Definitions of Bulldog Simplicity from Apple and Renoir

Look for ways to spice up your personal branding materials

Last week, I took my family to the Late Renoir exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and smiled at Renoir’s description of his work as “simplicity bordering on severity,”  thinking that the notion of Bulldog Simplicity has been around for a long time.  Then yesterday, I was cleaning out some files and came across an Apple ad in the New York Times from September 29, 1997.  A former co-worker had sent it to me with a note, “I thought of you.”

As I’ve struggled with communicating a brand that carries with it a certain ability to turn off some prospective clients, both the Renoir quote and this ad seem to capture a certain attitude I’ve carried throughout my career.  Perhaps more important, the ad feels like a “call to action” to be remarkable.   And to be aggressive about communicating what differentiates you from the pack.

I’m not going to try to recreate the layout, but here is the copy (the italics are mine):

To the crazy ones.

Here’s to the crazy ones.  The misfits. The rebels.  The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify them or vilify them.  About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.

Because they change things.  They invent.  They imagine.  They heal.  They explore.  They create.  They inspire.  They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.  How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?  Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written.  Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.  Because while some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

And it’s the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, who actually do.

The point is, I see a lot of LinkedIn profiles, a lot of blogs, and a lot of websites that fail to capture — or celebrate — what makes someone special.  Perhaps it is fear that being different as a first impression will cost them chances with a new client or employer.  I have to admit I’m guilty of that at times, and I’m spending time taking another look at some of my materials.

When was the last time you revisited your public persona?  Are you communicating the person you are or you think people want you to be?

Side note:  If you feel you need help beefing up your branding materials, please drop me a note at bulldogsimplicity@gmail.com or go to this page on my website.

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Rats! to taking a conservative approach to branding

In the midst of some new projects and designing a new website that has a real chance to impact people’s lives, I’ve gotten to thinking about whether my personal-branding materials go far enough to explain what makes me different, whether I’m adequately reinforcing the “bulldog” brand on my personal website and elsewhere.

I’m not sure I’m being in-your-face enough, because that’s one of the things that makes me different from other communicators.  So I’m taking a second look at my website to get away from trying to make my message appeal to everyone who visits my page (or my LinkedIn profile) and appeal to the people who are actually looking for what I have to sell.

It was with that mindset that I came across Dan Pink’s posting from earlier this week and realized that this ad for the DC Metro  truly reflects the “bulldog” mentality that I need to more fully embrace…

As way of background, the Washington, D.C. subway system bans eating on its trains.  There are many different ways you can reinforce this message, but this is about as visceral as it gets.

Pink (who wrote Drive and A Whole New Mind) notes that he likes to highlight advertising that is emotionally intelligent (i.e., it either encourages empathy on the part of the viewer or demonstrates empathy for his or her situation), this one falls into the category of advertising that just “shocks and awe(s) us into thinking — and occasionally into action.”

I view it from a slightly different perspective, as someone who has embraced a goal of identifying ways that we can “subtract the obvious and add the meaningful” in business and our personal lives.  I can imagine DC Metro officials listening to their agency pitch this ad and saying, “you want to use a picture of what?” in our new campaign.

It’s bold.  It eliminates the obvious (statistics or a reminder that there are rules against eating on the trains) and gets right to the meaningful.

We need more of that in our writing — visceral images that make a clear and compelling point.

‘Creative confidence’ trumps historical indicators of future career success

Photo: Associated Press

As one group of students prepare to leave college and another batch of high-school seniors prepare to take their place, the importance of technical knowledge takes center stage.  Whether you’re talking about undergraduate or post-grad admission offices or potential employers, GPAs and test scores that demonstrate students’ abilities to get the one “right” answer are seen as the primary determinant of future potential.

David Kelley — the IDEO chairman, not the legendary creator of great TV dramas — recently energized the Stanford d.school during the opening of the design school’s new building by arguing that while technical knowledge has its place, it is far more important to teach our future leaders how to work on solving challenging problems where nobody knows the answer.  As Bob Sutton, a Stanford d.school professor who attended the speech explains it, the Stanford d.school teaches creative confidence — “the ability to keep pushing forward, observing the world and the people in it, identifying unmet needs, brainstorming solutions, and trying to develop prototypes that work and failing forward through the disconcerting process.”   He went on to say that the d.school process — which I discussed in a January post on its publication of the Bootcamp Bootleg — encourages people to “have the energy and will to keep pushing forward, to be undaunted when ideas don’t work, to keep trying new ideas, and even when the deadline for the project comes and they do not have  a decent solution, to believe that if they just had another few days, they would have come up with a great solution.”

