- Part 3 – page 3

Are your innovation and creativity efforts too focused on new products? Do you spend too much time adding bells and whistles, trying to be the next new thing? Could you have more positive impact focusing on making current products (or services) easier to use, safer, or less expensive? Is enhancing the current user experience a bad thing?

Why Isn’t It Working Properly?

In the book, Free Flight, James Fallows showed that in case after case what had been called pilot error was, in fact, a problem with the design or manufacture of the aircraft. But everything was sloughed off to “operator error” and not enough was being done to fix those problems or look at them in that context. The emphasis was on “new and fancier,” not fixing what was systemically done wrong in the past.

During a recent weekend I saw two such instances of “operator error.” I went to two events that featured speaker presentations. At each a speaker used PowerPoint to make her presentation and it was in “normal” rather than “slide show” mode. The first time, it was distracting, but didn’t make a lot of difference. The presentation was essentially a brochure transferred to overheads. There wasn’t much suspense in the presentation and being able to see what the next slide was going to be wasn’t a big deal.

The second time, however, it really detracted. The topic was how to choose colors for the exterior of a house—walls, trim, roof, accessories. The presenter was at a large “home and garden” show, she had written a book on the subject and at least part of her goal in the presentation was to sell that book.

With PowerPoint in normal mode she was showing images that were about one-half size of what they could/should have been. She kept saying things like, “If the picture were bigger you could see that this trim really picks up the color of the flowers . . .” Plus, she had some before and after pictures, but because we could see what the next slide was going to be, none of the “afters” provided much in the way of surprise or impact.

What’s the Matter with PowerPoint?

Both of these presenters should have known better. Certainly the woman selling the book should have. But why is PowerPoint so “feature” rich and complex to use that it isn’t clear when you are using it wrong? Each version adds additional options, new menus, and moves things around. But that often occurs at the expense of what were solid, dependable ways of doing what you want to do.

Microsoft is a powerful source of creativity and innovation, but for the next version of Office I would be happy if they would focus on making it easier, simpler, and more dependable rather than “better.”  – Barrett Sydnor

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at[email protected] or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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One of the most famous tag lines in advertising history is Avis Rent a Car’s “We try harder.” It is basically the quintessential brand promise. Though it seems to have largely disappeared from the Avis Rent a Car marketing communications (eight references on the website, most historical in nature), for many it is still at the heart of what they think of when they think of Avis—and it is still part of the company’s mission statement.

It is a concise, easy to relate to, unambiguous statement of what you can expect from the brand. It also seems that it is kind of hard to live up to.

My son goes to school in Denver and I visit half dozen times a year. These long weekend trips are somewhat spontaneous/last minute in nature, so I nearly always drive. I’ve done the math, and for a trip of that length, renting a car costs far less than driving your own.

I usually rent from Hertz or Enterprise, but this time I found a deal on an Avis car that, while slightly more expensive than Enterprise, allowed me to (theoretically ) start on my trip 30 minutes earlier. Normally that wouldn’t make much difference, but this time I had an appointment to make in Denver and half hour would make it much easier.

I get to the rental car location a few minutes after it opened, but after another customer. There is only one person working and he hasn’t prepared any cars for this morning and people are coming in with issues from yesterday already.

Long story short, it is another 30 minutes before I am on my way. The car is bigger than I wantand, as I am to find out, much less fuel efficient— and it looks like a flock of birds have been using it for target practice, but I am finally headed west.

Monday I have two emails from Avis, one welcoming me to their preferred service and the other containing an e-invoice. When I open the invoice I find I have been charged 15% more than I had expected. Customer service says I was charged for an upgrade, a change I didn’t request and, in fact, had probably already cost me around $25 more for gas. Did it say that on the rental agreement? It might have, I didn’t read, I just initialed here and here, and signed there and took the keys. After all I had already lost my 30 minute edge. Certainly the agent had made no mention of the upcharge.

In the end, Avis gave me the original rate, but they also probably lost a potential future customer. If you are going to make a brand promise such as “We try harder,” you either must live up to it or face the fact you will likely disappoint a lot of customers.

Is your brand making promises it can’t keep? Barrett Sydnor


The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at [email protected] or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your brand strategy and implementation efforts.

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Last summer on a drive from Minneapolis to Denver* I encountered 3 striking visual examples of creative ways to make making something new and different, all in South Dakota.

