Wednesday, May 23, 2012

25 Years of Bliss: Entrepreneurship & Marriage

25 years ago I was married to my best friend. Today, she's still my best friend.  Amazingly, I might actually be hers.

Setting out on your own path, instead of that under the umbrella of a parent organization is not for the feint of heart... and typically, is not done so out of pure design. Often, you strike out on your own because your position — for whatever reason — is no longer your position.

When you're in marketing, you learn to live on the edge - but like wing-suit base jumpers, you can do so without feeling like you might fall to your death.  It helps to have a parachute, but you might still be able to fly high and even land, without killing yourself in the process — especially if you have the support of a loving (and informed) spouse.

I have done this no less than five times.  First as Mike Farley Creative Services. Then as Sniglet (seriously), then as Axis Creative (which later became Emery Farley Associates), Vizid (the bastard child of EFA) and lastly, as JacksonSpencer Innovative Brand Design.  Each one was a success and a failure.  Too many folks see the stats on starts and stops and assume that it was all for naught.  Not so.  I made money at each of these ventures, supported my family, bought homes, sent kids to school and found some time to go on vacation from time-to-time. Failure, in that none of them ever did EXACTLY what I thought they were going to do.

But is that failure? Only if you don't learn from coming up short.

I built one business to 20 employees with two offices in premier locations in major metro markets. My latest set up shop in "Bedford Falls" and run solely, with as many 1099's as I need. Which is the greater success?

Doesn't matter... the key is to take charge of present and future YOU WANT — to trust your own instincts; to know if you actually have what it takes, or whether you don't. And, to simply get after it every single day. 

Ahh - but what about the wedded bliss?

For starters, it takes a woman who has a backbone as strong as your own. Thankfully, my wife is just as strong, patient and determined as I am. She believes in what I do... and what I'm doing — in fact, you could say, WE BELIEVE IN WHAT WE ARE DOING. This is not to say that she hasn't "disagreed" with decisions I have made. The lesson there, is to share with your spouse those pieces of information that truly WILL effect her. The day-to-day stuff isn't so important to share. It's reasonably dull and it lacks trust in each other. But decisions that expand a business or jump into new territory should be carefully explained and reasoned. The sounding board you have in your spouse may provide you with needed push back. You may even change your mind — or your process in determining what's best for you and your family. In the end, you'll know if you're in sync, or if you're out on a ledge.

When I have "gone wrong", it was because I rationalized that it would be better for her if I waited to tell her — kept her in the dark purposefully. This comes back to bite you either way. If you secretly succeeded, she'll wonder why she never knew... and if you fail — you may face a scorn that becomes a grudge for years to come — and the challenge of picking up pieces that can rip a family apart.  (Try telling your kids that you have to move from the house they love, for starters). You get "real" real fast.

I champion running your own business AND life. Follow your dreams, getting on your path, and working like hell to achieve what you want.  Funny thing is, you'll most likely end up somewhere you never imagined, and find that the parachute you lacked was actually your best friend's guiding hand. You'll be glad that you went on this journey together.  Having your spouse truly join you for the ride makes the long nights and hard work all the more special.   

After 25 years - her ship is about to come in!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Little Known LinkedIn Tip that Paints a Stronger Picture of YOU!

OK, so you hear about "secret this" and "secret that" when it comes to social media tips and tricks, but I just stumbled across one that I had not heard of before - and believe me, I've been a careful observer of all things in this realm.  What is it? How about controlling where your testimonials are placed in your profile?

By now, you've asked others for a recommendation. Most likely, you've received a few - maybe, even a lot - but chances are, they are all stacked under your latest job listing.  That's not awful, but it doesn't exactly paint a consistent picture of your performance over the years.

And if you're like me, well, you've held a myriad of positions in your career. In my case, fourteen!

For recruiters, it looks like I can't hold a job.  But on closer inspection, one would find that to move up; I had to move out.  It's just the way that it is in advertising & marketing circles (That is, until you finally hang out your own shingle and stop depending upon recruiters to find your next big gig). Which I did.

So, instead of having all of your recommendations dumped under one position, you can select where they go - but you have to do something radical to do it.  You eliminate your current position under your profile (where it states : CURRENT). Don't change your resume one iota. Stay within the Profile section and simply add your position back in.

Let me explain:
I was simply adding another position that I hold (as an assistant football coach for the local high school), but because of the date I had selected, LinkedIn placed it at the top of my profile, making it appear that my main job was football coaching.  (And) that's not what I wanted.  So I toyed-around a bit to fudge the dates just a tad so that my "real" job showed up at the top of the page (it's chronologically based).  In doing so, I dumped my original job, then added it back with a slightly different start date. Wallah... it was back at the top of my profile heading! That's all I wanted to do.   

Then panic set in.

What I hadn't realized, was that all of the testimonials that were attached to the original posting now became "unassigned" and were effectively gone from my profile!  37 endorsements down the drain! :-(

I was panicked at first, thinking that I would need to re-ask all of those that had endorsed me to re-do their recommendation.

