Last weekend, as I tended to my newest market offering's complex fluidic thermodynamic power systems in the wee hours of the morning, I flipped on the tube and watched more than a few laps of the 24 Hours of Daytona.
A Mazda RX-8 (pictured above) won its class, beating out a gaggle of Porsche 911's for the honor. In no sense a stock car (see the video at the end of this post for a walkaround this full tube-framed racer), this RX-8 nonetheless points to the future of car design for us civilians: look closely and you'll notice that the paint isn't glossy. Instead, the luscious carbon fiber panels on this machine are matte black, or satin if you will. Wax not needed or desired.
We've been raised to believe that gloss is good, that shiny equals quality. Those days are over. Hear this now: the cult of the waxed car body is melting, and this RX-8 represents the tipping point. Sure, beating the 911's at Daytona is a win for the ages, but sporting a matte finish and finishing first -- that's a tipping point. If manufacturing and repair (how do you buff out a matte finish?) issues can be solved, I think we'll start to see a lot of matte paint jobs rolling around. And a lot of them will likely be dirt-shedding nano particle finishes. Even cooler. We've already see matte paint on show cars from BMW and Lamborghini.
Matte is the New Black.
Here's a video of the Daytona-winning RX-8 from the driver's seat (oh, the wail of a rotary motor!):
And here's an extra treat in the form of a most gnarly walkaround the car in the presence of race Nick Ham. Check out the paint (shown to best effect toward the end of the video):
In our world of bloated, inane Flabbigators and ANC SL2455's and RSQ77 urban land yachts, the Nano is a refreshing point of view. Instead of car design being done from an elitist point of view whose aim is to find ever new and novel ways to heat, cool, and pamper our fat asses, the engineers at Tata have said "here's all you need" and nothing more. It's a populist design approach visited before by such iconic designs as the Model T, the Beetle, the Mini, the Cinquecento, and -- my favorite -- the 2CV. Unlike those designs, however, I don't believe the Nano is the rational enough. That swoopy windshield is a hollow attempt at style over substance: who needs an expensive, complex, Le Mans-quality aerodynamic solution when one's top speed (let alone average speed) is so low? Something more planar would be simpler, cheaper, and easier to fix and replace over the life of the car. Of course, reflective design is the lord of the manor when it comes to automotive sales, and what people really want is swoopy, I suppose.
And, doffing my hypocrite's cap, I can't help but think that the last thing the world needs is another car, let alone a popular, high-volume one. However, if we're going to have more, they might as well be nano-ish in mass and form. Where's the true cradle-to-cradle personal transportation solution we all need? Perhaps I should get on that...
A few weeks ago I asked for some help in whipping up a definition of marketing. What ensued was a good online brainstorm. That discussion helped me formulate this working definition of marketing, which I used for my MSI talk (a copy of which will be posted here soon):
identifying desirable experiences, then delivering them
It's not a bad definition, but not as good as the one I found recently at the HBS Marketing Unit department page:
Marketers concern themselves with acquiring and retaining customers, who are the lifeblood of an organization. They attract customers by learning about potential needs, helping to develop products that customers want, creating awareness, and communicating benefits; they retain them by ensuring that they get good value, appropriate service, and a stream of future products. The marketing function not only communicates to the customer, but also communicates the needs of the customer to the company. In addition, it arranges and monitors the distribution of products and/or services from company to customer.
I think that's it. Should have started there.
What appears to be footage from the taxi ride in from Logan is actually racing action from a recent round of The 24 Hours of LeMons.
Seriously folks, the racing featured in this not-so-serious contest for under-$500 racing "machines" beats the pants off of anything I've seen in my last two decades of 4am Formula 1 gazing. The 24 Hours of LeMons works because it is designed to be fun for drivers, teams, and spectators. Simple. I imagine the design principles behind the series look something like this:
What an indictment of the state of modern motorsports that, when it comes to creating an arena where the simple joys of competition can flourish, a hipster-doofus series administered by ace scribe Jay Lamm puts almost any professionally-managed racing series to shame. Modern race series are deep-yawn, drool-running-down-your chin boring. Boring boring boring. I don't know about you, but the only in-car footage that compares to the stuff above would be something out of a WRC car. Modern racing series can learn a lot from Lemons.
As a case in point, look what happens to cheaters at The 24 Hours of Lemons:
There are three main points to take away from this video:
For example, consider the hum-drum treatment of cheaters in modern sports. When McLaren was caught cheating in Formula 1 earlier this year, they were forced to pay a $100,000,000 fine. Yes, 100 million dollars. That's a steep fine, but the boys at McLaren were allowed to keep racing for the entire season. It was all about the lawyers, not the fans. If we learning from LeMons, a much more appropriate penalty would have been a hydraulic-clawed machine of some sort munching dainty MP4-22 carbon monocoques by the harbor at Monaco. And then no more racing. That would be a truly priceless penalty, and a crowd-pleaser at that.
The next running of The 24 Hours of LeMons will be next week on the 28th and 29th of December.
"It was design by dictatorship. All else, this marketing, these focus groups, what have you, is bullshit."
- Mini Clubman chief designer, Gerd Hildebrand.
