Posts Tagged "IQ"

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  • 12.17.14

Head to Head:

IQ designers duke it out over “how to” or “how to not” follow a brand’s style guide.

Head to Head Style Guide Design

Point: The Type-A Guide to Following Design Rules

By: Lauren Weir, Sr. Designer

Our creative team nominated me to write the point of the article — establishing why you should stick to brand guidelines and how to work creatively within them. And while I’ll give you that I’m the type of person who neatly orders my pens, keeps a daily game plan on my signature yellow notepads and may or may not be easily compared with Monica from FRIENDS, I still have fun and sometimes I show up to work in a banana suit. I just think of brand guidelines like a pair of moon shoes — sometimes kind of clunky, but they help you jump to new heights. They’re also infinitely cool.

Brand guidelines are so important to designing for a brand because they explain and uphold the values and importance of the brand for which you are designing. A strong brand will help increase recognition and brand loyalty, which is directly related to a company’s success and profitability. As Smashing Magazine points out, brands have to reach people through so many different platforms that recognition is critical. As designers, if we do not help a company clearly communicate their messages and uphold the definition of their brand then the brand will start to develop on its own through customer opinions in spaces like social — and we all know how that can go south pretty quickly.

How to stick it to the Book:

  1. Make sure you and your client have a complete understanding of the brand guidelines. Take time to go through the guidelines with your client and ask questions. By sitting down for a conversation first, you’re avoiding the future problems that could arise if the brand guide has any holes. Figure out how strict the guidelines are and what will still be considered within the guidelines if it is not explicitly stated. This will give you a clear understanding where the designs can start to move forward. You can also for a clear idea of what to measure your design successes on and give you, as a designer ground to justify the designs you have produced. You can become a design partner for your client, making recommendations for their design in the future, rather than just a production artist for what they envision for their brand.
  2. Experiment within your limits. Think mixing different martinis, rather than making a mix drink with gin, Bailey’s and Chardonnay. Creating and following parameters set by guidelines can give you the chance to try a ton of experiments on different pieces to create interesting designs that relate back to the brand. For example, within a color scheme, try combining the colors in a different way or in different proportions to create something that is different than what is expected. Sometimes the most successful designs come from a new or updated perspective on already existing guidelines.  Guidelines can help you narrow down what areas to experiment in, rather than spending all of your time looking at the endless design options. Put your design energy in the right places, rather than the places that are already defined.
  3. Measure back to the guidelines. Keep brand goals, audience needs, key messages, and brand personality central to each and every decision made in designing for the brand. It is easier to justify your design decisions because the client has already approved their guidelines. Once you can design really well and with new ideas within the limitations given by the client, you can clearly understand the best way to adapt the brand to new platforms (social, mail, web, etc). The most successful and gratifying design systems work show a strong brand voice and visual style across multiple mediums without becoming too repetitive.

There are many brands out there whose designers rely heavily on the visual guidelines and still create some badass designs. Like these:

Counterpoint: How to Design Outside the Style Guide (and not get caught)

By: Carol Montoto, Associate Creative Director

So I was nominated to write this counterpoint by my team. I guess they see me as that annoying creative who just won’t stick to a style guide. Maybe that’s slightly true, but I see a style guide as just a guide and not an end-all-be-all. It’s tough exploring creative directions to take a brand without wandering outside the style guide a bit. Rebellious design superhero, Paula Scher, talked about guidelines at the Adobe Max Conference (13:00).“Guidelines are difficult things because they’re rules that prevent bad things from happening, but they don’t really promote good things TO happen.”

It’s not that I think designers should irresponsibly blow off style guides and have a creative free-for-all. But as creative experts, it’s our job to ask questions, challenge the rules when necessary, and push our creativity beyond its limits. Personally, it’s my favorite part of the job. The key is to use brand guidelines to maintain the spirit of a brand. As long as your brand remains consistent, recognizable and the design doesn’t suffer, the guide has accomplished its goal. As John Moore from Idea Sandbox put it, “A Brand Style Guide is essentially an internal communication compass. It provides guidance on how a business should communicate the Identity, Personality, and Authenticity of a brand.”

