Friday, June 26, 2009

I’m so tired of this… it’s probably just about to catch on

Back when I was working in the world of not-for-profit theatre in Philadelphia, I spent a lot of time and energy (but very little money) marketing theatrical works to ticket buyers and to schools and festivals that would book tours.

For two years I ran a company named Mum Puppettheatre which created wordless, movement based puppetry. Marketing this company’s product – again, wordless, movement based puppetry – was not like selling an iPhone; we had a very niche product and customer base, to say the least.

Whatever your views on theater and puppetry are, let it be known that we were a pretty successful company, and artistically well regarded. Much of our financial success, however, came from our annual production of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams – a favorite children’s book of many.

The first year I was there, the Artistic Director said to me, “We’ve been doing this show for five years… I’m starting to get tired of it… I think this will be the last year.” His tune changed dramatically when we broke our box office record by 50%, so he agreed to do it one more year.

“This is definitely the last one – I just can’t do this show anymore,” he said. Ticket sales doubled and box office records were shattered again.

“We just can’t walk away from this – the company needs it to grow,” I would say, “to subsidize all the other stuff we want to do.”

He acquiesced. We made an agreement that the show would be produced every holiday season, but HE would never perform in it again. He would pass it along to others.

I mention this story, because it illustrates a lesson that I run into time and time again, a truth about marketing, advertising and brand communication. That truth?

The moment when you [the marketer] get sick of saying something about your product or brand for the umpteenth time, is usually about the same moment when customers START hearing and embracing it.

So what does this mean? Assuming you do have a quality product or service, there is a customer awareness tipping point that will be reached with patience, repetition and consistent messaging. Take a quick inventory of the brands or companies that you think are the most successful and meaningful, and I think you’ll find that they say the same thing over and over and over again, and have been doing so for a long time. Contrary to that, I think you’ll find that you can’t name too many that change their messaging every 1-2 years, because their message doesn’t have a chance to stand out, and become successful.

Sometimes it is hard as a marketer to have this patience, to say the same thing so many times that it hurts to keep doing it. Given the outsider’s perspective, it is easy for me to remind clients of this fact, but I know it is much harder when looking at your own brand.

After 4 ½ years of running SoHo Experiential, Jeff and I have started reaching this point in the development of our own corporate identity. A few of the quotes that may have been heard between us over the last year:

“I’m sick of our website.”

“Can we please update our capabilities presentation?”

“We need a new logo.”

“I can’t look at you when we present our credentials anymore.”

“Your voice pierces me.”

“What is that thing you are wearing?”

“Do we have a tagline? Do we need one?”

The compulsion to shake things up, to re-brand, is strong. And, at times when business is a little bit slower than normal (thank you 2009 economy), those compulsions grow into an impossible to ignore siren song which calls you to use your free time to give your brand a makeover.

We would discuss the idea of consistency and patience and, frankly, the best way to invest any “makeover” capital, and we had tremendous difficulty getting outside of ourselves. Plus, we still haven’t become a household name (See blog post on June 2 for more on that). At the end of the day we asked our employees and some strategic partners to look at our brand, and tell us what they thought, in order to help us determine, what, if anything we should change.

We learned that we should make some changes, because we weren’t being consistent with our communications. For example, our capabilities presentation said one thing and looked one way, while our website looked another. So, we’ve spent the last six months upgrading our brand to be consistent across the board.

Hence, it is with great pleasure that we are launching our new website, at We like it, and hope you will too. Our feeling is that it, plus the other updates we’re making, along with consistent messaging over the next few years, will help us hit that tipping point where many customers will know our name, (and how to say it).

In the end, we had to look to others to better see ourselves. Perhaps, like the director at Mum Puppettheatre was tired of performing, we were simply tired of talking about ourselves.

Please enjoy the new website – if you have any feedback on it, please let us know.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where are my learnings?

Depending upon who you are, the subject of this post is either an all too regular question asked of you, or an incorrect answer on a seventh grader’s grammar test. Alas, “learnings” is not a real word, but yet an accepted, and highly utilized component of the marketing lexicon. As a result, I added the word to my Microsoft office spell check dictionary ages ago, as I grew weary of the red squiggly line that would show up in all my program reports.

