• Increasing the Odds of Innovation

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    The last article we posted from our friend Peter Murane over at BrandJuice was featured in Ad Age. Here’s a new one that’s equally as smart. Can you believe you’re getting all this amazing thinking free of charge? Neither can we.

    Put Your Consumer to Work, Increasing the Odds of Innovation By Peter Murane

    The challenge we hear every day from our clients is simple – can you help me increase my chances of innovation success? Innovation today is slow and resource intensive – it takes many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. And despite the intense investment, still 95% of new products fail every year.

    Let there be no doubt – the current model is broken. And it is based on the false premise that the right market research plan can remove risk from the process. If you talk to enough consumers and get enough good data back, surely you will succeed, right?

    Better market research alone isn’t going to fix the innovation conundrum many consumer companies are facing today. But changing the way you think about it and do it can certainly increase your odds.

    Many market researchers will encourage you to put down the M&Ms and move away from the one-way mirror. They will tell you that companies have lost touch with their consumers and they will expound on the many flaws of the traditional focus group – it’s not authentic, it’s costly and consumers are trained to tell you what you want to hear. But the truth is that consumers have a lot to say, they are eager to talk to you about it and it can very much change your business – provided you ask the right questions and actively listen.

    Just look at the number of consumer entrepreneurs out there becoming overnight successes by making their own products. Whirpool recently awarded the “Mother of Invention” grant to a frustrated mom contestant who created a bottle nipple to be used with regular water bottles when she was on-the-go. On “The Big Idea,” Donny Deutsch is able to feature a million dollar idea every week – an invention created by the average Joe frustrated by the way something was done. Everything from first aid kits that coach you with audio instructions to ergonomically designed backpacks and customized pet products – consumers are reacting to their frustrations in the consumer market by creating their own answers. And they’re pretty darn good at it.

    I challenge you to think of the last time you did consumer research. Do you think you got enough out of the investment? Did you really make consumers work for their incentive? Were you really engaged to get the most out of it yourself? There are better ways to talk to consumers, but we’re not recommending you throw the baby out with the bath water. Traditional market research methods can work and there are a few easy ways to get more out of them.

    Be a Voyeur
    There is considerable value in getting out of the focus group facility. Facilities can be a great venue to make six consumers focus and dig into concept language and positioning benefits. But it is true that consumers tell you one thing – and when you see them in action, it’s another thing entirely. We once talked to a consumer who was really concerned about the amount of sugar in food. But when we watched her eat breakfast that morning, she put two heaping spoonfuls of sugar on her cereal. We’ve also gone into the homes of severe allergy sufferers to talk to them about their symptoms and treatments, only to find dusty shelves, carpets, two dogs and a cat in the bed.

    Sometimes consumers know what they should be doing and what they should care about, but when the rubber hits the road, real behaviors can be distorted. There are downsides to going into consumers’ homes – ethnographies are more expensive, they are time intensive and all ten clients can’t come along with you. But if your insights are critically flawed, why risk sitting around the conference table in a focus group?

    Deprive People
    If you want to find real pain points, fast – take something away from the consumer and make them live without it. They will come to you angry, depressed and full of coping mechanisms. For a cereal looking to expand usage, we took away the bowl and spoon from loyal consumers for a week to observe how they ate their cereal. What we found were really innovative ways to deliver cereal on-the-go and usage occasions that existed already beyond the breakfast table.

    Deprivation studies can be really cost effective as well. By sending journals, cameras and homework to consumers ahead of time, they can all meet in a facility or at home to talk about their experiences. As clients, you get to hear them firsthand, and you don’t waste manpower and resources following people around all day.

    Make Them Mad Scientists
    CNBC and Whirlpool have shown us that consumers have a lot of ideas – tap into it! For a food product, we gave consumers pot luck food assignments and had them bring their food creations to a dinner party. Much like a traditional focus group, we got to talk to them about their needs, creations and motivations, but in a relaxed environment, and with real life stimulus.

