Monthly Archives

October 2014

Featured Work: Synchrony

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We’ve been working with GE Retail Capital Finance for as long as anyone can remember (which means around 14 years). This year, our old client became Synchrony Financial and Synchrony Bank. You’ve probably seen their piano ads on TV. We’ve been working with Synchrony Bank and their internal studio to help with the rebranding by producing magazine and newspaper ads, animated and static digital ads, and a variety of other projects. We’re excited to see our old client with a new face leverage the heritage of GE and make a real splash in the marketplace.


Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin spice

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If you haven’t noticed, you haven’t been paying attention: ‘tiz the season of PUMPKIN SPICED EVERYTHING. The trend has hit d.trio hard as you can see from our Facebook, blog, twitter and other social media features. We blame Catherine. But she made us pumpkin spice martinis the other day (Video and Recipe Coming Soon!!), so she is forgiven.


One of our favorites so far (other than the martinis) was the morning Tim made us pumpkin pancakes. The recipe came from Guy Gourmet and is really terrific. You should try it.

Pumpkin Pancakes
(Makes 20 pancakes)
Nutrition per 4-pancakes serving: 404 calories, 9 g fat, 683 mg sodium, 72 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, 10 g protein

2 cups dry pancake mix(your favorite)
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for the griddle
Pure maple syrup

1. In a large bowl, combine the pancake mix, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. In another large bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, vanilla extract, and oil. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour the batter onto the griddle, using about ¼ cup for each pancake. Cook the pancakes until bubbles form in the batter and the edges begin to brown. Then flip them and cook until the other sides are lightly browned.
3. Serve the pancakes drizzled with maple syrup.


People on Twitter seemed to think it was a good idea too.




So, if you need a pumpkin fix, stop by. We’ve got cookies and cupcakes and candy corn covered in pumpkin pie spice. Really. And it’s great, so don’t judge. We’re also super busy and hard at work on some amazing marketing, so we need the fuel. So, until we see you, keep it pumpkin spicy!


Why your marketing should make you nervous

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People like their lives to be comfortable. Safe. Predictable. And marketers are certainly no exception. When big budgets are on the line (not to mention people’s necks), marketers tend to play it safe even more. Sticking with what’s worked before seems like a smart thing to do. After all, if it worked before, it’ll probably work again — sparing people the risk of failure, wasted time, wasted money, and a pink slip.

Unfortunately, while it’s nice in theory, it doesn’t really work that way.

Because if a marketer isn’t pushing the limits of their comfort zone and scaring themselves a little bit, then the company is not growing.

And if a company isn’t growing, it’s dying.

Though the exact number is up for debate, we all know the average person is bombarded by marketing messages all day long. With so many companies competing for our attention, it’s more important than ever to stand out from the clutter.

You don’t stand out by doing the same thing you’ve always done, or by doing the same thing everybody else is doing. You stand out by doing something new. Something original.

But being original can be risky.

Of course, the leading business experts will surely tell you that the biggest risk you can take is to play it safe. To stagnate. To do the same old thing year after year. But while risky behavior won’t always succeed, playing it safe is a surefire strategy for failure in the long term.

Fear is good. It pushes people and businesses to grow and reach new levels of success. The key is to be smart about it. Have a sound strategy behind the work. Collaborate with marketing experts. Minimize the risk as best you can.

Then close your eyes and jump, nervousness and all.

Management Perspective: Time to practice some underthinking.

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With the mountain of data and research now available at our fingertips, overthinking issues and challenges is running rampant. Hot messes are hard enough to untangle without adding unnecessary complexities that lead to our getting in our own way.

Usually, the greatest solutions are elegant due to their simplicity. That’s why children are so creative in their thought processes – they don’t overthink anything. We adults tend to get too careful, are fearful of looking stupid and have a need to consider every possible contingency – however unlikely. Overthought = overwrought.

Initial gut instincts are often reliable. And, as is taught in improvisation, one should respond to thoughts and ideas with “yes, and …” rather than “yes, but …”. Let’s start to project, rather than protect.

Now, I’m not advocating wild, uninformed forays into the unknown. But underthinking as a starting point is fun, and can lead to some pleasant, unexpected results.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “a camel is a horse, designed by a committee”? Truly a classic case of overthinking. Try some underthinking to get you over the hump.





When nice is not so nice

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Indirect communications. Here it’s called Minnesota Nice. It’s characterized by a smile and the right words, but possibly not the whole truth. There are probably terms for it elsewhere as well because indirect communications are common in every organization. Subjects are changed or avoided, anger masked and people circumvented, all to avoid a difficult situation. Sometimes it’s the benign desire to not step on toes or hurt feelings that will cause one to tell a little white lie, or avoid a difficult subject. Who really likes confrontation anyway? I know I don’t.

