Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Drive Of Innovation

Not sure if any of the folks reading this blog live near a college or university that issues annual awards for the best marketing programs. 

Here in Atlanta, Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business issues what they call the MAX Awards.

It would not surprise me if those of you located in the Atlanta had not heard of the MAX Awards.

To be honest, I am not a big follower either.

However, the MAX Awards and the 2013 nominees are featured in this week’s Atlanta Business Chronicle.  The pub even allocated an entire sectional insert dedicated to the nominees and background of the event.

Now I want to say right upfront before I go any further in this blog that the firms nominated are probably all staffed with genuinely good people and that they work hard doing their work.

Six Georgia companies are finalists. 

They were selected by the Georgia State University Roundtable that according to the press release sent out by the college, “is comprised of senior marketing executives from top Atlanta companies.”

The release also goes on to say that “the MAX Awards program is considered the most prestigious marketing awards event in Georgia” and that the award “honors the best in new products, services and marketing innovations.”


When I first saw the front-page teaser in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, I thought there must be some astounding stories to read about in the insert section.

I could not wait to read about brands that were embracing those trends highlighted in the EXPERIENCE 2013 TRENDCAST Report like the reign of the Millennials, the rebirth of Americana, the rise of the Working Class and the anchoring of Kitchen-Central.

Shoot, there are probably some very innovative, truly “out-of-the-box,” internet and social media embracing brand stories that would make it to the final six. 

Here are the six finalists:

·      AirWatch and the AirWatchSecure Content Locker
·      FLIR Integrated Systems and the Mobile Surveillance Capability
·      The Georgia Conservancy and the Gamification-based Non-Profit Membership Drive
·      Georgia-Pacific and the Brawny Paper Towel’s Wounded Warriors Project
·      Kimberley-Clark and The Healthy Schools Project
·      Southwire and the Southwire Engineering Academy

Bestill my heart. 

If you visit the MAX Awards website, the home page features the MAX Award brand line “Never stop thinking.”

Note the left-brain nature of the brand line.

Guess “Never stop innovating” or “Never stop imagining” or “Never stop challenging” made it past that Atlanta senior marketing executive roundtable.

There is also a play off of the Best Buy logo and tag line that is re-scripted to read “Good Buy” with the tagline “Thank God they kept thinking.”

I am not making this up.

The speaker at the awards event might happen to be the best actress on stage.  The speaker is Spanx new CEO Laurie Ann Goldman. 

I have to give Ms. Goldman some due credit. 

There was a news story in the WSJ about two weeks ago that Spanx is coming out (no pun intended!) with a new line of products for men.

A product line like that deserves an applause.

The reason why I showcase the MAX Awareds in the blog is because its a great illustration of the business marketplace innovation headset.

There are two television commercials have emerged in the last two weeks that I must admit, I find rather depressing.

One is for Fidelity Investments that Arnold Worldwide created. 

For a while, Fidelity kind of abandoned the “green line follow it like a brainless Zombie” Arnold television ads.

But now… THEY ARE BACK. 

The second one is almost a near rip-off of the “green line” campaign that I call the “Start line follow it like a brainless Zombie” television campaign.

Its CarMax's latest campaign series. 

In fact, the one airing right now features one of the bride’s maids that leaves a wedding even before it starts and follows the line across the beach and down the streets until she arrives at a CarMax retail center. 

My bet is that girl will remain single for most of her life.

A new Change Wave is unfortunately surfacing and I am afraid to say is likely here to stay.

There is a mindlessness that no longer is kept in the closet. 

Conventional business leadership champions it.

The shallow suit stereotype of corporate marketing teams is not really much of a stereotype today.

The techie nerd of the past is hip and cool.  

The MBA marketing executive nerd of today cannot claim the same fame of the techie nerd, but rather mirrors the brainless green-line Zombie being led down the Fidelity path of corporate BIG Business.

I am committed to staying optimistic and help client-partners view the glass as half full.

Because in reality it is.

Thanks to the showcase examples of the MAX Awards, we can see first hand why innovation and the courage to truly do is a mandate to drive brands forward.   

Saturday, January 5, 2013

It's All About Discovery

My New Year could not have started any better than it did this week.

While there might be a new account assignment taking place, it was not related to sales.

 Yesterday morning, I met with a creative director that works with one of my firm’s agency-partners.

