Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cultural Capital is the Future

Boingboing's guest blogger Paul Spinrad offers a fascinating alternative for people looking to diversify their investments--investing in culture rights. Spinrad wonders, "Did anyone ever consider using Max Keiser's Hollywood Stock Exchange as a funding vehicle? Rights are more complicated than stocks, but online stock trading sites have figured out easy interfaces for buying, selling, puts, calls, selling short, and other flavors of transaction. Boilerplate is boilerplate."

What Spinrad hits on is the idea that a culture market represents an international plethora of assets. I also agree with his clever assessment that it would also be, "A boon to hipsters whose cultural intelligence and breadth of knowledge would suddenly become a marketable talent." In other words, this would be a marketplace designed by, for and benefiting the RenGen.

When people ask me how RenGen will redefine the exchange of value as currency is re-structured (hey, one look at the mortgage market and you get a sense of the re-structuring of value underway) I like to point to ideas like Spinrad's. Our cultural capital has been overlooked as a key asset. Alternatives to traditional capital are not for the unimaginative or the faint of heart. It will require courage and vision to tap into our creative assets in ways that create wealth for many, not just a few.

But let's be clear. We are in the death spiral. Now, more than ever, we need brave ideas to trigger the rebirth that is within our grasp. And if we don't step up to creative solutions? Well, a renaissance is not guaranteed. History is bone chilling on this point. We could fall into a dark age. I'd rather not, thank you.

Photo by Mister V courtesy of Flickr

Monday, February 23, 2009

Killer Proposals for Tough Times

I get asked a lot of questions about proposals. I see a great many of them. Over the years, I can spot a winner from way across the desk. Today kicks off a series on how to create a killer sponsorship proposal. Check back every Monday for more tips. Feel free to post questions.

Although the content of a proposal might vary based on your situation and the sponsor’s needs and interests, there are guidelines that apply to all situations. This series will help you turn the information you have about your offer into a compelling proposal that propels you into deal making.

A killer sponsorship proposal achieves facilitates a decision. You will be preparing your proposal so you can use it in one of these three ways with a corporate sponsor:

1. To obtain another meeting
2. To leave behind following a meeting to facilitate the discussion among several decision makers
3. To deliver as follow-up to a meeting where you were requested to address specific issues

Facilitating a Sponsor’s Decision Making
For any piece of writing to persuade a person to act, its content must be considered from that person’s perspective. It must help the decision making along. People don't buy what they can't understand. Help them picture what you're proposing.

Visualizing the Offer
Because good sponsorship offers have a human element, it’s your job to bring that value to life. It isn’t easy for a corporate executive sitting at a desk to imagine the sights and sounds of the experience you are proposing for consideration. Include photos, drawings, diagrams, maps, and charts that help the decision maker visualize your event at a glance. In any sales process you make great strides when buyers can picture themselves using the product or service. The same is true when you are selling sponsorship.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Future By Design

The School of Design in New York has a fascinating proposition for you. Its “MFA Designer As Author” program beckons applicants to imagine, "Two years devoted to the independent creation of ideas." If you blog, write, compose or otherwise create content--you do this every day. But the idea that you could suspend the rest of life with all its distractions to dive headlong into the soup of your creative process is for many RenGen the ultimate fantasy.

The program addresses the growing need for content providers throughout the visual media. Drawing on ones’ fluency with the graphic design language of type and image, this program is the first designed exclusively to encourage authorship and entrepreneurship in a broad range of media.

If you want a window into the RenGen mindset, watch the video. The recurring themes are: make a difference with my art, work hard, produce original work, master my craft. What you will also hear is a fear of allowing one's creativity to be subjected to work environments where it's not appreciated.

Years ago, Tom Peters bellowed, "Hire freaks!!!" While the people in the video hardly look freakish, you get the impression they are non-conformists. It used to be that business got its creative spark from techies. But that has run its course, unless of course you are Discovery, Apple or Pixar. Art, design, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship are fusing--see Discovery, Apple and Pixar. The hot spot will be the point of convergence. Designers like the ones in the Designer as Author program are emerging with a mission to make products that matter in people's lives. They are poised to create the next generation of goods and services.

As part of my research for the next book I'm writing, I visit work environments that have successfully incorporated these creatives. Their fellow workers describe the energy of these RenGen as catalytic. My point? Any company serious about innovation needs to look less to MBAs who are trained to conform--(don't get me started on my visit to the University of Chicago's Innovation Roundtable that was like the night of the living dead!) And instead, seek out graduates of programs like this one. Dan Pink's mantra, "The MFA is the new MBA" may have seemed outlandish at first, but it's proving to be prophetic.

