Posted on Aug 22, 2012

Telling a Story

It’s common to hear marketers talk about brands telling stories to connect with their fans. Typically this manifests itself as some sort of brand personality / legend / myth that people who associate the brand buy into. I think that’s just swell, but I think we can do better. I think we can create brands that help our fans tell better stories. Let me show you what I mean.

If you’ve met me, you know I’m a t-shirt (& shorts & sandals) kinda guy. But not just any old t-shirts, I happen to have a small collection of favorite sources, one of which is Ugmonk. Ugmonk’s shirts are almost all some sort of typographical or simple visual design. They also seem to really resonate with people.

Perhaps my favorite Ugmonk design, “And then I woke up,” features a giant ampersand. For some reason this prompts people to stop me in the hallway and ask “and…” Sometimes I show them the tiny little print at the bottom of the ampersand that reads “then I woke up” but most often I tell them that the shirt is about collaboration. And that’s what the shirt is about, to me. I’ve made up my own story around it. How when I’m wearing it I like to stand between people in meetings to see if they get the message that we should all be working together. How I think it’s great for brainstorming where you want people to try to add on to your idea and make it better.

And I’ve made up stories like this for most of the Ugmonk shirts I own.

For % (just a giant percent sign on an orange shirt) I say it’s about responsive web design and fluid grids (another topic I like to evangelize about.)

For “Yes” I say that I wear it when I seek to get and give agreement on something but if I want to be skeptical I wear its alter-ego “No.

Mountains is about the fact that nothing is impossible – if we work hard enough we can, in fact, move mountains.

Path to Nowhere” is about meetings.

7 days a week” is about putting in the time to make something really great.

And finally “There’s more to life” reminds me that rarely are we doing truly meaningful work (saving lives / making the world better) so let’s just try to take ourselves a little less seriously (and try to find more time to do truly meaningful work.)

The point being that Jeff Sheldon (the designer behind Ugmonk) has created a product that doesn’t just serve its primary purpose (keeping the wearer looking damn good) but goes beyond to serve a higher emotional purpose and can actually embody many of the wearer’s beliefs as well. And the best part is that we can both own the same shirt and have totally different stories to tell about it (maybe mountains to you is about growing up snowboarding and staying in touch with nature…)

Which of your favorite brands or products help you tell your story?

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Posted on Nov 18, 2010

We Want to Stop Talking and Get to Work

Edward Boches has a great post over on his blog entitled Where will the new generation of digital talent choose to work
?
that was inspired by his recent visit to Boulder Digital Works. As a member of the first-ever class to graduate from BDW I wanted to expand upon a few of the points Edward makes and begin to answer just what this new generation wants from an employer. (by the way, don’t think that generation implies age in this case – my class included members fo Gen Y, Gen X and even a Baby Boomer so it has less to do with age than mindset)

At the end of the day, the bottom line is that now is the time to try, do, make and refine these approaches because there has been a lot of talk for a long time.

In a nutshell, the places this new generation want to work are the places that are doing (or at least trying) these things, not just talking about them.

Collaboration
Most offices aren’t set up to encourage collaboration in the most basic ways. The furniture, the cubes, the flexibility of the floor plan, availability of conference rooms, whiteboards, etc, let alone the culture. It takes both to really make things work. You have to have people thinking in new ways combined with an environment that fosters collaboration to really make it work.

A Seat at the Table
See the previous point, we’re all in this together so let’s forget titles and rank and solve some problems.
Change won’t happen from the bottom up or the top down alone. It must be unilateral and it must be sincere.

A Challenge
Give us hard problems to solve and give us the resources / support / freedom to take them on and watch what happens.

To Matter
We want to create positive change in the world. We want to be working on things that make the world better. If these aren’t your clients, well, sorry.

To Iterate and Invent
Inspiration is perishable. Act now before it’s too late. (line lifted from the amazing book Rework from 37 Signals which describes a lot of the tenants of a great place to work)

We want to quit sitting in meetings and conferences and start building / learning / making something.

To Be Our Own Clients
All those ideas an agency has that are “so good” yet the client won’t buy them? There’s no reason today why you can’t actually make them happen and maybe even profit off of them. In my opinion, the agency of the future should be getting at least 50% of its revenue from non-client sources (i.e. software it creates, products, other services it provides.)

To Be T-Shaped People (and work with those who are)
Account people should be able to code (be literate at a minimum.) Coders should know strategy. Strategy should be creative. Etc, etc. Be cross disciplinary and grow your people to be better every day.

To Understand and Start with, the User
We’re all practicing Human Centered Design whether we’re making a print ad, a website or a TV spot. Shift your thinking and watch the effectiveness shift upward as well.

What else did I miss? Let’s collaborate below in the comments.

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Posted on Nov 7, 2010

The Forgetful Tastemakers

I was talking to a good friend today and I mentioned Instagram to her as something she should check out. She thought it was really cool but she also felt like she’d missed hearing about it. In her words “I feel like a late-ard.” Somehow we’ve reached this place where everyone has to be on the cutting edge of everything. I’m not sure that’s a good place to be. Being aware of what’s happening in your industry / environment is pretty important. But I don’t think any one of us is on top of everything. We all have a lens / filter we view the world through. There are inherently some blind spots in that lens.

That’s why it’s so important to collaborate. To talk to the guy down the hall. The girl on the 7th floor. The dude in the Starbucks line. Everyone pays attention to different details. And the only way to hear about those details is to talk with a diverse set of people. People from inside, outside and around your industry / point of view.

So next time you wonder why you haven’t heard of something, don’t ask yourself why you didn’t find out about it yourself but rather ask yourself who you’re not talking to–where’s your blind spot and how do you find an interesting human to fill it?

This blog post started as a poem for some reason. So, as a bonus to you, here it is:

The Forgetful Tastemakers

we are the tastemakers
we will tell you what you want
we heard about it before you did

we are younger
we are sexier
we are faster

we drive cooler cars
we wear tighter jeans
we listen to bands that don’t exist yet

we have a beta invite
we read the article first
and we read it on our unreleased prototype device

we only follow one person and he doesn’t follow you
we already blogged about it
we code in HTML 7

we forgot to listen
we forgot to stay ignorant
we forgot the user

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