Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grudge match: Professional Passion versus the 10-Year Itch

Let's talk about ADVENTURE, PLEASE because that is what I am craving at 3:00AM as I write this. My biggest challenge in life is satisfying my thirst for adventure while also being a full-time marketing professional and the Mom of a very intense almost 4-year-old. Can you relate? 

Most people don't know that I once dropped out of college for a year to live in Southern California and be a beach bum and that I once dropped out of marketing for year to study photography in New York City. Next year, I will have been in Milwaukee, a place I swore I would never live, for ten years. And it's been good. But seriously, I've got the ten year itch. Bad. It's gotten to the point where every time I see a kayak on top of a vehicle, it hurts. (This is a subtle hint to my friends who have kayaks and live on the lake.) 

Last year on my 40th birthday trip to Tulum, Mexico, I saw people kiteboarding for the first time and it was a real "holy shit" moment for me. I have never had any desire to scuba dive, or surf, and frankly, while I love the ocean it generally scares the crap out of me. But kiteboarding? OH. MY. GOD. I. WANT. TO. DO. THAT. 

And what have I done about it? NADA. Social media is great, but there is a lot more to life. We stay up late and blog and Tweet and post. But how often does this divert us from focusing on what is REAL? It's time. Let's do it! I'm taking a kayaking clinic this Friday (another passion I've been putting off). I'm looking into kiting camp with Broneah kiteboarding in Michigan for next month. Next year, maybe Puerto Rico. Someday: Patagonia. I can no longer bail for a year, but I still have to scratch the itch. 

What passions are you putting off because you are "too busy"? How do you balance your passions and your profession?

Photo credit: Andrew Chatham

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sponge, Idiot Savant, Creative, Geek.

A few people have asked what a brand strategist is and what resources I recommend for aspiring brand strategists. In super simple terms, a brand strategist is someone who learns everything there is to learn about a brand and everything surrounding that brand - including its users, fans, prospects, detractors - and can distill it down into only what matters to create the most relevant value proposition. And then recommends marketing and/or communication strategies for bringing that brand to life. 

A great brand strategist is: 

1) A sponge. You don't have to be a full-blown Account Planner, necessarily, to be a great brand strategist. But if you don't have a heaping helping of passionate intellectual curiosity, do choose a different path. My top three books on brand strategy are: 

Building Strong Brands, by David Aaker. Very academic but it's The Bible. This is what Harley-Davidson used to craft their brand identity system when I worked on their business. If you still have questions about what a brand strategist is, read this book and there will be no further possible questions. 

Disruption. Beyond Disruption. How Disruption Brought Order. all by Jean-Marie Dru and all absolute must reads. 

Truth, Lies and Advertising by Jon Steel. 

Those are just the books, obviously there are other publications (I love Communication Arts), numerous blogs (see blog roll for just a few of many), piles of research, etc. 

2) An idiot savant. I suck at abstract math, science, and history, and really anything truly useful in the world. But I can cut through a brand strategy like a knife through butter. Which does not exactly put me up for the Nobel Prize, but hey, it's fun. To be a brand strategist, you need a bizarre God-given ability to take an enormous pile of information and cut to just what matters. To craft it into a tight proposition that is confident, relevant and captures the heart of the brand experience. Frankly, I'm not convinced that being a really great brand strategist can be taught. You are either strategic, or you aren't. If you aren't, don't beat your head against the wall. 

3) A creative. Right now, I have on my desk essentially a laminated placemat of a brand value proposition architecture that a new client feels captures their brand to a tee. But it is complete and utter garbage if I can't translate it to a far more brilliant creative team in a language that they can relate to. (There's some killer stuff in Truth, Lies and Advertising on how to do this. The hair on the balls of a bee; if that doesn't pique your curiosity, I don't know what will. Read it.) So it helps if you have at least some creative urges, sensibilities or at least appreciation. 

