Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative.

The leap of faith (moving to Wordpress)...

Well, after a year of blogging I've decided to switch platforms to Wordpress. There are a lot of cool features and much easier management as the site grows. Unfortunately I lose all of my comments, my Technorati rank (which isn't huge, but hey it's better than nothing) and I have to ask a lot of people to update their blogroll.

So please join me as we move to:

RSS Feed:

FeedBurner Feed: (stays the same YEAH!)

Best of 2006 follow up

I mentioned David Armano's push to capture the best of 2006 (from a social media perspective) the other day.

He's compiled his report and it's available on his blog. I opened it up and lo and behold, there was part of my comment to him on page four.

David is really making a dent in one of the largest marketing companies around. And his good work has not gone unnoticed, a few months back he was promoted to VP. So now that he has greater reach and visibility, I'm looking forward to seeing him influence and shape new media . I hope he doesn't get too bogged down in the management aspect of his new role. Thanks David.

An employee's confusion

I read this on Hugh's manifesto request and had to pass it on...

Anna Farmery of The Engaging Brand blog sent me in this manifesto:

If... a brand starts inside, an employee's confusion

1. If you believe in the strategy, why can't you explain it?

2. If talent is important, why is promotion based on your social circle?

3. If we are entrepreneurial, why do we make decisions by consensus?

4. If values are important enough to put on a card, why are they not applicable to leaders?

5. If the future is important, why do we spend time in meetings looking at the past?

6. If you embrace talent why, do you only speak to me about my weaknesses?

7. If we aim for a USP why, are encouraged to produce sameness?

8. If we believe in diversity, why are you all 40+, white and male?

9. If we need to cut development and R&D to hit budget, how can you afford a two-day team bonding session in a 5-star hotel?

10. If it is us that interact with customers, why don't you see we should feel the brand values first?

Best of 2006

For those of you not familiar with David Armano, you should definitely check him out. He's a rising star in the blogging space and one of my few daily reads.

He's started a great thread on the biggest marketing/advertising impact in 2006. Most of it is centered on web 2.0-type things, but that's where the entire industry is moving anyway. This thread was just covered in BusinessWeek and it's still picking up steam.

You'll see my responses around comment #15 or so...

technorati tags > marketing, 2006, businessweek, david armano, impact, trends

Best ROI for marketing dollars

According to the latest DMA Power of Direct report, email marketing tops all marketing efforts from an ROI point of view. As of right now, email marketing will give you the biggest bang for your buck with a return of $57.25 for every $1.00 you spend. Compare that to $7.09 for print catalogs and $22.52 for non-email internet marketing.

Yet for most organizations, email marketing gets little funding compared to traditional advertising and print materials. Unless you're in the catalog business, those other mediums offer little in regards to measuring a return on your investment. And with markets collapsing and prices falling, businesses are looking for every dollar to show a measurable return - and a quick return at that.

In 2006, marketers will spend only $400M on email marketing. Compare that to spending $20B for print catalogs. Those #'s are radically different, but you have to dig in a little deeper to understand them. Let's compare the two.

From a cost point of view, print is a nightmare. The time is takes to layout and design a 75 page catalog is huge. It is an all consuming task for your designers to get the artwork ready for the next catalog. They spend months preparing. And once the files are ready to go to the printer, you have exorbitant printing and distribution costs. Hopefully you sleep well at night knowing that as soon as each page is printed, it's potentially out of date due to pricing or technical product changes.

From a personalization point of view, catalogs fail miserably. About the only level of personalization on a catalog is the little promo code or coupon that prints with the shipping address. Other than that, everyone gets the same book.

On the other hand, people love to keep catalogs around for a long time. Some catalogs are so powerful; people keep them out on their coffee tables to impress friends. They're easy to take with you on a trip or share with a friend. They are a great way to build a brand because you can tell more of your story. You're not locked into a small window within Microsoft Outlook.

While print catalogs have a lower ROI than emails, it is predicted to increase by 2007 while email ROI is predicted to drop.

Email and internet marketing are infinitely more measurable and customizable than print. But they are the newest kids on the block and lots of organizations still do not know how to handle them properly. Don't mistake the ease of email marketing with simplicity. It's still take a lot of work to manage lists and create offers that appeal to your target audience without being seen as a spammer. And there are technical barriers like server blocks and email filters that have to be worked through as well. With catalogs it's pretty easy, drop it in the mail and it arrives. Hopefully calls start coming into your order center. With email, you can see exactly who opened it, how long they spent reading it, which links they clicked on, and whether they forwarded it to a friend. Unfortunately spammers are making a bad name for the entire market.

