What To Learn From: Pixar

Pixar is a creative powerhouse. Its fourteen feature films have earned 27 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, and 11 Grammy Awards.

But for all of its innovation – and its related refusal to accept the status quo – Pixar has an important relationship with reality. Its approach depends on its ability to create a world that is recognizable, but different. Expectedly unexpected.

And two quotes from Pixar directors – taken together – paint a smart, productive approach that any company could learn from:

“I believe in research. You can’t do enough research, believability comes out of what’s real.”
– John Lasseter (Cars)

“We don’t want to reproduce reality; we want to make the unbelievable believable.”
– Brad Bird (Incredibles)

Most companies do research in order to understand. And that’s a good thing. Understanding allows marketers to make things relevant. But relevance has a dark side. Make something too relevant and it becomes expected. Or worse, invisible.

Pixar’s approach is successful, in part, because it doesn’t settle on reality. Understanding the world is a first step to diverging from it.

You have to know the rules in order to break them.

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New Media. Same Truth.

Research shows 90% of people move between devices to accomplish a goal. As people spend more time on their mobile phones, reaching them “on-the-go” will continue to increase in importance.

Yet the small screen, like all media, provides its own set of challenges and opportunities. Some to-remain-unnamed brands, as seen in Example A focus on the challenges.

Their strategy appears to go along the lines of:

Marketing Manager One: “We have a small space. What do we do?”
Marketing Manager Two: “Boy, I don’t know. That is a small space.”
Marketing Manager One: “Could we trick someone into clicking on our link?”
Marketing Manager Two: “Interesting. But how?”
Marketing Manager One: “Let’s make it look like they have a friend request on Facebook. Even though they’re in The Weather Channel app. That could work”
Marketing Manager Two: “Who cares if they’re annoyed when they get there. They’ll be there. We’ve accomplished our task. We’ve overcome the challenge.”

It’s amazing that this kind of work is considered, much less approved. On the other hand, there are brands that focus on the opportunities, as seen in my favorite-mobile-ad-yet in Example B.

Lowe’s looked at the small space and (a) thought about what the consumer was interested in getting – the weather (b) tied themselves to the context – a nice spring day (c) didn’t get in the way – fit within the established graphic approach and (d) thought differently – staying away from the standard solution.

It’s expectedly unexpected. It’s well played all around. And it almost makes me want to garden.

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How To Preach To Your Choir

The concept of “preaching to the choir” is too often dismissed as unnecessary. Categorized as short-sighted. Labeled as redundant. Or, worse, preachy.

But the members of your choir are your loyalists. They are the like-minds connected around your values. As such, they matter. Preach to the right choir in the right way and that choir will grow. Arm them with stories and they’ll spread your message for you. Do right by them and they’ll do right by you.

But here’s the thing about choirs: They keep showing up to hear what you have to say. And while you can’t give the same sermon over and over, you have to give one every week.

Staying on point is key. After all, that’s the reason they keep showing up. But to keep your loyalists enthusiastic and engaged, you must find ways to stay fresh. To be expectedly unexpected.

Because your choir wants you to be consistent – in consistently new and interesting ways.

The Element of Surprise Is An Element Of Success

Underdogs never go out of style. But they’ve seemed even more front and center lately. The Butler Bulldogs. Tim Tebow. Linsanity. Chuck Klosterman has a theory about their recent, extra-special prominence.

Technology is getting better and better at predicting preferences, performances and outcomes. In response? We are all craving a little something different. A little something that proves what’s coming next is not completely predetermined. A little something that keeps us on our toes. A little something that allows us to have faith that there is still some magic in a world that appears more logical by the day.

Think about what that means for your brand.

Sure, there are times when delivering the logical conclusion is the logical conclusion. But “1 + 1 = 2” won’t capture anyone’s imagination. It won’t give anyone goosebumps. It won’t get people talking.

I wrote last week about how Adele and other musicians have learned how to give people chills. Their secret? The expectedly unexpected.

In sports, in culture, in marketing – a little bit of surprise goes a long way.

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How To Become A Marketing Rock Star. No, Literally.

Of all the overused handles too often associated with marketing professionals – guru, ninja, etc. – perhaps we should give “rock star” a pass.

Done well, rock and roll is truth well told. An emotional story. Boiled down to its essence. Told with passion. Inspiring legions of loyal fans. There’s quite a bit worth modeling.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “Anatomy of a Tear Jerker,” Michaeleen Doucleff took a look at Adele’s hit “Someone Like You.” He was interested in how it can – quite literally – give the listener chills.

In his research, he found that the types of music that give listeners chills share some characteristics. They create and resolve tension. They begin softly before suddenly becoming loud. They introduce new elements throughout the song. And they contain unexpected deviations in the melody or harmony. These lead to actual neurological responses. Doucleff boiled it down to a simple formula for Adele: “small surprises, a smoky voice and soulful lyrics, and then sit back and let the dopamine keep us coming back for more.”

I’d say it more simply. It’s expectedly unexpected.

Just one more lesson to be taken from a rock star.

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