(I love this quote because it acknowledges the unique role which talents plays in the realm of visceral design. If you have talented, highly-trained and educated designers, why would you second-guess their aesthetic judgment based on the input of folks off the street? Yes, test the hell out of the behavioral elements of your offerings -- fit, function, ergonomics -- but leave the visceral, and to some extent the reflective meaning, up to the people who get it)
You may not like this ad, but I do. Not just because I'm a fan (and owner) of Toyota cars, but because it's a great example of designing a message to spread.
In this case, it is about tapping in to the seven million plus folks who play the online game World of Warcraft. That's a lot of potential truck buyers. If you don't play World of Warcraft, the ad is entertaining, but if you do play, the ad is just amazing. And, it seems perfectly designed to spread around the place where World of Warcraft players hang out the most, that thing called the internet. This is about designing for YouTube.
My only question is, I'm level 66, so can I get a Tundra instead?
Thanks to Carlos for showing me the video.
Help me out here. Last night I was putting together my argument for an upcoming speech about marketing when I realized that I don't know what marketing is about. Or, to be precise, I do know what marketing is about (I have a very strong point of view on it, actually), but I don't have a good definition.
What is marketing?
Can you help me? If you have a definition you'd like to share, please shoot me an email. Or, better yet, please leave a comment below. That way we can all riff off each other.
Thanks in advance.
John Maeda recently had a remarkable experience in a restaurant in Minneapolis. Here's a photo of what happened, followed by this commentary:
When sitting down at a restaurant in Minneapolis, I noticed the waiter replaced my white napkin with a black one. Apparently the tradition here is that if you are wearing black trousers or a dark skirt, the reasoning is that a white linen napkin might leave visible lint on your clothing so they immediately swap it for a black one. Such careful attention to detail surely develops trust.
A black napkin for black-robed laps feels just right, and is a world away from a crummy-looking nacelle on a passenger jet. It makes an empathic (and emphatic) statement; we care about the way you'll look when you leave our restaurant. And by making that statement, we say everything that needs to be said about the level of care poured in to the meal itself.
Good experiences -- the drivers of good brands -- are fractal, and everything matters.
I flew on a name-brand airline the other week. Airplanes are my reading room, so I packed my usual array of reading material: The Economist, Monocle, and Octane.
But who needs a couple hours of reading material when something as fascinating as this is hanging just outside your window?:
Where to start. First, there's a bunch of mismatched paint that's been dabbed on with a brush clearly stolen from a preschool play center. And there's the variety of panels -- some are deeper blue, some are more oxidized, so we can be sure that a variety of airplanes have been cannibalized to get this hunk of junk in the air. Personally, I admire that look on the Millenium Falcon, but not so much on a device I'm trusting my life to.
But wait, there's more. Let's look back toward the wing:
I applaud the airline for taking the time to locate, hire, and train the one individual capable of laying down a more dribbly line of caulk than yours truly. And look at that grease swirl at the junction of the engine nacelle and the leading edge of the wing. How artful -- you can't get that kind of fluidity of application by accident. There's real technique at work here.
All joking aside, I actually don't blame the mechanics who work on this plane. They're probably good people who went in to the business because they were gearheads who liked working on airplanes. The root source of bad blue paint and the lack of time (and will) to do things right is more likely to be someone controlling a marketing budget who believes that cash spent on the rights to Gershwin tunes is more important than keeping the planes looking like the vessels of safe passage they need to be. Where would you spend your dollars?
I'm a believer in smoothing the transmission of the truth, so I'd spend the dollars it on matching paint, a new caulk gun, a buffing wheel, some rags, and the time and permission to do things right. Brands are about truth, and that truth must be fractal. Everything matters. Or else everything comes untied.
Here's a great Director's Commentary centering on the new Boeing Dreamliner. In this video interview, Fortune's David Kirkpatrick interviews Teague CEO John Barratt about the development of the Dreamliner's passenger experience. I enjoyed hearing about the design process used to get to the final result, which looks quite promising.
Though I have to admit that at a personal level I'm a bit reticent to fly in a plane made largely of carbon fiber, I do admire Boeing's return to a structural paradigm pioneered by aircraft of seventy years ago, such as the innovative Lockheed Vega, piloted by the equally groundbreaking innovator Wiley Post.
Before the Saturn Sky was released to market, I wrote an essay for BusinessWeek talking about why, if I were to buy a sports car, the Sky would be at the top of my list. My point was that it's not just about the car -- it's about what the ownership experience should be and can be. In other words, it's about brand, where brand is about what you do rather than what you say you do.
The New York Times ran an article today titled 2 G.M. Brands, a Similar Car, but Very Different Results. It compares and contrasts the wildly different market fortunes of the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky, which share a common platform and the majority of their mechanical bits:
Sales of the Solstice are down 19 percent this year through July, and G.M., which apologized for not building enough Solstices initially, now has nearly a five months’ supply in inventory, double the carmaker’s average. Sales of Pontiac-branded cars and trucks are off 17 percent, compared with 9 percent for all eight G.M. nameplates, according to Autodata, which tracks industry statistics.
“It was such a radical departure from what people expected out of Pontiac that it created a tremendous buzz when it first hit the market,” said Wes Brown, an automotive consultant and a partner in the Los Angeles marketing firm Iceology. “It looks pretty cool, but ultimately it’s not able to overcome some of those barriers people have within their mind with regard to the brand image.”
Meanwhile, demand for the Solstice’s fraternal twin, the costlier and more angular Saturn Sky, has shown no signs of subsiding. G.M. has about one month’s worth of the Sky available, and many buyers still have to wait several weeks or months for their Sky to arrive.
