Find Your Purpose.

We were not designed to live a life of monotony. We have always been told that we should spend each day on earth to the fullest, but with the way most of our days seem to blend together with the same chores, meetings, errands, and responsibilities, this concept may seem easier said than done.

The best thing about our industry, workplace, and culture is that every day, we are encouraged to recreate ourselves, share our ideas, showcase our work, and be inventive. We all hold different roles within the agency — planners, strategists, creatives, writers, accountants, analysts, developers, administrators, managers, leaders (The list goes on…) — and have the notion that we’re all here for the same purpose: Work hard, make money, build our reputation, and please our customers. However, I think this might not be entirely true. We all have our own talents, skills, dreams, hopes, aspirations, and individual traits that allow us to stand apart from our colleagues. Each of us has a solitary value that contributes to one common goal as a business.

Now, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself, “What is my purpose?”

Well, here is the simple formula:

What you love to do + What the world needs = Your mission
What the world needs + What you are paid for = Your vocation
What you are paid for + What you are good at = Your profession
What you are good at + What you love to do = Your passion
Your mission + Your vocation + Your profession + Your passion = Your purpose

Your purpose should not be defined by the title on your business card. Your purpose is to foster positive change, no matter the part you play within the agency. If you have an idea, write it down, email it to your manager, collaborate with coworkers. An idea is just an idea until it becomes an action with results. There is an Irish proverb by which I try my best to abide each day: You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind. Seek inspiration from everything and everyone around you, but most importantly, learn to spark your own fire.

Do the math.

How can you be a better predictor? Get foxy.

Nate Silver, statistician, first became noticed in the political world when he correctly guessed the outcome of 49 out of the 50 states in the 2008 presidential election. This year, he topped his election record by predicting outcomes of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Needless to say, his book released in September 2012 about making predictions, The Signal and the Noise, shot up to the bestseller list for nonfiction and was named’s #1 best nonfiction book of 2012.

There are many different areas of life where accurate predictions come in handy: From the housing markets to political outcomes, from the weather to baseball, there are things that we want to be able to predict so we feel better equipped to handle the future.

When you’re listening to experts on the news, what should you be looking for to know for sure that they are a better predictor? How can you think to become a better predictor? Silver cites Philip Tetlock, a psychology professor in the 1980s, for the answer. Tetlock administered surveys asking experts to predict a variety of events between the 1980s and 1990s, and found he could divide these people into two distinct categories: hedgehogs and foxes.

Tetlock received this analogy from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who received the comparison from the poet Archilochus. The fragment of one of his poems says, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Hedgehogs are generally the experts you see when you turn on your television. In politics, they’re interesting to watch because they stick with one candidate, even when the polls appear to be saying something different. They believe in big ideas and governing principles, generally using one or a few of these to explain everything that happens in society. Silver uses the examples of “Karl Marx and class struggle, or Sigmund Freud and the unconscious. Or Malcolm Gladwell and the ‘tipping point’” (Silver, 53). While simplistic might not be the accurate term for them, hedgehogs do strive to tie in all of their guiding principles into one large idea, and reject any notion that doesn’t fit into their big idea of the universe. Because of their bias and mindset, they might ignore clues that would lead their predictions to become more accurate.

Foxes, in contrast, don’t get as much air time. They are more able to see complexities and nuances, and believe in a lot of little ideas and using as many approaches as necessary to solve a problem. Isaiah Berlin uses examples like Aristotle, Shakespeare, Balzac, and Joyce as thinkers that use their many and varied experiences to form conclusions, instead of focusing on one big idea. They are more comfortable adjusting their predictions if there is evidence that they should do so. Because of their thought process, they might raise doubt over political candidates and qualify their predictions with a degree of probability. In politics, this means they aren’t as interesting to watch.

