Tuesday, April 26, 2005

O, Canada...

I don't revel in the misery of others. I watched the footage of Caroline Marcil on TV One's late night news broadcast. Caroline was asked to sing the national anthems at an exhibition game between the Canadian and U.S. national teams in Quebec City. Two lines into The Star Spangled Banner, Marcil appeared to forget the lyrics and left the ice briefly. When she returned with a lyric sheet in her hand, she slipped on the ice and fell hard. By then the crowd was booing loudly. Totally humiliated, she gave up on the performance. The game went ahead without the singing of anthems.

I felt bad that we subject someone who obviously has talent to international humiliation by media. The sniggering of the show's minor talent hosts was worse than the item. I felt embarrassed for them. I fail to see how Kate Hawkesby's talent for reading from an autocue and being a fashion manque would ever work with The One & Only framework. Perhaps the Brazilian channel Globo have got it right by introducing computer generated news readers.

Caroline Marcil went on to perform the anthem perfectly on live U.S. national TV (Good Morning America). I hope she can convert her slip into a positive outcome.

It shocks me that New Zealand media take such pleasure in constantly reducing our culture to some low common denominator.

Open Source Marketing

It has been a slow week for blog posts. I've been distracted with real world matters - moving house, school holidays.

Going through my inbox this morning I found a regular mail that spots consumer trends. The latest issue talk about Generation C - consumers who want to have direct influence on what companies develop and produce for them.

Access to media ranging from the ability to send stills and movies from a humble PXT phone to sophisticated movie making with digital video and PC based editing software gives anyone with access to quite low cost technology the ability to create and transmit ideas with no friction at all. The web gives us all an audience.

Some of the most popular expressions of access and creativity have been where consumers create advertising for companies - such as the Converse movie gallery.

The big question this raises is, what does the future hold for ad agency creatives when literally everyone and anyone has access to both the medium and the message? Brand owners who are savvy will be wondering how to harness the force and truly acknowledge the symbiosis that is inherent in the much flouted idea that 'the consumer owns the brand'.

The risk, one might argue is, that by handing over the responsibility for creating brand messages to consumers you lose control over your brand and its presentation. But, then again, by handing the keys to agency creatives, isn't that what you've always done.

The symbiosis also extends into the very heart of marketing. The products and services we create can now be co-created by consumers. Harnessing the creative power and experiences of consumers makes the outcome far more likely to be relevant.

Where does The One & Only theory fit into the puzzle?

Like a performer we have to create authentic expressions - unique ideas and representations of the idea that marry with the expectations of fans.

In the world of music there is a conundrum:when we buy the music of our favourite band we like it to be recognisably them, but we also want the artistic boundaries to be pushed out a little further. Few performers succeed over the long term by simply reproducing their greatest hits. Fans engage with their favourites through live performance, which is a test bed for new material as well as to maintain the thread with the past.

I guess that, in the future, or today - whichever you prefer - you will have to brief the segment of your market who are most likely to want to play with your brand.

The key, as in all good briefing, is for you to communicate the brand essence, the thing that makes you The One & Only, and then let them express their creativity.

In a way it is open source marketing instead of the hermetically sealed code that marketers have clung to in the past.

LINKS

The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Friendship

As my personal relationship with my partner and lover came to its end over these last few weeks and months I have been contemplating the nature of relationships, intimacy and how we engage with the world. I've referred to Kevin Roberts Lovemarks in other posts and have expressed concern about the wholesale application of human characteristics onto products and services.

I think we must take care not to make blithe assumptions about people and trivialise ideals that go beyond importance and extend into the essence of who we are. I worry about unhealthy ideas of 'love' projected onto brands in a needy, greedy way.

My own thinking about the nature of brands as The One & Only, like all branding theories must, at some point consider the perceptual relationship with the product and the people who consume it. I believe that issues such as intimacy, as expressed in Lovemarks, don't properly address what intimacy is and its significance to us as humans. Intimacy begins with self knowledge and self love. The ability to be solitary (although alone with one's self) and also to be able to engage openly with others.

Since Lisa left I have also been thinking about friendship and its role in our lives, and found this by accident in a library book I had randomly picked up:

Cicero was one of the most famous politicians of the Roman age. He placed enormous significance on friendship. So the importance he gave to friendship should be part of the secret of his success.

1. Friendship is a priority.
"I just can ask you (my friends) to put friendship before the rest of the human things. For nothing else is so balanced with nature, nothing else is so accurate to things, be they good, be bad".

