• A 3-Step Process for Naming a Project/Product (And Some Resources)

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    Naming a project is always an awful experience.

    An earworm that won’t stop tapping your skull from the inside. A tenacious pop jingle with teeth and a paycheck.

    As a freelance designer, I do a fair amount of this for clients. Generally, my process has been a garble of notes and trips to thesaurus.com, but lately I’ve noticed a fairly simple pattern emerging, a 3-step framework for cutting through the fog.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    3-Step Process
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    Step 1.
    Identify the feeling you want the brand to convey. A great brand communicates on an emotional wavelength, so make that feeling your bedrock.

    One way to identify what feeling you’re pursuing is by figuring out what you’re not. A great brand is defined as much by what it is as by what it is not. So if you’re entering a certain market that is a certain way, identify that point of frustration and invert it. For instance, if your market is confusing, you could pursue ‘Relaxed', or ‘Lucid'.

    Step 2.
    Embody that feeling in a list of persons, places, things or phrases (etc) that communicate viscerally. For instance:
    Relaxed = a picnic
    Exclusive = Studio 54
    Cool = Paul Newman

    Step 3. Final
    Identify a detail that represents the [embodiment] of [your feeling] in a non obvious but compelling way.
    Relaxed = a picnic = Sunny Nap™
    Exclusive = Studio 54 = Velvet™
    Cool = Paul Newman = Ben Quick™ (a character he played)

    Repeat.
    New insights gained from the process should help you get a better handle on the unique feeling or value your brand has to offer.

    Ideally,
    the name should have a ‘special wrongness’* to it. An unforgettable newness. A new shape. 1+1=3. If your name lacks this, the product itself may have a hard time differentiating itself in whatever market you’re entering. Why are you different than your competitors? That difference should be reflected in the brain jam your name causes in its audience.

    *"Special Wrongness” is a term I’ve stolen and adopted from Peter Mendelsund from this amazing interview: http://portersquarebooksblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/interview-with-peter-m...

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    Credentials
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    As for credentials, here are some of the things I’ve named:

    Svpply (snobby social shopping)
    Varsity Bookmarking (link-based interview magazine)
    10,000 (TBA athletic apparel)
    General Projects (design studio)
    Work Of (maker community and store)
    Mined (TBA digital marketplace)
    Lookwork (visual RSS for professionals)
    Lunch League (foodie clothing line)
    Embrella Group (design consultancy)

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    G.O.A.T
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    Some of my favorite brand names of all time, the ones I aspire to matching, have the appearance of having emerged from this kind of process. Names like:

    Saturdays
    Girlfriend
    Hunter Gatherer AKA HUGA
    Mo’wax
    Slack
    Dress Code
    Mother
    The Quiet Life
    Public School
    Free People
    Girl Skateboards

    These names emerge from the fringe of their vibe. Familiar details that've been blown out larger than life.

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    Pretty Good Tools & Resources
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    http://www.Phrasefinder.co.uk — A robust database of slogans, phrases, idioms and such. Annual fee for this one.

    http://Rhymezone.com — Rhymezone is great for finding rhymes, but even moreso, it’s great for a feature it calls “related search”. Like a drunk cousin reading the dictionary, it often yields connections you wouldn’t see elsewhere.

    http://Thesaurus.com - Yep.

    http://Niice.co — Visual search engine. Good for non-linear, non-verbal associations. and its “Surprise Me!” button is great for knocking you out of a loop.

    http://iwantmyname.com - I use this for domain name searches because it has the most comprehensive list of TLD results that I’ve found.

    http://domai.nr - Domainr will cut your name up into chunks and tell you if there’s any odd domain combos available. Think: de.licio.us or days.am

    USPTO Trademark search - Once you’ve landed on a name, you’ll want to check for existing trademarks in your product’s space.
    USA: http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/
    UK: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/tm/t-os/t-find/tmtext.htm

    USPTO class list - When doing a trademark search, you’ll want to know your product’s class so you can tell if you're rubbing elbows with a trademark holder.

    Don’t Call it That!: A Naming Workbook - Folks I trust have recommended this book.

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    That's all I've got.

    I hope it's helpful.