Common Style Guide Challenges

There are some style guide challenges every designer is familiar with. An incomplete style guide is the most common. Its creator can’t predict what all the uses for it might be in the future. For example, often it is created for print, not for digital. This leaves important brand details such as color (CMYK versus RGB), and fonts (web-friendly) up for debate. The ridiculously strict, 598-page style guide is just as tough to work with. As blogger Geri Coady explains, “Guides can be so strict that it can be virtually impossible to introduce a little creativity.” If you are spending more time measuring pixels than exploring creative directions, just take a step back. The last thing you want to do is kill any amazing ideas you have because they might not exactly fit the style guide. Sometimes, the style guide looks like the ugliest pair of moon shoes you’ve ever seen. If following the style guide is forcing you to make bad design decisions, you’ll need to bend the rules a bit, for everyone’s sake. Chances are that making some small tweaks will vastly improve the design without looking off-brand. If you can pull this off while keeping the brand police happy, nice job.

How to Design Outside the Style Guide:

  1. Know the rules before you break them. Read the style guide. Thoroughly. Really get to know it. THEN you’re ready to challenge the rules. You’ll need to have a good reason for doing so, not just because you think it’s fun to break rules. (Sorry.)
  2. When in doubt, share your thoughts with your client. Even something as small as an inverted white logo on a dark background may just have never come up for a brand. Crazy, I know. If you want to challenge the style guide, why not just talk with your client? Paula Scher suggests making your client a co-conspirator with you (16:52). Be up front and explain to them why you need to deviate from the brand guidelines. You’d be surprised how effective this can be.
  3. Don’t let the style guide become a design crutch. At the end of the day, people will see the final product and NOT the style guide you are following, no matter how beautiful that guide may be. Don’t be afraid to push the creative. The brand police will rein you in if necessary.

Above all else, just remember, “I was just following the style guide” is not an excuse for bad or boring design. Have fun and rebel — responsibly.

 

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IQ Spotlight: Russ Sauve, Social Media Community Manager

Russ Sauve Social Media Comm. Mgr.

IQ is made up of a bunch of rockstars that make incredible work for our clients everyday. We want to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work in IQ, so every other Friday we’re going to interview an IQ-er and let you get to know them better.

For the official record, what is your name and your title at IQ?

Russ Sauvé, and my title is Social Media Community Manager.

What is your favorite aspect of working at IQ?

Besides the incredibly kind people my favorite aspect is that no one has said; “don’t do it that way.” I’ve asked colleagues for input on deliverables to make sure I’m headed down the right path.  Instead of negative feedback when they see an improvable moment coworkers ask questions to nudge the ship in a more desired direction. They are helping me think in a more strategic manner. Those moments have been something remarkably fun to tap into, learn, and use in my day-to-day work.

Tell me about the moment you knew that this was the direction you wanted to pursue professionally?

I was fortunate enough to be employed at a live entertainment venue when social evolved to being a platform for brands. In launching and managing our social channels I became the biggest advocate and defender of our digital fans.  It was an amazing honor to help our fans experience and celebrate concerts, shows, events, and the historic venue in new ways.  Encouraging the fans and guests created passionate and outspoken advocates.

In your own words, what is “Creative Intelligence?”

Find data, sort data, and use data to create content that digital guests desire while delivering the message you want served. Utilizing what you know about your audience and giving them the awesome content they want that engages them and makes them not only a fan, but an outspoken positive digital force for your brand.

When do you feel like you actually became an adult?

The beginning of my career wasn’t exactly stellar; I got my butt kicked a lot (and deservedly so). But I would say I really became an adult about eight years ago when I started working at the historic live entertainment venue. Being a part of a historic organization where no one person is bigger than the whole and the venue always comes first, whether it’s restoring, maintaining, or serving the guests that keep it open.  That awakened a sense of humility and a desire to serve others.

QUICKFIRE:

Kindle or paperback?

iPad.

Wine or whiskey?

Whiskey.

Summer or winter?

Fall.

Cake or pie?

Neither, beef jerkey.

Pirates or ninjas?

*long pause* Mutants.

So now you know a little bit more about Russ Sauvé!

Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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IQ Spotlight: Marica Slaughter, Program Manager

IQ Presents #IQgifts!