2. Friendship is powerful.
"Friends are more valuable than relatives because relatives and goodness can be separated but friends and goodness cannot. Once you separate friendship from goodness, the name of friendship disappears, the link among relatives persists".

3. Friendship depends on you, not on chance.
"Some people say richness is better than friendship, others say health is better, others prefer power, some like honors and many, also prefer pleasures. But those things are uncertain and depend on chance and luck rather than on your will and determination".

4. Friendship is (very) useful, in good times and in bad times.
"Does anything provide more pleasure than having someone to whom you can talk as if you were talking with yourself?
The satisfaction you get in victory, would it be the same if you had not someone who enjoyed them as much as you do?
To overcome adversity is extremely difficult if you don´t find someone who feels them as much as you do".

5. Friendship is empowering.
"One of the best advantages of friendship is that it communicates a light of hope for the future, and does not allow weakness and hopelessness of souls. If you look at a friend, you will watch an image of you in her. In friendship, absents are present, weaks feel strong and even deads are felt as alive, for that is the kind of memory and longing of friends".

Full Circle

This blogging business is fascinating. Actually, I'll qualify that, this whole internet business is fascinating.

I was following some links from my blog to people who had left a message, and on from there to other connected sources, I made the mental leap between the trail we leave on the web via hyperlinks and the project to track the migration of humans across the planet using DNA.

It's like a mirror image - the connection between the DNA project - looking for the origins of human beings and being able to follow chains of thought around the world.

Kind of cool.

Apparently we all came from Africa - and more recently than you'd think.

National Geographic genographic project

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Do what you do do well

The One & Only approach to brands and marketing is a humanisitic view, applied to both organsiations and individuals. At it's core lies the elimination of practices and expressions that do not fit or are not authentic to the entity.

I read a sports story once (I can't remember where, who the protagonist was or the actual team involved - except that it was a famous American baseball coach and team - I'll do my best to be faithful, if not accurate); a new coach had been hired to work with a team that had been performing badly. The owner and had sunk millions into his team after making billions in some entrepreneurial venture; now he had the time and cash to indulge in his lifelong passion. It troubled him that the team was in such a slump.

The first thing the new coach did was to interview all of his players. He paid particular attention to the pitchers. He believed pitchers won games. If batters couldn't hit the ball then they couldn't score home runs, let alone steal third.

The players were tense about the meetings and were either eager to please or defensive about their performance in the season so far. All feared spending time on the bench.

"Tell me your top five pitches" the coach demanded of each of his pitchers.
The players would rank their specialty throws in descending order.
"Curve ball, spit ball, knuckle ball, fast ball, screw ball, slider..." Every pitcher had his specialty armoury.
"So what are you going to work on?"
Without exception the players dutifully replied they would spend more time on the pitches they were less competant with.
"Forget it!" the new coach drawled "Work on your best pitch, forget the rest. Spend all of your time on your best shot. Forget the rest."

The team went on to win far more reliably than others in the league and while they didn't win the championship that year they hit their previous lacklustre performance out of the ballpark.

The moral? Do what you do best. Play to strength. What is the point in trying to divide your energy and resources into such tiny parcels that they they have no effect, or worse, allow your weaknesses to be dilute your strengths?

In a similar vein, playing to strength and developing it into a signature, I found this quote on the web

“The voice is the focus of so much comment on Welles’s performances, early and late, that it is worth observing that any huge natural endowment is a double-edged sword for a performer. The greatest artists — Olivier and Margot Fonteyn spring to mind — are those of modest natural endowments who have worked and worked to extend them, thus developing in themselves disciplines and hard-won strength which open up worlds of expression and imagination unknown to those who had it all for nothing.”


Orson Wells - The Road to Xanadu

This book, which has received rave reviews is written by English actor Simon Callow (the funeral from Four Weddings and a Funeral.)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday Night Miscellany


Watching Nightline this evening I am left wondering about justice and activism.

Farming couple successfully prosecuted for not moving stock to higher ground in the face of a bad weather report.
All survived (just as they would, had nature been left to run its course)

Meanwhile thousands of animals (cows, chickens, pigs) are butchered everyday to provide life threatening calories to people who don't need them.

I love a great big juicy steak. My son and I have our 'steak out' on Wednesday evenings. I like mine medium rare.

Recently I had a discussion with the marketing guy from SAFE, the animal rights activist. They wanted a campaign to promote the plight of battery chickens to the public. My suggestion was to promote a moderate view. Encourage consumers to simply eliminate one chicken meal every week. It's strange thing, but -in my observation - people are so used to seeing other PEOPLE eviscerated and dissected on CSI (the murder franchise: Las Vegas, Miami, and New York) that images of chickens in little cages fail to shock.

