Casey Flanagan

The Longer Distance Between Point A and Point B

The Busy Trap” – an oft-shared op-ed piece from the New York Times – was making its way around Facebook again the other day. It’s a topic du jour in these increasingly cluttered times. Even the venerable Economist is touting the benefits of getting away from the grind with its recent piece, “In Praise Of Laziness.”

But it really isn’t about being lazy. From Archimedes and Isaac Newton to Bill Gates and Jack Welch, important ideas are borne from actively playing, consciously resting and purposefully wandering.

Said another way, we can’t be busy being busy. We must be busy being better. And that can mean being efficiently inefficient – trying new ideas, processes and paths. A recent trip to a children’s museum (see pics above), for instance, reminded me that the occasional trip to places like a children’s museum are valuable to the creative process.

Now, the value of getting away is not new news. But when was the last time you ventured away from the shortest distance between points A and B? Will Rogers was right about limbs. They are where the fruit is.

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Casey Flanagan

Benjamin Franklin, Project Manager

Charles Darwin, business consultant. Albert Einstein, account planner. Pablo Picasso, creative director. Benjamin Franklin… project manager.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

“You may delay, but time will not.”

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

“Well done is better than well said.”

“Lost time is never found again.”

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Casey Flanagan

The Evolution Of The Fox

Twelve years ago, Jim Collins’ book Good To Great was a breakthrough best seller. One of its most memorable anecdotes was in praise of the hedgehog:

An ancient Greek parable distinguishes between foxes, which know many small things, and hedgehogs, which know one big thing. All good-to-great leaders, it turns out, are hedgehogs. They know how to simplify a complex world into a single, organizing idea—the kind of basic principle that unifies, organizes, and guides all decisions.

Nate Silver’s breakthrough best seller from last year, The Signal And The Noise – written about making predictions in the world of increasing clutter – values the other animal in the parable duo. And it’s a good example of changing sensibilities in the Digital Age:

Hedgehogs, Silver says, are those who believe “in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws.” Foxes, by contrast, “are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem.”

The fox has come a long way in the last dozen years. Foxes see complexity, acknowledge nuance and aren’t afraid to test new ways. They adjust as necessary. And account for all the information available – even if it doesn’t fit their preexisting framework. As a result, they consider more. Have a broader perspective. And, Silver argues, make better predictions.

Being able to simplify the complex has always been important. But has never been more so. The ability to consider more from more sources has earned the fox not just a seat at the conference room table – but an increasingly important voice.

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Casey Flanagan

The Speed Of The Spread

An article in this week’s New Yorker titled Slow Ideas provides a fascinating look at how medical innovations spread – and don’t.

At the core of the article are the stories of two nineteenth century inventions – anesthesia and antiseptic. Just two months after its first public demonstration, anesthesia was being used around the world. Antiseptic, on the other hand – despite being the solution to the single biggest killer of surgical patients – took decades to gain traction. The author offers observes two key differences in the ideas that affected the speed of their adoption:

  1. “[Anesthesia] combatted a visible and immediate problem (pain); [antiseptics] combatted an invisible problem (germs) whose effects wouldn’t be manifest until well after the operation.”
  2. “Although both made life better for patients, only one made life better for doctors. Anesthesia changed surgery from a brutal, time-pressured assault on a shrieking patient to a quiet, considered procedure. [Antiseptic], by contrast, required the operator to work in a shower of carbolic acid. Even low dilutions burned the surgeons’ hands.”

The first difference speaks to immediacy. The second to ease. All you spreaders-of-ideas, take note. The equation isn’t complicated. But it’s often overlooked.

Take the Surface RT. Microsoft recently announced it was taking a $900 million write-down to reflect unsold inventory at a time when the iPad continues to break sales records. This despite the fact that the Surface RT has some features that are genuinely interesting and differentiating. Times blogger Nick Bilton writes its undoing came from the fact that it made people… think. And that can be a recipe for disaster.

