Category: Case Studies
July 30th, 2016

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

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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:

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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.

November 3rd, 2014

Mortar + Tyra Banks: What Happens When Two Badasses Collide.

Tyra Banks is a whole lot more than just the creator of the Smize. She’s the world’s most influential supermodel and super-businesswoman. And when it comes to social media, Tyra is the boss. From fierce-faced selfies to clever quips, Tyra shares with her fans nonstop, and they love every second of it. If you need proof, just scan the daily comments from her 31 million plus followers.

Mortar recently partnered with the superwoman to bring her new cosmetics brand, TYRA beauty, to life. Because one of her core messages is to give people the power to be the CEO of their lives, Tyra developed her business as a direct selling model where the products are sold by independent contractors that she calls ‘Beautytainers.’ And when it came to brand personality, ordinary wouldn’t cut it: she wanted to zag where the beauty industry would zig. If there’s one thing to know about Mortar, it’s that we love to turn ideas on their heads—which made us and Tyra the perfect partners in crime.

Our task was to turn this layered narrative into a cohesive strategy that would captivate the world. Challenge accepted. Turning complex messages into a compelling story is, like, totes our thing. We began by developing a brand mantra that would serve as the TYRA beauty rallying cry:

Beauty. Business. Badassery.

We knew the TYRA beauty brand needed to be as loud and fierce as Tyra herself. And “badassery” was a word that Tyra could truly own—it gave her the power to carve out and own a space in the crowded world of cosmetics. From there, we crafted a crisp positioning statement and a smart, confident tone of voice that would inform every facet of the TYRA beauty brand.

Our work for Tyra sparked a social media shockwave: 292,165 likes, 15,040 comments, and 3,831 shares, for total engagement of 843,164. It even got the attention of major celebs: Alicia Keys, Russell Simmons, Ivanka Trump, and Karlie Kloss, just to name a few. (Yo, Russ, let us know where we should send our hip hop demo tape. We’re basically the next Jay-Z.)

And not surprisingly, we got plenty o’ love from TyTy herself.

Tyra came to us looking for badass, and we brought it. Though we’re still looking to her to help us finesse our booty tooch.

April 30th, 2014

Why Can’t Every Problem Be Solved By a Bulldog in a Hawaiian Shirt?

At Mortar, getting a number wrong usually results in us trying to order a pizza from a dry cleaner at 2 a.m. But for healthcare providers like Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, the ramifications are much more serious – after all, 50ccs of a medication is a far cry from 15.

Taking basic steps, like saying “one-five instead of 15” makes a surprisingly huge difference. And that’s just one of the techniques that can be used in the hospital to eliminate preventable harm.

The question is, how do you communicate these somewhat mundane-yet-crucial rules to staff in a way they’ll pay attention to (after all, these are some of the brightest and busiest doctors and nurses in the field) while staying consistent with the warmth and care you’d expect from a children’s hospital?

Our answer: Punimals!

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Pairing adorable bespoke animal illustrations with equally adorable and punny headlines allowed us to communicate life-saving information in a manner people wanted to engage with. And, we gave employees plenty of opportunities for doing just that – through posters, mouse pads, training cards, magnets, screensavers and even direct mail postcards sent to employees’ homes.

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Saving lives and keeping children healthy was clearly the most important goal of the campaign, but we have to admit to grinning when we heard people were going out of their way to collect all 10 characters. Now, if only that dry cleaner would arrive with our deep dish pie.

March 22nd, 2013

Unexpected Solar Eclipse? Or Eat24 and Snoop Lion’s Giant, Billowing Cloud Of Awesome?

What’s going on? Is this a giant, unexpected solar eclipse? Were the Mayans right after all? Oh. No. Wait. It’s just Eat24’s giant cojones, blocking out the sun. Taking the D.I.Y. ethos to new heights, they just decided to show up at SXSW with a giant bag of weed and a camera and oh, hey, is that Snoop Lion? Yes. Yes it is.

 

Snoop gets familiar with the Eat24 App. And guess who is now the Official Sponsor of Snoop’s (quite likely prodigious) Munchies? It’s perhaps the greatest product demonstration since the old Master Lock ad from the 1970’s. Well done.

August 22nd, 2012

Putting The Awesome In Your Dog – Part 1.

Ever heard that saying: “It’s not the size of the dog in the incredibly bizarre-yet-awesome fight, it’s the amount of incredibly bizarre-yet-awesome in the dog?”

Probably not, because we just made it up.

