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Boil It Down to Just One Thing

CityslickersI’m reading an excellent book called Made to Stick. The authors claim they consider it a companion piece to The Tipping Point, but my suggestion is this: If you haven’t read either and only have time to read one, read Made to Stick. Malcom Gladwell is a good writer, but the brothers Heath are excellent teachers. And they want to teach you the same tools they use constantly throughout their book.

The first quality of a sticky message, according to the authors, is simplicity. One example they used is the gruff wisdom of Curly (Jack Palance) from City Slickers, who shared the secret to a happy life with city-dweller Mitch (Billy Crystal). Curly held up a single finger and told his clueless charge to find one thing that he’s passionate about — it doesn’t matter what it is — and be about that one thing. Once Mitch did that, Curly said, it didn’t matter what else went on around him. He could tune it out.

In truth, it does matter what that one thing is, but the point is clear: Find what you love, and dedicate yourself to it! Be passionate about it! And don’t be afraid that everyone is looking.

In marketing, simplicity just means you’ve got to boil the central message down to its essence. Discard the happy talk and get to the point. The more your message is about, the less it will be understood.

This is the first part in what will be a 6-part review of Made to Stick. – Cam Beck

King of the Whacks

Yesterday I received my very own Ball of Whacks, which is the brainchild of the brilliant Roger von Oech (blog). I’m looking forward to trying it out.

I’ll write a more thorough review once I’ve had a chance to play around with it some more, but my first impression is very positive. It is put together very well. On another note, I also learned a new term. “Rhombic Triacontahedron.”

I’m kidding, of course. I didn’t learn it, and I doubt I ever will. I’d have to look it up every darn time. “Ball of Whacks” is much stickier. – Cam Beck

How to Become Irrelevant

Ama_logoThe American Marketing Association has somehow managed to obfuscate the clear. With all the substantial pedigree they wield, this is the best definition (recently revised!) of marketing they could devise:

“Marketing is the activity, conducted by organizations and individuals, that operates through a set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging market offerings that have value for customers, clients, marketers, and society at large.”

What’s with the love affair with institutions and processes? Are we really so conceited that we believe only institutions and organizational processes are capable of producing the net result of what marketing is supposed to do?

Oh. But we’re the professionals. And we’re insecure. Thus, we need a definition that excludes the chaotic nature of consumer marketing that is pervasive in this age of YouTubeMySpaceFlickr, and blogs.


Chaos is here, folks. We might not like it. We might be afraid of it. But we’d better learn to embrace it, or else the marketplace won’t even bother to wave as it passes us by.

Hat tip to Diva Marketing Blog for publicizing this change. – Cam Beck

Join the Club. Get Sticky.

About three months back, several of my friends wrote about the book, Made to Stick, on their blogs, so I decided to pick it up. I’m a sucker for books on communication, especially since I’m well aware of my problems with verbosity. I was so impressed by the book, I decided my review couldn’t be contained to just one post, and I turned it into a sixpart series.

While I was in the middle of the series, CK wrote to inform me that she was planning on using that book as the subject of the next book club at Marketing Profs. I was very excited about that, since, due to the recent birth of my daughter, I was unable to participate in the first two.

Aa_page_1_finalDownload the Review
With CK’s encouragement, I turned the series into a PDF and included a short interview with the authors (including a BONUS question you’ll get nowhere else). It is available for download now.

I admire the heck out of service to others, ingenuity, and tenacity. In cheerfully arranging this book club after the month she had, CK once again demonstrates why she’s respected by so many bloggers.

Join the club. If you need a reason, you may get a free book (50 are being GIVEN away). If you’re already in the club, you don’t need to sign up again to be eligible for a free book. This is sure to be an amazing segment.

Even if you have to pay for the book yourself, though, it very well may be the best $25 you’ll have invested all year. – Cam Beck

Download CHAOSstick.pdf

Grow and Change to Keep Relationships Strong

Creating Passionate Users pithily portrays how companies treat people before they are customers and afterwards. The pictures are more entertaining, but the gist of the article is this:

Before you become a customer, the company will do nearly anything to court you. After, you are treated like a commodity. This maxim is demonstrated in the difference between how prospects are treated by sales reps and how customers are treated by technical support.