    If you do wind up with any success because of this, I'd love to hear about it. myfirst@lastname.com or @pieratt

  • It's a Team Game

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    Originally published on Copacino+Fujikado

    In case you didn’t hear, there’s a bit of a football contest coming down the pike in East Rutherford, New Jersey this Sunday. As I sit here in my work podule trying to write quality advertisements that both engage and entice, it’s hard not to get caught up in the footballphoria. It all got me thinking – a great ad agency is an awful lot like a great football team. They both require a group of talented, dedicated individuals with unique skills and experience to band together to accomplish a common goal. Everyone needs to understand their role, be passionate about what they bring to the table and do the little things that add up to something big over the course of a season, or uhh, fiscal quarter.

    First, you need a quality front office and we have two of the best in the game with Jim and Betti. They’re the Jedi Masters (geeked-out mixed metaphor intended) who see the big picture and make the monumental decisions but who also aren’t afraid to hit the field on occasion to catch passes and tackle problems just for the love of the game.

    Then you need a quality GM who’s tough but fair, supportive but challenging. Someone who will talk budgets one minute and provide donuts the next. Nice going, Brandy. It goes without saying you need the right coach. One who is the first to pat you on the back when your ideas are platinum and shows you how to do better when it’s just not getting done. The kind of leader who can deliver a speech like Pacino and wear a sweater vest like Ditka. And when you work at a small agency or need to streamline an analogy for a blog post, sometimes the coach has to also play quarterback. You can follow our great Coacherback on Twitter @BrainPunch.

    Anyone who knows anything about football understands you’re only as good as your O and D-lines, or as I like to call them, the Account Team. These are the players in the trenches who do the hard stuff, the stuff that takes guts, the stuff that requires a skillset which includes strength, speed, quickness, agility and a stare that immediately lets people know deadlines are non-negotiable. They’re often the unsung heroes, but if you study the game like I do, you’ll see how valuable and sought-after great ones truly are.

    And let’s not forget the importance of exceptional Offensive and Defensive Coordinators, aka Media, aka Engagement Strategy. These are the tacticians, the strategerians, the people who understand that strategerians isn’t a word. Basically, the smart ones. The pitbulls who don’t just get what they want, they get twice the amount of what they want and a free bottle wine to boot. And the best part? They don’t have to be tall to be effective.

    Special teams are essential to any successful franchise. They need to be steady and reliable but also lightning-fast and aggressive. Excellent coverage is key and the best squads score points when people least expect it. We’re looking at you, PR.

    Then there are the fullbacks and running backs: Production. We’ve been calling our Production staff Beast Mode long before Beast Mode knew what Skittles were. Okay, that’s a lie, but it’s a lie based in fact. These are the guys and ladies who will run through foam core walls to get it done. The people who are often forced to carry the team on their backs to get us all to the goal line, aka Friday happy hour.

    Then there are the art directors and designers. They’re the slot receivers and TE’s, mainly because we’re running out of positions. Not only can they make beautiful plays, but they’re tough and resilient. They’re always the last to get here in the morning and the last to leave at night. An agency and a football team grinds to a standstill without them.

    Which brings us to the Accounting department. This is a no-brainer. These are the team doctors. Without them, we’d all probably be dead. Or at the very least, making ads with torn ACL’s and wicked concussions. I don’t know if team doctors send out all-franchise emails nagging players to get their timesheets done, but they probably should.

    As we’ve seen this year, a world-class secondary can take you all the way to the promised land. We call our Legion of Boom “Producers.” They will crush your face in two. Why, just the other day someone was handing me a cup of coffee and Kris Dangla came out of nowhere to knock it out of my hands. Then she kept yelling, “Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me! I’m the greatest! You’re mediocre!” It was weird and unprofessional, but highly effective.

    Then there are the Wide Receivers, the handsome players. The players who get all the glory because they deserve it. They’re the ones who land reality shows and incredible endorsement deals. At C+F, we call them Copywriters.

    ---

    Andy Corbett is a Senior Copywriter at Copacino + Fujikado in Seattle. Since graduating from the Creative Circus, he's written ads at Blue Sky Advertising, AKQA and Goodby Silverstein & Partners. He's an avid indoorsman who enjoys reading, writing and avoiding arithmetic. Career highlights include coining "The Highlight Factory" for the Atlanta Hawks and being the Farrah Fawcett of Dan Balser's Advertising Podcast “Don't Get Me Started.”

  • From Printing Press to Pixels

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    Originally posted on Atomicdust's blog
    as, "Web Development Brings Design to Life".

