Monthly Archives

February 2014

Lasers, Juice and a Briefcase of Money

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When I picked up the phone, my client almost burst out of it with excitement as they shared with me their new, brilliant idea! I was thrilled they had picked me to help and as my gears started grinding, I began to envision an implementation plan that looked sort of like this:


Then reality set in. As we started working through the implementation process of this great idea, the path to implementation looked more like this:


Sound familiar? This happens to the best ideas. Implementation buzz-kills, such as a budget, compliance and time can get in the way. The good news is, there is hope.  I have three ideas to support the implementation of your next great idea and they include: juice, lasers and a briefcase.  That’s right.

  1. Sharks with laser beams.  Every good idea can get even better, right? Maybe not. Identify your challenge and goal in the beginning and keep a laser-sharp focus on your plan. Each decision you make should support the goal.  Do not waiver. If the idea doesn’t support your original plan, set it aside. You may have just come up with another great idea!
  2. Soak up the creative juice. I know your idea is really awesome and you can’t wait to share it. Give it the time it deserves and let the awesomeness marinate. During that time, you can gain the internal support you need and think through issues that may arise as you move forward.
  3. Deal…or no deal briefcase.  Without the restraints of a budget, I’ve seen ideas transform from awesome to mind-blowing-ly amazing. It can also create a big buzz-kill when the reality of budget parameters stomp out the mind-blowing-ly amazing idea that now doesn’t fit into your budget, leaving clients deflated. I don’t like to see clients deflated. Make sure you know how much money is in the briefcase before you make your plan.

Before you run full speed ahead with your next great idea, make sure your idea is supported with lasers, juice and the right briefcase. Those three things, along with your new idea may be the ticket to your next promotion!

Re-igniting your creative spark: Focusing on the big Idea.

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As creatives, the goal in any piece you create is to tell a story—a story that is either useful, entertaining, or beautiful. Perhaps all three, if you’re lucky. And while that’s a lovely objective, sometimes the creative well runs dry, and ideas don’t come so easily. When this is the case, it’s time to go back to the very beginning of ideation, and explore some of the methods and techniques of producing ideas. Because, at its most simplified state, any good marketing campaign comes down to a problem that needs solving and a basic idea that was fleshed out into a brilliant marketing piece. The Idea must always come first.

But how does an extraordinary idea come about? According to James Webb Young, author of A Technique for Producing Ideas, “What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas.”

Methods and principles may not be a creative’s idea of a good time, but according to Jung, et. al, in their study The structure of creative cognition in the human brain, “The complex construct of creativity requires diverse cognitive abilities, such as working memory, sustained attention, cognitive flexibility and fluency in the generation of ideas,” all of which are found to peak in different networks across the entire brain.

It is in exercising these many different brain networks, from memory, to analytical thinking, to stream-of-consciousness brainstorming, that provides the ideal environment for idea formation.

At their most basic, ideas are simply a new combination of old elements and the ability to see relationships in these combinations, says Young. But this regeneration of old elements must first come from somewhere. Enter: research. Perhaps not the most glamorous step in idea-production, but research is truly the cornerstone of ideation, the field from which ideas are harvested. You must have the raw materials before you can build.

Young outlines this to include both specific research that relates to the “product and people to whom you propose to sell it,” as well as a collection of general knowledge on life and events. “The more of the elements of that world which are stored away in [the mind], the more the chances are increased for the production of new and striking combinations, or ideas,” he says.

It is then key to actively and passively ruminate over the facts gathered. Actively, this looks like thinking about possible new combinations, seeking relationships in the information, turning things over in your mind and writing down every silly thing that pops into it. Put pen to paper and let your mind roam.

And then walk away. Drop the subject and allow your subconscious take over. Turn to what stimulates your imagination. As you’re busy with other things, the subconscious turns over this information and you will find that the Idea will appear, just like that, seemingly out of nowhere. “This is the way ideas come: after you have stopped straining for them and have passed through a period of rest and relaxation from search,” Young says.

Of course, the Idea does not pop into one’s mind in a state of perfection. After its inception, it is crucial to tweak and prod, collaborate with a team for feedback and fine-tuning, crafting it from good to great.

When put into practice, this creative method results in bigger, better ideas that can be executed over a variety of platforms to tell the story of the product or company with which you are working. And the longer you practice this method, the easier and faster it becomes—no more creative ruts. It is simply a re-training of your brain in how you approach ideation, going through a process to actively pursue fresh ideas rather than waiting around for inspiration to strike.

And if you’re still feeling a bit stuck, here are 36 easy ways to boost your creativity throughout the ideation process. What do you do when you feel creatively dry? What re-sparks your passion for the job?