Any time you are working to predict the success of something in your day-to-day work, think about how you’re approaching that forecast. Are you using one technique that you have used for years; one that doesn’t allow room for adjustments if it doesn’t work out as planned, or are you willing to try options, leave room for doubt, and adjust as necessary to more accurately foresee an outcome? If you are a fox, the latter will apply.

So, how should you think? Use information instead of ignoring what doesn’t fit into your main idea, change with that information, and make the best forecast you can today, every day. Just remember to stay foxy.

The Social Bucket List

Applications and social startups are born at a faster rate than babies in the boomer generation by hopeful entrepreneurs anxious to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and Biz Stone. The majority of these startups never get off the ground, but a tiny fraction of them have the formidable combination of – a smart idea, unmet need, monetary support and most importantly, the agility and wherewithal to adapt and evolve – that ultimately launches them into the arms of Early Adopters.

One startup that’s caught my attention is the freshly released social start up, WhereBerry. The brainchild of Nick Baum and Bill Ferrell, former Google techies, seems like it could have a fighting chance.

Most social networks capitalize on what we’ve done in the past or what we’re doing now. The logical next step is for people to share what they want to do in the future. WhereBerry, which opened to the public last week, allows people to post activities they want to do… someday – from restaurants they want to eat at, to movies they want to see, to places they want to visit – people can organize and store their desires in one convenient place, turning the familiar “bucket list” virtual, and most importantly, social.

As a society of “dreamers” it is in our nature to make plans and set goals. As a rising society of “sharers” it is in our nature to broadcast these plans to friends. WhereBerry seems to have what it takes to capitalize on these popular behaviors. But it is at a fragile and vulnerable state in its growth, where important decisions can either make or break its success. I believe that if they can successfully accomplish the following, they could in fact be the next big thing:

  1. Community & Groups: With the rising popularity of social networks, we not only want to share, we want to be part of a community or group. What users of WhereBerry are going to want next is the ability to join together with others around entertaining, thrilling, educational and delicious activities. Providing users the ability to share plans with smaller, private groups will not only be a feature users are interested in using, but will allow the application to spread virally as friends plan together.
  2. Sharing on Steroids: The sharing is currently very straightforward: add to your list, post to your wall, see your friends’ to-dos in your feed, etc. WhereBerry should evolve the “share factor” by using a more complex formula – connecting people who have similar interests, presenting users with to-dos that seem to match with their trends (and location), suggesting plans their friends have, and more. The key is, users want the service to do the work for them and provide them with value they wouldn’t have on their own.
  3. Competition and Achievements: Based on your bucket list and the items you accomplish, users should be able to achieve recognition or status for their completed tasks (e.g. Advanced Foodie, Dare Devil, Movie Buff, etc.). This brings a level of competition to the utility and drives participation, stretching users to try more and more – and therefore use the social network more.
  4. Businesses & Brands: Selling this idea to brands by presenting the benefits to their business and getting them involved will provide substance to network by providing users with recommendations, deals and rewards, and will be the push to eventually turning this start-up into a money maker.
  5. Continuous Evolution: WhereBerry needs to pay close attention to analytics, use, feedback, and the industry as a whole to learn what users want. They need to quickly evolve, adapt, grow, simplify, and integrate in order to meet users’ rising expectations.

The tech world today is a rough one to survive in, and the get-rich-quick theory very rarely applies. In 3-5 years we may see WhereBerry checking “10 Million Users” off their bucket list. Or we may be asking, “What’s WhereBerry? A new BlackBerry device?”

Planningʼs Job Description: Focus on the Important. Part One.

The CMO of Coca-Cola was recently quoted in the New York Times on his approach to the down economy. “Donʼt let the urgent overwhelm the important.” I jotted it down, thinking it made a pretty great job description for any planner at any time. From time to time, Iʼd like to use this space to explore exactly what “the important” is.

I was greeted by the following in my Monday morning email: “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world,” John le Carre. (courtesy of the 4Aʼs Smart Brief)

Manitowoc, WI. Just north of the University of Wisconsin- Manitowoc. 7:40 A.M.

