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Principles of Improv

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Note: As part of our Art Month theme, some of us are sharing the creative pursuits that enrich our lives, both at work and outside of it.

by Jordan Bainer

If you look hard enough, you start to see connections between various components of your life. For me, improv comedy is a hobby that strangely blends into my work life interactions. Many times in my career, I’ve utilized improv rules to simplify and improve my work. I’ve identified a few improv comedy concepts below and explained how they link to life in the agency world.

  1. “Yes, and…”: A cardinal rule of improv is “yes, and…”, meaning that if someone says something, their partner on stage should accept it and build upon it. Denial or minimizing something your partner gives you quickly halts any progress in the scene and stifles creativity. For example, if I tell you “we’re in a helicopter” and you respond with “no we’re not, we’re in a canyon”, sounds like a weak story, right?This improv rule applies nicely to brainstorming. A common trap in agency and client brainstorming sessions is to rule out or filter ideas as the group comes up with them. During these times of free idea sharing, we have to remove all filters. All ideas are accepted until the brainstorm is over and the group is narrowing down ideas. Those ideas that are thrown out early on could have sparked other ideas that eventually become the winning concept. In brainstorming, the rule “yes, and…” supports and builds on creative suggestions.
  2. Tagouts, swipes, edits: In a slight contrast to “yes, and…” are tagouts, swipes, and edits. “Yes, and…” teaches you how to accept and move forward a partner’s agenda. Transition tools like tagouts, swipes, and edits cut a scene and move on to another scene or time period. Since it’s important to end scenes on a high note, players on the back-line need to listen to the audience and move the story along where appropriate.During client presentations, a common practice is to review each concept in a linear fashion until all material been exhausted. The client can then “react” to those ideas presented at the conclusion. Unfortunately, this presentation strategy doesn’t allow for open discussion, which could potentially save an idea if there is any client skepticism or misunderstanding. Those involved in client presentations need to be cognizant of what’s happening in the audience and ready to jump in when ideas or concepts can be explored further. Editing or tagging out your presentation partner isn’t bad manners as long as you are building on the larger story and ending on a high note.
  3. Finding the Theme: For many long-form improv performances, the group is looking for an overarching idea or theme to link disparate scenes together to create an overarching narrative or story. Themes can be decided upon by the audience or formulated throughout the course of the improv performance.Themes are crucial for organizing complex ideas or recommendations for integrated campaigns. Taking a step back and identifying the theme will make it easier showcase work and link back to a larger strategy. Clearly stating themes and concepts early on demonstrates your knowledge of the client’s brand.

Once you start to think about general concepts behind different experiences or interests, it’s amazing how everything begins to blur into one another. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to try new artistic endeavors to fuel those links and continually learn.

Why Email Marketing Would Make David Ogilvy Smile

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Someone recently forwarded me an email with some quotes written by David Ogilvy – a true genius in the advertising industry. One of the quotes read “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” This statement is brilliant in its simplicity – and a great reminder for those of us that spend our days trying to find effective ways to communicate our marketing messages.

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Creativity vs. the Hard Stuff

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I’ve had blogger’s block. I don’t know why, but it got worse as the Super Bowl got closer. Intimidated by the extreme creativity and sheer enormity of the budgets for advertising during the Super Bowl, I felt diminished by it.

In our heart of hearts all marketers want to be able to turn on the Super Bowl and point to our pride and joy (ad) and say – “that’s my creativity, that’s my baby.” Yep.

But we’re boots on the ground marketers. We have big ideas that touch one person at a time and create results and ROI – not big splashy TV commercials that flood the airways with humor or drama. And although it’s not as sexy, it plays an important role in selling things, getting the word out, making connections and creating relationships that build trust and brands. It wasn’t until I read this blog in Advertising Age – http://bit.ly/eXZJK2 – that I started really thinking about the significance of what we do versus most Super Bowl ads that will be forgotten by next year.

Could it be that there is more value in strategic communications through multiple channels? That relevant communications are really better than all that creativity that is bought and sold at the Super Bowl? I’d have to say yes.

I’ve been told many times in my career that marketing is a really tough way to make a living – that we do the hard stuff.  And we do. But it’s the good stuff, it’s the relevant stuff that really gets people to act and engage.