    Until a few months ago, I spent all of my time in a print shop. To be specific, it was a letterpress and screen-printing shop, where we still mixed inks by hand, set type, etched metal plates with acid and carved wooden blocks. We printed most of our work one sheet of paper at a time, or on 70-year-old automatic presses that required constant attention and mechanical adjustment. It was one of those jobs that people would talk to me about all the time. “I had an uncle who worked on old presses,” or “I did a little printing when I was in college,” were common things to hear in a conversation about the shop. People understood the basics of running a print shop and making prints.

    I eventually came to the conclusion that printing wasn’t what I wanted to do. The daily requirements of the job just became boring. When I finally decided to move on, I became a web developer here at Atomicdust.

    When it comes to talking about my job now, the situation is very different. The questions I am asked now are, “What’s a developer?” or “So, wait, what do you actually do?” I figured out pretty quickly that when people ask this, they are not asking about coding. If I start telling them about that part of the job, they get bored really fast.

    They want to know what is at the core of my job. Essentially, what makes someone a good developer?

    For me, the truest answer to these questions is, “The job I do now is exactly the same one I did in the print shop.” The core of my job is to find the most elegant and efficient way to bring a project from design to final product.

    In the print shop, the problem was how to create a perfect set of final prints. I chose the proper paper, set the pressure, adjusted the presses and mixed ink so that the final prints would reinforce the concept and look of the design. If I chose the wrong paper, perhaps a handmade paper when a machine-made paper would be more appropriate, the final prints would look completely wrong. The prints might look rustic and varied instead of slick and precise, undermining the original design.

    Now, as a developer, my problem is how to create a perfect website. I choose the proper coding methods and languages, set up the framework for the site and style it so that when it goes live, its function reinforces the concept and look the designers have created. If I choose the wrong framework, it may be too difficult to update or impossible to incorporate social media. If the concepts behind the design are speed and adaptability, the chosen framework will undermine the entire project.

    Although the specifics have changed, the backbone of each job is the same: creative problem-solving that serves concept and design. What makes someone good at each is the ability to see a project from design to final product without losing any of the importance of the design, but instead, reinforcing it.

    - - -

    Steven Brien graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BFA in printmaking and shortly thereafter founded All Along Press with his fiancée, Elysia. Steven and Elysia still do custom letterpress and printmaking, but Steven scratches his web development itch at Atomicdust.

    When he’s not pedaling around St. Louis, making websites or print pieces, Steven can be found working on mopeds, building robots and tapping into his New Orleans roots.

  • Using Your Brain as a Designer

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    Originally posted on Atomicdust's blog.

    “I really like it.”

    Probably one of the most important things I learned in design school, and subsequently in the working world, is that “liking” a design is not sufficient enough. That’s what separates art and design; art is subjective, design is communicative. It’s also, like Atomicdust Creative Director Mike Spakowski often says, disposable. Design always has new trends and technology always has new devices. The only thing that seems to have any longevity is the content behind them.

    It makes sense then to design around the message. After all, the purpose of any design is to remove obstacles and make it easier for people to understand a specific message. I am as guilty as any designer when it comes to getting swept up in the romance of making something look cool, but here are some things that help me keep a focus on the real purpose of what I’m making:

    1. Understand What You’re Trying to Say

    It’s surprisingly difficult to communicate something, when you don’t know what that something is. It’s your job to be a translator of sorts, explaining broad ideas and feelings in simple visual terms so you should probably know what those broad ideas and feelings are.

    2. Focus Group of One

    Chances are the people you are talking to are actually people. And what luck, you’re a person too. Test your design on yourself. Would you really read that chunk of text in the corner? Does that button actually make you want to click it? Does this piece of marketing accurately communicate the right message?

    3. Be as Genuine as You Can

    There’s a lot of marketing in the world and we’re bombarded with it every day. Subsequently we’re starting to automatically rate things as believable or unbelievable and that determines to what we’ll give the time of day. Avoid making outrageous claims, or implying that stock image perfection is exactly what you’re selling. Where does your design piece rank on the believable scale?

    4. Now, Make it Cool

    You’ve got the basics of the message, it’s a functional piece, and your tone is believable. Here’s your chance to flex (within reason) your design skills. Half the fun of being a designer is creating something that communicates a message and makes people say, “I really like it.”

    - - -

    Beth Porter joined Atomicdust as a design intern in 2011 and has been designing there ever since.

  • The Pitch Season 2, Episode 1. Hunks Get Screwed.

