The much-vaunted Sd & A-ha Mortar brand development process in one.
April 25th, 2019
How smart decisions deliver powerful brand experiences: The SD & A-ha Infographic
The much-vaunted Sd & A-ha Mortar brand development process in one.
February 25th, 2019
Mortar on Brand Architecture: Why we hate new stuff. And how that is a problem for us every day. Especially if you manage brands.
By and large people hate, hate, hate new ideas at work. New means different. Different means change. Change means work. Uncertainty. New things to argue about. And cuts. No matter what anyone says, cuts always threaten to follow new. Especially in big business.
It doesn’t help that new is almost always championed by someone crazy. Even Geoffrey Moore in his seminal Chasm theory work couldn’t help but describe the innovators who spark every revolution as, well, off their rockers.
These folks, he pointed out, are the first to get on board with a new idea. They don’t care about features that don’t work—they regard faults as a leading indicator of ambition. For early adopters, flaws symbolize vision not sloppy design. Innovators know revolutions are hard, thus revolutionizing they argue, is not for snowflakes. No surprise then that the ones we do credit with creating massive change—Karl Marx, Steve Jobs, Henry IIX, Caesar, Luther (the cleric not the detective, silly), Brando, Napoleon—were also a giant pain in the ass.
Workers long ago learned to run from change as if their lives depended on it. And who can blame them?
You know this. As a Marketer your success depends on your ability to get people to accept the new. Embrace change. Back it with so much enthusiasm that they devour everything you give them about your initiative and scream the benefits from the rooftops.
It’s called Marketing and yes, it’s quite unnatural.
This is a central premise of our work at Mortar: nowhere is the desire to resist change more ingrained, powerful and destructive than to the output from Marketing. And that’s important because most thinkers about brand marketing — on the agency and client side— persistently ignore the challenge of how.
Let’s consider how this applies to the Brand Architecture.
Wikimedia defines Brand Architecture as “the structure of brands within an organizational entity”.
Computer away a little more, and you will find multiple pundits describing the common forms of brand organization. The models are free and widely available. What is striking is how little the experts address the how: how do you take an organization that has grown up working with a range of products and change how it thinks about those products and their relationship to one another and their customers?
Ok so you have the models to follow. Nevertheless, how should you tackle a brand architecture issue? What is the best way forward?
Here’s five things to pay attention to:
Start with high-level vision, not tactical needs: Your organization has some idea of where its market is headed and what customers need now and in the near future. You simply cannot suggest any new level of marketing organization without first capturing and clarifying those assumptions.
[To be clear, brand architecture is an organizational challenge. There are two broad types of firms working in brand. Those guided by business and those driven by design. In our experience, firms with a strong design heritage tend to approach brand architecture through the doors of visual design rather than organizational necessity. Organizations approaching brand architecture through the design portal need to be wary of putting too much emphasis on the elegance of their structure over the necessity of getting folks on board with the change.]
The best way to get vision down is to individually consult top executives—especially leadership like the C-level and the Board—and then follow up by gathering them together around a whiteboard to resolve any differences and tease-out the long-term implications of the company’s vision.
If there is one thing we have noticed, few organizations take the time to think through the long-term impact of their world view. Be sure to ask leadership: how will our vision change the world? How will our customers change? What will they seek from us? What will happen internally? And what changes can we foresee internally?
Address buy-in at the outset. People drive change. Support, positive feelings, belief, motivation, optimism: all these things are essential. To drive organizational change you first need to understand what is working and what is not. And you need to catalog why people feel the way they do. Emotion plays a big part in getting teams on board with embracing the new. Making sure you hear from the right people, and that you have a sense of who listens to who, is a critical success factor in any company transformation.
If in doubt ask: who needs to buy into this idea? And how do we reach them? Why will they care?
Assemble the facts. Every team has its own version of organizational history. The freshest faces (an agency like us) arrive at the ball with their own ingrained ideas for how things should improve, often honed after hours of viewing rival websites and presentations. Or if you are especially lucky, informed by similar discussions with rival teams.
It’s easy to suggest new ways of looking at problems: we often tell underdogs they should think of themselves of leaders. Or remind the downtrodden that night is darkest before the dawn. Reframing how to approach a problem can be a vital first step.
But sooner of later you will need factual justification—a deep well of facts—to both convince colleagues to accept change and stay the course when it has been set. Thankfully, there is rarely a shortage of professional analysts and pundits in any growing industry. The trick is deciding who to listen to and how to fill in the gaps between what is known and what needs to be known. [To quote Donald Rumsfeld, the known knowns and the known unknowns are both critical].
Don’t forget to think in terms of qualitative and quantitative feedback. Logical types are rarely swayed by raw opinion—but are often putty when confronted by hard data in the form of surveys or well-researched reports. A handful of customer interviews—especially if presented in audio format (forgo the video—it’s rarely worth the effort and it is far easier to get customers to consent to recording a phone conversation)—can be extremely effective in swaying the Stubborn.