So I got myself together and wrote this blog. We’re out there every day with our creativity, finding the right way to move forward with brand messages through small and underappreciated channels. Pat yourself on the back; you do the hard stuff and it works. Keep on working hard, getting the word out through the channels that work for you – social, digital, direct response, print and mobile etc.

And if you continue to give the people what they want, then maybe, just maybe you’ll do something that ends up being shown during the Super Bowl. Okay, just kidding, probably not, but doing what you love to do and having success with it does have its own rewards. Do you agree? Tell us how you’re doing and what you think here or at our Facebook page.

Marketing Intervention – 24 Hours Free

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Can you feel the excitement in the air? What is it? Optimism? Growth? Creativity? Yes – it ’s the Marketing Intervention!

On the heels of updating our brand and morphing our business, we decided we must share the creativity and momentum generated with some deserving company in need. Thus was born our Marketing Intervention contest.

marketingIntervention

Fun video, serious message

This is not just some dry call for entries. We recruited one of the best improvisational troops in the area (in our humble opinion), Stevie Ray’s Improv, to help tell the story of a company with a marketing need. The best part is we included things that we’ve seen in real life, in previous companies we’ve all worked for (because that’s funnier). The result is an amusing video a la “The Office” of the trials and tribulations of getting a rebranding or cohesive marketing campaign accomplished in a company that is stuck.  The video and contest rules are at:

http://www.dtrio.com/intervention/

Free agency services

Please watch it and pass it on to anyone you think would enjoy it and benefit from an inspired group of agency creative types and strategists looking at their marketing needs – Logo, tagline, branding, stationery and collateral systems, need to develop marketing programs, Web, email, etc. – anything that agency services cover (strategy and creative, not production of hard goods).

This is meant to jump start change in companies that don’t know where to start, but know they need to start somewhere – and give them something tangible to take home. A couple of lucky companies will also get a consultation with us to create a plan.

We love what we do and we do it well, but we need your help to make this successful. Please pass on this link along virally and help this offer land in some deserving hands.

Tell us what you think of the Marketing Intervention video here or at http://www.facebook.com/dtrio

Get your messages chosen.

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There’s too much stuff in my head today. It’s as cluttered as my desk and email inbox. I’m not alone, but that’s little consolation to a marketer whose job it is to cut through the clutter. Yet, I got an email from a blogger I follow, Joe Grant, http://jjgrant.wordpress.com/ and it made me sit up and take notice. Why? Because there’s always something in his blog for me.

As marketers we have to accept and address a general lack of focus and propensity to distraction or we should just give up and go golfing. And, by the way, how and why are people able to concentrate on a golf game for more than 4 hours and yet can’t get to the 1-minute (or less) task of reading our marketing messages?

Interest and relevance.

It all boils down to that, interest and relevance. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself (or better yet ask them):

  • What do customers want and need to know that you can provide them?
  • What are the different ways that they access information and what is their preference in receiving it?

We all have to live with the distractions of day and moment, but if your messages and content are more compelling and more relevant than the next guy’s, your customers will take notice and choose to open yours over your competition.

This isn’t about shouting, it’s about whispering – getting customers to lean in to hear more. It’s about presenting thoughtful interesting information, in an easy to read format and making it look good. Leave them wanting more, looking forward to your next communiqué. And give them options (email, snail mail, blog, social, mobile etc.) that they can choose between to receive your communications. It’s about giving your customers choices while meeting their needs. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and go for a stroll. Take some time to think about what you can provide that is relevant, interesting and/or fun. Then next time your customers will sit up and take notice of what you have to say.

We’d love to hear what your experience has been with your cutting through the clutter, here or at http://www.facebook.com/dtrio – tell us what you think.

The aftermath of recession marketing:

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How low can you go? I’m not talking the Limbo here. No – I’m talking about marketing campaigns (digital, direct, email and emerging media) that were created, launched and sent out in 2009, internationally. From what I’ve seen recently the answer is – very.

I just spent the week judging entries to the International ECHO Awards, the DMA’s highly respected marketing awards. Unfortunately, it was a dismal reflection of, and reminder of how hard the recession has been on marketing in general.

Six years of judging top marketing campaigns from all over the world has spoiled me. The groundbreaking campaigns that use new and traditional marketing channels brilliantly are inspiring. Spending days perusing the best and the brightest charges me up and gives me energy to go back and kick up the creativity in my job.

But this year was different.

