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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- …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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?