Why Designers Love Whitespace

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IQ Spotlight: Marica Slaughter, Program Manager

IQ Spotlight Marica Program Mgr

IQ is made up of a bunch of rockstars that make incredible work for our clients everyday. We want to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work in IQ, so every other Friday we’re going to interview an IQ-er and let you get to know them better.

For the official record what is your name and what is your title here at IQ?
I’m Marica Slaughter, and I am the Program Manager at IQ.

Tell me about the moment you knew this was the direction you wanted to pursue professionally?

Throughout high school I would take advantage of every opportunity to draw, and I loved it. So I went to Georgia State and got my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts & Studio Arts with the hopes of one day being an animator. That was the dream. So I went to get my Master’s in Animation. After three straight nights of drawing characters all night I realized I really enjoyed the process of collaborating with voice over actors, after affects animator, the sound and editing guys much more than the drawing part.

What is your role in building the client/agency relationship?

As Program Manager I manage a portfolio of projects for an account including planning, organizing, financial and resource management.  My job is to be able to identify and manage cross-project dependencies on the account.  The account management team manages the relationship with the client, but collectively we work to ensure client goals are achievable and improve brand performance.

What is something you know now about your job that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

That’s a tough one. In your career path you try to make sure you are fully prepared for what’s to come, but I think lessons are learned as you’re ready to learn them, at least that’s been my experience. Though I would have liked to learn how to distance my personal investment in a project so professional critiques felt less personal earlier on.

What does “Creative Intelligence” mean to you?

For me “Creative Intelligence” is the ability of collaborative minds to leverage each others creativity to influence and create innovative ideas.

What is your social media platform of choice?

Facebook. I just got on it a year ago, so we’re still in the honeymoon phase. I try to balance out time away from it, but it just keeps sucking me right back in.

Now it’s time for the quick-fire questions. So, waffles or pancakes?

Pancakes.

Beach or pool?

Pool.

Unicorns or narwhals?

Unicorns.

Video games or board games?

Video games.

Tea or coffee?

Coffee.

So now you know a little bit more about Marica Slaughter!

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IQ Spotlight: Tricia Gillentine, Art Director

Why Designers Love Whitespace

SoDA Report – Volume 2, 2014

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IQ Spotlight: Tricia Gillentine, Art Director

IQ-er Spotlight: Tricia Gillentine

IQ is made up of a bunch of rockstars that make incredible work for our clients everyday. We want to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work in IQ, so every other Friday we’re going to interview an IQ-er and let you get to know them better.

Alright, let’s get this started. For the super-official record what is your name, and what is your title here at IQ?

My name is Tricia Gillentine, and I am an Art Director here at IQ.

Tell me about the moment you knew this was the direction you wanted to pursue professionally?

I knew what I wanted to be before I knew the name for it. I knew that I wanted to do creative work. But it wasn’t until I was about to graduate from college that I realized what an Art Director actually was… I found a magazine called CMYK and discovered one of the portfolio schools here in Atlanta. So I moved to Atlanta to go to Creative Circus and now, several steps later in my career adventure, here I am.

What brings you the most joy in your day-to-day work here at IQ?

My Co-workers. Is that cheesy? I love just feeding off the energy here. Although, I have to say though I enjoy, but am also completely weirded out by the wildlife here. There have been two snake encounters, a vulture that just hangs out on our porch all day, and at least one lizard rescue.

What do you enjoy most about working with a new client?

I love the new design challenges it brings. It often sparks new ideas and teaches me about industries that otherwise wouldn’t know anything about.

What is your favorite current design trend?

I’m really loving the movement back to hand-type.

What does “Creative Intelligence” mean to you?

I think it means making work that people will stop and look at because it’s beautiful, but then they’ll have that “A-ha!” moment while looking at it, like “oh, that was really smart” or “oh yeah, that totally makes sense.” Brains and beauty.

Now it’s time for the quick-fire questions. I’m going to ask you a series of either-or questions and you give me your first response. First one: Apple or Android?

Apple.

Unicorn or Narwhal?

Oh gosh, that’s a really tough one! Hmm. Narwhal, for sure. They’re like the unicorns of the sea!

Coca-Cola or Pepsi?