From a behavioral design perspective, they're virtually identical but where they depart is in their visceral design elements -- the Pontiac is swoopy mango yogurt where the Sky is crisp Prada suit -- and in their reflective design elements. The latter is touched on briefly in the article, but I think it's at the core of the issue here: what people buy is reflective design and, by extension, the experience of what it will feel like to participate in the brand over time. While I'm a believer where Pontiac can go (their new G8 sedan bodes to be a BMW 5-series killer), for most folks Pontiac is a golden screaming chicken decal on the hood of a muscle car piloted by a guy with a mustache. Saturn is a group of people who will help your daughter out when her car has broken down in the desert. In other words, Pontiac is about (the old, wrong) product, while Saturn is about a having a nice experience.
It's not just about product anymore.
From the masters at Apple.
Simple. Concrete. Sticky.
Have you seen Flight of the Conchords on HBO? It's a new show about a New Zealand folk duo trying to make it in The Big Apple. I love it. It's like Curb Your Enthusiasm meets The Odd Couple meets Forrest Gump meets The Royal Tenenbaums. Here's a video blurb from the show to show you what I mean:
It's certainly not for everyone, but if you like your humor on the quirky side, you'll probably like it.
But I'm not here to talk about television. I'm here to talk about marketing. Flight of the Conchords is a great example of thoroughly executing Step 3 of my three-part recipe for Creating Infectious Action. Here are those steps again:
If you point your browser to the Show Your Love section of the Flight of Conchords website, you'll see a comprehensive set of spread tools kindly provided by HBO for your maven pleasure. There's a full set of embedable video clips, a set of IM icons, video podcasts, background images for your fan website (see above as well), and even a set of color hex values so that your fan website is on-brand. This is great marketing at work, because it releases control while it enables brand-appropriate behavior. Instead of trying to fight the entire fight yourself, designing to spread means spending at least part of your energy on enabling others to do it for you. It's about walking around, pouring gas on a bunch of little fires, rather than endeavoring to build one big bonfire yourself.
And, the more you consciously design a system to spread the word, the more likely it is your cool thing will fly.
John Lilly, the COO of Mozilla and a guy I'm proud to count as a friend a collaborator, has written what I think is an incredibly insightful and important statement about how the world works today. Writing in response to a recent speech given by Steve Jobs indicating that the future of the browser market could look like the pie chart shown above, John says (in part -- please read his entire post if you have a chance):
There are a couple of problems, of course. The first is that this isn’t really how the world is. The second is that, irrespective of Firefox, this isn’t how the world should be.
First, it isn’t really how the world is. The meteoric rise of Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Linux and Firefox, among many other examples, shows that today’s connected world is no longer constrained by the monopolies and duopolies and cartels of yesterday’s distribution — of the publishers, studios, and OS vendors. Hundreds of millions of users, in every language around the world are now making new choices. That Apple doesn’t feel this, even within the familiar reality-distortion-field confines of Moscone Center, illustrates much of the problem.
Second, it isn’t how the world should be. Even if we could somehow put that movement back in the bottle — that a world of just Starbucks & Peets, just Wal-mart & Target, just Ford & GM — that a world of tight control from a few companies is good, it’s the wrong thing to do. It destroys participation, it destroys engagement, it destroys self-determination. And, ultimately, it wrecks the quality of the end-user experience, too. Remember (or heard about) when you had to get your phone from AT&T? Good times.
So here’s my point, to be clear: another browser being available to more people is good. I’m glad that Safari will be another option for users. (Watch for the Linux port Real Soon Now.) We’ve never ever at Mozilla said that we care about Firefox market share at the expense of our more important goal: to keep the web open and a public resource. The web belongs to people, not companies.
This world view that Steve gave a glimpse into betrays their thinking: it’s out-of-date, corporate-controlled, duopoly-oriented, not-the-web thinking.
John is right. This isn't 1957. What's good for GM, or Apple, or Microsoft, isn't necessarily good for all the rest of us formerly known as the audience. If you believe in starting with the needs and desires of real people as a way to create real value and meaning in the world, then things like engagement and choice and self-determination are not just "nice to haves", but are critical means to an end, where the end is an informed, savvy, and free (as in liberty, not price) society. As John says, "The web belongs to people, not companies." Markets do, too. So do brands.
Web thinking is freedom thinking. And it is the driver of modern, progressive marketing.
I recently wrote a brief essay on the subject of "Der wird Millionar" for the Folio magazine of the Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung. I talked about the design of the Toyota Prius -- I've been thinking a lot about the Prius lately -- and, more broadly, on the topic of how green products need to become much more red. In essence, on what I believe is the critical importance of understanding what makes for unabashed gearhead gnarlyness and then building that sensibility in to green market offerings.
Be sure to check out all the other "Der wird Millionar" essays in the issue by this amazing group of thinkers and doers:
Dennis Whittle, the Chairman and CEO of Global Giving, is blogging about the student projects which were launched a few days ago in my CIA-KGB class at the Stanford d.school. The class project ended up being a good experience because Dennis and many others from Global Giving gave an enormous amount of their time to help support the students in their work to create infectious action around the idea of social entrepreneurship in general, and Global Giving in particular. Here's an excerpt from his blog:
I was absolutely stunned by what each [group] could deliver in such as short period.
