Category: Branding
January 17th, 2017

A-ha Moments: What They Are and Why They Matter Now. Our New Website is Here.

Advertising Agency offers A-ha

Careful Mortar watchers (that’d be both of you, so listen up) will have caught the stealthy launch of the new Mortar website on the very last day of 2016.

Now I realize this will come as a shock to the rest of you, but THERE IS A NEW MORTAR WEBSITE! THE BACON IS GONE.

We’ve replaced the pile of pork with a simple insight: most of the time small ideas beat big. And marketers still don’t spend enough time aiming at the emotional impact they want to have on their customers.

Now why would this be?

  1. We forget our job is to amaze and delight. There’s a lot to say about our companies, our products, our vision, and our contribution to the planet. So much that we forget we actually want people to buy our thing. And for that to happen we must first get their attention. The simple pressure of communicating what’s important to us overwhelms our need to prick the needle of delight.
  2. People don’t actually buy ideas until late in the funnel. At first they buy delight. Joy. Fun. Awesome. A client of ours spent hundreds of thousands and months researching why people came to her organization only to find that her customers were looking for fun. Fun? Not an educational experience? Or a new perspective? Or to be a better citizen. Just a plain old great way to kill a few hours and giggle. You see, great marketing promises a result. If you haven’t defined how you want people to react when they hear of you then you are not ready to go to market. (Doubt me? Dig out a recent agency brief and scour it for something resembling the A-ha Moment you want your customers to experience).
  3. Small is easier and simpler than Big. Big is bold. Big is dramatic. Big costs money and time. Big requires hard thinking, consensus, commitment and a willingness to change. Big is thus hard. For most, Big is simply too hard. Small? Small is easy to find. Easy to execute. Easy to change. Easy to replicate. Easy to test and adjust. And Small is not hard on a CEO who changes his mind, like, well, every week. (Which BTW is most of us now.) Nevertheless the right small idea can have immense power (hello Uber, who spun a small app into a revolution in global transportation).

For many of us, the future is about finding and exploiting A-ha Moments. We’ve gathered some of our best A-ha Moments on our new site. Take a look and see if you might benefit from thinking smaller in 2017.

October 2nd, 2016

Why Millennials don’t buy: and what Marketers can do about it.

5 tips for marketing to millennials

More Mortar clients are complaining about selling to Millennials. And that got me wondering: what do the pundits have to offer on how to approach today’s Millennial?

Unlike previous generations, Millennials grew up with the promise of instant and frictionless access to information and one another.  As a result, they are more likely to think differently about what it means to “own” something. Writing in Fast Company, Josh Allan Dykstra writes that “this new attitude toward ownership is occurring everywhere, and once we recognize this change, we can leverage it. Instead of kicking against the wave (which is the tendency of many institutions and leaders), we can help our organizations thrive in this strange new marketplace by going with the flow and embracing the death of ownership”.

Look, Dykstra emphasizes, ownership just isn’t hard anymore: “We can now find and own practically anything we want, at any time. Because of this, the balance between supply and demand has been altered, and the value has shifted”.

We know the experience of acquisition matters a lot to us now, and this is especially true of Millennials: How we find out about and buy a product can be as important as what we actually do with it. For example, just consider how much time the modern marketing suite now spends in user experience discussions. Indeed for some eco-conscious customers what we do after we own a product can also be pivotal (like how do we dispose of all that ugly packaging that comes with every Amazon delivery?).

Facebook reminds us that experience is additionally powerful because of how it connects us to others. Our purchases have greater impact because we can perhaps do something worthwhile, tell others about it, and have it say something meaningful about us and our motivations. 

Our newest customers, then, approach ownership differently, encourage us to think beyond purchase through to the act of use, and what the conversation might be around our product and the experience we provide.

Here are five of the more obvious ways Millennials buy differently—along with some tips on what Marketers might be able to do to take advantage of the change:

1. Millennials are more likely to buy things because of what it says about them.

The product or service we deliver can help people do something significant that goes beyond actual use. Method, Seventh Generation, ZipCar, Southwest Airlines have all built brands around a superior and differentiated view of what their customer wants. Action: Make sure you tell your customers what their purchase actually says about them: look for ways to connect your product to something they will find meaningful and compelling. Mortar’s repositioning of Fair Trade USA leveraged this insight with “Every Purchase Matters” tagline.

2. Millennials buy things because of what they can tell others about it.

Of course there’s a social piece to owning something that is ever more vibrant. The joy isn’t all in the having it is in the sharing. When we share something we like with others we create a bond that is meaningful—and “the goodwill created in that moment expands to encompass our brand and our business in general”. Action: Start to think of your employees, their families, your customers, commentators, prospects and maybe even rivals, as a community of like-minded people coming together to achieve something new and important. Tell prospects more about what their purchase could say about their work and their position in the community. Give your community more opportunities to share the news of their finds. And be responsive to feedback. Witness Mortar’s client Chef Software leverages community to spread the power of increased automation in IT..

