Pick Two

More than a few years back, Lowell Williams became a partner at Pentagram and came back to his old stomping grounds in Houston to give a presentation about his experiences to the local AIGA chapter.

He opened his presentation with an idea that has since stuck in my mind. How do you decide if you should take on a new project? He had a very simple method.

To take on a new project, it must meet at least two of the following criteria:

Outrageous fees.
Compelling work.
Fun people.

That simple. Now let’s look at the logic.

You cannot have just one. No one is going to give you a bucket full of money and not expect something in return, like maybe doing a little work for them. Nor are there projects lying around on the ground just waiting for someone to bring them to life. And “fun people” are, well, generally called “friends”. So, at a minimum you have to have two.

The fees are straight-forward. If you’re not going to get paid, why bother. Wait a second … if the work is really interesting, there’s a chance to learn or grow, or the finished piece will look great in your book, maybe you’ll want to take the project on. And it the client is a fun and lively group that you’ll want to hang out with after the project wraps … alright, let’s do this! See, his method works.

Another angle: The project is super interesting, a real challenge that will stretch you, but the client is going to be equally challenging. Charge them out the wah-zoo. It’s amazing how a hefty check in your bank account can ease the pain of the 75th round of revisions at 3 o’clock in the morning.

On the flip side, the work isn’t all that interesting but you really like the client, use this as an opportunity to make a little money. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Of course, the Holy Grail is a project meeting all three criteria. In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have had a few such projects. They’re golden: the opportunity to do some amazing work that I am especially proud of, while making some new friends and money along the way.

Mr. Williams is right; a project must meet two points, but in my mind, strive for meeting all three.

The same difference

A good friend of mine and I struck up a conversation about the striking similarities between websites and trade shows. Even though one is purely a digital experience and the other is firmly rooted in the real world, both are about projecting the brand to achieve the same goal, but in their own way.

For example:

The experience of walking onto a trade show floor is the same thing as surfing around the web. There’s this noisy chaos as you meander through it all. You may head right over to where you know you want to go, but you might get distracted along the way and stop somewhere when something catches your eye. Or, you might go right to see what you want to see, then launch off to check out the competition afterwards.

Once at your destination, you explore and can ask questions. Or remain anonymous and poke around at your own pace. Obviously, when you engage with a real person, the experience becomes richer.

The goal of both experiences is the same, too. Create enough interest to motivate the audience to action. Over the years, I have rarely seen actual sales taking place on a booth or on a site, except in the B2C space. Thinking about it a little more, this is perhaps the one significant difference between the two experiences. But in the B2B sector, the digital and physical experiences are nearly identical.

Rarely would anyone make a huge purchase online (too costly and no one wants to expense that much on their credit card), but the web is a great way to get info needed to be able to make an informed decision.

Driving quality leads to the CRM is the main goal for getting more foot traffic to the booth as well as more eyes on screens. But it should be more about pushing people to action. We want them to make an inquiry — chat with a booth worker to or click the “Contact Us” button to get more info. Allow us the opportunity to contact you. It’s funny to me that I have this same discussion with both the web them and the trade show folks and everyone says the exact same thing.

This makes for an interesting correlation between two totally different functions of marketing.

The worlds between the digital and the physical are blending as more and more as virtual experiences are created to help bring people to the booth and help them get the information they are looking for. Just look at the pictures above – how many screens do you see in the physical space? What does this say about how we deal with customers?


NPR’s TED Radio Hour is like Reader’s Digest for brainiacs. In one commute, you can wrap your head around a whole plethora of ideas about a variety of subjects. Endless fun.

The show on Maslow’s Human Needs, originally broadcast in April 2015 but re-aired recently, was the riffing-off point for this post.

As a reminder, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is (from bottom to top):

  • Physiological – Are basic needs of survival being met? Food, water, breathing, etc.
  • Safety – Health, resources, a good job, personal matters fulfilled
  • Love & Belonging – Friendship, family, intimacy
  • Esteem – Confidence, achievement, respect
  • Self-Actualization – Morality, creativity, fulfillment

This past year, I have been involved with re-thinking and implementing a new “playbook” for how my company go to market with new products. The previous version was found to be mostly useless because it required a fairly extensive knowledge of marketing in order to fill it out properly, and most of the managers who were tasked with this were woefully unqualified to do so.

