It's A Brand New World

It’s A Brand New World

The other day I made the mistake of coming home from the store with a bag of Lay’s Potato Chips. As I unpacked the groceries, my wife gave a little gasp. “Eat those quick,” she whispered, “I don’t want the kids to see that brand around the house!” Part of me wasn’t surprised. I get the “Don’t feed our kids crap” message, but since when is a potato chip brand on par with pornography? Seems a little severe to me, but for my wife it makes perfect sense. She wants our kids to share her values about healthy eating. For her, Lay’s stands for junk food and unconscious eating habits, and we don’t fly that flag. My parents would never have had a discussion like this. For them shopping was simple: “What is it and how much does it cost?”

These days the shopping experience is so complicated, it took a sociologist and a psychologist to come up with a name for people like my wife. It became the title of Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s best selling book, “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.” But that was ten years ago. A lot has changed. Now we just call them “Whole Foods Shoppers.” And marketeers aren’t interested in “Cultural Creatives” anymore. My wife and I are obsolete. Now it’s all about “Millennials.” Millennials move so fast, they can’t even hold onto the label “Generation Y.” If you’re 25 to 35 years old, you can call yourself a Millennial. And you know why we baby boomer marketeers are so interested in you? Because you went blazing off onto the Internet and we can hardly keep up with you.

The ability to instantly access information, easily share thoughts and ideas, and broadcast opinions, enabled a kind of consumer insurgency. To understand what I mean, all you have to do is Google “United Breaks Guitars.” Maybe you’ve already heard of this. One guy gets pissed because United Airlines smashes his guitar and customer service treats him badly. A clever song about his experience posted on YouTube gets him a half million views and an invite to tell his tale of mistreatment on Good Morning America, all in the span of three days.

So why is this a big deal? It means companies can’t control their own stories anymore. Now the customer owns the story. The whole concept of what “brand” means is changing fast. We used to think of “brand” as marketing identity; a device used to further the sale, nothing more. Now, thanks to people like my wife, the United Breaks Guitar guy, and a billion others who are out there chatting away on the internet, companies are realizing that maybe they need to engage with their customers more openly and honestly.

Something called “The Sustainable Brands Conference” popped up a few years ago. It’s all about helping companies incorporate this idea of larger purpose into their brands. Here’s how the organizers define a Sustainable Brand: “A better brand that endures by respecting, serving and delighting all stakeholders in current and future generations.” Man, my wife would definitely invite that brand into the house. And don’t think big companies don’t get it. Coke, Ford, 3M, Target, Dell – they are just a few of the sponsors.

All these big brands want to do good so you won’t think they are bad. Including Frito Lay. It turns out my wife was too hard the Lay’s Brand. I went to the Frito Lay Web site. The company talks about healthy eating habits. It has a sustainability program focussed on reducing its energy use. The company seems to be making a real effort to be a good citizen. And it must be real. Why? Because we old Cultural Creatives, and now the new generation of Millennials, are demanding it.

And companies beware. You’d better actually be doing what you say you are doing because we will actively look for the truth. And we will blog about it.

Mythmaker Designs Money

Mythmaker Designs Money

The North Coast of California is home to many organic farmers and artisan food producers who’ve work hard to sustain a right livelihood. Jay and Dana Nichols, residents and environmental activists in this Northern California coast bioregion, wanted to inspire a local, community-based economy around the North Coast Agri-Artisan culture, and asked us if we could help them with the design of a local currency.

How To Turn A Brand Into A Bonfire

How To Turn A Brand Into A Bonfire

A good brand is like a bonfire. People want to gather around it. Here are four simple touch points to help you create a tone and feel that people want to engage with.

1. Make us feel smart. Deliver the facts without scolding. Watch for words that might feel like guilt tripping, such as “should” or “everyone must have”… Stay positive.

2. Inspire us. Communicate a larger purpose beyond making the sale. Show people that your organization is working to make the world a better place in its own unique way.

3. Demonstrate connection. Introduce me to people who share my world view and interest. What do they have to say? Promote conversation. Invite questions.