    Even in a traditional focus group setting, by having consumers bring inventions with them, you save valuable time from probing into needs and daily rituals by immediately identifying a distinct consumer need and talking about the impetus for their creations. It requires more incentive for the consumer, but it is well worth the real life, authentic information you get in the end.

    Battle Test
    The age old innovation challenge is really making a great product idea sell, once it is on the shelf. There is no better way to put a consumer to work than to watch them shop and see if they put their money where their mouth is. Everyone has been to a focus group and seen quantitative results that say, “Yeah, I would buy that!” But then you struggle to figure out why a product failed once it launched.

    Once you have a product idea, create a small batch of products to sell. But don’t just put them on a shelf and read the data, that’s for later. Put yourself in a retail environment, like a mall or farmer’s market, where consumers are ready to buy, and see if they are interested in your product. In fact, you can pit a few products against each other and figure out which one does better and why. You can identify and evolve distinct variables in the product, get real target audience feedback by seeing who is interested in your booth and find out where in the purchasing process the wallet comes out and the deal is sealed. Essentially, consumers can do nearly all of the evolution work for you in a few days and with a small investment in production, resources and staff time.

    For more information on our services and ways we might approach your next consumer research project, give us a call or drop us a line.

    Peter Murane is president and founder of BrandJuice, a brand strategy and innovation consulting firm based in Denver, CO. He can be reached via e-mail at peter[at]brandjuice.com.

  • What The Fuck Were They Thinking, #1

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    If you ever got Adweek’s email blasts in the past, you’ll know who we stole this idea from. (Actually, one of our brilliant readers suggested it, so we can’t take all the credit.)

    In this new running series, called “What The Fuck Were They Thinking,” we’ll randomly pull a piece of work from one of the agencies in town, post it and then allow you to attempt to dissect the thinking that went into its creation.

    Our first selection is this outdoor board promoting an event at Aspen Grove shopping center.

  • Wearing Freelance Pants #2, By Eric Kiker

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    “What’s your hourly rate?”

    It’s a question that, for me, has always caused curiously nauseous feelings. In the beginning, back in Boulder, where I rented a closet-sized office at the incredibly vibrant corner of Pearl and Broadway, I worried $30 an hour would seem like an awful lot for someone with little experience and a workspace just slightly larger than a twin bed.

    These days, the queasy rumblings continue, not because my hourly rate is high, but because I’ve gotten rid of it pretty much all together. And I think; if you’re a freelancer – and maybe even if you run an agency – you should too.

    Hourly rates cheapen what we really sell, which of course aren’t brochures and radio spots and illustration and photography and snowboard designs – we sell thinking. “Intellectual property” someone decided to start calling it, possibly a copywriter trying to convince a client that the tag line job should be based on a flat fee versus some plumber-oriented hourly rate. And oh, by the way, it seems even the building trades are getting away from hourly rates. A builder friend of mine now uses software to spit out the flat fees of various portions of a project.

    Yes, flush your hourly I say. Do you ask the gallery owner how many hours the painter spent on that still life? Speaking of which, have you heard the one (urban legend or truth? anyone know?) about Picasso sketching a bull on a partygoer’s cocktail napkin, only to ask for $10,000. “But you did it so quickly,” the woman exclaimed. “That’s why it’s worth $10,000,” replied Picasso.

    Now that argument may not work as you present the bill for your logo-design services, but there’s a germ of truth in the story. You have talent, which is why you’re able to make a living in this business (if you don’t have talent, may I suggest plumbing). Your talent alone means you have the innate ability to “come up with” things quickly or even instantly. How do you apply an hourly rate to that? What’s more, as your experience grows, so can your ability to think fast and even at times, on your feet, sitting right there in the meeting. Sure, you could keep raising your hourly rate in an attempt to keep pace with your ever-increasing mental acuity. But at some point, the number is going to sound more outlandish than a simple flat fee. You also need to consider the usage of what you create. Your list of headlines or web copy could be repurposed for as long as it’s relevant. Isn’t that worth a fair premium?