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    You know, I said I wasn’t going to watch this season of The Pitch. Last season infuriated me to the point of bursting a blood vessel or two.

    But I’m an ad freak. I love the business, and I love watching reality shows about the business. Even if they illustrate how completely fucked up this industry is.

    Oh, there are huge spoilers in this by the way. If you haven’t seen it yet, bookmark this page for that moment immediately after watching it, when you feel the need to vent. You will be happy you did.

    So, the season two opener kicks of with two agencies competing for the business of College Hunks Hauling Junk. You’ve seen the vans. You know the name. It seems like a decent account to win. After all, they clearly have something of a sense of humor, judging by the name.

    The two agencies that came into the arena couldn’t have been further apart. Fletcher Rowley, an agency of stiff douchebags with mainly political clients on their roster. They’ve won 32 Pollie awards for their muckraking shit that gives advertising a really bad name. And Breen*Smith, laid back creative folks with a decent portfolio and a good attitude.

    Hang on Felix…we’re not even a few minutes into the episode and you’ve already made that conclusion.

    Yep.

    And I’m sure most people did, when they saw Bill Fletcher, the George Lucas lookalike, getting his hair cut whilst reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”

    Give. Me. A. Fucking. Break.

    This was about as spontaneous as one of his political clients kissing babies and wearing the USA flag pin. He instantly branded himself as a complete dickhead in one second. Nicely done. And then his protégé, John Rowley, showed his true colors by saying he still obsesses about a game he lost over twenty years ago.

    Now there’s a man who has his priorities right. Oh, and if first impressions count in this business, you may consider getting the haircut, John. Holy shit.

    Anyway, the other guys from Breen*Smith were humble, self-effacing and likeable. Based on last year’s winners, I figured these guys had no chance. I already wanted them to snag it.

    They get the pitch from the College Hunks execs, which is basically a blank sheet of paper. But as soon as they leave the building Bill Fletcher is on the phone, his pompous bullshit already oozing out of every pore. He wants to know everything about the competitor agency, down to what they ate for breakfast.

    For fuck’s sake! Why, Bill? Why?

    This isn’t political advertising. You can’t smear them and win. Your obsession with Sun Tzu is completely irrelevant here. In fact, I’ll ask you right here, just in case you’re reading this…what did learning everything about Breen*Smith accomplish for you? What nuggets did you glean than helped you pull together a campaign for College Hunks?

    The answer, I’m sure, is absolutely fucking zero. You cannot produce a great campaign by focusing on your pitch competitors. You need to focus on…the client. I know, weird right? You’re usually so obsessed with digging dirt on your opponents that you forgot the basic number one rule of a pitch – know your client and the product or service.

    Breen*Smith, on the other hand, were not digging into Fletcher Rowley. They would have shit themselves laughing (or maybe crying) if they had. Instead, they were more interested in going back to the client to get answers to new questions.

    Yes. Smart. Get those questions now, before you dive into a pitch campaign, not later when you’ll have to dump half the work.

    We go back to Fletcher Rowley to see they have decided to completely flush the College Hunks name down the shitter. Yeah, they only built a massive business from that name. It has great brand equity. We don’t need that. Let’s rename it something cool like, oh, “Heroic Movers and Haulers.” The tagline “With Great Movers Comes Great Responsibility” was just as lame. In one fell swoop, they dumped years of brand building and replaced it with something completely amateurish. It looked like student work.

    Wanting to sound cerebral, Fletcher started quoting Greek mythology – the word hero works across every continent. This guy could bottle his smugness and sell it in Target.

    Breen*Smith were throwing out lines like “Hunks holding your package,” They wanted to keep the equity College Hunks had built, and move forward. The right move.

    Then we go back to Fletcher to see that he’s brought in a focus group. At this point, I was convinced this was some kind of Candid Camera stunt. No ad agency is this pathetic. You don’t base your entire pitch on the musings of a few housewives from down the road. Christ, they all said Hunks was off-putting. This is the name that built an empire, how fucking bad can it be?! If Steve Jobs had put the iPad in front of these women, Apple would had shelved it. Which is why he didn’t.

    So, long story a little bit shorter, pitch time comes. The night before, Fletcher and Rowley are drinking and talking about Sun Tzu again. Give me strength. They stated they were unbeatable. I forget which part of “The Art of War” says you should embrace hubris. Oh, it never did. If he’d ever shown up, these guys would be too busy blowing him to realize he was berating their entire raison d’etre.