A Different Creative Combination

The picture at right shows what can only be described as a college boy’s fondest dream come true–a place where you can gamble, drink beer and get a clean shirt all at the same time. Two thoughts spring to mind: 1) the definition of “casino” in South Dakota is slightly less grand than it is in Las Vegas, and 2) a laundromat is not the most natural companion business to a bar and a casino. But remember, at one time we believed the most natural place for a gas station was as part of an auto repair facility, not in the front yard of a small grocery store.

A Different Creative Material

“Sudz” is in Mitchell, SD, which is also the location of the Corn Palace. It is not only a figurative tribute to corn, but a literal one as well. The sides of the building are covered with ears of corn and stover. While not the most typical of building/artistic materials, they are certainly appropriate to the place and purpose. And it gives you a great reason to get off of I-80 and drive into downtown Mitchell.

A Different Creative Perspective

Like you, I have seen the traditional image of Mt. Rushmore my entire life. Four presidents, full-face, huge and seemingly viewable from miles away—like a huge billboard.

On that trip I expereinced it in person and it showed me a different creative perspective. You catch only a distant glimpse of the figures on the drive up the mountain. You can only begin to see them well when you are really quite near, less than one mile away–after you have parked your car and left it.

But that doesn’t make it any less impressive, in fact it makes it more striking. You have to make an effort to even get that good a view and then you need to walk a good deal further to see those fantastic carvings up close.

And finally there was one additional gift of a different perspective. As you begin the drive down the mountain there is a small pull off area where you can see the profile view of Washington alone. It is not a view I had seen before or was even aware existed. As you stand there it seems as if this giant (and I mean that both historically and in size) is walking along and is about to emerge full-figure from the other side of the mountain.Barrett Sydnor

*It is a running joke around The Brainzooming Group that if business travel destination is more than 100 miles away, Mike automatically looks at a flight schedule, while if it is closer than 1,500 miles I look at a road map.

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Last week I wrote about the tools for creating innovative ads detailed in the book “Cracking the Ad Code and our #BZBowl strategy to use its model to evaluate Super Bowl ads. The book’s authors maintain that most ads that are judged to be creative by both ad professionals and consumers use one or more techniques from a rather limited toolbox of eight techniques.

My look at the 68 national Super Bowl ads that ran from kickoff to the end of the break following the final whistle showed that 77% of the ads used one or more of the “Cracking the Ad Code”  tools. (This excludes the movie ads in the Super Bowl, where the tools really don’t apply.)

I also looked at how the Super Bowl ads were rated on both the Foxsports.com/ads website and by the USA Today Ad Meters to see if highly rated Super Bowl ads were more or less likely to use the “Cracking the Ad Code” tools. The visitors to the Foxsports.com site gave the average non-movie ad a score of 63 (out of 100). Those that did not use any of the tools got a score of 55, while those that used one tool had an average score of 69. Interestingly those that attempted to use two tools got an average score of only 57. There must be something to be said for simplicity and focus.

USA Today used handheld meters to track the second-by-second scores given to Super Bowl ads by 282 adult volunteers at two locations. On their 1 to 10 scale, the average non-movie ad came in at 6.51. Those ads using no tools scored 6.28, those using one tool scored 6.79 and those using two scored 6.05. Eight out of the top ten Super Bowl ads used at least one tool; the ones that didn’t were the crowdsourced ads for Pepsi Max.

The most frequently used tool from the “Cracking the Ad Code” kit was the one they call Extreme Consequences. It was used in 18 of the non-movie Super Bowl ads. This technique involves the exaggerated or absurd result of using a product. Think of the Doritos spot (another crowdsourced ad) where the chips bring a goldfish, a plant, and somebody’s grandfather back to life.

Eleven spots each used the Extreme Effort and the Inversion “Cracking the Ad Code” tools. The Extreme Effort technique shows the exaggerated lengths to which a consumer will go to get (or protect) a product or that the company will go to bring it to him. The Bud Light Product Placement ad is probably the best example from this year’s Super Bowl.

The Inversion tool shows an extreme version of what your world would be like without the product. The Careerbuilders.com Super Bowl ad showing the chimps hemming the guy in his car is a good example.

If you are assigned to come up with your organization’s next great ad, using the tools won’t ensure that your concepts will be innovative and effective, but they will give you a good benchmark from which to work. – Barrett Sydnor

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With Mike busy this week carrying out his duties as chair of the American Marketing Association Marketing Research Council (AMAMRC), I’m sitting in at the Brainzooming blog blogging.

