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Design Is a Time Traveler

vintage design I recently visited a friend's house to discover a canister of Cafe Bustelo sitting on their countertop. With its bright yellow and red design, it stuck out like a sore thumb in a space  I lovingly (and accurately) call the epitome of a hipster haven.  A quick Google of Cafe Bustelo history makes me think their branding hasn't changed a whole lot since it was founded in 1931. And maybe that's a good thing. In a neutral, Pinterest-worthy space, that misfit canister was elevated to an unintentional statement piece -- a functional work of art.

Industrial designer, S. Balaram once said, “If there is shit all around me, how can I eat my ice cream?” What his delivery lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in truth. We can exist without form, but why would we want to? Could we fully appreciate function of an object if there were no element of beauty? (Would Christmas magic exist if we stripped away all the wrapping?)

I've always been a fan of old things. I like rehoming baubles and bits whose stories have been surrendered at an under-market fee. One man's castoff is this woman's treasure. Part of me wonders if this affinity is a silent rebellion against the style that defined my generation. By the time I was old enough for advertising to imprint on me, the homey kitsch of the late-70s/early-80s had given way to a certain kind of neon-laden, ADD-priming marketing hysteria. (When I think back to the heart of those advertising years, the images in my mind are set to a soundtrack of laser light FX and the Kool-Aid man bursting through a wall yelling, "OH YEAH!")

In a word, 90s branding felt very frantic. It wasn't trying to tell a story, it was just screaming at you, trying to be the loudest box in the room. I'm sure it worked to some extent, as I can recall more than one grocery-store meltdown over Dunkaroos and Lunchables.







Over time, 90s branding went the way of slap bracelets and "The Rachel Cut," quietly slipping into oblivion. In the decades since, it seems the children of the 80s/90s are now championing  a new age of design. And while it's fun to joke "just put an ax on it," I really like the work that's being done these days. It's thoughtful, functional and beautiful. It reminds me that design is really a craft, not a profession or an industry or a skill. As for the people propelling the design engine forward? They just might be the closest thing we have to modern-day modern artists.

Good design doesn't have a shelf life. It says something about its era; the culture, the people, the priorities. It's one part nostalgia, one part dream. And decades down the road, it still has the power to make you stop and take notice.







Navigating a Sea of Brand Change

Don’t get me wrong, I like winter. But waking up to several inches of fresh snow (on top of several existing inches of not-so-fresh snow), I can’t help but let my mind fast forward to June, July and August. Warm summer evenings, good friends, welcoming verandas, a cold pint. (But maybe not the kind you’d expect.) It’s no secret that I’m a Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams fan. While I once blamed my Ohio upbringing, it seems the whole world has caught on to Ohio’s best-kept “sweet-cret.” And that’s a good thing. There’s something pretty awesome about watching people across the country fall in love with the brand your hometown has been rallying around for years.

Last week Jeni’s made a big announcement. They’re doing away with their signature trademark, handwritten labels. Turns out they spend more than 15,000 hours a year adding that personal touch to every pint that leaves the building.

From a consumer touchpoint standpoint, I have to admit that I will miss the handwritten labels just a bit. It has become a summer tradition to pause in front of the freezer at our favorite local market to savor the Sharpie art of so many different hands. There is something (no pun intended) so cool about knowing each pint has passed through the hands of a real human. (Though now I’m starting to suspect those hands may have been suffering from a case of chronic writer’s cramp.)

Once I put my selfish, Sharpie-loving feelings aside, I was able to see things from a business perspective, and I began to really appreciate how Jeni’s is handling this transition. Change is never easy. Especially for a brand that is beloved and deeply ingrained in their consumer’s nostalgia experience. But Jeni’s did things right in a few ways:

1. They were open, honest and forthcoming – before the change rolled out. In doing so, they gave their customers a heads up, a little time to mourn and a taste of what’s next.

