Archive for the ‘The 3rd Button’ Category

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Assume You’ll Only Get One Shot

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

“Having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts.

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If we don’t have the time to get it right up front, how is it that we find the time to fix it later? If there is a single message I hope to impart to you it’s this: don’t say anything, don’t do anything, until you’re convinced that you have everything right. Don’t execute a communications campaign (spending big money on ad space or time) unless you’re sure of your strategy and have perfected your tactics and tools.

Is your advertisement going to cut through the noise? If not, tell your agency the plan is on hold (as is some portion of their compensation) until it’s ready. The same goes for all areas of marketing communication. Needless to say, this approach will also add significant incentive for your communication partners to get it right.

Here’s the important part – the difficult part: Have the nerve to hold back until you feel the campaign/plan is perfect- until you have no reservations about it. There will be forces pushing for you to give the green light. Resist until you are ready.

Which seems like the more intelligent choice: To launch an acceptable campaign in May or launch a great campaign in July? It’s the difference of being invisible or getting noticed in the real world. It’s worth the wait. Try thinking of these as binary choices, between a 0 and a 1, because that’s closer to the reality of market impact than any incrementalist model.

Real marketing communication always does better when it moves from blunt instrument to scalpel. Blunt instruments need too much force behind them to work, whereas a scalpel just needs a perfect cutting edge. Start sharpening, and don’t cut until you find that edge.

Stay tuned for more from Austin McGhie, head of Sterling Strategy, on aligning your strategy with creative execution.

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Happy 10 Years, Design Matters!

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

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A decade before the so-called golden age of podcasting… Debbie Millman launched the world’s first podcast about design, armed with nothing more than an idea, a telephone line, and ample doggedness.”

This week we celebrate the 10th Birthday for Design Matters with Debbie Millman: a series of sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, always inspiring podcasts on design and the world affected by design.

Above: a portion of the poster Debbie designed, celebrating 10 YEARS of Design Matters

>>click here to keep celebrating

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The Dollar Value of Creativity

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Here’s the thing about strategy. The people who matter, your customers, never see it.

Real people experience your product or service- the see, feel and touch your tactics- but they never, ever see your strategy. The corollary of this observation is that it can only be great strategy if it makes for great tactics. This one’s worth repeating:

It’s only great strategy if it makes for great tactics.

When I worked in the ad business, every now and then I’d hear people both inside and outside the agency say something along the lines of “Yeah, I know the strategy’s a bit flat, but the creative team will bring it to life.” That is dangerously lazy and wrong thinking.

Great positioning strategies are creative in their own right. When the strategy is great, it ends up being something fun and easy to communicate just as an idea. You will know that idea will provoke, maybe even disrupt. That idea will demand a response from the target audience- even when it’s still a raw idea, before it becomes a beautifully finished piece of communication. When you have a great strategy, you can already see the advertising, events and promotions falling into place.

When someone in a long-ago meeting suggested positioning 7-Up as “The Uncola,” everyone there knew that a breakthrough had been made, and that powerful communication programs would be an inevitable outcome. Similarly, Sterling Brands helped the Dove brand team create the “Real Beauty” strategy that has guided their brand so effectively, and Ogilvy & Mather (and others) created the communications programs that made it count.

Great positions are themselves marketable ideas. If you can’t immediately see the path from a positioning strategy to its tactics, you’ve probably got some work left to do on the strategy itself.

Creativity has greater dollar value in the marketplace today than ever before. The creativity that later lends itself to effective tactics, to the amplified effects of people sharing your ads around the Internet, to an event or experience that feels ‘just right’ to your target audience- all begins in your positioning. And in an Internet-based global economy, creativity has become the competitive differentiator.

For brands this means that you should seek out partners and people who are truly creative, but also smart enough to get strategy. They are few and far in between, so treat them well. They are the few who will make a difference in this new marketplace – and that difference is only going to get bigger.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy

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Attention: The New Brand Currency

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

“The only factor in becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention.”

- Kevin Kelly, Wired

Ken Sacharin wrote an entire book on this topic and its importance today certainly merits a longer exposition than my own limited attention here makes possible. To me, his most important observation is this: Yesterday’s marketing model assumed attention and focused on persuasion. Today’s marketing model cannot assume attention and thus must find a much more subtle and interactive form of persuasion.

We are attention challenged- now more than ever. Our view of the marketplace is more cluttered than ever before. Over the past fifteen to twenty years, the number of brands on US supermarket shelves has quadrupled and the number of advertising messages we’re exposed to has more than doubled. We’ve gone from a few television channels to more than a thousand program options. Thanks to the Internet and telecommunications in general, information is now ubiquitous. It is in the air we breathe. It is as available in Kuala Lumpur as it is in Kansas City.