So, I wouldn't stop what you're doing just yet. If you have a booming catalog business, start to think about augmenting that with a email component. And if you've dabbled with email, try to get more serious about it by taking advantage of the variable data and trackable nature of the medium. Email is a great way to communicate with your audience; you just have to respect their time and inbox.

Like all good marketing initiatives offer value first and your customers will respond.

technorati tags > email, marketing, print, advertising, ROI, internet, measure

Creativity or a slow death?

Submitted to Hugh as a mini-manifesto...

I read somewhere that the best test for creativity in business was simply to ask “are you creative?” So I tried it. And for the majority of people it seemingly proved true. The people that we all see as creative (designers, PowerPoint gurus, out of the box thinkers) said yes; and the planners, project managers, sales people said no. So I naively believed it to be true.

Watching my two year old daughter run around and play reminds me that we’re all creative. We all have boundless imaginations. We always have. Unfortunately our educational system has progressively worked that aspect our being out of our nature. No educational system on the planet puts as much emphasis on creativity as they do logic. Think about the number of math and science classes you took versus the arts and humanities. Not that logic is bad. In fact, it’s a critical element of life. I just believe that we are over-balanced on logic compared to creativity.

I believe the lack of creativity is slowly killing business. That lack is driving everything to a commodity price-driven market. It's creating an environment that puts cost cutting before customer satisfaction. Without creative thinking how will the engineering team discover the next breakthrough product? How will the marketing team develop messaging that stands above a crowded market place.

Creativity isn’t solely the realm of designers and ad agencies. It shouldn't be associated with art. It does not equal wild and crazy. It doesn’t equal foolishness. And being "creative" not a job title.

When you hear “out of the box thinking”; that’s the call to creativity. It’s your management team asking you to come up with a new approach. It’s daring to think differently. It’s not copying the competition. And after all, when you boil it down isn’t creative thinking what we’re paid to do? If everyone has the same view, the same ideas, the same approach, and the same results why are we all still here?

To succeed in business is to be creative in your role. Growth demands creativity. It will separate you from the competition. As humans we’re trained to only notice what’s different in our environment. Therefore, standing out is the best way to raise awareness.The lack of creativity across the board is not only hurting your brand, it's ultimately hurting your profitability. And it’s hurting your employees.

Creativity isn’t a special gift - we’re all born with it. It never leaves, it’s just hiding behind years of logic. I challenge you to find time to let the two year old inside of you come out and play. Your employees, customers, and shareholders will thank you.

technorati tags > creativity, gaping void, business, marketing, growth, strategies

Typical client presentation

I've been on both sides of the client/agency fence during my career. Now that I'm solely on the agency side, I really appreciate this more than ever...

How NOT to judge creative...

Two things that kill creativity

From Seth Godin...

The first is fear.

  • The fear that you'll have to implement whatever you dream up.
  • The fear that you will fail.
  • The fear that you will do something stupid and be ridiculed by your peers for decades.
  • The fear that you'll get fired.
  • The fear that there will be an unanticipated backlash associated with your idea.
  • The fear of change.
  • The fear of missing out on the thing you won't be able to do if you do this.

The second is a lack of imagination.

I believe that every single person I've met in this profession is capable of astounding creativity. That you, and everyone else for that matter, is able to dream up something radical and viral and yes, remarkable. So why doesn't it happen more often? Sure, fear is a big part, but it's also a lack of imagination.

Basically, most people don't believe something better can occur. They believe that the status quo is also the best they can do. So they don't look. They don't push. They don't ask, "what else?" and "what now?" They settle.

Fear is an emotion and it's impossible to counter an emotion with logic. So you need to mount emotional arguments for why your fear of the new is the thing you truly need to fear.

As for the second issue, just knowing it exists ought to be enough. Once you realize you're settling, it may just be enough to get you wondering... wondering whether maybe, just maybe, something better is behind curtain number 2.

technorati tags > marketing, strategy, creativity, fear, imagination

Quick update

I wanted to let you guys know that our son came through his heart surgery great yesterday. I'm keeping another blog for updates on him. You can find out more at:

Thank you for all of your prayers and support. He'll need a few more to come through the recovery process. It's going to take a while. But once he's well, there should be no side effects or long term issues.

Blogging on hold...

We've had good news and bad news in the family. First off, my wife and I welcomed a new baby boy into the family on Oct. 10. The bad news is that he was born with a heart defect and is waiting for surgery to repair it. It's a very fixable condition with little to no side effects after he makes it through the surgery.

