Why is it that simple is so incredibly complex?

You’ve probably heard the phrase: “Keep it simple stupid” or “KISS”.

There’s been books and classes and conferences and the like all about the simple topic of simplicity. But isn’t it so much easier said than done? Just the simple fact that there has to be a phrase dedicated to reminding people of the idea sheds some light on just how COMPLEX it keeping it simple can actually be.  

You’ve probably experienced this irony in action just as I have. In most tasks it is much much easier to add than subtract. Think of these examples:

You’re rewritting your resume – how painful is it to delete a single bullet point?  You’re building a website – isn’t it easier to justify to yourself that adding more content is better than reducing? You’re a service business – you want to say you’re pretty good at everything because that’s the only way to attract customers, right? 

So why exactly is simple so complex? I believe it’s because trimming down options, cutting distractions and taking a stand creates doubt and concern that you’ve made the right decision. Yet being disciplined enough to keep things simple is exactly what makes some companies more successful than others.

One example comes to mind: Chipotle Grill. How many main items do they have on their entire menu? Maybe 6 or 7 including the meat options. Yet Chipotle’s growth rate over the last year was staggering compared to the industry average. Keeping it simple has allowed them to focus on what really matters to their brand – quality food, transparent and local sourcing, and a business model that keeps the brand promise strong.

I hate to always use Apple as a gold-standard example, but here again Apple is a leader in simplicity. They say very little and their message is simple, yet that is why it is so profound.

Simplicity. It is hard to do, but it is what seperates those who are great from all the rest. On my (probably too long) New Year’s Resolution list this year will be continuing to learn how to be confident in keeping things simple. Will that be part of yours? 

KISS – Keep it simple….smart!

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a marketing lesson from the backseat of a taxi cab

Think you can learn a universal marketing tenant from a taxi cab driver? I didn’t either until I snapped the photo below.

In the backseat of an otherwise inconspicuous looking taxi cab sits this hand-written note: “All airport trips 5am to 10am free coffee & doughnuts….”

When I entered this cab little did  know that I was about witness to one of the most relevant and down-to-earth marketing lessons of my short career. In the over saturated and entirely commoditized Chicago taxi business, this driver found a powerful (yet easy) way to differentiate himself by offering his passengers a sweet little incentive for calling him directly.  

Does it work?

Well, according to the driver, he has won taxi cab of the year several times and has a list of regulars who call him habitually for trips to O’Hare and their french crullers.

His lesson to us all: No matter what it is you do, there is always a way to differentiate!

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Samuel Adams feeling the pinch

Imagine this…

You’ve spent the better half of 25 years building a company from scratch. After years of hard work and dedication you accomplished remarkable things and built an entire new category that others follow with you. Every step of the way you were an underdog who stuck it to the establishment. And you were successful.

What if that very success was going to be your downfall? What if you’ve become the establishment?

Such distress is what The Boston Beer Company’s founder Jim Koch must feel like as he walks into a grocery store and witnesses the vice Samuel Adams, his pride and joy, is in. In front of him are 20 consumers reaching for a 6-pack of Miller Lite  because it’s cheaper and 20 others reading the label of the newest DogFish Head seasonal brew because it is “craft authentic.”

Growth and prestige right now is in hyper-local craft labels, but with its succes, Samuel Adams (which is really the original craft brew) has grown far too big to be considered part of that same family. Herein lies the precarious situation: sales are flat, volume is down and for the first time in a long time its growth is well below both domestic light beers it has been competing against and the craft brews it helped create. 

As evidenced below, the graph measures Sam Adams volume (red columns) against its volume growth rate and compares that to the volume growth of the Domestic Super Premium/Craft Brew  and Light Beer segments. You’ll notice that after a great run, in 2009 the bottom fell out. 

What’s the solution? According to Sam Adams new TV – be big, but not that big.

The new TV ad titled “growing up small” touts the company as the biggest of the small guys, taking a complete 180* turn from its recent plans to stone the giants.

Now, its trying to skip school with the cool kids. On the website the message adds: “Although Samuel Adams is currently the largest American owned brewery, we only represent less than 1% of the U.S. beer market but are also the leader in the craft brewing industry.” Hey, we’re big, but we’re not that big.

From the numbers it’s clear that Sam Adams is stuck in the middle with both sides acting as a vice, and the by my guess the trends are showing Sam Adams’ leadership that the bigger danger is coming from the companies it didn’t even know existed 5 years ago.

Given the facts, acting smaller (and stopping banging its head against the big boys) might just be the right way to go. Given that we are in an age of transparency and authenticity, I just don’t know if anyone is going to believe it. Looking forward to updating this chart next year to see how it all plays out.

…the irony…Check out this picture from a restaurant in Downtown Chicago.

