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Megan Devine

Analyzing art

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I recently painted a self-portrait and posted it to social media with the question, “Am I done?” I did this because, with the subject matter so close, I wasn’t sure I could see it objectively. There were an interesting array of responses but the one that intrigued me was from my friend and fellow artist, Jerome. He asked, “Do you think you’re done?” Which begs the question, in creative pursuits, why do you have to live with what is done in order to improve the results? And how do you know when to stop?

In creative development it’s important to have the time and the space to take a step back in the process and let objectivity settle in. This will make good creative great by revealing things that are not immediately obvious, things that it takes our brains some time to process. The reasons for this are based in the way we perceive and process information, as well as our interactions with the world – stored as past experiences. And the more experience you have with something, the more your gut instincts come into play.

There were times in my process where I thought I’d gotten something perfect, and the next time I saw my painting I’d see the proportions were off or the color was slightly wrong. What I was in love with yesterday (the masterpiece syndrome, my Carleton professor called it) today was sub-par. With time, small iterations, feedback and a little objectivity I finished my self-portrait, and I’m pleased with the results. If I had rushed through it, it may have been fine, but not the best it could be.

Designers have it harder than ever because the perception is, if the tools are easier to use, design must be easier than it used to be. The tools may help the technician be more accurate but they don’t drive the creative process, they facilitate it. We still need the talent, the gut instinct, objectivity and time to do our best work. Next time you have a creative project, give it a little extra time to develop and see for yourself.

Please let us know what you think, here or on Facebook and for more information on how the brain processes visual information click here:

My first day – Megan Devine – microblog

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In honor of d.trio’s 15th anniversary we’ve asked all of the current employees to write two microblogs. One about their very first day at d.trio, the other about where they were 15 years ago.


My first day at d.trio was the first day d.trio existed. Maureen, Fred and I congregated in the basement of my house, warming ourselves in front of the fire that I built (because it was frigid and snowed everyday for a week), sharing one computer, one phone and one fax machine to get our little business off the ground. We were nervous and excited, wanting to fast-forward 6 months to see if we’d catch on. Fred didn’t like the food choices in my pantry (no chips!), but we really got along quite well, and we all lived to tell about it!


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.

Reimagining traditional marketing tactics

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I received a link today via email. It contained one of the cleverest ads I’ve seen in a long time. Clever because it’s gone viral, and through humor and smarts has gotten people to share a video promoting a catalog. That’s right, an old fashioned, paper catalog.

Kudos to IKEA for coming up with a way to make a traditional marketing channel (that still works, by the way) new and, dare I say, cool?

Now, I don’t know the results of this ad. Did more people pick up the catalog? Did it sell more cabinets or tchotchkes? That’s of course important. But the reality is they did what every marketer tries to do with their marketing tactics – cut through the clutter and get engagement. Plus, they’ve elevated their catalog to the level of electronic tactics for ease of use, high definition pictures and battery life (ha!).

The point is, this is not just good marketing, but it is also a brilliant way of marrying traditional and interactive tactics and a reminder not to throw out the old tactics just because they aren’t as shiny as digital. The two can work together beautifully – like peanut butter and jelly. Or, catalog and iPad.

Here’s the link:


Devil in the details – 5 signs you’re in too deep

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Details – if you’re a detail person like me, you know they are important. They will dog you if you don’t pay attention. But, how much is too much? When do you know you’ve done your due diligence and how do you know it’s time to edit? The funny thing about details is they can add value and overwhelm; lend to credibility and shut down the conversation altogether. You are probably not the one to see your own obsession with details as a negative, but it does help to have colleagues and friends to help you edit.

It’s good to know when to edit, so here are the top 5 signs that you’re too deep in the details:

  1. Your emails are more than 2 paragraphs long. Really, if your emails are any longer, you won’t get people to read them anyway so maybe choose another way to communicate this information. A memo? A conversation with a follow up in writing?
  2. Your hour-long presentation has more than 15 slides. More than this and you’ll have your audience wondering how long they will be held captive or you’ll be speed speaking your way through and lose them anyway. Plus you won’t have the crucial discussion time built in.
  3. Your slides in your presentation look more like paragraphs in a book than a nice visual and a thought to build on. Enough said.
  4. Your strategic overview has actual tactics detailed, when you’ve stated you’re just keeping it high level. You’ll lose credibility here and you will confuse people if your strategy is mixed up with tactics. Other than relevant examples of how you’ve accomplished your strategies (and maybe keep those in case studies), tactics should come later.
  5. Your instructions or directions or processes have so much detail that they confuse people. All of these need to lead people. Complete but concise is the ideal. Superfluous information will just make the steps more difficult to follow.

