Category: Collaboration Methods
July 25th, 2018

Facing agency speed issues? Let’s cut to the quick.

Look, most agencies aren’t slow by choice.

In fact, internal politics or scheduling challenges on the client side are often the greatest hindrance to a speedy process.

But the creative development phase can slow to a crawl for many other reasons. If you are facing agency speed issues, here are five things you can do to put more oomph back into your creative relationship.

  1. Streamline the briefing process. You can spend months gathering the right data, researching the issue with customers and prospects, discussing possibilities with team members and influencers, and running briefing documents up and down the chain. Or you can accelerate the process by getting the key players, which includes the agency’s creative team, into a room and white boarding the problem, as well as potential solutions, on day one. Brainstorming on opening day will focus the team on solving the problem—and can turbo charge creative development as long as the principals are open to entertaining new ideas early in the process (fair warning, not every agency or client team can handle sudden changes in creative velocity).

  2. Focus on what makes you different. The most important part of any marketing success is deciding on how you will be different. Providing a litany of your products features and benefits is not being different.  Adopting a tactic that a rival has used is a fail. Difference is born of study, discussion and an in-depth understanding of customer need. If it’s not different, don’t do it. If a rival zigs, you should zag (not zig harder). Difference is the force multiplier that will get you a meeting when others are frozen out. Difference sets proposals apart, gets Sales excited, fuels referral and drives premium prices. Difference is often hard to define, but difference can’t be skipped or faked. Agency briefings can be radically shortened by focusing everyone on this one, key area. Try it: ask your team to define how you are different—and see if the answer is crisp, actionable or a mumbled incoherency.

  3. Look at ideas early and often. Approval cycles eat up huge amounts of time, energy and, handled poorly, threaten to weaken strong ideas. A lengthy round of approvals inevitably leads to revisions, and successive rounds of revision can weaken concepts and undermine confidence in the process. Approvals are both a necessity and a road block. So short-circuit the process by asking to see ideas early and often. Most good ideas can be effectively assessed in a draft stage. And putting those new ideas in front of decision makers early-on can provide valuable clues about the shape of the final idea. Don’t wait for the idea to be perfect before seeking buy-in and approval.

  4. Keep the same team. Introduce new players to creative development mid-process at your own peril. New players often reset the clock. There is something about marketing that encourages individual interpretation and endless rounds of comment and change. Good ideas do not change well. The best way to avoid the pitfalls of endless approvals is to identify the core team and have them present from the first briefing. And then insist they stick with you through the process. And, if you can, insulate yourself against feedback at the beginning of the process by getting alignment on team members, your power to secure approval, and the importance of streamlining approvals.

  5. Avoid the Big Reveal (aka Think Small). Agencies love the Big Reveal: the moment when, after weeks of deliberation and frenzied activity, the agency makes its BIG PITCH. We call it the Big Reveal, and honest agency folk admit that it fails more than twice as often as it succeeds. Not landing a big idea presentation eats up time. And money. And worse, because expectations have run up in anticipation of the grand solution, a Big Reveal fail also saps confidence in the agency and the Marketing team. But thankfully, the digital age allows us to think differently. We’ve always been able to generate multiple ideas from the same creative brief. And now those same “small ideas” can be quickly executed and tested online. Which means decisions can be based on immediate feedback from our target audience. Smaller ideas are easier to conceive, easier to sell, easier to execute and test, and yes, much much easier to flight. Approving a series of small ideas is a quick way to identify the right idea, and a wonderfully streamlined way to get to market.

Of course your problem may be you are working with the wrong type of agency. In which case might we whole-heartedly recommend these guys?

June 28th, 2018

Why tears are good for velocity.

My dear reader I can tell you without reservation that we do not make enough time for feelings in Marketing.  Even though feelings, not logic, are the secret to great marketing.

We buy most things because they make us feel good.

Oh, when pressed we muster up all kinds of malarkey designed to justify our actions and hide our capricious nature from view. Our customers are no different. Even hard core business buyers are heavily influenced by perception and awareness. Which is why big brands invest so heavily in awareness studies (only to flail around trying to tie changes in influence to sales patterns).

Engineers are the absolute worst at acknowledging their true feelings. But masking feelings does not remove emotion from the equation—it just makes our jobs that teensy bit harder.