I was, too. And since I think innovation only happens when real change is made in the world, I'm looking forward to seeing the impact of the six student projects over the next few months. Here's the first of Dennis's posts on the class:
I've written before about the problems that speeding hybrid owners might pose for the Prius brand.
So, in the metacool spirit of seeking generative and productive solutions, how might Toyota incent Prius owners to behave in ways that enhance the brand? I've been mulling over that question for a few months now, but over the weekend I spied the license plate pictured above in a local Whole Foods (no surprise there) parking lot, and it sparked a brainstorm of sorts:
This is just a brainstorm. But increasingly I believe that word of mouth and infectious action is like a garden. A garden will grow on its own, certainly. But with inputs of energy and care, it grows that much better. The Prius has already tipped -- when you think "hybrid" you think Prius. But even companies like Toyota should think about ways to actively tend and feed the garden.
VW's DSG gearbox is a marvel. It combines twin clutches to provide the direct, mechanical power flow of a traditional manual gearbox, but with shifting as smooth and seamless as that found in any automatic, fluid-coupled transmission. If you're in to driving, it also lends itself to paddle shifting that makes you feel like Fernando Alonso as you flick down through the gears, and you can shift those gears in the middle of a corner without upsetting the balance of the car. It's a fantastic piece of engineering. In 2-3 years, every serious performance car will come with a DSG-style gearbox as an option, or even as standard equipment.
But, as you can tell from my sentence above, it's a hard thing to explain. Also, very few people care how it works, but they want to know how it feels in use. It's the experience that matters. That's why the commercial above works so well; it shows rather than tells.
Thanks to Stacey for pointing me to the video.
Seth nails it: Zero is the new black
Learning how to develop and market offerings for this world view is, in my humble opinion, the most important business challenge facing any organization today.
Here's a nice medley of Ferrari Formula 1 Cars through the decades, thanks to the marketing communications folks at Shell. Lots of nice touches, from including a front-engine Ferrari race car (that's the first one), to the use of period-correct large-window full-face helmets for the racer from the 70's, to the exquisite V12 & V8 soundtracks, well done. Bravo.
It does feel like a bit of an homage to the Honda Impossible Dreams commercial, which benefits from tighter editing, a humorous plot line, and a wonderful soundtrack. Not trying to be overly critical here, just calling it like I see it. While the Honda commercial evokes a strong emotional reaction, the Shell ad leaves one feeling a bit flat in comparison. Nothing wrong with it, but if brands are all about how they make you feel, then a commercial which is all about building meaning should fire on all emotional cylinders, as it were. A reminder of how great reflective design is so hard to do.
Okay, excuse me while I go listen to those V12's on overrun once again... Forza Ferrari!
Many thanks to Doug from out in metacoolland for pointing this video out to me.
26march update: here's a link to a Quicktime version of the Ferrari-Shell ad, much higher quality
Wow, what a lot of fun that namestorm was! The "KGB" names are still rolling in, and I have to say there was some very creative thinking going on (see Reilly's comments on the previous post below). The winner is Kindling Gregarious Behavior, because it sounds good, actually describes the content and aim of the course (not a bad thing at all when you think about it) and -- best of all for me -- it echoes the observation that Wikia CEO Gil Penchina made on a panel I hosted at last year's AlwaysOn conference. Gil made the point that, instead of spending all your time, energy, money and luck building a big bonfire on your own and then hoping that a bunch of other people will choose to come and sit around it, why not identify all the myriad little campfires burning around you and pour a little gas on each one? That's the way infectious action and gregarious behavior get fed. It's not about some big top-down mission, though centralized thinking matters. It's about embracing the power of the community. It's about kindling.
Anyway, I'm really excited to be teaching CIA-KGB along with a truly fabulous -- FABULOUS! -- teaching team. We learned a lot teaching CIA last year (and got lots of great coverage in BusinessWeek and other august journals), so this year we've made some tweaks to the class to try and make it an even better experience. This year's class will again involve a creating infectious action project for the good folks at Mozilla, and will then focus on a project for Global Giving. I'm very excited to be working with Global Giving, and it already feels good to be brainstorming project ideas with my Mozilla friends.
This will not be your usual classroom experience. Everything is real, everything is open-ended, and the sky is the limit. It'll be scary. It'll be fun. It'll be something, hopefully, which knocks your hat in the creek. As if all that weren't enough, it looks like Global Giving will be supporting some summer internship positions for CIA-KGB students who A), kick butt in the class, and B) want to keep working on Global Giving-related issues. How cool is that?
Are you a Stanford student with Master's standing? Please consider applying for the course. You can find an application here. It's due March 9, and we'll be selecting 24 people to part of the CIA-KGB classroom community. The journey is the reason we do all of this, and the fruit of the voyage will be more experience with the design thinking process as well as further developing methodologies for creating infectious action and kindling gregarious behavior.
This is why Gore helped create the Internet, and why Berners-Lee built the Web: Indexed
Inspiration for creating that next 2x2 or Venn diagram. Or not!
I'm not sure I get it, but what I do know is that it would be pretty cool to have a sailing ship about as long as the Empire State Building. Very nice.
My view on products and advertising is that any market offering sits somewhere on a continuum bounded by interplanetary satellites (which require no reflective design, AKA "marketing communications), and pet rocks, which are all about the message. Deodorant is a few notches above a pet rock. It's all about the story. And in this case, I really appreciate the lack of boasting about 10-hours-of-superlative dryness! here, and my-isn't-this-a-cool-shade-of-time-release-blue-gel there. You know what I mean. It's not about performance-driven features, it's about how it might make you feel, and from that point of view Old Spice now enters the elite company of experience-centric products such as the Palm V, the iPod Shuffle, the Porsche 911, and any Dyson vacuum cleaner.
