Packaging as a Service

I'm a bit of a fan of Zeus Jones. They seem to have a constant flow of interesting ideas centered on the idea that good marketing should provide much more than just a message -- it should provide a service if it is to be truly relevant and successful in the long-term.

One of the nice parts about this time of year is it causes me to be in a retail environment with a much different perspective. When it comes to shopping, I tend to be a creature of efficiency. Get in. Stalk the prey. Put it in the cart. Pay. Leave. However, when I'm out with the family and picking over the retail offerings, it puts me in a different mindset. For some reason (circumstances, perhaps?), I find myself looking at shopping in an entirely new way. I browse. I think of people other than myself. I look for the unique. I shop.

At a recent excursion with wife and child 1 and child 2, I happened upon a product that I thought exemplified Zeus' philosophy. Pangea Organics makes a nice bar soap. (We chose Indian Green Tea with Mint and Rose Petals -- you should smell me in the morning!) The packaging design is simple, intriguing and functional. That's because, according to their Web Site, it is made using a "Zero Waste process and 100% post-consumer paper and organic seeds like basil." [my emphasis]

Once you've place the soap in the dish, you soak the package in water and plant in the ground. In a while, you have a living, breathing, carbon-dioxide-eating herb.

I think that's swell.


Humbled by Digital Advice

I have so much to learn. Thankfully, there are some trailblazers who are great guides.

Digital planning requires an additional level of skills that were highlighted today in an excellent post from Iain Tait. His points are essential, insightful and thought provoking.

As I work to better understand how to integrate planning into a small B2B-focused agency, his top tips for digital planning add some valuable perspective.



This weekend I listened to a podcast of Radio Lab from back in August. It was a discussion of the science of emergence. Sounds eerily similar to my previous post. I must just be catching on. Anyway, the idea that a seemingly chaotic, disorganized mass can be more intelligent and become more quickly organized than one smart member, is awe inspiring. One ant makes a chance discovery of food and leaves a pheromone trail that a second ant finds. Then, quickly, the second ant's scent instigates a chain reaction where the entire colony is quickly organized by an exponentially expanding trail of pheromones. From chaos to organization and discipline in moments. All started by a relatively dumb insect.

It's sort of like the Gestalt principle of nature.

What does that tell us about the field of marketing? Have the marketers been trying to act as the smart solitary member, yet the consumer masses are really better at adapting to accidental discoveries? Or, are the marketers starting to awaken to the rising pheromone levels launched by the discovery of conversation and authenticity?


Of Ants and Humans

Carl Zimmer reported in the New York Times over the weekend that scientists have a better idea as to why ants and other swarming animals can work so efficiently. Turns out, according to Iain Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton and Oxford, that there are a series of trails ants leave and rules they follow which keep them from moving in a chaotic manner. Zimmer summarized the findings by stating that:

"[These] rules allow thousands of relatively simple animals to form a collective brain able to make decisions and move like a single organism."

Couzin and his colleagues tested their theories of chemical trails and behavioral "norms" using mathematical and computer models. They discovered that among these , and other swarms (birds, fish, locusts), each individual has to regularly choose between its desire to move in a particular direction or to follow the group path. A small number of leaders can turn the swarm by changing the input and that entices the rest of the group to "spontaneously come to a consensus and move in the direction chosen by the majority."

Brainless animals.

If only it weren't being found to occur in our species as well. Couzin has found in recent experiments that humans make eerily similar unconscious swarming decisions -- influenced by a small group of leaders, we tend to follow a path because of popularity.

Is that why The Blair Witch Project was successful? Does that explain The Tipping Point with empirical proof?

Seems to me to have a great deal of implication on behavior when it comes to marketing. That's also why I subscribe to the opinion that we should be helping our clients to be noticed for the right reasons with a small, influential audience. I think it was Seth Godin who said we should be creating marketing that is remark-able.

Getting noticed for energy and excitement will capture the attention of the leaders and the swarm will soon follow.


Crushing Defeat

My soccer team just lost the last game of the season. It was a squad we had defeated handily earlier in the year. Sometimes things just don't click and this was one of those times.

I just have to keep reminding myself that it isn't professional. We didn't just lose a Euro match. It's just old guys playing for fun. Right?


Question of the Day

What are we doing here?

Questions are important to me. Like staying up all night for my project the other night, I hope I never take curiosity for granted. Lately, my questions have verged on the existential. Nothing new for a fellow in the waning days of his third decade.

Northern Planner
had an interesting post on why we choose this business. I admire his optimism and his altruistic belief. I've noticed that is a pattern for him. He seems like a glass-half-full person.

For me, the reason is more specific and somewhat selfish. I see the moment of revelation — the connection you build with someone where the light bulb goes off — as almost narcotic. Lights in the eyes because of a great strategy. A relationship with a customer where they see value. That's fun and that's what keeps me coming back every day.

That's what keeps me asking the questions. Trying to get to the bottom (or top) of something so that I can see that moment of understanding again. It's worth all the bruises and scrapes.