Let's do some math. Say chicken, in in all its forms, was worth $100 million dollars a year (and, if you've seen chicken prices at the supermarket there's no reason to think that's high) then simply choosing to eliminate one chicken meal every week is going to make a serious dent in profits. Nothing too radical. Simply eat fish fingers on a day you'd normally eat chicken.

Shock doesn't seem to shock any more. It would be kind of shocking for radical activists to be moderate. By being gently reasonable they would, I proposed, send a message to battery farmers that, while you enjoy chicken meals, you don' t appreciate the way they are farmed. One less chicken meal per week. That's all it takes. Take ownership of the consumer behaviour and let Neilsen track the results.

I would have thought it would work rather well. I guess it would be less fun than throwing blood on fur coat wearers. And what is the point being an activist if you can't conduct commando operations and feel like a misunderstood outsider?

As for the farming couple prosecuted for not herding their cattle to higher ground. Do we have nothing better for the justice system to do?

LINKS

The Meatrix
a very well produced flash animated movie site that parodies the Matrix to illustrate the effect of factory farming in the U.S.

New Zealand Herald article about Cow case
The SPCA brought this ridiculous action. No one seems to care much about the plight of New Zealand's native wildlife - including birds and lizards being slaughtered for sport by domestic cats (let alone for food by feral cats). How many cows and sheep are butchered every year to sustain cats and dogs?

It has been a tough week - can you tell?

A rose by any other name



Kevin Roberts calls brands Lovemarks and says that brands are dead. Lovemarks, it would seem, are the last word in branding.

This has been bugging me for some time and, while I admire the way he has marshaled his resources to promote his brand, sorry Lovemark, I'm not convinced.

I guess, in a way it would be like me coming home to my wife - if I had still had one - and saying "I'm not your husband any more I am your Lovinman," - and for good measure putting a trademark symbol on the end of it. Yes, I can be your Lovinman but I will also be your husband. Seems the two need not be mutually exclusive.

Are Lovemarks anything more than a hi-jacking of the marketplace's attention? A re-branding of Saatchi & Saatchi? Something to be as carelessly applied as the received wisdom of the 1960's concept of The Single Minded Proposition.

Make up your own mind: Order your copy of Lovemarks from Amazon

My former partners at BrandWorld and I applied the strap line to our business: Building Brands People Love - in 1996 - predating Lovemarks by a considerable (trade) mark. Our promotional materials posited the idea that it was crucial for people to have a stronger attachment to a product than acceptance, fondness or liking. Since then I have become wary of the anthropomorphism of branding - assigning properties to brands that are more a case of wishful thinking than is evidenced in people's behaviours. For example, it might well be that Mr Roberts assigns the values of mystery, sensuality and intimacy to Nivea creams and lotions, but I am unconvinced they are values that are necessarily shared by its users, rather than wishfully projected by the advertiser.

I wonder if all of the brands featured in Mr Roberts book consider themselves not to be brands?

Where the flaw in the Lovemarks argument really resides is in the positioning chart where love and respect are the x and y axes. Robert's places 'brands' in the high respect, low love quadrant. While that may be true of some individual brands, I find the placement spurious. To prove his point, but not based on any evidence.

Brands? - Lovemarks? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet (or rank). I'm afraid it's something to judged on a case by case basis.

Kevin Robert's Website is here


Bloggeral

While I am on topic of nomenclature I have coined a new phrase. Bloggeral.

Since I have begun this venture into the freewheeling exchange of ideas I have been introduced to a number of other people all around the world who have done the same. While I am an advocate of free expression I think blogging has created a phenomenal volume of what can only be described as really bad writing. Toe curlingly bad writing. Bloggeral.
Which is not to say that I haven't also found rich veins of very interesting material that I enjoy reading. Either way: I love it.

You heard it here first folks.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The top is the half way mark



Mt Everest holds a special place in New Zealand 's consciousness. Ed Hillary climbed it with Tenzing Norgay and actually got to the summit and back in 1953.

It may be that the English climber Mallory made it to the summit before the New Zealand beekeeper. But Mallory didn't make it home to tell the tale.

Ed Hillary is widely regarded as a great New Zealander. One of the greatest. I agree, but not for the reasons most people do.