And of course, that magnificent sailing ship.
Thanks to Coop for alerting me to Mr. Campbell's manifesto.
I was fortunate to be interviewed by Chris Shipley as part of the Guidewire Group's Leadership Forum. The topic was "Finding customer zero - identifying the root of contagious behavior in emerging markets". I really enjoyed the session, because the conference itself was small enough where we could all fit in a room and see and hear each other, so very naturally our onstage interview quickly became an audience-wide discussion. Based on work that's been happening at IDEO and at the Stanford d.school, I suggested a simple (but not simplistic, hopefully) model for designing for contagion:
As you might expect from a crowd heavy with Web 2.0 thinkers, we quickly got into issues of co-creation and open innovation. I only wish we could have spent another hour or two on the topic.
I had an easier time than usual talking through Point Two above because I had an easy out: the next speaker in the lineup was Professor Chip Heath from Stanford's Graduate School of business. Chip and his brother Dan are about to launch a book called Made to Stick. It's all about Point Two, so all I had to say was "wait until tomorrow, and listen to Chip". Made to Stick is a perfect companion to two other books which are about designing systems to spread: Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Seth Godin's Unleashing the Ideavirus. And like those two books, I think Made to Stick is going to be a Big Deal. You can read an excerpt from Dan and Chip's book here.
What makes Points 1-3 work is a human-centered design process. Genuine, authentic stories about offerings that help people get real jobs done in their daily lives are what work. You get there via design thinking, by putting people at the center of everything you do. To that end, Chip recently joined my company as an IDEO Fellow. He joins our existing Fellows Barry Katz and Bob Sutton. They all lend their specific areas of deep expertise to our design process, and I'm very excited to see what happens with Chip in the mix.
By the way, Dan and Chip will be on the NBC Today Show tomorrow, January 3. They're scheduled to go on during the 7:30 - 8 AM time slot. A great chance to hear about making stories sticky. They've got a good blog going, too.
Update: here's the Today Show video with Chip & Dan
My colleague Paul Bennett of IDEO has written an insightful and delightful essay for BusinessWeek: Most Memorable Ads of 2006
Here's an excerpt from Paul:
We're clearly at an inflection point. I'm not even a traditional ad-guy and I've been asked to write this, so what does that say? We're all firmly in this together—marketers, designers, clients, agencies, researchers, ethnographers, art directors and writers, all being sniped at, out-thought, and remixed by consumers younger than our own kids. Hard as it is to say, in most cases, they're as good, if not better, at this stuff than we are. Now, together, we must figure out where to go from here. But before we get in to a whole spiral of circle drumming, chest-beating and problem-solving, let's take a quick tour of some of the highlights of the last year.
But first a warm-up of sorts: Honda's Impossible Dream spot—which aired in December, 2005, and therefore doesn't make the official 2006 list—deserves a mention for Not Being Afraid of the Joy of Great Storytelling, for expansive locations, great nostalgic music, excellent casting, and a fantastically simple premise. In it, a guy emerges from his trailer, mounts a scooter, and then seamlessly moves from product to product, stirring emotions, sweeping us along in his wake, and bringing a tear to many an eye.
I've written before about Honda's Impossible Dream ad in the context of what I like to call tangible brand mantras (you can see the ad by following that hyperlink). It's an ad I can watch over and over (and I have - maybe 50 times; not as many viewings for me as the original Star Wars, but getting there). And it's one which is authentic and true even though it's so outrageous and funny. Honda is a company where the CEO knows whereof he speaks. It's a company as capable of pulling off revolutionary innovation outcomes as it is innovating on a routine basis. It's a group of people not afraid of thinking weird but right. And, above all, it's a company which solves for happiness because, when one gets down to the bottom of it all, that's what drives innovation.
"Our chefs and managers cook and run restaurants as if the word of mouth spread by each and every guest today will determine how full -- or empty -- our restaurants will be tomorrow. We work hard to hire people whose emotional skills -- even more than how they can cook or serve wine -- make them predisposed to deriving pleasure from the act of delivering pleasure. Long after our guests have forgotten how much they did or didn't like the turbot or the lamb shank, they'll remember how we made them feel."
- Danny Meyer, WSJ, 3Oct3006
I recently bought a pair of Jack Purcell shoes from Converse. A classic design, wouldn't you agree?:
They're good shoes. But what I really dug was the clever detailing on the box they came in:
My first reaction was something along the lines of "how clever!". What a nice way to echo the gestalt of the shoe in the shoe box. And then I thought, "how did the marketing manager for this line of shoes win the argument in favor of adding little metals shoe grommets to each and every box?" While grommets are cheap, they're not free -- a few cents here and there and it all adds up.
On the other hand, who says a brand logo needs can't be a three-dimensional object, even on a lowly shoe box? Why not treat a logo more like a badge, as many automakers do? These Converse grommets are badges, and not so different than the nine (9!) brand badges which adorn my car (ten if you count the one on my key fob). Why print a swoosh or a set of mouse ears when you can a have a tangible brand expression?
Bravo, Jack Purcell!
What happens when people love your brand and what it could be so much that they're willing to, err, mess with reality in order to make it so?
