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Talk Amongst Yourselves

I’m pleased to announce the availability of the collaborative book, The Age of Conversation, which was edited by Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton and written by over 100 authors.

Most of the authors have blogs, but since there are over 100 of them, it can be intimidating to sort through. Mario has what I consider the most visually appealing treatment of the list, and if you’re looking for one, I commend this post to you.

But maybe this will save you a little trouble.

I have been to all of these blogs, and they are, every one of them, worth reading. If you would like to read these authors on a continuing basis, please download this XML file (right-click and “save as” file to download), and import it into your RSS reader. It contains the websites of all of the authors who contributed to the book, except four.

Three of the four not in that list include Steve BannisterPete Deutschman, and John La Grou, whose names on the list I have linked out to other websites, but not anything that has an RSS feed available.

The fourth on the list was AJ James, and I have to pay him a special mention here, since he had neither a blog link nor a website to point us to. I love his take on the topic, as his chapter is, not coincidentally, “The Art of Non-Conversation.”

When you get to my chapter in the book, you might notice that I have a great respect for people who usefully challenge conventional wisdom. AJ’s entry certainly fits that bill. – Cam Beck


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The Greatest Brand in America

Yesterday I explained how Americans celebrate “Independence Day” on the wrong day of the year, and how what July 4, the day we actually pay homage to independence actually represents — not only to Americans, but also to all of humanity — something more meaningful than the simple declaration of a “separate and equal station” among the other nations of the earth. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4 because that was the day we adopted something worthwhile in the American experiment that began 231 years ago. We still believe in the promise of the American Dream.

Looking at the prosperity and might of the United States today, it can be difficult to imagine — even to those of us who have studied the period at great length — that the success of the liberty experiment was considered a long-shot by the rest of the world. Sure, there were those who cheered us on, but to our founders’ more worldly contemporaries, the colonists were little more than rabble — soon to be dispatched by the superior breeding and resources of the old world.

Getting rid of the “independency” sentiment from the colonies was considered to be for the good of the colonies anyway, since never before in history had a representative government (termed “democracy” only inaccurately and derisively in those days) been successfully implemented for any long period of time. Experiments to that end always disintegrated into chaos. Thus, not only was independence never assured, but neither was the freedom our founders claimed to be God’s will for mankind.

Indeed, for all of human history, though all of the enlightenment philosophers from Augustine to Locke to Voltaire spoke of how the natural state of man was to be free, countries were ruled, not by consent of the governed, but by coercion and the “Divine Right” of hereditary rule. Yet for all of the enlightened thinking that gave rise to the nation that would become a bastion of freedom, the promise of that freedom would take nearly another hundred years before the country could free itself from the lure of slavery.

They understood that the logical conclusion of their philosophy condemned them, but that did not stop them from standing foursquare with the truth of that philosophy.

The parallels between the struggles of the founders and our own should not be overstated, but they are unmistakable. Like them, we also long for justice in our daily affairs, and we normally interpret that to mean, among other things, we be free to pursue happiness.

Happiness, they understood, was never assured, but rather a worthwhile goal that required guarantees of life and liberty to continue in the pursuit. Likewise, when we pursue our own dreams that we believe will lead to our happiness and a better life, we will more often fail than we will succeed, just as our forebears failed periodically. But we get back up and we keep trying, because the goal is ultimately worthwhile to all of us. That is the American Dream.

Our founders also believed that government needed to operate in service to the people, not personal ambition or because of who their fathers were. Just so, our success in pursuit of our dreams is entirely dependent upon providing others what they need, not simply seeking what we want, and understanding that they are at liberty to decline our service, just as we are at liberty withhold it.

Of course, we do so for our own reasons, but also at our own risk. Our ancestors eventually paid — mightily — for their failure to eliminate every last vestige of evil from their social structures. In many ways, we are still paying today from those very same failures (and I firmly believe we are not yet and may never be done). And we also pay, as individuals, for ignoring the needs of our clients, customers, and neighbors.

Even so, we can make a vast difference in this world by holding firm to the truth that might even condemn us, for doing so gives our posterity the capacity to understand and overcome our failures, just as our founders had the wisdom and courage to do for their country. We can also make a big difference by understanding that we cannot mandate the happiness of any segment of society through unwelcome measures, but we can aid in the pursuit of happiness by at least attempting to be of great service to our neighbors — even if that means we must do so one person at a time.

