Thursday, July 24, 2008

Redesigning the Stop Sign

If you are curious why it can seem so hard to create simple ideas, then please check out this video. It's a hilarious satire of the creative development process. Even funnier knowing that it was sent to me by a client with a good sense of humor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Advertising is the price companies pay for being un-original."

I don't know who authored this quote, but I found it in this video of a presentation Yves Behar gave at TED about the need for design to create products that tell a story.

I believe all great brands tell a story. Advertising has always been a powerful way to weave a brand narrative. But the process of storytelling should begin with the design of the product itself and be carried through all points of contact. Design shouldn't be used as a shortcut to make average ideas look better. True of products. True of advertising.


Design should be used to solve business problems by creating product solutions from the customer's point of view. A good example is the way Target rethought its pill bottles to help customers sort out the jumble of bottles in the family medicine cabinet, and by doing so Target created a differentiated idea for its pharmacy business.

Design isn't limited to physical products. It can help create a better customer experience. Jyske Bank in Denmark set out to attract more customers, a brief we've all seen before. Instead of free toasters, viral films and more advertising, Jyske Bank opted to rethink the banking experience from the customer's point of view. They manifested their various savings and checking services as physical "products" to make them tangible and clear and evoke an emotional connection. They created that special "third place" -- a haven that is neither home or work -- that has been the secret sauce behind Starbucks' success. The result? Ad Age reported that Jyske Bank doubled its customer base in one year by improving loyalty while attracting new customers. Take a look at this video. It's a stunning case study and a good way to brush up on your Danish.

Design as a business discipline is even emerging as a potential alternative to the traditional MBA, witness Stanford's so-called D-School.


Monday, July 14, 2008

How Detroit can create the next iPhone


Like hundreds of thousands of people across the country, I stood in line this weekend at the Apple Store in Newport Beach to buy the new iPhone 3G for my daughter after three unsuccessful attempts at nearby AT&T stores.

Witnessing this exuberant demand for a new product made me wonder if this feat could be repeated in other categories, such as the auto business. What would an automaker have to do to seduce consumers to stand in line to buy a hot new car? Here are some lessons from the iPhone:

Functionality: Auto execs pondering how replicate the iPhone’s commercial and cultural success would be wise to note that the iPhone is not simply a marketing phenomenon. The iPhone is a breakthrough product. It revolutionized the mobile phone business through design, features and functionality.

One way for auto companies to create breakthrough products may be to begin thinking like a consumer electronics brand. Technology brands are the new car. Throughout the last century the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy. Cars represented modern life at its best. Today that role is served by each new smart phone, gaming system, wafer-thin laptop or lifelike home theater that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday. An automaker should commit to creating a truly modern car, a car that democratizes the latest technologies; a car that liberates us from tired compromises by proving that design and performance go hand-in-hand with safety and environmental responsibility; a car that is an extension of the personal technologies we use to make our lives smarter, more organized and more entertaining. Create a car that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday.

Design, design, design: The iPhone looks like nothing else. It took no cues from category norms. It wasn’t an exercise in incrementalism, as if often the case with domestic auto design.

Cult of celebrity: Auto companies tend to believe “celebrity” is attained by having A-list actors and rappers drive the car. In Apple’s case, its celebrity is organic. Steve Jobs is a celebrity. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design, is a celebrity. It is time to elevate the automotive designers to be the face of the company instead of the suits. Let's see these designers on the cover of Fortune, People and Vanity Fair. After all, at their core these companies are industrial design firms.

To fast track this cult of design celebrity car companies should enlist a hot industrial designer (Yves Behar) or an accomplished architect (Frank Gehry) to create the next “must have” design of the year. And I don’t mean creating a “Cartier” edition, which usually means a special trim package. Fully empower this outside designer.

Limited supply: Here’s a very simple rule: a company shouldn’t produce more product than it can sell. Sounds simple, but seldom happens in the car business. Limiting supply negates the need for brand-sucking discounting and creates a perception of rarity that strengthens the marketer’s pricing power. Apple is genius at this.