4. Make Us Feel Recognized. Reflect back what you hear. Speak the language of the audience you are trying to reach. Look for opportunities and creative ways to say “thank you” to the people who buy your product.

mastronardi-tote - Making a Shopping Bag

Making a Shopping Bag Sing

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“You stopped us in our tracks!”  said the folks at The Core, when they came across the bag we designed for Mastronardi Produce. “We are always roaming the show floor looking for good story telling, and we thought Mastronardi hit the nail on the head with their super colorful and informative shopping totes.”  The Core is digital publication focused on fresh produce marketing. Check it out.

Why Content Matters

Why Content Matters

If you haven’t already heard the term “Content Marketing,” you will. It refers to the changing nature of advertising and marketing strategies, driven by the social networking power of the internet. The days of interruption advertising are dying fast. The rise of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and self publishing tools open up whole new possibilities for reaching and engaging targeted audiences.

The media love to hype the power of Facebook and Twitter, but really these are just tools and they are meaningless without the right content. Anybody can learn to use the tools but it’s the content that will win you customers. Don’t get hung up or intimidated by the technology. Put your efforts into writing and producing relevant, rich, meaningful content. Figuring out how to use different channels for delivery comes second. So what is content that works? Here are ten ideas to help get you started.

#1. Avoid the hardsell! Solve a problem, entertain, educate. Provide real, useful information. Focus on the needs of your audience, not your own objectives. Make the content relevant for people with a specific need. If your content does not do any of these things, it will be more noise that gets you ignored.

#2. Focus: Target, find a niche, identify your audience. The more specific, the better. “Dog training tips” is too broad. “Training tips for Toy Poodle Owners,” much better. Develop content your niche audiences want.

#3. Be Reliable: Don’t start a conversation you aren’t willing to keep going. Let’s say you sell dog biscuits. You set up a blog about training Toy Poodles and after a year, a few thousand people are checking-in and trading tips on a weekly basis. Then, the budget gets a little tight; the Blog has to go. What happens to all the nice people now gathered around your little bonfire? Better not to launch the initiative at all rather than piss off a few thousand possible customers.

#4. Listen. Pay attention to how your audience responds. The point of Content Marketing is to engage with your audience. You listen and you respond. If you hear something you do not like, ask questions. A friend of mine was recently stranded in an airport due to a problem with Delta. He began tweeting his frustrations with how the situation was being handled. He immediately received a tweet from Delta. “What can we do to help your situation?” The company had established “listening posts” in all the right places. They turned the conversation from a bitch session into an example of first-rate customer service.

#5. Hire reporters instead of marketeers. I’ve said this before; I’ll say it again. Marketing is now about effective story telling. Reporters know how to find and tell authentic stories. What’s the difference between a reporter and a marketing copywriter? Reporters think about the questions their audience might have. Copywriters focus on delivering a message. We are all sick of talking points and sales pitches. We want information and answers.

#6. Use video. Here are three reasons to use more video. One, it’s a very efficient medium for explaining how to do something. People like to learn by watching. Two, video lets people see faces, hear voices, get a real sense of place. It’s a fantastic story telling medium. Three, in the right creative hands, video can be very entertaining and engaging. “Will It Blend?” Need I say more? If you don’t know about this case study, Google it.

#7. Set up “Listening Posts.” People are talking about your product. Are you listening? It is relatively easy to use existing on-line tools to monitor chatter that happens around what is relevant to you. It’s also possible to set up blogs and on-line forums to encourage comments and conversations of interests. RSS feeds, Google Alerts, Twitter Grids, are all tools that you can use to monitor conversations of interest.

#8. SEO = Content. Want to make your website more visible? Create better content. Google looks for two main things when ranking websites: 1) Content with “key words” that are actually relevant to what people are searching for. And 2) Links pointing back to your website from other sites. Great content helps in both cases. If you write something interesting and it gets picked up and blogged by others, Google notices. If certain key words are associated with links back to your site, Google notices.

#9. Look for strategic partnerships. Find ways to partner online with people, causes, or organizations that can build and support your brand vision. Share your content and possibly other resources with organizations that have an active on-line community. They will notice and spread the word.

#10. Don’t fake it. Be honest, or run the risk of starting the kind of online conversation marketing departments dread. People growing-up in the internet age are not passive when it comes to information. They know how to find answers fast. If you make a mistake, apologize and correct it. If you don’t know the answer, admit you don’t know and find out. Be transparent because these days, it’s impossible not to be.