Hat tip to Steven Heller.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Facebook Flap and Privacy

The flap over Facebook changing its terms for storing user content has raised the question, "Who owns Facebook?" The issue arose when Facebook updated its terms. It added language that said Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an account was terminated. But that seems less a revelation to me than the fact people are actually reading Facebook's terms of service. Research shows that people barely skim over the terms of any Web-based service. The erosion of privacy in the digital domain is insidious, with far-reaching consequences. To have users revolt because a few bloggers read the fine print is a sign that something is shifting. People are waking up to the fact that terms of services is worthy of their scrutiny. The next wave will be digital citizens demanding dominion over where information is stored, who sees it, and under what conditions. Is Google next?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Love Poem

Mary Fons is a poet with a lot of heart. Imagine if President Obama had chosen a poet like Mary who had some sort of performance ethic for the Inauguration. Instead, we got a punctilious laundry list of images that made us feel like colleagues, not fellow countrymen. Since it's still officially Valentine's weekend, here's Mary reading a love poem.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kiss and Tell

In honor of Valentine's Day, I am re-posting the virtual Kissing Booth from last year. This was a huge hit. People loved reading the entries. I know this because they emailed me their favorites! I said, "Post a comment!" But people loved peering in anonymously. It's probably the same thrill we get when seeing young lovers kiss in public. Anyway, I hope you do something today with someone you love. (Click into the comments to read the entries.) Do you remember the kiss that rocked your world? Sent a tingle down your spine? Made you weak at the knees?

Just as we have DNA or fingerprints, everyone has an unforgettable kiss.

If I gave you a million dollars to write a film script about your life, what would be the kissing scene? Maybe for you, the kiss that haunts you was that clumsy, anxious moment when you swung and missed. Or it’s the farewell kiss that ended a chapter in your life.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we hereby invite you to remember what it feels like to be loved by telling your story of THE kiss. We’re hosting a virtual Kiss-and-Tell Booth right here. From now until Feb. 14 you can submit your kiss-and-tell story. Our panel of judges (Liz, George, Karen, Tony, Julie) will vote on the top three smooches to receive a free copy of John Stark’s new book, “The Dictionary of Love.” Winners will be announced here.

Here’s how it works:

1. Click on “comment” down below and follow the prompts. (There are few just a few.) Experienced blog-heads you know what to do.
2. Write your story. Go on, pour your heart out, describe all the juicy bits, or keep it simple if you like.
-You can enter more than once.
-It’s okay to remain anonymous (in case the best kiss was not with the person who is now your spouse or something like that)
-We are privacy bulldogs. We’re not keeping, storing, re-distributing anyone’s privates.
-Winning entries will be posted here and we will announce the winners to the media, assuming that people might enjoy a little old school recognition.

Etiquette: This is about love, alright. Write something that puts a smile on your face, nothing sleazy or unkind.

photos courtesy of Optimus Prime

Fine print: Why are we doing this? Because we hope it’s fun. We’ve all had our fill of grim economic forecasts, sub-prime dirges, and political punditry. We’ve decided to change the subject for one week in the space we can control--this blog! We hope everyone enjoys a vicarious thrill and a few people walk away with a prize.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How We Think in Color

What color most improves brain performance and receptivity to advertising, red or blue? Both can, it just depends on the nature of the task or message. According to a new study undertaken at the University of British Columbia, red is the most effective at enhancing our attention to detail, while blue is best at boosting our ability to think creatively.

Between 2007 and 2008, the researchers tracked more than 600 participants' performance on six cognitive tasks that required either detail-orientation or creativity. Most experiments were conducted on computers, with a screen that was red, blue or white.

Red boosted performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31 per cent compared to blue. Conversely, for creative tasks such as brainstorming, the color blue prompted participants to generate twice as many creative outputs as when under the red color condition.

Color influences cognition and behavior through learned associations. Blue encourages us to think outside the box and be creative. We associate it with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility. Red is associated with danger, stop signs, and warnings. It causes people to be alert.

The findings carry over to consumer packaging and marketing messages. It found that when the background colour was red, people formed more favorable opinions of products when its ad featured specific product details as opposed to evocative, creative messaging.

Similarly, people were more receptive to a new, fictional brand of toothpaste that focused on negative messages such as "cavity prevention" when the background color was red. But people were more receptive to aspirational messages such as "tooth whitening" when the background was rendered in blue.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sponsor The World You Want to See, Part 2

Celestial Seasonings tea is generating strong sales by sponsoring tree planting. By joining forces with Trees for the Future. The green charity has planted more than 70 million trees in Central America, Africa and Asia since 1988. Celestial committed to one tree planting for every box of Celestial purchased. The goal is to sponsor 1 million new trees.