As detailed here (and in the diagram and Home Depot shopping list above) my pal Reilly Brennan of Winding Road went through a lot of trouble to create a "fake" version of the mysterious -- and as of today, not on the market -- Corvette Blue Devil. If you're not a gnarly gearhead, a little background for you: people who love the Corvette are extremely interested in what's next. What will Chevy do to make the next version that much better? Or will they screw it up? How might it allow them to go out and stomp on witless 911 and Viper owners? Or to win Le Mans yet again? It's a community which is not only ripe for the spreading idea viruses, it's one which welcomes them. And as Reilly has shown, Corvette aficionados want stories and myths that feed the story of why they bought their own car so much that they'll believe anything. Because they want to. Describing this worldview, Reilly writes:
We have visions of high American optimism coupled with the fear of a regulated, sedan-like tomorrow. We dream of a world full of nightmarish Corvettes, those that rumble and break pavement and write "Zora" on blacktop when they leave stoplights.
In brief, Reilly and team took a stock Z06 Vette and mocked up their ersatz Blue Devil with a few hundred bucks of foam and vinyl and tape. They paraded it around Detroit, and some competing automotive journals even took the bait and published "spy" photos of their fake in action. Which is a fun outcome, but more significantly, rank-and-file citizens like and you and me were shouting "build it" when they saw the fake Blue Devil rumble by. Now, if you were Chevy, once you get beyond the act of outsiders pretending to be you, you've got to be happy with that outcome. Why? Because Winding Road's Blue Devil is simultaneously an example of and a catalyst of the kind of user-generated brand content which Chevy tried to get with its much-discussed user-generated launch campaign for its Tahoe brand. Except, I'd argue, it represents an undeniably positive outcome from a brand point of view.
Philosophically, when it comes to creating infectious action, I see the fake Blue Devil as the same kind of expression as the user-generated Firefox cropcircle. They share some common elements and operate on similar principles:
Well, somehow I've managed to start with Corvettes and end with genocide. I didn't expect to get there, but this is a long post, so I'll stop here.
I'd love to hear what you think.
That's me and my friend Ross hanging out in IronForge. It's a great place to have a meeting and get some work done. Perhaps even do something innovative. In case you're wondering, that's me on the right -- I'm the taller one sporting the diving helmet (which I engineered and fabricated myself, natch) and the longish gun, which was a gift. My trusted pet attack bear, Yogi, isn't in the photo because just a few seconds earlier he wandered off in search of some cheese to eat and fell into a pit of lava.
But I digress.
Come December 1, Ross and his company Socialtext will be holding a press conference. What makes this one special is that it will be held in World of Warcraft
in the charming village of Goldshire at the blood-soaked Gurubashi Arena. The whole event should be interesting, and if you're a journalist or a blogger or someone interested in wikis and social software, you outta be there.
If none of this makes any sense to you, I'd encourage you to try out World of Warcraft and attend. I'll even volunteer to walk you over from the city of Stormwind to the press conference location (or have Ross summon you there). I think all of these "games" such as World of Warcraft and Second Life are but the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding what our lives will be like in 10, 20, 30 years. And the best way to begin to understand is to jump in and wallow around. Learn by doing.
Find press conference details and signup instructions here on Joi Ito's Socialtext Workspace
Say what you want, think what you want, feel what you want about the rock band Tenacious D.
But when it comes to the design of B2C websites, I don't know that I've seen anything lately quite as fresh and innovative as The D's promotional website for their new movie. It just could be the greatest website ever created.
Instead of the usual cluster of clickable static pages, we get a story, some humor, a lot of fun, and above all, an experience. An almost cinematic experience. It's the Tenacious D brand writ large, dude. It's like inward singing but for websites.
( update 11 October 2006: in the grand tradition of The D, parts of this post were written tongue-in-cheek. Humorous. As in, it's probably not the best website ever. Because of this, I'm not going to be able to respond to every email and blog link I receive assailing my marketing and aesthetic tastes. But you have to admit, it is pretty cool. )
Yesterday I went to the FAA website to see the latest carry-on guidelines. Here's what I saw:
What does "Frequestly" mean? And how about the use of "our" instead of "out"?
Here's the obvious observation of the day: typos like these aren't really helping the FAA brand. I actually like the word "frequestly", and would find it to be brand enhancing if I heard it from Cranium or Virgin or Mini, but when the FAA speaks, we need it to sound like James Earl Jones. We want the FAA to show us at every opportunity that they have their act together. Brands are fractal entities, and the meaning of the whole is to found in the execution of even the lowliest detail. Especially if your brand is all about rigor, safety, and juggling lots of big, heavy balls without dropping even one in a million.
If you're interested in hearing a cool discussion about creating contagious behavior, pouring gas on fires, releasing control and the future of marketing, check out this video of the panel discussion I moderated earlier this year with Bob Sutton at the 2006 AlwaysOn conference. Joining us on the panel were:
What an awesome group! The video image is kind of small, the open Internet comment box can be a bit distracting, but the sound quality is good, and that's what matters. This insights and thoughts brought up by Mitchell, Perry, and Gil knocked my hat into the creek. I love marketing innovation.
For a nice written summary of the panel discussion, see this post on Bob's blog.