Not cool.

However, I didn't lose my cool — firstly, because I had saved a Word doc of all of the quotes that I had received - something you should do right now - so I knew who to ask and could provide them exactly what they had said previously; but secondly, I figured LinkedIn had to have a way to get them back (which they do). As I looked a little more carefully over my new profile and scanned down the entirety of the page, ALL of the recommendations were indeed, listed, but under the heading "Unassigned" (they just weren't counted in that upper Profile section).

All you have to do, is click the EDIT link and re-assign each (individually - which takes some time depending on how many you have to go through) to the position and company that they best are categorized within.  Which is exactly what I did.  It's not cheating, it's actually more accurate and helpful to anyone who really wants to get an honest picture of my experience.

For a guy with fourteen different jobs, my new LinkedIn listing represents the longevity of my good work much more effectively.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

...and Action!

Being blessed with an imaginative brain can lead you to places you never expected. It's a constantly working muscle that flexes in ways that just can't be predicted. 

Need an idea? Got one.

Need another?  How about this...

...and so it goes.  Only one problem; that's the ability to simply jump in and begin the work AFTER the idea has been hatched.  You know, boots-to-the-pavement style?

The bane of "creatives" is that they get the 2% inspiration in spades, but often lack the drive to get the 98% perspiration into play.  Subsequently, some of the greatest ideas the world is in desperate need of will simply have to wait until another day, if ever.  It's not that idea-junkies don't mean well, but 100% of an idea without the will to execute (which means taking a chance on failure) means that you'll have 100% ownership of nothing.
You don't have to be a genius. Frankly, it's easier to pretend that you're a genius than simply being modestly good.

You see, ideas by their very nature are sexy. To put them into action, you actually have to work. (And) working isn't sexy, unless it actually produces a product that succeeds.  The truth is, "that ain't easy to do."  It's a lot easier to be the guy who simply dreams something up and leaves it to the shoemaker's elves to produce. If you don't want to do the work, you better be prepared to pay someone who can.

And therein, lies the rub.

Nothing comes for free - time, treasure or talent. Take your pick, often all three are necessary to achieve your vision. Having the idea, and not putting up your money is often a great gauge as to how bold of an idea you actually have.  If you think it can't miss, you'll be tempted to pony up.  If you hope for some schmuck to lend his hard-earned cash to the cause, you better have one hellluva pitch.

So what's a right brainer to do?

Go for small victories. 

1. Dream the dream.
2. Write it down. Make it clear.
3. Write an actionable plan to make it public.
4. Share it with someone who will hold you accountable.
5. Follow the plan.
6. Do. (and check a box)
7. Review 2 and repeat steps 3 through 6 as often as necessary.
8. Reap the rewards of an idea fully vested, implemented and offered to the public.

Box checked.

The finish line feels far off. In some cases, it might actually be — but, scoring a simple "victory" (i.e.: a box that can be checked off) is all that any of us need to feel like we're gaining ground and on a winning path.

Write it down. Make it official. Ask for a box to be checked and do everything you can to check it.  Creatives get that... and can do that.  Push it too far down the list and you're sure to become distracted and disinterested. Do that, and you're sure to come up with yet another idea that never makes it to the big screen.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

QR Code Design Secret Revealed!

You've probably begun to notice odd UPC-like codes popping up online, in print ads, on posters and even on TV.  They're called QR codes. That's short for "quick response" code... something that Toyota actually invented back in 1994.  The cool part about the codes is that with a simple free iPhone app, your Smart phone can read them — which, in turn, transports you to the web page of your choice.

Although Toyota has the license on this, they have allowed it's free creation and usage at this point in time. Fantastic! So how can you get one for any address you'd like?  Just jump over to the Kaywa site and you'll have your own in about 60 seconds.

But what's the big secret?

Well, as it turns out, all of the little bits and bites of the design of these codes are not necessary. What that means is, is that you can add a few graphic elements to enhance your code and it's recall without affecting the delivery of your web page.  As you can see by the graphic found on Wikipedia, the scan really only needs to read a few key sections of this square.  The rest, is up to your designers to fiddle with. The cool part about that is that you can test its effectiveness instantly. Either you get to the page or your don't.

Need help developing your own?  I just happen to know of a design firm that can produce one for you, starting at $50 a pop.... just scan the code on this page to find out who it possibly could be!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Who really won the Super Bowl?

Check out the ad winners from the game...

Every year, big-budget TV commercials make their appearance during the world's most watched TV event. With 40,000,000 households across the U.S. viewing the game between the Packers and Steelers, advertisers shelled out nearly $3,000,000 for a single 30 second spot. For marketers, the pressure is on to craft an ad that has both lasting power (or buzz) AND produces the desired result - product/awareness/benefit recall from consumers.

So which brands really got some bang for their bucks?