Neither. I don’t participate in carbonation, actually.

Pen or pencil?

Pen. Always. Especially the really inky ones, they’re the best.

Would you rather go see live theatre or a live concert?

Theatre play!

So now you know a little bit more about Tricia Gillentine!

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Mobile First Web Design

IQ Typography Challenge: Candy IQ

IQ brings #KNOWvember to you

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  • 11.04.14

Mobile First Website Design

by Jay Littman

Mobile First

When it comes to responsive design, the concept of mobile first is not a new one. It was first coined by Luke Wroblewski (LukeW) in 2009.  However, as time goes on, it only becomes more apparent how important designing with mobile in mind will continue to be.

As of February of this year, Americans use tablets, phones, and other mobile devices 55 percent of the time they go online.  At IQ, we’re no strangers to responsive projects. We want to ensure that this huge portion of our clients’ traffic is able to access their sites without anything breaking. But we do have internal debates over which should come first: desktop design or mobile?

I tend to vote for mobile first. We know designing for mobile is important, but why design for mobile first? There’s several reasons to explore:

1. Forced Focus

Designing mobile first forces you to focus. Because when designing for mobile, you want the quickest loading time possible. That means cutting out anything unnecessary to the user experience, paring down a site hierarchy to the essentials, and keeping the core purpose of a site as the only content left standing.  Designing for mobile first requires designing the simplest, quickest method to get the user to what they want from your site. Then, in desktop versions, expanding upon that design while keeping those core functions top of mind.

2. Smaller Real Estate, Bigger Design Challenge

One of the key elements of designing for mobile, and also possibly the most intimidating, is that space is limited on a phone screen. Mobile design is the tiny NYC apartment where you end up using the oven for storage if you don’t plan for your small space. But if you do plan ahead, you can end up with a space that is streamlined and incredibly elegant. I will admit that this is not an easy endeavor, but your designs will be better for it.

3. Enhancements versus Degradation

Let’s get a bit technical. When you design for desktop first, it means loading all of the content that would be seen on the largest platform and then reducing it to the mobile version. The trouble is your user already had to wait for all that content to load on their smartphone before they can get to the mobile version of the site… if they indeed waited and didn’t just close the page out to find something else. Designing for mobile first means allows a minimal amount of content to load first, streamlining the experience. This is a lot faster and means your site gets enhancements as it moves up to desktop, instead of degradations of content when moving down to mobile.

These are some of the things we consider when beginning a website design project here at IQ. This method may help you find a few ways to improve your user experience all over, not just on mobile. So on your next site design project, try starting with mobile first and see where this aspect of creative intelligence takes you.

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IQ brings #KNOWvember to you

Redesigning Amazon.com

Do’s & Don’ts of Creating Brand Videos

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  • 09.17.14

Budgeting 2015 – The Essentials

marketing budget done wisely

Since digital channels are where so many interactions happen, brands need to make sure they have the essential digital technology pieces in place.  These include:

website / mobile / blogs / social / email / search / content / ratings & reviews / marketing automation / analytics / commerce

While almost every brand probably needs a website, the exact recipe should be determined by the right strategy work, as we discussed in this recent post: 5 Steps to a Defensible 2015 Marketing Budget.

The idea is that modern marketing is circular not linear. You never come to a dead end and everything connects and supports everything else in the brand ecosystem.  In order to do that you need to have certain technology pieces of the puzzle in place before you jump to tactics.

You probably already have a website. It’s should be the core of your ecosystem. This is where you are free to cultivate and convert to the best of your ability. But all websites are not created equal. A modern marketing websites should:

  1. Have landing pages that are customized by where viewers come from.
  2. Tell a persuasive brand story customized to each viewer’s interests.
  3. Attract search with content designed for SEO.
  4. Enable advocacy with content and social media.
  5. Use Responsive design to enable viewing on any mobile device.
  6. Identify visitors and deliver relevant content.
  7. Produce comprehensive activity analytics.
  8. Enable speedy marketing updates with a flexible CMS.

These are the basics of a modern brand website. The key, however, is in how you execute them. You messaging, branding, content, design and user experience are all the product of your strategy work, without which your site may not resonate with consumers or produce the leads and conversions you hope for. Whatever the ingredients, the fundamental idea is that your digital marketing infrastructure should enable you to execute and adapt quickly and easily.