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Apple: never first, always revolutionary

Update September 8, 2010: See this article at CrowdSpring: http://blog.crowdspring.com/2010/08/marketing-values/?utm_source=Test&utm_campaign=c06cf65d00-08SEP10_newsletter&utm_medium=email

It seconds the argument below that Apple succeeds without being first and adds that at the core of its marketing is a clear set of values. 


August 4, 2010: I came to this conclusion last night after seeing another one of the new iPhone 4 commercials, see if you agree: Apple is the absolute BEST in the industry at launching new products, and putting sticky ideas into the marketplace. No one is better, which is amazing (and maybe telling) when you realize that their innovations are almost never actually first. 

iPod, iPhone, iPad…Never the first, but always the revolutionary.  

Watch a few Apple commercials in a row. You can literally feel their incisive focus and the stickiness of their message.

The iPhone 4’s face time: This new work is just absolutely incredible. It is real. It is relevant. It is laced with emotional drivers and shortly after it begins you forget you’re watching advertising (yes, you get it, I like it).

But beyond the execution elements, what is truly special about this campaign is it’s focus and simplicity. It heralds one product feature that takes on revolutionary status (but remember it wasn’t the first product in market with a two-way camera, just the most revolutionary). It is now the most successful product launch in Apple history with more than 3 million sold in 3 weeks. Never the first, but always the most purposeful.

Apple and TBWA\Chiat\Day’s marvelous advertising shows the best thinking in product launches and feature introductions available today; a lesson for us all about focus, impact and sticky ideas.  

Congrats to them both.

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the truest insight into human nature is the power of a great story

This World Cup has proven a couple of things:

1) Soccer players have an incredible intolerance for contact – seeming to fall to the ground in complete agony for every small infraction.

2) The Vuvuzela (that annoying plastic horn from South Africa)  is now literally the most despised invention of all time.

3) And lastly,  it is not fact or insight that compels a marketer to stand out, but instead the quality in which their story is told.  

As a schooled account planner, it falls upon me and others like me to identify the F-Me facts (credit DraftFCB for that terminology) and mind-blowing insights  that support effective communications. And so, as is the nature of planning, by uncovering this information we give our client and their business a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Something we assume, maybe out of pride or vanity, is that the fact or insight we uncover is intrinsically novel, proprietary, ownable, and SUPER IMPORTANT to the process… and in most instances, I hope you’d agree, that is entirely true.

But this World Cup provided an alternative and fresh perspective. In a controlled environment like the recent soccer championship you might conclude that no fact was completely novel for marketers. No data point was proprietary, and all the insights into soccer culture and sport history were easily had; in essence the marketers were competing on a completely level playing field. That almost never happens. 

In the past four weeks, because of this controlled environment, it became easier than ever to identify the true creative giants in our industry, those whose creative brilliance showed in their ability to outstage the rest in crafting compelling, engaging, and totally captivating stories.

As compelling as the nations on the soccer field were in creating drama (sometimes of their falsified theatrics, like a player falling down even when noone touched him), so too were the best advertisements of the World Cup in developing heroes who were endearing. We rooted for them. We held our breath. And in the end we were captivated by their story. This World Cup should remind us that there is no greater insight into human nature than the power of a great story, and the ability to tell this story in a compelling fashion is what separates the creatively gifted from the mediocre.  

In the end, it is not data or facts or insights alone that make our clients stand out, but how captivating and fascinating their story is told that is the difference.

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Cool innovation? Or just a load of hot air? – The Dyson Air Multiplier

Last week while on a quick Bed Bath and Beyond excursion I ran across an other-worldly-looking contraption from Dyson. The Air Multiplier (seen below) is being hailed the next big thing in fans. There are several reasons this new design elicits a “woh” , the most apparent of course is that it has no blades! Cool.

Now I don’t normally think of fans as leading high-tech innovation, so I totally agree it is attention-grabing. But once the initial shock wears off, you realize that this thing is….just a fan.

It doesn’t have a portal to a new dimension, it doesn’t make your trash disappear, it is just a fan with no blades. And the marketing strategy definitely does not offer prospective buyers a strong reason to believe. The$299 check is steep.

Dyson is doing what it does best by “solving a problem that doesn’t really exist with a cool new product that has benefits that aren’t really clear.”  It tries to build the case that air buffetting (or choppiness) is a real problem and it’s bladeless design solves for it, but I find myself wondering what’s the point? When is the last time you were sitting in front of a fan and thought to yourself damn I wish my fan didn’t chop the air so much?

In this economy a high price tag without a clear problem to be solved and lack of salient benefits sounds like a failure waiting to happen. And in traditional marketing, one would say the Air Multiplier’s value equation (the traditional value = price paid/benefit received) really seems to be broken, and I wonder that it will ultimately be its demise. 