UPDATE: Because this topic is so close to our hearts, here’s another great article for maintaining your creativity (courtesy of Loree Toups):

Featured Work

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Being prepared for opportunity is one of the best advantages of having quality branding and messaging. We recently saw how this can be very effective when one of our clients wanted to do something cool at their banking industry conference to promote their new online services platform. The timing was tight, the exposure was big, and whatever we did had to be great; and it was!

In our work with this client we had completed a comprehensive brand messaging exercise that generated multiple versions of our core message that expressed the brand’s service features and benefits in long, medium, and short form. Going this extra mile takes the definition of the brand further, so that it can be explained both thoroughly and briefly, without missing the key essence of the brand. Because we had prepared our client with a crisp version of the brand’s narrative we were able to move quickly to create a new video presentation aimed at the conference attendees in only a few days. We can’t show you the finished product but we can show you a few screen shots.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 8.48.21 AM

With a fun and clean animation-style video we were able to quickly introduce the new online tool and succinctly summarized the key benefits. It was fun and upbeat, and in just about a minute it enticed interest in the tool and effectively motivated guests to ask for a demonstration. Then it repeated itself in a loop all day long.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 8.48.35 AM

Our client thought the video presentation was great and told us the response was tremendous. The booth traffic was steady and the demo stations were almost constantly in use. We explained that is wasn’t just luck, but rather the result of good comprehensive brand definition work by the marketing team that had them well prepared for when this unique opportunity arose for the brand to shine.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 8.49.21 AM

Our trip to Google

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As agency owners we sometimes have access to some pretty nice perks. One such perk happened a few weeks ago when we got to visit Google headquarters in California.

The first thing we saw as we pulled up in the bus (there was a group of us) was the driverless car making its way around the sprawling campus. As the agency folks all jumped out of the bus we instantly turned into nerdy tourists pointing at and snapping pictures of the Google sign and once inside, the magical staircase that highlights what is currently trending.


To be invited, we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to divulge any of the secrets that were about to be shared. So, I will need to be somewhat vague and incomplete in reporting details. But I can say this much, as we already know and suspect, Google is becoming, has become, way more than a search engine company.

A very wise, very wealthy, elderly friend once told me that if you have enough money you can reach a point where you can do really fantastic things because you can afford to fail. You can take risks that others can’t and the pay off, when it pays off, is huge. This seems to be part of what is happening at Google. They are taking risks and pursuing ideas that are so far out of the box, the box for them has never existed. They are thinking big on purpose and it was inspiring just to be around this if only for a few hours. A lot of these risks will fail, but some will succeed and they could change they way we live in ways we cannot yet imagine.

5 Ways to a Better Headline

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The digital world has changed the way marketers and advertisers write. For better or worse, it has changed. We now have to bend to the will of SEO and the almighty Google.

Headlines have gotten stale and boring. It’s time that we start making it a priority  to write compelling headlines.  Here are five suggestions for better headline creation:

  1. Don’t go halfway with content. If the headline is “Creative Do’s and Don’ts” it better have a few of both and be insightful. Deliver the content that the reader expects based on the headline. Go above and beyond if possible but don’t promise the moon and fall short.
  2.  Being clever or mysterious in a headline insults the reader and the content that has been produced. Don’t trick people into reading content. For example, “Be a Copywriting Genius…” is a poor headline for this article. Also… ellipses are annoying in headlines. Keep them in the body.
  3. Keywords don’t have to be exact anymore. Search engines are smarter and as long as there is quality content it should show in searches. The headline doesn’t have to be “Digital Has Changed Headlines – Here Are 5 Ways to Write Better Headlines”. It can simply be “5 Ways to a Better Headline”
  4. Lists headlines work. Use them – but don’t abuse them. Remember that content should meet or exceed expectations. For example, please read the headline for this article.
  5. Headlines should inform the reader about the content of the article. If the article is about a regional music festival then try to include that information, “Winona Minnesota Hosts 3rd Annual Music Festival”.

Now that Google has improved search engine capabilities, it’s time to take headlines back.

For a more in-depth review of how to write better headlines visit the link below.


Sometimes it all goes horribly wrong

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The last few days have been rough on the d.trio blog. Those of you who were watching, and I know some of you were because you emailed or called (Hi, Les, thanks), know that sometime early Monday this blog, well, imploded.

I’ve been working with web files and sites and blogs for a long time now and I know that sometimes things just go sideways. Technology is usually my friend, I’m usually pretty smart about it, but there are days, yes, there are days where things go so badly wrong that the only thing you can do is start over. So, that was Monday. I discovered that our website and blog were both down at 11:11 a.m. and so began a very long day. If you are reading this, we have obviously recovered. Mostly.

Sometimes disaster brings the opportunity to make some changes, so I’ve implemented a new look for this blog and done some general cleaning up. It’ll be an ongoing process so please excuse our dust for a little while. The major thing you’ll notice is that not all of the images are back in place. This will take me a couple of days, but they will return, I have every confidence. All of the content is still here (ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR DATABASE BEFORE YOU MAKE ANY CHANGES) but things work a little differently, if you notice anything about the new blog layout that you hate, please let us know.

