Monthly Archives: April 2014

Awesomely Simple

One of my favorite quotes comes from a jazz musician, Charles Mingus, and it concerns one of the things I work on with clients every day: simplification.

Charles Mingus - Bi Centenial, Lower Manhattan...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

That doesn’t mean dumbing things down.  It means finding the big idea in everything we’re doing and relating each and every action to that big idea.  If we’re selling air fresheners and someone thinks our cute logo would make great T-shirts, how do those ideas relate?  If they don’t, maybe we need to move on.

Michelangelo captured this notion when he likened sculpture to simplifying the marble.  He said that there was an angel inside a block and it was his job to set it free. There are statues inside every block, he said.  His task was to remove the excess, to make the complex simple.

Many people in business make what they do unnecessarily complicated.  Maybe it’s to prove their worth to themselves or to others.  Maybe it’s because they’re distracted by every new idea or shiny object.  As Mingus said, it’s commonplace.  Take the complexities that surround you in business and make them simple.  Find the big idea – the paragraph that explains the central tenets of whatever you’re doing  – and use it as your roadmap.  That is the tent pole that keeps everything else up and running.  It’s the thing around which you build your business.

Simple enough?

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This TunesDay, let’s start with a question. Who wrote “Crossroads?”

Robert Johnson

If your immediate answer was “Eric Clapton” or even “Cream,” you fail. If you know your music, you know it was Robert Johnson, a legendary bluesman who died at the ripe old age of 27 (along with Brian Jones, Alan Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison – quite a club).  This is the original:

It was recorded by Cream (along with one of the greatest rock guitar solos in history) live in March of 1968, some 32 years after Johnson.  It’s been recorded many times since by many people including The Doors, Rush, The Allmans, and Phish.  Most of them followed Cream’s interpretation – their version of history.  Their version became our version and that’s the business point made by the song.

You probably have had the experience in your work life of having someone get the credit for another’s hard work.  Sometimes, as in the case of Crossroads, the person getting the credit (Clapton) took a great idea (Johnson’s) and made it better.  The problem with that is it’s rare that the person getting the credit did much of anything other than to present the idea as their own.  In some cases, this version of the big lie gets that person promoted or hired into a job for which they’re totally unqualified while the originator gets barely a nod.  You can count on them having received the blame, however, had things not worked out very well.

I’m hardly ever surprised any more when I read a piece in the press and realize it’s just a regurgitated press release.  That’s fine – I even do it to a certain extent here on the screed.  I try, however, to state it as a quote and I always link to the original.  I like to think I make the press release better by providing context and interpretation.  I certainly don’t take credit for the original research if that’s what’s in the release.

There is nothing wrong with taking a good idea and making it great – just as Amazon, eBay, or Apple.  Clapton always gave credit to Robert Johnson.  It just disturbs me when I see how often I hear reports of someone getting credit for ideas I know first-hand were developed by others.  It would be nice if the reporters would do a little digging and not regurgitate everything they’re given.  What do you think?


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The Truth Hurts

Sometimes one has to wonder if the whole ad game is just an exercise in futility.

English: YouGov logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Billions of dollars are spent on ads and media to sell products and services yet much of that money is for naught  and I don’t mean in the classic “half my advertising is wasted” sense.  OK, so maybe I’m being a little too gloom and doomy this Monday but let me tell you what’s prompting the screed.

The folks over at YouGov did some research about how the public perceives advertising.  The results are kind of scary if you’re in the business of marketing:

Half of Americans (50%) who are aware of advertising don’t trust what they see, read and hear in advertisements.  44% think that advertisements are dishonest.  A clear majority (58%) thinks that there should be stronger requirements for proving claims in advertising. 

Charming.  The study also says that the more education you have the less likely you are to trust ads with 65% of post grads thinking advertising cannot be trusted.  So much for appealing to the customer’s intelligence…

Another finding does help to point us in the right direction:

Many of the common advertising tactics like comparative advertising, scientific endorsements and awards claims may be counter productive and put consumers on alert.  Although 16% think they are more likely to believe an advertising claim, which includes the testimonial of a scientist or expert, that expert makes 29% less likely to believe in an ad.  Ads making comparisons with brand competitors are more likely to be believed by 15% but less likely to be believed by 26%.

In other words, maybe it’s time many brands stopped talking smack about their competitors and treated their relationships with the customer (or potential customer) as if it were a first date.  Think about it.  You wouldn’t spend your time on a date citing studies about what a good person you are or talking badly about other people who might be in the available dating pool.  You’d spend the time learning more about the person you’re with.  What do they care about?  What are their needs?  How might the two of you be good for one another?

Marketing has changed (about the 500th time I’ve written that in 1,500 posts) and our thinking about it needs to change too.  We won’t build trust – and generate sales – if we’re doing the same old thing.  Maybe we need to start taking our customers out on mental dates?  Thoughts?

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