But the point is this: If your budget is smaller than the other guy’s, you’d better make more interesting conversation. Not just some of the time. All of the time. If you give up? If you try to sound cool in your advertising, but the rest of your customers’ interactions with you are robotic and money-grubbing? The effect is this:  Your customer is at a party, chatting up an attractive someone, the happy couple steps outside for some air, and suddenly that quiet-yet-fascinating discussion of Epictetus becomes GOOD DAY SIR-OR-MADAM CAN WE INTEREST YOU IN LOW-LOW ZERO-DOWN-WITH-APPROVED-CREDIT CASH-BACK FINANCING?

Which is painful and weird. As opposed to good-weird. Good-weird is more like this:

*So, wait. We have to come up with some clever Fine Print? It’s closing in on feeding time and we’re having a hard time thinking good. Wait, good? Or is it well? We can’t remember no grammar now cuz food hunger is taking over part of body that word ideas come from. Oh look at cat! Cat is pretty. Want food, but can’t get until Fine Print is over. OK: You have to be an Eat24 member to use the $3 Coupon Code. If you’re not a member you can sign up in seconds. Also you can only use it at restaurants that accept Coupon Codes (but don’t worry, there are over 20,000 of them) and you must pay with a Credit card or PayPal. Also, don’t try to pull a fast one and just order chips and salsa. C’mon, they give that away for free at restaurants. Be a man (or a woah-man) and order a damn burrito. Any order of $10 or more will do, because that’s the order minimum. Finally, the Coupon Code can only be used once and will expire the 19th of August at Midnight PST. Good job, brain. Now shut up until food gets here. (Our brain, not your brain. Your brain can talk all it wants because we love the sound of your voice. It’s like a combination of Barry White and a thousand kittens purring).”

That’s a sample of fine print from an Eat24 email coupon.  Fine print. From an email coupon.

Fine print from an email coupon that mentions Barry White and a thousand kittens purring.

Why doesn’t all fine print mention Barry White and a thousand kittens purring? Wouldn’t you read more fine print if it had more stuff like that? (Did we just answer our own question?) Let’s take things one step further: If Eat24 is going to put goodness like Barry White and a thousand kittens purring in the fine print, they must want you to read the fine print, right? But that’s weird because fine print is the marketing communications equivalent of the swamps of Jersey, right? It’s where the bodies are buried, right? But if Eat24 wants readers to read it, that must mean Eat24 is lovable on the inside, too! You know what else it means? It means you should read everything Eat24 sends you, because who knows, in the middle of their legalese they might start rambling about Barry White and purring kittens.   This is science, people. This is irrefutable fact.

And what did this little exercise in Always Sounding Like Us cost? Zero. Pain-and-suffering incurred? None. Love-beyond-reason engendered? Plenty.

Now.

This is a picture of a rainbow having a nicotine fit. It has almost nothing to do with our conversation except, it’s random and fun. It made your day a little better. (That rainbow smokes too much and just throws the butts wherever. Rude.)

Which brings us to this:

Also random. Also fun. Also makes your day a little better. Even if it doesn’t really have a purpose. Even if it doesn’t really tell your fortune. And you know what? That cookie is stomping the terra firma. Likes. Shares. Retweets. Calls from our mothers. (Which we should probably return. Eeesh. We’re bad people. But we digress.)

It’s just a simple little conversational piece, appearing in a slightly unexpected place. Which is so Eat24. That’s their voice. Not some of the time. All of the time. Their customers love it. They expect it. They participate in it. And that’s why Eat24 is able to generate love beyond reason. That’s the bizarre that puts the awesome in their dog. That’s how a little startup with no VC funding is able to scare the hell out of the big boys. Because an intelligent conversation has the power to generate greater sales, more economically achieved.

Which is the reason we got into this business.

We do what we do the way we do it because we believe this in our bones: It does not require more money, or more meetings, or more buzzwords to sell well. It requires common sense, good manners and a sense of humor. It requires convincing your audience that you do what you do because you love doing it, not because you love money.

So while Eat24’s bigger, more well-funded competitors are quite likely sitting in a meeting, staring at a 120-slide PowerPoint detailing last week’s trendlines, Eat24 is having human conversations with their customers. Also, a freakin’ blast. Speaking of which – Mortar is proud to present “Food Truck In Your Pants,” the first of a whole slew of new Eat24 broadcast spots, breaking now.

 

It’s like we always* say: It’s not the size of the dog in the incredibly bizarre-yet-awesome fight, it’s the amount of incredibly bizarre-yet-awesome in the dog. But tell us what you think. After all, this is a conversation.

 

P.S. If you don’t live in Los Angeles and you’d like to see this and many other fine new Mortar-produced Eat24 spots on your tee-vee, let ’em know via Twitter @Eat24.

 

*At least since 11:30 this morning.