For those of you that are medically-inclined, he has Transposition of the Great Arteries - not a walk in the park but a common heart condition. We are at the Cincinnati Childrens Hospital and are very impressed with the staff here. They are wonderful and are some of the best in this business.

So please keep him (and us) in your thoughts and prayers for the next few weeks.

We just want to get our little guy home safe and sound. Growth

What are you the best at?

There's a big push towards niche marketing. Here, Here, Here. As more and more markets commoditize, brand becomes a critical factor. And in most large cash cow commodity markets, there are only two or three major players. Everybody else is left picking at single digit marketshare with little to no growth opportunities.

So you have basically two options for growth. One, you can launch a break-through product or service in your category. Think bagless vacuum cleaners. When there were only bagged vacuums, everybody was pretty much equal. Then the bagless came out in Japan and revolutionized the market - and put most of the aftermarket bag suppliers out of business. It was a game changer. Before that product came out people just assumed you needed a bag to catch the dust.

The second method is to be seen as "head and shoulders" better than anything else in the market. Think Dyson. Until that brand was launched there was little growth or movement in vacuum cleaners. Now Dyson is stealing share from everyone. They really didn't invent anything new or revolutionary. They've done a great job of promoting the things people really care about - weak vacuums that lose suction and pass a lot of dust through back to the carpet. And they've done it with stylish advertising and marketing. They look high tech, expensive, and worth it. The funny thing with Dyson is that he was not trained as an engineer, but as an industrial designer. He's turned a stale market on its end and is raking in the profits.

More and more firms are moving to a niche marketing strategy. They want to be seen as the best provider of a very specific offering. The Long Tail theory tells us that a lot of small providers with very passionate customers can be as powerful as one or two large providers - that they control more of the marketplace than previously realized. The hard part is getting them organized and focused towards a common goal.

Very few firms in the world can be a Wal*Mart (in fact no one can). The average retailer cannot compete with Wal*Mart. So my advice is to not compete at all. You can make a lot of money offering the high-end products that they cannot. You can make a lot of money providing products that are above Target. So why should it surprise or anger people when Wal*Mart puts small Mom & Pop's out of business. They simply need to adapt with unique offerings. They'll be more profitable and sustain future growth. In theory, Mom & Pop shops have the advantage of convenience. They should be closer to their customers and they definitely have potential for much better customer service.

So, you will be relegated to commodity status if you cannot easily answer and defend what you are the best at. Start planning now how your products and services can change the game or stand out from the competition. Once you can easily answer the question, your audience will begin to find you. People are always looking for specialists to solve their problems. Being recognized as an expert makes your marketing efforts a lot easier. Jeffrey Gitomer said it best, "No one wants to be sold, but everyone likes to buy." Being seen as a specialist creates a buying environment, not a sales situation. Even after you are seen as a specialist, you still need to market. Marketing gives you the ability to even further refine your customer set and profitability criteria. It's about creating more demand than capacity. It's about creating choices.

What do you do better than anyone?

technorati tags > marketing, strategy, niche, small, big, long tail

A little news, a few jabs, and a lot of laughs

I was recently turned on to Ze Frank and the Show. You should check him out. He does a daily video blog of current events with more than a touch of humor. He cracks me up and everyone that works hard deserves a little break.

technorati tags > ze frank, humor, laugh, break

Email makes it too easy

There are so many things I love about communicating via email:
  • low effort
  • trackable
  • easy to revise in order to get "perfect"
  • immediate
  • available 24/7
  • not restricted by time zones
  • impersonal
  • searchable
  • you know when the recipient receives/opens it
  • the list goes on...
Unfortunately, email is a poor way to build relationships. We all know that business is built upon relationships - especially in my role as a business developer. No one wants an account executive that stays in the office all day. They want their acct exec to be in front of them. Unfortunately, half of my job is project management. That requires the exact opposite. Good PM's are always in the office. They are always in touch with what their teams are supposed to be working on and where they are supposed to be in relation to the status of the project.

Email makes it too easy. It's too easy to confuse the quantity of communication with the quality. When it comes to quality, nothing is better than face to face. When you're in person, there's no guessing about the other person's reaction to your words, presentation, or comments. Yes, it takes more time to be face to face; but how much time is wasted trying to interpret an email reply? How much time is wasted before you pick up the phone?

I know it's just basic blocking and tackling. But that's the point.

Seth Godin's post about looking me in the eye prompted me to write about email. He gave a challenge, for one week try to do as much in person as possible. I'm going to try. Are you?

technorati tags > email, in person, communication, sales, project, management

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