Character is action – Using what your brand does to define what your brand is

There is a truism that is often quoted in screenwriting: “character is action, not dialogue”.

For example, if you want to reveal that a junkie is addicted to drugs you don’t have him say “I’m so desperate for drugs I’ll do anything”, you put the drugs at the bottom of a blocked toilet, have him fish them out and swallow them.

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You know you’re a junkie if…

Character is action is also true in real life. When an on-hold message says “your call is important to us” but you’re still on hold 20 minutes later, that not only shows your call isn’t important, it also shows the people on the other end of the line are either happy to lie to you or delude themselves into thinking that no one will care about their lack of service.

This is why one of the first things any organisation should do when they’re thinking about brand development is audit how they act internally and externally, and how those actions appear to the people who see them. These actions do more to define how the organisation is perceived and what a brand currently stands for than any strategic business plan with overarching values and goals.

At Shabbadu, we like to start every brand development project with a Communications Audit and a set of workshops with our client’s front line staff. It allows us to capture and define every significant action taken on behalf of a brand. Are they positive or negative? Desperate or confident? Caring or selfish?

By capturing a snapshot of what an organisation does and how it does it, we give our clients a strong understanding of what their brand really stands for and what they might need to do differently to live up to the promise of their brand. It also gives us a great foundation to develop brand assets that make sense of the way their organisation acts.

This means you should end up with a brand that strengthens what it stands for in a natural, self-sustaining way, no matter what twists and turns the script takes.

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Emojis: Linguistic evolution? Or stupid, bastardised Internet glitter?

Every generation bastardizes the language. It’s happened since forever. So really it should come as no surprise that the emerging rebellious youth, armed to the teeth with unlimited data caps and early-onset thumb arthritis, are helping to steer the vernacular into wondrously new, if head-scratchingly confounding, places with ‘emojis’ (winking smiley face).

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The ‘Call an ambulance I’m having a stroke’ emoji.

The evolution of language is a natural, beautiful thing. It helps shape a generation’s identity and date stamps the zeitgeist, and hopefully, as a result, we progress as a society. Cultivating new ways to communicate helps us form bonds with our peers and gives the ‘cool kids’ a sort of shorthand to help them decipher who’s in and who’s out. But above all, it’s supposed to make communication easier.

Yet, I can’t see ‘emojis’ helping ‘us’ achieve any of these things.

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I don’t know either TBH.

They distract, confuse, obfuscate, but most mischievously of all, potentially purport to dumb us down. Try finding the ‘emoji’ equivalent of distract, confuse and obfuscate, for instance. “Um, ok, well I’ve got a woman shrugging her shoulders…will that do?” No.

‘Emojis’ are the linguistic equivalent of glitter: nice in theory and can clearly serve a purpose, but once unleashed now inhabits every crevice of our existence and is seemingly impossible to get rid of. I can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that they’re some big, dumb ‘so bad it’s good’ joke that people began using ironically. Only it’s been going on for so long now that everyone seems to have forgotten the punch line, walked the chicken back across the road and are now happily drinking in a bar with a horse, a tiny man with a piano, and various men of cloth.

maxresdefaultDon’t get me wrong; ‘emojis’ have their place as hieroglyphic hashtags to be used after the main event to highlight your point (ok signing hand) or provide a witty rejoinder (poo with eyes (hilarious)). However, plonk them in the middle of a sentence in place of an actual word and leave the reader to decipher your message at your own peril.

So are ‘emojis’ here to stay, or will they be banished to the cultural wilderness like Hammer Pants, tamagotchis and wine cooler?

I guess only (clock face) will (person whispering into their hand).

The art of giving feedback ~ or ~ The Shit Sandwich

We ‘creative types’ are a sensitive bunch. Sure, we might act all aloof and intellectually superior on the odd occasion, but in reality we’re just faithful hounds to our client masters: pining for a belly rub and hoping they remember to feed us on time. This Jekyll/Hyde persona is no-more pronounced than during the creative presentation/client feedback parts of the creative process.

A presenting creative is confident and assured. They have answered the brief in a fresh way and they’re bound to blow the client away with their cleverness. A creative receiving feedback is the ultimate submissive. The client holds their hopes, dreams and future successes in their hands. In some strange way, this piece of work represents a small piece of the creative’s soul.

Don’t laugh, this is serious.

To a creative person, to stand before a client is to stand before Caesar. For they are the ultimate judge. There is no appeals tribunal. Just a thumb pointing up or down.

So stepping out of the poor, defenseless creative person’s $200 trainers for a second, it’s not the client’s fault that they can’t take criticism, is it? The client has a job to do. They have their own masters to please. Why can’t it just be how they asked it to be?

Well, the simple answer is, it can.

Sometimes as creatives, we get it wrong. Sometimes we get it hugely wrong. Other times, it’s mostly right but with a few little tweaks it’ll be bang on. Still, when we get it wrong, we need to fix it. But asking certain types of creative people that a little piece of their soul is wrong is akin to asking them to eat shit.

You can’t dress it up. You can’t make it taste better. But you can hide it. It all lies in the art of the Shit Sandwich.

So, how does a sandwich work? You’ve got a slice of bread at the bottom, filling in the middle and another slice of bread on top, right?

In the case of a shit sandwich, you start by saying something nice about the work. For example; “I love the visual treatment…”, “The headline was hilarious…” or “I really admired your punctuality…”

Then, you administer the ‘shit’; “But, it’s been rejected by legals”, “My wife/husband/cat hates it” or “It’s so off brief we sent out a search party.”

The final slice is another affirmation to leave the creative feeling positive about what must happen next; “We’ve managed to extend the deadline so there’s more time for you to come up with something amazing! We’re sure you’ve got it in you.” Etc…

Good news – Bad news – Good news. That’s the Shit Sandwich.