Kelley has added a great personal-branding phrase to our lexicon.  Even without the benefit of a Stanford d.school education, I think there are a lot of people with have struggled to describe a similar skill set on a resume or interview without the benefit of the “creative confidence” phrase.   It’s a skill that many displaced corporate executives are using as they look at consulting or 1099 contract work, whether they use the phrase in the sales process or not.

But Kelley’s Not Alone In This

Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel imagined what he’d say if asked to speak to this year’s class of graduating seniors in a posting on the Huffington Post.  He also speaks of looking beyond the GPA and the job that awaits and judging oneself on a different set of criteria that mirrors this concept of creative confidence:

“What matters, and this is the heart of what I want to say today, is not how I might assess what you have done, or how your professors graded you, or what your friends and family might say, or even how a professional school or employer is going to view you, but rather how you would now evaluate yourself.

I wonder if you have thought to do this as yet, to measure yourself by standards that you would have to justify and explain, not to us, but only to the man or woman in the mirror. Not only are you the only one in a position to make a full and candid assessment, but you are the one to whom the assessment ultimately matters.”

He goes on to list some questions that might help in that self-assessment; most focus on the intangible.  It’s a right-brain approach, which as Daniel Pink and others have argued in recent years is taking on increasing importance over the fact-based left-brain emphasis that has driven business for many decades.

All this resonated with me because I believe creative confidence is a more elegant way — with a bit more structure — of saying Bulldog Simplicity.  I believe schools and corporations both need to spend more time focusing on developing creative confidence.  And for those who have it, they need to spend more time documenting it as a skill and how it enables them to make a difference in their companies’ or clients’ success.

Follow eight simple strategies for marketing success

What tools are in your Marketing Swiss Army Knife?

A few days ago,  someone asked me to explain what made me a “good marketer.”  I had never heard the question phrased quite that way before and stumbled through an answer.

Later on, I realized I built a class around that very question 11 years ago.  So I headed down to the basement and pulled out the class handout.  We had spent more than three months asking that very question of some of the best marketing minds in the bank and organizing their answers into what turned out to be eight categories.

Times change; economies ebb and flow.  Millions of trees have died in the search for answers to that question.  But the answer never really changes.  I won’t list all the tactics that made up the bulk of the class, but here are the principles, tweaked a bit to apply to everyone:

  1. Always remember that we’re in business to (Fill in the Blank). In our case, it was Make Good Loans.  For others, it might be Sell Computers, Attract New Donors or Drive Traffic to Your Website.
  2. Be absolutely committed to knowing everything about your Target Audience. We were affinity marketers who worked with alumni associations, sports teams, professional groups, and a host of other partners.  The most successful marketers went beyond being credit-card experts to being experts on their groups and the group’s constituents.  That’s more difficult for marketers with a broader target audience, which makes No. 3 even more important.
  3. Everything begins with the “list” (or audience). Having a great product doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know where to find the buyer.  It’s OK to have multiple lists with different messages.
  4. Design compelling offers with a simple creative message. Two of the most important messages here were Offer is More Than Price and Your Great List Won’t Mean Much if the Offer Isn’t Clear and Valued by the Customer.
  5. Try lots of things.  Test in a disciplined manner… Basically, remember that if there’s no control there’s no test and behavior is more important than opinion.
  6. …And keep what works.  Measure your results. You need to share successes and failures.  I was reading a book the other night where the author was criticizing another author who had focused only on his big successes.  We often learn more from our big failures…and those lessons learned are even more important if we share them with others.
  7. Challenge everything. Never stop trying to make things better.  Pay attention to the details. Part of this is about a commitment to “publishing.”   I doubt there’s any such thing as the “perfect test.”   Get to market quickly.  Mail less more often.  Make sure the affinity is “in” the package.
  8. Spend wisely.  It’s real money. This may have been a bigger deal back in 1999 when marketing money flowed more freely, but this is really about putting some analysis behind your decision to test.  What do you hope to achieve and what’s the cost in your best-case and worst-case scenarios?

I have followed these principles over the years, and made sure that the people who worked for me did the same.  And that should have been my answer when I was asked what makes me a good marketer.  I’m disciplined and I make sure I know my audience.

Did we miss something that doesn’t fit into one of these categories?  Please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on these strategies in future posts.

Taglines: Is yours a home run?

Tyler chose his college on Thursday.  He’s headed to Washington, D.C. this fall to American University and its terrific film school.

At the risk of oversimplifying, American has a great tagline — Media That Matters — and a group of passionate people who believe the mantra and communicate it consistently.