Advertising and acquisition tactics alone rarely close the deal anymore.  Consumers, B2C and B2B, need to do research, evaluate, talk with friends and peers, and be cultivated. It’s a complex soup of influences and interactions. The good news is that it can be mapped and understood, so that armed with that knowledge you can deliver the right message to the right person at exactly the right time. In order to do that, however, you need to have some essential mechanical pieces of the puzzle in place first.

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5 Reasons to Rebalance Your 2014 Marketing Plan

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Redesigning Amazon.com

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  • 09.15.14

5 Steps to a Defensible 2015 Marketing Budget

5 Steps to a Defensible 2015 Marketing Budget

Just the fact of being asked for specific budget numbers often makes marketers jump straight to tactics before they’ve developed the strategic foundation that should drive those tactics. Unfortunately if you haven’t done that work yet for 2015, it’s probably too late for your budget process. But either way it’s never too late to start doing it the right way.

The 5 steps to an effective, defensible marketing plan:

1.    Don’t Guess

The powers that be need to recognize that before you decide where, when and how to spend money, modern marketing requires some pretty sophisticated strategic planning. While your team’s instincts and experience are probably good, you’d be surprised how wrong gut decisions can be. The Connect, Cultivate, Convert model does a good job of explaining why this complex environment requires a formalized strategic approach.

2.    Do the basics

The foundation starts with traditional research and insights, like customer segmentation, competitive review and persona development. But it’s what comes next that really counts.

3.    Journey Mapping

You need to know what the key interaction points and influences are on the way to purchase, and then advocacy, for each target segment.  This tells you when and where to interact with each target segment, but it’s still not enough.

4.    Content Strategy

You also need to know what to say, and how to say it to each segment at each interaction point. This comes from the work of a Content Strategy.  It includes social media listening to discover what people are saying, and studying search activity to find out what people are doing. This work reveals the psychology of the consumer at each point in their journey and provides essential direction to creative messaging.

5.    Playbook

At this point you have a strategic plan, which includes who you are targeting, when and where you should engage, what you should say and how that messaging should be delivered, but you need one more thing. The final step is to translate all this strategy into an actionable plan.

The Playbook should:

·      Prioritize tactics based on their ability to deliver against goals
·      Lay out tactics in priority over time
·      Show how each tactic ladders up to the strategy
·      Provide budgets for each tactic.
·      Project ROI
·      Identify KPIs for performance measurement

Tactics should include campaign work to connect with new prospects, tactics to cultivate prospects and customers over time, and tactics to convert prospects into customers. Some tactics may be one-time, others may be evergreen and part of your on-going marketing infrastructure.

When you’ve taken these five steps you will really be ready for budget time. You will be able to tell your management exactly how much you need, why, and what the ROI will be. You will be able to explain how, in the context of corporate goals, you got to your strategy, how the tactics you recommend will accomplish the strategy and why you have prioritized certain tactics within the time period. You will be able to justify each tactic, why it makes sense and how it ladders up to the long-term vision for the brand.

You may not be quite ready to deliver, however, if you don’t have the right mechanics in place. In our digitally centric world these are mostly digital assets like an effective website.  These technology components, of what essentially becomes a brand ecosystem, enable you to consistently turn the activity you generate with advertising and marketing into sales and loyalty.  But that’s another post.

Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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5 Reasons to Rebalance Your 2014 Marketing Plan

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Redesigning Amazon.com

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Rethinking Amazon.com

Eric Beatty Amazon.com redesign

 

A quick note from Clark Moss, IQ’s Executive Creative Director:

Every now and again at the IQ office, spontaneous discussions break out about our “dream brands,” those specific companies that we would just love to work on. It seems everyone in the office has one, from a tech giant to a local bar, a brand name clothing store to a niche-market product manufacturer. To celebrate that, we’ve challenged ourselves to write, design, blog and create ideas around these dream companies. We’ll be sharing them over the next few months on the IQ Agency blog, so please enjoy this first one by Eric Beatty, one of our wonderful Art Directors.