Marketing is not dead, but it didn’t flourish in 2009. There were bright spots, sure and we reveled in them. And I know there were cuts. But budgets don’t dictate smart thinking. The recession not only knocked-out budgets, but apparently creativity, risk-taking and pride-in-work were also down for the count.

Bring back great marketing ideas.

As we move toward the middle of 2010, I hope you’ll strive to help the world turn marketing into the smart, creative pursuit it needs to be. Generate new ideas, try new things, test what you are doing, ask for feedback and get away from the “we did it last year so it must be ok” thinking. If you need a reason, here’s some food for thought:

·     Big ideas help cut through the clutter of 5,000 messages we receive every day

·     Me-too marketing dooms you to looking like your competitors

·     Creativity tied to smart strategies is the antidote to me-too marketing

In the end we judged and approved enough entries that could be winners. And, some of the entries that were very creative and willing to take a chance did inspire me. But I want to get the word out, and please help me spread it – this year, 2010, we all need to make a pact not to let fear keep us from doing our best work. Are you with me?

What break-through trends do you see in marketing?  Share with us your insights and creative thoughts – we’d love to hear what your experience has been, here or at our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/dtrio

photoNew York in the spring time

2010 resolution follow-up #4 – Is it time to tweak your brand?

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Are you responsible for your company’s brand? When you look at it, do you see it – I mean really see it? Most of us see what we want to see or expect to see. If you’ve been living with the same branding for a while, yet your company has changed, you may need an update.

Everything has a time and a place – think big hair and short basketball shorts – we thought they looked good then…So how do you know if it’s time for a refresh or a redo? Take a look at your logo, materials, Web site etc. and ask some questions.

  • Does your logo look older or reflect a previous era in colors or font type? You may love your company’s brand, and why shouldn’t you, it got your company to where it is today. However, if your look is steeped in another, earlier age, before social media, mobile apps, iPhones and perhaps heavy, knowledgeable Web usage, it’s time for a tweak if not a total overhaul.

    Look at what Caribou Coffee has done to their logo and branding to reflect “optimism and an optimistic outlook on life.” http://bit.ly/ac2Epy

  • Have you broadened your offering or shifted your company focus? Here’s another reason to take a hard look at your brand. Old collateral and identity (whether it’s offline or online) will cause you to lose opportunities in today’s world. Are you still talking about your business, products and/or services in the same way you always have? If your business has changed your brand may need a refresh. Continuity is key.

    Hilton Hotel Corp. changed to Hilton Worldwide, to take advantage of the global economy: http://bit.ly/1f4m9s

  • How does your logo and color palette look online? Do they work for electronic media? Come across on a mobile app? How your brand shows up electronically is crucial in today’s world. It needs to shine in Web, mobile, and other online marketing tools.
  • Does your brand have social accessibility? Consumers want to help form brands and brand personalities. If you are participating in social media, or get feedback on your Web site, find out what people say about your brand and learn. Lowes has taken a very customer-centric approach in their advertising: http://nyti.ms/ahKUIb

A well-designed logo can be simple and carry the brand with one letter. Here are a few to get you inspired: http://www.graphicdesignblog.org/single-letter-logos/

If you can’t be objective about your brand then ask somebody you trust to look at it, or hire someone to do an evaluation for you. How you position your company brand and personality will determine whether you stand out or fade away in the new economy. Please tell us how it goes – here or at Facebook.com/dtrio – we’d love to hear about it.

2010 Resolution follow up #2 – Try something new

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Does your marketing plan looking like it did 2 years ago, or have you added some new strategies? Is the year 2010 the year you embrace change? There are so many exciting, new things happening with new media. If you don’t understand what is out there (and why), then first you need to educate yourself. Fortunately, there are many great sources of information available.

Blogs and white papers are full of information and instruction. Social media sites are a great way to keep in touch with friends, trends and attitudes – hear directly what people are saying, thinking and feeling. It takes some time, so set aside a half hour every day and soon you’ll be feeling more connected, engaged and gain an understanding of the what’s happening.

Get on Twitter and try following a few people.  You can start with me (I’ll follow you back): @megand3 and dtrio is @dtrio. This link also has a lot of good, topical information: http://twitter.com/mashable

This one has an ad agency bent but it offers a lot of links and ideas on new business generation: http://twitter.com/michaelgass

If you want to keep up with breaking news try: http://twitter.com/nytimes

Don’t throw out a medium or new idea because you think it doesn’t work for you or you personally don’t see the value. As they say, you are an “audience of one” and if you are not exactly like the consumer or business you are after then your personal beliefs are irrelevant. You can get in the way of your own great marketing opportunities.

