Is Disruption the Most Important Model for Innovation?

The theory of “Disruptive Innovation” is an idea that has come to dominate business. Why? Business pundits and consultants would tell us it points the way to the strongest business success. iStock_000017829020Medium

Except I think there’s a different truth. The thing the disruption theory does most reliably is give you a great way to sell your business to funding sources, to the press (who LOVE a great disruption story), or to that narrow niche of customers who passionately hate the “old ways” and don’t care if the new way is really any better. The theory of disruption is even being used to sell changes designed for wholesale destruction of our public school system in the US (with an odd leap of faith hoping that whatever replaces it will be better). (More on schools here.)

Using theory to promote an idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But truth is important for businesses to succeed. Is there really a strong connection between disruption and long term success? That’s far more tenuous. At least that had been my growing sense of the theory.

And now I see that battle has been joined on exactly this issue. Writer and Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore fired the first shot with an excellent article in The New Yorker (“What the Theory of ‘Distruptive Innovation’ Gets Wrong”).
Read more of this post

Is “Evil Empire” in the Whole Foods Brand Brief?

Whole Foods is just a business – driven by the demands of profits and shareholders. Still, they seem to regularly do things that contradict their brand (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C).

What’s surprising to me is that Whole Foods’ marketing team must realize their brand includes an inherent expectation that a healthy food market will be run with healthy ethics. Smart brand people would understand that their brand runs the risk of higher than normal damage if Whole Foods becomes perceived as an evil empire. And brand people would be savvy to the reality that perception on these issues will outweigh reality so they need to be quite savvy.

Yet Whole Foods just can’t seem to control themselves. The latest example comes as they start a major expansion into the Portland market which included this billboard.

Whole Food Hardball Billboard
Read more of this post

Big Data. Big Promise. Big Caution.

Big Data imageBig data claims to be the new salvation for all businesses. Because, we’re told, big data will discover amazing new truths. Time will tell.

But in the meantime, most big promises should also be accompanied by big cautions. Which one’s are most important as we approach big data? Recently, on the Financial Times website, Tim Harford wrote a blog post on the topic: Big Data: are we making a big mistake. It is one of the few really thoughtful big data discussions we’ve come across in a while.
Read more of this post

Advertising Awards: Protecting the Creative Status Quo

As a strategist, creative director and student of advertising’s impact, I love to see advertising that’s challenging and interesting – when it comes to it’s impact on marketing. But we’re not seeing many impactful ads like that when you look at “award winning work”. And by that I mean agency style awards like Clio’s, New York Festival or Cannes (industry specific awards are usually far more interesting).

Yes, agency award show winners exhibit tremendous creative values – like clever film making, design, or writing. But despite all this art, from the point of view of a marketer, award winning work has become pretty dull, predictable and uninteresting.

How did it come about that all this extraordinary creativity could end up delivering bland marketing impact? How could this happen in a business that never ceases to tell itself how clever it is with myths like “thinking outside the box”?

We can blame, at least in part, the award shows themselves. After all:

The primary value of agency driven award shows is maintaining the creative status quo.

And when advertising is driven to satisfy the status quo it loses its ability to deliver brilliant results.

Read more of this post

“The Best Ideas Come as Jokes”… But the Best Quotes are Sourced

The Quote
OgilvyMemeRecently, at Atomic we came across a funny meme on DigiDay. The piece was a blend of clever quotes attributed to David Ogilvy, mixed with a couple pictures from Mad Men. A great comment about finding ideas through creative process stuck out:

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the quote doesn’t say “the best ideas ARE jokes”. But in this advertising world, many people would prefer to interpret the quote to mean the best ads are “funny”.

Rather than just assume that Ogilvy’s only meant the creative process, Doug asked me to locate the context of this Ogilvy quote. Seems like an easy Google search, right? Wrong.

Read more of this post

Lego Takes the Life Out of Its Own Party

20130114-191437.jpgThis past weekend, there was a Lego expo here in Portland and my youngest son went with my wife. We’ve been to these kinds of shows in the past – and they can be really exciting.

Sure, these shows have had Lego brand goods. But far more interesting are the aftermarket products – specialized figures, unique model sets created by innovative designers, amazingly innovative models created by Lego enthusiasts, Lego topical shirts for sale, etc…

Did you know you can buy aftermarket Lego figures painted with specific WWII uniforms and holding replica guns to match? Or aftermarket Halo figurines? Or rare collectible sets no longer on the market? Or unique sets creating interesting new Lego creations? Read more of this post

The Emotional Impact of Facts

Facts used in advertising leave behind emotion.

I ran across this thought provoking idea in the Jaques Ellul book “Propaganda” (published in 1965, I read this book in the 1980’s and recently decided it was worth a re-read). 20130114-191437.jpg

Rational and Irrational Communication. Ellul considers the difference between information and propaganda and the tendency to believe that “information addresses reason and experience … where propaganda addresses feelings and passion”. He concludes: “It’s not that simple.”
Read more of this post

Don’t Test Whispers

Key to marketing success is a disciplined approach to testing ideas and action. After all, marketing writing and consulting is filled with tremendously attractive and detailed theories about action “X” causing result “Y”. Yet all these theories were developed based on specific experiences under specific circumstances. So there’s no guarantee that taking them and applying them in your world will create the same result.

So we should test, test test. And yet…testing experience shows that far more things are tested than are found to conclusively help or hurt. Why? One quite common testing error is to “test whispers” – small changes that simply can’t have a large enough impact to drive measurable change.

I once watched Rubbermaid test whispers in focus groups where a series of 5 statements of brand differentiation were evaluated. But rather than vary the statements with ideas that were truly significant to consumers, the statements traded off tiny wording changes. (I found it ironically enjoyable to watch the focus group participants quite frankly explain that all the statements said the same thing.) Read more of this post

At Walgreens: An Amazing Abuse Of the Customer Satisfaction Survey

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how fed up I am with customer satisfaction surveys (link here). Truth is that companies are out of control – thinking it’s the job of consumers to fill out a constant stream of surveys.

20130114-191437.jpg

Sign at a drive-thru pharmacy inviting drivers to fill out a survey—inside the store!

So I’m going to pick on Walgreens here – not because they are the worst. But because I have recent Walgreens experiences that show how messed up this constant survey abuse is.

What Happened at Walgreens. At the time of my prior post, Skye Weadick sent me a photo of what she saw at one drive-up pharmacy window at a Walgreen’s.

The desperation evident in that sign seemed bad enough. Really? Asking customers to come around, park, and walk in to the store to fill out a survey?

Except… I was at a Walgreen’s this week – a different one – and heard an amazing employee discussion with two people in line.

Read more of this post

Agencies Need to Be Good Stewards of Their Own Brand

I’m often amazed at how poorly agencies manage their own marketing – especially their own brand. Look across the ad biz and you’ll find a cacophony of agency names in an ever changing landscape.

You might assume these changes reflect agencies going in and out of business. That’s not usually the truth. There is a tendency in the agency business to chase name fads – a practice that leads to annual or biannual name changing as a matter of course (as in “this year the coolest agency names are based on…insects…so we’re changing our name to FleaBag”). In an amazing act of euphemism, I’ve heard this called “re-branding”. Read more of this post