Entertainment as a result has gone personal. When surrounded by screens and endless content choice, you build your own world. As a result, advertising messages struggle to find their place.

Many marketers already get this, but some don’t. For example, some marketers will still test their TV spots by bringing a bunch of people into a room to watch a clutter reel containing their ad. No one should expect this technique can in any way replicate today’s reality. It does not in any way consider the cluttered personal media environment in the equally cluttered life of a real person.

So consider another way.

Attention is the currency of marketing, and this currency is both hard to get and hard to keep once you get it. Worse, others are fighting you for it. This mean that today’s marketers need to be a whole lot more creative than their predecessors. It’s a challenge, but it’s a lot more fun than road blocking the Big Three networks with a simple broadcast.

We’ll explore some of this new creativity in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Austin McGhie is Sterling Brand’s head of Strategy

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Sterling Buzz…

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

We’re happy to announce two exciting wins for Sterling Brands and Debbie Millman in the Mobius Awards!

Our Design team has won First Place for the 75th Anniversary Nestle Toll House packaging design, and our head of Design, Debbie Millman has won first place for her book: Self-Portrait As Your Traitor. Additionally, Debbie has been nominated for best of show!

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For more info and updates click here: http://www.mobiusawards.com/

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What’s Your Back-Story?

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Almost all my thoughts on culture apply most completely to organizations in which the company and brand are one. But what about the consumer packaged goods category, where organizations are often built around multiple brands? After all, this is the birthplace of brand marketing. Such organizations are driven by management teams, R&D and marketing, not necessarily by the mission of a single and committed business entrepreneur.

Even here, I think there’s a cultural opportunity, but one better characterized as the creation of a back-story.

Consider a Hollywood character actor asking the writer: “What’s my back-story?” This question and answer helps the actor understand the role and properly position the character, an entire life might be created for her to draw from to create that perfect three-second shot. The ultimate goal is that we viewers, after a brief glimpse of a face or hearing a few lines, unconsciously assume an entire life and personality.

A classic example: Lexus and Infiniti

When Lexus and Infiniti were created, only one company was built on a back-story. The Lexus back-story was forged on an obsession with quality. The dealer and ownership experience was built upon the idea of an organization totally committed to quality and attention to detail, and the advertising drove that quality back-story home. Suddenly, established, venerable brands such as BMW and Mercedes discovered that many of the rational underpinnings (i.e., excuses for an emotional and ego-driven brand choice) they relied on to sell cars had been swept out from under them by Lexus.

Infiniti, on the other hand, failed to build a coherent and differentiated back-story. Instead, it created a Zen-like ad campaign, complete with rocks and trees. It was a storyline with no depth, a storyline few could understand. From the start, and despite a great product, Infiniti was destined to finish second in this race.

Cases in the CPG world

In the world of packaged goods, Crest created a successful back-story incorporating medical research and dentist approval. Tylenol did something similar, effectively using hospital and doctor recommendations as the back-story. Snapple marketed its (true) back-story as a small, passionate company as seen through the eyes and personality of its receptionist. Häagen-Dazs created the illusion of European ice cream. And every now and again, Gatorade trots out its real back-story, reinforcing its authenticity as the very first sports drink, one that was created for the University of Florida football team (the Gators) in the 1960s.

So what’s your backstory?

Use this question to give your product or service added depth, texture and personality. And while your back-story needn’t be completely factual, it must ring true. Think of it as the equivalent of Hollywood films that are “based on real-life events.” Not only will a back-story strengthen your brand, it will give your marketers the meat of a story to work with when talking about your brand. Your backstory is the anchor of all your communications. It makes talking about your brand that much simpler, and for consumers, it gives them a real reason to believe.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling’s Strategy team.

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Keep It Real

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Welcome to 2015! We are going to usher in the new year with a few of Austin’s thought on effectively communication your Position. Let’s dive in with a lesson on keeping it real.

People don’t deal well with concepts. They prefer reality. Brand positioning is a good thing so long as it isn’t entirely conceptual. Instead, a brand position must be real, and it must be brought to life through the product or service itself. If there are multiple products under a brand umbrella, find the catalyst- the one that best exemplifies the position and makes it real to the audience.

All this is especially true if you want to change the way people see you. Yeah, maybe you can convince them you’ve changed just by telling them so, but wouldn’t you be more certain of their response if you could present some evidence?

When Oldsmobile told you it was “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” the unspoken response was “Um…yeah, it actually is.” Oldsmobile had a catchy line, a good communication strategy, but didn’t have a product to back up its claims. Cadillac, on the other hand, didn’t need to say a whole lot about its new and younger outlook. It simply showed you the Escalade and- perhaps just as important- who was driving it.