Manitowoc, WI. Just north of the University of Wisconsin- Manitowoc. 7:40 A.M.

It seemed an apropos way to start the week after Iʼd completed The Scenic Shore, a 150-mile bike ride from Milwaukee to Sturgeon Bay. I spent most of my ride marveling at all the things Iʼd missed by taking the expressway north for the past few decades.

Iʼve noticed that the explosion of information in my world seems to be even a little more exponential than usual lately. Statistics are more readily available than ever. RSS feeds are staying stuffed, there are simply too many tweets to read. No getting around that. But a friendly reminder (and a big note to self): Get out from behind your desk. Cycling is different than driving. County highways are different than the interstate. And actually talking to consumers is different than reading trend reports and statistics.

New inspiration is just waiting to be discovered.

The Idea Killing Department

Famous creative people have fewer ideas than the generic creative people. The Coen brothers walk in with a story idea and the first words out of your mouth aren’t, “what else have you got?”  So you ask yourself, what would their track record be like if they had to pitch concepts by the dozens and then go through a vetting process with focus groups?  Fargo becomes Mayberry.

You can’t run an organization without process.  But, procedure is the enemy of originality.

Most companies have a department dedicated to idea killing. Ironically, it’s called marketing. Now these bright, enthusiastic people don’t want to kill ideas, because they were put on this earth to bring ideas to life that will engage consumers and increase profits. Yet they are miscast in the role of professional filters eliminating anything that might embarrass the CEO or activate the legal department and public affairs. No wonder CMOs have such a short tenure. Their marching orders are to help win the war, but don’t get anyone shot at.

So if the corporate objective is to avoid risk first and get attention second, ideas get killed.

A healthier mind-set would be to treat every creative person as the next incarnation of Lee Clow, Alex Bogusky, or Jeff Goodby.  Looking for the brilliance in an idea is a much healthier orientation than the mental metal detector scanning for the flaw. There should be a universal no idea left behind rule. After all, a little combustibility might be just what a brand needs most.

So am I actually suggesting companies should lead with their chins and embrace controversy?

No. What is needed, though, is a little more aggression and a little less caution. Self-confident companies take bolder positions and defy conventions.

Years ago when Mastadons walked the earth and young people drank wine coolers, Hal Riney had the audacity to use geezers playing the roles of Bartels and Jaymes to sell cocktails to twenty somethings. These guys were seriously old, wore plaid shirts and suspenders and completely defied conventional wisdom. All they did was sell so much product that no one can remember any other wine cooler brand.

Today in Australia, Kotex brand is running a campaign with a beaver. Yeah, you read it right, a beaver.  It’s controversial to be sure. But no one’s getting hurt and a lot of women are buying Kotex.

I can’t know for sure that this idea didn’t come out of a stack of thirty storyboards. But wherever it started, there’s a famous creative person and famous client attached to it now. Somehow their process didn’t kill their profits.

Obama. A better president? Maybe. A better brand? Definitely.

If one thing is certain in this moment in history, Barack Obama won the branding battle.  When we see the now familiar new age patriotic symbol of a round blue circle enclosing an earth of red and white stripes, we immediately fill in a sense of hopefulness and change, a new political order.  Criticized for lacking specifics, Obama won the broader, more emotional war of themes.  He seemed on message all of the time forcing McCain to constantly react.  McCain’s message became of litany of don’t rather than do, of can’t rather than can, won’t rather than will.

There’s no question the financial market crisis that is unsparing in its carnage has put perhaps only one person into a better place.  Barack  Obama.  The economy has even turned Joe Biden into the “other Joe” in the campaign as Joe the Plumber has come to symbolize our rude awakening from the American Dream.  I hope this Alpha Joe has a good agent.