The duty enjoined on us by the freedom we are promised to pursue that happiness is the greatest example we have to offer the world, and thus its indefatigable pursuit and faithful execution is the greatest brand in America.

Happy Independence Day, America. Make the most of it. – Cam Beck

Happy Independence Day

July 2nd is Independence Day in America. Two-hundred thirty-one years ago, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution introduced by John Adams and Richard Henry Lee that stated:

“Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Don’t believe me? Take these words, penned by John Adams in a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3rd, 1776:

“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

One can forgive Adams for being a little anxious. The colonies were already, for all intents and purposes, in rebellion against the crown of England for what they considered to be “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” passing a resolution to this effect left them more than a little exposed as functional traitors to their mother country. The sentiment of their fate was best summarized in Ben Franklin’s words of about the same time, “We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Yet, in spite of the deed being performed two days earlier, Americans celebrate their “separate and equal station” with the other nations of the earth on July 4. This is not a misreading of history, but rather a recognition that the power to enact such resolutions is inferior to the duty to those who grant such power.

July 4 was the day the language of the Declaration of Independence was adopted. This is the day the elected upstarts of North America railed against unrepresentative government. This is the day they declared a philosophy by which they would be governed. In part, it stated upon Whose power people were granted their rights, the limits of earthly power, and the logical remedy for abuses of power. Perhaps most memorably, the Declaration of Independence also declared the purpose of government was to secure the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of those on whose authority they relied to perform acts such as those passed on July 2, 1776.

And that is far more weighty and meaningful than the deed itself, for it gives us a clearer picture of a norm to which we can refer if we wish to right ourselves again, should we ever lose our connection with that understanding.

Likewise, what we do as marketers needs to follow a similar model. We need a standard… a norm we can point to and objectively understand whether our actions are right or wrong. We need to know in our bones that we are here to serve others, not our own selfish whims, and we must see that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

But not to lose sight of just how remarkable what the founders of the United States did, just because something has never been done before — and just because there is significant risk — doesn’t mean it should never be. Having a normative standard to which you can refer when making decisions just helps ensure that when you do step out onto a limb, you are at least right to do so.

What is your mantra? – Cam Beck

One Question About Marketing Largesse

What in the world did the Olympic Committee get for $800,000 that it could not have received for $800?

I don’t care if it was objectively the best logo in the history of mankind, it’s not the logo that makes the brand, and thus it’s not going to be worth $800k. How many world-class Olympic athletes could have been trained for $799,200? It seems that would have gone further to advance the brand than a logo — bad or good.

Here are some more detailed takes on it. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to check them out.

– Cam Beck

P.S. As an aside, does anyone not know where the 2012 Olympics will be held? I’m not one to advocate being intentionally bad for the sake of getting noticed and to get the message out, but does anyone think that might be an issue at play here?

Update: Valeria has picked up on this last theme and ran with it. In her mind, the conversation generated by this logo was worth the expense.

As I said on Mack’s blog, I don’t think the logo will hurt the brand of the Olympics, since brands aren’t built on logos, and as I said here, it’s of some note that THERE IS NO QUESTION where the 2012 Olympics will be held — so I think it’s clear that London is getting some great mileage from this “controversy.” However, my original question, “What in the world did the Olympic Committee get for $800,000 that it could not have received for $800?”… still stands. 🙂

What’s Cool?

Bookcover_2Following in Cam’s footsteps, I’ve decided to review a book that. Full disclosure, one of the author’s advertising agency reps contacted us and sent us a copy. So here’s the summary according to the authors:

“Cool isn’t just a state of mind, a celebrity fad, or an American obsession — it’s a business. In boardrooms across America, product managers are examining vodka bottles and candy bars, tissue boxes and hamburgers, wondering how do we make this thing cool? How do we make this gadget into the iPod of our industry? “

I’m a little cynical when I first heard about the book. All I need is a book out there saying that “you too can have your own subservient chicken with these three easy steps”. I was pleasantly surprised when the authors came clean

Chapter 1 – The iPod of My Industry – Whatever they did, I want that

Everyone wants to copy someone else’s success. In the places I work, I hear this all the time.  We want to be like X, can you make us one of those Y. The problem is, it isn’t a formula. There are different ways to get.