The graphics are accurate as metaphors of chronologically linear relationships, but the goal should not be, as the author states, to stay the same. It is not only permissible, but preferable to grow and change in ways that pleasantly surprise the customer.

If a company stands pat and comforts itself with the belief that just because it has always been successful, that it will perpetually remain successful on the strength of the brand it built in the past, it will give way for a competitor to come in and offer something of greater value.  Far from being a virtue, remaining static will eventually bore the customer.

Customers don’t demand their product manuals be printed using the same expensive techniques as typical promotional materials. In fact, some might consider that a waste. However, they do demand that enough forethought put into them that they are easy to read and comprehend.

Accomplishing this feat only requires companies don’t treat people as commodities, but instead engage in a perpetual conversation that allows and encourages continuous feedback and improvement.

None of this changes what I think was the author’s central point, so this post is not meant to be a contradiction, but a complement. – Cam Beck

Sales Genie: Dumb Like a Fox

Every once in awhile… Okay, more than I’d like to admit… I get to see, hear, or read something that effectively teaches me I don’t know half as much as I think I do. I watched the ad and was flabbergasted. In no way, I thought, was this worth the $2.6 million they paid for it. I was tempted to leave open the possibility that the ad had such low creative value that it stood out and was memorable, but ultimately I didn’t think that mattered to anyone but advertisers. In a marketing extravaganza where consumers look at advertisements as entertainment, this certainly would fall flat, right?

Well… not so much.

You see, the bean counters at figured they needed to add only 700 new subscribers (at $180 per month) to break even. Since the Super Bowl, they added 10,000. Had they spent millions of dollars in overproducing their ad in an effort to “brand” themselves, they could very well have muddied the ad, increased their costs, and decreased the ad’s effectiveness. Paul alluded to this on our last episode of DMZ… Some of these (Super Bowl) ads are creative and funny, but what good ist that if no one remembers the company?’s message is simple: If you’re a salesperson (and in our service economy, we have a lot of those), this product will help you succeed. Apparently that resonates with a lot of salespeople. 10,000 since the Super Bowl, in fact.

As for the “brand,” well, this is where the rubber really meets the road. Brand isn’t simply the warm fuzzy feeling you get from watching a great ad. Brand is, as Stan Richards says (The agency I work for, Click Here, is affiliated with The Richards Group), a promise. just brought in 10,000 subscribers willing to commit $180 per month in the hopes that this tool will help them grow their business. If it works, then their brand will be enhanced. If it doesn’t work, their brand will be damaged.

To the brand’s detriment, Paul also pointed out the site didn’t display right in Firefox, which was something, to their credit, quickly fixed.

I suspect that this site will be like a lot of tools salespeople use; it will work for some and not for others. If it works very well for some, they may even become evangelists. If it holds intrinsic value, then most of the people for whom it doesn’t work will realize that they are the problem, not the tool. However, if all it does is open up the flow of sales calls and junk mail to the same markets, it will fail miserably to build a good brand, and will go the way of the dot bombs of the 90s.

Whatever it is that we do as marketers, we tell ourselves that we constantly have to be cutting edge. We want to wow people with our message or in the way we deliver it, since that’s our job, but in reality, not everything has to be cutting edge to be effective. Sometimes it’s a simple message that people are dying to hear. In the case of, it was, “Work smart, not hard with our product.” Time will tell if they’re able to deliver on that promise.

This applies to websites as well. Eugene Loj points us to two low-budget websites that have worked well for their owners. We should resist discouragement wrought by this discovery. We just have to be careful about the lessons we draw from it. The websites are awful by a lot of ways we can measure success, and improving the websites’ design and content might just improve their businesses. But this should prove sufficiently that all websites don’t need pizazz. They don’t all need to be bleeding edge for its own sake.