Thought a different way, this fan really could have been a godsend for parents with small children who’s curious fingers often get caught in fan blades. Maybe even designed with kids in mind (think any Nickelodeon character). Here the price paid is nothing compared to the benefit received and is much more in line with a strong unmet consumer need. Dyson mentions this benefit as an afterthought, but it does not seem to be crucial in the go-to-market strategy prefering to target techy early adopters. Too bad.

All I know is there’s no chance I would buy a $300 fan that blows a lot of hot hair. But who knows, maybe some people like to toss money to the wind… We shall see.

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Nike and Wieden have become Viral guru’s…i’m taking notes.

Maybe a week ago I said Nike’s new viral “Write the Future” (above) was the best ad I had ever seen….this comment stirred a little controversy. Others started citing other timeless ads (including this one from Apple that I like alot – Think Different.) I agree, “Think Different” is a great ad. I also think “League of Clutch” by Element 79 is a great ad. But Nike’s latest is brilliant from multiple angles, and it just keeps looking smarter and smarter everyday. Click here to see it’s first-week viral results –Viral Charts

Thinking about the creative in “Write the Future”, it is just plain special…It’s bold, yet subtle. Flashy, yet highly emotional. Purely entertaining, yet also grounded in a true insight into human nature.

On the other hand, it’s a brilliant business move as well. Nike is not the official sponsor of the world cup, but it is managing to capture the world cup buzz. It’s doing what Nike does best and aligning itself with not only star athletes and great players, but GLOBAL ICONS …that’s the best part…because “Write the Future” is multi-ethnic (for lack of a better word) it is the first viral to truly have worldwide appeal. It’s big…real big.

The video was watched 7.8 million times in the first week – a new record. The next closest? A measly 1+ million from Toyota.

Nike hit a grand slam, i mean, scored a huge goal with this one! Congrats!

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Domino’s Refresh

I did it…I caved…gave in…succumbed to millions of dollars of advertising pressure….and a hungry stomache.

I ordered Domino’s pizza on Sunday to test out their “all-new pizza recipe.” And I’m not alone. Domino’s same store sales are up 14% year on year.

See this chart from Adage:

I have to say it was pretty delicious, but what was interesting is that I was so intrigued to taste it I think I was predisposed to thinking it was going to be good before the first bite.

I had seen so many advertisements saying how much better it was I think I forgot what the old pizza tasted like altogether…so in this non-scientific test I was almost bound to agree – “Wow, this pizza really is better.”

It is an interesting case for those refreshing a brand and a product. If you tell someone enough that something is better will they really start to believe it before they even try? Is that the right way to communicate to the market?

Maybe…question is will I reorder? We’ll find out this weekend.

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Want to sell me a airline ticket? Start by figuring out where I might want to be!

If you’ve ever signed up for an airline’s email deals, then you’ve probably received something resembling this title:  “US Summer Flight Deals / Starting at $44 each way”. Sounds somewhat intriguing right? Just enough to click it open and give it a passing glance. I get emails like this almost everyday, from nearly every airline, yet not one has ever converted me to a sale. Why? Because none of them are offering anything remotely relevant.

Take a look at the picture I took of the email. You’ll notice flights from Lake Charles to Dallas? St. Louis to Washington? and on and on. But I live in Chicago and I don’t know anyone in Lake Charles or Dallas or Podunk, Oregon

In order for American Airlines to sell me this ticket, it would seem pretty logical to first, figure out where I’m coming from, and second, to figure out where I might want to go.

That’s the only ticket that has any chance of making the sale.

With the thousands of bits of information about us floating around cyberspace, let alone our credit card purchases, or any other data source, you would think an airline could figure out what airport each of us might fly out of and where we might be headed.  

Or, even better, forget expensive data gathering, why don’t they just take a Netflix approach and ask us where we might be interested in going this year. What are our favorite travel destinations? Family beaches or Exotic getaways? Then use our own preferences to offer relevant flight choices.

For me….California, check. Virginia, check. Lake Charles? no…cmon, really?

If they want to make a sale all they have to do is offer me a flight from where I am to where I might want to be.

Seems that simple to me. How about you?

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Your Ad in a Mixing Bowl

Ad placement = guilty by association (for better or for worse).

A really interesting perspective about the context surrounding your advertising content. Vanessa Horwell does a nice job of portraying advertising placement as becoming “guilty by association” (using the recent Super Bowl as an example for the Focus on the Family-Tebow spot). Marketers are definitely in control of their message, but when you place ads (especially in that big of a stage) often times you are not in control of what is surrounding your ad, what’s leading in to your ad, and what overall themes are being projected by your advertising peers. All of these things affect the standpoint from which a consumer hears and understands your message. Link to her column below, definitely worth a read:


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