From the academic counselor to the professors to whom he spoke to the School of Communication’s materials, the message is consistent and to the point.  Had I had my work hat on, I’ll bet I could have stopped anyone involved in the Film and Media Arts department and heard the theme (or a tight variation on it). 

Tyler wears his heart on his sleeve…and his eyes don’t lie, and both his mother and I knew the moment he made his decision.  It was when he heard “Media That Matters.”  He wants to make a difference.  He wants to make documentaries and touch people’s lives.  His path could change over the next four years, but I kinda doubt it.  The medium could change — film, Internet, or something else — but the direction and passion won’t.

As good as the tagline is, American backs it up with strong supporting messages…a great story, if you will.  Where better than Washington if you want to get involved in effecting change? If you’re interested in documentaries and environmental film, we have Centers devoted to those disciplines and we work closely with National Geographic, Discovery, the Smithsonian, and so on.  We have professors who work in the business and are looking for passionate students looking for experience.  You get the idea.

Media That Matters.  Three words that resonate with a kid like Tyler.  Three words that tell a story.  That ignite passion.  That change lives.

What’s the tagline for your business or your job search?   Is it simple enough?  Does it tell your target audience who you are and what you do?  Do you support it with all your other marketing materials, from your resume or company fact sheet and collateral to your LinkedIn profile?  And perhaps most important, does your tagline tell the person who’s reading it how you’re going to “scratch their itch” (i.e., solve their problem or address their needs)?

If it doesn’t, it won’t matter how terrific you actually are.  You just may finish second to someone who gets it right.

Sticky presentations require a great story

Syracuse squeezed itself out of the competition for Tyler

My son Tyler has narrowed his college choices to two.   How he got there gets to the heart of the importance of “sticky” presentations and why a two-day trip to two schools put one on the finalist list and took one pretty much off his radar. 

We started at Syracuse on a chilly October morning.  This part sticks with me because the presenter tried to make light of the weather from the moment we hit our seats.  Maybe it’s just me (and keep in mind, I actually went to the school and grew up in Buffalo) but cold weather should not be on the list of key selling points.

The presentation was dry, and the presenter was not particularly dynamic (although she seemed very nice).  She started with a video featuring famous and semi-famous alumni and appeared to have been made by an advertising firm that didn’t realize it was talking to teenagers.  Did Admissions forget that its communications schools is a selling point and that it has not one but two solid film schools?  Why not have a student film competition to highlight the school’s strengths. 

The rest of the presentation was more informative than memorable, with no real sales focus (I seem to remember a lot of bullets).  The worst part came as she dismissed the crowd by school for individual sessions.  She’d call out the name of the school (e.g., Newhouse) and then start highlighting the merits of the program as her target audience struggled to their feet, grabbed their bags, and headed out the door.

The tour wasn’t much better and I honestly think Tyler would have crossed Syracuse off his list then and there, had I not been along to talk about concerts on the Quad, Dance Marathon, games at the Dome, and late-night snack runs to Marshall Street.

So we left Syracuse and headed to D.C. and our tour of American University.

Things were different there.  A 20-something admissions person (and alum) talked about her experiences.  Trick or treating at embassies.  She illustrated her point about the high percentage of international students by talking about political science classes on Middle Eastern politics with students who lived through bombings and fighting in the streets.  She actually made the pursuit of dual majors interesting.   Last week — yes, five months later — I asked Tyler what he remembered and the kid who can’t remember to turn off his lights or stop texting while doing homework rattled off a number of memories from the presentation.

American has been the leader in the clubhouse since that visit.  A recent visit to Drexel made it a two-horse race for a similar reason: The head of the film department sat down with Tyler to talk about her vision for the program, talking about her ability to “see beyond the curve” of the road.  Once again, passion carried the day.  She also had a great story — no deck, but a great ability to communicate the path — and that, combined with outstanding facilities and equipment and the willingness to put a camera in his hands from Day One, means it’s now a two-horse race.

I’ve posted here before about a story-driven, bullet-light approach to PowerPoints.  Dan Heath is in Fast Company magazine this month talking about “sticky” presentations and has some great resources on his website (links are in the FC article).  And both Nancy Duarte (slide:ology) and Garr Reynolds (Presentation Zen) have great presentation-centered blogs and are passionate advocates of storytelling.

I suspect many of you have had similar college-admissions experiences.  Take some time to think about your story, your audience, and your message.  What will you do differently the next time you have a presentation that’s designed to capture someone’s imagination or ignite their passion?