I think we can say that it was the accountants, not necessarily the “expert” marketers, who won this round (and there are many rounds to go). But that just goes to prove Seth Godin’s maxim, that marketing is too important to be left to the professionals. – Cam Beck

Three Essential Qualities of Effective IA

It might seem strange that, as one of a few who contributes to the development of Information Architecture (IA) for my company’s clients, I’ve only written about it once beforeon this blog. The reason is that I’ve learned it to be one of the least appreciated (that is to say, least interesting) subjects for both clients and colleagues.

If websites were houses, IA would be the plumbing. It’s there, everyone understands conceptually it’s there, but it’s hidden, out of the way, taken for granted, and to be honest, no one wants to think too deeply about where it all goes after they flush, anyway. The only time it’s really noticed is if it doesn’t work. And then everyone gets upset.

In a society where sex sells, IA is the libido suppressant – whether it works or not. That’s partially why IA has been folded into a much broader category of “experience design.” This not only sounds more exciting, but it also reflects a holistic approach to web design, which is better anyway.

Still, upon Roger von Oech’s recommendation, I downloaded a couple of lectures from The Teaching Company – “Natural Law and Human Nature” and “Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning.” I’ve been an advocate of Natural Law theory since I first read John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government. I lent my copy out to a friend years ago and never got it back, so this was a perfect opportunity to reeducate myself on a complicated topic.

Through the course of the first lecture, the speaker raised three principles of Natural Law that I realized also apply to good IA – which, given my love for Natural Law, might also explain why I chose to become a practitioner of IA, as well.

1. Objectivity.
Some principles of objectivity are universal from site to site, no matter whom the IA professional is. Creating the means for accessible access to contact information comes immediately to mind. And in any case, the IA must exclude the biases of the person who created it in favor of the intended audience. As audiences differ, subjectivity isn’t excluded entirely, but it is subjectivity encapsulated in the biases of the intended audience, making it objective from a certain (and important) perspective.

2. Universality.
In general, what applies to the navigation and interface of one part of the site must also apply to the other areas of the site. Changes in the way the navigation works or the architecture is structured in random parts of the website render it difficult to learn. And where the competition is only one or two clicks away, you want users to immediately feel comfortable staying on your site, and they won’t if they can’t figure out how yours works because it changes all the time.

3. Intelligibility.
Every website has to have a certain consistent logic to it, and they must use words that are easily understood by the intended audience. Although not everyone cares enough to figure out the finer points of that logic, like plumbing, they’ll notice if it doesn’t work. Just because something is different doesn’t mean it won’t work, but it must be sufficiently logical in order to be understood by anyone, and its terminology must be driven by the audience.

None of this should discourage experimentation. Taking things like “objectivity” and “universality” too literally can very easily put you in an unimaginative rut. Just because navigation is commonly found on the left or top of a website doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions better suited to your audience and your organizational goals.

Just be smart about it.

If you are dying to try something, and you’re sure it has a chance to work, don’t be afraid to try it. Just make sure you can justify it according to the above criteria, and then put it in front of users to make certain it meets their criteria. In the end, that is the criteria that matters the most.

– Cam Beck

P.S. A tip of the hat to David Armano for encouraging bloggers to not only share their knowledge, but also to explain how they came to their conclusions.

Hey, Boston… Up Yours!

Storydevices_blurPerhaps it’s a good thing the tactics employed by Interference on behalf of Cartoon Networks’ Aqua Teen Hunger Forcemade their “billboards” look ambiguously like “bombboards” and caused such a ruckus, because it has made nearly everyone fail to notice — Hey, that son of a …. is flipping us off!

At only 32, I don’t consider myself a fogey or a stick-in-the-mud, and as a former Marine, I have seen, heard, and used my share of vulgar language, but it seems to me that this deployment crossed a line that marketers should be more careful when crossing – if they have to cross it at all.

Now, I know the point of the board isn’t to flip off Boston in the same sense you or I would to Boston for being in a state that heralds Teddy KennedyJohn Kerry, and/or Mitt Romney. These days, someone giving the bird  is “just” a sign of defiance, an expression of attitude and perhaps a little antiestablishment. For some reason this impresses certain people.