There’s no more powerful change agent than a bad economy, but that aside Obama’s ascension is a case study in the market dynamics of new brand versus old.  Positive versus negative.  Simple and direct versus detailed and pedantic.  Emotional versus rational.

Being new doesn’t hurt.  Many of today’s most familiar brands were unknown ten years ago.  Amazon, Prius, Yahoo, iPod, Starbucks, Ikea, Jet Blue, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Red Bull, Ultimate Fighting Championship, even Al Qaeda.  In spite of McCain’s try to make more, pardon the expression, liberal use of the word “change,” Brand Obama came to represent it.  The newer face has advantages here.  If Sarah Palin supporters are about to raise their hands in protest, let’s not ignore that new also represents risk.  That offsetting position was McCain’s advantage and biggest counterpoint.  Whatever he gained from choosing Palin as a running mate was certainly compromised in the lost opportunity to position Obama’s newness against him.

That being said, here are four things all brands should do in their message strategy, that Obama simply did better:

  1. Avoid the past.   That’s where brands go to die.
  2. Don’t be negative, be comparative.  There’s an art to pointing out the deficiencies in your opponent using tact rather than venom.  Think Mac versus PC here.
  3. Take a position your opponent can’t.  Or, better yet out flank your opponent by taking their best position away from them.  Obama anticipated a historic weakness in the Democratic brand perception of tax and spend, so he got out in front of the issue early by offering the entire middle class a tax break.  McCain was trumped on his best issue.
  4. Keep it simple.

It’s not likely that great brand strategies alone can make great presidents.  But they can make one brand win over the other.  Which can put the winner in a position to let all the other tests determine his or her greatness.

The Allure and Importance of Stories

One of Harley-Davidson’s mantras is, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” And those journeys create numerous stories. Having just helped launch the Motor Company’s first Museum, I experienced first-hand another journey with one of America’s top brands.

Since I’d lived, worked and traveled in Europe and Seattle many years earlier, I was cognizant of just how far away the motorcycle company’s consumer base extended and the connections that people had with the brand. In conversations with new acquaintances, I often shared that I had grown up west of Milwaukee and the common response was, “Oh! Harley-Davidson!” And the stories would begin.

By working with the Museum team, I had the opportunity to learn so much more about the Motor Company and enjoyed hearing many personal stories of those that have experienced or been touched by Harley-Davidson. It’s made me reflect on how Harley-Davidson has built its brand over the past 105 years.

As marketing professionals, we need to factor in numerous details when creating our campaigns. The Harley-Davidson brand showcases the benefit and importance of keeping in mind that at the heart of every brand is the consumer and the consumer’s personal connection to the brand. How does it make you feel? What memory does the brand conjure up for you? What memory should you help create? What memories, stories or feelings can we use to connect the brand with the targeted media or consumers?

Shortly after the Harley-Davidson Museum opened, I had lunch with a colleague at Motor, the restaurant at the Museum. During that time we reflected on some of our memorable moments that we shared in our journey in helping launch the Museum. And for those of you that think PR is glamorous, I’ll share one of our journeys… After months of pitching an early morning national TV show producer, I got a green light on the day before Grand Opening that they would cover the Museum on Grand Opening day. At 3 a.m. on Grand Opening day, we drove to the Museum in a severe thunderstorm to meet our clients, a group of devoted Harley-Davidson riders and the morning show crew. We waited out of the rain until the last possible moment before staging the bikes, and then literally just before the shot, we had to frantically run to get rags to dry off the bikes since the producer in New York didn’t want the motorcycles to be wet…But believe me, all of the work was well worth the 50 seconds of coverage on one of the top morning shows.

As my colleague and I continued to share our stories, I took note of the lunch crowd. It was a good representation of those that we were trying to reach – an older couple, international travelers, male and female motorcyclists from MI who had taken the ferry over and rode to the Museum, and young professionals. I wish that I could’ve taken a longer lunch and joined their tables to hear their stories from their journeys and their connection to one of the best-known American brands.