Climbing Everest for the first time must have been challenging for him and I'm glad he 'knocked the bugger off' for himself - because 'conquering' a very small point at the top of the world seems to me to have very little real point or consequence other than as a personal challenge.

Isn't it ironic that Hillary's real qualification as The One & Only is not for 'conquering' Everest and, literally, being on top of the world, but for his SERVICE to the community. He put aside the very ego that drove him to the summit and got under the people he aims to serve.
See my earlier post: You gotta serve someboby

In Nepal Sir Ed is regarded as a living God not because of his 'conquest' of Everest, but because of his humble service to the people, building schools and medical facilities.

The same is true for brands.

It's not enough to make it to the top - promoting your brand into the consciouness.
You have to make it down the mountain - then get on with your life. What will you do for your constituents? (I don't like to call them consumers). Great brands are Sisyphian in their labours.

The corollary to the idea that consumers 'own the brand' is that brands have a duty to serve.
Brands that reciprocate and become a part of the community they serve are the brands that will enjoy the greatest value.

Brand karma.

I'm just thinking through the implications of this idea (which occured to me while watching a documentary on television about Everest). So, it's a little raw.

I'll get back to you.

LINKS

I read a book some time ago about Rob Hall's final ascent of Everest (from which he did not descend). It is a frighteningly good read...

Into Thin Air - By Jon Krakauer

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Why Led Zeppelin, Why Now?

Ok, so, a quiet night in, alone at home - for a change.
I decided to have a Led Zep revival fiesta. On the weekend I hired film The Song Remains The Same - Tuesday now, been saving it.

I wrote the other day about growing up with the music of the Clash. Well, Led Zep was probably more significant to me than all of the punk and post punk bands I enjoyed put together.

I discovered the joy of headphones and stereophonic sound with Led Zep. Lying in bed at night with the lights off listening to the wailing guitar and sound of Robert Plant's voice oscillating from one side of my brain to the other. Now, I have to confess at this point that drugs never played a part in my enjoyment of the music. Not because I'm a stiff - (I don't care if you enjoy using drugs - it's entirely up to you), it’s just that I was never introduced to drugs. Never even held a lit cigarette, let alone tried to find a vein that hadn't collapsed. I've managed to live my adult life without anything more exciting than alcohol (although I should confess that I've had an exciting ride with booze in the past - maybe more about that when we know each other better).

Watching the movie as I write brings back so many memories. Every Sunday night you could be pretty sure The Song Remains The Same would be playing as a double feature at either the Capitol in Balmoral, The Bridgeway in Northcote, The Tudor in Takapuna or the Academy in the city.

I must have been pretty clueless as kid. It only occurred to me years later the meaning of the lyric 'The way you squeeze my lemon makes me want to fall right out of bed'. The appeal to me was to be as cool as Jimmy Page and as sexy to girls as Robert Plant (I could never understand what was going on with John Paul Jones' pudding bowl haircut).

The throb of John Bonham's drumming, the pulse of the bass. It all carried me through my adolescence.

When I said I was having a 'quiet night', I was lying. I may be doing permanent damage to my hearing. All in all it makes me wish I had a Norton Dominator motorcycle again and that I could take it for a night ride as soon as the show is over, then come home and listen to it all over again - like I did when I was a dumbass, skinny little kid.

I'm looking forward to the drum solo, so that I can go to the toilet. Just like the old days. Though the fantasy footage of Bonzo looks like he had the most fun.

I have no idea what it was about Led Zep but they were definitely The One & Only - 'The Biggest band In The World'.

Read the Wikipeadia entry for the band



Monday, April 11, 2005

Getting to know me

I read a little poem the other day - and while most poetry leaves me baffled I rather liked this one.

"Come sit down beside me"
I said to myself.
And although it doesn't make sense,
I held my own hand
As a small sign of trust
And together I sat on the fence.

Michael Leunig - 'Sitting on the Fence'

I return to the idea that: until we know ourselves and our own brand identity in rather more intimate ways than most people and organisations are currently comfortable with, then all we will be left with are projections of archetypes, cliches and rather pointless templates that fall, uncared for on deaf ears.

If you are to be The One & Only then becoming comfortable with who you really, are is a significant challenge with implications throughout the marketing process from pricing to trade relationships?

How can you charge a premium for your brand if your understanding of why it is worth more is faulty.

How can you charge a premium if you do not have an utter and unshakeable belief in the value of the thing you produce?

How can you not command a premium if you have the confidence in your brand and every atom of effort that goes into it?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Melting Pot , Not.