But even if they used posters for the same effect, they’d have reached a lot of people who are not so impressed by the gesture as their intended audience. Sure, you built awareness for the program, but at what cost?

If you think I’m being a stick-in-the-mud, let me know… I’ll accept that. But before you do, try a little experiment. Walk into your boss’s office. Stand in front of his or her desk and “defiantly” flip the bird in your boss’s direction.

If you want to make it an apples-to-apples comparison, make sure you’re ambiguously dressed like a suicide bomber when you do it. Let me know how it goes.

I doubt Cartoon Network has heard the last of this. – Cam Beck

P.S. If you’ve not heard of this event and want to learn more, some of my favorite bloggers have already posted articles on it from their own perspectives: AnnLewisCKDrewStephen, and Jonathan. They’re all interesting reads. Check them out.

Update: Seth has also now weighed in on the subject with a keen insight you might expect from him.

Friends of Gavin – Last Day to Donate

A little more than a month ago, Noel Davies, the father-in-law of a friend to many bloggers was in a bad accident. The community of which he is a part banded together in order to offer words and prayers of good wishes and quick recovery on a blog Gavin created for Noel’s friends. We also set up a blog to collect donations through all of January so that we could bestow on Gavin a little respite from the ensuing medical bills.

January ends today.

Of course, just because we’re wrapping up our efforts doesn’t mean you have to stop being Gavin’s friend. However, in order to speed the money we’ve collected to where it will do the most good in a timely manner, we’re going to stop taking collections after today.

You will still be able to leave comments over at, and we still encourage you to read Gavin’s excellent articles either at Servant of Chaos or MP Daily Fix if you’re not already.

If you’re interested in making a small donation, you can visit our Friends of Gavin page, or you can just click here.

Thank you for everything you’ve already done to spread the word.

– Cam Beck

Brand Magic: Instill a Child-Like Enthusiasm

“Part of the Disney success is our ability to create a believable world of dreams that appeals to all age groups. The kind of entertainment we create is meant to appeal to every member of the family.” – Walt Disney

When my son, Avery, was eight, I couldn’t imagine what exposure, other than cartoons and commercials, he had to the Disney brand when his mother and I resolved to surprise him with a vacation to Disney World in 2005. So, leading up to the announcement we knew we would make, we made sure he got to see particular programs on the Travel Channel that highlighted the Disney experience. Already one who enjoyed his infrequent trips to Six Flags over Texas, he was impressed by what he saw but considered his chances to go very slim.

We arranged with his school to allow him a leave of absence for the week before Christmas vacation was to begin, but we directed them to not tell Avery why he was doing more work than anyone else leading up to the vacation. They did a fabulous job (for which we are grateful), and we were able to maintain the secret up until the week before we left.

We tied our big reveal to the opening of our annual Christmas ornament, which we purchased from the Disney Store online. Knowing the time had come to let Avery in on our little secret, I got the camera out to capture the moment. The result reflects, I concluded, what is actually the ultimate goal of branding — spontaneously enjoining a child-like enthusiasm over the mere mentioning of an experience.

The trip, of course, was one of the most amazing experiences of my life for reasons I’ve reflected on before. Even though our feet hurt for more than a week after our trip, we constantly talk about our experience (as recently as last night) with warmth and affection. We can’t wait to go back. And because I’ve been so transformed by our 2005 vacation, the next time we go, I feel like I can cast away my learned cynicism and absorb my son’s enthusiasm for the duration of the trip. Hopefully someone will have a camera.

Not every brand has the luxury of being “fun” like Disney World, so it’s unrealistic to expect that, for instance, a bag of Cheetos will elicit the same reaction. However, there are more realistic emotions that can be engendered by applying the same principles of service, experience, and value that has made Disney so successful. If excitement is too much to ask, how about comfort or peace of mind? The best results will come from treating employees with respect, and customers as VIPs.

A big thanks to CK and Drew for inspiring this post. You can read Drew’s entire series about his observations about Disney World in this handy PDF. – Cam Beck


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