A Genuinely Good PR Idea

Maybe it’s just me — but in today’s highly cynical, me first, get outta my way world – I think that Miller Genuine Draft’s new “Search for Genuine” campaign is brilliant.

I love the TV spots featuring people facing simple ethical situations and recording how they respond with hidden cameras. They stand out simply because it seems to be such a rarity for someone today to actually do the right thing. Obviously, there are larger implications for society in general regarding what I just said, but I’m here to talk about PR – which brings me to the ad I found this morning in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This half-page ad asks readers to help identify the “genuine” guy who found a teen’s wallet at Summerfest and returned it to the owner’s home that same night without identifying himself or asking for anything in return.

The ad / PR idea was spurred by Journal Sentinel Columnist Jim Stingl’s recount of that story last week. When they find the guy – and be sure, they will – he’ll get free MGD for a year, compliments of Miller. Oh, and whoever helps Miller identify the guy will also get free MGD for a year. (Which is why I’m SURE they’ll find him. I wish I knew who he is…)

What a fantastic, tangible, dead on execution of a PR extension of the broader ad campaign. It’s timely, it’s local, it’s relevant and resonates deeply with anyone who ever lost their wallet — man, that’s a terrible feeling. It also keenly involves the local dominant media outlet and it will undoubtedly garner significant attention for Miller well beyond the cost of a ½ page ad and 48 cases of beer.

It’s a genuine example that a truly integrated, effective marketing campaign can and should look to include good PR ideas to maximize effectiveness.

Old Media’s not a Bad Idea or a Good Idea.
New Media’s Not a New Idea. Ideas are the Idea.

In the debate between new or old media, viral or traditional advertising, push or pull
marketing, PR or product placement, one question comes out of the clutter, virtual or real. Is
there an idea in there? What are the words in the word-of-mouth campaign going to say?
What grand design will drive the digital?

You have to admire an industry that keeps finding ways to invade people’s privacy with new
technologies. I’m sure you can’t wait for your phone to start offering you Viagra when you
can’t get it up, or Tums when you can’t keep it down.

Maybe that’s why the best marketing was never an interruption. It was always a discovery.
The message never confused itself with the medium.

If you and the brand you’re working for are going to survive the next technology shift, realize
that it’s your ideas that will get you through. Artificial intelligence suggests that ideas can be
programmed. Well, not to worry, so can you. And yours will be better, or we’re all headed for

Ideas occur in four steps. (It’s the third and easiest step that’ll get you down.)

Step one. Know what it is you’re trying to have an idea about. Seems obvious, but it isn’t.
Clever headlines, visuals, or publicity stunts aren’t ideas if they’re just there to get noticed.
Mixing plaids will get you noticed, too. If you can state your brand strategy in one simple,
declarative statement, you’re on your way to having an idea.

Step two. Absorb everything there is to know about the brand. It’s competitors. It’s
consumers. It’s selling channel. This is a good time to read that segmentation study.

Step three. Incubate. This is the secret step few know about, appreciate, or have the patience
to wait through. Your brain needs time to sort the data dump from step two and actually work
on the problem. It can’t produce an idea without some time off. This phenomenon is
commonly known as writer’s block. It’s shortened more careers than Donald Trump. The
antidote is relaxing. Thinking about something else doesn’t just help, it’s required.

Step four. Epiphany. The cliché is that the idea hits you in the middle of the night, or in the
shower when you least expect it. It’s true. And it’s a proven neurological fact.

James Webb Young, a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson in the early 20th century, wrote a great
little book called “A Technique For Producing Ideas.” He makes the idea process simple and

Creative people take these steps instinctively, but knowing how ideas get made should give
anyone the confidence to work on them. Anyone except the client’s spouse or children that is.
Years of study have shown that’s where ideas go to die.

The sooner the rest of us get engaged in ideas, the sooner consumers will get engaged with
our brands no matter where they encounter them.