Hope is no way to do business

What is your customer really looking for?

What is your customer really looking for?

We have a tiny farmers market in Redlands every Saturday morning. Each week these small local farmers show up and hope. They hope that someone might come by and buy something. And then hope even more that they will fall in love with their produce and become their customer for life. The sellers show items that any passer-by might want, usually the same produce that they could get somewhere else if they weren’t going to buy it on impulse between 9am and 1pm on this Saturday.

The girl selling honey has a different strategy. She understands the worldview of the hipsters and grandmas who come to buy her honey. They don’t really want honey; they want to feel more connected to the world. They want a story. And honey from the daughter of a World War II veteran who returned from the war and only wanted to raise bees and produce organic, unrefined, unfiltered, single crop honey has a cool factor. And that she is helping him live his dream even now is a great, feel good story.

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The honey maker knows her customers and what makes them tick before she sets up her stall, and she creates special offerings just for them. And people line up to pay for her stories she tells.

It shows me that understanding your customers is a better strategy than hope.

Ideas come in many forms

What inspires you? Make the emotional connection be authentic.

What inspires you? Make the emotional connection be authentic.

A movie. A label on a can.

A directional sign at the beach.

Recognizing and harnessing the spark is the hard part. Seek more inspiration.

How the best creative happens

You're not being paid to create art. You're being paid to communicate a message.

You’re not being paid to create art. You’re being paid to communicate a message.

The best creative happens when we don’t try to design it and just get our ego out of the way. Just share the message. If your customer wanted a masterpiece, they would go to an artist and just say, “Create!” But if your customer wants a brochure about their company, tell their story. Don’t try to create a portfolio piece or win an award. The more you try to show off, the more you get in the way of the message.

And when the brochure makes a customer buy that product that is the best creative in the world.

The role of color

Here is a short (haha!) lesson in color theory that I put together from my experience working week-in and week-out at San Manuel casino. With over 40 different acts every year, plus special promotions and events, I was able to track what colors sold an act that was determined to be a “dog” or hard-sell, and what colors could even kill what should have been a sure-thing.

Color is a balancing act.

Color is a balancing act.

Color plays a key role in the success of advertising. After all, it’s pretty much the first thing anyone notices, making color your best – and sometimes only – chance to get a message across. For this post, I will concentrate on color and save font choices for another time.

The use of color in most design for marketing and advertising is driven by certain obvious reasons; the need to reflect a specific brand, as well as the attempt to communicate a certain mood determined by the product. Company branding is pretty straightforward – specific colors dictated by logos and other collateral will need to be incorporated into at least part of the design. The choice of color scheme for conveying the ‘personality’ of a product is often a lot harder to develop.

 

But some colors are actually more right than others. There is a psychological and physical impact on people. The significance of various colors isn’t universal and unchanging – in many ways it’s quite the opposite: various ethnicities and cultures often associate the same color with very different emotions and ideas.

 

And if this all sounds questionable, good. It means you have a brain, now use it. I have found that color can actively influence consumers and I use my knowledge for good and evil… Here are some of my basic color facts:

 

Red

Red, the most vibrant and powerful of colors, seems like a good place to start. Since studies have shown that it’s the first color babies recognize, and one that continues to appeal to most people throughout their childhood and into their adult lives. At a purely symbolic level, it’s the color of fire and blood, an association that’s common to all cultures and therefore extremely powerful. Less specifically, it’s a color that seems to be associated with energy, war, danger and power, not to mention passion, desire, and love.

 

So what does that mean for marketing?

To start with, some of these associations are so deeply ingrained that it’s stupid to use a color other than red to represent certain things. Try showing extreme emotions such as violence or passion with shades of blue and you’re going to run into problems. What’s more, I have seen in its brighter variations (tomato), red actually provokes a physical response by creating action in both men and women. For this reason, its use in ‘sexy’ advertising scenarios or as an erotically charged statement (on lips or fingernails) should quite literally set hearts beating faster – and as I mentioned, it works equally at arousing both men and women. Whether the physiological ‘red effect’ happens simply as a result of its associations; or because the color itself somehow provokes such a response; or, if, indeed, this effect relies on a combination of the two isn’t something that matters. Who cares why? What is important is that red, like virtually every other color, exerts a measurable influence on the consumer.

 

More about the ‘red effect’… different from any physical reactions it might provoke, red is association with force, and power, and is an extremely dominant one. Consider all the small details in our everyday lives that support this: red icons on switches to indicate their ‘on’ state, the plastic coating on ‘live’ wires, the tiny red glow that tells us an electrical appliance is working. All of this makes red the best color to suggest fast-moving action or extreme force – examples of uses that fall into this category include sports, slot machines, action-adventure or dancing. This deep-rooted association with power also makes red a good candidate for any product that seeks to impart the idea of improvement, rapidity or physical change. Red also increases appetite, making it an excellent choice for advertising food (Chinese restaurants use red color schemes for this reason, but – red simply happens to be a very popular and ‘lucky’ color in the Chinese culture). However, if enticing diners to eat heartily is something you’re aiming to do, an all-red environment is a good way to get stomachs rumbling.