Consider these additional examples:

-Target doesn’t claim to be hip. It just is. No amount of claiming to be chic can substitute for real-life presence of top designers and brands in its stores.

-Sun Microsystems may have been “the dot in dot com,” but it was the Java programming language that brought the company’s Internet-centricity to life, getting Sun into thousands of offices where it was subsequently able to sell a lot of profitable servers.

-You can say you’re in the entertainment business and that intuitive design is important to you. Or you can be Apple and simply introduce the iPod. And then follow it up with the iPhone.

-Motorola called itself Moto and tried to act very, very hip, but it didn’t work until the company launched the Razr. (Unfortunately, although the phone looked great, it didn’t work well, so success was fleeting.)

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a real product or service that brings strategy to life is worth millions of marketing communications dollars.

And lately:

The recent increase in ‘environmental branding’ is a testimony to the benefits of keeping it real. Niketown, Levi’s, Disney and Apple stores are all great examples of a brand being brought to life in a controlled retail experience. ‘Pop-up stores’ can also showcase a brand for the same purpose. That purpose, that focus, is almost entirely on creating a great brand experience.

So keep it real. Never forget that a real product and a real brand experience are generally worth more than all the words you write and all the marketing communication money you spend.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy

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Like to Watch

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Watch what I do; ignore what I say.

Watch your customer. Just stand around and quietly observe. Retail expert Paco Underhill (a man worth talking to) has made a very good living out of simply watching people shop, asking a few intelligent questions, mixing in a healthy dose of experience and intuition, and forming conclusions.

Beware of the Hawthorne effect (i.e. once people know they’re being observed they change their behavior). Only after you’ve formed a sense of how people behave should you start asking questions. How their answers match (and don’t match) their behavior is where insights often reside. Why do they say one thing and do another? What can you do to take advantage of this attitudinal gap?

For years, consumer research told Kellogg’s that our customers religiously read the nutritional label when selecting cereal. Does that smell right to you? The real-world approach was to stand in a few aisles and watch the process. Not surprisingly, very few shoppers took the time to even scan the nutritional content. But, of course, they want to be seen as good consumers and parents, so they tell us that they did.

Combined with the notion of “brand as experience,” I think there’s a lot to be gained by regularly watching your customers walk through the experience you’ve created. Watch and learn.

In the same line, television ratings are also a joke. The important question to ask is not “What did you watch,” but “What did you do while you watched?” As we all know, viewers typically flick the channel changer at commercial breaks, making that program’s rating irrelevant to whoever placed ads during that break. These real behaviors matter.

As they search for insight and opportunity, marketers are even daring to go where no one has gone before- into the bathroom. Consider the highly successful extension of Mr. Clean by Procter and Gamble. Ever impressive in their observational work, P&G made sure to observe people first-hand. Researchers were reportedly amazed to learn that people dreaded cleaning the bathroom. They discovered that some people even cleaned their bathrooms in raincoats and boots, just to avoid contact with that specific filth.

Even with a preconceived idea that people dislike cleaning, there was absolutely nothing like seeing the real thing. As a result, Mr. Clean MagicReach was created and the painful experience was alleviated.

So, watch and listen to real people before you interfere with that reality by asking your questions- as insightful as they might be. Get the real story. Read or listen to Paco Underhill for more detail and lots of inspiration on this subject.

As the old aphorism says, look before you leap.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy – stay tuned for more of his thoughts on the Customer, Positioning and the Future of all this stuff coming to the 3rd Button in the New Year.

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Sterling Buzz…

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

We’re happy to announce Sterling’s win for several of our latest designs in the American Graphic Design Awards!

Click here to see all of our winning designs. For questions and more information on any of Sterling’s designs please reach out to us here.

DVX Identity Design for American Standard - Designers: Kim Berlin, Michael Dabbs, Isabel Babcock

DVX Identity Design for American Standard – Designer Team: Kim Berlin, Michael Dabbs, Isabel Babcock

Clutch-N-Clean design for Kimberly Clark - Design Team: Stephanie Krompier and Gabrielle Cuoccio

Clutch-N-Clean design for Kimberly Clark – Design Team: Stephanie Krompier and Gabrielle Cuoccio

Hershey's Miniatures for The Hershey Company - Design Team: Maliva Baker, Marisa Balmori, Michelle Lee, Michelle Hoffman

Hershey’s Miniatures for The Hershey Company – Design Team: Maliva Baker, Marisa Balmori, Michelle Lee, Michelle Hoffman

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Now UP! on Design Matters…

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Check out the latest episode of Design Matters where Debbie chats with Ji Lee, communication designer at Facebook and famous creator of the Bubble Project.

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Learn more about Ji Lee and listen to the podcast here<<