Archive for the ‘This Business of Ours’ Category

The new ID-ology is at www.IDbranding.com/idology

We’re relocating our blog to www.IDbranding.com/idology and we’ve made some great new improvements that allow our readers a better glimpse at who we are and what exactly our agency has to contribute to this whole branding thing. Our entire archive of articles has been migrated to the new site–so don’t worry about losing any of our classic posts, its all there waiting for you. Thanks for listening, learning, and contributing, we’ll see you at the new ID-ology!


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How about when it’s used as an expression of affection, like in the picture above?  Or how about when someone else uses it to propose marriage?

This June, we worked with Powell’s Books, the great Portland institution of higher reading, to create a brand experience that would deepen customers’ relationships with Powells, and guide the in-store customer to consider using the online store, Powells.com.

The idea is fairly simple on paper (execution was not quite so simple): we create a photobooth-type experience inside the store that lets customers have their picture taken in front of a green screen, and then we fill the background with a shot of the Powells City of Books store front with it’s big marquee. And on the marquee we put the names of the people who were photographed, as if they were among the elite number of authors who’ve had their name up in lights at Powell’s.

And then we email them a link to to get a hi-res file of the image. In return, we ask for their email address. Along with the link to their picture, we also send them a 20% off coupon for shopping at Powells.com.

Obvious question: why wouldn’t customers just take their own picture in front of Powell’s? First off, they’d be a dark spot in the middle of a very busy Burnside Street if they tried. Second, they wouldn’t get their name on the marquee.

So, we launched this in late June and, after working out some bugs, we found that people who love Powell’s love the photobooth. And, happily, a lot of people love Powell’s. People were also very happy to get a 20% discount coupon. So this particular marketing program seemed to be doing its job.

What makes it more than just a marketing program, however, is the way in which nearly everyone who gets their picture taken comments about how “Powell’s” the whole experience is. “Only at Powell’s” is heard frequently. “This is such a Powell’s thing to do” is also heard. As well as, “How Portland.”

And that’s the magic to this experience.  Portlanders feel a sense of ownership of Powell’s, and they proudly take their visiting-from-out-of-town friends there. In turn, these visitors often deeply associate Powell’s with Portland. It is, in fact, a beloved institution, for both local and visitor alike. And both see this photobooth as a gift from Powell’s, a memento of their visit. So while it is a marketing tool, it’s also a way of making the Powell’s experience more Powell’s-ish.

So much so that the other day a man used the photobooth to propose marriage to his future wife. Seriously. Look at the picture: I don’t think it’s an ironic act, either. That’s when you know that you’re not just creating marketing, you’re creating an experience that deepens the meaning of a brand that already has a significant place in peoples’ lives.

If, as brand builders, we can do more of this and less marketing, we can give our audiences what they’re really looking for. Which is experiences, and brands, that matter to them. Thank you, Powell’s, for being such an adventurous partner in this.

– Doug

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It’s looking like branding as we come out of the recession is still not for the faint of heart or weak of bowels.

Good Lord. I sure felt the truth of this over the last several weeks. And it looks like the new Forrester report called The Future of  Agency Relationships confirms it.

We recently started working with a new client and straight out of the gate we’re launching an important promotion and ongoing brand experience that no one either here at ID Branding or there at the client has ever done before. In fact, the more experts I talk to in hopes of smoothing the process a bit, the more I’m finding out that no one has ever done this. Not exactly this way.


But this is exactly what the new era calls for. We all better plan on living in a whole lot of uncertainty from now on. Because our audiences out there are demanding that we invent on their behalf, and that means not just the messages or the visual effects or the casting and sound track, but the experiences themselves and the venues for these experiences. (I’ll get more specific about this project in a future post if my client says it’s OK.)

Suffice to say, we are figuring this thing out as we go. And it’s been bumpy.

Now, I’m used to doing that in situations like a commercial shoot when you’re working with the production company to figure out how to put a 16 mm camera into the middle of a fast-flowing steam so you can shoot migrating steelhead underwater as they pass up stream. And then determining that you’re going to have to buy the fish and release them. And finding out there aren’t steelhead available, but you can get a tanker truck of really big trout, which is close enough.

And after that’s solved there’s the question of finding the damsel fly or dragon fly in the script, but the production company comes up dry and you’re lucky enough to have seen a lake loaded with them when you were scouting for locations. And so it goes, for maybe a few days. Pure unadulterated scramble.

But this is now becoming every day, not just production week. And if we’re doing our jobs right, we’re constantly doing something we’ve never done before. On a much bigger scale. It’s exhausting. But it’s also damn exciting.