In my experience, it’s the most effective way to get a creative person to happily slice and dice a piece of their soul for you. The method also works really well on pre-school children.

But be warned, administering a good Shit Sandwich takes practice. I’ve seen good clients clumsily rush in with the Open Shit Sandwich (no layer of good news on top) which the creative can see from a mile off and get in a bad mood before you even start talking. Or even worse, the Reverse-Open Shit Sandwich. Which just leaves everyone really confused and with shit on their hands.

There’s no such thing as good, bad feedback. But when you slip it between a couple of slices of something good, it makes it a lot more palatable.

How to brief a creative person ~or~ Making sure you get what you deserve.

Briefs are like design books. Most creative people love receiving them, but they don’t read them much: they flick through them for vague inspiration before running off in the direction their heart/gut tells them to go.

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But don’t let that dissuade you from writing one, because they’re massively important. Not just to guide the creative process, but to also help solidify your own thinking beforehand. Plus, when push comes to shove, it will be the lighthouse everyone looks to when they’ve all (yourself included) lost their way.

There is no ‘one’ perfect way to brief. Every advertising agency has a different template. But there are a few signposts you need to lay down to ensure the end result is right.

First of all, and this is the hardest part of the process, get rid of any preconceived notion of what the end result will look/sound/feel like. Just forget it. It will cloud the way you brief and it will cloud the way you respond to the work.

Step 1: Define what you want to achieve: Are you looking to build awareness? Are you having a sale? Are you launching something new? Whether you’re fulfilling a function or aiming for double-digit growth, put it down on paper and share it.

Step 2: Define the parameters: Who is the target audience? When do you need it by? If you’ve already booked the media, what’s the schedule? What’s your production budget? All these things will be factors that will affect the outcome. If you have the information, it’s best shared with those that need to know from the very start.

Step 3: Set the tone. If you’ve got an established brand this will be a walk in the park. If you’re starting from scratch it’s a process that really needs to take place separately. If you don’t know how your brand speaks to its audience, you really shouldn’t be advertising until you do. Taking the time to create one not only helps focus your communications, but can increase your effectiveness exponentially.

Step 4: Define how you will measure success. Separate from Step 1, this is more about what you want the target audience to think/feel/do once they’ve seen this piece of communication. Is it even measurable? If so, it’s good to set a target for the creative to aim for.

No offence, but this isn’t what success looks like to normal people. 

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And despite all this required information, try to keep it short and sweet.

But what about the ‘Unique Selling Point’, or the ‘Single Minded Proposition’? These are ‘nice to haves’ but not essential. Besides, if you’ve got people writing those things for you, you don’t need to learn how to write a brief.

So there you have it. In short, know what you want to achieve, define the parameters, set the tone and define how you’ll measure success.

Start with these steps and an open mind, and your creative suppliers will thank you for it.

Day 2 of a design forum through the eyes of a writer ~ agIdeas 2013

Day 2 begins at 5:45, which is inhuman. Soon enough I’m off the train, caffeinated and hob-nobbing at the Advantage Business Breakfast. Thankfully, bacon and egg rolls are in abundance. Normal service resumes.

Dan Formosa’s opening talk was first class. He was engaging, insightful, took us on a journey and made an impression on everyone. He reset the bar for the remainder of the speakers for the rest of the conference. So many pearls of wisdom: don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘why’, ‘People don’t buy your product, a person buys your product’. So many workable answers to our problems: ‘It’s personal relationships, treat them like you’re dating.’ You just wanted to wrap him up, stick him under your arm and run away so no one else can benefit from his genius but you.

At first, I couldn’t place John Barratt’s accent and it distracted me. Then I realised it was trans-Atlantic Novacastrian and slapped my forehead for not picking it sooner. John works at Teague. A massive industrial design company that only has about 20% industrial designers on staff. Makes sense. Well, everything else he said did. No matter how big your project, get a small, core team to run it. And he knows big projects. Like, $200,000,000,000.00 worth of big. He also told us designers need to get tangible early in the process. Handy.

Both mornings before the ‘big show’ we’ve been treated to the musical styling of an up and coming band (Rebirth/Red Leader). I neglected to mention this yesterday. Today’s group, made me feel like I was at a Spandau Ballet concert. But in a good way.

Notre premiere presenteur, Alain Le Quernec, didn’t suffer from English not being his first language. In fact, he used it as weapon. I don’t know how you say ‘brevity is wit’ in French, but I’m pretty sure he does. He proudly proclaimed not to be ‘a reference or an example’, then proceeded to show us time and time again exactly the opposite. He had us eating his political, cultural, social communication out of the palm of his hand until we were full.

Second up was a man I’d been looking forward to hearing from ever since the speaker announcements were made so I’m probably going to be unduly hard on him for missing the brief. David Nobay from Droga5. ‘Nobby’ is one of advertising’s better-known characters, and for good reason. His work proceeds him, as does his ability to get the best out of those around him. The guy wins awards for breakfast, but I’m not reviewing his work, I’m reviewing his talk. Nobby took it upon himself to give the students in the room a ‘pep-talk’. This included telling them that there were already too many people in the industry and illustrating his points with clips from MadMen. It would have been great if he gave us insights into how we can overcome all the problems he brought up and gave us a better insight into what he looks for in people, but unfortunately he didn’t.

To whoever tweeted about the lack of female representation on the speaker list, Leah Heiss should have put your mind at ease. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. With agIdeas now falling under the Victorian Government’s Design Matters initiative, Leah stood confidently on stage and showed us precisely why. With a range of inspired, functional jewellery designs that administer medicine, monitor arrhythmia, project allergy information and more. Reducing the necessity to lug around cumbersome, embarrassing equipment in the process. