Archive for Blog

Do What Works, and Work What Doesn’t!

A lot of companies fail because they lose focus on what they are good at.  As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it“.  If your company is great at producing high-end tennis shoes, why bother trying to make headbands?

In the advertising world, many creatives want to come into a company and change their promotional campaigns so that the client feels like the creatives are actually doing something.  I think the only reason to change your ad campaign is when you KNOW it’s not working.  Sun Tzu once said to ‘support the winning army’, that is if you have to chose between sending reinforcements to the troops that are winning and the troops that are losing, it is best to send your resources where you already have the advantage.

This same strategy can be applied to business and advertising.  Your advertising dollars are your troops, and your ads are the front-lines.  Send your troops to the front-lines where you are getting the most positive feedback, then you will have victory.

Likewise, if something’s not working be sure to understand why it’s broken!  If you can fix it, then please do.  Otherwise, don’t wast any more time on what’s cost you thus far.

Simplicity Sells — One Note Samba

Here’s another example of how simplicity sells, and how a pattern with variation makes things interesting.  This One Note Samba really does only have one note, but what makes this song interesting is how often that note is played.  By changing the rhythm, even one note can be interesting.

Not everything has to be complicated to be masterful!  I think there’s something to be said about that in advertising too.  Don’t overwhelm your audience with things to try and “wow” them if you don’t have to.  Be creative with what you have–spice up the rhythm, or how loud you play your one note.

You’ll be surprised at what you can do if you stick with what you’re good at–even if it’s one thing!

Building a Fire–Business Survival 101

I am an avid outdoor enthusiast, and I have about 6 years of experience around fire as a Firefighter.  I have learned that doing a project, starting a business, or coming up with something creative is a lot like building a fire.  To build a fire you need 3 things; Heat, Fuel, Oxygen.

Heat = passion

You have to be passionate–or at least motivated–to do whatever it is you’re planning to do.  Without that spark of excitement and energy, it will be very difficult to turn that log of a project into something bright that people will notice.

Fuel = stuff to do

All of the passion and energy in the world means nothing if you have nowhere to put it.  Even the hottest sparks will burn out if there’s nothing around it that will “catch”.  It’s also a game of how much you put on the fire and when.  Add too much, and the spark won’t be enough.  Add too little wood, and the fire will quickly die out.  As the fire grows, be prepared to throw on bigger sticks on it.  This means you need to have done enough planning beforehand so that you’re not scrambling for things to do once you’ve got momentum going!

Oxygen = time to relax

The final thing needed for success is time to step back and take a breather.  If all you do is add heat and fuel, you’ll make a really hot fire but waste a lot of energy and wood in the process.  Figure out how high  you want your fire, and once it gets there, take a step back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Sell The Pen!

If you had to sell a pen in 30 seconds, what would you say?  I follow a lot of marketing speakers and CMO’s who give lectures on Youtube, and I came across this one the other day.

Many people will start talking about the pen’s features, or how it’s such a good deal because of the price.  They go on about the different colors it can write in, how fancy the grip is, or perhaps it makes a satisfying “click” when you open it.

None of that matters if I want a pencil.

What many people fail to do is, ask if your customer even want’s the pen!  If your customer doesn’t want a pen in the first place, you’re wasting both their time, and yours.  Not to mention potentially damaging your brand and your reputation as a salesperson.  Marketing is about finding what people want, and getting it to them.


Here’s the video!

It’s All About the “Why”

I found a Ted Talk lecture a while ago by Simon Sinek about marketing and what makes some advertising campaigns successful, and why others fail.  Every message (or any form of communication for that matter) boils down to 3 parts: what, how, and why.  What most people fail to understand is that the “why” is most important when you’re communicating with people because motivation drives action.

What — The thing people will be doing

In an advertisement, this would be the cruise ticket, the new computer, or that fancy new car.  This is what most small business-owners and engineers get really worked up about.  It’s natural to get wrapped up in the technicalities and practical steps of what you’re doing, but it means nothing if it’s not what your customers want.  Even worse: if you blast facts without the proper motivation, you could actually damage your company’s brand.

How — The means of completing the action

In commercials or on websites, this is usually the “call to action”, or directions on how to purchase.  Again, this is great for customers who are interested in your product already, but if I’ve never heard of your fancy new service I don’t care how to buy it!

Why — The driving force to start 

The why is the reason for doing something.  Everyone does things for some reason or another (whether they know that reason or not).  If you can line up with your target audience, and get them hooked on why your product is so cool, why your product is different, and why this will match their goals, you’ve made a sale.


This has other implications for leaders as well.  When you assign tasks in a project, start with the big picture and show how what you’re doing is relevant.  Getting people motivated is half the battle–once that’s established, the how and the what will fall into place naturally.


Here’s the video:

Dave Brubeck applied to Design

One of my jazz heroes is Dave Brubeck because of how he challenges the typical format of music, but does so without completely throwing western civilization out the window.  Dave Brubeck knows that the key to any good design (or anything creative) is pattern with variation.  There’s a fine line between having good discipline and getting attention.