2. They looked to the past to inspire the future. Realizing that the old, handwritten labels held a special place in their customers’ hearts, Jeni’s new labels will be printed in-house using a variety of samples from their professional handwriting crew. Customers get that personal touch they love; employees get to focus their time and talent elsewhere. Which brings me to…

3. They were transparent about their motivation. While I’m sure financial factors played a part in the decision, Jeni’s announcement focused on a much more important factor: the human factor. “We’re certain that our kitchen team members will be happier when they arrive at work knowing that they will be fully engaged in the making of the actual ice cream every day rather than writing the names of flavors on pint containers.” I love this because it’s a reminder that Jeni’s isn’t just focused on the goodness that goes inside their pints, they’re committed to fostering goodness within the walls of their company and culture. It tells me they’re listening to their employees, looking for ways to best utilize the talent they hire an not afraid to adjust to make that happen. Happy brands start with happy people. It’s as simple as that.

And that’s a brand I want to do business with. Or in this case, keep on doing business with.

Breaking Brand: 5 Brand Lessons from AMC's Breaking Bad

One of the greatest series in television history came to an end last night. It’s no secret that I have been a fanatic Breaking Bad fan since season 1, and while I certainly don’t have any interest in getting creative with chemistry, I do think Walter and friends have left behind a legacy of wisdom nuggets. From the White family breakfast table to the final moments of last night’s forever farewell, let’s take a look at five brand-relevant tidbits we picked up during five seasons of Breaking Bad… KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. One of the major contributors to Walt and Jesse’s long-running success was a result of identifying a need, understanding their market and creating a superior product based on that knowledge.

TAKEAWAY There’s a conventional tidbit of wisdom that basically says, “You’ll never learn anything while you’re talking.” So many brands are focused on talking at consumers, rather than listening to them, that they miss valuable opportunities to identify the needs and wants of the people they’re trying to reach. Entering into a brand-consumer relationship without doing the legwork to explore what consumers are saying about you, your competitors and your product just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you can invest time and money in focus groups or you can meet people where they are and simply hush up and listen. Word of mouth is a powerful mechanism for feedback, insight and input. Whether or not you’re part of the conversation, people are out there talking about you. If you want to give them what they want, you first have to understand what they want.

BRANDING MATTERS. The infamous blue color of Walt and Jesse’s product was noted time and time again throughout the series. It quickly became synonymous with a high quality, which in turn, created high demand.

TAKEAWAY Whether you’re manufacturing cars in the Midwest, developing apps in Kansas City or bottling wine in Argentina, you’re probably not the only one doing that thing you do. What you can be, is the only one doing it the way you do it.

TOMS isn’t the only company making shoes. Warby Parker isn’t the only shop that will sell you a new pair of frames. Chipotle isn’t the only place you can buy a burrito the size of your head. What makes each of these brands special is that they have not only found – but taken ownership – of their special. I know that when I buy a pair of TOMS shoes or Warby Parkers, I’m cast in the role of shopping superhero, as my investment gives these brands a way to give back, too. When I order a burrito bowl at Chipotle, I know what I’m getting, because Chipotle leads with their special. Ultimately, I know what to expect, because these brands know what they expect from themselves.

I read in a tidbit of Pinterest wisdom this weekend, “Your culture is your brand.” Branding transcends a pretty logo or packaging (though these things are vitally important, too). Branding is the consistent experience you provide, the remarkable people you hire, the permission you give your people to do the right thing. From the way you greet customers at the door to the amenities in your restrooms, the tone of voice in your email blasts to the easter egg hidden on your website – everything you do and say is an extension of your brand and branding. Make it blue.

PARTNERSHIPS ARE POWERFUL. From the early days of Walt and Jesse to Saul to Hector and Gustvo Fring, Todd and Jack to the lovely-yet-lethal Lydia (stevia, anyone?), Breaking Bad is a pendular lesson on the power of partnerships.

TAKEAWAY As consumers our dollar is our voice and our vote. When you place your card on the counter, you’re not just making a purchase, you’re entering into a partnership. With each dollar you spend, you declare, “I believe in this brand and what they stand for. We are in this together. I’m not just investing with them, I’m invested in them.” We want to invest in brands that makes us feel like we’re part of their story, not just a transaction.

As a brand, we must remember that marketing is about people. It’s important to step back and evaluate how you’re treating your people. Are you talking at them or engaging with them? Are you giving them an opportunity and invitation to become part of your story or are you just expecting them to go out into the world and repeat it?

