The world will never be less chaotic than it is right now. That is so say, the complexity of life will continue to challenge us. In the presence of ever-expanding complexity, how do we get our story through the noise? How best to communicate our ideas?

A singularity of vision with a concise understanding of the problem solved is essential. The story must be equally comprehensible and told with economy.

The creativity is then free to become inventive. Creativity is the liberator of strategy.

Creativity has an obligation to deliver the idea fully rendered in the heart and mind of the audience. Clarity is actionable.

Complexity defeats clarity in the execution. The best creative talents understand this and labor to create clarity in their ideas and executions.

Visual clarity and written clarity combined to create conceptual clarity. The dual compliment.

Over written, over directed, over acted, over designed executions are warning signs. Perhaps the idea is weak and there is an attempt to prop it up. Or the creative team is letting their egos get in the way.

Maybe they lack the experience to know better.

Simplicity is recompense for years of effort.

When I put the camera on my shoulder and the brief is in my head, I’m looking for the truth. The deeper story, the stuff beyond mere words and pictures, the stuff that reaches the heart. Truth in performance; the essence of the idea to be communicated. The process starts again in editing, to polish the delivery of the idea, the emotion.

The brief is the framework, it establishes the context of creation. It impacts everything downstream; concept development, script, directing, photography, casting, location, tonality, mood, lighting, the entire production design…the works.

The brief is the springboard for ideas to take flight. A great brief is also anchored in the truth of the brand. The brief is a contract with the creative. The brief is also a contract with the truth. Not “truthiness.” The truth.

Occasionally, attempts are made to exploit “truthiness.” Savvy marketers know that great ideas communicate beyond the execution. They know the right ideas generate emotions that cannot be measured through any single ingredient that goes into execution. Truthiness can be tempting.

You can imagine the dismay when the client says, “The idea will not work because we cannot actually communicate that.” Discussion ensues.

It’s a mistake for anyone to use the brief as an opportunity to manipulate the creative work to communicate something that’s not entirely true. Creativity is a powerful tool and can certainly be made to imply things that are not the truth. Clever creative work, not anchored in truth, may achieve a temporary spike in sales but it’s a short money game. Disappointed customers, misled by “truthiness” will flee. Nothing sticks to a brand like the voices of unhappy customers. Truthiness does not build better brands.

Try making a better product.

Part of my work at Skidmore College as the F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration includes the recruitment and production of an annual lecture.

Each year, a speaker is recruited and asked to present to the students a topic within their areas of interest and expertise. This year, it was me.

The link to the lecture: https://vimeo.com/557756796

If you’re working in the industry, it’s important to keep in mind that the audience for this presentation are students. The age range is 18-22. Their context as young adults is a world in which they have never known anything other than digital media and social media. To draw out the importance of this context, I will point out here that as part of the boomer generation I grew up with TV. I never knew a world without TV. My parents, part of the silent generation, grew up with radio; TV for them was a transformative technology. For my generation, digital has been a transformative technology. For these students, generation Z, digital is nothing new at all. However, their challenge is gaining some perspective, not simply on the past but also about where we are today and, if I did a decent job, suggestions to motivate their own work and understanding going forward.

This is academic work and is shared here in that context for that purpose. The work used to illustrate the presentation were derived from various sources, most of it my own, some of it sourced from various on-line resources available to the public. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this lecture was delivered virtually.

I hope you find it insightful.

Ken Zane’s show  Art Buyer For Hire is about 45 minutes in length. During the show we touch on a range of topics from idea development, to execution and agency culture too. While I was chief creative officer of Palio I hired Ken in the role of art buyer-producer. It was an important moment for both of us as it signaled a new level of growth for the agency and another chapter in Ken’s amazing career.

The title of Art Buyer is a bit of a misnomer, the role is  really about identifying and collaborating with talented artists.

Even this description falls far short of the many facets of the role. Building meaningful relationships with the artists as well as the agency internal team is essential to the task. Being a good people person is a requirement, as is being a strong listener and excellent communicator. Helping both parties collaborate effectively is another key skill. The actual buying of the art, the terms and price are, in my view, secondary to the primary task of delivering a great agency product. Ken Zane has an amazing eye and is a talented photographer in his own right. With significant background in the arts, Ken is able to quickly bring visual reference for color, composition and style into alignment in support of the work.

In short, Ken elevates the work with unwavering support for the vision of the team.

I hope you enjoy it. Click here for the show.

Smart clients get smart work. Habitat Clothes is a great client. Hard working, hands-on, head in the clouds with feet on the ground. Visionary and driven with a keen curiosity and willingness to learn and adapt to the changing demands of business, Suzanne Williams is a restless warrior in the battle of building her brand.  From our initial conversations about the needs of her business and the impact on the brand, down to the last detail of execution of a product line, Suzanne never loses sight of the larger strategic goals of her company.

The company’s growth trajectory is strong because Habitat are uniquely connected to their customer base. With decades of work under their belts, (pun intended) the Habitat team has an intimate knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work for their customers. This insight allows Habitat to make critical business decisions without a lot of hand-wringing. Retail fashion is a fast moving business that demands constant planning and execution in a never ending cycle of the seasons. Consumer insight is critical to the success of any brand. Customers are constantly on the look-out for solutions to the challenges they face in their lives. Understanding their wants and needs, down to the buttons they prefer, is the basis of a thoughtful process of design decisions, that ultimately comprise a language. This design language is a dialogue between customers and brands that form the basis of trust from which repeat customers are born.

With a fresh look at their strategy, Habitat is poised for continued growth, ready to move from a branded house to a house of brands.

Are you creating killer content?

Is your content engine in overdrive? A boiling, overheated, over expressed machine. Are you choking the very channels from which you hope to win new customers and build deeper relationships?

Not all content is created equal. And not every potential consumer touch-point warrants the presence of your brand.

The buyer’s journey is almost always a process of discovery, investigation, ingestion, peer-to-peer consultation, more investigation, purchase consideration, then the purchase of the winning brand. It’s not a linear journey.

Consumers need downtime. They need free space to think, confer with friends and thoughtful consideration of their options. They need ad free, clutter-free space. They need respect.

Robotic ad buying and over-zealous social media content stuffing can destroy brand engagement.

Too much, is well… too much. And enough is enough. Brands that lack insight and deep strategy default to polluting their own channels; paid, owned and earned.

Clients are spending untold amounts of money on bad content decisions. Content strategy should be a very direct and meaningful extension of your brand idea. Your brand idea needs to express the desires of your customers.

The story of your brand is the story of your customers.

Telling this story in the most meaningful, relevant and respectful way is the ultimate expression of your brand.

 

Clients hire us to produce results.

The work is a means to an end and the ultimate result is measured in sales. Not awareness in and of itself, not leads, although these are steps along the path. Likes or clicks are not sales either. Actual hard-boiled sales make or break the careers of our clients.

Advertising-to-sales ratios are one measure clients use to determine how much of their advertising budget goes into each sale. Some clients, depending on the nature of their product or service, might look at lifetime value of a customer, assuming the product or service involves repeat purchase. For instance, your wireless phone service vs a dog leash.

The wireless service may spend hundreds of dollars closing you as a customer knowing with a degree of certainty that once they have you, they will have you for a good many years. The initial cost of sale is amortized over the life of your engagement. You become an annuity; a recurring monthly source of income as you continue to repurchase their services on a daily basis.

The dog leash people, on the other hand, cannot afford to spend very much at all to achieve your purchase. In most cases, it’s a one time purchase of a durable product that essentially never goes out of style.

One of your client’s biggest concerns is Return On Investment.

If you don’t understand your client’s business model, you cannot produce effective results. It’s pretty simple. If you don’t understand the perceived value in the mind of the target customer, you will not achieve effective results.

Brand value is derived from consumer need based on real insight into their emotional relationship with the brand. This emotional relationship is expressed in the brand idea. Getting it right triggers deep connections that make the cash register ring; and that is what they pay us for.

The problem with the word no is figuring out where it’s coming from.

Turning no into yes is often a cat and mouse game with the marketing team. You might have 10 clients on a single brand with a claim to input and by the time you’re done, your big idea might not be so big and your enthusiasm may certainly have waned. Your idea finally gets moved upstairs with the warm endorsement of a semi-aligned brand team. Sound familiar?

If this is a regular routine, and when you look yourself in the mirror, with absolutely no self-aggrandizing bullshit you can say, without equivocation, that this is your best work and that the big idea for the brand has been pillaged to death, you’ve enter the club of no authority. The club of no authority, wields the only axe they are authorized to carry.

Have you noticed that decision making around big ideas by marketing teams is often a chess match.

They cannot give you a yes, because yes is not in the room. When the idea finally climbs the last flight of stairs and enters the corner office, it may not get that yes because it’s been watered down. The corner office thinks and behaves differently.

The corner office is not worried about the corner office.

The corner office wants the big idea to be truly big and liberating. The corner office wants your expertise above all else.

This is your moment.

Do everything in your power to be in that room and have your original iteration of the idea at hand. If the idea starts to take a dive offer the alternative solution, one of your originals. If it achieves yes, immediately give credit to the marketing team for pushing you to no end.

If it all falls flat, accept responsibility and start asking a lot of questions, get the corner office in on the dialogue. Show your humility in the face of their expertise, work to an insight, listen intently, walk out armed, tell them you’ll be back in 48 hours, ready to deliver a yes.

All client companies have their rules of engagement and most of the time you will be bound by these rules and the culture that defines them.

Work towards a unified C suite presentation with your client team. Ask them about a plan and make it together.  Your clients will appreciate this effort more than you realize. After all, a resounding yes benefits everyone.

When Tim Urban calls, we listen. Tim is a seasoned media maven and chief commercial officer that enjoys and respects creativity anchored in sound insight-driven strategy. He’s our kind of guy and Volpi is our kind of brand. Delicious. Our extensive brand analysis and strategic recommendations coupled with our creativity cooked up the perfect recipe for the re-imaging of this great Italian American brand. Proof, once again that when you Head For The Heart, great things happen.

Luxury brands succeed by creating connections with their buyers through insights that leverage value against deep seated emotional needs.

These emotional values last a lifetime because they are not driven by trends but rather by qualities inherent in the buyer. Understanding these connections is at the heart of branding. At one time, the bespoke nature of true luxury brands limited their audiences to all but the most-wealthy. Today this dynamic is radically changed.

With the advent of mass customization and highly controlled product releases, within the mass market framework, luxury has come to mean many different things to different people.

Luxury brands of the truly bespoke type still do exist however.  The audience for these brands continues to expand with the growth of global prosperity. The internet has made these brands more accessible than ever which means that Haute Couture brands like Monvieve now enjoy a global clientele.

A designer and maker of bespoke bridal fashions, Monvieve is unique in the world of fashion design. They are an accessible luxury with heirloom quality. Derived from old world craftsmanship and a highly refined aesthetic Monvieve stands above all others. It is a luxury of pleasurable, aesthetically framed memories. These are #MonvieveMoments and this is the heart of the brand.

Working closely with the creative director and owner of Monvieve, Alison Miller, we’ve been carefully crafting #MonvieveMoments. From our participation at the global destination wedding planners conference in Florence, to our shoot at the Belmond Villa San Michele. From a new showroom in NYC, to video production, and the U.S. launch event at the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C., it’s been a series of #MonvieveMoments all its own.

The event launch video is below.