    The two agencies have to pitch in front of each other, which is the first time I’ve seen that. Hopefully, the last. Personally, I would have declined, and asked to pitch separately. It’s best all around. But they obliged, and both agencies presented pretty fucking awful work. I already knew I hated the Heroic stuff, but Breen*Smith’s “Hunks & a Dolly” throwback to World War 2 poster campaigns was dire. The College Hunks team looked underwhelmed to say the least.

    In the end Breen*Smith won, but really, there were no winners. Only losers, the biggest being College Hunks. They probably didn’t want to choose either agency, but went with Breen*Smith because at least they didn’t shit all over the brand equity.

    It was good to see the Fletcher Rowley shits run back to their political muckraking HQ, trying to convince themselves the College Hunks just weren’t ready for their bold strategy.

    If this is the kind of work we can expect from this season, I pity the clients. Did you see the episode? Am I off base? Fire away, you magnificent fuckers.

    There will be more analysis of Episode 2 next week.

    Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.

  • Toronto Edition: In 20 Words or Less What's Your Creative Philosophy

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    In 20 words or less, what's your creative philosophy? What a great question that surely would generate some very creative responses. The SF Egotist first took to asking San Francisco based creatives that very question, the response was a wonderful glimpse into the thought process of some very talented creatives.

    We decided to take the very same question to Toronto creatives, in 20 words or less, what's your creative philosophy? What they shared gives us a look into the thought process of some extremely talented individuals. Take a look - tell us what you think and if you have a creative philosophy of your own share it in the comments.

    "Love what you sell.
    Then be honest with yourself about
    the human emotion why you love it (greed, lust, etc). "

    - Kevin Drew Davis
    Chief Creative Officer at DDB Canada
    ,


    "Don't be bitter.
    Be
    Better."
    - Andrew Simon
    Chief Creative Officer at Cundari Advertising


    "Exhaust all possibilities when you create and craft.
    There’s no worse feeling than, in hindsight,
    wishing you’d done things differently."

    - Allen Oke
    Executive Creative Director at TBWA\Toronto


    "Read everything. You'll find what you need when you need it.
    Travel everywhere.
    It's a great punch in the perspective."

    - Barb Williams R.G.D.
    Creative Director at RAPP Toronto


    "2 litres of magic,
    1 cup of cultural tension,
    1 cup execution."

    - Carlos Moreno
    SVP, Executive Creative Director at BBDO Toronto


    "Put energy into work that you believe in;
    find collaborators to vibe with,
    then believe in those people over product."

    - Kai Exos
    Executive Creative Director at SPOKE Agency


    “If you throw someone ten tennis balls,
    they’ll likely be able to catch only one.
    Throw one. Make it count.”

    - Fabio Orlando
    Chief Creative at Tag Idea Revolution


    "Spend weeks researching, experimenting,
    agonizing over an idea...
    then tell everyone it just popped into your head."

    - Jordan Foster
    Creative Director / Partner at six01


    "If the brief can't be
    Delivered in haiku form
    The suits must go back."
    - Suzanne Pope
    SVP, Creative Director at Sudler & Hennessey


    "Think with the mindset of a consumer
    and create
    with the imagination of a child."

    - Gary Watson
    Executive Creative Director at Capital C


    "Make sure your work has a pulse,
    and always remember,
    lions don't lose sleepover the opinions of sheep."

    - Anthony Wolch
    Executive Creative Director at Entrinsic


    "Simplify the complicated."
    - The Toronto Egotist

  • When Brand Building Becomes Personal

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    Jared Dunten is a lot of things. Copywriter. Artist. Father. Husband. Paraplegic. Fighter. That last one probably should have come first.

    In 2000, Jared dove into the Rio Grande, on the Texas/Mexico border. He woke up days later in a hospital 400 miles away. He’d broken his neck and injured his spinal cord.

    Doctors said he’d be lucky to breathe on his own again. Walking? Best to forget about that. But the doctors underestimated him.

    In the 13 years since the accident, Jared has been fighting his way back, starting with breathing on his own. Then months of rehabilitation. He returned to Austin, resumed his job as a copywriter at GSD&M. Became an accomplished painter using only his mouth. Got married. Had twins.

    All the while he’s been fighting paralysis, and fighting the notion that he and others with spinal chord injuries will never walk again.