    And then again, there’s the original argument – an hourly rate cheapens what we do.

    So I’d suggest you think about the value of your work overall instead of how much it’s worth on an hourly basis. For designers, start by getting your hands on a copy of The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. For writers, it’s a bit more of a challenge – try Googling “copywriter rates.” You’ll turn up hits from a number of quality writers as well as a variety of dreadful hacks, but put their rates into context with your talent and you’ll have a good idea of what you should be charging.

    This diatribe aside, there are a few times during which an hourly is perfectly acceptable – if you’re consulting, for instance. Or are asked to spend all day in a branding session or a client download. Some people even charge hourly for travel. Do whatever you and your client feel comfortable with.

    In the end, you just need to do some soul searching in regard to what your work is really worth, take your Prilosec, and steam ahead.

  • Editorial From the Outside

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    When you invite the world to send in editorial, here’s what you get. We’re going to leave this gem untouched in its most pure form for you to enjoy. Please comment below on anything you recognize as slightly off kilter in The Denver Warbler’s plea to Mayor Hickenlooper. We’ll be sure to let them know you’ve spoken.

    I don’t know if this counts. We are not part of the creative community, but a small band of miscellany-ists. We do, however, feel a kinship with your motto and would like to bring an important issue to your attention. This “editorial” is in the form of a letter to Mayor Hickenlooper. We’ve attached an image for reference.

    Mayor John W. Hickenlooper
    City and County Building
    1437 Bannock Street, Suite 350
    Denver, CO 80202

    Dear Mayor,

    It has come to the attention of the editorial staff at The Denver Warbler that there is an embarrassing spelling mistake upon a prominent and public Denver edifice. We feel it is our civic duty to bring this matter to light. We believe Denver to be a city (and county) which holds itself to the strictest grammatical standards.

    We also understand the haste with which rock and chisel must come together for large civic projects. It’s an understandable mistake, and due to the prominence of this building, the influence it holds over the public perception of our city and its stature as a role-model for children, it is imperative that the mistake is corrected.

    The typo in question exists upon the entablature above the main entrance to the Denver City and County Building located at 1435 Bannock Street. The engraving reads: “ERECTED BY THE PEOPLE, CITY AND COVNTY OF DENVER.” It appears the engraver mistakenly cut a “v” instead of a “u” into the word “county.” Whoops!

    In an effort to speed up the correction process we would like to volunteer our services. While we are not professional stone artisans or masons, we feel we can offer valuable assistance. For instance, we are excellent proofreaders. We are also more than willing to put all of our efforts into learning the art of stone engraving, and would only ask that you provide the tools.

    Furthermore, on account of current boner-slang, we would suggest changing the word “erected.”

    Soft feathers,
    The Warbler

    We’ve already sent the letter to the Mayor and hope for a response, but don’t really expect action. Maybe some pressure from the Denver design/creative community would get the ball rolling? You could also push for an upgrade in the typography, the current font seems sort of old fashioned.

    Warmest regards,

    (Click the photo for a closer look to view for yourself.).

  • October 2

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    SMX Search Marketing Expo

    Local & Mobile search promises to be the next “big opportunity” for interactive marketers. The consensus prediction is for $8 billion in ad spending by 2010.

    When: Monday, October 1-2
    Info: SMX Expo

  • Creative Crackdown, Juice Print

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    The fourth individual submission in our running series is up for your honest critique. Once again, our friends from Tequila (moniker TQLA\LA) TBWA\Chiat\Day’s in-house interactive shop, will be joining us to give their take on the work. We also welcome a new team from Merkley + Partners in NY (moniker M+P) to the growing list of heavy hitters peaking in on Denver’s creative. Here’s the set-up for this new print work from Juice Communications.

    Juice recently picked up a new client, Globus. This represents some current work for this brand. The “Travel the Transforms” campaign hopes to compare the kind of enriching travel that Globus offers to the kind of escapes that are offered by all-inclusive resorts and cruise lines.