YOUR PEOPLE WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOUR BRAND If the final season of Breaking Bad has taught us anything, it’s that you live and die by the people on your team. (In the instance of Breaking Bad, this truth is quite literal…)

TAKEAWAY Take a closer look at exceptional brands and you’ll discover they have certain threads in common. At the top of the list: a team that believes in what they’re doing and has a clear vision of where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

Great teams do not just happen, they are made. Building a great team begins with a strong leader who identifies individual strengths, gives people a chance to shine and pulls people up with them along the way. When leaders are transparent and honest, visionary and communicative, others will follow and drive the brand forward. When a leader loses sight of the goal – or worse, loses their passion and appreciation for their team – the whole ship will go down in flames.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT BREAKFAST. Breaking Bad gave new life to the age-old expression, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” From episode one, breakfast became a silent cast member in the series, giving the White family a regular reason to regroup. Though the circumstances and relationships evolved and dissolved from season to season, this ritual forced them to come together and take a time out to reconnect.

TAKEAWAY Many of the most important, meaningful and insightful conversations happen when we come together and take a timeout. This is true in business and in life. It seems many brands are on a never-ending quest to leverage the latest technology and embrace the “next big thing” in order to reach new people and audiences. In doing so, they often they forget the fans who have been along for the ride, down in the trenches and have loved them all along.

Numbers are numbers. They measure how many people you’ve convinced to click a like button on a page. What’s the value of 10,000 fans if none of them really knows your brand? What’s the value of 10,000 people with their hands out waiting for a coupon, but aloof to your story or success? Don’t lose sight of the people who really get you. Invite them to the table, ask them to share, find a way to connect. Take them to breakfast together. These are the relationships that matter – and their value is immeasurable.

So…to all of you Breaking Bad fans out there (inevitably nursing a bout of series finale blues this morning), chime in! What was your key takeaway from Breaking Bad?


This post first appeared on

Meet a Community Manager: Victoria Hammond


Welcome to Meet a Community Manager Mondays! Today WriteHuman is kicking off what will become a recurring weekly series. The interviewees may go by many different titles (Community Manager, Social Manager, Commander of Awesome), but at the core, they're the people working behind-the-scenes and driving social engagement for some of the greatest brands around. 

I had the pleasure of working with Vicky (that's Vicky-with-a-Y) during our tenure at Brains on Fire. Fueled by a steady stream of coffee, an unstoppable drive to find a better way and an affection for the fastest dogs around, getting Vicky to slow down for a little Q&A was no small task. But somehow I managed to do it. And here's what she had to say.

Happy reading!


Who are you? It's me...Mario! Okay, no. It's me...Vicky Hammond.

Job Title Commander of Awesome

Where do you do it? Waldschmidt Partners International

What has been your most memorable moment as a community manager? I was  lucky enough to be on a team representing the actual community in which I live. It was awesome to hear, on a daily basis, how residents and visitors alike loved the place I had adopted as my hometown.

My most memorable moment kicked off on my first day on the job and ended nine months later. (No, it was not a baby, but we did end up gaining a human when all was said and done.)

We received a tweet from a man who lived in Boston and was visiting for work. He  fell in love with our city over the course of his trip and announced that he was planning to move here one day. We kept in touch via Twitter, and were the first to hear he was moving down after accepting a new job in town. During his house hunting trip, we scouted out where he was staying and left him a "surprise and delight" welcome gift from his new hometown.

It was amazing to see how our conversations had come to life and created a true ambassador for the destination.

What was the hardest thing you have had to handle as a community manager? Any time there is a national tragedy, like Newtown or Boston Marathon, there is this rush to say something. There are times when you have something to add to the conversation--and others when silence acts as your best response.

In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about community management? 1. You play on Twitter all day. 2. Community management is something that should get delegated to the intern.

The efforts of community management, just like any of the other departments within a brand, are tied to larger goals for the organization. There are well thought out strategic plans and metrics tied to show KPIs and the ROI of your efforts. If you want to trust your budget line items to the intern, that is an option. But your intern is not the one who is going to have to demonstrate that you spent your money wisely and are effectively working toward whatever goals are set for the year.

What are the top 3 personality traits a good community manager needs to have? Curiousity. You have to dig under rocks and get your hands dirty to find those who are doing what you want to see out in the world. This is not as simple as typing in a hashtag or waiting for them to sprinkle you into the conversation. Sometimes those people are already out there talking about your product/service/experience and you have no idea. You have to DIG. If you are curious, you find the journey thrilling and exciting. You love finding an advocate under a rock somewhere, and you keep looking to find more of them.