That’s kind of what the Forrester report is saying, but in a much drier fashion and with much more scholarly authority and a bit more jargon. I’ve only read summaries and commentaries on it, but that’s enough to start a conversation with my fellow branding people about it.

Edward Boches has got a nice handle on it and it’s reinforcing what he’s been doing over at Mullen. He calls it Adaptive Brand Marketing. It’s reinforcing what a lot of us have been trying to do recently. And it’s helpful because it’s clarifying and articulating some of the challenges we’re all going to be facing together, side by side, agencies and clients. And that can be soothing when things get bumpy. Which they will.

Because uncharted territory is our new home. Thank God I’ve got a great client who is willing to co-conspire with us, rather than demand flawless execution at every turn. Because the only way you can be flawless is when you’ve done something over and over again. And that’s exactly what ISN’T going to cut it anymore.

It reminds me of the days when I was part of an interactive agency called Paris France. Everything we did was something we’d never done before. This was from 1999 to 2003, and the interactive brand experience was in its infancy. We were constantly wondering how we were going to pull off what was in our heads. We repeatedly turned to a slew of experts like the Flash wizard Phillip Kerman to help us figure things out.

And that’s what we’re doing with this current promotion event — we’re calling in all kinds of experts and friends and just figuring it out. And watching for results. And measuring. And then making tweaks and changes as necessary. Trial and adjustment.

The days of knowing are over. We are all sailing off the map, and it’s pretty exciting, as long as our clients are willing to be explorers with us and get wet. As the Forrester paper points out, “agencies and outsourced partners will become more important than ever (the world is too complex to figure it out alone).”

Man, that is so true.
– Doug

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OK, the sun came out yesterday. And again today. I can’t promise it’ll stay, but I think it’s actually finally summer.

Portland just had the wettest May in history and broke the record for the wettest June by the 16th of the month. We’ve  had no sign of summer until now.

So, with the new-found sun we finally get to post our summer reading list. And here it is:

Flipped: How Bottom-Up Co-Creation is Replacing Top-Down Innovation. John Winsor.

Just began this one, but it’s looking good already. Written by the man who started Radar Communications, which was bought in 2007 by Crispin, Porter, Bogusky. Just recently helped start the crowdsourcing agency Victors and Spoils. Promises to challenge most of what you think and know about how branding should happen. Victors and Spoils has just attracted Jon Bond (as in Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners) as an investor. These guys have something up their sleeves, and it ain’t paper flowers. A must read.

Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. Grant McCracken.

What? You haven’t read it? What’s your problem? He’s telling corporations to hire the cultural capabilities we agencies are supposed to own. He’s describing a job most of us would want. And if you haven’t discovered the other writings of McCracken yet, or his blog, I hope you’re a professor of medieval history somewhere. (Mmmm…medieval history.) Sheesh. Get this book.

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

Yes, we’ve started it before, but who ever finishes it the first go-round? Or ever? But if you want to know who predicted the whole future model of branding and brands, you need to read this. Actually, you only need to read the first chapter on the Rhizome. Because it’s the second-best metaphor (after “culture“) for how brands need to act and live in this era. Benefits include looking like a mysterious post-modern philosophical type to the babes (of either gender) on the beach. Also good for crushing greenheads on Plum Island, or for swinging at Donny Deutsch to keep him away from your girlfriend in the Hamptons. Impressive tome.

Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. Juliet Schor.

Yes, she’s an economist. But her book doesn’t read like she is. Except it’s smart. I heard her on NPR and had to pick it up. She could turn your head around about all kinds of things, especially your definition of sustainability. As in, human sustainability is connected to economic and environmental sustainability–surprise! You might just decide to work less and raise chickens as your own small way of preventing the next Gulf oil disaster (or personal disaster). Provocative indeed.

Designers Don’t Read. Austin Howe.

We’re reading this because some of us haven’t read it yet. Soon all of us will have read it. And by all of us, I’m including you. Reading Mr. Howe is like eating pots de creme. It’s absolutely delicious and over far too soon. Austin has abandoned his own people (advertising) to live with the Others (designers). Find out why. A must read for everyone going into or still slugging away in the business of branding. Each (short) chapter even tells you how many minutes it will take to read it. (Not many.) Yum.

Envisioning Information. Edward R. Tufte.

OK, it’s not his latest book, and it’s not new, but people here are reading it for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is because I haven’t read it. But Melissa, our senior strategist, highly highly recommends it. And Josh, our creative director, thinks everyone’s already read it. Is he right? (Oops, not quite.)

Livability: Stories. Jon Raymond.

Josh admits that he’s promoting the book of his co-editor of Plazm magazine, but I told him that was OK, as long as he was actually reading it, which he assured me he was. A review on Powell’s says: “These nine gorgeous stories from novelist and screenwriter Raymond find pallid Northwesterners testing the moral perimeters of their decent lives.” Beach-y, don’t you think?