    Account Director: Rene Doubleday
    Copy: Jordan Sher/Ed Kleban
    Art Direction: Jonathan Alsobrook
    Clients: Steve Born/Kelley Maxwell

    (Click the images for a bigger view.)

  • October 1

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    SMX Search Marketing Expo

    Local & Mobile search promises to be the next “big opportunity” for interactive marketers. The consensus prediction is for $8 billion in ad spending by 2010.

    When: Monday, October 1-2
    Info: SMX Expo

  • September 28

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    ADCD FAC at Wall Street On Demand

    FACs are open studio tours held the last Friday of the month. Co-hosted by AIGA CO and Art Directors Club of Denver, these unique events offer a chance to see different working environments and network with a variety of creative individuals. FACs are free and open to the design community.

    About Wall Street on Demand: Wall Street On Demand is a 245-person company specializing in the aggregation of data feeds and the design, development and managed solutions for many top financial services and media companies. For 15 years, we’ve delivered innovative, high quality products to help our clients and their customers visualize, manipulate and understand complex financial information. Our clients depend on our broad and deep knowledge of financial design and our innovative techniques to help data tell a story. Wall Street On Demand’s 20-person design team is focused solely on the visualization and presentation of financial information.

    When: Friday, September 28
    Where: 5718 Central Ave Boulder, CO 80301
    Info: ADCD

  • Why Next, Why Denver, Why now?

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    Jason Otero, principal at Art & Anthropology and comrade to The Denver Egotist, shares his thinking on the AIGA Design Conference coming very soon to a city near you.

    When I was initially informed that the AIGA’s conference theme was to be framed around the concept of “Next” I immediately drew parallels to the pioneer legacy that makes up much of Denver’s history.

    I imagined the context of the families who traversed the plains of middle America through the late 1800’s to seek new possibilities and the promises of brighter futures. That mythology is still a large part of the mystique of the west, and is the reason why many of my friends and peers speak so romantically of visiting this region.

    As a designer, I have found that this area is home to an incredible entrepreneurial energy, that when matched with strong creative vision yields remarkable results (ie. Chipotle, Quizno’s, Crocs, MapQwest – all Colorado-based companies). In the last 10 years, Denver as a city, has embarked on numerous cultural, social, economic and urban planning initiatives that will position it as a city that truly embraces the word Next in a confident, almost defiant tone as if to say, “What else you got.” Denver is actively positioning itself as the creative capital of the west and I can think of no better place in America to be engaged and challenged in the discipline of design.

    Consider the addition of the expanded Denver Art Museum by Libeskind, the new Museum of Contemporary Art by David Adjaye, the transfer of the National Design Archive, and the construction of the Clifford Still Museum as a statement of Denver’s commitment to actively engaging its citizens in a discourse of art and culture. Additionally, Denver embodies a growing multi-cultural audience that will redefine the design landscape for audience and designers alike.

    In short…

    The decision to bring the AIGA conference to Denver in 2007 was relevant in many ways but under the theme of Next is especially poignant because it serves as a metaphor for what I feel is the trajectory of design for the next 30 years; increasingly entrepreneurial, community oriented, decentralized and sunny.

    Need more convincing to get a ticket? Behold the list of speakers who will be there preaching the gospel.

  • You've Been Warned List

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    A really smart idea was sitting in our inbox this morning sent from one of our loyal readers. It made us happy to know there aren’t just brainless vagrants reading the filth we write.

    Without further ado, we present the finest reader contribution thus far. Hosted right here in this very spot, we’re beginning Denver’s “You’ve Been Warned” list.

    What’s that, you ask? It’s the place where all those living in past or present agency hell can anonymously (or publicly) wave a red flag to the rest of the city to steer their careers around Denver’s soul-sucking black holes of so-called creativity.

    Consider the contribution of your pain-soaked insights below as part of your civic duty to the creatively-inclined who share this city with you.

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