June 9th, 2016

Life after the Big Reveal: A progress report

Life after BR

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

It sucks to be new: 5 secrets of selling in the early market.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 5.23.37 AM

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.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

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

A A-ha Moment in Storage: Simple is Smart

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:

Mortar Isilon 3

Mortar Isilon 4

Mortar Isilon 5 Mortar Isilon 6Mortar Isilon 2

Mortar Isilon 7

Mortar Isilon 1

Simple right?

February 11th, 2016

How you too can create billions with your B2B messaging

(SPOILER ALERT: business buyers are human too)

B2B messaging

Prick a business buyer, do they not bleed? Tickle them, do they not laugh? Poison them, do they not die? To further bastardize the Bard, if we are like them in the rest, we resemble them in this too.

When EMC bought Isilon for over $2bn, I quickly realized we had lost yet another promising client to legacy business. But cutting two more billion dollar notches into Mortar’s counting stick was nevertheless very satisfying. See the work here.

B2B marketers take note: if you too want to make billions, a great place to start is by framing your messaging as an appeal to human nature. 

It helped us shape the creation of some $16 billion in value since 2003. It will work for you too.

Here’s a three-step approach to more human-factored business communication:

1. Decide who: Your target is of flesh and blood. Emotion, gut and desire drive purchasing decisions, not job titles. So remember to understand your audience’s Psychographic profile.

Consider how well you know your target audience? What keeps them up at night. What gets them going? Are they early adopters, or of the more pragmatic mindset?

[Tip: there is no better way to profile customers than to talk to them -Ed].

2. Decide your value: Now that you know who is in your sights, you can decide what you can offer them.

Your Value Proposition should speak to what they truly want (and wants always trump needs).

An effective value proposition explains how only your product solves their problem and promises added value.

Ask yourself: What do customers get from you that others can’t provide? How you define your audience will give you clues for crafting your value proposition. But you will still need to decide what to emphasize. Even though your value proposition will likely change as the market matures and the product becomes more widely understood, maintaining differentiation requires choices and focus.

And the dirty little secret about focus is it means that only some people are in the tent while most are not. 

3. Give them three Careabouts. We like our things in threes. Threes are easy to remember. Easy to use. And necessarily focused.

So give your target three things to expect of your offering—three powerful whys.

Boil them down like this: An IT storage customer needs a quick and easy way to scale capacity. So point out how simple the solution is. Many will prefer a system that is available in seconds and can can be managed from a control-line. So say it’s smart too. And finally, big storage customers will need assurance their system is designed to support mission-critical applications. So point out it can be trusted. The three things your customers care about might be Simple, Smart and Trusted.

These simple, but effective steps can be brought together in a messaging house. Ready to be blessed and put into action by marketing, sales and partners.

Sometimes it can be more fun to think inside a box (house). Here’s an example:

Mouse House image

That’s how we see it. Let us know your thoughts. Join the conversation #whatifmortar.

January 20th, 2016

What if collaboration didn’t mean winging it?

Six Thinking Hats

Here’s our simplest and soundest way to bang heads effectively.

For the past few months we have been writing about the perils of the Big Reveal and more effective ways to include clients in the creative process. Many of you, dear readers, have asked for help doing just that. So we thought we would share our favorite collaboration method: DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats.

The Six Thinking Hats, One Straightforward Goal

What: The Greeks taught us to debate issues by attacking one another’s ideas, so that only the strongest survive. But there are plenty of other ways to debate ideas. Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats brainstorming technique is both simple and astonishing. By, separating thinking into six dimensions or perspectives— the metaphorical “hats” — groups can be aligned to explore and vet alternative ideas in a non-confrontational, structured manner.  And like most of our favorite brainstorming techniques, it can be deployed quickly. Plus you get to wear hats. Which is always good.

When: Six Thinking Hats works best with a well defined idea/question to explore. You need a starting point that the group can agree on, otherwise you’ll quickly descend into a maelstrom of “I think we’re wasting our time here.”

Who: Groups of four to 12 are ideal.

How: Carefully sequenced and structured collective thinking. The team considers the idea/problem from the same perspective and at the same time. [Great hatters capture all the goodness on a whiteboard-Ed].

We suggest you move the group through the hats in this order:

Blue Hat: The moderator’s hat. What the Blue Hat says, goes. The moderator organizes the session, sets the agenda, captures insights and enforces the code of the hats. The blue hat starts the session and explains the rules. This is the only hat worn by a single person, who will remain the moderator throughout the session.

White Hat: The fact hat. What are the plain, simple and undeniable facts about the problem at hand? White Hat thinking is often easy and fast (but it can be hard to keep speculation out). Stick to the facts and only the facts. Facts set the foundation for the later stages of informed thinking. Good White Hat questions include: What do we know is true about X? How big is X? How much does X cost? How many customers does X have?

Red Hat: The emotional hat asks “How do we feel about the issue?” Giving participants permission to share their emotions about a subject is illuminating. It has the added bonus of removing anxiety by validating opinions. Be sure everyone has a chance to wear the Red Hat and give voice to their feelings. Ask participants to share why they feel the way they do.

Black Hat: The negative hat. Black Hat thinking asks, “What is wrong with this idea?” Black Hat thinking frees the group to indulge their dark side and revel in unfettered pessimism. What could go wrong? Why won’t it work? Why bother? Empty the issues and challenges out on to the whiteboard for all to see. Don’t worry about obsessive Black Hat thinking scuttling the entire process. The group needs to work through negativity to see the light.

Yellow Hat: The sunny hat. The Yellow Hat asks, “What makes the idea great and why will it work?” This hat  encourages a positive disposition by allowing the group to focus on benefits and positive impact. If you spend 10 minutes in Black Hat thinking try and spend 15 here. Capture all the good things onto the board.

Green Hat: The “Then what happens?” hat. Closing a Six Hats session with the most optimistic of all the hats leaves participants with a strong sense of possibility. Green Hat thinkers look to the future: If we introduce X what will happen next? What are the implications of this move and how will it change the world?

Next Steps: Close the session by reviewing the whiteboard and asking the group to highlight what they found stimulating or surprising. Take a snap of the whiteboard and send it to participants.

Last words: Wearing real hats makes it infinitely more merry.

To get through everyone’s ideas you’ll need at least 5 minutes per hat (anything less than 60 minutes overall is unsatisfying).

Fancy managing your own Six Thinking Hats session?  Download handy guide here. There’s more on the creator of the hats, Dr. Edward DeBono, here.

Follow our “What If” series and join the #WhatIfMortar conversation.