A good example of Dave Brubeck’s masterful creativity is in his song “Unsquare Dance”.  Most songs have about 3 or 4 beats per measure.  In this song, Dave uses 7. The song is in 7/8 for all my music theory junkies out there.  It is incredibly hard to play with an odd number of beats like this, but Dave “phrases” his song in such a way that it sounds almost normal.  This work is just different enough to grab your attention, but not so outlandish that you have to think about it too hard.

Make your work stand out, but not in a way that detracts from the message you’re trying to send.

Problems with being creative?

I have noticed that there either people who are super creative with crazy ideas and who make tons of non-linear connections but lack discipline, or there are people who are very hard-working and smart, but can’t come up with a good tagline to save their life.  I’ve noticed this in the musical world too with jazz vs. classical musicians.

To the creatives: almost anyone can push keys on a piano, but if you have discipline and become an expert at your craft, your ideas will have even more possibilities and you will be able to back your ideas yourself.  People may not notice if you fake it, but they will notice if you know what you’re doing.

To the hard-working: don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  It takes a lot of courage and thick skin to put yourself out there.  You will fail and sound foolish at first when you start “improvising” or “creating”.  It’s just like when children first learn how to talk.  First you learn basic sounds, then some essential words, and after a while you speak full sentences.  You will never learn how to speak with your mouth shut.  Listen to the pros in the industry, and then try it for yourself.  My jazz prof in college said there are two things that will make you an improv pro: listening and playing.  Put your hard work to good use and don’t be afraid to fail.  Everyone starts somewhere.

Brand is Everything

Branding is one of those buzz-words that you hear a lot in marketing textbooks, but I think a lot of people (especially non-marketers) forget where that term comes from and what it actually means.

Branding is about as American as apple pie, baseball, and jazz.  Branding is what cowboys on the frontier (some still do it today) would do to mark their cattle and distinguish them from another ranch.  What these ranchers would do is take the cow, tie it down and then use a branding iron (a hot piece of metal with a special design on one end) and then literally burn their personal design into the side of the animal.  It kind of sucks to be the cow, but this allowed the cowboys to know who was “theirs”.


The analogy really holds true to modern-day branding.  You can think of yourself and company as a “cowboy” and your customers as the “cows”.  To brand, you need 3 things: heat, contact, and pressure .

Heat is whatever excites people about your company.  If it’s not exciting or even relevant, why even bother?

Contact is how you plan to talk to your customers.  Figure out what media outlets they use, and position yourself to actually help your customers.  It’s vital to figure out who will see you and how.  Even if you are a great company, if you don’t talk to the right people you’ve wasted everyone’s time.

Pressure is how often you share your message.  If it works, don’t change it!  Things become “catchy” with repetition.  Things become “catchy” with repetition.  The face of your company (your brand) must be consistent.

A successful brand will leave a lasting impression with your customers.  If your brand is just burning people and not leaving a “mark”, try adding either more heat, contact, or pressure.




The Creative Process and Jazz

How do we create?  How do we take random things, and make them into something interesting and useful?

Creativity is intelligence having fun.

I have a small jazz trio, and at one of our first gigs we had about an hour’s worth of music “prepared”.  We played well, and people loved us so much that the guy who asked us to play at his restaurant wanted us to play for two more hours!  We were excited that they wanted us to keep playing–but we had run out of music!  So we did what humans do best: improvise.  We took some basic chord progressions and quickly decided on the right “feel” for the next song, and decided on some basic ques, and went with it.  It worked.


Granted, we are all experienced musicians (so we weren’t just making noise), but for all intensive purposes we created 2 hours completely new music without “practicing”.  We were able to do this because we had that foundation of experience and a decided form to go off of, and decided on a “lead” (someone who would take-point) for each new song.

I think the creative process boils down to:

  • Decide on a leader who can complement the group
  • Think through what you want to communicate
  • Have a form (the chords) and then forget it as the song dictates
  • Have the technical ability to back your ideas


The Power of Group Momentum

With all of the news hype about our “Government shutdown” lately in the news, I have been very interested in seeing the relationship between how individuals act by themselves, and how a group of people act when they are together.  More specifically, which is easier to affect?  For us marketing people, affecting people is our job–so it’s important to know how this works!

We often think of groups of people as these large, slow, ambiguous beings that take lots of motivation to get to do anything.  That’s because changing the whole group does take energy, but some groups respond to changes faster than others.  Why?  I have found that changing the group momentum is all about changing the momentum of the people with the most influence within that group.  The question becomes not so much about how you affect people, but who.

Here’s an interesting video I found that shows 32 metronomes started at random times that end up syncing up.  I think this video not only shows the power of group momentum how much influence each metronome has on the group.

This experiment has these metronomes lined up on a grid, and having about the same amount of “effect” on each other. It takes about 2 minutes for half of the group to do the same thing, and by 3 minutes they are all together. It’s amazing how they all “want” to do the same thing, and how the two metronomes in the corner affected the entire group.


Here’s another clip from Bug’s Life that talks about what a benefit–or threat–one individual can have over your group:

Key Take-Aways about group momentum:

  • Never under-estimate the power of what one person can do (for good or bad!)
  • People want to be in “sync”
  • Change the right people–change the group