I'm talking at a conference on integrative health on next month. I have been wary of the concept of integration in the context marketing communication since the early 1990s. It has always seemed to me that integration, when one person or organisation controls it, becomes a semantic exercise - a Trojan Horse for an agency that wants to control the client's budget.

In my experience what is best for the client is less important than what is best for the customer.

The motivation to 'integrate' has to be considered very carefully. Responsibility lies with the client - whether they are the patient of a medical centre or client of a multinational advertising agency.

Something important has changed since 1994. Consumers have been given the most important tool in the history of economics. The commercial Internet made its impact felt in 1995. It has become a cliche but, since then, nothing has been the same.

The web has refuted the economic principle that 'the consumer cannot have perfect knowledge of the market' and turned it on its ear. Today we all have access to a mind-boggling amount of information, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I can check the web to find the best price for a product. I can find alternative suppliers. I can usually contact then directly, with no difference in the time of response based on geography. If I am the patient in a medical situation I can get a second opinion or formulate a second opinion of my own based on information sourced from the Internet - from both 'reputable' sources and patient peer experiences.

Of course the concept of 'perfect' knowledge will always be moot. Within the context of informed choice the choice dynamic is always going to weigh heavily on the person making the choice. That is a burden of responsibility that goes with the territory.

In many ways the Internet presents us with a conundrum. It is a powerful connective tool that can be wielded to great effect. Paul Weinburger, in his book 'Small Pieces Loosely Joined' sums it up with the title. The fragments make up a much larger picture. But the picture can never be viewed as a whole, or integrated impression. The web is chaotic and even anarchic. It is uncontrolled and owned by no one individual or organisation. The views of a lone blogger might carry as much, or more weight as those of a multinational corporation - and both can be accessed as easily by anyone wishing to consume the information.

Going back to the idea of integration I believe we need to have a purer, less ambiguous definition of the term 'integrated'. What does it mean.? Together? Cohesive? Homogenised? Does it mean there is an integral component that runs through a concept or set of practices?

I rather hope it doesn't mean homogenised. Evenly blending usually means blanding - whether we are talking about milk or the recipe for a multi-ethnic society.

It is probably more productive to use the multi-ethnic community metaphor of integration to consider the way forward for integration. Large-scale migration and comparative freedom to travel has turned the world into something of a melting pot. Perhaps you remember the lyrics of the song with the same name, suggesting that 'what we need is a great big melting pot - to take the world and all it’s got'. I can never remember lyrics to songs very well, but I do recall that the conclusion of the song was that we'd all be better off if we turned out 'coffee coloured people by the score.'

Coffee coloured people might be aesthetically pleasing in principle but it is a fairly unappealing idea to me in practice. It smacks of the blanding of society where we are all reduced to the common mean.

Is there another way? One of the aspects of New Zealand life that has been so interesting and dynamic is the influx of people from many different cultures. Migrants from Asia and Eastern Europe, parts of Africa and the Middle East have come here and, I believe, given an infusion to our society that it sorely needed.

When I was growing up it was rare to meet a child in school who came from any place more exotic than my own suburb. Sometimes there would be a Scottish kid (like me) or one from England. I once had the novelty of having a friend from Canada. But it was rare. Even Maori children were uncommon where I lived and I soon learned to speak without my Scottish accent with my friends - to fit in and not sound like Billy Connolly. In my own children's class it is common to have kids from all over the world - Korea, Russia, Somalia, South Africa, Australia, the United States...It is amazing the shift in demographics over the past 30 or 40 years.

Would I want all of those people to eat the same food as my family and me? Share the same faith? Enjoy the same music and entertainment? Not in a million years. The diversity is stimulating. Does it make me feel threatened? Not in the least (any more than the spectacular renaissance of Maori in New Zealand does) . Which, I suppose, brings me to a conclusion that cohesion is the most critical component for integration.

What tools do we have to develop cohesion? Perhaps language (and by extension communication) is the most critical element. To have a shared vocabulary promotes understanding. Understanding promotes tolerance. Tolerance allows parts to move freely and cohesively (if your car's engine wasn't designed with tolerances in the measurements +/- x%, it would be unable to turn over - it would seize).

The integrative medical model needs a common language that is understood by all of the practitioners who participate and their patients. Allopathic practitioners must develop a tolerance for other modes of practice (and, dare I say it, many of people who practice forms of care that have been called alternative or complementary, will need to develop a trust for the intentions of medical doctors).