Can't get to the store? No worries, Celestial also launched a microsite at which consumers who register their name and email address can plant a virtual tree. Other tactics include special displays at retailers throughout the country and two old school FSIs in newspapers. The campaign has Facebook page (Wonder which will perform better FSI or viral tactics?)

Results already are remarkable. Halfway through the campaign, retail sales have generated just about half of the 1 million goal--nearly 450,000, according to the tree "ticker" on the main site as of Monday--although the two-week-old online tree-planting site was, so far, up to only about 200 trees. Marketing Director Jennifer Stolte, leads the campaign. She wanted it to mesh with and enhances the brand's long association with sustainability and social responsibility.

In the brand's early days, Celestial tea bags were sown, not glued or stapled. Ahead of its time on fair trade and eat local, it has worked with farmers for more than 30 years, to establish sustainable harvests. Today, Celestial uses minimal packaging, including a tea bag that requires no strings, tags, staples or individual wrappers, saving more than 3.5 million pounds of waste from entering landfills annually, according to Stolte.

This is the kind of can-do, social solutions-oriented marketing that empowers consumers when they participate. It also triggers a cycle of reciprocity between the consumer and the brand. Everyone wins.

I'll drink to that.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sponsor the Change Your Customers Want to See

If the headlines tell us anything, it's that Americans are more fed up. They understand that corruption is systemic. "Enough!" people are crying. They remain dubious about the Stimulus Package because they can't imagine how their tax money will be doled out in ways that will be fair and useful. The system is rigged, and they know it.

Based on the vetting process for cabinet members, citizens have discovered that many of the most powerful people in Washington DC simply don't pay taxes. That's a job for the average schmo. People are angry and want serious change. This environment poses a rare opportunity for the adroit marketer to get good things done by aligning with a can-do cause.

Where to begin?
1. Find the causes that fit with your brand: right imagery, your employees will rally behind it, achieves visible, measurable results--including a measured web presence.
2. Favor those with the largest and/or most loyal tribes of change agents and vet them for good management practices
3. Gauge their ability to draw: media, members, money
4. Open negotiations to become an "official catalyst" not "official sponsor." After all, this is about igniting change by supporting the change agent.
5. Decide how you will collaborate and measure results of the partnership

Sounds simple. Truthfully, partnerships are never so simple, but these five steps are the framework for action. Keep in mind that partnering with the right cause can yield better social currency in these times than any traditional media can, at a fraction of the cost. If corporate sponsors have the marketing skill and courage to tap into the emotions that Americans are feeling, they can catapult their brands above the fray and become part of the solution for real change. This is Cause Marketing 2.0 and it can inspire loyalty, media attention, trigger transactions and win hearts and minds. It's about sponsoring the positive change your customers want to see in the world.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

New Study: What Cultural Consumers Really Want

The Cultural Consumer Index (CCI) is a new study that is a quantitative and qualitative measurement of cultural activity among the renaissance generation. It gauges the amount of arts, culture, and creative experiences and related products RenGen consume (museums, plays, movies, books, visual art and music). It also aims to quantify growing interest in self-expression facilitated by digital media and cultural phenomena impacting consumer lifestyles and beliefs that can help leaders predict opportunities and downturns.

The CCI encompasses two classes of data:

1. meta-data that tracks changes in consumption of products and services associated with culture.
2. original research that looks at how consumers are coping with and adjusting to a changing culture.

The CCI will be re-conducted over time, both to assess how patterns of consumer behavior and attitudes are shifting and to anticipate the economic change that arises as a consequence of those shifts.

Scope of the Index
The CCI extends the definition of culture to include economic activity in the arts, cultural tourism, entertainment, and creative expression. In particular, the research will include:

1. A representative sample of over 1,500 U.S. households conducted by Meaningful Measurement, Inc.

2. A synthesis of economic indicators and reports from the following: GNP, Jobless Rate, Art Market Confidence Index, American Association of Museums Membership Report, American Booksellers Association, Travel and Tourism Research Association, Theater Communications Group, the Broadway League, Sundance entries, and American Film Industries (AFI), and other organizations that represent the cultural economy

3. Contribution levels to arts, education, and cross-disciplinary innovations from corporate and private philanthropies

4. Emerging genres created by collaboration and cross-disciplinary influences

5. Growth of self-expression facilitated by digital media

6. Changes in behaviors and attitudes toward cultural institutions and cultural offerings

7. Cultural phenomena impacting consumer lifestyles and beliefs

Uses for the Index
The study will provide perspective on cultural marketplace phenomena that have economic impact. It will show where the action is, and note tremors in the culture before they become trends. The report that will follow will help leaders adapt to a fast-changing world where culture is the medium of most significance in shaping preference and seeding new opportunities. Rising social movements, emerging customs and belief systems, implications and contradictions will be broken down into actionable information so that high-level discussions can be had across a variety of disciplines and sectors to catalyze collaborations that spur innovation.