Once again: don’t skip a step! Make sure to dissect the research you conduct with your core team—and go out of your way to encourage spirited and energetic dialog. Don’t simply review the report and store the binder on the high shelf never to be reviewed again. (I have lost count of the orgs we have worked with that repeat the same basic exercise every few years without ever pausing to consider the-last-time-we-did-this. One Mortar client provided us with a catalog of four reports, each of which were commissioned by a previous marketing leader, and each of which studied essentially the same issue. They all reached broadly similar conclusions too. It appeared that no one had actually read the darn things).
Strive for simple. There are indeed a small handful of brand architecture models to consider. Consider them all. But remember the lesson of attempting to wrestle an octopus into a string bag: it’s easier if you cut the legs off. The simpler the answer the better. Simple is easy to understand. Simple is easier to communicate. Simple is easier to manage. Simple costs less. Simple stands the test of time. But simple is often not 100% possible. This is an organization-wide challenge after all, so pragmatic considerations can not always be avoided. Still, strive for simple, your colleagues will thank you.
Roll-out with a long-term plan. When we gathered the Mortar team to discuss what we had learned from our long careers in brand organization, one of the first things to rise to the top was the need to communicate the importance of how you communicate a new brand structure and how easy it is to bugger it up.
Brands don’t always take kindly to change. And the teams that are impacted will often grumble—unless you paint a motivating picture of the future that this new structure makes possible. And then ladder in how excited management is about the new direction. How the industry has been waiting for you to come to your senses and the new opportunities the changes will unlock. How you plan to watch over the rearranged family to ensure it is headed in the right direction and how you will handle unanticipated revisions. How much easier everyone’s job will be now and in the future. How bonuses will be tied to this change. And that we all need to get our act together because we are launching this new idea in a 30 days. A strong, confident, well thought through roll-out is essential for any organizational change.
So be sure to discuss the plan in detail with those that matter—and have plenty of ammo for those on the front-line of change.
We wouldn’t have our careers without the need to communicate about change constantly. Driving the new is the cross we chose when we got into Marketing. But never forget people are hard-wired to hate the new.
Remember that as you start your next day: for most ideas from Marketing are TROUBLE writ large.
June 25th, 2018
What to do when your engineers are from Venus and your creatives are, well, you know…
What one group regards as self-evident and logical, the other is just as likely to dismiss as tepid or irrelevant. And yet it is every technology marketers noble mission to unite these two groups to produce the right blend of messaging.
It’s rarely easy.
In fact, I’m reminded of the story of the Great Architect who decided to build a bridge with a unique feature: a 20-foot gap midway across the span.
Drivers who exceeded 50 mph would effortlessly sail across the open gap thousands of feet above a canyon below. Tourists would flock to the new attraction and the neighboring town.
Opening day dawned.
The first driver accelerated towards the gap at 50 mph as instructed. Only instead of sailing effortlessly over the yawning hole, the driver plunged through the gap to a fiery death on the chasm floor below.
The distraught, but nevertheless still Great, Architect immediately rushed over to his horrified engineers. They agreed their calculations were indeed faulty and that any further traffic should cease.
Seeking a second opinion, the Great Architect turned to his designers. But unlike the engineers, the creative team responded with disdain “What? Are we going to make all our decisions after just one bad test?”
Readers of this story will be forgiven for concluding that given their different viewpoints, the best way to manage technical and creative teams is to separate them.
And when it comes to developing marketing strategies, many agencies do exactly that.
In isolation, they identify what the engineers want said. Cement it into a brief of some sort. And pass the newly minted instructions through to the waiting creative team.
Which, of course, is a horrible way to work. And a sure-fire way to introduce barriers when we should be building bridges (admittedly one without giant holes).
If you are interested in a smarter way to forge a partnership between technical and creative teams, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject “Crazy Bridge”.
For more on how to avoid the consequences of chronic marketing inefficiency, brought on by the failure to collaborate, see “THE SUCKER FOR PUNISHMENT DILEMMA: WHAT IF YOUR CREATIVE AGENCY IS WORKING WITH(OUT) YOU? at Mortarblog.com. Or the follow-up post: “LIFE AFTER THE BIG REVEAL: A PROGRESS REPORT“.
PS: A bridge with a huge hole in it is not so crazy. See how some engineers are designing roads that sing.
June 18th, 2018
Lessons in testing. When a good A-ha goes bad.
I never cease to be amazed by the power of small amounts of testing.
I’m reminded of a Mortar client that made water out of thin air (they said it involved condensation, I’m pretty sure the dark arts were involved).
Like most tech teams they were in a hurry, and so the question of testing kept getting pushed further and further down the development cycle.
Only weeks from launch, our strategy was nailed, we knew how our product was different, and we had a new name, logo, and a crisp elevator speech. All that stood between us and the Market was confirmation.
For this project we chose an engagement session: the agency, client team and prospects sit down around a coffee table for a moderated discussion. Although less scientifically objective than traditional focus groups (which make heavy use of one-way mirrors and bowls full of M&M’s) engagement sessions provide a more immersive experience for all parties.
