NYC AdWeek From A Comms Student Perspective

I’m attending AdWeek NYC for the first time. (That’s a career milestone, right? Adding it to my resume.)

Starting my master’s in Communications has already opened doors and my mind; I wouldn’t have known about AdWeek’s student rate had a classmate not mentioned it during a lunch break (thanks Anthony!). Both panels I attended today reinforced key concepts from a course in Organizational Strategy:

We Have A Plan, #AWXII

Concept 1: Success Isn’t Defined By Competition Alone

In a discussion about entering “the millennial music stream” moderated by a FastCompany Senior Editor, Rob Brunner, the CMO’s of Spotify (Seth Farbman) and Pandora (Simon Fleming-Wood) discussed how each company views the other as a “complementary” rather than competitor brand. Normally I would have felt this was lip service. And maybe it was. But the discussion definitely swam into Blue Ocean territory when Apple Music came up. When asked about their thoughts on Apple Music, each CMO stated if the service is a “category expansion” or an innovation, they view it as a good thing for the entire industry. The prevailing attitude was one of healthy competition and a deep mutual respect. Farbman expressed his appreciation for Apple as a brand that provides “something for others to measure themselves against,” which challenges other brands to remain clear about what makes them unique.

A love of music was tangible throughout, as Pandora’s CMO used a beautiful metaphor, comparing music to an “emotional sherpa”. He explained, “We know where we want to go throughout our day. We rely on our music to take us there.”

 

Concept 2: Social Responsibility as Strategy, Not Afterthought

The last panel I attended was called “Global Brands, Global Goals, Igniting Social Good“. We watched the newly launched #WeHaveAPlan ad for GlobalGoals.org and listened to a discussion of the campaign strategy by its co-creators, film-writer and director Richard Curtis CBE and BBH founder Sir John Hegarty. Also on stage was the CMO of Getty Images, a partner in the campaign. She introduced the panelists as “men who are not only great in their fields, but are also good men. And when great and good men come knocking on your door, you open it.” Immediately I knew I picked the best panel for that time slot.

Again, concepts taught in class were reinforced by the conversation.  Specifically that it’s no longer enough to think of Corporate Social Responsibility as merely an initiative or a campaign, tacked on as an after-thought. Rather, the most successful companies and organizations bake sustainability into their core business strategy.

Perhaps most compelling was the discussion of whether the #GlobalGoals campaign can actually produce deep, meaningful change or if it’s just glorified slacktivism – and if this even matters, so long as the Global Goals are achieved. It was a healthy debate, as another audience member asked how the campaign plans to sustain itself over the next 15 years, after the initial media push from last weekend’s Global Citizen’s concert.

The response was an honest acknowledgement by Curtis that many people in the business world consider sustainable development to be naive, liberal or too left-winged to be taken seriously. Yet…revolutions start when a few like-minded, passionate people band together. That getting a Facebook Like is better than doing nothing. And that “revolutions start on the edges, not the center”. And that “we mustn’t forget the power of broadcasting” – a quote by Sir John Hegarty I will take to heart as I navigate my career in communications.

BOOK REVIEW: Global Content Strategy: A Primer by Val Swisher

I discovered this handbook on Twitter through a discussion with The Content Wrangler, a member of the content strategy community. This is a group of writers and strategists dedicated to improving the stuff we see on the web. Specifically, the stuff that brands and businesses put on the web, in the hopes that it’s seen by an intended audience. In a way, we’re all in the business of turning hope into reality. How beautiful.

TL;DR

Global Content Strategy: A Primer is good crash course on a complex topic. Ideal for pitching senior management on a strategic approach to large-scale website translation.

Global Content Strategy by Val Swisher

I’d recommend Global Content Strategy as a useful handbook for anyone working with global audiences in need of a multi-lingual website. Specifically, anyone tasked with managing the translation of multiple languages. The information is not relevant for small sites with a few pages or sites translated into just one or two other languages; it’s for companies with large websites and a global audience, interested in translating web content using a cost- and time-efficient approach, without sacrificing on quality. If you want your content understood by lots of people in lots of different languages, here’s a breakdown of how to manage that process.