As before, here are some Web site resources to help you: For new marketing media – http://www.marketingsherpa.com/ and for a mix of traditional and new media – http://www.the-dma.org/index.php

Try something new this week. We love this stuff so let us know what you’ve learned.  And join our Facebook page for more food for thought: http://www.facebook.com/dtrio

2010 Resolution follow up #1 – Stop Hiding

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You’re really going to have to make things happen for your company, and for job security this year. The depression may be over but the recession is slow to move. So things are not back to normal (whatever that is or will be) – it’s not as scary as it sounds, but you do have to act.

Visibility rocks
Have you made your marketing plan for 2010 yet? We’re more than a month in and your plans should be shaping up. I hope everyone has stopped hiding because that’s the first step. Don’t try to be invisible this year, plan to stand out.  And that means you will have to take some risks. Nothing’s accomplished – besides mediocrity – without taking risks. And, mediocrity does not sell products and/or serve your customers well. Plan to take smaller steps on a regular basis; it makes big challenges seem smaller.

So look at your company and see what differentiates it and start talking. Whether you choose new media (social media, blogging, email, etc.) or traditional media (TV, Radio, Direct Marketing, print, etc.) as your vehicle, you have to get out there and make some noise. If you haven’t changed your marketing creative in 2 years, it’s time to create a challenger. If you don’t have a budget, it’s time be an advocate for one.

Do you have a niche product or service? Those are perfect for the direct contact media such as email and direct marketing (not to mention social).

  • Build your opt-in email list on your Web site so you can communicate with people who are interested in your company.
  • Create a helpful white paper or
  • Develop offers for popular products and services to drive traffic to your Web site or store location.
  • Buy a specialty list and send some postcards or mini-catalogs out that showcase your unique products or services to people who are interested.

Here are some resources to help you: For new media – http://www.marketingsherpa.com/ and for a mix of old media and new – http://www.the-dma.org/index.php

2010 holds opportunities for all of us. We just have to go after them! And, please share with us what you’ve decided to do.

2009 is dead! Long live 2010!

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I’ve never been one to walk into the office and hope the day would bring me nothing but predictable things. The year 2009 has been a year of change and change strikes fear into the hearts of many people. To me, change brings on a litany of things – growth, excitement, learning, getting out of comfort zones and a change of view.

It’s an exciting and terrifying time because so many new things have become a part of the marketing mainstream scene. We’re blogging, tweeting and meeting up on Facebook and LinkedIn. We’re having conversations about our brands with people who buy our stuff – whether we like it or not. This brings out the best and worst in people on both sides and time will tell where this takes the marketing industry as a whole.

However, for some people 2009 has also been a year of staying under the radar, non-communication and fear. It has caused people to stop talking, stop testing and stop trying new things with their marketing. Marketing budgets were slashed, causing some companies to get creative and some to hide – a strange dichotomy. It’s been a year of extremes in many ways. So how do we move carefully or purposefully into 2010? How do we embrace challenge at hand and conquer it?

At d.trio, we plan on doing what we’ve been doing, only more of it. We started with our “Keep Talking” campaign and added different communication points and media as the year went on with an emphasis on keeping those communications line open. As a company, you need to understand the best way to get in front of your customers (it may be many channels that work together) you need to open the communications again and start talking to your customers and prospects.

There is nothing more counterproductive to visibility than hiding (duh). Get out there and make a plan. Allocate some dollars to your success. Try some new techniques and test new media. If you’re an agency, here’s a good blog to follow: http://fuelingnewbusiness.com/2009/11/05/twitter-list-agencies-on-twitter/

Here’s a link if you’re a bank interested in what other banks are doing: http://mashable.com/2009/09/11/banks-social-media/

And here’s a list of the Top 10 most mentioned topics on Twitter to inspire you:
http://mashable.com/2009/12/15/twitter-reveals-most-discussed-topics-of-2009/

But don’t stay invisible, unless that’s what you want to be – the brand that no one knows or sees. Call if you need help, but regardless we’d love to hear from you. Let us know what you are doing and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.