Viewing entries tagged

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.







Storytelling for Non-Sexy Brands


I do a lot of thinking and talking about brand storytelling, because a big part of what I do entails helping brands tell the stories of their who and their why — not just their what. For some brands (like nonprofits) the story is a bit clearer from the start. For other brands, however, it takes a little digging. But once the story reveals itself, you get a whole new perspective on an old thing.

Case and point: the humble pay phone.

Make Sense, Not Noise


Among the handful of golden rules for brands on social media, you’ll find this tidbit of wisdom: Don’t force your way into a conversation; join a conversation when the opportunity arises, it makes sense and feels natural. 

Those of us in marketing have had time to hone our skills. We’re very familiar with the sound of those obvious and less-obvious doors opening amongst the daily flurry of tweets. But what about brands with a little less social experience under their belts. We’ve all seen the occasionally awkward tweet. ExampleTweeter tweets “What a beautiful day!” BrandTweeter chimes in out of nowhere with “Check our our lawnmowers. On sale now!”


And while I think the majority of brands are still struggling with how to be conversational rather than promotional on social media, last week I received an out-of-the-blue tweet that really impressed me. The brand nailed it.


I shared this link from Fast Company…


I then received this tweet in response...



1. The brand found a way to share information about their company with me by tapping into something I was already talking about.

2. The information the brand shared with me included three topics that I care about (and regularly tweet about): dogs, tech and women in STEM.

3. The brand created a personal and memorable moment by sharing a photo peek behind their scenes, rather than just retweeting or leaving things at “We agree."

6 Brands Killing It On Instagram

A wise person once said, "Don't use two words where one will do." Thanks to Instagram, that age-old grain of wisdom seems to be undergoing a revamp, and now advises: "Don't use words where a picture will do." Brands know that Instagram is where the action is, but many are struggling to figure out how to make it relevant to their brand. Sitting squarely at the intersection of artistic expression, inspiration, information and celebration, it's the place to be. But where to begin? Read on for a few examples of brands that are doing Instagram right. But first, a few statistics:

  • 70% of Instagram users check their feed at least once a day, 35 % several times a day. 
  • 71% of the world's top brands are on Instagram.
  • Instagram photos with faces get 35% more comments than those without.
  • Instagram is more popular than Twitter amongst US smartphone users.
  • 57% of the top brand marketers are averaging at least one post a week.


Let's be honest, it's not easy being a humble cup of yogurt in a scoop-of-ice-cream world. Nonetheless, Chobani does a steller job of using Instagram to only showcasing their product, but also to tell a story about the Chobani lifestyle.


Jeni's Ice Cream Speaking of ice cream... With a penchant for unusual flavor combinations like goat cheese + red cherries, sweet cream biscuits + peach jam, and sweet corn + black raspberries, Jeni's Instagram feed reflects the same sense of creative vision, unexpected delight and passion for food the brand is known (and loved) for . (Warning: may cause sudden cravings.)


Billiam Jeans What's more quintessentially American than a pair of jeans crafted in Greenville, South Carolina? Nothing. As a self-professed "company made up of trial and error manufacturers," once glance at their Instagram and it's not hard to believe that this is a brand "learning from rolling up our sleeves and trying to make sense of the process."


Sharpie Everyone loves a Sharpie. No really, everyone. Arguably one of the most recognizable names in pens, Sharpie takes a decidedly different approach compared to most brands. Rather than celebrating their product, their Instagram stream is an ongoing celebration of the things their product empowers fans and brand loyalists to do.


Kittie's Cakes It doesn't take a lot to sell people on the joys of really delicious cupcakes. Convincing them to engage with your brand on Instagram? A little bit harder. Columbus, Ohio-based bakery Kittie's Cupcakes has made Instagram their primary stream for communication. Much like morning announcements in elementary school, each day Kittie's Instagrams photos of that day's baked offerings (they change daily). By 2 or 3 p.m., it's not unusual to Kittie's post a notice that you've missed the rush ... and they're all sold out.


TSA Cupcakes and ice cream were born to pose for photos. But what about a less obvious brand? While the public seems to have, um, mixed emotions about TSA, the agency has started using Instagram as a way to invite the public into their world. Scroll through their stream and you'll discover that it's not all pat downs and body scans...but you will have to leave your cat-shaped brass knuckles at home.



The Secret Sauce of Beloved Brands

There is no shortage of genius roaming the halls of Coca Cola. I’m reminded of this fact every time I see one of their new videos. Over the years, they have done an exceptional job making the brand conversation less about them and more about what they do for others. And therein lies the secret sauce of beloved, revered and cherished brands. Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

If you want to be exceptional in business, you better be in the business of being remarkable – which begins by making people feel something they’ll never forget.