Personable. As community manager, you find  that you become a welcome mat to a wide range of questions, issues and problems. I have had to field finance, marketing, sales, customer service and general questions across the board. You have to be patient and welcoming to anybody who comes into the community and navigate the same way you would like to be treated. I know I do not have every answer, but I know exactly who I can reach out to in order to get it.

Adaptability. The greatest laid plans may fall flat. A good community manager needs to be able to react and respond proactively,adjusting to the needs and wants of a community.

What are the top 3 skills a good community manager brings to the table? Proactive Analytical Multi-Tasking

What has community management taught you about people in general?

A smile and some kind words will go along way. Also, "thank you" is probably the best set of words any community manager can add to their vocabulary.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first got into community management?

 When you add people into the mix, nothing goes according to plan, but you will be surprised and delighted every single day by what you see.

Community Management is …tough work! But also a ton of fun.

Community Management is not …social media.

In your opinion, what brands (besides your own, of course) are doing social really well? I am in love with Songza. I make no qualms about expressing that love and probably tweet a playlist every couple of days. They (and their CEO) always respond in a great way.

What are three tools that make your job easier? (Yes. I want you to share your secret weapons.) I am a fan of Sprout Social, Simply Measured and Google Analytics.

What one thing would you like to tell the world about community management? One size does not fit all. You should have a consistent message, but how it is delivered should not be the same across all of your channels (web, social, offline, etc). The audience in each of those venues is different and engages in their own way.

What is the biggest change you have seen in community management over the course of your career? BOTS! Automation can be great and  free up your time to listen. I schedule tweets and regularly-scheduled content, but can't stand it when people have an automatic reaction (auto-retweet, auto-DM) that is not initiated by a human. Engagement is not automation. An auto0response  in real-time is not the same as  a real response received a little bit later from a human.

Current clients aside, what is one community you would love to work with and why? I love greyhounds and am the proud mama of two rescues. I would spend all day talking to other greyhounds owners or interested  parties. If there were a greyhound bus filled with greyhounds, I would be onboard now.

If you could only have one social network, which one would it be? Instagram. I, like so many people, am getting lazier about how I digest content. I enjoy browsing slice of life quickly and beautifully.

What is your favorite part about your job? Making people smile.

As a CM/SM, there is an expectation that you be constantly plugged in. How do you find work/life balance? Mandated unplugging. Yes, there is an expectation to check in, but I am not a real-time responder, nor is that the expectation that should be set. I will do a quick touch base every few hours outside of normal business hours to make sure nothing huge has gone down.

What one piece of advice would you give a young person who aspires to work in SM? It is NOT playing on social all day. Just because you have used social networks does not make you an expert. There is a big difference between being entertaining to your friends/personal network and representing the voice of a brand.

How do you spark conversations with your community? What kinds of things work? What have you found not to work? Do not be salesy. Yes, there is an expectation that you are ultimately driving sales. However, I do not recommend jutting yourself into a conversation leading with a sales pitch. That is gross.

I come at starting a conversation as if I were at a party myself. How would I start a conversation with someone? Would you want to talk to somebody who immediately comes up with a business card? No. For me, what works is asking questions and responding in a meaningful way. After a few interactions, if it is appropriate, then a solution can become a natural part of the conversation.

If you had to distil all your CM/SM wisdom down into one guiding principle, what would it be? Say thank you. Reward the behavior you seek. You want people to share? Say thanks when they do. Simple as that. You will see it happen again.


Three industry blogs you read regularly? HBR, Fast Company and WriteHuman.

3 non-industry blogs you read regularly? This is embarrassing, but I am OBSESSED with How I Met Your Mother. As a result, I am plugged into a bunch of random blogs and forums related to the show.

What do you do fo fun? Clemson Tigers football!

When you were little what did you think you were going to be when you grew up? An astronaut or a princess. So...

How a woman named Thelma changed my views on marketing...and helped me clean up my act.

mrs. meyers soap radish When I was little and we would leave a restaurant, two things would inevitably happen. My dad would pop a red-and-white peppermint in his mouth before we had hit the door, and as soon as we climbed in the car my mom would roll down the window, gasping for fresh air. I always liked the smell of mint so I never understood her aversion, but the day I walked face-first into a friend's vanilla candle-laden home, it all started to make sense. I felt like someone had smeared my nose in a cupcake. And while I love a cupcake just as much as the next girl, I'd rank artificial cupcake scent somewhere between "wet dog" and "dorito feet" on the olfactory offensiveness scale.