 

Pink

Although it derives from red, pink has little of red’s forceful qualities. In fact, although it’s usually perceived as a warm and fairly upbeat color, it is, of course, popularly associated with femininity and even passivity. A cliché, perhaps, but its vigor-reducing reputation has again been shown to have some basis in fact. A famous study showed a shade of bubble-gum pink used in certain cells in a men’s prison was unexpectedly found to change aggressive inmates behavior and make them more docile. Research corroborated the fact that pink did indeed have significant calming qualities – although a subsequent study revealed that after a certain time these effects were dramatically reversed as prisoners became more agitated and aggressive than before. (Surprised? You try living in a bubble gum pink environment). The fact that pink does induce at least a temporary sensation of calm makes it a powerful factor in the color-coordinated approach to advertising. It became a favorite for any female only promotions such as Ladies Night Out. This association was explored on a very limited basis because the strong association with femininity means that anything ‘too’ pink is was completely ignored by men.

 

There’s one other area in which pink has an interesting effect, however – and one that didn’t alienate males. It was in food product posters on-site. I theorized that the color lead consumers to believe they’re tastier, or even identify a flavor that isn’t actually present. And pink coloring is a particularly effective way of suggesting sweetness. This may relate to the fact that it’s often used as a coloring in candies, but whatever the case, the association is powerful enough to substantially increase a food’s perceived sugariness or even depth of flavor. Although in these health-conscious times sweet, sugary foods have lost much of their popularity, the marketing of products inside the casino, on the floor worked: feel-good desserts, ice creams, and shakes.

 

 

Green

Occurring naturally as a sign of plant growth and renewal, green is one of those colors that are universally seen as positive, fresh and fertile. It’s the easiest color for the eye to assimilate and therefore one of the most relaxing; it induces feelings of calm and restfulness, and can even improve vision. In short, it’s a very positive color indeed. This emphasis on nature, freshness and renewal means that I commonly used green to emphasize the new, improved offerings of a repeated promotion from a previous year. But if you notice a certain irony in this, good, because green, of course, has steadily evolved into the symbol of all that’s ecologically aware. Congruity in advertising – or the notion that what’s implied about a product should be supported by its reality – is one of the most vital aspects of marketing. Get this wrong, and there’s no consumer forgiveness. Its current associations have equally led to opportunities for more refined targeting. Wholesome, healthy food items were quickly identified as such through predominant use of green.

 

Different greens, different meanings… Green is a symbolically complex color, and particular shades transmit subtly different messages. Darker greens – the classic color of money – have long held an association with casinos. The added implication of wealth and savings made green a good choice for promotions, particularly any Ass-In-Seat promotion. Lime greens sucked. It never sold anything when it was used. Finally, association with green from its use in traffic control to signify ‘go’ was a great tie-in. This link with movement, forward motion and vehicles made it a good choice for anything related to transportation: bussing, train networks, travel promotions. And for online advertising, using green for buttons or links – clicked – you’re practically inviting a user to go ahead and do so. Oddly enough, red in this context never seemed to work, maybe green was seen as a less risky click.

 

Blue

Blue is the world’s most popular color. And as one that, like green, occurs in nature – the hue of skies, water and sea – it’s not surprising that it’s so well loved. With such universal associations and widespread appeal, blue is an important asset to any color use. Unlike very warm colors, which provoke impulsive, passionate responses, blue is a cerebral color that’s commonly associated with clear thinking and intellect. Surprisingly, darker blues have a widespread appeal among men and works fantastic in and out of a casino setting.

Blue emerges as a clear favorite in almost any casino advertisement. Its implication of steadiness made it an effective choice for San Manuel’s branding, although its white-collar association with conservatism could have hurt perception, in the long-run, it helped. Blue’s lighter, brighter shades, takes on happier, sparkling and spontaneous overtones. The pure and natural aspect of such blues convey a sense of cleanliness and freshness and drew patrons from every demographic. Bright blue became the obvious choice for the typical entertainment advertising. Evocative of cloudless skies and inviting pools, it gives a tantalizing taste of tranquility and relaxation. In fact, blue is such a flexible and well-liked color that it’s almost impossible to miss-use – with one major exception.

Foods really don’t benefit from any kind of association with blue. Maybe the blue/food combo induces feelings of nausea. We instinctively associate the color with something that’s rotten and unsafe to eat, but whatever the case, it’s not a great choice for marketing any type of casino meal.