Let's take a look:

Doritos "House Sitting" - A very funny spot that tells us, "Things come to life with Doritos." A product capable of re-incarnation HAS to be good. This gets high marks for product placement, involvement, humor and recall.  A

Pepsi Max's "Love Hurts" - The shock factor on this one helps the humor... a guilty pleasure to see the pain inflicted by his hovering wife.  I can't help but note however, that if the racial roles were reversed, this spot would have never made it on the airwaves.  The line "Zero calories. Maximum taste" clearly resonates. B+

Volkswagen's "The Force" - The most talked about spot (and wonderfully/wordlessly acted by a 6-year old boy in full Darth Vader garb) just cannot seem to muster the Force to animate the world around him... until he meets up with his dad's VW.  A tour de force, if you will, on how a cleverly crafted 60 second spot can be "leaked" online (to date, over 16,000,000 views) prior to the Super Bowl, for everyone to view a 30 second TV spot in game (that's a savings of $3MM). This is how you do it - only thing is, the product benefit of push button start is rather weak and you'll never remember for which vehicle make.  Great for overall VW recall, but not so great for the Passat.  A+ PR  |  A VW  |  C recall

Snicker's "Not Yourself" - The very best spot of last year (Betty White) was remade featuring the winey-ness of Rosanne Barr and Richard Lewis. Only thing is, we know what's coming - and Richard Lewis isn't well-enough known. It was the shock of an old actress getting close-lined last year that made, pardon the pun, such an impact.  This is funny, but not off the charts. Yet, the talk instantly recalls last year's spot as a comparison. I'm sure they thought it was a topper. It wasn't, not even close. But, do you recall that Snickers will pick you up? You bet.  C+ Ad  |  A 1 year-old recall

Chrysler "Imported from Detroit" - The most expensive media buy of the night was this one. A full 2 minutes of cinematic beauty. An Eminem score, with Slim Shady behind the wheel adds to the authenticity. An instant classic on how to address the biggest fears of your potential consumers is to replace their current thoughts with new, more enduring ones. Will folks buy American again from a company that was on it's deathbed?  Time will tell, but this is the bold punch in the mouth that should bring them out from a governmental shadow and into a re-birth of the Lee Iacocca era.  A attitude  |  C- in game placement (Should have paid for the first spot after kick off)

Not sure you agree with these 5 picks? Check out USA Today's Ad Meter to see if your favorites made the list: AD METER.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Politics of the SUPER BOWL?

We took the time to add a little zip to our two favorite pasttimes: football and politics. But, I didn't want to sway the results - just a primer on who to root for if you're angling for a politically correct team - regardless of your politics.

One would think that a classic Super Bowl rivalry match-up between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers would be conservative heaven... but not so fast! The key factors, when broken down, often can tell a different tale.

Take a read of the poster we created and let us know if we didn't hit the perfect mix between conservative and liberal — "liberative," you might say. Just remember, whichever side you choose, cheer loudly and often — it's what our football, and our democracy, was founded upon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

20/20 Brand Vision

You've got to get this right...

Branding is not your logo. Brand strategy is not a marketing plan. Brand vision isn't what others think of you.

Brand Vision is having a clear picture (shared with your employees) as to the company you WILL BE 10 years from now.  That leads you beyond a single product line or a cool new package. It transforms your business into thinking strategically, and not just as a collection of tactics.  You can say "yes" or "no" to new opportunities because you will have a simply defined benchmark from which to judge.

"We'll be the household name in backyard gardening."
"Our products will be synonymous with luxury."
"We will become the most trusted brand in local marketplaces."

No where is there is a "HOW?" That's brand strategy, not vision. But, if you and your team are not in agreement with the larger goal, you will constantly work against each other vying for an uptick in sales off of tactics that are hit-or-miss at best.

Take the second sample above (synonymous with luxury)... were this company offered the opportunity to merge with a larger, but low-price competitor, should they take the deal?  The answer should be, "No."  How could the cut-rate competitor add to their vision? However, if a new product area opened up in a high-end market, should they consider entering it , — even if they don't have much experience? The answer should be, "Yes." They may still not choose to do so, but the exercise remains consistent. 

Think of Apple. iTunes saved it. Apple has stood for "cutting edge technology with stunning aesthetics" in everything they do. They now own music downloads as a by-product of the introduction of an entirely new category. If they only saw themselves as a computer manufacturer, they would have never worked on the R&D of transforming Flash drives into music machines. The scope of the product lines Apple works on are quite diverse, but their brand vision remains true. We all can learn from this - regardless of budget.

So where do you begin? Here's the exercise:

1) Who are you now? In short, how would your typical customer describe you, what you do and what you do for them?
2) What should they be saying about you?
3) What kind of company/brand will you have in a decade? Again, in short, not specifically a marketshare question, but an emotional one.  Who will you be?

Once answered — and they're not easy to answer... you'll be well on your way toward saving your company years of frustration and even more wasted investment.  The more fractured your brand is, the more you have to spend to keep it a float. The cool part is, the more cohesive it is, the farther (whatever money you spend) will go towards achieving your goals.