From January 2012

Finding your single most important point


We marketers are a funny bunch. At the beginning of each year we layout our grand plans for generating leads and growing revenue. We look at our wins and losses during the past year and project a nice increase for the new one. That’s our job, isn’t it? Always growing, always at the leading edge of our market? Last time I checked it was. We’re mostly optimistic about our prospects of hitting our targets.

So we create our media plans, craft email and direct mail campaigns and weave in a little social media to round it out and off we go. Through the internal review process making sure all stakeholders have an opportunity to weigh in. We agonize over each point. Each word. Hoping for the best, we launch then wait, measure, rinse and repeat.

And when we don’t get quite the results we’re looking for, we come back stronger, shouting louder and louder. Like a classroom of 28 Third-graders hopped on sugar at their Valentine’s Day party all talking at once.

It’s a cycle that plays out in companies around the world year after year. Each year it gets harder because our customers are getting smarter. And they have the tools to tune out everything we say on a whim. At best we’ve got a couple of seconds to grab their attention.

Part of the problem is that there’s simply too much of everything. Products, services, information – you name it. None of us really needs any more stuff. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show an estimated 20,000 new products were introduced. TWENTY THOUSAND!!! And that’s just the new products. Nevermind the line extensions and new versions of the old. Talk about competition.

I’d argue though that your toughest competition is time. You don’t have enough time to do everything you want. To read and learn everything you could to get ahead. Neither do your customers.

So what’s a marketer to do? Get clear on what it is you want to accomplish and now. Get tough on what you communicate in each of your initiatives. Take time to get to know the customer that means the most to you. And I mean really get to know them. Their aches, pains and why they get up in the morning. Only then will you know what you need to say to them to get their attention and have a fighting chance to win them over.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Getting down to one single but oh so important point. It’s not fancy nor requires any secret formulas. But it requires a strong, steady hand at the wheel to convince your internal stakeholders exactly what that point is. Everyone will have a different one. But someone – and that someone is you – needs to take all these internal inputs, compare against the external inputs and choose. And when you choose you put your reputation on the line. You’re taking a risk. If you’re right, you’re a hero. If you’re wrong, you have an even tougher job the next time.

It’s because few can do this well that there’s so much clutter and mediocrity in our messages and products. It’s why products are crammed with features we’ll never use.

What will it take for you to get to your single most important point?

2011 captured in an image and word a day

In 2010 I captured the sky each day from wherever I was. Last year I started posting one image combined with the word that image evoked over at Mundaily. It’s where I captured the random details of daily life – nothing fancy or pretentious. Just whatever I came across each day. All captured with my iPhone. A snapshot of each day to form a snapshot of a year. I’ve now put it all365  together in this little film:

It was hard to limit my thoughts to just one word, but that’s the constraint I put on this project. For 2012, I’m loosening that up a bit and participating in Cowbird. A storytelling platform by Jonathan Harris, creator of some pretty interesting projects. Everyday I’ll post an image and short – sometimes VERY short – story. The goal is to be spontaneous and free form – much different than my more business-oriented writing.

These little projects exercise and sharpen the brain. They force you to focus and think quickly. Keeps the brain nimble and I hope infuses my other work with more creativity and perspective.

Funding Unsuccessful: Failure or reality check?

Last summer after a year of thinking about it, I began photographing the Twenty Bridges Project. Choosing film over digital for the slower pace it forced. The preciousness in that it’s not cheap so you must think about each frame. The trips to the lab. The waiting and anticipation. The hope that the images I created reflected what I saw in my mind. Film also offered the versatility of making really large prints compared with a typical 16 – 20 MB digital camera.

At the end of November I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to create a gallery exhibition, book and short film on the twenty key bridges connecting the communities on the Oregon coast. The goal was to raise $5,000 to cover the costs of film, processing, scanning and printing of the show, as these costs were not insignificant and tough to justify in a digital world. Finding a publisher for the book would come later.

19 people backed the project, with $1,005 and I owe each of them a huge thanks for their support. It really meant a lot to me. Particularly CASUDI who not only backed it but wrote an incredible post about it. And Jackie, Jill and Mila. And then there were the backers I didn’t know who discovered the project during the 40 day campaign. Like Michael from The Lighthouse Gallery in Astoria expressed interest in hosting the exhibition.

A Kickstarter campaign is not just an opportunity to crowd source funding for a project, but to test proof of concept. Raise the funds and you know you’re on the right track. Fail to do so and you know your concept either needs to change or killed. Or do you?

43% of Kickstarter projects are successful. There are some incredible success stories like this project for an aluminum iPhone dock. But I don’t think that all of the 57% who don’t make it are completely flawed. This one has about a week left and likely may not make it either.

CASUDI once wrote about a successful fail which is about one of her projects – much more ambitious than mine. Everyone who commented to me about Twenty Bridges had positive things to say. Made me think I was on the right track. So why did it fail?

I think in part that I didn’t have a broad enough community to reach out to, particularly in Oregon. It was centered in Oregon versus something with broader human interest appeal. Or maybe it wasn’t packaged as well as it could have been. There are any number of reasons one cannot know for certain.

Everyone is also faced with many competing priorities. Demands for our attention, time, hearts and money. Each of us must choose carefully what we support and accept that there are many things that we must pass on.

While I certainly hoped for a positive outcome, it’s been an interesting experience. Forced me to put something out there. To take a risk. To ask my community for support. Not something I found easy as I prefer helping to asking. I always tried to be careful about how often and to whom I shared the project to avoid coming across as a spammer. Just as I dislike being spammed or coerced into action. I believed and continue to believe that on a project such as this, it either elicits an emotional response and support. Or not. And one shouldn’t try too hard nor force it. Just accept the outcome.

Same goes for brands. It’s about respect and relevance. Shouting louder only pushes people farther away.

So what’s next for the Twenty Bridges project? Kill it? Proceed as is but on a much slower, self-funded pace? Change it moving from film to digital, saving significant costs? I’ve found the work so far a wonderful break from my daily focus on B2B technology. Diverse projects add color and perspective to others. Everything is interconnected and you don’t always know where.

So we’ll see where Twenty Bridges will go from here. Whether it continues or morphs into something entirely different. Certainly there are new bridges to build. New bridges to cross. Stay tuned!