Successful idea spreaders get this. Focus wins. Or, in the words of Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester, “Apple gets this, and limits options to connectivity, storage and black… or white.”

It’s immediate. It’s easy. Now start spreading.

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Casey Flanagan

Exciting vs. Good

Stability is rarely exciting.

Lengthy tracking reports have a way of driving this point home – for both the presenter and the audience.

It is important to remember, though, lack of excitement has no bearing on amount of “good.” In the same way that good research doesn’t have to include new findings, it need not be “exciting” either. Stable, expected results – while not newsworthy – can be among the best presentations to sit through.

I was reminded of this when the Nate Silver news (he’s leaving the New York Times) hit this week. While we all want to report soundbites breathlessly, many meaningful changes happen in small increments. Slowly. Over time. Silver’s FiveThirtyEight is a great example of this. Within stable returns, there is still a powerful story to be told.

And stability? It can be good – even great. Especially when it comes to results.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.


Casey Flanagan

Marketing. By The Numbers.

It’s not news that marketers are spending more time “looking at the numbers.” And that time is most often time well spent. But if you were to only have time to look at two numbers, I’d recommend a really big one (2,500,000,000,000,000,000) and one that is relatively small (79). These two numbers go a long way towards framing up the job of a marketer in The Digital Age.


We have more information – and more access to information – than ever before. Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (fun fact: quintillion has 18 zeros, I had to look it up) — so much so that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.


In an analysis of 1,800+ products and services in 75 categories, Brand Keys found that 79% of products and services had no points of meaningful differentiation. As a result, consumers judged 22 categories – almost one-third of the those explored – as having ZERO differentiated brands.


The digital ecosystem offers your user a shortcut to information. Your brand offers your user a shortcut to understanding. A deliberate effort must be made align the two. A brand that isn’t well defined and consistently presented is at an even greater disadvantage in The Digital Age. As people are faced with more choices and more information from more sources, how a brand appears visually and how it’s presented contextually become more and more important.

After all, what good are all of these ones and zeros if they don’t help improve understanding?

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.


Casey Flanagan

Know Your Sources

I received an email earlier this week from Jim Geurts titled 13 Stats to Convince Your Boss to Invest in Mobile in 2013. It was a great read – I’d highly encourage you to spend a few minutes with it. A sampling: 25.85% of all emails are opened on mobile phones, and 10.16% are opened on tablets.

The content was great. But what I appreciated even more were the sources. (The stat above comes from Knotice).

In the Digital Age, facts can lose context easily. And, with an ever-increasing supply of “fact,” there is danger in Googling for answers. The numbers that seem too good to be true? They can be just that.

If a number is important, follow it to its source. A recent non-marketing example drives the point home as clearly as any I’ve seen. It comes from an article in this month’s Atlantic titled How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?:

The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless—30 percent—was also calculated based on historical populations… In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment.

It’s not a marketing example, but the author’s point can – and must – be applied to anyone seeking truth online these days: “Most people assume these numbers are based on large, well-conducted studies… but they are not.”

Know your numbers. But, as importantly, know your sources.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.


Casey Flanagan

Talking Tactics

We’ve all been in meetings that have been taken off track with an accusation that “we’ve gone in the weeds” by talking tactics, not strategy. But, as someone who spends a good deal of time in the world of strategy, I have to admit: I like talking tactics.

Tactics are… tactile.

There is an obvious value in strategy. It’s where game-changing priorities can be set. Where meaningful connections can be made. And where important investments can be justified.

But when we talk strategy, we speak at a high level. At that high level, details are – by necessity – left undefined. Conversations that seem to be on the same page can, in reality, can be all over the proverbial white board.