As I said in the beginning of this post, integration cannot be viewed as a means of controlling the patient's budget - or husbanding people as though there were an economic unit, like cattle. The key is to place the consumer, or patient at the centre of the equation and make a genuine commitment to the concept of informed choice (with all of the imperfections that emanate from that). Both the practitioner and the patient base integrative health on better understanding of the choices that is available.

Can it be done? I would hope so.

Is there a clear and easily expressed benefit for all of the parties? I believe so.

Would it be a world first if we could pull it off? Without a doubt.

Could designing a new model with application throughout the world make New Zealand a One & Only brand?
You bet.

Will it be easy? I have my doubts. There is a lot at stake.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Does my bum look big in this ?

"How we experience ouselves is reflected in the way we can experience other people: we cannot know other people better than we know our own selves; we cannot trust other people more than we trust our own selves. When we avoid knowing how we feel or what we think, we cannot learn to empathise with other people and take their feelings and thoughts seriously."

Stephanie Dowrick - Intimacy and Solitude

I have learned so much from Stephanie Dowrick. Her work as a psychotherapist and author has been profoundly important to me. I find her thinking refreshing. Her writing is clear and engaging. The two combined make a difference.

There is something about market research, the opposite to Ms Dowrick's concept of humanity, that I find cold and disective. The only problem with dissection is that it is, usually, fatal or performed post mortem.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that marketing research is an utter waste of time. You can ask consumers in a focus group what their intention to buy your product is and they will tell you unanimously that they have every intention to give it a whirl. But do they?

Obviously not.

Intention to buy is all you can ask. Given a promising or even acceptible quotient , the risk quotient diminishes.

But the risk doesn't.

Most new products bomb regardless of the research (stop blaming your advertising). Even beautifully conceived and designed products bomb.

It is nothing to do with 'absolutes'. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, if your lover asks you "Does my bum look big in this?" what do you say? Be honest now...

Exactly. Most people are socialised to tell 'white lies' . They are like a tolerance factor that allows the moving parts of society to slide past each other without getting stuck.

Which brings me back to The One & Only Concept.

Until you figure yourself out - every disection of your audience is a pointless distraction, usually resulting in death.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pining for the Fjords

Because New Zealand (and I use the term loosely) has a fascination with everything Scandanavian See my earlier story I thought I'd paste in some news that may have slipped under your radar.

As of 1 January 2004 the new state owned company: Innovation Norway has replaced the following four organisations: The Norwegian Trade Council, The Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund, The Norwegian Tourist Board and The Government Consultative Office for Inventors. Innovation Norway promotes nationwide industrial development profitable to both the business economy and Norway´s national economy, and helps release the potential of different districts and regions by contributing towards innovation, internationalisation and promotion.

This is a footnote to the home page of the Innotown 05 Conference to be held in the picturesque Norwegian village of Ålesund on the coast, 45 minutes north-west of the capital Oslo (as the Valkyrie fly). Apparently Ålesund is an Art Nouveau treasure, rebuilt after the great fire of 1902. It is on a Fjord, of course.

Joking aside; I like the sound of Innotown 05. The programme has topics like:

"Weird Ideas that Work" presented by Prof Robert Sutton from Stanford University;

"Changing Volvo: From Rational to Emotional” by Robert Malm, Brand Competence Manager, Volvo ;

"Why executives say they love innovation, but ... "Charles Leadbeater from the UK shares his experience (yup, we've all heard those 'buts...');

and loads more.

Innotown looks great. But it's a little bit oudatown.
(If there are any philanthropic sponsors out there I'd be more than happy to fly to Norway and take notes in every session...)

Ok. Is there a point to this?
Yes, I'm afraid there is.

Norway seems to me to be something of a mirror image of what New Zealand must seem like to people on the other side of the world.

Norwegian Pop Quiz 1:
Norway is famous for...?

Anybody? Come on you lot...

Herrings.
Yes.
Heavy water factories.
Hmmm, did I read too many Commando comics when I was a kid?*
Vikings.
Yes
North Sea Oil...

And...I'm running out of steam.

Ok, scenic beauty, 'nice' people who drink a lot and fjords.

Remind you of anyone?

Norwegian Pop Quiz 2
Name a Norwegian consumer product (Wotan Herring Fillets don't count)

It's true. Norway is New Zealand upside down.

I'm going to push the long boat out here and guess that part of the Norwegian tourist industry involves Viking re-enactments. Their ancient arts and crafts are probably of interest, feature loads of Celtic or Nordic spirals and whorls and big canoes. I'll wager the vikings aslo had characteristic tattooing.