Visual cues are your best friend if you’re a detail person. One hopes for engagement and interaction with conversations or presentations in marketing, sales, and personal interactions. When you see faces glass over, you’re too deep in the details – time to pull up. When your audience looks at the time and toward the door, it’s time to check in with them. Details are a great thing, but I’ve learned, with a little help from my friends, that sometimes enough is enough.



5 marketing missteps to avoid

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After 9 years of judging the International ECHO Awards, things still surprise me. Maybe not the things you would expect. Of course I see a lot of wonderful ideas and great marketing, but my surprise boils down more to the missteps good marketers make. These missteps may keep a successful campaign from getting the recognition it deserves. With this in mind, here are 5 things to avoid when setting up and writing about a campaign, whether it’s for a case study or an awards program. Back to basics:


  1. Plan ahead. Start planning your testing and results with your strategy. What do you want to be able to measure? What does a successful campaign mean to you? Here’s a hint: results that don’t support your objectives aren’t that meaningful. It was obvious in some write-ups that the strategy was pointing in a different direction than the results. For example, the objective, new customers, the results, clicks or social media likes/follows. It’s not relevant.
  2. Tie the results explicitly back to your strategy. This is the flip side of number one. If you’re trying to increase sales by $xx, note how much sales increased, if you wanted additional customers, note the how many you won, if you were looking for likes and followers, say how many. I know this sounds very basic, but do the math. Example: “Our objective was to increase sales by 30%, this campaign exceeded the goal by 100%”. If your results are something other than sales, I hope you had that strategy laid out from the beginning.
  3. Tie your campaign into the business need. In judging, I’ve seen fun, expensive campaigns that made a big splash, but didn’t tie back into the business plan/need/objectives. After all, marketing is about improving your business in some way, not being popular. So, keep your business objective close to the promotion, or make prospects look at what you’re trying to promote (short video or landing page) before they get to do the unrelated fun stuff.
  4. Relate your channels to maximize the results. Make it easy for prospects to respond to your offer. If you want to drive online traffic, don’t forget the landing page to tie online and offline channels and use incentives to drive that traffic where you want it to go. Make sure your channels work together.
  5. Keep your write-up brief. This is a little selfish. Whether it’s an awards write up or a case study, nobody likes to sort through lots of embellishments to find content. Write it well, get to the point and make it easy to understand the meat of the subject quickly. You may think you have to sell your campaign in a write up, but the reality is it needs to stand on its own merits. Case studies are a great way to showcase your work. People are busy and tend to skim for information, so it helps to lay it out with headlines – such as Challenge, Strategy, Results – to help potential prospects get to the relevant facts quickly.


I hope these insights are helpful and will assist you the next time you create a campaign you’re proud of and need to present in the best light. The good news is that there is a lot of exciting multi-channel marketing going on globally and that’s good for all of us.


A rant against lazy marketing

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As marketers we have the luxury of knowing something about the people we market to. We have data dashboards, trends, purchase information, generational knowledge – and the list goes on.  There are ample opportunities to really make our messages relevant to the receiver. But it’s easy to fall in the trap of addressing only one aspect of those individuals. Even though someone might be a certain age, gender, income level, weight or whatever, they don’t want to be pelted with the same one-dimensional messages over and over again. That’s lazy marketing.

It’s important to really consider the whole individual as you develop your messaging. Regardless of whether you have big, deep data that allows you to “know” someone at a one-to-one level or demographic/psychographic data that gives you a snapshot of someone in a similar group, taking one attribute and pounding on it is tiresome and irksome.

Everyday I get marketing pieces, washed in pink, telling me I can be more assertive, manage my emotions and learn to handle “difficult conversations”. Apparently they think it’s ok to talk down to me because I’m a woman. I’m also told I can lose weight, look 10 years younger and manage my diabetes because I’m a certain age. Clearly they don’t know me. At all. Many of these companies have more data on me than I care to think about, but they don’t use it to market to me as the health-conscious, life-long athlete that I am.

I am so tired of seeing these messages that I’m considering opting out of many of the newsletters I’ve subscribed to for years because of their lazy, one-dimensional marketing.  With the importance of content marketing continuing to grow, it should give marketers pause that they may be alienating the very target market they are trying to attract. I believe the message is no longer just buyer beware. Now it’s marketer beware.

Get a better brain

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So, you’ve got goals, and one of them is to advance in your career. With so many paths available to enhance your abilities (online training, formal education, mentors), where do you start? Maybe it’s time to take a different perspective and start from the inside.

Here’s a little secret if you have a white-collar career: Your job is making you bad at your job. It’s true; the constant interruption of emails, texts and IMs changes your brain over time. Your attention span gets shorter and you’re more easily distracted from the subject you’re trying to focus on. This causes productivity issues in your day and ultimately can add time to your career timeline. People who can focus, problem-solve and shift gears without losing track of what they were trying to do, accomplish more. They rise to the top of the ranks faster and become leaders.

How do you counteract the clutter and get the best from your brain? If you are willing to make a conscious, consistent effort there are various tools that can help. Considering how important your brain is to the work that you do, why not spend some time improving it?

One of the tools that I’ve used myself is Lumosity. This is a brain-training program that trains five areas of brain function: memory, attention, flexibility, problem solving and (processing) speed by playing a specifically designed set of games online. Your progress is charted from the start and you can see not only your own improvement, but also how you compare to others in your age group. Brain training has helped me in several ways. My attention is more acute, I’m less distracted by shifts in work and more fluid in multi-tasking. I’m able to access words and ideas faster for problem solving, writing and speaking.

Set up your work environment to help you succeed, not help you to become distracted and overly brain-stressed. Turn off your alerts and only check emails periodically when you’re working on a project that requires more attention, like writing. You might even, as this article suggests, use journaling to jot down at least one purposeful thought every day. This will keep your goals and aspirations in mind help make your thought processes more proactive and less reactive. Let your mind wander and daydream a bit, then jot down your thoughts. This doesn’t have to be overwhelming, just deliberate. Brain training can be a game changer, so why not help your brain get you where you want to be?

Management perspective

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For the sake of our sanity it was nice to get out of the brutal northern winter that’s overstayed its welcome. So we went to Atlanta where there is spring (and actual flowers). The need to see spring is a primal one and it coincided nicely with a client brand update that freshens their brand look and feel. Is this truly a coincidence? I think not. After the nose-to-the-grindstone marketing that we do all winter, creative ideas pop up in the spring like flowers, refreshing us and we want and need to pay attention to those ideas. SunTrust already had a sun-kissed brand, but the update took it a step further to make the banking brand more accessible, personal and warm, like spring. We had a great time there, reminded that face-to-face meetings are not dead, spring is for renewal, and it’s a great time to update your brand. Kudos to SunTrust and thanks for sharing your optimistic spring outlook with us if only for a day.

Double black diamonds, anyone?

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Some people think I’m crazy because when I go on vacation, I don’t relax. I go. Hard. For instance, I like to go to the top of the mountain, feel the sun on my face, ski the double black diamonds and fall into bed exhausted at night (ok, maybe after a little wine too).

So what do double black diamonds have to do with business? A change of venue, change of pace and mindset in the great outdoors makes me more productive and creative in the long run. It releases the brain to think more broadly and makes me feel a sense of well-being. Here’s additional reading about the benefits of exercising outdoors.

My brain works hard at my job, but like most of you in business, I sit a lot. Not something I do well naturally, so when I feel a little burned out from thinking and sitting the best antidote to that is moving. And being in nature. Go to top of the mountain and your problems seem surmountable, or run or bike on the beach and look at the ocean – commune with nature, you’ll see.

It feels good to get outside and push yourself in different ways than you do in business, and test your limits. Even if you’re not that athletic, you can take a long walk or get on a bike and explore some new terrain. The fresh air and change will do you good, your ideas will flourish and you’ll sleep better than you ever have. I guarantee it.