It covers the basic tenets of content strategy (audience definition, voice and style considerations, having a multi-cultural approach to icons and symbols) as well as technical, project management advice (choosing translation vendors, maintaining a central database of TM, which stands for Translation Memory, and more). It was a good refresh of the basics and a succinct overview of the complexities of large-scale translation projects. Val Swisher definitely knows her stuff when it comes to executing and managing (wrangling!) what can seem an insurmountable mess, known as Global Content Strategy.

The Paradox of Time Management Apps

I actually spent 3 hours last week testing time management apps and reveling in the irony of it all. Each app had its own attractive life-saving combination of promises and features, user interfaces and API integrations. None of them offered to actually do my work for me and none was obviously more helpful than the others.

The one valuable discovery I did make during this otherwise complete waste of a morning was the Pomodoro technique which is actually a concept not a proprietary product. In other words it’s useful (and free). The idea is you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Repeat.

The concept of 25 minutes is easy to visualize, especially if you grew up watching TV sitcoms. During a standard 30-minute TV show a dramatic problem is both introduced and resolved. An entire family can learn a valuable life lesson (e.g. Full House). A dynamic duo of teenage youth compete to get the shit scared out of them by surprise attacks from evil “temple monkeys (e.g. Legends of the Hidden Temple). You get the point.

The Pomodoro technique works because it forces you to do the following:

1) Focus – Suddenly you’re on the clock and you only have a relatively short amount of time to actually get something done. Yet it’s long enough to be considered a waste if nothing comes of it.

2) Prioritize – Working within concrete, regular intervals enables you to conceptualize projects into individual tasks. You ask yourself ‘What can I get accomplished in the next 25 minutes, that will move my project forward?’

3) Stay sane – We’ve all been there; you’re so overloaded you don’t know where to begin. Because the Pomodoro technique includes taking a break, you’re left with no excuse but to simply Start. Somewhere. The break gives you a chance to either remove yourself from the task or take a step back and evaluate your approach.

So give the Pomodoro method a try using your watch or phone. During your first 5-min break, watch this 4:41 artistic interpretation on the meaning of Time. Take the remaining 1:19  to scrape your thoughts from the ceiling. I warned you!

Book Review: “Brand Thinking” by Debbie Millman

Brand Thinking is a collection of interviews conducted by Debbie Millman, veteran brand consultant, host of the podcast series Design Matters and co-founder of the Master’s in Branding program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. The book explores what branding means as a concept and a profession through a series of interviews with industry leaders in advertising, marketing, design, business strategy and anthropology.

Brand Thinking by Debbie Millman

I found the first half of the book to be much more enlightening and inspiring than the latter half, but this is probably just because many of the core themes were revisited across several interviews. (Interestingly, Malcolm Gladwell’s interview was last, which involved a discussion as to why he doesn’t use the term “brand” in books that explore that very concept. He also points out the fairly obvious yet simultaneously enlightening — classic Gladwell — by stating our love of social media speaks to our biological need to connect to others by communicating our thoughts.)

I highlighted and underlined a lot of this book. Below are a few of my favorite tidbits and quotes pulled from what were the most memorable interviews for me:

Brian Collins – Discussed branding as a source of connection with others, and introduced the concept of “archetypal” brands and Jungian psychology which led me down a serious rabbit hole from which I hope I never emerge…For example, Apple plays the role of the rebel, offering consumers a way to assert their individuality or “coolness” without explicitly stating this (“the art that conceals the art” as Virginia Postrel puts it). Apple is the proverbial “Eve” – a temptress, a seductress, a rebel. By choosing Apple, we gravitate toward this cultural concept known as an “archtype” with which we are all familiar.

Wally Olins – Stresses the importance in possessing a combination of strategic and design capabilities. His advice to young brand strategists or those considering a career in branding is to consider whether they truly want to join what’s a very demanding business. Not everything is quantifiable; he’s highly suspect of analysts who quantify everything with neat metrics. We can see what has not worked in the market, but we cannot quantify what will – which is what the most successful brands predict. And you have to be OK with that.

“In order to be truly imaginative, you must possess an unusual level of self-  confidence and creativity . . .”

“If you are going to create something that is truly a breakthrough, you have to rely on your intuition and your judgment.”