Just before Christmas, this creative guy and I got on a Delta flight to the basking, resort town of Iowa City, Iowa.  (pssst… he’s making light of the destination)

The trip was a quick one. 

Both he and I had a host of other clients we had to meet with before Santa came down the chimney. 

Perhaps even more important, there was a true blizzard brewing out west that was scheduled to arrive the day our flights departed back to the sunny South.

The purpose of our trip was to do a set of roundtable focus groups to evaluate three creative concept approaches for the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

All kidding aside, Iowa City is actually a pretty cool place.  Reminded me a little bit of Athens, Georgia where I have my weekend get-away…even a little feel of Austin, Texas. 

The Cancer Center is a designated National Cancer Institute facility… NCI as the healthcare gurus call it.

I simple terms, if the facility is NCI-designated, the team there is doing some great stuff in not only treating cancer, but also they are involved in some break-through research to find the cure.

Two of the concepts we tested were nice, positive, good-feel story spots. 

The third concept we tested pushed the bar on what a medical center might conventionally consider doing.

While I try to remain very neutral in facilitating the discussion groups, I must admit that when I saw the third concept, I knew that the concept was going to garner discussion. 

I also knew that the concept would be memorable… and for many, not in a warm and fuzzy way.

When we did the groups, participants were just as my hunch was telling me… they found the other two spots to be “nice,” “positive,” and “interesting.”

But they also quickly said that the spots were very similar to other messages they see and hear about cancer.

The third concept generated commentary… both positive and negative… and the commentary started before I even asked for it.

Uniformly, the participants found the concept to be very different from most anything that they had seen.

By the time we were done with the third focus group, I was eager to hit the road and get back to the airport because the winter weather storm was moving eastward quicker than originally predicted.

Just as I was packing up, I was informed that we were going to do a fourth discussion group. 

Being snowed in for Christmas in Iowa was not something I would even begin to entertain.

I was not the happiest of campers.

Not only was there a fourth group, but we had to drive and then walk through a maze to get across campus to a room in the hospital itself to conduct it.

The fourth group was among cancer survivors and cancer patients undergoing treatment.

As soon as the participants entered the room, my perspective of life was altered. 

These folks really were battling cancer and surviving another day.

When we shared with them the different concepts, they became very focused on that third concept idea. 

They didn’t get excited about it. 

Instead they very quietly, but very personally related their own experiences of battling cancer within the context and the format of the idea.

It was one of those few times while facilitating a focus group that I had to actively hold back tears.

After we completed the group, that creative guy and I got back into the car and drove an hour east back to Moline, Illinois to board the plane back to Atlanta.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I received a string of phone calls from the creative guy. 

The client was just not sure what to do. 

The first two spots tested okay, but they were certainly the comfortable approach to take.

The creative guy was challenged.  Did he need to start over from scratch?  Did he need to combine the approaches and produce a hybrid idea? 

When I wrote up the report, I was very honest about what people said and how the spots were evaluated. 

But I also added a POV – Point-of-View – at the end of the report.

I was very direct and said that the third concept was decisively different and unique, but it hit the cord – that coveted nugget of emotional engagement – that would move their brand not only forward, but would elevate their brand to a new level of perception.

Now getting back to yesterday morning.

When I met for coffee with the creative guy, he shared with me two modified concept approaches the he had crafted around that third idea. 

He captured everything that participants and the client commented on along, but had preserved that nugget of emotional engagement.

Then he shared with me two more concept ideas in which her raised the bar on more tier. 

These two concept ideas took that nugget of emotional engagement and actually translated it directly into the context of a cancer survivor experiencing it.

I commented that all four of the “revised” concept ideas would move the client’s brand forward and emotionally capture audience engagement.

When I left that meeting, I realized very quickly why the stuff we do is of value to clients and prospects. 

How much a client spends is not what drives us in doing our job, nor what drives audience groups to seek out a brand.

It’s not about being cute and creative.  It’s not about buying media cheaper.

It’s all about discovery.

Discovering those “nuggets” … what I term the “EIP” of the brand experience – the Emotional Ignition Point … is what branding is all about.

My next blog is going to be about the drivers of discovery. 

I know that the University of Iowa is going to journey far this year. 

I am very appreciative of the opportunity to participate in part of that journey and very privileged to have the chance to team up with cool folks like that creative guy!