So the Brand Manager took it upon herself to re-imagine this document and brought in a consultant to help out. There is some good thinking and fresh ideas in this new document & process they are rolling out, but after listening to this TED program, it got me to thinking.

Creative briefing documents, playbooks & marketing plans are all meant to help guide the strategy to most effectively reach new and existing customers. But with all this analysis, data, features & benefits, etc., how many of these briefs actually address basic human needs?

Worse yet, these documents are often filled with assumptions and the information we want you to know.

Shouldn’t one of the key ingredients be “How does ‘X’ solve my need? A lot of times, that information is there in the document/process, but rarely is it articulated into something very basic, touching a core value to the individual.

This is danged hard to do in a B2B environment, but not impossible.

I think Nike does this inherently as part of their branding and this is a key ingredient as to what they are so wildly successful. From the products all the way to the branding, Nike touches each of Maslow’s needs:

  • Physiological – I need shoes to protect my feet.
  • Safety – Because I have the shoes, my health will improve.
  • Love & Belonging – Because I run, I become part of a community of like-minded people.
  • Esteem – As I get healthier, I become a stronger, better person.
  • Self-Actualization – Just do it.

In contrast, I think Apple often times does a poor job of it. They are particularly good at telling you what you need. What they have been particularly adept at is guiding people down a path that eventually becomes a need. I never truly needed an iPhone, but now that I have one I find that I cannot live without it? Does that make Apple evil?

In a world that is becoming increasingly more digital,automated and with less of a human touch, addressing basic human needs should be at the very core of how we approach every piece of communication.

As Charles Eames said:

Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.

Rethinking the 4 P’s

I just finished reading Ryan Holiday’s book The Perennial Seller and I recommend you pick it up. It’s a good read. Some of his examples are a bit of a stretch for me, as I do not work in the publishing or recording industry. Neither are overly applicable to me or what I do. However, in those examples lie numerous nuggets of goodness.

When discussing marketing, Ryan stated (and I’ll paraphrase) whether you like doing it or not, you always have to position, package and pitch. I love this thought. He was sharing it with writers who think that after you have gotten your words into print that your job is over. It’s not. You always have to position, package and pitch. In other words, market your product.

This got me to thinking about the traditional four “P’s” of marketing: Price, Product, Promotion and Place. Holiday’s three P’s mentioned above fall squarely into Promotion and Place. Pitch might be there, too.

From a creative’s perspective, we live mostly in Promotion. What if we had our own set of P’s to compliment the traditional set? I propose (yet another p-word):


This is a tidy way to describe a creative marketer’s process. Let’s add a little more color:

Position: I am a firm believer that getting the positioning right solves lots of problems. Read My Secret Recipe post.

Package: Packaging has historically been undervalued. I’m not just talking about the box your product comes in, but all the design that makes the product desirable. The UX, the aesthetics, the feel, etc. That’s packaging, and in recent times business has finally begun to wake up to the fact that it is of extraordinary value. Many claim design is the last serious competitive advantage. Us designer-types owe Apple some gratitude.

Pitch: My favorite. As a creative marketer, it should be your’s too because this is your time to shine. After the pitch, it isn’t about how good you are or what you brought to the process; it will be about the work. So make the most of this part.

Produce: Production is something I tagged on to the end of the process, because I am a creative professional who markets other people’s stuff for a living. You have to produce what you’ve positioned and packaged, otherwise there’s no chance it will ever be seen.

Production is not always the fun stuff. Although necessary and as important as other steps along the way, it can be less than glamourous. Production might be doing two dozen versions of the same ad to fit in all the various spaces. Not exciting, but often undervalued.

Rethinkng the four P’s: Positioning, Packaging, Pitching and Producing.

The funny thing is that this is a simple process. I’m not big on formulas or “tried and true” methods to solving problems that solve problems every time. Every problem is different. Every answer should be different, too.

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