Tag Archives: agency

The Brand Brief

October 1, 2014 by

Depending upon which study, source, anecdote, or observation you wish to rely, the average American’s attention span averages six to nine seconds. (So the fact that you’re even reading this sentence means you are—rejoice—above average). Whenever this statistic pops up on Twitter or in a TED talk or at Cannes (the advertising festival, not the Gathering of All Things French and/or Clooney), marketing and ad types of a certain stripe work themselves up into seven different kinds of lather. Then, nearly instantaneously, the industry produces an allegedly paradigm-shifting remedy to the public’s increasing need for the new and shiny. After many blogs are written, books promoted, and conferences spoken at, the cycle begins anew.

While I have nothing scientific to refute the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span hypothesis, nor the power to single-handedly stop the bloviating of the self-appointed marketing gurus (or is it ninjas?), I do posit that we—specifically, owners and caretakers of brands—are looking at the wrong side of the coin. The real problem is not that consumers have short attention spans. It’s that we give them so little of interest to look at.

In other words, we’re boring.

Okay, maybe we as people aren’t boring. Maybe our companies or products aren’t boring. Maybe our newest offering even has lasers. Lasers have never been boring. But our marketing too often is. Instead of telling compelling mini-stories that prod a chuckle, jerk a tear, or elicit a smile, we reformat PowerPoint slides to make the most bullet-point-intensive print ad ever. We run Twitter feeds that do nothing but push deals and make occasional-yet-still-self-serving references to winning sports teams. We pore over spreadsheets trying to figure out how many impressions a banner ad will get without giving a second thought to the type of impression it will make.

Boring is never a good adjective nor, unless you’re drilling for shale, a good verb. The only action you can bore someone into is ignoring you; therefore, boredom never equals sales. And if you really want to spend 10 percent of your revenue (the rule-of-thumb for establishing growth-oriented marketing budgets) simply to go unnoticed, I’d recommend saving up for a stealth fighter or passel of ninjas instead of blowing it on an ad campaign. The ninjas, at least, can keep Bob in accounting from absconding with all the donuts.

Too many marketers—and that doesn’t just mean CMOs or ad agency types; if you own a small business, guess what, you’re a marketer—mistakenly believe that an ineffective marketing message does them no harm. But, aside from being an absurd justification for anything, that isn’t always true. Just because a message wasn’t acted upon doesn’t mean it wasn’t seen. Whether stuck in rush hour looking at your billboard, staring at a TV in a sports bar as your commercial interrupts the game, or clicking “skip this ad” (as in yours) on their way to read an online op-ed, people often do witness boring messages. And here’s the rub: While no one remembers boring ads, they never forget how boring your brand is. So a boring campaign not only wastes time and money, it can squander whatever brand equity you already had.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Even a boring product is no excuse for a boring ad. After all, everything serves some relevant purpose to someone. And that’s the key. What is your relevant message? Not the message you want to say, but the message your target might actually care about and respond to. It doesn’t matter if that message is the same one it’s been for the past quarter century—if it’s still relevant, just do it.

So relevance is the foundation of your message. Without it the most interesting piece of information in the world will evaporate seconds after it’s viewed, yet relevance alone does not equal interesting. That is where the artistry comes in. The combination of personality, tone of voice, skillful storytelling, and respect for the audience that keeps people from hitting the triple-speed fast-forward button on their DVRs. Or has them smiling in traffic. Or retweeting 140 characters of something with actual value to them, their followers, and you. Or even reading the copy on your product packaging because it, too, holds their interest.

The good news is that you don’t have to be Apple or Target or Harley-Davidson or Chipotle to pull this off. You do have to put in the effort to define your brand’s core characteristics, hone a personality and voice, and deliver both interesting messages and a great experience. Do this consistently (that’s consistently, not perfectly) and one day you’ll discover your brand—instead of dying the slow death of 10,000 yawns—is championed by the very people who once wouldn’t give it the time of day. Let alone their cash.

Jason Fox is the Executive Creative Director at Webster, a design and advertising agency in Omaha, and the voice behind the popular Twitter feed @leeclowsbeard.

Phenomblue

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Before the introduction of the Dilbertesque cubicle, American commerce was most commonly conducted in wide-open bullpen settings. The typical professional office layout featured what seemed an acre of neatly arrayed desks surrounded on the periphery by private offices for management-level “suits.”

The floor plan of a new space at Aksarben Village may evoke echoes of that rotary dial, clickety-clack-typewriter business era, but Phenomblue isn’t your granddaddy’s Mad Men agency.

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What was once considered the most impersonal of setups is turned upside down at the Omaha-based brand experience agency whose marketing and technology services have attracted such clients as Gogo, Newegg, and Bellevue University.

The old-timey bullpen philosophy has come full circle, says Phenomblue co-founder Joe Olsen, in that it is now taking on new life as an incubator for collaboration.

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“When you start a small business and have only a few employees,” Olsen explains, “everybody just naturally seems to know everything about what is going on. As you get bigger, people begin to become acutely aware that they no longer know everything, and the danger is that a silo mentality can set in. That ‘pockets of activity’ thinking is the very opposite of what made you good in the first place. This design is all about condensing the amount of personal workspace and emphasizing the amount of collaborative workspace. It’s impossible to sit out there in that big room and not overhear and be drawn into most of what’s going on around you.”