    He’s become an advocate and activist by doing what he knows best – building brands – taking the skills he learned in the advertising world and applying them to his fight. He started with Will Walk www.willwalk.org, a foundation which uses art and film to create awareness about paralysis.

    And he’s not doing it alone. He’s pulling in people from other areas of the industry to help him create and promote this “brand.” The Butler Bros., Marty and Adam, are longtime friends of Jared. They both had large-agency gigs but left ten years ago to explore more innovative ways to tell brand stories. www.thebutlerbros.com

    They’ve applied their unique approach to a film that uses Jared’s story to encourage people to be more vocal about spinal injury research. See the trailer here: http://bbros.co/willwalk

  • No Rubbernecking. Avoid the Marketing Technology Collision.

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    There is a constant collision happening every day in marketing. It's the collision between marketing and corporate IT.

    And those constant collisions create a bottleneck for innovation, speed to market and adaptive marketing.

    Today's marketing is more than just strategy and creative. It also involves technology and the utilization of technology to deliver a marketing message. It's not just about being innovative, but leveraging innovation as an early adopter or first-mover.

    And that's where the tension happens.

    Think about the tension points: marketing is about agility. IT is about consistency. Marketing is about innovating and taking risks. IT is about stability and mitigating risks. Marketing is about shifting and adapting. IT is about consistency and policy.

    A bigger question to ask is who owns marketing innovation via technology within a company today? If you ask, many will answer the final decision lies within the IT team.

    And that is where the problem lies. Marketing technology decisions should not just be made by IT, as it should be a collaborative business decision that is led and driven by the CMO.

    With growth and progression comes change. And a change in the decision making process is what's needed. Today's innovative marketing campaigns should no longer be limited by current-to-outdated IT policies and procedures. And with today's technology of APIs, web services, SaaS, PaaS, and open-source social, web and ecommerce platforms, they no longer have to be.

    I've worked alongside some amazing IT teams over the years and found the common factor each team had was the ability to adapt their policies and procedures to implement and support new marketing innovations and technologies. Rather than just providing marketing teams and external agency/development partners with a list of functional requirements, they instead partnered with the marketing teams to help provide immediate solutions.

    It's no coincidence these companies have become leaders in the use of marketing technology and have increased market share in their given categories.

    But not all companies have this advantage. And marketers have to understand their culpability by advancing their expertise in understanding technology. Develop a passion for understanding software development. Understand how to lead, drive and push the IT group when it comes to marketing technology and innovation. And understand how technical platform decisions affect not just their marketing business, but their overall business when it comes to omni-channel revenue, ROI and a multi-device consumer experience.

    Marketing technology can no longer be a decision made by a separate team within the organization. Marketing technology now has a direct impact on the success of your marketing programs, your consumer experience, and your brand itself.

    Gene Paek is the principal of Ideate Digital, a digital collaboration service that partners with marketing agencies and companies to lead them in the digital marketing space by unifying strategy, creative and technology together. Connect with him: gpaek@ideatedigital.com or Twitter @gpaek.

  • Dear Jr Creative, Earn Your Place. You’ll Be Better For It.

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    Dear Jr Creative,

    I’m a firm believer in earning your keep, starting from the bottom, doing the less than desirable well, before moving up.

    Prove yourself on what seemingly matters little, and people will notice. I promise.

    At the very least, I promise I’ll notice. Because it’s the unorthodox grind of a route I took.

    I was a rich kid from the suburbs. I was embarrassed by it. I hated it. It was a 90’s thing.

    In High School, and in Gen-X “rebellion” against my white collar family, I worked for the Las Vegas Water District doing underground construction.

    I dug ditches and changed water lines during the Vegas Summer for 8 dollars an hour. Not desirable work. And the guys I worked with could smell the rich kid on me. They busted my balls mercilessly for it.

    I dug the shit out of those ditches. I loved it. I used my hands. I used heavy machinery and pneumatic tools—I drove a dump truck (which is awesome by the way).

    All I wanted was the respect of these old guys changing water lines in the desert. Dudes that worked so fucking hard. For so fucking little. To feed their families; their addictions; their gambling debts.

    Eventually, I’d earned a bit of respect.

    I worked hard…”for a skinny rich kid.”

    One day I mentioned to the crew lead: “Fuck it. I like this. Why not full time?”.

