Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Curiosity = Innovation

Why is innovation important?

Because people are curious.

Geraldo Rivera opens Al Capone’s (empty) vault in 1986.  Millions tune in (and a career is launched).

27 years after the first season of The Real World, the Robertson family has made duck hunting the subject of the top rated show on TV.

We want to know what other people are doing.

Sometimes our curiosity outweighs our better judgement.  Helps explain why the Chicago Tribune printed a story on page 1 of their Sunday newspaper about the family of a young diplomat killed in Afghanistan deciding to finally see what was in her tote bag.  Heartbreaking.

We want to know what could be in there.

We want to know how to fly further, what could taste better, when will we get there…?

Every question reflects curiosity and leads to an answer. Every answer leads to an idea.  Every idea can be an amazing innovation.

If you’re always curious, you’ll always be innovating. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Confidence = Generosity (Part 2)

“Six months into the business, we got one of those Starbucks coffee machines here in the office.  If I had realized the morale boost that would come from having a free coffee machine in the office, I would have got it Day One.  It’s almost more exciting than medical benefits.  We have one on every floor now.”

So says Darrell Cavens, co-founder and co-owner of Zulily, in a great recent piece in Inc magazine. 

Zulily is a daily deals site for moms and kids with membership of 10 million and recent valuation of $1 billion.  Early on, he learned a valuable lesson:

It’s amazing how simple it can be to make a person happy. 

In every ad agency in which I worked, there was more excitement around half-day Fridays than year-end bonuses.

Free is good. 

Never underestimate the power of generosity.

Because nothing is ever given away that isn’t somehow eventually paid back.

Like free lattes. Or free pizza.

Every one of those cups of coffee and sausage slices fuels internal human positivity, and that’s something you can’t put a price on.

Because it leads to happy brains.

Which leads to ideas being created.

Which leads to business improving.

Which leads to more free pizza and caffeine.

It’s the most productive and delicious virtuous circle in the history of the world.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wine not?

A funny thing happened when we went to Napa Valley last week to celebrate my birthday. 

We drank some wine.

Not so unusual, you say? 

We drank wine in the airport.

Still not so unusual.  Especially for people from England and in cowboy hats, although I still can’t figure out why those two groups of people always seem to be drinking in airports.

We drank red, white, blue and green wine.  Out of aluminum bottles.  Pretty unusual, right?

The product is called Flasq.  Their packaging is red white and blue, and their product, they claim, is green; more sustainable than your average wine. 

If only their website was half as good as the average website.  But I digress.

In a world where very good wines are being sold with screw tops, decent wines are being sold for a few bucks at Trader Joes, and drinkable wines are being sold in bags and boxes, wine in innovative new aluminum flasks is a no-brainer. 

A good example of cool packaging being reason enough to try a product at least once.

How’d it taste?  Not good enough for the Cowboys and Brits to take it onboard with them, but ok good enough to tell other people about it.  And that’s about all a new brand can ask for.

When it comes to innovative thinking, when someone says “Why,” just tell them, “Wine not?”

Monday, April 8, 2013

The case for unbridled, uncontained, unassailable, joyful passion, in life and in business

Even though it ended after 10:30 PM, I needed a nap after watching the NCAA Men’s basketball semifinals over the weekend.  I was that stressed out and exhausted. 

As a University of Michigan Alum (and the father of a freshman daughter there), I experienced every pass, shot, rebound, and foul with a high level of anxiety, feeling it in every bone in my body.  And I know I wasn’t alone.  At the Georgia Dome and in front of TV’s across the nation, Syracuse and Michigan fans (short for fanatics, remember), were going through the same emotions.  Living and dying with every trip up the court.

The joy I felt when they won was pure and lasting.  The kind of happiness that stays with you and coats you in a veneer of pleasant invincibility that can turn pedantic tasks like taking out the garbage into lovely moments of a-little-extra-exercise.