Sometimes it takes reminding myself of that point.


I Hope I Never Get Used To It

Pulled an all-nighter last night. Someone wise once said that the amount of time it takes to accomplish a task expands in direct relation to the deadline. Unfortunately, that was the case with my project yesterday. The nice thing is the hallucinations are all-natural. Dude.


My Manifesto

There are a lot of smart people in this business. Northern Planner, Zeus Jones and brand new among many others. I've been reading a lot of their stuff lately and reflecting on many things.

One: it's amazing that someone can keep posting regular entries to a blog. It takes so much dedication.

Two: I need to more clearly define my beliefs when it comes to this communication biz. The world seems to have changed orbit in the last two years and I've been searching for meaning. To that end, I've put together my first attempt at a definition of who I am.

Here goes nothing.

Throughout my career, I've connected buyers more closely with sellers by solving my clients' marketing problems with strategic thinking and tactical innovation. I've been plying my trade in "traditional" advertising agencies for 14 years and have realized that business model doesn't match my passions any longer. The world has changed dramatically and my desire to actively participate in this revolution requires a more progressive business climate.

• I believe in knowledge, experience and collaboration.
• I question everything and know there's more than one answer out there.
• I am a fervent believer in expression and constantly seek to build relationships.
• I can manage projects.
• I can synthesize new information and effectively communicate it to others.
• I present very well.
• I always want to turn the rock over and consider it from the perspective of the worm.

The fire still burns inside of me and I want to pass the light on to others. (Care to join hands and sing Kumbaya?)

In many ways, I wrote this from a professional perspective, but so many of my thoughts work for the personal sphere as well. Pollyanna? Maybe. This stuff has been floating around my head lately and I just had to get it down somewhere.


Neon Grave

Cool Hunting introduced me to this cool site this morning — a flikr of Vegas' Neon Graveyard.

It is a great collection of photos that struck me. Perhaps it's a metaphor for the old-school, one-way process of promotion. Probably too deep a thought for a Friday morning.

Never mind.

Just explore and enjoy.


What's in a name?

PSFK has a post this morning regarding the conference in Los Angeles. At this conference, the group has agreed to drop the term "marketing" from the agenda. The reason the article cites is that the PSFK team and attendees believe marketing is too limiting a descriptor. The conference is about ideas and trends.

It brings up an interesting point for me. For the last five years of my career, I've wrestled with this same issue. In the two years I've been with GCG, for example, we have described ourselves as a "full service advertising agency with special expertise in (healthcare, business-to-business)." However, we do so much more than just advertising and design. We are consultants. We help write business plans. We create sales tactics. We write software solutions.

Seems to me, at the end of the day, we are about solving problems. It just happens our training and experience is filtered through a lens of creative communications.

What is a succinct way to describe what we do when talking with current clients and prospects? What is the cocktail party description? Any suggestions would be more than welcomed.


Technology is a swingset?

PSFK had a link to a Reuters article this morning about how the ubiquity of technology has caused most kids to not even acknowledge the innovations that package their lives and drive many of their social interactions.

The comparison of today's digital devices to the swingsets of my youth as a force in socialization was an interesting way to frame the perspective.

In addition, it brought to mind the virtually inseparable divide between religion and daily life in certain cultures. My family (and culture) saw life and religion as two separate things. My wife's family (and culture) can't distinguish between where faith starts and family begins.

Does anyone else know of any knowledge base highlighting the connection between culture and technology? Are there other non-technology comparisons that come to mind?


The Brain Amazes Me.

Last night I read an interview with Joseph LeDoux that shook me like a cheap snowglobe.

He is a neurologist at NYU who is interested in the formation of emotion and consciousness and how music may be the key to unlocking these things. In addition, the interview introduced me to the concept of "synaptic plasticity" and how our personalities may be formed by the malleability of our gray matter through both internal and external factors.

The "money" paragraph from the article as far as I'm concerned was:

The fact is that there are many different systems in the brain -- perceptual, emotional, motivational, cognitive and so on. And within each of these broad categories there are lots of divisions. All of these run in parallel. Neuroscience has learned a tremendous amount about how systems and brain areas work. But our self, our personality, is not just the sum total of our brain systems. Our self can be thought of as a particular configuration of functional activity occurring in many systems at once. These configurations are determined by our genetically based wiring and by the experiences we have as we go through life. When it comes to mental life and behavior, nature and nurture are not two different things but two ways of doing the same thing: wiring our synapses.

Go ahead. Call me a neophyte. I'm just getting into this planning role at my agency and soaking up everything I can like a sponge.

This is fascinating stuff that has a direct correlation to the notion of how a company's brand personality is developed in the market -- through a combination of internal factors and the external perceptions that consumers bring to the value transaction. In fact, I believe this is related to the notion of transmedia planning I've seen attributed to Faris Yakob -- where different messages to different consumers through different media assemble the mosaic of a brand's personality.

Is the development of our consciousness and personality in our brains an appropriate analogy? Am I just getting up to speed on thinking in the market?

Definitely worth a read.