    He pulled the truck over to the shoulder of a mountain road, heading North towards Mt. Charleston, looked deep into my face, “Every single one of us would give the world NOT to be here. Stop your blue collar charade. Go to school like you’re supposed to. Get out of this shit.”

    So I did.

    That was my last of three summers working for the water district.

    I went to school for business. Marketing & Advertising to be exact. Which, aside from teaching me some business basics, really just help develop my aptness for bullshit.

    Luckily for me, somewhere along the line, I learned a real skill and about this thing called the “Internet.” It was a place I could upload the photos I was taking (and developing in a darkroom, btw). I learned some Photoshop and HTML skills because of it. Eventually, I started freelancing: horrible graphic design and web work. Whatever I could get—fucking rave fliers, man. I just wanted to learn. The beer money was the gravy on top.

    My first “real” job out of college was resizing graphics for an eCommerce company. I showed up for the interview on my skateboard, handed the HR lady my resume and said, “I’ll take anything. I know Photoshop. Here’s my book.” I didn’t even know what a “designer” was. But that’s why I was there. And by no means was I a designer; Photoshop monkey…maybe.

    Ninety people had been laid off a month prior to me being brought on. I was the first hire after those layoffs and in the eyes of everybody…I was “that guy…”

    I was at the bottom of the totem pole. Where I belonged.

    The only thing I had going for me was a fear of “sucking.” And for the record, I sucked. (Certainly compared to the kids I see today).

    “…good enough to resize graphics” was what I overheard the Creative Director say, just around the corner.

    So I resized graphics. I resized the shit out of graphics, learning to code HTML along the way. I unlearned what I learned in business school. And learned…business. I developed site and page concepts for fun. Always showing my boss. Wanting critique. Always trying to get better. People noticed. He noticed. I gained more and more responsibility and more importantly, trust. Never begging for more money. Just wanting to do more work, better work.

    To not suck.

    Eventually, I took over as Creative Lead. I redesigned both KBToys.com and eToys.com. Enterprise level eCommerce stuff. Real businesses, making real money. I thought the designs were pretty damn good for the early 00’s. Some of the first .com’s to switch to 1024x768. We won some eCom industry awards. It moved product. I thought I was hot shit.

    I was far from it.

    Fast forward a decade and I’m blown away by the level of talent that’s out there. Kids today come out of school with so much fucking skill it’s crazy. But with all of that skill, in so many, there is equal-to-more parts hubris. An entitled attitude that seems to expect everything for nothing.

    Somewhere, along the lines, we (everyone) got sensitive. We started giving trophies for last place. People forgot how to take criticism. We started (and continue) to want to spare people from the realities of what it really takes. Close counts. Thanks for trying. Better luck next time—even worse—Fail Harder.

    I hate this phrase more than anything.

    “Fail Harder” is a manifesto for the delusional, the lazy—the lotto dreamer.

    Celebrating failure is a cop out. Be pissed that you fucked up—when you lose. And know why.

    Fail “Smarter” maybe. But failing hard is for losers.

    Industry-wise, we covet the idea. Not its realization, it’s viability.

    “I want to be an AD. But I don’t write and I don’t design. I’m an idea guy”

    “No, no, no, i’m a UX guy. I don’t do wires and I don’t do finished design. I just explore interaction concepts.”

    “I want to be a CD. But I don’t like talking with clients.”

    “My new Web 3.0 business concept doesn’t have a revenue model—it’s like Instagram but with animated gifs of kittens.”

    Ideation in a clientless vacuum; devoid the realities of real life (inside an agency or any company for that matter). Feasibility. Budgets. Client bureaucracies. The fact is that big ideas take time to sell. They die. They have to be reborn. And that it’s your role to breath the life back in. But only if you really give a shit.

    The “idea” is the tip of a gigantic, shit stained iceberg of work. And if you aren’t ready for what it takes, or worse, you think “that it’s someone else’s job” to push your idea from ether to reality—reconsider your profession.

    My advice is simple: don’t be the entitled kid. The kid who over indexes in ambition but lacks any real passion—any real drive other than a new title at a new agency.

    Be the kid who wants to learn even when he doesn’t have to—the designer who wants to learn to write, to code, to understand business because it makes the design better.

    Don’t be an industry douche. They call themselves ninjas or gurus…even evangelists. They’re the ones who will tell you, to your face, that they are smarter than the other guy. They’re the ones who have stopped reading by now.