I believe that it’s never too early to talk tactics. Doing so can even help refine strategy – by allowing for tangible examples. So don’t fear talking tactics. Just follow these simple rules:

  1. Stay honest. Be clear you’re indeed talking about a tactic. Tactics aren’t bad. They just aren’t strategies. Like a strategy, they are a means towards an end. But they have the benefit of usually leaving less room for interpretation.
  2. Stay flexible. Don’t get attached too early. There is more than one way to skin a cat. The tactics are the ways. The strategy is the skinning. Don’t need to skin a cat? There are tactics for that, too.
  3. Stay respectful of the bigger picture. Value the strategy. Don’t sacrifice it in the name of a tactic. Just know that the more comfortable you can be giving both a seat at the table, the better the end result.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.



Kelly Christiansen

Beware people who tell you what they think. Trust people who tell you what they know.

In a previous post about personal growth for brands, I referenced the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. We can investigate the third agreement, “don’t make assumptions” by answering the following question: Why do we make assumptions in the first place? 


A1: False Confidence.

Assumptions are often made on the foundation of a false confidence. We may have a false confidence if we previously worked on a similar brand, client, or project. Yes, we may know some truths about the audience, product, brand, or culture – which can help us relate – but we cannot make assumptions about the business, marketing, or communication objectives, until we have accurate, current information about this brand, client, or project.

Solution: Put previous knowledge and experience on the back burner and get current and accurate info.


A2: Misperception.

Missing details can cause misperception. That’s the danger of assumptions.  When we are confused sometimes we just fill in the blanks ourselves. We need to fill in the blanks by asking questions.  We need to get the details and information. Then we can fill in the blanks with the correct answers. We get rid of confusion.

Solution: Fill in the blanks by asking questions.


A3: Changing variables.

Assumptions work when the variables are consistent. We live in an age where variables that change daily are changing slowly.  Double-check the realities each time. Objectives may have changed. Market dynamics may have shifted. New trends have an impact.

Solution: Verify the factors that could impact your objective first.


When we don’t make assumptions, it means we are asking questions and listening.

When we are asking questions and listening, it means we are filling in the blanks with the correct answers.

When we are filling in the blanks with the correct answers, we set ourselves up to achieve our objective.


Ilana R. Borzak

A Pitch with a Hitch?

A couple of months ago I wrote about two religions that use marketing (here and here) and I used the de facto terminology for describing religions’ marketing strategies,  “retention” and “recruitment.”  These words reveal an assumption we make when religions use marketing. They are either convincing members to remain connected to and active within their religious communities (retention) or influencing unaffiliated people to join (recruitment).

And we don’t use “retention” and “recruitment” to describe non-religion brands’ marketing efforts.  Traditional brands (1) create ads for “awareness” and “acquisition” goals (2). They inform a person of a product’s existence (awareness) or compel him or her to purchase it (acquisition). From a widely recognized beverage brand like Coca-Cola to an unknown tech startup to a nonprofit with an average level of recognition, these terms are used almost universally. Religion is the exception.

The different words we use reflect a view that religion is authoritarian. Both “retention” and “recruitment” describe a relationship with a clear power dynamic where the religion marketer exerts power over members and non-members to “retain” or “recruit” them. In contrast, the customer is the beneficiary in a non-religion marketing relationship. The customer gains knowledge through “awareness” or product through “acquisition.” Our speech attributes more unscrupulousness to religions than giant corporations with marketing budgets in the billions, even though many reliable surveys reveal that Americans trust clergy more than advertising and marketing professionals (3).  Perhaps the inconsistency between how we talk and what we think is the result of a strategic campaign the industry ran to improve a profit-driven image, whereas the language for religion remains honest and true to marketing’s goals. As a marketing professional, it sounds like the job for a good PR team.



(1) For lack of a better term, I use “traditional” to describe a brand that is not a religion. Feel free to reach out to me with a better term.

(2) From my research and conversations, albeit limited, I have found the retention/recruitment and awareness/acquisition divide to be somewhat consistently applied in the product and religious marketing spheres.

(3) See, for instance, these Gallup and GFK survey results.