4) A geek. While tactical planning is (thankfully) not a huge part of the job as a brand strategist, it definitely helps to throw yourself learning about all kinds of media, interactive, social and otherwise, so you can therefore bring forward ideas for how to express your strategies in a variety of ways, which inspires others. And it's important to be an inspiring geek, not a boring geek. If I am a boring geek, God forbid, I hope you will tell me so I stop blogging. 

It's pretty simple stuff. I hope that helps? What other resources do you recommend? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One tool. Five days. 23% increase. Really.

Seem to be a lot of folks looking for Super Simple Social media examples to help them or their clients get it. So I want to share what I think to be a pretty remarkable story about a social effort that Jigsaw, the agency that so graciously writes me a paycheck every couple of weeks, did with social media in five days - Yes, FIVE DAYS. Caveat: I don't want people to take away that social media is a quick-turn solution. It typically is NOT. It is a long-term commitment. But I have found that this example has helped whet the appetite of even the biggest nay sayers, because it is so ridiculously simple.

Situation/Objective: Blood Drive. Need to get 16-18 year olds to donate blood in greater numbers. Muy pronto.

Strategy: Use social communication tool to enable current teenage blood donors to influence their friends and peers to donate.

Super Simple Tactics: Facebook. Coach 17-year-old blood drive organizer to 1) launch Facebook fan page and event page 2) add some simple video and links and 3) invite people to join. Watch cryptic teenage conversation unfold.

The Money Tactic: Create discussion threads. Ask "Do you know anyone who ever needed blood? What's the story?" Experience awe as young woman steps up to offer this emotional plea:

Then, send reminder message two days before blood drive. Encourage group members to check out the above story.

Result: 23% increase in blood donation over previous blood drive, with no other significant differences in communication. Messages from other teens indicate that "I did donate today, and Hailey's story gave me the extra boost of courage to get over my fear of needles."

A Few Observations:

First of all, it is the best feeling in the world when you know without a doubt that what you just did made a difference. There is NOTHING better. Second, it is important to note that it wasn't just that fact that we used Facebook that had the influence; the fact that we were on Facebook merely helped the organizers and participants get excited and talk up the event. All we did was organize the channel; they did all the real work. Finally, this is a best case scenario. Facebook is great for mobilizing actual causes, but I think even for those it is getting more and more challenging to get noticed on Facebook. And it's not this simple for every brand, by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, it does whet the appetite, doesn't it? Is this helpful or not?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Launch yourself into something new - like space boy

How much fun are you having at work? Or does "fun at work" seem like an oxymoron to you? For me, I've found that the most fun I can have at work is to really launch myself into something new and exciting. Think about what you would get excited about learning - and then GO FOR IT.

Go for it the way a three-year-old goes for it when he gets turned onto something new. Until three weeks ago, my son knew virtually nothing about space. Then we got him one of those silly Magic School Bus books where the school bus flies around space. Next thing you know, he's pulling the World Almanac down off the shelf and asking me to help him read the list of space missions. So we get a couple of more books, and now he has taught me all about the 11 planets (including dwarf planets Pluto, Eris and Ceres, you know, right?), the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. Then yesterday we had to go to the grocery store to get various fruits with which we could estimate the scale of various planets. And when that wasn't adequate, we had to go get a real model of the solar system and a little constellation dome. Never once did it cross his mind that most three-year-olds, at least most of the ones that I know, don't feel the need to throw themselves into learning with quite this much gusto.

Sure, kids are all little sponges. So are we, or at least we have the potential to be. Who says you have to stop learning with passion once your job description is written down on a piece of paper? Don't be limited by what the job description says. For more about passion, check out the "More Cowbell" post from Narciso Tovar and "You Gotta Want the Ball" from Tom Martin.

Uh-oh - here comes the "I'm too busy" excuse; I have zero empathy for that excuse when I hear it from people who supposedly are interested in learning social media, and I have zero empathy for you if that is what you are thinking right now. I get it. You're busy. We all are. And I know that not everyone has the luxury that I have of an employer who gets it, too, and gives me the time to make it happen. But so what? No excuses. No surrender. Make learning a priority, even if it is for a short time each day. Your career is going to be a hell of a lot more fun - and more successful - if you do.

Have you found this to be true?