customers. HBO Now is an on-demand service less like HBO Go, but more akin to Netflix. This represents a shift in the cable television content distribution paradigm.
Let’s look at HBO Go for an example. Previously, in order to get on-demand television content, users would have to supply the application or online service with a cable provider login to access the content, both archived content and live content. Now, using this new service, anyone can sign up for the HBO service without having to subscribe to a cable provider.
Unlike the music industry, the television and cable TV industry has been reluctant to achieve consensus on how to provide consumers with on-demand content beyond a cable subscription. Many have speculated the difficulty in achieving a consensus on providing on-demand cable TV content to consumers who are not cable TV subscribers, is not because the content creators (HBO, Showtime, etc.) are reluctant to sell the content, but the cable providers (Comcast, TWC, etc.) are unwilling to shift their business model to an on-demand model.
The announcement from Apple CEO Tim Cook and HBO CEO Richard Plepler signifies a massive shift and blow to the cable providers. Apple and HBO will be offering HBO content to all Apple device users (Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, etc.) for a nominal monthly fee of $14.99. It’s clear that HBO recognizes Netflix as a competitor and cable providers as a roadblock to success.
Online viewing habits of consumers are shifting the way content creators and providers are distributing content.
If more services like HBO or Netflix continue make a move into the online space for subscription based, on-demand services, there will be an impact on media within the cable provider ecosystem.
In the end, it will be interesting to see how HBO’s move impacts the cable TV/provider landscape. For too long, there has been a stalemate in the battle for online subscription based networks (HBO) independent of cable subscription (TWC). Both services want to make money, we’ll see who makes it first – at the expense of the other.
In honor of his would be 80th birthday, Spotify (the king of online music experience) created two applications that celebrate Elvis’ influence on music.
The first application, The Elvis Influence allows a user to type in their favorite (or any) band or artist to see how they have been influenced by Elvis. The best way to describe this experience is that it’s the Six Degrees of Elvis. The application backtracks the influence of each artist to Elvis himself. Additionally, the application allows a user to listen to the whole timeline or the individual artists.
The second application, The Elvisualization, is an interactive infographic which details the influence of Elvis overtime. Very similar to a “bloodline” if you will, it illustrates how Elvis influenced every artist after him all the way to contemporary times, across many different genres. In addition to illustrating the influence, the interactive graphic is dynamic allowing a user to click on any artist listed for a preview of their sound.
Beyond Elvis being awesome, why should we care about these two applications from Spotify? Well, Spotify has historically been fantastic at leveraging their content, their assets and their library/database for enhanced user experiences than just streaming music. They are offering users more context, the ability to explore new content and share that content with others.
Innovating with Existing Product: Every brand or company has a product or service. However, what helps make good marketers is finding ways to innovate using that existing product and share that innovation to the customer. Yes, it is easier said than done with some clients and Spotify is unique in the fact that they have music as their product. Yet, the music isn’t their product, their database is and they are very smart with that database and consumption/tagging data that comes along with it. If you really think about it, Spotify didn’t create the Elvis apps because they have Elvis music, they created the apps because they have access to influence metrics and consumption of music stemming from Elvis’s music. That level of innovation and thinking, beyond simply what product does a brand have and how do we market the product, can create extraordinary experiences for consumers and the industry.
Moving Beyond the App: Yes, Spotify has a mobile application as their main source of product consumption, but they also have a web version too. Spotify has been good with creating experiences that don’t necessarily rely upon a platform, but experiences that rely upon their API and database. You don’t have to download the Elvis apps and you don’t need to be a member of Spotify to listen to the music. Don’t always design for the platform, design for the experience.
Consumer Value through Context: Spotify is a content consumption and curation experience. The brand has been very good with adding context to that equation as well. Music is very personal and selective, it makes sense for a brand like Spotify to hone in on that and create experiences that allow for the user to create their own experience.
Spotify is not only an amazing company offering a service to users that directly taps into passion points, they also, and one could argue changed consumer behavior from a purchase model to a streaming/leasing model of content. Because of that success in the industry and the access to content and consumption, it allows them to be on the forefront in digital marketing.
Want more? Take a look at these recent experiences Spotify has offered their consumers:
Previously, I wrote a blog post with some of my thoughts about advertising and marketing that I had posted to Twitter. With anyone in the industry, we all have opinions and best practices or even mantras about the world of advertising. That being said, here is round two of that thinking, or more to the point, my thinking, thoughts and learnings about the industry and creativity.
What are your thoughts?
When it comes to engagement, ask why they would care and why they would act.
As with most people in the industry, we all have our opinions about advertising and marketing. That being said, I’ve been posting my thoughts about advertising and marketing on Twitter and other social platforms, but I realize I haven’t provided a central repository for all of my learnings, thoughts or observations.
So, here we go, here are some of the musing from the year to date. And of course, I’m interested in your feedback and thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with these ideas?
Simply because your campaign lives on a social platform, doesn’t mean it is a social campaign. #advertising
Last week, in an effort to increase awareness around Critical Mass’ SxSW submissions, we hosted five days of Twitter chats. Each Critical Mass entry had its own chat. It was a great experience interacting with some top minds, sharing ideas and taking a critical look at the digital and social landscape from different perspectives – all on Twitter.
Just to recap, my SxSW entry is about making events more social and more engaging for the participants, in real-time and long after the event is over. (Don’t forget to vote!)
From the Move Beyond the Check-In: Making Events Truly Social Twitter chat, there were some interesting themes that came up.
Privacy is still a major concern with location-based services. Especially when it comes to integrating LBS into existing social networks.
Check-in and consumer loyalty are not always synonymous.
Incentives are still top-of-mind with consumers and marketers as a method to engage consumers.
Layered incentives or achievements can motivate consumer retention.
Gamification is another method still being considered or employed for consumer retention.
Marketers sometimes find it difficult to move beyond the incentive and game when engaging audiences at events.
Engagement at events with the event itself or crowd, could be a viable next step after incentives; curating real-time relationships.
So, to grow this conversation even further, how can we as marketers, move beyond the incentive and using technology, engage the consumer at events with real-time value and long term experiences?
Thank you to everyone who participated in the Twitter chat with me and Critical Mass! You all were great, highly engaged and provided incredible insights into event-based marketing! Below (after the fold) is the Twitter chat, formatted for your reference.
Please don’t forget to vote (Friday, September 2nd) is the last day to vote!