The lessons learned in engagement sessions are often much more powerful, because the team hears the feedback directly and without filter, instead of weeks later as part of a 116 slide PowerPoint deck.
So, there we are, sitting on a couch, with eight early adopters, the pioneers we expect to be among the first to buy, and we launch into our idea.
The CTO lays out the challenge, details the product idea, and is about to reveal our first creative concept when a burly engineer leans forward and asks, “so what does the water taste like?”
The CTO turns green and starts to stammer.
Everyone else on the team is taken aback. Incredibly, we’d been so wrapped up in the genius of the technology that we never asked ourselves this simple question: what does the water our machine makes, actually taste like?
Before we can respond, the engineer says “I bet it tastes awful, am I right?”
Yes, dear reader, it turns out that water condensed from the air (or via the dark arts) has no flavor. And while that may sound like a good thing, it turns out we expect our water to taste like something, and that the lack of any flavor is… well… disgusting. How water tastes is a critical attribute for any water-making appliance.
The discovery that the A-ha Moment for our water-making innovation was not “Wow, I can make water, anywhere,” sent shockwaves through the team.
We had simply not considered that the benefit of providing fresh water would need to include taste.
That was not the only thing we took from our research.
We were also struck by the pride with which our first prospect pointed out the flaw in our marketing.
Members of the early market are often heavily invested in product details and are rarely shy about offering their opinions for improvement or further innovation.
But there is a point, as every innovator will attest, when a product should be hurled into the market, as there is no better indicator of success than purchase and use.
Still, our first customers would regard the lack of focus on taste as a critical product flaw—and it would cloud the bigger story: that they could now make water anywhere.
Not to fix the taste issue would leave our first customers feeling betrayed and ignored.
And it left me scratching my head over how I could have allowed the project to advance so far without considering such a vital factor.
My entire marketing career has been punctuated by moments like these. I have learned the hard way that small, regular doses of feedback from potential customers are an essential ingredient of any successful marketing program.
And experiences like these are why we insist our clients test their A-ha moment before they head to market. For more on Mortar and our emphasis on the A-ha see this post: Five things we learned about A-ha moments in 2017.
June 12th, 2018
The Easy Science of Big Marketing Decisions
Malcolm Gladwell writes that proficiency requires 10,000 hours of experience in a particular field.
The practice of marketing is no different. But why are so many marketing teams—who’ve put in this time and more—struggling with fundamental decisions about what they should be doing to build their business?
The reasons are myriad, but I believe all can be overcome with three easy-to-follow steps designed to generate creative thinking. And while they may strike you as mildly contrarian, each is the result of thousands of man hours of experimentation and, as we in Silicon Valley so gleefully say, failing forward.
Lesson 1. You are not far from an answer. In fact, the answer is in the room with you right now.
I hate to admit it, but many of the core ideas we develop for our clients are not new at all, but rather a creative take on an existing notion they themselves brought to the table.
After all, few outside parties are as close to the material as you. Even fewer fully grasp the intricacies of your organization, product, strategy and industry. And none have spent as much time or energy thinking about the opportunity as you have.
The trick is to harness this power and knowledge and to use it as a source for creative idea generation.
We’ve found the best way to do that is to gather the team that owns the project around a whiteboard and engage in some radical and aggressive brainstorming moderated by an energetic and quizzical third party.
Mortar is a good third party (ahem). We are not hidebound by or steeped in years of “doing things a certain way.” Which means we can ask the tough questions of your team in a way that sparks conversation and illuminates what has been ignored or overlooked.
Few problems stand resolute when confronted by individuals who have permission to indulge in wild fantasies and have been granted the power to challenge the (often) unspoken conventions governing any project.
Lesson 2. The secret to thinking big is to first think small.
Big ideas are exciting. They appeal to big egos and satisfy the soul. But they are also hard to identify and articulate, and often slow and difficult to implement.
Small ideas, on the other hand, are easy to grasp. Come in multiples. Appeal to many. Don’t require uniform consensus. Can be easy to extract. Quick to fund. Simple to test. And, because they are so easy to come by, are easily discarded in favor of a more attractive alternative.
The secret is to start small. Identify modest goals. Develop long lists of low hanging fruit. Gather supporters. Test what’s promising. Watch what fails. And use the resulting energy to zero in on the truth.
Thinking small, not thinking big, is a much more manageable way to win friends and innovate successfully in big business.
Lesson 3. Remember to sell the sizzle not the steak.
We call it the pursuit of the A-ha moment.
Every smart marketing decision points towards something surprising and previously unavailable. But don’t fall into the mistake of thinking that your customers will buy your naked claims. Instead spend time thinking about what your audience will find surprising or unexpected. And then root your marketing in those emotions. A better biosensor may provide better data to the care team, but the real joy comes from how they will feel when they realize what they can do with that data.
So, get your team together with someone from the outside and give them permission to think wildly. Pursue multiple small ideas with gusto and passion. And double down on the surprise. Those are the elements of the easy science of big decisions, and the fruits of countless hours in marketing.