Customer Happiness Is the New Customer Service

Two households, both alike in dignity. Oh wait. Wrong story. And though mine doesn’t take place in fair Verona, it is a love story about two brands. STORY 1: WARBY PARKER I recently received a new prescription from my optometrist. As has become the case over the past few years, the impetus of my visit was mostly about getting into a new pair of Warby Parkers I (pardon the pun) had my eye on. Flash forward a couple weeks, my break-in period doesn’t seem to be letting up. Vision feels awry. One eye feels drunk and wonky. Not good. After a recheck, my doctor convinces me I just need to give it more time. A month goes by. I still feel I’m viewing life through a fish bowl. More troubleshooting ensues, ultimately resulting in a kinder, gentler prescription.

Great. Now I have two pairs of adorable glasses with a bad prescription. What’s a girl to do? Email, of course.

After shooting an email to WP to explain the situation, not only do they happily agree to swap out my glasses, they immediately place an order for my replacement pairs and email me a shipping label to return the old ones. All free of charge. Despite the fact that none of this was their fault, WP made my problem their problem – and bent over backwards to make it right.

STORY 2: MAJOR COSMETIC BRAND A few weeks ago I decided to order makeup on Amazon for the first time. (Because Amazon Prime! Why not?) I’ve been using the same brand forever, so I assumed it would be a safe bet. At the last second, I opted to switch to a newer formulation of the product. When it arrived, the smell was wretched. I don’t know if it was a bad batch or intentionally created to smell like a mix of cleaning supplies and rotten carnations, but either way, it was NOT going on my face.  I emailed the brand to share my thoughts. A few days later I received a form letter notifying me that they would be sending me a gift certificate, along with a note that read: “Please do not respond to this email.” Hmm. Okay.


There is a huge difference between customer service and customer happiness. I was equally pleased with the service I received from both companies, but only one left me feeling happy, connected and affectionate toward the brand once the dust settled.

When brands are in the business of customer service, they aim to provide a simple transaction. That is vital and valuable – don’t get me wrong. But when brands go beyond service and give their people permission to make customers happy, they’re investing in building lasting relationships. How would business change if brands stopped calling people “customer service representatives” and started calling them “champions for customer happiness?”


ps: To Alice at Warby Parker – Thank you! You are the hero of my eyeballs.

We're All In the Business of Making People Feel Good

A couple weeks ago I found myself in my new doctor’s office awaiting my inevitable fate (two shots…neither of the fun tequila variety). As I sat there reading posters about proper hand washing procedures and the merits of flu vaccines, something occurred to me. I’ve moved around a lot over the past decade. From dentists to ophthalmologists, veterinarians to family MDs, I don’t remember the last time I settled on a new doctor without a WOM referral from a friend. According to one study, when selecting new primary care physicians, half of all consumers relied on word-of-mouth recommendations. If 50% of your new customer base is a direct result of word of mouth referrals, that must mean you’re doing something right, right? Right.

And here are three simple lessons we can learn from them:

Specialize in something.  From skin to sinuses, bones to brains, doctors tend to pick one thing and get really good at doing that one thing really well.

You’re probably not the only brand in the world making what you make or doing what you do. What you can be is the only brand in the world doing it the way you do it. Find your something special…then own the heck out of it.

I’m openly fanatic about Mrs. Meyers Clean Day products. There are hundreds of brands that make hand soap and cleaning supplies. There aren’t hundreds of brands that do it the way Mrs. Meyers does it. Their garden-inspired, no-nonsense approach warms my heart. They’re a happy brand that knows who are they are and what they do best. I’m willing to pay for their soap even though I know other brands they share the shelf with can do the job at a cheaper price. So why do I do it? Every dollar a consumer spends is a declaration. Mrs. Meyers has found their something special by owning what they do and how they do it. With each dollar I spend, I stand alongside their brand and proudly declare, “Yeah, me too!”

The best form of advertising is WOM by way of a happy customer.  Ever notice how many of the best doctors never seem to be accepting new patients? There’s a reason for that. People talk behind their backs…in a good way. I recently got my foot in the door with a GP who wasn’t accepting new patients. How did I do it? Word of mouth. I mentioned that I was looking for a new doctor to a mutual friend (who also happens to be a doctor.) He put in a good word for me…and I hit the doctor jackpot.

Too often brands focus on the new, new, new. New technologies, new advertising, new people. In doing so, they often forget about their established customers and existing fan base. Like old friends, the people who have been along for the ride with your brands are probably the people who are most invested in you. As we mention in our first book, if you (god forbid) got hit by a bus tomorrow, these are the people who would pick up the torch, carry your message forward and keep your brand alive. Don’t forget about them or overlook them. They know you, they love you and they’re a powerful force spreading the word about you out in the world.

