June 27th, 2016
We’re Mortar, a San Francisco advertising and branding agency whose mission is to gut punch you in the A-Ha. We’re against the big reveal, for extreme collaboration and married to momentum (that means we move fast, really fast). We’re on the prowl for a Brand Strategist with 2-5 years of experience and a knack for uncovering hidden insights and elucidating big ideas across a wide range of categories (tech, education, healthcare, non-profit, consumer). You have an innate ability to develop unique and inspiring viewpoints. You find connections in strange places. Your first name is energy, your last name is collaboration and in the middle? Wicked smarts. If this sounds like you, read on.
- Develop strong strategic recommendations (business, marketing, brand, creative)
- Unpack big hairy business problems on a daily basis.
- Find and articulate unexpected and provocative insights.
- Develop strategic roadmaps and timelines
- Understand, define and communicate what really matters to audiences.
- Write messaging decks and narrative frameworks. Develop audience-specific messaging.
- Run idea-igniting workshops, brainstorms and briefing sessions.
- Write inspiring creative briefs with gut-punching A-Ha moments and clarifying strategic decisions.
- Develop new business decks and participate actively in the ensuing conversations.
Required skills and experience:
- 2-5 years of hands-on brand strategy/account planning experience. We are also quite interested in client-side marketing, brand management or business consulting experience. We will also consider recent MBA grads.
- A collaborative and integrator spirit. Adept at building relationships and ideas with all kinds of people at multiple levels.
- Experience leading qualitative research of all kinds, from stakeholder interviews to engagement sessions (focus groups, workshops, brainstorms).
- Familiarity with persona design and customer journey mapping
- Comfortable jumping in on the strategic side of projects from start to finish. And often somewhere in the middle.
- Flair for communicating, presenting and advocating for ideas.
- Highly developed writing and storytelling skills.
- Very strong business acumen and strategic thinking (which should go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway).
- Agile, flexible, fast-thinker/doer who thrives in an ever-changing agency environment.
- Experience with quantitative research or design thinking a plus.
To apply for this position, please send your cover letter and résumé to firstname.lastname@example.org. In your cover letter, tell us what makes your strategic mind run and heart tick. We’d also love to see a link to some strategy decks or briefs you created or creative work you inspired or had a hand in.
July 25th, 2016
Yahoo! is going to join AOL in Verizon’s growing stack of web businesses. As one commentator chirped “the 90’s are alive and well at Verizon“. But if you are like me, you will be struck by how uncharitable today’s coverage is of Marissa and her Yahoo turn around.
- She did it. Perhaps the first thing everyone is missing is that Mayer solved the Yahoo problem. Yahoo was going nowhere fast until this morning. Now it has a new lease on life, a parent who understands the future will be mobile and social, and no more pesky, activist VCs. The problems of a looming tax bill for Alibaba’s incredible success appear to go away too (Mayer inherited a 15% stake in Alibaba that is now worth $28 billion—sparking concerns the struggling internet giant would redirect its gains in shoring up Yahoo’s business).
- She netted a $4.8bn price tag for Yahoo… which, yes, was worth $200 billion back in the day. But that day is some 20 years and a Google and Facebook ago. Yahoo has suffered for years because of the mistakes the company made long before Mayer. (Well if you can call failing to buy Google and Facebook a mistake: because to be charitable, there were a lot of companies who dropped that clanger—Apple, IBM, Oracle, Hearst, Rupert Murdoch to name a few). Web businesses age in dog years: in Silicon Valley 20 years is a lifetime.
- And she managed to have three babies in the course of her tenure as CEO. That fact alone should be stirring the voices of support and awe. If we are at all serious about the continued ascendancy of women to the executive branch of our society, Marissa Mayer did arguably more on that front than most.
- She resolved Yahoo!’s identity crisis. Mayer introduced the term MAVENS to describe the company’s focus on advertising sales in mobile, video, native advertising, and social. Yahoo was always a media company. Even from the early days when it was home to a legion of web surfers who individually classified websites by hand (how ridiculous does that sound now?), despite efforts to move it more into the engineering camp, Yahoo was never a software powerhouse. Yahoo started off as a media company and it grew with its culture. Even attracting Terry Semel from Warner Bros, as one of Mayer’s four predecessors. Yahoo is a media company—which means it lives and dies by advertising revenue–and the future of media is mobile and social. Mayer realized that as quickly as her rivals at Google and Facebook. Only she had to drag her company dragging and kicking into the MAVENS age.