The cool business-and-design offering at the Stanford d.school this fall will be a class called Clicks-n-Bricks: Creating Mass Market Experiences. While I won't be part of the core teaching team for this one, I do plan to drop in for a class session or two (or three!). This class is a logical evolution of where we went with Creating Infectious Action last quarter, where we found that the most compelling student projects all involved the design of experiences. So why not teach an entire class focused on that topic?
We're thinking big about the future of business and design at the d.school.
Check out Bob Sutton's blog for more details about Clicks-n-Bricks and how to apply to be a part of the action (it' s open to Stanford graduate students only).
It used to be that having a blog was a remarkable thing for a Fortune 500 company. I know because I had to "hurdle" to get one started when I was part of the team at Intuit, and it was a big deal when General Motors came out with their Fastlane blog. As marketing organizations have become more comfortable with easing their span of control over outbound messaging and content, blogs are now more or less part of the marketing mix. RSS feeds are de rigueur. Corporate blogging is about trusting the judgment and intuition of individual contributors instead of relying upon a rule-based central authority. It's about releasing control and rules, but embracing judgment and character. In general I think that's a better way to market, because it comes across as more real and authentic because it is more real and authentic, and a more open, trusting stance is a wonderful way to engage the outside world in creating contagious action around your offerings -- which is the fundamental (if often forgotten) goal of marketers in the first place.
So that's the state of world for relatively unscripted marketing words coming out of organizations, but what about the visual expression of their brands? Photos and the like. Now we're talking about thousands of words. But, as most bloggers can tell you, companies are loath to share their visual content. If you want access to a photo from a website, you'd better be ready to contact their press department and kiss the ring.
But not General Motors. Their marketing team is pushing lots of great photos to a public Flickr gallery. And pulling in photos from the gearhead community. This is good marketing. Yes, it would be better if everything were published under a Creative Commons license to really free up usage, but this is a great start.
Why not share some of your corporate visual content with the outside world? The reality is that people are going to take your online content anyway. Why not do it in a way which engages your fan base, encourages participation, and rewards good judgment and creativity? What's the worst that could happen?
Warning: this is a relatively long, rambling post because I'm thinking out loud.
What makes something authentic? When are things not fake? Can something be designed to be authentic, or does the act of considering authenticity at a conscious level doom something to the land of the artificial? I've been swishing these questions around for a while. I'm not sure yet. I'm sounding out things here in the sandbox of this blog. Help me out if you care to.
When I write about the visceral aspects of stuff, I like to focus on cars, because the experience we all share in common of them which makes the conversation easier. For similar reasons, when it comes to discussing authenticity and design, I find that food makes for the best subject. Think about it: when was the last time you heard the word "authentic" being used to describe anything other than food? I'm sure you have but food seems to live near the center of the authenticity universe. As an example, Russell Davies just wrote a great book all about authentic eggs-and-bacon dining experiences. If car-based sensations of speed and acceleration inform our understanding of the design of visceral experiences, then concepts like terroir and appellation from the world of food should be a way to gain a deeper understanding of authenticity.
Enough philosophizing. Let's eat.
I recently had a pizza at a restaurant by the name of Two Amys. It was very, very good:
I've never been to Naples. But when I look at the picture above, I can taste the lactic whisper of the mozzarella and I'm reminded that this bubbly dish was one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten. Tasty? For sure. Authentic? I believe so -- but can I really know without having been to the source?
Peruse the menu between bites. Ho ho ho, what's this?
The Two Amys chooses to spend some very precious menu space to explain how their fare meets the standards set out by an independent pizza standards group called Verace Pizza Napoletana. The standards are precise and fairly strict. From the Verace Pizza Napoletana website:
1. A wood-burning oven: The pizza must be cooked by wood. Gas, coal or electric ovens, while they may produce delicious pizza, do not conform to the tradition.
2. Proper ingredients: 00 flour, San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural fior-di-latte or bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast. Only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients are acceptable.
3. Proper technique: Hand-worked or low speed mixed dough, proper work surface (usually a marble slab), oven temp (800°F), pizza preparation, etc.
4. Review by the designated representative of the association assuring that the ingredients, technique and final product conform to the tradition.
5. Each individual restaurant is bound to uphold the standards of the association. Moreover, each individual restaurant is bound to pay a membership and membership renewal fee. Hence, membership fees do not apply to any new units opened subsequent to joining VPN, nor is membership transferable from one location to another. Rather, each individual location is evaluated and billed separately. In the event of non-compliance by one or more of my restaurants, the VPN association maintains the right to suspend or rescind membership on an individual or collective basis.
This is a clever device, this appeal to an external maven of authenticity. Putting it on the menu validates what my taste buds were telling me, and it's a powerful story which places a halo of authenticity around the entire Two Amys brand. It tells me that this pizza is the Real Deal. It's authentic so long as a believe that the VPN is authentic and real. Is it? I hope so.
Halos of authenticity are, I think, a useful way to help meaning and value become associated with a brand. For example, when Subaru rallies its cars, it's hoping that success there will put a halo of racing toughness and speed over their brand. And so on and so forth. What do you think?
You can find a live broadcast of my AlwaysOn keynote here live at 8 AM PST, Wednesday July 26.
Bob Sutton and I are going to talk about Tales from a Double-Wide Trailer, which is a story about the lessons we learned from teaching our Creating Infectious Action class at the Stanford d.school. Then we'll have a group discussion about stoking contagious behavior with:
If you're online while we're onstage, please please submit a question for the panel discussion, and we'll try to make it part of the discussion.