Grant McCracken – Sees designers as vehicles for corporations to take culture seriously. Has a PhD in Anthropology, and points out that while most of the world perceives the passage of time as circular, Western culture uniquely decided at some point to consider time as linear, symbolized by an arrow. We therefore find ourselves in an endless projection forward, for what’s next. He sees designers as uniquely able to “create and interpret” culture within a business that is otherwise focused forward. Designers are like messengers from the holistic, universal, cultural world into the bottom-line-driven world of the mundane. (I particularly loved and identified with this.) It’s an interesting challenge to marry the two sides of the brain and I got a sense that the best designers are also strategic thinkers – which Wally Olins says as well.

“What I’d rather hear from designers is, ‘These are the twelve cultural meanings at issue here, and this is where the world is – this is what the world wants. This is how we’ve crafted the brand out of these twelve meanings. This is how we’ve combined them, and this is how we’ll manage them over the next six or twelve months.'”

Dori Tunstall – A “Design Anthropologist” currently teaching at a university in Australia. She views design as a lens to interpret what it means to be human – and a key element in creating products and services that accomodate our needs, as opposed to imposing them upon us. Just seeing the words “design anthropologist” together made me feel I was meant to (a) read this book, and (b) participate in this field. I actually found Dori on Twitter and she offered to help me find people in New York who are involved in this type of discussion.

“Values like equality, democracy, fairness, integration and connection are values that, to some extent, we’ve lost. Design can help make those values more tangible and ultimately express how we can use them to make the  world a better place.”

Virginia Postrel – Everything this woman said was mind-blowingly interesting and articulate to the point that it was intimidating just reading her words. She’s a cultural critic, essayist and journalist and has written extensively about “glamour” and its relationship with beauty, fashion and style in our culture. She also points out that the internet mimics our brain’s natural “associative” state, making it easy to quickly bounce from one thing to the next. While this is the way we naturally think or daydream, it has led to extreme overstimulation and a serious deficit in attention; this directly leads to the need to compete for the attention of others, which is why our culture values “outrageousness”.

Your outside self projects something to the world and also reflects back into you. The image of you in specific attire helps you imagine yourself as the person you would like to be.

Other enjoyable and noteworthy tidbits:

David Butler – VP of Design at Coca Cola – An early proponent of user-centric design and an appreciation for design thinking/design strategy. Believes in the ability of large corporations to improve the world, with their reach, networks, infrastructure, etc.

Stanley Hainesworth – Former VP Global Creative, Starbucks, Former Creative Director, Nike. Hainesworth is responsible for creating the five pillars of Starbucks’ brand: handcrafted, artistic, sophisticated, human and endearing. Talks about the challenge for brands to retain authenticity (which is definitely a buzzword, but this book was written in 2011.)  He says in order to recapture one’s audience, you must stay on brand, digging deeper into its essence/history/story/mission, rather than creating something new and off-brand that won’t communicate.

Dan Formosa – Co-founder of Smart Design and proponent of user-centered design which designs for people at “the edges”; the democratization of design. He describes himself and his colleagues coming out of college in the 60s and 70s and wanting to change the world, as an impetus for him to focus on people, design and how the two relate, at a time when designers didn’t yet care about concepts like usability or user-friendliness.

The way to think about ‘everybody’ is not to think about the average person in the middle, but to think about the extremes.

Joe Duffy – Celebrated creative director and founder of his own independent branding studio, Duffy & Partners, which prides itself on carefully selecting which clients it works with. They work to establish each client’s “branding language”, a full identity system which serves to inform every design decision made by the brand.

“I don’t want to work with clients who are successful in spite of their lack of design or in spite of their bad design.”

“…Design is really so damn simple. It’s so straightforward. Anyone who tries to make it convoluted or complicated does a disservice to designers everywhere. Anyone who buys crap gets what they deserve.”

Seth Godin:

“Brands must build on past associations but go beyond nostalgia to novelty.”

 A Content Strategy Rallying Cry

The internet makes it simultaneously easier and more difficult to have your words heard.

The trash heap of shitty content increases by the millisecond. We all have the ability to write (technically speaking) and access to the marketplace (social media, blogs, ads, etc.). Because of this radical democratization of communication it’s more crucial than ever to start with why when considering whether to produce content.