Thanks for your patience and for letting me vent a little bit here. In the mean time here’s what I’ve learned:

1. At least one person reads this blog regularly
2. Always back up your database
3. Every time you make a major update, something will break, new technology will require you to do something in an entirely different way than you used to. Expect it.
4. The best way to get my coworkers to leave me alone is to stare intensely at code on my screen. Or maybe it was the whimpering.
5. Backup more often than you think is strictly necessary.
6. Tech support people don’t want to talk to you just as much as you don’t want to be talking to them.
7. The opportunity to change everything should always be taken advantage of.


Three Tips for Marketing Your Online Degree Programs

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By Gary McVey

Our January blog post focused on how online learning programs greatly expand a university’s recruitment footprint, and how this impacts college marketers. Now let’s move into tactics for effectively marketing online programs. Since all of our options won’t fit in one blog post, let’s focus on three critically important tactics for marketing online programs.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of web-based content and media to attract, engage and acquire customers. The content can be presented in many formats, including news articles, photos, video, e-publications, blogs and others. Rather than focusing on selling, content marketing communicates timely information to prospects in ways that consistently build awareness, engagement and, ultimately, loyalty.

Let’s say your university is launching a new online bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. You want to show students that you understand what’s going on in business, so they can picture the degree preparing them for the real world. Your content marketing could include: a blog on your website where business professionals and professors take turns addressing the latest business trends; a Q and A session with the dean about how the degree program keeps up with new demands affecting business leaders; and a video interview of two corporate leaders serving as program advisors discussing how the degree helps launch successful careers. You could also post photos and testimonials from students who have already enrolled in the program’s first class.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Research and past experience tell us that a large share of your online learning prospects will find you through an online search. We’re well past the days when optimizing your web site with a few meta-tags will be effective. With Google, Yahoo and other search engines frequently changing their protocols, you need highly skilled SEO expertise. Most colleges simply don’t have the in-house SEO talent needed for success in today’s rapidly changing digital landscape. If they do, that individual is often overwhelmed with other IT projects. This is an area where it pays to retain outside expertise. Effective SEO helps ensure your prospects will find your newly enhanced content.

3. Search Engine Marketing (Paid Search/Pay-per-Click)

Search engine marketing, including Google Ad Words and other pay-per-click advertising options, is one of the best and most cost-effective ways for reaching prospective online students. Unlike traditional marketing, pay-per-click advertising allows you to easily test different keywords, and to evaluate which messages are most effective. And because you can set a budget cap, and only pay when a prospect clicks your ad, it’s easy to control costs.

By using geo-targeting in your paid search campaign, you’ll ensure you’re reaching your best prospects. Keep in mind, paid search is an evolving tool that is all about flux; it requires frequent evaluation, testing and updating. As with organic search, it pays to use a Google-certified, outside expert that can launch and manage a campaign to your needs and budget.   Media costs are typically pass-through, so any consultant fees typically cover set-up and ongoing management (including weekly or bi-monthly reports).

Once you’ve driven prospects to your site, be sure you have quality, relevant content to engage them, and an easy way to request their e-mail address, so you can begin permission-based marketing.

What tactics have been the most effective for marketing your online or hybrid programs? We’ll appreciate your input.

-Gary McVey is a guest blogger for d.trio. He is president of McVey Marketing Inc., a marketing, research and brand consulting firm based in the Minneapolis area. He has worked with more than a dozen colleges and universities, and previously served as chief marketing officer at Hamline University in St. Paul and for the Minnesota Private College Council, a 17-college consortium.

Additional Resources:
“Mature Market for Online Education”
 “Tips for Marketing Your Online Education Program on a Budget”

d.trio’s 2014 New Years resolutions

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Mary: My New Years resolution is to drink more champagne

Victoria: I believe in intentions vs. resolutions…

Tina: PURGE the things from my life that I do not need or want. And sign up for automatic bill pay.

Patrick: This year I’m going to eat better, and attend more marketing association events.

Maureen: I’m planning a trip to Italy next year and my resolution for 2014 is to learn to speak Italian.  Thirty minutes a day, almost every day, in the car. Ciao.

Tim: I want to become a better Grill Master. Perfect my current techniques and learn new ones.

Fred: I am trying to settle on something new to learn this year.  Thinnking perhaps guitar lessons.

Sheryl: Maximize my MN summer. Golfing, camping, fishing, exploring – let’s go!

Megan: made a resolution years ago not to make any more resolutions and my new years resolution is to keep that resolution and not make any more resolutions…

Beth: quit smoking. (mission accomplished already, mostly by accident)

Elise: My new years resolution for this year is to cultivate a better work life balance.