In keeping with the research theme, I originally suggested to Mike that I blog about some of the books with applicability to marketing that have a strong research foundation. I have read or listened to quite a number of them recently. (I highly recommend audio books as a way to make a commute more productive, help a long trip go faster, or distract you from the general pain of your workout.)

The past couple of years have seen several really interesting and well written books with a general theme of behavioral economics. These include Drive from Daniel Pink, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

Chip and Dan Heath’s books Made to Stick and Switch offer some excellent insights about messaging and organizational change. Likewise Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers have really useful information for anyone who is involved in marketing or marketing research.

But those are the books you might expect me to write about. The title of the AMAMRC conference is “Unfiltered Perspectives Unexpected Opportunities.” So in keeping with that theme I decided to at least provide a twist on the book list by writing about some books that haven’t been in the headlines or best seller lists quite as recnetly. (The books I’ve listed above are all worth your time and I hope to cover several of them in future guest posts.)

There are four books that I regard as foundational in my understanding and practice of marketing, communications, and sales. Each book caused me to think and act differently, sometimes quite differently. I have read each multiple times and I find myself coming back to them repeatedly as I seek to work out a problem or arrive at a fresh solution for a marketing, communication, or sales situation. The other thing they have in common is they answer two of my favorite questions: “Why?” and “How do you know?”

Book 1: The Real Mad Man. – Barrett Sydnor

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at [email protected] or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Recently I was in a client’s conference room talking about its brand. What it meant, how it should be communicated, what its attributes were. We were talking with a person who had worked there many years to get his perspective on what attracted customers to the brand’s products. He wanted to make a point about one of the products and how it carried the logo. But when he looked around the conference room there wasn’t a logo in sight. Nor were there any depictions of its products or services, or of customers who might use those products or services.

Mid-week I attended a public conference in a beautiful corporate auditorium. Other than the conference banner, the corporation’s logo was nowhere in sight. Nor was there any permanent depiction of its products or services, or of customers who might use those products or services.

At the end of the week I was in another client’s primary meeting/training room and . . . I think you know where this is headed—no logo, no products or services, no customers.

The places where we gather to plan and make decisions about our business, the places where we invite the public, the places where we expect to convince our customers they are important to us should be replete with reminders of who we are, what we do, and for whom we do it.

There may have been an excuse for this absence when photography was difficult and expensive, when video was hard to produce, and when we needed lithography to produce logos. With the advent of digital cameras, Flip recorders, and ink jet color printers, that time has passed.

Make it a point this week to determine whether your logos, your products and services, and your customers are permanently and prominently displayed in the places you plan, host, and sell. If they are, good for you. If not, you have a job to do.  – Barrett Sydnor, Strategic Contributor

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at [email protected] or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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One of the best and most succinct arguments for good planning is one I first heard from my friend and colleague, Max Utsler: If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

There is a corollary which is just as important (I’m sure Max would agree): If you know where you’re going, you have a much better chance of knowing a good alternative path when you encounter a roadblock along the way.

A young man I know recently made excellent use of that corollary. He recognized and took advantage of an alternative path because he had planned exactly where he wanted to end up.

For quite some time he has had his heart set on attending a major ACC university. He knew the school had strict entrance requirements, and his grades and test scores were not likely to get him admitted straight from high school. His original path called for him to go to a community college, get his grades up, earn an associates degree, and finally gain admission that way.

But that wasn’t working out. His roadblock consisted of several challenging courses which made it evident he was going to take considerably longer than planned to hit the necessary GPA and get an associates degree.

At the same time, some friends of his (female friends) were headed to cheerleader try outs at his dream university. They suggested he try out. And he did. And he got selected. And that means he is automatically admitted to the university he’d always wanted to attend.

Talk about an alternative path.

Because he had his destination in mind, he was able to see the possibilities of a new path even though it wasn’t the one he had set out on. It was also not a path that the tough football linebacker he was in high school would have easily seen. But because he recognized his goal and its importance, he adjusted his route when the original road wasn’t going to get him where he wanted as fast as he wanted.

In business or in life, good planning makes us more capable of reaching our goals, even if the path we plan turns out not to get us there. – Barrett Sydnor, Strategic Contributor

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