3. Millennials are more apparent about their values.

Millennials are very open about how their values shape behavior.  As Dykstra indicates this maybe “explains why so many Millennials are moving to Urban areas. Although it is tempting to see the return to the cities as anti-car, instead, it could be more about all the other things a “non-car life” represents: it helps Millennials be more environmentally conscious, socially aware, and local. This distinction of purpose may seem nuanced, but motivation is a powerful differentiator (perhaps one of the most powerful)”. Action: Understand the values that drive your audience. Connect people to something bigger than themselves through your product or service. Our work for San Francisco’s famed Exploratorium museum is obviously designed to help its community enjoy learning about their environment with a special emphasis on science, but not so clear–but nevertheless critical–is the hidden appeal to building an informed citizenry through increased engagement. 

4. Millennials hate to wait.

We all hate to wait. But Millennials have grown up in an age of abundant choice and easy switching. Waiting for them is not just a chore it is an offense and an indication you just don’t care. Action: Take a look at how you engage with your customers and prospects and implement new tools that will enable you to message customers when they are on your website, respond in real-time to questions. Be flexible and authentic with your responses. Wired indicates that more than 50% of customers will abandon their cart on the spot if they can’t get a question answered immediately.

5. Millennials love to shop on their smartphone.

Mobile is the platform of choice for most of us, and this is certainly true of Millennials. Indeed, pundits point out that Millennials just aren’t using their desktop computers as much. And they are not alone: how many of us grasp our iPhone’s like our lives depend on them? Action: make sure your mobile experience is awesome.

As Toffler warned in Future Shock, technology disruption happens fast—but it takes society a long time to catch up and adjust to changes in behavior. Amidst all the concern about selling to young buyers lurks an incredible opportunity to differentiate and grow. Don’t be one of those leaders who thinks they can thrive by ignoring the fastest growing part of their market

* Picture credit from Fast Company.
July 30th, 2016

Decisions, decisions. What Marketers can learn from Pokemon Go, Katie Couric, and the bacon-cheese log of vacations.

mortar_ahamoment

Since 2002 Mortar has been a big idea agency. But no more. We have decided to change.

Read on for why you might want to join us.

Until this year we believed the essential elements of a project should be condensed onto a single page. Each of the briefs we developed were organized around a bold and inspiring big idea.

The big idea was Mortar’s launching pad for iteration and creative thinking.  (Read more here).

In 2016, we replaced the big idea with two steps: a strategic marketing decision (SMD) and an A-ha moment. This article deals with the SMD, I’ll publish on the A-ha soon.

Instead of arguing to a big idea we make a big decision about how to market. To decide what we will do differently this time. To articulate how the message should change because the way we see the world—and the client’s customer community—has also shifted.

Introducing Strategic Marketing Decisions

We call them strategic marketing decisions (SMD). Making one can be a lot harder than it sounds.

For example, let’s take the problem that plagues Yahoo: is the massive internet property a media or a software company?

If it is a media company, then content production and delivery should be its priority. Hiring Katie Couric, buying Tumblr, paying big money to stream the NFL, these are all moves in the right direction. And they contribute to Yahoo’s unique value.

But what about engineering new forms of engagement?

Take say, Pokemon Go’s innovative use of augmented reality (AR). Pokemon Go is a game. It is an app. But it is also an engineering marvel. By smart use of AR, geolocation, and a sprinkling of inspired game theory, Go’s engineering team created a new form of participatory entertainment.

You just don’t get that type of engineering from a media company, you have to be all in on being a software company.

To walk through one door is to decide not to walk through another. In marketing it is never wise to be all things to all people. Effective marketing requires focus. Focus requires choices and decisions. Many argue that Yahoo failed to prosper because it failed to decide one way or another: and the lack of clarity sapped the company of vital energy, spurring multiple failed investments and inexplicable changes in direction.

What makes a decision a Strategic Marketing Decision?

The BBC defines strategic decisions as “long term, complex decisions made by senior management. These decisions will affect the entire direction of the firm”.

At Mortar, Strategic Marketing Decisions, are decisions that impact the direction of, well, marketing.  But they need not be long-term. Just clear and wide-ranging. Like deciding to act like a leader. Or to line up behind a new vision. Or to take a position quite unlike a rival. SMDs are decisions, about marketing, that have important implications.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review Phil Rosenzweig in “What makes strategic decisions different?” describes the basic types of decision. Here’s how they apply to the SMD:

strategic marekting decision

1. Choice

Making a choice can be a strategic move. Many an organization is plagued by its inability to choose—and thus find its focus. Just by clarifying the need for a decision we can often find a new way forward.

Take Vancouver-based Westport Innovations as a example. When Westport came to Mortar they described themselves as “a Canadian IP company”. We very nearly hung up. But after visiting them we realized Westport was, more than anything else, a natural gas engine company. Oh sure they did a host of other things—like make small engine parts and work with other forms of fuel like Hydrogen—but the heart of engine maker thumped at Westport’s core. By making the strategic marketing choice to focus messaging around natural gas engines they could turbocharge the way they talked about themselves and their mission.

2. Inspirational Vision.

“In so much of life, we use our energy and talents to make things happen. Imagine that the task at hand is to determine how long we will need to complete a project. That’s a judgment we can control; indeed, it’s up to us to get the project done. Here, positive thinking matters. By believing we can do well, perhaps even holding a level of confidence that is by some definitions a bit excessive, we can often improve performance.” (Rosenzweig).

In marketing, a decision to make something happen can also be strategic.

By suggesting that a trip to the city of Reno is actually a visit to the Reno/Tahoe area, we remind travelers to the big blue lake that the joys of the bacon-wrapped cheese log of vacations is just minutes away. An example of positive thinking influencing outcomes if ever there was one.

Planting a flag on the hill as a symbol for all to follow can be an inspiring move, and work to spur creativity.

3. Betting.

“The best decisions must anticipate the moves of rivals. That’s the essence of strategic thinking, which [we can] define as “the art of outdoing an adversary, knowing that the adversary is trying to do the same to you.” (Rosenzweig).

Deciding which way the game will go can also be a candidate for a strategic decision about marketing.

A lot of what we decide is based on what we think a rival will do. Strategic decisions based on reading a rival’s tea leaves are wonderful raw material for marketing.

In marketing, deciding to decide can make the difference between success and failure. Watch for my next post: the A-ha moment that follows from the SMD.

July 25th, 2016

5 things today’s news misses about Yahoo! and Marissa Mayer

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, file photo, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, listens during the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. Yahoo showed more signs of progress during the fourth quarter of 2012m, as the Internet company took advantage of higher ad prices and rising earnings from its international investments to deliver numbers that exceeded analyst forecasts. The results announced Monday, Jan 28, 2013, covered Yahoo's first full quarter under Mayer. (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)

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.

  1. 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). 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Bravo, Marissa.

April 30th, 2015

Moon Jellies. Mermen. And Other Reasons to Love the Ocean.

The last time you kicked back on a white sand beach, or savored a piece of grilled sea bass on orzo, did you thank the ocean? Better yet, have you ever thought about who looks out for this massive natural resource that covers 71% of our planet’s surface? As powerful as it is, the ocean can’t speak up for itself. Fortunately, there are a few people who work for the health of our incredible seas. (Just for the record, mermen are real. Most of them live in Florida.)

 

Oceans_Computer

There are three main players in this game: 1) government, 2) the community (fishermen, scuba divers, and people who own homes on the coast), and 3) science (more specifically, academia). The California Ocean Science Trust plays outside the bounds, connecting all these folks: They provide timely, useful, and reliable science that helps people make informed decisions about the ocean’s future.

It’s a highly specialized and important role, because groups often attempt to skew research in favor of their own agenda. Ocean Science Trust restores trust in the scientific process—ensuring integrity, accuracy, and impartiality. Unfortunately, their former brand identity didn’t exactly scream these qualities.

So we got to work, starting with the logo. What Ocean Science Trust does is pretty complex, so our main goal was to simplify. We used three rings to represent government, science, and community, making them organic and fluid to reflect the ocean’s movement. The typography, inspired by old school science textbooks, conveys an air of established authority.

CalOst_Logos

Next, we tackled the website. Simplicity and serenity was our aim here as well. Shades of deep blue and soft coral evoke the sea, warm sunsets, and colorful marine life. We also revised the key messaging, infusing it with a crisp, inviting, and energetic voice. Bonus points if you noticed the header at the top of the page noting the current date and time. Since data is at the core of Ocean Science Trust’s work, we programmed the homepage image to change with the time of day: at morning, daytime, and nighttime. Watch the demo below, or visit the site yourself.

 

 

By clarifying Ocean Science Trust’s story, and making it much more enjoyable to look at, hopefully we’ve enticed more people to think about who’s working for the ocean—and whether enough is being done to protect its health. Next time you’re skinny dipping in the Pacific at midnight, think about your friends at Mortar. Or maybe don’t, cause that sounds a little creepy.