The organizers of the conference have put in place two interesting innovations. First, the bloggers are sitting in the front row at a table reminiscent of something out of a McMenamin's brew pub movie theater, instead of in their customary back-of-the-auditorium position. Second, there's a rolling screen of comments from people online. So far some have been funny, some rude, some trenchant, some insightful. Interesting stuff.
As a rule, I don't write much on metacool about my work at IDEO. It's less that 120% of my IDEO stuff is swarming-ninjas-will-be-sent-out-to-slay-me-in-the-silence-of-the-moon confidential (which it is), and more that this blog is my personal sandbox. It's about everything I do at work, but it's not about my work. But today I make an exception, because I reckon the story is pretty cool.
Context: Parking in Palo Alto, where I work, is tough. Not as tough as, say, downtown Tokyo, but certainly on that end of the bell curve. The Palo Alto Police ticket mercilessly. Even though I'm extremely careful, I've been known a ticket or two. Come to think of it, given the taxes I kindly fork over each year, I should be gifted a diamond-encrusted personal parking spot by my local elected officials. As well as a gold-leaf wrapped box of Macanudos. Monthly, via FedEx. But I digress.
Blogger and IDEO client Robert Davis tells a delightful story about the frustrating experience of parking solo near our Palo Alto headquarters, and then about the delightful experience of parking with the aid of the IDEO Experience Team. Listen to my favorite bit of his post:
Here’s what: service is sometimes about giving the user the tools to manage the situation themselves; sometimes it’s about making the problem just go away. IDEO has figured out that when you’re bringing people in to do creative thinking about a business problem, you’re better off making their petty problems, like parking, just go away.
I won't even pretend to be able to say it better. Thanks, Robert!
Bob and I will be discussing the topic "What is the Secret Behind Creating Infectious Behavior?" We just finished teaching a related class called Creating Infectious Acton.
So, if you plan on being there, drop me a line beforehand or just say hello once we're there. I look forward to meeting you.
This past weekend a brand came alive. The brand had already existed, and oodles of money had been spent to build it, but it wasn't a living, breathing thing yet. In other words, it was still a brand built by marketers, not a brand felt and understood by people out in the world.
The brand I'm talking about in particular is Audi's TDI, which represents the state of the art in diesel-based internal conbustion. In the guise of Audi's wicked new R10 race car, TDI not only won the 24 Hours of Le Mans (possibly the toughest race in the world), but also broke all the records, going farther than any car had gone before, while getting better gas mileage to boot.
Last week TDI was something which a person with a technical background like me would have explained to you in terms of technology (high-pressure fuel injection, clever turbos) and/or performance metrics, such as torque and consumption. And I might have convinced you. But could you have told a friend? Would you have remembered the critical bits? Would it all have meant something?
Now all I have to say is "TDI won Le Mans". TDI is now a real story, and a romantic one at that, and from now on diesel isn't the smelly, smokey old Mercedes station wagon blocking the left lane but a speeding silver arrow whispering down the Mulsanne. TDI. Your brand is what you do in the world, not what you say you do.
"Strange but true: The more specific a film is, the more universal,
because the more it understands individual characters, the more it
applies to everyone."
- Roger Ebert
In this insightful column, my colleague Paul Bennett says some "mean things" about branding but then goes on to make some really important (and honest) points about how the creation of meaning can and should be done within the world of marketing.
As Paul says, "Marketing and branding need to get back to first principles -- people, feelings, stories, and things. Tangible things. Not weird words."
Please read it all here: Time for some Buzz-Kill
Just over two years ago I wrote a post about the Fiat Trepiùno concept car and mused a bit about cultural influences on design. Design thinkers are particularly adept at reaching a point of empathy for users, but I do think that one's own sense of culture and surroundings does -- and in most cases should -- end up embedded in the offerings one design.
In other words, designers of small cars should live in cities. Hummer designers should hang out in shopping malls. And suburban pickup designers should hang out at Home Depot.
The good news is that Fiat is shipping the Trepiùno as the new Fiat 500. It is to the great Dante Giacosa's Fiat Nuova 500 what the New Beetle is to Professor Porsche's original Beetle -- a retro reskin of a modern front-wheel drive platform; an exercise in style more than in the extreme engineering packaging and rational beauty that characterized the originals. But hey, I'll take it -- the iconic 500 look (inspired by the Isetta, a descendant of refrigerators, by the way), is just such a winner.
On to the marketing bit: lifting a page from Ducati and Virgin, but on a much grander scale, Fiat has set up www.fiat500.com, where you can go "design" your new Fiat 500 as I did above. Of course, you're not really designing it -- you're just optioning it out with lifestyle and go-fast-boy-racer accessories, a la Mini. But it's fun, it's good for getting some buzz out, and if Fiat is clever, they'll be data mining the results to guide their manufacturing production mix. Clever.
The mini-conference we held as part of the Creating Infectious Action course I'm teaching went really well. I learned a ton from both the speakers and the audience -- we had quite a crowd show up!
Part of that audience was Nick Baum, who works as a project manager at Google. Nick is one of those cool people you meet at conferences like this -- someone who's lived all over the place, done loads of neato things, and writes one helluva interesting blog. In fact, he's done an enormous amount of work to document the conference on his blog, writing great summaries of the talks given by:
Read it all at Nick Baum's Creating Infectious Action mini-conference summary