Get to know your customer before you jump into the conversation. Imagine for a moment that your doctor barges into the exam room and promptly begins marking up your nose in preparation for rhinoplasty. You’re there to see her about a sprained ankle. Awkward turtle.

In order to create compelling messaging and spark meaningful conversations, you need to know who you’re talking to…and what you’re talking to them about. Marketers love social media (guilty as charged), but we often forget that being social doesn’t mean monopolizing the conversation. It doesn’t mean broadcasting and talking about ourselves. Just like a real world one-on-one conversation, good communication is a two-way street. You’ve got walk before you can run — and you’ve got to know how to listen before you can engage.

Talk to your customers. Ask them what’s going on in their lives and world. Listening gives you insights into your customer’s values, how they use your product, what they like, what’s frustrating to them and what they need. Listening helps you identify potential opportunities and partnerships. Brands pump so much money into research and development in an effort to decode the secret lives of consumers. You can bypass all of that by simple reaching out, asking the right questions, then listening to their response.

Less talking, more listening.

Never underestimate the power of a lollipop. The power of surprise + delight is remarkable. When things go unexpectedly awry, a human touch takes the sting off a bad situation. In times of smooth sailing, going above and beyond to recognize and show appreciation for your advocates is what gets brands talked about. It’s as simple as that.

So. If someone asked you what business you’re in, what would you say? I imagine most marketers would be honest. They’d say “auto” or “government,” “tech” or “education,” then they’d carry on carrying on. Brands, I’m here to tell you that you are not in the X business – you are in the people business. If you want to succeed, you need to change the way you think and the way you do. You need to understand that no matter what industry you’re in – no matter what you do, offer or produce – you’re in the business of making people feel good.

This post originally appeared on 

Stories Are The Currency of Human Contact

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” | Robert McKee Earlier this week, I stumbled across a spot produced by Thai telecommunications company, True. As I found myself fighting back tears (and failing) by the 0:40 mark, I couldn’t help but reflect on the power of storytelling.

As a brand, you have a choice. You can produce an ad or a commercial…or you can tell a story with the content you put out into the world. I know which one I would place my bet on every time.

Check out the True spot below and let yourself be carried away by story for the next three minutes. After the jump, chime in and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear what other brands or organizations you have seen harness the the power of storytelling.


This post originally appeared on 

Silence Is A Response: A Brand Lesson in Crisis

When I was little (okay, pretty much from ages 5-17…) I had a recurring run in with the parental law, so to speak. I always wanted the last word. More often than not, getting the last word came at a price. I knew there would be repercussions, but the temptation was just too strong. And so I jumped, mouth first, into the proverbial fire time and time again. Last week I watched a lot of brands follow in the footsteps of my 5-year-old self. They rose up on the anniversary of 9/11 to get a word in, to seize the moment, to chime in on tragedy. I’m not talking about the stories of horribly misguided advertising. I’m talking about the brands, however well intentioned, that felt it necessary to say anything at all. The butter brand, the laundry detergent, the car dealership vowing they will “never forget.”

There is no question that social media has become a critical conduit for disseminating information in times of crisis. It could even be argued that social plays a valuable role in bringing the nation together in the midst of our most difficult moments, allowing people to process and grieve as a collective community. For marketers, however, the wild card remains the appropriate role of brands in the crisis conversation.

There are people who will argue that brands are people, too. I argue that brands are brands. Brands are comprised of people—individuals who each experienced their own form of loss that day as our lives, country and world as we knew it, were suddenly divided into Act 1 and Act 2.

Though much of the sentiment expressed by brands across social seemed genuine, their actions left me with an unsettling feeling. Wedged between quirky photos of cat memes and 10% limited-time offers, many brands were daring to distill one of the most life-altering days in American history down to 140-character blips and a trending hashtag.

Tragedy is not a commodity or a social currency. It’s not something to leverage, tap into or harness in the name of ROI. It’s not a “like” generator or something that makes your brand more relevant to your consumer. What I want brands to know is that it’s okay to take a step back sometimes. It’s okay to take a time out. Tragedies aren’t a time for self-promotion or proving a point. They’re a time for people.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. It’s all about context. Was it appropriate for American Airlines to share a post on Facebook reflecting on 9/11? Of course. Was it in good taste for marathons around the country to express their sympathies about the Boston Marathon bombings via Twitter? Absolutely.