- She admirably played her role as the top executive for the Yahoo community. I am reminded by her decision to give the community a voice in the redesign of the Yahoo logo—which she accomplished by survey. But unlike less savvy rivals she did not make the results public—opting instead to thank the community for making their voice known and acknowledging the community did play some role in the final decision. Masterful. Contrast her actions as leader of that community with, say, how well Reddit handled their recent issues and it’s clear that Mayer does know a thing or two about being an incredibly visible and high profile spokesperson for a community that lost its relevance in Silicon Valley years ago. Let’s remember, communities that started hot but come to be regarded as irrelevant tend to be resentful and inwardly-focused (for an example consider my fellow British countrymen’s horrendous decision to allow the fear of immigration to drag them out of the European community). Playing spokesperson for a global group struggling to be sexy and cool again is a tough gig, no matter how you cut it.
So as you review the coverage over the next few weeks, this commentator believes Marissa Mayer deserves a hearty round of applause for solving the hardest problem in marketing: how to turnaround a failing internet brand.
June 9th, 2016
It’s been at least nine months since we announced we would live without the storied Big Reveal (BR)—the final, much anticipated unveiling of a creative solution after weeks of frenzied (and secret) hibernation. A presentation that is supposed to leave clients in awe and the agency bursting with pride.
The Big Reveal is the essential Mad Man moment. And it has been a staple of agency presentations for as long as there have been agencies. And, I suspect (well, actually, I know from experience) it is no more effective now than it was then.
So yes, that’s the process we stood up last summer—choosing instead to forgo a little magic for some back-to-basics communication and partnering. So what happened? Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about life after the Big Reveal:
- You can significantly accelerate creative development, but it hurts. Greater velocity can be achieved if you have the right team, are willing to say yes at the worst possible times, and are comfortable being the agency clients turn to when no one else will touch the job because they’re not ready, willing or able to move at that kind of speed. Mind you these types of jobs have a lot of attractive qualities: they are almost always high priority, interesting and can be wonderfully challenging.
- You need willing clients if you intend to scale at speed: no surprise there. Service businesses like ours rely on vague notions of process and the ability to provide concrete assurances that the solution will be in your inbox tomorrow—even though we know full well that the idea might be hard to come by and we could still be playing peek-a-boo well beyond the delivery deadline. Still, scaling the process so it works across multiple jobs and teams at the same time is undeniably tough. At speed,uncertainty multiplies, pressure builds much more quickly, and the danger of a miss pops-up overnight. On the brighter side, failure after a few days of work is rarely fatal. And clients are much more open to rolling up their sleeves and mucking-in when they feel the agency is as committed as they are to finding a solution quickly.
- It’s a rare client who does not like to look at ideas early and often. But they do exist. And those who prefer the Big Reveal won’t give you their business because life without the Big Reveal is scary. Unpredictable. And unproven. Plus considering ideas “early and often” can sound like hard work. Not every marketing leader is comfortable judging creative or throwing their own ideas into the mix. Seriously, a big prospect recently told me that he didn’t “care for the Mortar process” because it did not resemble the way he had learned to develop and judge marketing. But that’s his prerogative. Mortar-ready clients leap at the chance to review ideas in a rough form, to dig into it with us, put on their creative hats and embrace the chance to fully participate in the riffing of new possibiltles.
- If creative development speeds up, everything else has to too. I never quite appreciated the breather that the Big Reveal gives the entire agency value chain: account, strategy, media, partner and client are much more comfortable delivering quality work over time. BR work can be resourced and scheduled. Changes are easy to accommodate. Projects can move forward in sequence. Life is more predictable. Kick the legs out from under the Big Reveal and everyone has to pick up the pace. Early ideas flare and die quickly. And a positive response is followed by a demand for more details: how will this work? What is your POV on media? How about activation ideas? What are the implications for brand and measurement and the longer term? Just because you have trashed the Big Reveal doesn’t mean you can get away with not knowing. And let’s not forget that saying “yes, we’ll have that for you tomorrow” will often be followed by another, similar fresh request that very same day. Speed can be very addictive, especially when combined with quality. But it can contribute to burn-out.