Among all the wonderful things I inherited from my mother, it seems  I also inherited her acute sense of smell.

Which is precisely what inspired my first purchase of Mrs. Meyers hand soap. Actually, that's not true. The design drew me in, the scent sold me. I'd like to say "the rest is history" (because that would make for an epically succinct blog post), but it wasn't so. That afternoon, standing in the soap aisle at Target, was just the beginning of a true love story about to unfold.

There aren't a lot of brands I'd profess to love. Even fewer I would say make me feel giddy with joy. Mrs. Meyers is both of those and more. And as someone who so feels enraged over paying $12 for a pack of toilet paper that she has to text her sister to express said anger from the store, pledging allegiance to a $4 bottle of hand soap is kind of a big deal.

Months after becoming a Mrs. Meyers fan, I finally moseyed over to to check out Thelma's website...only to discover a mecca of marketing excellence. (I'm only sort of joking when I say I tiny digital branding and identity angels descended on my screen...)

Beautiful, clean, on-brand site design! Amazing execution of brand storytelling! A tagline that integrates the phrase "like the dickens!"

And that's when the music began. 

Had I found the Holy Grail of  marketing done right?

So here we are. You be the reader, I'll be the writer. And we'll spend the next couple weeks worth of blog posts taking a look at a company that is more than just another pretty smell.

Cupcake huffers need not apply.


est est est wine Last weekend a group of us headed out to celebrate my bestie's 33rd birthday. Noticing a wine claiming to hail from an Italian region referred to as "EST! EST!! EST!!" our waitress asked if we knew the story behind the unusual name.

Depending on who you ask, sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries,  a Catholic bishop was traveling through Italy on his way to Rome. The bishop sent a servant ahead to scout out village taverns with great wine. When the servant found a satisfactory wine he would scrawl EST (Latin for "it is") on the door. Legend has it that the servant was so impressed with the wine being served at a Montefiascone inn that he enthusiastically scrawled Est! Est!! Est!!! on the door.

Several days (and several glasses of wine) later, the story is still sticking with me.

Storytelling matters.

Cin cin!

When I say “Starbucks,” you say...???

What words or phrases come to mind when you see a Starbucks logo? What feelings do you associate with the Porsche seal? What do you think about when you pass a truck with the FedEx mark painted on its side? Here’s a fun little midweek find that will give you some insight on how other people are answering similar questions.

Brandtags is a crowdsourced collection of consumer brand sentiment. The premise is that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads, therefore a brand is whatever they (people/customers) say it is. Brandtags is a place where people can share their opinions about brands freely, and brand owners can learn how their brands are viewed.

Check out Brandtags to try out logo free association, or to explore how others define the brands that play a part in our daily lives.

Just a Love Machine

Today I’d like to talk about Todd.

A TODD Talk, if you will.

Meet Todd. We know his name because it isembroidered on a patch sewn to the unassuming beige jumpsuit he wears Monday through Friday. Todd drives a truck full of soda. Day in and day out he stops at various locations around the city, quietly letting himself in and out ofoffice buildings, schools, churches, malls and lobbies. After refilling theemptied racks inside glowing red machines, Todd returns to his truck and heads down the road to the next destination on his list.

Sounds kind of unremarkable, doesn’t it?

Here is what you may not know: Todd is a silent super hero. A secret agent of surprise and smiles. A wielder of happiness. Todd comes and goes - usually without being noticed - but what he leaves behind is felt and shared by many.


When I first saw the video, a quote from the Brains on Fire Book immediately came to mind: Be famous for the people who love you and for the way you love them.

With just a few modifications (and a little help from Todd), Coca Cola turned a soda machine into a happiness machine. Not only did they transform the unremarkable act of buying a beverage into a love-love experience between the brand and their fans, they created an infectious love-love-share experience their fans wanted to celebrate together.


Take a little time to reflect today. When was the last time your brand really loved the people who love you? And more importantly, what kind of love will you be famous for?


Originally posted on the Brains on Fire Blog