Before I start I want to state that I know that Amazon.com has an amazing team of UX & digital designers, and I know they have reasoning behind each element of the page and it’s placement. The comp that I designed is a direction that I personally think improves the usability of the site.

The Problem with Amazon.com

Amazon.com recently came out with an underwhelming redesign of their homepage. Though it is better then it’s predecessor, it didn’t solve for the overall clutter that is on the homepage. Due to the clutter there is no system of hierarchy to guide the user down the page through the various sections. Instead the user comes to the page and feels overwhelmed, flooded with information and images to take in. I wanted to solve for this.

Amazon's status quo

My Solution

I wanted to get rid of the clutter and focus on the most important things on the homepage: navigation, featured content and suggested products. I also wanted to create a system of hierarchy with the content, breaking up the page with large blocks of featured content  with smaller blocks of suggested products so the user doesn’t get overwhelmed. Finally I wanted to create a space at the top that showcased Amazon’s featured products in the best way possible.

Amazon.com solution

Navigation

Amazon Nav bar redesign

I shrunk the nav, leaving only the most important items: Departments, Prime, Wish list, My Account, Cart & Search. Note that search is front and center, allowing for people to quickly and easily get to it, since this is likely the most used way to navigate the site.

Hero Slider

Amazon hero slider redesign

I made an eye catching, full width image hero slider that showcases each featured product in an emotional way. I noticed that the current hero pieces are small and feel more like ads than a featured section. I wanted to make sure this section shined because this is where Amazon gets to push select items.

Suggested Products

Amazon Suggested Products redesign

I wanted to update the “related to items you’ve viewed” with Amazon’s colors. I feel they don’t use their branded orange enough, and by popping it in every now and then we are able to reinforce the brand subtly through the site. I also gave new spacing to the products to let them breathe, and to give the eye an easier time to see each product.

Featured Products

Featured Amazon Products Redesign

I think it is important to break up the product suggestion section with hero items. This keeps the user from feeling overwhelmed looking at a mass of products. It also provides visual interest and does a nice job breaking up the page.

Note the right side bar didn’t change that much, I wanted to make sure that section remained dedicated to advertisement, that way this is a more realistic approach to the redesign.

Take a look at the project on my Behance for more information. What is your opinion of Amazon.com’s homepage?

 

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Don’t interrupt me when I’m interrupting you

Dear Brands, you’ll never be potato salad

Tips for Writing in Agile

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Harpoons, Comets, Risk and Marketing

Marketing risks like unto harpooning a comet.

I was listening to the news this morning and heard the amazing story about the Rosetta spacecraft that has finally caught up with a comet it was sent to chase ten years ago. More unbelievable is that the plan is now to land the spacecraft on the comet by firing harpoons at the surface, which will pull the craft down. By the time you read this we should know if this wild plan was successful.

Clearly somebody 10 years ago had an extraordinary vision. The odds on catching the comet were slim and the odds of getting to the surface even slimmer. But despite that they managed to persuade someone to green light the money. Some cold-hearted, penny-pinching bureaucrat said yes to this outrageous plan. When I think of the small daily battles we have in marketing to get our clients to take risks it makes me feel truly humble.

Risk is of course the route to reward. As we are all told: the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Of course, the safer more predictable an investment, the more likely everyone will be doing it and the less likely it will be to produce a game-changing result. Yet it is that game-changing result that all our clients want, and actually deserve. They want the video that gets millions of viral views, the slogan that’s on everyone’s lips, the app that you simply must have. But at the same time, unlike at Rosetta’s organization, the typical corporate appetite for risk is small. This is nowhere more on display than from watching what’s happening in marketing today.

Companies, understandably, prefer investments in which they can accurately predict their risk. That’s really hard with creative, because how do you quantify the emotional impact of a new idea; it’s much easier with data. As a result you can already see the tremendous interest companies have in data. Already the corporate focus on data has started to squeeze out the focus on creative and originality. Instead of how do we capture people’s imagination, the talk is about programmatic buying, analytics, big data and so on. Companies love the idea of turning marketing into a predictable machine so they jump on all these technology investments in the belief that they will eliminate risk and uncertainty from the equation.