If you or your organization would like to participate in the study, please contact

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wild Beasts in the Fair Garden

I gaze out my office window and see the winter birds are back. It's 10 degrees. I cannot fathom how these little birds manage. They have picked clean the seeds from the flowering bushes. I haven't filled my bird feeder in weeks. Still, they flit from branch to branch in search of food. Why do they stay?

It makes me wonder about why we keep ourselves in impossible situations. The recent article by Al Ries in AdAge gave me pause. His "CEOs are from Mars/CMOs are from Venus" premise is that marketing people are right brainers. They thrive on visuals, intuition and holistic views of the customer and the product. On the other hand, CEOs are left brainers. They thrive on language, analytics and logic. According to Ries, this puts management and marketing at odds. It's an impossible situation.

As a marketer, my bias is to root for the right brainers. But I have come to notice that the younger entrepreneurs I encounter aren't as easily pigeon holed. Is there a third-brainer? Middle-brainer? Or a whole-brainer who is emerging to meet today's challenges?

As business undergoes a major transformation, it will shed some worn out ideas about how to relate to customers and employees. The broader social and cultural context for commerce will come into balance. New language will be created to explain what works and what doesn't. New norms will spring from winning practices. This is change. And the rising class of business leaders will swing both ways. They'll have to. The complexity of their environments will demand it of them. But before all these adaptive changes occur, a gap will open up.

The leaders fluent in the dying language of business, standard bearers of traditional approaches, are living in a walled winter garden. Protected from the elements, but ultimately starving to death. The newcomers will seem like wild things, unschooled and irreverent toward the old ways. They won't have MBAs and they won't care if you do. Fur and feathers may fly. But I say let the wild rumpus begin! Because in the end, it may restore vitality to what is now a barren landscape.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who's In Your Tribe?

When I was in college, and for six years afterwards, I rowed every day (weather permitting). Sometimes I rowed with eight women, sometimes with four. The sport demands that crews form tight bonds because it helps the team row with more synchronicity. You must put your oar in the water at precisely the same time as the others and with a similar pitch and speed. It was intensely demanding mentally and physically. It taught me a super exaggerated form of teamwork that has since remained unmatched in my life. Equally unmatched was my physical condition, but not for lack of trying.

In search of my former physique, I joined a new gym a few years ago. I found it to be a pleasant, low-key place where people kept to themselves. I was yearning for some sense of camaraderie. It wasn't obvious how to make that happen, so I began a social experiment.

In the locker room, I began to break the ice. Just a joke here or there. I'd ask people their names. Some days, I'd toss in a conversation starter such as, "Nice running shoes, are you liking those?" It took time, but I began to notice that more people started doing the same. Today, the locker room is a big chat fest--women talk freely about their lives, their bodies, and show off their scars. The decibel level has inched up considerably.

This is my fitness tribe. I am proud to say it's a community I had a hand in building. Reading Seth Godin's new book Tribes reinforced the power of this simple level of leadership. Godin defines a tribe as "a group of people connected to each other, to a leader and to an idea." There is still something powerful about tribes, and that is the feeling of belonging. And if connecting to one another involves an arduous physical task, such as physical exercise, the tribe's bonds grow stronger.

I may never step foot in a crew shell again. Those days are behind me. But I can still experience the elation of my fitness tribe. And I do. Now, I am looking at applying what I learned at the gym to how we help clients build tribes around ideas.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Strategic Philanthropy the Buzz at Davos

According to Ariana Huffington, the big buzz at Davos has been on softer themes: contrition, and the embrace of faith and philanthropy. "The widespread contrition permeating Davos is matched by an unnerving feeling of paralysis," she reported. Panels on "Philanthrocapitalism," and "From Philanthrocapitalism to Philanthrocrisis," attracted overflow crowds. The makeup of the latter panel included: Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Nobel Prize winning microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, and Jet Li. Not a bad little group to have lunch with.

Tony Blair's Faith Foundation will help eradicate the million deaths a year resulting from malaria. Blair spoke about philanthropy filling, with innovation and vitality, the gap "between state action and individuals acting on their own." Which is a laudable goal for anyone pursuing philanthropy.

As business looks to re-establish trust among consumers and shareholders, converting some of its sponsorship marketing into more cause-related investments could prove to have a revitalizing affect not only on their brands, but the on non-profits in which they invest. The biggest, most established causes have also begun to suffer the same symptoms as behemoths in the corporate sector. They are sluggish, inefficient and slow to adopt necessary change. There is a critical need for the non-profit sector, including the philanthropies that support it, to create an innovation agenda. Time will tell if discussions at Davos result in action. Or is it just talk?