 

If you’re still with me…

I will cover yellow, white, black,orange, purple, and brown in another post.

For now… takeaways to consider: Sometimes the decision is partly intuitive – most people understand (even at a very basic level) that bright colors will convey a different kind of mood than neutral grays or dull and muted colors. The guidelines of traditional color theory come up as a kind of balancing act to ensure that everything works together and that the right kind of colors are used.

Mike and Math

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I woke up from a sound sleep last night with an upset stomach. It growled like an angry grizzly bear annoyed by some hipster campers trying to get a wi-fi connection near his personal salmon stream. I got up and looked around in my cabinets for something, anything to keep my puke record untarnished.

I found nothing.

I headed back to bed with a delicate and cautious step. I hurt even worse now – this was not the time for Pepto-Bismol to be missing. I felt like one of those bad actors on a late night TV commercial, acid reflux bubbling up like old faithful at Yosemite. Then when he takes his Previcid, everything is better and the world is a great place to live again. I love television.

While the next 45 minutes, 2700 seconds, of uncomfortable sleeplessness passed, one queasy second at a time, I counted.

Why? I don’t know.

Sometime you just get delirious when you’re sick and want it to be over. You want to be back in Neverland, asleep, especially when no meds of any kind are to be found. At least I do. So I counted. I counted LEDs on my laptop screen, square footage of my house, miles to work. The quickest way to the mall, and the vision that came to me was remarkable. Mrs. Catoe, my high school Algebra teacher, her shriveled face and bee-hive hair swirled in my head like a fast break on my best friends pool table when we tried to pretend we were hustlers in a movie.

Finally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up this morning, all seemed fine. A-okay.

I wondered if counting could be my new cure all my disorders. “I can count on Sesame Street’s Count for relief,” I joked with myself. And even though it wasn’t clever, I still chucked to myself.

Close call last night.

I laid in bed for a few minutes listening to the “too ugly for TV” DJs banter back and forth over the beginning of Madonna’s Papa don’t preach song, waiting for a possible abdominal disruption. Just in case something was hiding out from the night before, like a sneaky commando in the trenches of my innards, getting ready to toss a little grenade of gurgle.

While I waited it came to me that Mikey had swiped my Pepto about three months ago. And counting again, I figured it was 87 days, or more precisely…2092 hours earlier.

He has rushed in after a night of alcohol, calling and checking that I was awake. Complaining of his imminent death to be caused by Tequila and tacos.  “My stomach contains the Mexican Revolution,” he told me. “I’m dying.”  “I’ve got just the thing,” I said. “It’s small and pink, take it.”

I dreamed then of being a doctor.

I pictured myself saving lives.

I pictured patient after patient, lying on sweat-soaked gurneys, with the most awful stomach cramps in the history of disease, with convulsions, and a priest by their side. In the nick of time I would show up in a whirl of medical glory and spoon feed the miracle drug I had just invented in my laboratory. And they would be cured! And I would be the super-hero doctor forever!

After letting Mike take my bottle of milky pink elixir, he just left. Not even a “Gracias.”

I thought he was dying.

When I ask him I’m sure he won’t remember Pancho Villa shooting up his stomach.

And I’m positive he won’t care if I explain my disappointment at my failure to become a Hippocratic hero.

For today, though, I will leave my thoughts of Pepto-Bismol behind.

And resolve not to discuss it with Mike for another two weeks. 345 hours. 20,700 minutes.

The bottle is probably just sitting on his kitchen counter, just one of the 43 things sitting there.

Another forgotten number.

The Most Dangerous Thing About Competitors

Stop struggling to be better than the competition. Be better than what you were yesterday.

Stop struggling to be better than the competition.

…is your obsession with them.

We live in a giant community park called the internet. This makes everyone obsess over and get stuck watching and worrying about what the competition is doing. We follow them on Twitter, lurk on their blogs and Facebook, and wonder about every pin and re-pin they make. It seems like every move they make, every victory, acquisition and award is there for the world to see.

But, take your eyes off your phone, mobile, and screen and take a look in the mirror. There’s your real competition. What did you do yesterday to be more remarkable? It’s way more productive and more profitable to obsess over your business and what your customers are doing, then figure out how you can make yourself the thing they can’t live without, or how to help them to do it with more ease.

Becoming your competition means using the same rules to beat yourself at your own game. Focusing on your customers’ desires might be the strategy to beat the competition.

Ideas start as words

And most businesses think in words. Open anybody’s notebook and you’ll see that. It’s true.

Photography by Andrew Phipps

Carlos Mencia – March 2010

Communication = words + visuals.

Ideas are the only reason to communicate.