And introduces additonal impediments to innovation and velocity.

Here at Mortar, we are big believers in the power of De Bono’s legendary six thinking hats exercise for giving workshop participants permission to indulge their emotions—and share their deepest feelings about a project.

The results are often surprising. 

Here’s five reasons you should do the same and encourage your team to indulge in the weepy side of a project:

Stanford says we should. The cornerstone of Stanford’s famed MBA program is Interpersonal Dynamics, which pretty much everyone calls touchy-feely. “The ability to forge strong relationships with others is crucial to becoming a more effective manager in today’s complex, global, and highly interdependent organizations” says Stanford. You can’t build relationships without feeling. Interestingly, touchy-feely has been the most popular elective for at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for 45 years. 

How people feel drives how they act. By listening to your team’s deep-seated concerns you can effectively ease anxiety—freeing up previously masked aspects of your plan. You can win friends and smooth forward progress just by listening. (Of course how you listen is a trick in itself—for which might we suggest, ahem, these guys?).

People, ie. customers and teams, buy on emotion and yes, logic. It may not always feel like it, but business-to-business marketers do have permission to indulge in the more advanced forms of emotional marketing. The more technology verges into the realm of consumer preference, app development, community marketing, networking and customer advocacy the more we can borrow from giants like Apple, Nike and Google—and present our products as something truly amazing, smart and human. 

The other guys won’t do it. Indulging how your team feels about the project, and understanding the emotions surrounding the opportunity—good and bad—is often neglected. It makes most of us uncomfortable and can feel like a weird ting to do in Corporate America. It is thus a source of competitive intelligence denied to most. We may be afraid of asking our colleagues what they really feel about their work and the jobs they have been given. But in today’s race to the finish line, any advantage—especially one so easily accessed—can prove decisive.

It works. Every marketing brief we write at Mortar has two components: how we have decided the client will be different, and the A-ha moment that is made possible because we have made the choice to focus on something new and surprising. We start with the logic, but we land with emotion. In our pursuit of emotive reasons to believe, we never case to be amazed at the quality of information our clients (and their customers) share when asked to detail how they feel about the job at hand. (Don’t take my word for it. Try it: ask your customers about how they feel about you and to detail their A-ha moment. They will ALWAYS offer an answer).

At the beginning of projects we often ask workshop participants to share a favorite object to illustrate their feelings about the topic. One Marketing Director opened a meeting with a colon-cleansing kit to demonstrate how inefficiently the organization approached marketing decision making, and detail her hope that this time would be different. We used that same example in our final presentation to management to highlight the need to address internal frustration and move forward with confidence and gusto.

Medical marketing can’t help but over-rotate towards logic, science and the facts. But in any pursuit of advantage it always pays to seek out easy ways to differentiate and move forward.

Is today the day you invite team members to share how they really feel about the product they are about to launch?

June 25th, 2018

What to do when your engineers are from Venus and your creatives are, well, you know…


Engineers and Creatives are wired differently.

What one group regards as self-evident and logical, the other is just as likely to dismiss as tepid or irrelevant. And yet it is every technology marketers noble mission to unite these two groups to produce the right blend of messaging.

It’s rarely easy. 

In fact, I’m reminded of the story of  the Great Architect who decided to build a bridge with a unique feature: a 20-foot gap midway across the span.

Drivers who exceeded 50 mph would effortlessly sail across the open gap thousands of feet above a canyon below. Tourists would flock to the new attraction and the neighboring town.

Opening day dawned.

The first driver accelerated towards the gap at 50 mph as instructed. Only instead of sailing effortlessly over the yawning hole, the driver plunged through the gap to a fiery death on the chasm floor below.

The distraught, but nevertheless still Great, Architect immediately rushed over to his horrified engineers. They agreed their calculations were indeed faulty and that any further traffic should cease.

Seeking a second opinion, the Great Architect turned to his designers. But unlike the engineers, the creative team responded with disdain “What? Are we going to make all our decisions after just one bad test?”

Readers of this story will be forgiven for concluding that given their different viewpoints, the best way to manage technical and creative teams is to separate them.

And when it comes to developing marketing strategies, many agencies do exactly that.

In isolation, they identify what the engineers want said. Cement it into a brief of some sort. And pass the newly minted instructions through to the waiting creative team.