There is one difference. They are on Europe's doorstep and - in case you haven't noticed - we... are not.

It makes a difference, believe me.

Take another look at the announcement from the Norwegian government. Look carefully. This is important for New Zealand.

The following offices are being integrated:

•The Norwegian Trade Council,
•The Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund,
The Norwegian Tourist Board
•The Government Consultative Office for Inventors.

I think it is instructive to note that the tourist board is in there. Don't you?
Can we learn something from that?

Foot note

An act of sabotage which became famous and possibly had an effect on the outcome of the World War 2, was the attack on the heavy water plant at Vemark. Norwegian soldiers, trained in the UK, were sent into action to destroy a plant producing heavy water, a liquid chemical which the Germans needed for the development of an atomic bomb. The production facilities were destroyed. Heavy water en route to Germany was also destroyed, at the cost of many Norwegian civilian lives. The outcome of the war could have been significantly different without the courage of the Norwegians. (I hope this makes up for my Norwegian jokes).

Footnote to the footnote

Please feel free to share this weblog with friends and colleagues. Don't be shy.

Crazy as anyplace else.


There is a line in the Wild One when Marlon Brando's character is asked "What are you rebelling against Johnny?" With a dismissive curl of his lip Brando/Johnny sneers:

"Waddya got?"

That's the famous line. The one I prefer is when one of the rebel biker gang asks a local in the bar:

"What do you hicks do around here for kicks?"
"Oh,…The roses grow. People get married. Crazy as anyplace else."

Crazy as anyplace else. Now there's the rub.

Often I meet with clients who agree with everything I say about being authentic; being The One & Only™. They nod and agree. "Yup, that's what we're all about. We're The One & Only™ alright. That's us…yessiree Bob"

Then they tell me what they are doing to promote themselves to make the most of their distinctive qualities. "Well, we kind of match our competition because that's how things are done in this category." Lockstep. It is then I realise that our paths have come to a parting ways.

The roses grow. People get married, Crazy as anyplace else.

Now, I'm not suggesting that my clients don black leather jackets and start cruising around causing trouble on vintage Harleys and Triumphs. Well, not necessarily. Unless that is exactly who they are.

The problem is fear.

One of the most irrational fears I have encountered is the fear of being judged by competitors.

Why on Earth should you care about what your competitors think of you? Believe me, this anxiety is very real. I have seen it in all kinds of businesses. Chiropractors and health providers fear sticking their heads above the parapet. Manufacturers worry that trade customers will isolate them. Advertising creative people fear they will not be cool enough to fit in at the next agency they work in.

The anxiety of industries and market categories is the product of an unspoken oligopoly. The dominant brand in the category sets the tone and the rest fall in line and pick up the scraps.

It is a self defeating, self limiting perception that the order of the day will remain the order of the day.
So long as this belief is accepted as the norm, then innovation is stifled, risk taking is non existent. The status quo might as well gift a virtual, self fulfilling monopoly to the Alpha brand.

I don't advocate reckless practices. On the contrary. Brando's character may have been a rebel without a cause, but you have to be a rebel with a cause.

The risk of truly being yourself and taking the time to understand how you can break free of the conventions of the market is quite a mission. It never ends. The rewards are distinctive products and services that competitors cannot emulate and, if they do, they seem like frauds (and consume their resources trying to be you).

Honesty and authenticity are highly prized by audiences. Watch American Idol and see how many talented Mariah Carey soundalikes fall by the wayside (there is already a Mariah Carey) - Fantasia Barrino won the last series. She wasn't the prettiest or even the most technically excellent performer in the competition - but she was far and away the most distinctive. That much was obvious from the moment she began singing the Gershwin tune Summertime from Porgy & Bess. " Schhummertime...". One of the undeniable truths of the Idol shows is: that making a warm, human connection with the audience, having a great story is just as important and being able to sing. Doing things well is just what kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi calls 'table stakes'.

By virtue of the experience curve the processes get easier and grant your organisation more freedom and flexibility to perform without anxiety about what competitors think.

Or you can hide yourself away, pick at the scraps, grow roses - be as crazy as the next guy.

That distant, rolling thunder you hear. It might be distant rolling thunder or it might be your introduction to what Tom Peters calls 'A brawl with no rules'. Business in the 21st Century. Are you ready to rumble?

Links

: : The One & Only™ web site
: : Tom Peters' web site
: : Kevin Roberts' web site


What?…You haven't seen the Wild One?