They are integral to the process. Without a message, the conversation is incomplete.

The world is built on interactions and not transactions

Steve shows up on time. He designs two posters and three billboards by lunch, then sits back and waits impatiently for the five hours until he can leave to click down. And spends that time looking busy while bitching through email about how much he hates his job to a sympathetic spouse. All because he wasn’t singled out and congratulated for his great speed.

Lisa takes five minutes to chat to the coworker who has a story about his kids, and remembers the new kid has a birthday coming up. And goes out of her way to create a hand-made card for the office to sign. She remembers being that awkward newbie that just started and everyone ignores. She works hard, but she also works smart. And her work is impeccable. The clients who ask for her by name are happy to wait until she’s free. Her day is gone before she realizes it.

Are you telling yourself you're a hard worker when you're really a Queen "B"?

Are you telling yourself you’re a hard worker when you’re really a Queen “B”?

The truth is that both employees perform, but one employee is considered a worker bee and the other isn’t. Everyone respects one and the other is only fooling themself.

The story we tell as people and in our work is our impact on our whole life. And these stories scale. And in our increasingly connected world business is built on interactions and not transactions.

What is the story you’re telling yourself?

Everything has it’s own story

… every time you communicate you should tell a story …

Everything in nature and life has so many stories to tell.

Everything in nature and life has so many stories to tell.

My clients are not just companies they are people who also believe in the importance of remarkable stories. And every company has story after story. Just waiting to be told in an interesting and compelling way.

Leaders put passion into what they do. It’s about more than money. They have something unique and compelling — different than what anyone else has done — and they need to recognize that to compete through the future they need to tell their story. My strength lies in creating memorable connections through photography, story and design.

You want people to love you

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Not the way they love food or music. You want people, after the first time they deal with your business, to run immediately to their closest friends and tell them how amazing you are and why they should go buy what you sell. Today. Not now, yesterday! You are now their hero and they can’t figure out how they ever lived without you.

This shouldn’t be mission impossible. It’s your mission statement. Your business is fantastic. You regularly amaze your customers. They’re thrilled they found you.

So, what’s the problem? Are new customers finding you? Does your marketing show how brilliant and unique you really are, making those people – your would-be raving fans – think you’re just like all the other guys.

You know you’re not. You know your business is so much better. And you need someone to tell your story the right way, to the right audience.

That’s where I come in. I’m here to banish bad ads, sound-alike ads, buzzword-speak marketing, that stuff that seems to stand in the way of your brand advocates seeing who you really are. You need a unique selling position that is believable and convinces that person to come on in or call and discover what they’ve been missing all this time.

They’ve been missing out on one spectacular good business. But not anymore.

There are so many things I can’t live without. Some of them I have no idea how I found them. Some of them didn’t have a voice at all. But the do have a bad website, no cohesive marketing materials, nothing that lets me know that this one-of-a-kind product was right there waiting for me. Some of these “friends” have copy that reads right from the pages of War and Peace, so boring or full of buzzwords and corporate speak that when I read it I couldn’t tell this business was secretly the one that would save me.

I know there are many businesses out there. You have the best products in the world, and you’re missing that one spark…that voice, and sometimes it’s worse, you have the wrong voice. Your business would be thriving if it was’t slowly suffocating under mounds of bad marketing.

So I’m on a mission to give your businesses its voice.

If you love your company and want it to prosper, I can create for you. If you’re just a cool person, I want to hang out with you even if you don’t need me. But if you’d willingly sell snake oil because it can make you rich, find someone else. Someone without those pesky ethics. Sorry.

I have experience from working with some of the best companies around, clients from Florida to California, and a very traumatic story from a weekend in Morro Bay, California that I will happily retell to anyone who cares to buy me a beer.

There is no limit on what I will do for a client. If you’re one of those people who needs your ad yesterday (and we have all been that person), take a deep breath, look around, and see what can do…if you don’t see what you’re looking for, DON’T PANIC! Just pick up the phone and call me and ask, and I’ll be happy to promptly to say yes, I do that too.

I can usually return phone calls and email with a swiftness that can put a peregrine falcon to shame. Please do not be alarmed. I’m here to create solutions that solve problems, not sell you something.

 

Creative is power

Creative works hard, and looks good while doing it. It is what is remembered, shared, and talked about. Photography by Andrew Phipps

Creative works hard, and looks good while doing it. It is what is remembered, shared, and talked about. Photography by Andrew Phipps

Great creative is attractive and clever, but great creative is also smart because it has substance. Creative is the medium that delivers a message without making people feel like they are being sold. Creative talks to individuals like it knows and understands them and makes them more receptive to the message. Creative works hard, and looks good while doing it. It is what is remembered, shared, and talked about.
In today’s market, guess what gets noticed? The creative.