The book points out the rise of Grey Goose vodka. Sidney Frank, the man who built Grey Goose vodka. Mr. Frank developed a plan to market Grey Goose by going against conventional wisdom. He priced his product at nearly two times what other vodka brands charged, packaged his product in frosted bottles and crated containers like those used to ship fine wine. Grey Goose became a status symbol in clubs all across the world. Not bad for a product that is, by definition orderless and tasteless.

Chapter 2 – Ordering in – why outsourcing vision doesn’t work…

Know your audience and know what ‘cool’ is to them. No, I mean really know your audience. A lot of times companies outsource their brands to advertising agencies. They expect them to define who they should appeal to, what the message should be and, ultimately, who they are. The problem is that if your organization doesn’t who they are, then really, why are you in business? If you don’t understand your customer, then you’re doomed. And knowing your customer doesn’t mean running a bunch of focus groups or customer surveys, it means spending time in their world.

In this case, take a look at Tony Hawk. If someone from the outside had consulted on “building his brand” it probably would have involved black t-shirts, goatees and overly produced commercials. Instead, Tony Hawk’s brand does what Tony does best on his skate board.

“If a business is so badly lit then you can’t see cool when it’s sitting right inside the organization, is there a point in going out and chasing it?”

So far I’m impressed. Stay tuned for chapter three and four. Check out the Chasing Cool site. – Paul Herring

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CK’s Love

Remembering Sandra J. Kerley

As many of you know, CK, who is a bright, warm, and energetic woman who has done much for the blogging community, recently experienced the tragic untimely death of her mother, Sandra Kerley.

Naturally, we all felt badly for CK’s loss, but we also felt we owed a great debt of gratitude to Sandra Kerley for raising such a kind, generous daughter who constantly goes out of her way to aid and promote others. A group of bloggers got together and determined that the best way to celebrate Sandra Kerley — and CK — was to help and support others.

Therefore, as a way to honor both CK and her mom, we’ve put together this Web site to collect donations for Habitat for Humanity in Sandra’s name.

To support this effort, please consider using this badge on your blog to honor CK and directing others here to donate to the cause.


Click on the image above or the “Tip Jar” on the right to donate.

Thanks to DavidDrewGavinMackAnnRoger, and Lewis for completely driving this initiative. It’s truly an honor to know these fine people.

Earning The Trust of Strangers

26113603_cd958b94c5Even if you’ve done all the research that can be done on a subject, you may have difficulties selling your idea to skeptics. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, correctly note that companies establish credibility by appealing to some authority. Several problems lie in this. First, not everyone companies pick to pitch a product is actually an authority.

“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”

Second, the methods they use to establish credibility can be misleading. It doesn’t have to be true for people to believe it, and therein lies the “dark art” of earning the trust of strangers. The methods taught in the book could easily be used by scoundrels.

Many urban legends have apparent authority because of the alleged credible source. How many emails have you received reporting on some virus that was verified by “a friend of a friend,” who happens to work at Microsoft? Remember that one that promised Bill Gates would personally pay you a million dollars for testing out his email tracking program?

Of course it wasn’t true, but people believed it, because it had the color of credibility. As a result of emails like this, your email box got stuffed beyond capacity with junk that wasn’t quite spam, since it came from a friend, but with clutter that made you afraid to go to bars and drive alone on country roads. You even created multiple email addresses – one for business, and at least one other for this type of notice.

It’s true that genuine experts can add a punch to your idea, but lacking celebrities or experts to endorse your idea, what are the methods to establish credibility, and how do we use this technique for good, not evil?

An antiauthority is one who can bring emotional resonance and detail to an idea, and they can be more effective spokespeople than celebrities or experts. If you’re trying to convince people not to smoke, it’s more effective to use as your spokesperson a young person who is dying of lung cancer than a celebrity like, say, Keanu Reeves — or worse, George Burns (who smoked cigars until he died at 100 years old).

Another interesting finding that the brothers Heath reported on is how irrelevant details can make an idea more convincing, but when confronted with a challenge of presenting an idea to skeptics, our details should be both truthful and more meaningful.

Human Scale
Large numbers are difficult for humans to digest. The scaling process that we might use to make them more concrete also makes them more credible.