The distinction between ads or “sponsored content” and editorial content is becoming so blurry it’s like we’re all swimming underwater, and we all need to clean our goggles with that goggle-cleaner fluid but no one wants to miss out by taking the time to emerge on the surface, clean his or her goggles, and see more clearly. Brands instead choose to churn water, pushing forward with mediocre, unnecessary, uninspiring and even self-defeating content that actually does more damage than good (and is an incredible waste of resources).

Brand managers and content strategists are generals in the battle for authenticity in modern advertising. Social media is where the bloodiest squirmishes are lost, in the form of dull content that falls on deaf ears; no one sees it. At least no one valuable to your bottom line sees it. If they do, they aren’t persuaded to do or think in any meaningfully different way.

If a shitty Facebook post gets no reach, does it make a sound?

The answer is yes – in the form of a digital footprint. It’s easy for competitors or prospective business partners to check out a brand’s Facebook page only to find tumbleweeds. You don’t delete posts that fall flat; they remain there for all to see.

Savvy and strategic thinkers already know this; the problem is getting through to the masses. Fortunately, this means there will always be work for content strategists. Unfortunately, everyone with opposable thumbs and an internet connection fancies him/herself a content strategist.

All we can do is stay calm and carry on.

Check out the (7!) books closely/loosely relevant to this topic I bought yesterday. Reviews to follow!

books on branding

 

 

Design Strategy: Embracing A Dual Nature

This is one of the more personal posts I’ve written here, but I’m going with it because it turns out there are others like me who feel torn between two seemingly opposed aspects of themselves: career-oriented and “businesslike” while also creative, artistic and passionate. It’s been hard for me to reconcile between these two aspects. This is an attempt to do so.

sisyphus

Like most people in their 29th year, I’m going through my Saturn Return. It’s an astrologically-based (so in my opinion totally inevitable and justified) period of evaluation of one’s life, ignited by Saturn returning to the same point in the universe for the first time since you were born. Interesting, right?

I’ve been on what feels like a Sisyphus-like quest for the past 10 years: find the kind of work that energizes me, doesn’t feel like “work” and makes use of my unique combination of skills, experience, knowledge and intuition. This has entailed (1) quitting a post-college job as a paralegal at a fancypants Manhattan law firm to pursue a research internship in Israel; (2) working at a fun, well-funded Tel Aviv startup as an SEO and content strategist; (3) realizing I was extremely interested in what the designers and brand managers were doing; (4) deciding to return to New York to pursue this new career path; (5) working at a digital web agency on social media strategy, until (6) I decided I wanted to be my own boss. This decision came as a result of me recognizing I possess two aspects of my personality, and in order to be truly happy at work I need to constantly draw on them both: a) experience in the corporate world, an interest in business strategy and an ability to analyze information, and (b) creative energy, a deeply rooted appreciation for aesthetic and a strong passion for human connectivity and communication.

Now I’m an independent marketing consultant for small-to-mid-sized businesses. I come up with strategies for companies to boost their online visibility. There’s a ton of methods and tactics I could employ, ranging from quantitative, data-driven insights to creative work that requires imagination and intuition.

This duality of business-&-creativity has firmly deposited me in the lap of branding. I thrive when activating both sides of my brain. (My career coach calls it having an “And/Or” aspect to my personality; she compares it to a mosaic.) I was elated to find an interview with Facebook’s Director of Product Design, Maria Giudice by Debbie Millman, a renowned branding consultant. A former CEO of her own design studio, Giudice discovered she had a natural tendency — and ability — to view problems as “design” problems, whether or not the actual subject was design-related. Possessing a designer’s mindset, which is oftentimes non-linear and highly associative, is an extraordinary problem-solving mechanism. She states the following in her book, Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design:

“The future leaders of the world need to combine the skills of creativity and analytics.”

These words spoke loudly to me today, demonstrating that the path I’m pursuing has begun to be cleared by multi-faceted thinkers like Giudice and Millman.

I’m inspired and motivated to continue pushing that boulder up the mountain.

Further Reading/Programs/Quotes/Concepts:

  • Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design (2013), Maria Giudice
  • California College of the Arts – MBA in Design Strategy
  • GSD = Getting Shit Done (something design leaders do)
  • “The best design is 50% thinking and 50% doing.”
  • SFD = Shitty First Draft (just hand in something; Done is better than perfect.)

ConFab2012: Observations by a First-Timer

This post has been relocated to: http://digitalanthrop.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/confab-2012-observations-by-a-first-timer/