It’s a powerful thing, passion.  Never underestimate it’s sway, in life and in business.  The numbers prove it out.  An example:

To get up for the game, I re-watched the fine 30 for 30 ESPN documentary on the Fab Five (see a piece of it here), the story of the 1992 and 1993 Michigan basketball teams that featured five extremely talented and highly-hyped freshmen who came to Ann Arbor to play together.  Their unprecedented story and unexpected success led to a huge following and massive fame for the young fivesome.

Among the amazing facts revealed, one spoke to the earning power of sports licensing: In the year prior to the Fab Five’s arrival in Ann Arbor, the sales of U of M licensed products created $2 million in revenue.  In the two years  after their explosive freshman year, the sales of U of M licensing products created over $10 million in revenue.

The country was completely captivated by the Fab Five, and by Michigan basketball.  A fan base that was already crazy in love with everything U of M became even more passionate.  They showed their love in many ways: through the rings of the cash register, by filling every stadium the Wolverines played in, painting maize and blue on their bodies, getting tattoos… embracing the U of M brand, in any way possible.

Everybody should have at least one thing to fall unapologetically in love with.  Something they’re committed to and will stand by no matter what. Something for which they feel unbridled passion that knows no bounds. 

It’s something that marketers should remind themselves of every day.  Because a couple of things happen when you inject passion into the mix.

For consumers (aka real humans), you have a relationship between a person and a brand that’s impossible to break.

And for marketers, you begin to change the equation for how you do your job.

Business is hard.  Technological change and global volatility have created a breakneck tempo, thinner margins, higher stakes, and cultures of fear.  The potential for pain is high and consistent.

But what would happen if we inserted more joy into the mix?  If we found a way to methodically work towards answers to even the toughest challenges, but did it in a way that would allow us to celebrate the journey…to recognize victories along the way?

And most important, feel passionate about what we’re doing.  Embrace our clients, not just work on their behalf.  Advocate, not just sell. 

When was the last time you painted the colors of your favorite brand onto your face?  Where on your body is the tattoo of your favorite brand?

Do you have to go that far?  Maybe not.

But you can pretend it’s there.  I worked on a brand for over 15 years that I felt passionate about every day.  My partners on that Gatorade team felt the same way as we helped it reach new heights every quarter, expanding it with double digit growth and creating marketing materials that won awards and resulted in new and powerful loyalties to the brand. 

I didn’t have a Gatorade tattoo.  But sometimes it felt like I did.

So maybe, as you head to work and envision the challenges at hand, you can picture your brand as your favorite team, tying the game with an improbable long-range three pointer and winning in overtime.  Or imagine your brand’s logo tattooed somewhere on your body or the colors painted on your face.  

So that even within the toughest challenges, you’re armed with the knowledge that you can come out of it stronger and happier than before.

The power of passion.  The Joy of Solving.  In life and in marketing.

Give it a shot.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Turning a hot dog stand into an entertainment complex

The basketball stadium at the University of Michigan was called Crisler Arena for 44 years, from the time it was built until last year.  That’s when they added more goodies for fans and players, like a $23.2 million player development center, a jumbotron, and hopefully, much better food.

Now they call it the Crisler Center.

Much more befitting for a modern-day arena.  Better suited to attract bluer-chip athletic talent.  And charge a few more bucks to get in.

Innovation can be much more than a new product or package on the shelf; in fact, it can simply be how you package your brand.  The University of Michigan knows this.

So does Anthony.

As you can see from the photo above, Anthony sells hot dogs.  But he also sells something that gives his hot dogs, and his brand, far more value.

It’s called community.  Offered up at the Anthony Hot Dog Center.  Which, of course, is a hot dog cart packaged a little differently. 

The community that Anthony has created comes from an insight:  Given the choice, people would prefer to eat with someone else instead of eating alone.

There’s nothing more powerful than a powerful insight, and Anthony had a doozy.  Revenue aside, it’s what enabled him to create a business that looks more like a Crisler Center than a Crisler Stadium.

The photo was taken on a Caribbean island, where many little kiosks and botegas vie for attention.  Anthony’s was always full.

I wonder why?