Above all, I would caution advertisers to never intentionally mislead. Make sure whatever it is you are pitching is objectively true or at least justifiable before making the idea seem more credible than it is. Leave the illusions to the magicians. Being dishonest just hurts the credibility of everyone else. – Cam Beck

Image courtesy of The Rocketeer

Hit Your Audience with a Ton of Bricks

Stata_construction_bricksQuick! What’s the definition of “justice?”

Fine. Take your time, then.

Now, what was the jury’s verdict in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial?

Chances are, it was much easier for you to answer the second question than the first. That’s because it requires different centers of your brain to process abstractions and to recall things that involved your senses.

They both deal with memory, but to paraphrase the way the authors of Made to Stick describe it,  remembering the definition of justice, unless you’re a lawyer or judge, perhaps, is like trying to grasp a slippery fish, while remembering the jury’s verdict in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, to most people, is like the loops and hooks of Velcro. Your brain has the loops, and the event has the hooks.

Concreteness is a particularly useful principle for strategists, experience designers, or anyone charged with developing and presenting abstract information to a client, if they expect the client to remember the information later. Statistics are abstract, but necessary. How can you make your presentation of the statistics memorable and convincing?

When something can be touched, seen, tasted, or smelled, it meets the criteria for being concrete. “The size of a basketball to the size of a tennis ball” is concrete. The difference in sizes between Earth and its moon is not. A diameter of approximately 8,000 miles to a diameter of approximately 2,000 miles is not, either. At least, not without the previous comparison.

Concreteness is the principle that motivates breaking down abstractions to more tangible, relevant forms, which are typically easier to digest. Do it correctly on the front end, when you’re presenting strategy for a campaign or website, and you’re less likely to encounter objections about the principles on which the campaign or site are built when the time comes to present the final mechanicals, video, audio, and/or site creative. – Cam Beck

Get Their Attention and Keep It

JaredEveryone reading this blog has likely seen and been bored by a PowerPoint presentation. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ve also been on the giving end of one of those presentations, because that’s what you were asked to do. People able to hold the audience’s attention are often credited with charisma, and this might be true, but can this skill be learned? How do you keep their interest?

Having spent the hours, days, weeks, or a lifetime of research filling fifteen to thirty minutes, you developed what the authors of Made to Stick call The Curse of Knowledge. You know how to communicate the punch line, but you don’t know how to develop the interest that led you to it. Consequently, the presentation comes off as dry and boring.

Adding an element of surprise can be problematic, because in doing so, you must reinforce the essence of the subject you developed. Shocking people for the sake of shocking them, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is just a gimmick.

A good example of surprise that the authors use is Jared of Subway. Nobody expected anyone to go from 425 lbs to 180 lbs by eating fast food. So completely did Jared’s story obliterate people’s perception of the effective ways to lose weight that the process of finding and broadcasting it had to overcome great bureaucratic and legal hurdles to get the needed permission to use that story in the company’s advertising (More on that later).

Lacking the element of surprise, you can still generate interest by implicitly pointing out gaps in the knowledge of your audience. The interest isn’t built in the punch line, but in how the mystery unfolds. You know something they want to know. Each question leads to another question, and as you ask the question, it makes the audience realize that they, too, want to hear what you have to say about the answer.

That said, it must be a question that has no clear answer, or one that suggests the audience’s longstanding beliefs, or schema, will be changed once the answer is revealed. Asking the audience what the square root of pi is will not interest or engage them. Suggesting the audience’s understanding about, say, global warming is wrong based on new evidence, might.

Even those lacking in charisma are capable of learning how to make a presentation (or advertising) interesting. The challenge is in getting the audience to think about and become engaged with the message. Revealing the unexpected at key intervals will help you do just that.

Get a Free Copy of Made to Stick
So much do I believe you need to read this book, that I am offering two free copies to members of our audience. There are two ways to earn one. I wanted the way to win be fair and objective, but relatively easy, so I decided against a complicated formula relying on a judge’s decision. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Be the first to comment on this post. Be sure to put your email address in the correct field, as I’ll need it to get your correct address so that I can send it via Amazon.
  2. Find a specific post. Who was the first blogger I ever highlighted from this blog? Find the post, and comment on the post I referenced. Check back here and let us all know when that it’s done. The first person to do this gets a free copy.

Even if you’ve already read the book and want to send a copy to someone you know, go ahead and participate, and I will send it to that person. – Cam Beck