However, in business, indirect or passive aggressive communications can erode relationships, cause miscommunications and be downright destructive.

I’ve worked with clients most of my career, and I’m a people pleaser, so I struggle with direct communications too. When I first started managing client business I got this advice: deliver bad news quickly and directly, take responsibility and have a solution to recommend. It might be the single best piece of advice I’ve received.  Here’s the twist. The advice I got was from a client! I had put off telling them there was a problem with their project until it delayed their project. I had told them things were on track hoping a solution would magically appear – I obsessed about it and it ruined my weekend – plus when I did fess up, it made them angrier. They didn’t have a chance to fix the issue in time to make the mail date.

You can make yourself miserable and turn an issue into a bigger deal by putting off the inevitable, or you can pull off the Band-Aid and deal with the situation. Either way it won’t go away.  Direct communications can sting because not everything is easy in business and we don’t always agree. However, if it’s respectful, it will help build relationships.

So go out there and do business. Be nice to each other – truly nice – thankfully that’s the Minnesota way too, and please make your business communications direct.

What We Learned From This year’s Higher Education Marketing Survey

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Our 2014 survey results are in — and with it, several key insights into the highs and lows of higher ed marketing. This year’s audience included admissions, enrollment management and marketing professionals from 39 states. We increased our survey reach by over 60% and the number of respondents jumped up accordingly — by almost 300%!

Grading Your Digital Marketing

This year’s survey focused on the state of digital marketing in higher education. Questions were designed to uncover a peer perspective on both successes and challenges. We asked a range of questions such as: Is your digital marketing working as hard as it could? How does your website compare to others? Are you missing key opportunities to strengthen your brand and attract more students?

What did we learn? Apparently, when it comes to digital marketing, higher ed institutions still have a lot to learn. While the possibilities of this versatile medium keep expanding, colleges and universities just haven’t kept up. As the center of any institution’s digital presence, websites emerged as the main theme.

Websites Need Some Extra Help

The majority of respondents (over 85%) agree that websites are more important today than ever before. They’re an essential recruitment tool, source of in-depth information, and an important way to connect the institution’s community and express its personality and brand voice. Yet in spite of all this, websites are not receiving the attention they deserve.

More than two-thirds of respondents (67.3%) said their institution’s website didn’t measure up to the competition. About the same number (65.7%) said their institution missed the mark in terms of expressing their brand identity.

According to over 85% of our survey respondents, websites are more important to their student recruitment efforts today than two years ago.

The ability to attract and serve a diverse audience with the information it needs is an important requirement – our survey respondents said this is a mixed scenario.   The prevailing response is that websites are better at providing information to traditional-age students than adult or non-traditional students and other audiences.

Less than a third (32.3%) of participants said their institution’s website was excellent or good at providing information to non-traditional students.   The growing impact and presence of non-traditional students at U.S. colleges and universities suggests this should be a priority element of website development.

SEO and Mobile Optimization – Optimizing websites for lead generation, Search Engine Optimization, and mobile devices is also lacking. Significantly less than half (38.2%) feel their institution’s website is effective in generating new leads — causing many schools to miss out on a huge opportunity to reach new students.

Small Budgets Are A Big Factor – About half (49.9%) rated their budget for website development and maintenance as either inadequate (30% or more below what they need) or minimal (10 – 29% below what they need).

Clearly, website budgets are inadequate, particularly in respect to website development and maintenance. Institutions that understand their website is their most important brand element — and who fund and staff it accordingly — are ahead of the competition.

For more Survey Results, visit our Snapshot. Survey participants have exclusive access to the entire survey – so we hope you’ll participate in 2015!! 


Additional Resources:

Apple Pay: Time to Say Goodbye to Plastic Cards?

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By now, you’ve probably heard about Apple Pay, the new payment service from Apple coming to an iPhone 6 (or Apple Watch) near you this October. Like most of us, you’re probably wondering what it is and how it works. And so to get you up to speed, here we bring you, Apple Pay 101.

What is it?

A mobile payment and digital wallet service that lets users make payments with their iPhone or Apple Watch at retail locations and online. It replaces having to swipe magnetic stripes at credit card terminals.

How does it work?

Apple Pay lets Apple devices wirelessly communicate with point-of-sale systems. Just select your card in Passbook and point your device at the payment point, using your fingerprint to authenticate the transaction. Simple as that. You get started by entering your account info manually or taking a photo of your credit card with your phone. The data is stored in Passbook.

Is it secure?