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. Alexander Osterwalder.

This is another Melissa recommend. Josh asked if maybe putting it on our list was giving away a secret, and Melissa said No, everyone should read it. Melissa is smart, so I guess I’m going to be reading it. Sometimes I’m a Game Changer, but mostly I’m a Lyrics Changer, which drives my wife crazy. Ignore my digression and listen to Melissa.

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. Roger L. Martin.

I found this on Dennis’ desk. So he must be reading it. He just left for a Disneyland vacation with his family. So that might be an indicator that The Mouse and this book don’t go together. I don’t know. Looks interesting. Smells new. Got that nice, new tight binding when you lift the cover. And he’s emblazoned his name on the top of the pages with a Sharpie, so he’s committed to it. Ooh, and it’s published by Harvard. Dennis has good taste in books so that’s a recommend.

That’s it for now. Dive in, bibiophiles, and read your summer away.

– Doug

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I just watched the movie Pirate Radio, with Philip Seymour Hoffman et. al. Clients, if you want to understand the commitment of creatives to great work on your behalf, watch this movie.

In it, the disc jockeys are willing to go down with the ship to keep playing rock and roll on behalf of the audience. This is a direct metaphor for how creatives feel about the work they do on your behalf.

They, like the djs in the movie, are professionals. They have devoted their lives to understanding what your audience really wants from your brand. They are the very select number of people who get it at a cellular level. They have spent their careers understanding the nuances of what is great and what is crap — just like the djs in the movie. They have gone through hell to get the training and then to work at the agencies that will allow them to hone their skills, their instincts, and their insights. They have done what doctors or lawyers or mergers and acquisition experts do to learn their craft and to become experts. They have made immense sacrifices, often in terms of significant dollars, to work at places that value their contribution, rather than work at places that just care about placating the client.

Yet so often, because what they know is not something you too can know, their expertise is dismissed. Dismissed because you, the client, don’t understand what they understand. And you shouldn’t. Because we are all called to play different roles based on our different capabilities. We cannot play each other’s roles. Because we are not all the same people.

We need each other. And we need these differences.

But no role in the branding game is more easily dismissed and belittled than the creative’s role. Because it is not a quantifiable, measureable, linear, or scientifically provable role. It is a role whose value can only be recognized through faith.

Faith that someone is really good at something we don’t understand. And faith that they are sincere, as well as skilled.

I have, in twenty years in this business, really never worked with a creative who was cynical and jaded and manipulative. I have worked almost exclusively with people who deeply cared about creating something great on behalf of the client and their brand. Why? Why have I not seen the very thing that so many clients fear — the self-serving, award-seeking, career-improving creative?

Because the truth is, creatives are the same rare creatures you see in Pirate Radio — people of immense integrity and of silly, ridiculous idealism. These are people who are willing to spin their own intestines into something meaningful and delightful. People who might, in a wartime situation, be considered ideal canon fodder because they are so idealistically committed to what they’re doing.

And so they march bravely forward, as if bullets or the north sea could not cut them down. As if what they do is important, and valuable, and really necessary. They pour their very essences into what they do. Because they know, and they are right, that this is what your audiences hope they will do.

Your audiences are dying for wonderful things from your brand. These creatives are willing to make it. And so often they are met with a cynical doubt. A cynical dismissal. A cynicism that projects itself upon these people as if they, too, must be just as cynical as you are.

Will these creatives always be right. No, not always. Will they be right more often then they’re wrong? Absolutely, especially if they’ve been informed by strong strategic insights. Will they ever be intentionally leading you down the wrong path? They’d rather die.

So, you might not go along with everything these creatives show you. But by God you’d better not doubt that they totally and completely believe in what they’re showing you. And you’d better not delude yourself that you know better what your audience wants than they do. Not if the strategic insights were strong. Not if the brief was right.

This is the one thing that, in my experience, clients do not understand. Except the good ones. And God bless the good ones. Because you’ve got a creative department that will die on your behalf. I will die on your behalf.

(There’s a literal as well as an emotional truth to this. A recent study shows that working the kind of hours creatives work leads to a 60% greater risk of heart attack.)

I hope you can start to understand this, and possibly appreciate it.

– Doug

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David Burn, who writes an advertising blog called AdPulp, has just posted an interview with me talking about Portland and advertising and such. His blog offers an important perspective on this business of ours and is another way to keep up with what’s going on in adworld.

Thanks for the opportunity to ramble, David.

– Doug

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OK, for those photographers out there who didn’t believe me when I said creatives hated email blasts from Adbase and preferred a postcard with an image, here’s a recent post on the subject.

– Doug

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