Which, of course, is a horrible way to work. And a sure-fire way to introduce barriers when we should be building bridges (admittedly one without giant holes).

If you are interested in a smarter way to forge a partnership between technical and creative teams, drop us a line at heythere@mortaragency.com, subject “Crazy Bridge”.

For more on how to avoid the consequences of chronic marketing inefficiency, brought on by the failure to collaborate, see “THE SUCKER FOR PUNISHMENT DILEMMA: WHAT IF YOUR CREATIVE AGENCY IS WORKING WITH(OUT) YOU?  at Mortarblog.com. Or the follow-up post: “LIFE AFTER THE BIG REVEAL: A PROGRESS REPORT“.  

PS: A bridge with a huge hole in it is not so crazy. See how some engineers are designing roads that sing.

June 12th, 2018

The Easy Science of Big Marketing Decisions

Malcolm Gladwell writes that proficiency requires 10,000 hours of experience in a particular field.

The practice of marketing is no different. But why are so many marketing teams—who’ve put in this time and more—struggling with fundamental decisions about what they should be doing to build their business?

The reasons are myriad, but I believe all can be overcome with three easy-to-follow steps designed to generate creative thinking. And while they may strike you as mildly contrarian, each is the result of thousands of man hours of experimentation and, as we in Silicon Valley so gleefully say, failing forward.

Lesson 1. You are not far from an answer. In fact, the answer is in the room with you right now.

I hate to admit it, but many of the core ideas we develop for our clients are not new at all, but rather a creative take on an existing notion they themselves brought to the table.

After all, few outside parties are as close to the material as you. Even fewer fully grasp the intricacies of your organization, product, strategy and industry. And none have spent as much time or energy thinking about the opportunity as you have.

The trick is to harness this power and knowledge and to use it as a source for creative idea generation.

We’ve found the best way to do that is to gather the team that owns the project around a whiteboard and engage in some radical and aggressive brainstorming moderated by an energetic and quizzical third party.

Mortar is a good third party (ahem).  We are not hidebound by or steeped in years of “doing things a certain way.”  Which means we can ask the tough questions of your team in a way that sparks conversation and illuminates what has been ignored or overlooked.

Few problems stand resolute when confronted by individuals who have permission to indulge in wild fantasies and have been granted the power to challenge the (often) unspoken conventions governing any project.

Lesson 2. The secret to thinking big is to first think small.

Big ideas are exciting. They appeal to big egos and satisfy the soul. But they are also hard to identify and articulate, and often slow and difficult to implement.

Small ideas, on the other hand, are easy to grasp. Come in multiples. Appeal to many. Don’t require uniform consensus. Can be easy to extract. Quick to fund. Simple to test. And, because they are so easy to come by, are easily discarded in favor of a more attractive alternative.

The secret is to start small. Identify modest goals. Develop long lists of low hanging fruit. Gather supporters. Test what’s promising. Watch what fails. And use the resulting energy to zero in on the truth.

Thinking small, not thinking big, is a much more manageable way to win friends and innovate successfully in big business.

Lesson 3. Remember to sell the sizzle not the steak.

We call it the pursuit of the A-ha moment.

Every smart marketing decision points towards something surprising and previously unavailable. But don’t fall into the mistake of thinking that your customers will buy your naked claims. Instead spend time thinking about what your audience will find surprising or unexpected. And then root your marketing in those emotions. A better biosensor may provide better data to the care team, but the real joy comes from how they will feel when they realize what they can do with that data.

So, get your team together with someone from the outside and give them permission to think wildly. Pursue multiple small ideas with gusto and passion. And double down on the surprise. Those are the elements of the easy science of big decisions, and the fruits of countless hours in marketing.

March 15th, 2018

Get your marketing priorities straight

Pisa’s famous tower started leaning only five years after construction began in 1173. Erected on unstable soil with a foundation too shallow to support the structure’s weight, the building quickly started to shift. After 800 years of renovation the problem has been fixed and the tower finally stopped listing any further.

Before setting out to make marketing history, it’s always a good idea to survey the decisions you are making about your business foundation. Take care to verify you are standing on solid ground, and you’ll avoid unexpected A-ha Moments.

Looking to build concrete confidence in your marketing efforts? Drop us an email at: heythere@mortaragency.com and we’ll angle you in the right direction.