They’re saying it’s safer than those old-fashioned plastic cards you’re carrying around. That’s because it keeps your information completely private. Nobody ever has to see — or keep — your name, account number, or security code. And if you ever lose your phone, you can immediately suspend all your information through your iCloud account or the Find My iPhone app.

Time will tell how many people adopt this new technology. But given its high degree of simplicity, convenience, and security, it looks like Apply Pay may be here to stay.

How to win friends and influence people? Improve your storytelling skills.

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That’s right.  Storytelling is a skill (just ask anyone who can’t tell a joke worth a damn).  And like any other skill it can be improved and polished with practice.

Why work to improve this skill?  Because it’ll serve you well in innumerable situations, both personally and professionally.  It’ll help with your verbal and written communications for conveying ideas, framing challenges and enlightening the uninformed.   It will enhance your social communications (see joke reference above), sales pitches, presentations, public speaking and networking.  And just overall make you a hell of a lot more interesting.

A few simple things to remember:

  • Relax
  • Know your story well – practice, so it comes across naturally
  • Have a point (a la Steve Martin –
  • Keep it simple – add no extraneous details
  • Make eye contact
  • Exude energy – it’s actually a bit of a performance
  • Be appropriately, not overly demonstrative
  • Use analogies and metaphors
  • Avoid people’s names and references that your audience won’t know
  • Start and finish strong

Put a little work into developing your storytelling skills.  Who knows, you might be the next Jimmy Fallon.

So, two marketers walk into a bar …

Are you nice?

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I recently read two separate business blogs on the subject of “being nice.” The first writer talked about the benefits of being nice and offered some suggestions of ways to do it. He quoted an advertising agency owner (reportedly a nice guy) who is often asked for advice from his employees. His life advice regarding relationships is simple: “Marry for nice. Nice never goes away.” This writer took that principle and is applying it to other aspects of his own life.

The second business writer had a slightly different take on the subject of being nice, particularly as it pertains to the work place. This individual suggests that being nice is not how you want to be perceived. People who are “nice” may get extra work dumped on them, may not get their problems resolved or their voices heard, and may not get as good of a performance review. This writer suggests that we should be “likeable” instead of nice. Likeable people are able to push back and protect their own interests while still getting things done.

Who is right? Check out these short articles and decide for yourself. Share your thoughts on the d.trio blog or facebook page.

Battle of the Brands: Pumpkin Spiced Latte

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Welcome to the d.trio Battle of the Brands! In this recurring series we’ll be seeing how some of our favorite brands stack up against each other in a direct comparison. We’re all suckers for good brand marketing here at d.trio (duh – that’s what we do for a living) and we all have our loyalties. We’ll be testing those out with a series of blind taste tests and then assessing how our pre-existing brand perceptions influence our feelings about the results.

For the our first edition we’re sticking with our Pumpkin Spice theme for October and testing, well, you guessed it, the ever popular Pumpkin Spiced Latte. We tasted four of these fall favorites, three from the major coffee brands and the fourth from our own local coffee joint, Corner Coffee (514 N 3rd St, Minneapolis). Below are the first place votes and our best first reactions to our blind tasting of each:

Battle of the Brands: PSL edition
First place votes:1

First reaction: “Way too sweet.” (Except if you like that kind of thing.)

Particulars: Very bright orange color and lots of sugar. Probably the most pumpkin tasting, but a bit too much like a melted pumpkin milkshake.


Dunn Bros.
First place votes: 0

First reaction: “This tastes like a mistake.” (Immediately followed by “It might be a mistake, their coffee is great.”)

Particulars: Super bitter with a weird aftertaste. Definitely the least sweet but we’re pretty much convinced that the store made a mistake on ours because we’re sure that’s not what they wanted it to taste like.


Corner Coffee
First place votes: 2

First reaction: “Best coffee flavoring.” (This one was second place choice for all 9 of our tasters)

Particulars: Well balanced. Tasted of pumpkin and spice but left a nice coffee flavor in place.


First place votes: 6

First reaction: “Best balance of flavoring, this is the only one I could drink a whole cup of.” (Winner! Life is short. Pumpkin spice it.)

Particulars: The quote says it all.


So Caribou comes out as the winner of our blind tasting with Corner Coffee a very close second. Our after discussions centered around two topics: the first was how we really wished that our local shop had come out the winner and how close the battle had been. The second was that Caribou was the company we all feel has the most interesting and well done branding around their product. For a group of dedicated marketers it was gratifying that our favorite brand identity also backed it up with the best product.

What do you think of the pumpkin spiced trend or of any of these brands? Let us know in the comments. And stay tuned for our next Battle of the Brands, (there’s a rumor it might be burritos – yum!)