New distribution model: Sales associates at Apple stores are extremely well trained and are living ambassadors of the brand. Consumers may not get this same experience from car salespeople. So here’s where the auto companies need to swallow a brave pill. Don’t sell this hot new car through dealerships. Signal change by changing how the car can be bought. Establish centrally located viewing galleries – in shopping malls, in airports, in downtown business districts – staffed by the same well-trained ladies and gentlemen hired for car shows. Sell the cars there or online. And, knowing that state franchise laws don't allow cars to be sold without dealers, give dealers a reasonable commission on all sales that take place in their designated sales area. Dealers must be properly compensated because they play a crucial role in providing ongoing service.  (Fixing a car is a tad more complex than fixing an iPhone.)

Advance buzz: When Apple launched the original iPhone it created a huge amount of buzz and curiosity by doing the opposite of what auto companies tend to do: Apple said absolutely nothing. Auto companies tend to debut the concept car three years in advance at an auto show, create microsites for sneak-peeks, and give the buff books early test drives in return for good coverage. And what happens in return? The buzz peaks well ahead of the product's retail launch. The new mantra must be to reveal less and intrigue more.
 (Dealers did this quite well back in the days when they'd cover up new models until launch day to keep curious faces pressed against store windows.)

Apple did all of this and more. Breakthrough product. Inspiring design. Smart pricing. Clever marketing. Seems so simple. And therein lies the beauty of Apple’s success.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sony rediscovers its mojo.

Several years ago when I led Young & Rubicam in Southern California I had the opportunity to work with Sony Electronics.  During that time I developed tremendous respect for the brand's quality, innovation and design.  But I also confronted first-hand the silos that separate the company's considerable entertainment content from its hardware.

Sony owns movie and music companies and also markets the hardware on which to enjoy movies and music, not to mention videogames.  I can still recall the difficulty in getting Sony Music to come to the table with Sony Walkman (remember Walkman?).  These silos where invisible to most until Apple launched iPod and iTunes, a perfect combination of hardware and content.  Game. Set. Match.

That's why I was very excited to hear last week's announcement that Sony Pictures will offer
customers who own a web-enabled Sony Bravia TV the ability to stream Hancock, its summer blockbuster, before it is released on DVD.  Content and hardware working together to create unique value.  This was the simple vision of Sony's founder, Akio Morita, finally brought to life by Sir Howard Stringer, Sony's current CEO.

This test, if successful, has major implications for how movies will be distributed in the future and may do to video distribution what iTunes did to music distribution.

But I'm equally interested in the implications for the Sony brand.  I think we're about to see the brand rediscover its mojo.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Barack, please focus your campaign

Those who know me know that I am a passionate supporter of Barack Obama's campaign for President.  I talk up his candidacy.  I have been a foot soldier during the primaries going door-to-door.  I've given money.

But I am disappointed that Obama's advisors (and Barack himself) have not yet focused on the meaty issues facing America.  I'm all for change.  But what type of change?  So Barack, and your army of bloggers, here's my plea:  in the spirit of the great brand marketers, embrace one overarching idea and then focus all messages and policies to support this defining idea.

While it is true that Americans want change, we are a fairly risk-averse culture.  What we actually want is to change course toward a destination that is safe and secure.  We want a secure future that inspires optimism.  We want a secure future we can leave to our kids.   Some will argue for a return to a past that seems, in foggy hindsight, to be more secure than today.  But if the past was so good, how did we end up with failing schools, $4.00 gas, war, and melting ice caps?  

Barack, focus your candidacy on creating a more secure future for America.  Redefine national security.  Inspire Americans to understand that security goes beyond a strong military and, by doing so, undercut the Republican Party's single issue definition of security.  Focus on five policies that will create long-term economic, strategic and personal security.

Education is a security issue.  Better K-12 education creates economic security when our children are better prepared to compete in the global economy.  Alternative energy is a security issue.  Investing in wind, solar, and nuclear resources will lead to strategic security when the future of the United States is no longer held over a barrel.  Healthcare is a security issue.  Policies, both legislative and market-driven, that make healthcare more affordable will inspire a feeling of personal well-being and security.  The environment is a security issue.  Common sense initiatives that help lower greenhouse emissions will help guarantee the security of our communities, country and planet.  And, of course, military spending is a matter of great national security.  But what we need is a new investment strategy that leads to a more agile force capable of winning asymmetrical conflicts.

Barack?