"This is the original motorcycle movie, starring Marlon Brando as the brooding leader of a biker gang that invades a small town. The film always looked like one of those synthetic Hollywood ideas of subculture life in the 1950s, which means it looks even more artificial today. But it is an actor's piece more than anything, and toward that end Brando's performance really is an important one in the context of his revolutionary reinvention of film acting during that decade."
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Check out Fantasia Barrino's singles on Amazon (you can listen using either Real Player or Windows Media Player)
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Monday, April 04, 2005

Branded or brain dead.

Sometimes I am just appalled by the expectations of my clients.
It's not that they want too much. It is that they want too little.
The following is based on a real converstation with a client. I have pixellated his face to preserve his privacy.

"What about Big Hairy Audacious Goals" I flip in to the conversation, casually - as if to suggest some collegial affinity with Jim Collins (academic and author of Built to Last), "You know - what's your BHAG".
"What, like that book by Roald Dahl?"
"No, you're thinking about the BFG. …BHAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goals."
He looks back at me. Actually he looks over my shoulder, avoiding eye contact, as if to see whether my mind, which I have clearly lost, is running naked out towards the carpark.
He fidgets nervously.
"Look, I can't handle acronyms. If your going to use consultant-speak then I prefer metaphors, OK, …do this one thing for me and I'll be happy."
"What, like 'Low Hanging Fruit'?"
"Low Hanging Fruit I can handle - it's nicer, friendlier. Reminds me of James and the Giant Peach."
"That's a Roald Dahl book isn't it?" I'm seeing a pattern emerge.
"Really? I thought it was a movie." Pattern vanishes in the randomness of the moment.
"Listen, I'm really quite busy, If we can't set out some, shall we say, 'ambitious' goals then I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"But I have told my receptionist that I'm here and will be gone from my office for two hours."
"I'm sorry, then I have to go."
"Do you mind if I stay here? Can I read one of your books?"
"I don't have any Roald Dahl"
"Funky Business looks good."
"It's not what it sounds like. It's by some Swedish Economists. They try to be hip but only succeed in shaving their heads, which isn't very sensible in sub-arctic climates"
"Oh, …does it have pictures?"
"I have to go. I have some low hanging fruit to crush to pulp "

Remind me never to use a cliche with a client again.

Reading List - The Classics

Built to last by Jim Collins - Management Classic
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The BFG by Roald Dahl - Storytelling Classic
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Funky Business by Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordström - Actually it is very worthwhile.
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Friday, April 01, 2005

Sorrow's Gift

I heard today that my friend Paul Jeffreys, better known to some in the advertising community as Squeeze, passed away this morning.

Paul and I were in business together in the 1990's. Our company was MacGregor Jeffreys and Co, Saatchi & Saatchi lured Paul away. I resented that. I had high hopes for our little business and we were starting to get traction.

Paul was great company, we both loved music, him more than me. We worked with music industry clients ranging from the Opera Company, Polygram, Naxos and The Record Industry Association of New Zealand - nearly all of whom Paul brought on board. It was a laugh while it lasted. I had so much fun.

Paul was unique. He could talk backwards (I'm sure he wouldn't mind me telling you that - he was quite pleased his talent - learned at Stowe, his boarding school).

He had the most prodigious memory of anyone I have ever met. We would practice submissions to clients and Paul would deliver the entire pitch, word perfect.

We did the dumbest thing I have ever done in my life together - suing a multinational corporation for breach of contract. We should have won but didn't. We should have settled. We didn't. Lesson:always settle your differences.

He was a big man. I hurt his feelings by calling him a 'fat bastard' to a mutual colleague when he left our business. I have regretted that careless remark ever since and it drove a wedge between us that was never really resolved. Paul was always gracious though and we had been promising to get together since Christmas last year. He had beautiful manners and I'm sorry mine weren''t a match for his.

Paul's life changed from advertising man to columnist, author and autobiographer, he chronicled his weight loss on television and in his books. That took great courage. I loved reading his columns in Player, the sports magazine. Paul was a great writer.

Most of all I reckon Paul had heart.

I'm proud to have known him.

It is strange. I felt the curious need to take a walk at lunchtime today. I took a book with me and sat in the Rose Garden near my office: The Meaning of Things by A.C. Grayson - Applying Philosophy to Life.

Sorrow's Gift:

"We never quite get over the sorrow caused by losing those most loved. We only learn to live with it, and to live despite it - which - and there is no paradox here - makes living a richer thing. That is sorrow's gift; though we never covet it ."

It moved me. I wrote it in my notebook.

I learned about Paul's passing this evening.