Phenomblue co-founder Joe Olsen.

Phenomblue co-founder Joe Olsen.

Innovative thinking begins at the door for the company that also has a satellite office in Los Angeles. The obtuse angles of a raw plywood wall form an anchor for what architect Jeff Dolezal calls the space’s spine-like “armature.” “It’s a vehicle to visually carry you through the space,” clarifies Dolezal, co-founder of TACKarchitects, which designed the space for Phenomblue. The armature meanders through the office—don’t look for many 90-degree angles here—rising gently to a group of huddle rooms before reaching its curvy, sloping terminus, one that to this writer conjures images of a skateboard half pipe.

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Whiteboards sprinkled throughout are some of the few floor-to-ceiling walls to be found in this open, airy office that incorporates huge garage doors for access to both the main conference room and an outdoor area that is steps away from Aksarben Village’s many live-work-play amenities. Skateboards, guitars, and other oddities hang throughout the funky Phenomblue offices. There’s even an edgy bicycle sculpture in a sprawling area dubbed the Community Space, a drop-in site for many of the firm’s clients, associates, and friends.

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Nix that. Not a bicycle sculpture after all. Just a cleverly placed, if utilitarian, bike rack that’s just one of the creative design elements that make this experiential marketing space an experience unto itself.

“Every day, I feel as though I’m walking into a work of art,” says Olsen. “It’s like a living organism that has its own personality. It reinforces with our clients why they come to us in the first place. It’s all about the experience.”

Ervin & Smith

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Executives at Omaha advertising-public relations firm Ervin & Smith say the company’s recent growth and recognition as a top place to work and prosper are by-products of its considered emphasis on staff development.

2012 has seen the firm named one of Omaha’s Best Places to Work by Baird Holm LLP and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and as the Best Place for the Advancement of Women by Baird Holm and the Institute for Career Advancement Needs. Additionally, Ervin & Smith made this year’s Inc. magazine list of the nation’s fastest growing private companies after a 54 percent rise in revenue and significant staff increases from 2008 through 2011.

The agency, which employs more than 50 staffers, was founded in 1983 serving primarily financial services clients. While the financial services segment remains strong with clients like TD Ameritrade and Weitz Funds, the firm’s also made splashes with campaigns for such clients as Catholic Charities of Omaha, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Immanuel Senior Living. Ervin & Smith does business out of its own building at 16934 Frances Street.

“We encourage employees to get involved in community organizations and to serve on boards.” – Heidi Mausbach, vice president for Client Relations

Vice President for Client Relations Heidi Mausbach says one reason the company thrives is it hires people congruent with its mission.

“When we’re hiring, we’re very insistent on people meeting the core values of creativity, resourcefulness, accountability, passion, collaboration, inspiration, and loyalty. It’s resulted in a culture of very like-minded, smart professionals. Everyone here works really well together.”

She says core agency practices support professional advancement.

“We do a lot of leadership luncheons. Managers do one-on-one coaching to provide employees growth opportunities and immediate feedback. We encourage employees to get involved in community organizations and to serve on boards—We really believe that helps fuel not only your passion for work but for things you’re passionate about outside work.”

Heidi Musbach, Vice President, Client Relations, has been with the company for 12 years.

Heidi Mausbach, Vice President for Client Relations

Mausbach says the economic downturn led Ervin & Smith to hone in on itself.

“Rather than focusing on what our clients were doing and worrying about what was going on in the economy, we said, ‘Let’s focus on what we can control—ourselves.’”

Through this introspective process, she says, Ervin & Smith identified its greatest assets as “smart professionals always pushing to the next level and never settling,” adding, “As a result, we’re creating an environment where people love to come to work and enjoy what they do. By focusing on our people, we’re retaining and attracting top talent, and when you have the best talent, you attract like-minded clients.”

Co-founder and Executive Chairman Doug Smith has made the agency a haven for women moving into senior management. Sharon Carleton began as a copywriter there and today is President and CEO. Mausbach’s followed a similar career trajectory.

“I started as Doug and Sharon’s assistant,” Mausbach says, “and they gave me a lot of opportunities, they allowed me take some risks, and as a result, I was able to work my way up. Doug has always looked for people who are experts in what they do and can get results. That’s always been our philosophy. And that’s been my experience growing up in the agency. If you can prove and show performance, it doesn’t really matter your gender, your age, or any of that.”

“We’re creating an environment where people love to come to work and enjoy what they do.” – Mausbach

Carleton says, “We’ve never had a women’s initiative. Instead, we’ve always put in place programs we think will help all our employees. Employees have ideas for the company or a client, and we’re allowed to implement them. Over time, those individual ideas and opportunities have added up to a very supportive environment that both women and men appreciate.”

The firm’s Ms. Smith division has gained cachet as marketing-to-women specialists who consult with clients nationwide.

Carleton says Doug Smith nurtures this women-rising-to-the-top culture.

“Our culture has grown naturally from the foundation built by Doug Smith 30 years ago. I’ve been lucky to have him as my employer, mentor, and friend throughout my career. His generosity and encouragement keeps us positive and focused, pushing all of us to manage thoughtfully and strive for continuous improvement.”

For more information about the company, visit ervinandsmith.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.