I’m often curious as to how this word came to be part of marketing speak. Was it not enough share everything we learned from a campaign? Did someone at some point have so many things go wrong with a campaign, that their seriously upset client chided them with something like:

“This thing was so fouled up, you’d better not have just learned, you’d better have had learn-INGS. Lots of learn-INGS. This program was so bad that we need to make plural something that can’t be pluralized, so that you can truly appreciate how messed up this was. I feel like I ran into a school of fish that was so unexpectedly and overwhelmingly HUGE, that I had to yell – 'Holy crap – look at all of those fish-ES!!!!'”

Like a diamond forged in the depths of a fiery volcano, it must have taken a extraordinary event, followed by massive client explosion to bring this phrase to be.

Regardless, I think the word is here to stay, and destined to remain a part of the marketing world as long as it exists.

So you all know, if you try to look up “learnings” in the dictionary, you will not find it. In all likelihood, you will find “learning” and see the following definition (among a few others)

1. knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.
2. the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill.
3. Psychology. the modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience.

In marketing, it’s really the first definition that we are focused on; that is, if you are willing to believe marketing is a “scholarly application.” At SoHo we are obsessed with learnings; aiming to improve every minor detail or every event we create. Our goal, of course, is to pay attention to details, ensure that clients know we are on top of our events, accountable for what has occurred, and thinking about how to make things better. We think about learnings all the time; but every time I say it or write it, I laugh quietly to myself because it isn’t a real word.

In researching today’s blog, I stumbled on to a funny website,; a site designed to kill corporate buzz words. I had no idea that “learnings” was just the one of many corporate catch phrases that make people shudder just a little when they say or hear them.

Check out to enjoy some fun with overused and/or ridiculous corporate phrases. My personal favorites are:

• Low Hanging Fruit
• Hit the ground running
• 30,000 foot view, aka helicopter view
• Net-Net
• Listenership
• Final Final

Until next time, enjoy learning people what you’ve read here.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

SoHo ExperiMENTAL? What’s That?

ME: Experiential. It’s SoHo ExperiENTIAL.

MOST PEOPLE I MEET: ExperiENTIAL? What’s that?

ME: Like experience. It’s an adjective pertaining to experience.

MPIM: Experiential.

ME: Yep. Take the word experience, drop the CE, and add TIAL to the end.

MPIM: Gotcha. SoHo Experiential.

ME: Yep.

MPIM. Cool… What’s that?

This is an excerpt from nearly every conversation that I have had with anyone I meet that asks me what I do. I tell them about our agency, explaining that we produce consumer experiences that create connections between consumers and brands. They seem intrigued, but this idea still doesn’t quite resonate without some examples. I mention the different types of events that we produce, and it usually isn’t until I mention a common sampling scenario - women handing out free drinks in a bar - that I get a few head nods.

“Ohhhh… ExperIENTIAL!”

As best as I can tell, the idea of experiential marketing seems to have just recently become mainstream among marketers, so I figure we still have a decade or two before a Experiential Marketing is as commonly understood by the general public as Law, Dentistry, or PHP Ninja. That’s a real job – look it up.

On occasion I meet someone who is interested in how an agency works, how we pitch clients, win business, etc. I enrich them with how an agency responds to RFPs, networks with potential clients, and pitches a lot of work on spec. I speak of fitting programs into small client budgets, squeezing margins, and the necessities of executing a test program. I try to explain the common practice of provide clients efficiencies of scale, even when a program is... well... not being executed to scale.

“So… how do you… uhmm…”

“Make Money?” I say, “Well… it’s like fishing… sometimes you won’t catch anything, sometimes you will catch a little one, and on occasion you’ll land a prize winner… but the bait always costs the same.”

I guess you have to like fishing if you are in the agency world.

I recently came across a video that I think perfectly elucidates the agency world and our relationship with clients, in real-world terms that everyone can understand.

All you agency folks should enjoy… clients, maybe not so much ;-)

Until next time!