This is all well and good, but it ignores the final step in the journey; making the connection with the person. You note I said the person, not the consumer, because we are all people in the final analysis, not cogs in a giant marketing machine. I’m not saying that data is not valuable. At my agency, for example, we map all the customer touch points, aggregate the data and turn it into insights, which in turn leads us to original creative approaches that are more likely to resonate. Data does not replace the role of creative, but rather makes it smarter.

Data is good at telling us what has already happened and can predict, with some accuracy, what will happen in the future under similar circumstances. The problem is that data isn’t so effective when applied to new ideas. As Steve Jobs, who famously eschewed market research, said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” So the secret is in the marriage of data and creativity. Data informs the process of originality and innovation, but is not its master.

Don’t tell that to business today, however. Unfortunately, we are entering a phase in the marketing world where the momentum is to connect all the data silos into one unified system that promises to deliver marketing data Shangri-La. Companies will flock to this idea that data and systems will take the risk out of marketing, and will invest like crazy in platforms to predict and manage every thought consumers have. This will all come at the expense of creativity and in the end, I’m afraid, will still leave them short of that magical connection with the target audience. That will still take something that an algorithm will never produce, a completely original, emotionally impactful, idea, sort of like harpooning a comet.

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Before we knock “native advertising,” let’s talk about doing it right

How smart is your agency?

Dear brands, you’ll never be potato salad

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Before we knock “native advertising,” let’s talk about doing it right.

Before you knock it

 

I love John Oliver’s new show. It’s witty, funny, well-written and always on relevant topics. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see him taking a punch at native advertising.

If you don’t have time to watch his 11-minute segment, his argument is this: native advertising is ultimately deceptive and undermines the journalistic values that are essential to a free press. Why? As Oliver cites in the video, consumers rarely recognize when content on a publication’s website is “native ad” or not.

That’s very fair. Especially if you’re familiar with the The Atlantic’s Scientology fiasco, which Oliver mentions. But before we tie the phrase “native advertising” to a stake and burn it, I implore you to take a moment (as a brand, agency, journalist or consumer) to realize that native ads don’t have to be horrible farces to the public. They can be helpful, if they’re done right.

By done right, I mean this:

1. If you publish content for a brand, create something that actually matters and is relevant to that brand.

Truth is, behind every company is a group of real, often smart, people who care deeply about their products. Even though advertisers and their agencies (I’ll raise my hand here) have a goal to sell products or services, many work to sell things that they believe in. Companies spend millions of dollars testing their products and researching their industry. If brands are going to act as publishers, they should stick to topics relating to their area of expertise. Like Dell talking about work habits or a clothing company rounding up the latest fashion trends. Even though Swiffer’s Buzzfeed list offers more laughs than value, it talks about a relevant topic: cleaning. (And fits nicely on Buzzfeed, which offers more laughs than value too.)

2. Publish first in a designated space for branded content, such as a branded blog. 

Many very successful brands are finding success publishing on their own website — often via a branded blog. Two of my favorites, West Elm’s Front + Main and Tory Burch, not only publish relevant content often, they offer sage advice from industry experts that’s actually helpful. If Tory Burch wants to share dinner party appropriate attire or West Elm offers essential tips for an attic renovation — by all means. They also do a great job of distributing that content with fans via social media and email. Do this regularly and consumers will come back to engage.

3. Give a branded representative the byline. 

If your brand is writing a piece, give that article or piece of content an actual byline. Meaning an article about “10 ways to accessorize your spring wardrobe” from a clothing company could (and really should) features a small byline, like “Written by Jane Smith, Clothing Co. Brand Manager.” This gives brands a face, which builds credibility and trust with customers. If real company employees can’t create content, at least cite their input with a byline like, “Written by Joshua Meade with contributor Jane Smith.”

Example below from New York Times: 

millennials

4. Think of native ads like food. Always, always check the label. 

If your brand chooses to publish a piece in a traditionally non-branded space (such as in a magazine or newspaper), make sure the publication clearly labels it as “sponsored content.” Label it in an extremely bold way, with a readable label and visual indicator like a color change. If that branded article is interesting and valuable enough, consumers will read it anyway. Being honest and transparent about branded content ensures credibility and trust, not just for the publication but also for the brand itself.

 

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