- Meeting clients’ need for speedy solutions builds confidence quickly and leads to a lot more work. Our clients are at war with one another. A few days saved here quickly translates into competitive advantage there. Good solutions delivered fast are often executed just as promptly. Many of us wish it was otherwise—but it isn’t. The future belongs to the swift. And the swift are onto the next thing by the time the Big Reveal rolls around.
- Expect to change everything else too. Nine months in and we whiteboard more than we ever have. We have developed so many different flavors of brainstorm that we now non-ironically regularly refer to “MortarStorming.” We have ditched the pursuit of a single Big Idea in favor of a combination of identifying a “Strategic Decision” and one, compelling, “A-Ha Moment” (more on those two soon I promise). Oh and we have built a team of fierce collaborators with thick skins and a growing disdain for big agency thinking and process.
So, after all this time, would we go back and snuggle up with the Big Reveal? Not a chance. Won’t you join us?
February 25th, 2016
We have spent many an hour mulling over how to exploit Moore’s Chasm theory.
But many, many more hours cursing the dynamics of the early market.
In particular, we wrestle with early adopters’ infatuation with all things new and their inability to stay loyal to ideas over time.
You see, the first buyers are often visionary in character, attracted by revolutionary change, comfortable with half-baked features and totally cool with the untested, unfinished.
They’re also needy, goal obsessed, and keen to brag. Especially about being the first on the block to grab innovation by the horns and wrestle it into submission.
They will always be among the first to quit.
Visionaries like to jump onto the next big thing. And that can be a problem. The early market is a dynamic, fickle force which can be hard to tame and even harder to keep caged.
Here are five things about the early market most overlook:
- The early market is always in the minority. If you talk to 100 people about your new product, only 10 will say it’s awesome. 90 will tell you it sucks. Or worse, they won’t even know it’s there. 90% rejection is hardly compelling evidence that you’re onto something.
- People who sell to the early market are rarely comfortable selling to the early market. Your team, those stalwarts who have chosen to join you on the front line of change, they too are surrounded by doubters and skeptics. So is your Board. And your investors. They want guarantees. Or at least promises. They will all push you to go for the money. Now. And the money lies in the fattest part of the Bell Curve with the elusive majority. So why aren’t you selling there now? Moore urges caution and the need to establish a beachhead first. But to do that is to sit back while someone else exploits the fat found in the middle of the herd!
- The early market is way different from the late market. To find where you are on the curve, it’s important to understand the differences between the two groups. Somewhere in your product’s journey to success is a gap. It lies between the radicalized, crazy, fanatical first-customers and their more prudent, careful, and risk-averse brethren. Pragmatists don’t trust visionaries. They think visionaries are crazy. And pragmatists bore visionaries with their endless prattling about avoiding risk and loading up your product with check-box features. Yet, significant numbers of pragmatists have to be swayed by visionaries for an idea to root and blossom.
- The traffic moves in one direction: from left to right, early to late. Ideas move from new to old. They are birthed. They grow. Mature. And eventually pass into the mainstream. And after a while they wither and die. The point here is that they rarely pass from mature to death and back to sexy again. Which means it can be hard for a new idea to retrace its steps, especially when the gloss has worn off.
- Your industry is not any different. Don’t fight the theory, embrace it. We have been teaching diffusion theory since Rogers first published Diffusion of Innovations in 1962 (check this out). It’s hardly a new idea or a novel expression of market development. The principles are tried and tested. Sure you can break into a market by penetrating the middle: but it takes a lot of money. That’s why so many Super Bowl advertisers are major, established brands — Coke, Pepsi, Jeep, Bud — and why so few companies trust debuting a novel idea in a $3 million commercial. So if you are outside the mainstream, you can gain a significant advantage by embracing the lessons of market adoption theory and watching your own customers for the telling signs of quivering, flighty pioneerdom. And even find ways to cross the chasm to that big, fat majority market. But more on that in another piece.
That’s how we see it. Join the conversation. #whatifmortar
February 24th, 2016
We’ve been having all sorts of discussions about simplicity recently. So we thought we’d briefly revisit our simplest campaign, which also happened to be one of our most successful.
Isilon’s Simple is Smart: