Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Arrested Development: When Great Ideas Go Unnoticed

Arrested Development was a television sitcom created by Mitchell Hurwitz that aired on FOX between 2003 and 2006. In 2006, the FOX Broadcasting Company cancelled the show much the chagrin of their fan base. Despite the show's raving reviews (listed in 2007 as one of Time magazines "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME") and multiple awards (six Emmy's & one Golden Globe), "the story about a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together" never obtained the viewership and ratings it needed to be a hit.

There are a number of theories as to why the show never took off, some of which include blaming FOX for constantly shuffling their time slot and not marketing the show well enough. While there may be some truth to those claims, the simple fact is that FOX did a poor job of bringing Arrested Development to their true raving fans, the ones that would spread the message and genius of the show far and wide.

Arrested Development was an intelligent comedy that had themes well beyond just the dysfunctional family dynamic. To succeed the show needed to find intelligent people. But the people who actually connected with the intelligent humor of the show were watching less TV than the average American. This created a dilemma that the show wasn't able to overcome (at least not back in 2006). Great ideas fail everyday for this exact same reason. When you are trying to win over an audience that is in a completely different arena from the one your game is being played, you are doomed to fail.

What FOX should have done was bring the show to its true fans and not wait for people to start noticing. The fans the show needed did in fact consume media (TV and the Internet) they just weren't consuming FOX. Their potential fans were however taking in plenty of the The Daily Show, but unlike Arrested Development, they were able to watch The Daily Show reruns straight from their computers on comedycentral.com.

It's not fair to completely blame FOX though for the shows failings when much is due to just poor and unlucky timing. Take for instance the fact that the show is about a rich and corrupt family's fall from the prominence of corporate America. A story of corruption like this works much better with today's business climate of bank bailouts, lavish CEO compensation and billion dollar Ponzi schemes.

The show would also do better in today's world because of the increased use of the Internet. Hulu, Netflix, OnDemand services and network websites, make it much easier now for a show to be accessed by their true raving fans. On top of that, by adding social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to the picture, you then give them a platform to communicate with you, spread the word and quite literally "become a fan" of Arrested Development. Simply stated, the Internet has become the ultimate platform for great ideas to spread.

The cancellation of Arrested Development teaches us that while timing is an important factor in the success or failure of an idea, you still have to find your true fans in order for your great idea to spread. However, if your fans are somewhere you are not, then stop and go to them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand
by Al Ries and Laura Ries

I recently stumbled upon this book written almost ten years ago and after finishing it, I was amazed at how well these "22 laws" still hold true for modern day business. The common sense approach that this book takes to branding speaks more to the overall strategy and mission of a company as to the just the marketing side of things. Where as many people might identify branding as just some element of business that marketing controls, no bigger per say than manufacturing is to operations, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding shows us that the strength of your brand will ultimately be the single most important element in the success of your business. Whether you are starting a new business or looking to improve upon an existing one, these 22 laws are a guide and resource to successfully (or unsuccessfully) building a company.

The 22 laws are as follows (this list would make for a great print out and should be hanging on your wall):
1. The Law of Expansion - The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope.
2. The Law of Contraction - A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.
3. The Law of Publicity - The birth of a brand is achieved with publicity, not advertising.
4. The Law of Advertising - Once born, a brand needs advertising to stay healthy.
5. The Law of the Word - A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the customer.
6. The Law of Credentials - The crucial ingredient in the success of any brand is its claim to authenticity.
7. The Law of Quality - Quality is important, but brands are not built by quality alone.
8. The Law of the Category - A leading brand should promote the category, not the brand.
9. The Law of the Name - In the long run a brand is nothing more than a name.
10. The Law of Extensions - The easiest way to destroy a brand is to put its name on everything.
11. The Law of Fellowship - In order to build the category, a brand should welcome other brands.
12. The Law of the Generic - One of the fastest routes to failure is giving a brand a generic name.
13. The Law of the Company - Brands are brands. Companies are companies. There is a difference.
14. The Law of Subbrands - What branding builds, subbranding can destroy.
15. The Law of Siblings - There is a time and a place to launch a second brand.
16. The Law of Shape - A brand's logotype should be designed to fit the eyes.  Both eyes.
17. The Law of Color - A brand should use a color that is the opposite of its major competitor's.
18. The Law of Borders - There are no barriers to global branding. A brand should know no borders.
19. The Law of Consistency - A brand is not built overnight. Success is measured in decades, no years.
20. The Law of Change - Brands can be changed, but only infrequently and only very carefully.
21. The Law of Mortality - No brand will live forever. Euthanasia is often the best solutions.
22. The Law of Singularity - The most important aspect of a brand is its single-mindedness.

These 22 laws are the stuff that great companies are made of. Want to know how strong your own company's brand is? Get this book and go through each chapter one by one and point out how well your brand follows each law. It might even open your eyes to strategy faults in your own organization but it will also give you a clear understanding of the bigger picture of public perception.

A brand is everything. It is who you are. And knowing who you are, what you stand for and how you can make that extremely clear and known to the rest of the world is critical to building a powerful brand.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Company Highlight - Chick-fil-A: Keeping it Simple with Chicken and Great Service

Photo from Flickr by _rockinfree

If you are a frequenter of fast food establishments, you've probably noticed an increased presence and growing popularity for the franchise Chick-fil-A.  Chick-fil-A, a chicken focused chain, has not only become a popular chicken restaurant, they have become the best drive through in America. QSR Magazine's annual Drive-Thru Performance Study has consistently, year after year, recognized Chick-fil-A as the best of all drive-thru's as they continue to exemplify outstanding customer service and a great product.

While Chick-fil-A does its fair share of charity work to get involved in local communities, they also do a great job of sticking to what made them great in the first place. The simple idea, to focus on making your product better, is a recipe for success that any business can follow.  Their goal is to make great tasting food, primarily chicken and to consistently demonstrate and improve upon their exemplary customer service. In fact, each and every year the company spends millions on improving their service instead of dumping it all on expensive ad campaigns. This commitment to incremental improvements shows in the form of amazing service that gets talked about and word of mouth advertising (free) will always give you the highest return on investment.

Chick-fil-A sticks to what they do by limiting their products to what they are good at. You don't see them frequently and drastically expanding their menu and adding new products that have nothing to do with who they are. Their menu is simple and the underlying focus has always been and continues to be chicken. They even go so far to prove this point that their entire advertising campaign is based on three simple words that perfectly define them - eat more chicken. By choosing these words they fight the intelligent fight and stay away from a chicken chain war with KFC. While this slogan might in fact send potential customers to a major rival in KFC, the amount of customers to be gained from beef focused chains far exceeds any increase in sales that could be gained from customers that are already big fans of chicken. Coke and Pepsi could learn something from this strategy as the number of cola drinks that are consumed each year continues to dwindle yet these two giants have been attacking each other for years instead of competing against coffee, energy drinks, beer or any other non-cola beverage. Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, wins if people simply choose chicken over beef.

Related Links:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review - Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life
Written By: Winifred Gallagher

Rapt is an exploration of how attention plays such a crucial role in the quality of your life. The idea that what you choose to pay attention to shapes your life is the theme of the book as it explores the impact attention has on productivity, decisions, creativity, relationships, happiness and health. Rapt supports its claims with numerous insights, studies and data from both neuroscience and behavioral psychology. Simplistically the book is best summarized with the following quote found in the introduction:

"My experience is what I agree to attend to." - William James

The idea that attention holds so much power over your life should be encouraging because it means it is possible to shape your existence, outcome and daily mood. The human mind can only absorb and attend to so much and knowing how to control this is considered the secret to happiness for many.

The title of the book, Rapt, is appropriate as the term literally means to be completely absorbed, engrossed, fascinated and focused at any given moment. Rapt attention can make time seemingly fly by, create inner happiness and help you concentrate better in all aspects of your life. If you are achieving a rapt state of attention it most likely means that you're seeking out activities and a life that is full of your undivided attention instead of the reactive, unfocused and drifting way that many of us spend our time.

Rapt offers many antidotes to take control of your attention such as meditating and choosing the right activities. Through the power of meditating one should give complete focus to a single task for prolonged periods of time such as breathing. This practiced state of rapt attention increases your capacity for living the focused life. The wisdom to consistently choose enjoyable but challenging activities enables you to work your brain just enough to experience complete "flow" which the books considers the optimal human experience. Flow is better achieved when you choose activities that stretch your mental muscles such as when you are devoting time to a challenging hobby like learning guitar, playing sports, cooking a new recipe or devoting your time to a specific project at work. It is less likely to occur though when you space out while watching TV or when are trying to accomplish twenty things at once while multi-tasking. A consistent commitment to challenging and focused work and leisure produces a better daily experience and in-turn develops you into a more interesting person.

Rapt is a book for life and work. It preaches such timeless concepts as demonstrating self-control, focusing on positive thinking and making sure you give the people in your life the full, undivided attention they deserve. According to Rapt, this is the secret to a healthy and happy life and while we can't be happy all the time, the decisions we make on where to devote our attention and mental energy, goes a long way to shaping our overall life experience. As the book explains in discussing the connection that positive and productive rapt attention has with your overall health and well being, even the longevity of your life depends on the ability to control your attention.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Starbucks Logo Represents a Change in the Company's Focus

Starbucks recently launched a change in their logo to celebrate their 40th anniversary (see the new logo here). Whether you are a fan of the giant coffee chain or not, it seems that Starbucks has lost site of the power of their name.

By removing their name from the logo, they are removing the most important part of their business, their brand. For Starbucks, their brand is completely represented in their name. Maybe for a company like Nike, who specializes in a number of sports related products, the swoosh is all you need because when you think of Nike, you no longer think about just shoes. However, Starbucks is in the business coffee and their name so powerfully connects to the idea of coffee, that removing it from the logo doesn't make sense from a branding standpoint. Perhaps if Starbucks goal is to expand their services to the point that the company is not primarily associated with coffee anymore, then this is a great decision (Starbucks mulling wine, cheese move). If their goal though is to merely show a fresh look, not some complete shift in their businesses focus, then removing their name could be a disaster.

There is nothing wrong with a logo change. The reality is brands get stale. The mistake is found with removing your name from a logo, when your name is the product itself. Think about Coca-Cola. They have undergone numerous logo changes but they remain the superior soft drink company. Despite the many graphical changes in the Coca-Cola logo (see the Coca-Cola logo throughout the years), the one thing that has remained constant in the logo is the name Coca-Cola. This is because their name is the product, Coke, which is synonymous with a cola drink. Just as a Rolex is an expensive watch, a Kleenex is a tissue and Campbell's is soup, to many people Starbucks is coffee.

When you go to Starbucks, you may be thinking ahead of time that you want a Caramel Machiatto, but you are also thinking that you want a Starbucks. This holds true, despite the many types of drinks available at the store. When your name almost becomes the thing itself you have a powerful brand. By removing it from the product, they are saying Starbucks isn't coffee rather a company that just happens to sell coffee among other things. That is apparent as the number of products you can buy at Starbucks seems to increase every year to the point where they have over extended their brand. Starbucks seems to be on a mission to be the cafe that sells everything, not just the few things they are good at that make them who they are. This logo change is just another move by a company that from a branding standpoint, appears to be getting out of the coffee business.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Artisan Cooking & Letterpress Training Classes

An artisan is an old Italian word used to describe a manual laborer of a specific craft or trade who produces items by hand through the use of skill and creativity. The creation of these goods through a non-standardized process and by the hands of the worker, makes each product unique. This labor intensive and imperfect process is what gives artisanal products their charm, unlike mass produced items that are all identical.

We often hear the term artisan used in cooking. People who make food and chefs alike have to rely on their skill and training to create unique, tasty items all slightly different than the previous. The process is fun, creative, challenging and rewarding and it's no wonder that so many people like me, with no culinary training or background, have such a strong interest in learning how to make great food.

Years ago, when I decided I loved to cook for all the reasons sighted above, I looked to increase my knowledge by training hands on with an expert. While I had no desire to leave the printing industry, spend thousands of dollars on a professional cooking school and become a chef, I did want to acquire some culinary expertise in select areas. That is when I turned to the Viking Cooking School, a great place for any cooking enthusiast like me who wants to learn the art as a hobby not a career.

To the everyday home cook, it might not ever dawn on them to try a cooking class. I for one never considered the idea until one night five years ago, while I was still in production, I was checking over and reviewing a proof for a Viking catalog that we were about to print and it hit me like a ton of bricks. After that cooking became a passion.

A few years later in 2007, when I was sharing a Viking catalog sample and my experience with a potential prospect, for fun I highlighted a recipe they should also try and it was received very well. Shortly after that I sent out my first Print Chef newsletter and the rest is history. But if it weren't for that cooking school advertisement, I probably never would have created the Print Chef in the first place and simultaneously discovered my love for printing as cooking connected me to printing in a way I never could have imagined.

Recently I was watching the YouTube video featured above for Hatch Show Print and I had a similar revelation to the one I had on cooking classes years ago. Commercial printing by no means should be considered artisan work as very much of it is highly standardized and mass produced. However, watching the process of letterpress printing sparked an interest in me to learn this old craft in the exact same way that the opportunity to take cooking classes did.

Letterpress printing is about as close as you'll come to artisan work in the printing industry. Because of the unique nature in the items a letterpress creates, it is no surprise that there has been a recent surge of new shops all across the world embracing this timeless craft. Just as you don't have to be a chef to enjoy the art of cooking, and unlike other forms of printing, you don't have to work in the industry or be an expert to print on a letterpress. You do however, need to train and take classes and there are many that are offered to the general public.

If reading this post or watching the video has in any way made you want to learn more about letterpress shops that offer classes for the aspiring print enthusiast, check out the resources below. This is a great starting point to find a letterpress class or workshop near you.

Letterpress Links:
The Briar Press list of upcoming letterpress workshops and events
Search the Briar Press yellow pages to find letterpress associations, museums, printers, schools and suppliers wherever you are

Cooking School Links:
The Viking Cooking School
Whole Foods Market Cooking Classes & Culinary Centers
Local Cooking Classes
Central Market Cooking School