    Don’t be the kid who hops around. Don’t be the kid, who, when given the chance, will opt for the bare minimum. Who scoffs at perspective. The kid who will jeopardize the team to spare his fragile ego. The kid, who, when faced with a situation that gets difficult, says “I’m too good for this kind of work. I deserve better.”

    Nobody deserves shit. Until you do. And even then, never admit it.

    I’m now the old guy. I get it…

    I’m not saying you need to go out and work construction. But it’s good to know where you don’t want to be. And understand why.

    I know I don’t want to resize graphics anymore. Why? Well…because it sucks.

    But I’ll still dig the shit out of a ditch.

    - Dave

    I should note, that my teen “rebellion” against my Father was laughably ironic. My dad was blue collar. A cowboy who changed tires on big rigs before finishing college and becoming who he is today.

    Behind my teen angst, unbeknownst to me all that time, I was trying to be just like him.

    What a silly little rich kid.

    David Snyder is Executive Creative Director at Firstborn. Living in Brooklyn. He likes progressive thought, design and technology. He eats and libates well. This editorial original posted on Medium.

  • Strategizing is for Prom Queens

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    I hear the word “strategy” thrown on just about everything. Like rhinestones on a South-Texas-prom-queen’s dress, “strategy” is too often a cheap and easy bedazzle on everything from PowerPoint slides, to someone’s superfluous commentary in a meeting that is already running too long with too many attendees. Anymore, in my day-to-day, Strategy is quite the loose little buzzword.

    Often, it is a noun, as in “brand strategy” or “I am a strategist." Sometimes it is an adjective, as in “strategic vision” or “strategic insights." Also, as an adverb, such as “strategically developed” or “strategically placed.” And let's not forget it as a verb, as in “strategize” (which for the record, makes me want to punch the speaker in the nose every time I hear it).

    And that isn’t to say that I don’t use the word often myself. But I used to accept the word at what I believed was its face value — a sense of something great and purposeful. A sense that when I heard “strategy” — I knew we were talking about the key to winning whatever was at stake, the secret sauce critical to achieving the mission. I knew we’d be talking about something tangible, and most importantly — something actionable. (Strategy is, by definition, a military term that, in a nutshell, means using your brains and your guts to not only stack the odds in your favor, but empower you to make the right decisions when confronted with any obstacle.)

    Now, given the bedazzling trend, I’ve made it my personal charge to pay much closer attention when the word “strategy” is presented. Analyzing it quietly in my head, from every angle. Challenging my own application of it constantly. Because the real disturbing trend, is not that the word gets overused, but rather that the very concept of strategy has become a crutch. A well disguised excuse NOT to act. An exercise in lengthy requirements-gathering to plan for problems and scenarios that don’t yet exist. A perceived need to create a long list of tasks for what should happen in the future, when instead we should be driving for real feedback via iterative launches in the present. I see terms like “strategic goals” and “strategic vision” plastered across PowerPoint slides, and the actual bullet points associated with most of these goals and visions, amount to little more than minute tactics positioned as passive options to explore. Presented in the context of “we are working on,” or “working toward,” or “think there is great opportunity within this area.”

    And with that lack of conviction, certainty, drive — fucking nothing can be won. It’s all a lot of bling with very little bang.

    So here is what I'm really driving at — let's all of us in the industry be more thoughtful with strategy. That when creating, executing, presenting or thinking about strategy in any context, let’s be critical of ourselves, of our interpretation of strategy and when/how/why it matters or is applied. As an example, do we sometimes create formality where it isn’t warranted — like laboring over a “social media strategy,” when maybe all we really need is to just be social? Or when our strategy feels like it is a moving target, and people struggle with how to articulate it — should we check our premises? Are there assumptions at play that have been driving a weak, obtuse strategy? And if the goals are ill-defined, then no amount of “strategic planning” is going to get us anywhere, even if we wrap that anemic goal in a shiny label called “strategic vision.”

    Diamonds are a girl's best friend for a reason — because they have real value. The real, lasts-for-a-100-years-and-cut-glass kind of value. Fortunately, making sure your strategy has actual value is really pretty simple — just ask yourself, is your strategy something your team can:

    • Articulate without a slide in front of them?
    • Apply in any given situation?
    • Execute against to deliver desired results?
    • Feel empowered and confident in so doing?

    This piece is cross-posted from The BRAT Blog from The Aha Method — a company that coaches teams around a better working dynamic.

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