Saturday, October 17, 2009

the Beauty of the Brief

While companies are working with deeper cutbacks to budgets and staff, marketers are under increasing pressure to deliver expected results. People are working longer hours, taking on more projects, and given excruciating deadlines to hurdle all the while managing personal affairs and holding on to their sanity.

At the office, sometimes a good idea comes out of a meeting but the turnaround is very tight. It’s lobbed over to you or perhaps you volunteered to get it done. Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or just starting out in your career, resist the urge to simply pick up the phone to your agency or creative department and provide verbal direction to get them working on a project. That might seem like the fastest solution, but often it is not. Without a thoughtful brief, objectives are easily lost and directions misinterpreted; often resulting in rework, frustrated people and potentially a compromised outcome.

Being strategic is about getting everyone on the same page, literally. It’s about providing clarity and direction so people know what’s expected of them and how success will be measured.

I find that a project brief is an excellent communications tool to build agreement and provide direction. There are many examples of project briefs available depending on the complexity of the project. Key questions that should be addressed in a brief are as follows:

What’s the objective?
- What challenge are you hoping to overcome?

What’s the goal?
- How will you know if you’ve achieved your objective?
- What measurement will you use and build into your plan?

What’s the background?
- Why are you doing this?
- Is this a competitive reaction or a brand building opportunity?
- Have you done something like this before? What did you learn?
- What are the obstacles or issues that could be in your way?

Who is the target?
- Be specific

What are the must-haves from the nice-to-haves?
- Are there specific brand messages that need to be communicated?
- Are there legal copy or design considerations?

Approval Process
- Who are the decision makers versus informed parties?
- Knowing this up front can save valuable time and rework costs.

Budget and Timing
- Be specific and realistic

I find that writing a brief is a great discipline. It gives people clear direction and frees them to be creative within known parameters. Briefs require some time and thinking up front but in the long run will motivate your team and ultimately, achieve the best results.

If you have a great brief or idea, please share it or provide a link.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Exploiting Chaos - an interview with author Jeremy Gutsche

The great thing about reviewing books on the Post2Post Book Tour is that you get to meet some very interesting people as well as get a chance to delve into some juicy topics. (If you are not familiar with the tour, it was started by the brilliant Paul Williams over at Idea Sandbox). This month's topic is about trends and innovation.

What? Does the world need another book on innovation?

I'll let you, the reader, decide that. In the meantime, I'd like to introduce you to Jeremy Gutsche. He's 31 and is the founder of What makes Trendhunter different is that it's a crowdsourcing site where over 28,000 trend spotters contribute emerging or different "trends" from around the world. The premise of Jeremy's book, Exploiting Chaos, is that instead of retreating in times of chaos, companies should exploit trends to spark innovation and creativity.

Jeremy is a gutsy and creative entrepreneur. He's also an impressive PR machine and promoter. (In many ways, this book's core purpose is to drive traffic to the Trendhunter website - in fact you can download the first chapter by visiting it here).

Each page challenges the reader to think differently. Some headlines are smart "Fight the confidence that you know your customer" and some rather cliche "Cross-pollinate your ideas". For those who prefer more structure, there's also an Exploiting Chaos model.

While none of the ideas or approaches in the book strike me as being that unique or new (my belief is that most companies look at social, economic or even political trends to inform strategy or spark new thinking), the book still has merit. One way I could see using this book is as a thought provoker. One could, for example, pick a concept from the book and use it as the lens by which you view your brand, company or leadership challenge from a different perspective. If you do pick up the book, I'd love to hear your opinion and how you've benefited from reading or using it as a tool to spark innovation.

Okay. Now on to the interview with Jeremy.

KK. What was the goal of writing this book? Who do you think will benefit most from reading it?

JG. People get all absorbed by the doom and gloom of the current recession, but some of the most iconic companies were founded during economic downturns, including: Microsoft, General Electric, HP, Apple, Amgen, Hyatt, EA, and Fortune Magazine. The book was written in a way that it could help to inspire anyone with an idea, from those stuck in large organizations to entrepreneurs alike.

KK. Your book is packed with ideas and images – what’s the best way for the reader to approach your book?

JG. Our reading habi ts have entirely changed in the last decade. Driven by media clutter and our shrinking attention spans, our world has become headline obsessed. Hence, this book is visual and action packed, offering two ways to read:
  1. Consume the content front-to-back

  2. Just read the headlines on each page. They flow together and will help spark your next big idea.

KK. You quote Jay Handleman; “Through cool hunting, marketers are able to identify cultural meaning of trends ahead of competitors” With over 50,000 ideas on, how do you differentiate between a trend and a fad? Should marketers care?

JG. Trend Hunter differentiates between micro-trends and clusters. The front page of our site features 50,000 globally crowd sourced micro-trends or ideas, and then on our research side we crowd filter the best micro-trends and group them into more meaningful clusters of opportunity. If you are looking for bold new idea and inspiration, our front page can help to keep you on the cutting edge, expecially if you are a marketer, designer or innovator. If you are looking for deeper knowledge and trend research, our trend reports offer greater insight into the pulse of pop culture.

KK. Do you believe that innovation spark trends or do you think trends spark innovation?

JG. Both. New technologies and creative ideas enable new trends to exist. Those trends then give birth to new platforms for technological research and creative endeavours.

KK. You write “culture is more important than strategy”. This is certainly bucking the trend from what they teach you at biz school. Can you provide some context for this bold declaration?

JD. Very few CEOs would disagree about the importance of culture. The point of this statement is to illuminate the idea that even if you have meaningful direction, cultural alignment and execution are paramount to success. At the end of the day it doesn't matter how sexy your powerpoint strategy slides are if the organization isn't ready to embrace change, obsess about the customer and pursue an aligned goal.

KK. You have created the “Exploiting Chaos” framework as a key component of your approach. How is this different from other innovation frameworks?

JG. The EXPLOITING CHAOS framework teaches readers how to reinvent SPECIFICALLY during times of chaos and change, whether in an area of growth and bubbling opportunity or periods of downturn and dismay.

KK. For the launch of this book you dressed up in a hotdog suit and had a flashmob high-fiving 5000 people in 5 minutes in downtown Toronto . Can you explain how this event ties in with the message of your book?

JG. The stunt was a fun way to generate extra exposure. On several levels the stunt was meant to exploit chaos. Our experience on Trend Hunter teaches us that flash mobing is hot, high fiving is culturally interesting, Kanye West is the most controvercial guy in pop culture and Ashton Kutcher is the #1 most followed guy on Twitter. At the same time both Kanye and Ashton have sourced Trend Hunter in their blog and twitter respectably. So we combined all of this together and popped out a publicity stung that for $5,000 generated us 320,000 views on Trend Hunter and about 80,000 views on YouTube... And we did it by taking a chaotic event and making it creative, which ties nicely with the title of the book. Through this and other social media campaigns we were able to generate 150,000 downloads of the book's first chapter, and propel it to become the #1 Most Popular book at CEO Read.

p.s. Here's the launch party