So how do you know? When is it appropriate for brands to take to social—and when is it better to stay respectfully silent? Here are a few guideposts for assessing if, when and how to respond in a time of national tragedy:

• Is this a conversation space you’d typically participate in? In times of crisis, it’s especially important to ask whether your contribution as a brand is really adding value to the conversation. Do we need our paper towels or cereal of choice to chime in with condolences on Twitter? Probably not. In the midst of a crisis, try not to let the good sense of any normal day get swept up and carried away in the emotional flurry of the moment. Give yourself (and your employees) permission and time to grieve on a personal, human level, then evaluate whether this is a conversation space your brand would normally participate in. If the answer is no, perhaps the better plan of action is to step back and let those who own that space on a day-to-day basis take the lead.

• Take a time out from your regularly scheduled content. Whether or not you decide it is appropriate for your brand to comment on a tragedy, in times of crisis it is typically not appropriate to carry on business as usual. Few things bring on the cringe factor like an ill-timed, pre-scheduled tweet. Give people the space and time they need to talk it out and catch their breath. Your brand doesn’t have to be right in there with them to stand in solidarity beside them.

• Educate your community manager and employees on your brand’s social policy and crisis communication plan. Shortly after the Aurora theater massacre, took the #aurora trending topic as an opportunity to promote its Kim Kardashian-inspired Aurora dress. (See tweet here.) Two weeks ago Kenneth Cole was raked over the coals after making light of the situation in Syria. (See tweet here.) Last week Esquire found itself in hot water after an unfortunate 9/11-related technology glitch prompted a decidedly unapologetic Twitter response from the brand. (See tweet here.) Your brand reputation rests in the hands of the people you put in place behind the technology. Be sure your brand has savvy, attentive social managers on the other end of your digital channels and that s/he feels well versed on your crisis and communication policies. A good social manager is worth their weight in gold. A “not-so-good” social manager is a surefire way to find your brand cast in an extremely negative, extremely public spotlight.

In times of crisis the nation is often searching for answers most brands cannot meaningfully address. What many of them fail to realize is that silence is a response. Often it’s the best response. Know when to use your voice. Know when to use your silence. Your brand will be better for it.



This post first appeared on

Should brands take to social media to respond to national tragedies?

twitter bird No doubt...this is a heavy topic. With yesterday's Boston Marathon bombings occurring on the heels of December's Newtown school shootings, it seems as though we've barely had time to catch our breath as a nation before being rocked and blindsided by yet another senseless national tragedy.

There is no doubt in my mind that social media plays an essential role in information dissemination in times of crisis. I could even make a case for it playing a role in bringing the nation together, helping people process and deal with  grief as a collective community. For me, however, the one wild card in the crisis conversation remains the role of brands.

In the wake of yesterday's tragedy, I saw way too many brands take to Facebook and Twitter to issue a response. However heartfelt the sentiment, most of their efforts came off feeling more like a push to get in their two cents and  score some "likes" in the process. In times of crisis the nation is searching for answers that no brand can meaningfully address. What many brands fail to realize is that silence is a response. For brands, it's often it's the best response.

Here are a few other points to think about if your brand is considering using social media to chime in on the crisis conversation...

  • Is this a conversation space you'd typically participate in? In times of crisis, it's especially important to ask whether your contribution as a brand is really adding value to the conversation. Do we need our laundry soap or butter of choice to chime in with condolences on Twitter? Probably not. Should companies take to Instagram to publicly declare their sadness? Not so much. In the midst of a crisis, try not to get swept up in the flurry of the moment. Give yourself permission and time to grieve on a personal, human level, then ask yourself whether this is a conversation space your brand would otherwise participate in. If the answer is no, perhaps the best plan of action is to step back and let those who own that space on a day-to-day basis take the lead.
  • Take a time out from your regularly scheduled content. Whether or not you decide it is appropriate for your brand to comment on a tragedy, in times of crisis it is typically not appropriate to carry on business as usual. Few things bring on the "cringe factor" like an ill-timed, pre-scheduled tweet. Take a beat. Give people the space and time they need to talk it out and catch their breath. Your brand doesn't have to be right in there with them to stand in solidarity beside them.
  • Educate your community manager (and employees) on your brand's social policy and crisis communication plan. Be sure your brand has a savvy, attentive community manager on the other end of your social channels and that s/he feels well-versed on your brand's communication policy. A good social manager is worth their weight in gold. A "not-so-good" social manager and you may find your brand in hot water, cast in an extremely negative, extremely public spotlight. Shortly after the Aurora theater massacre, took the #aurora trending topic as an opportunity to promote its Kim Kardashian-inspired Aurora dress. See the tweet here. As you can imagine, it didn't go over too well.

Ultimately, there is no formula or one-size-fits-all model for determining whether or not your brand should use social channels to chime in on national tragedies. My feeling is that unless your brand is directly linked to the affected industry, conversational space or community, silence remains the timeless, respectful option.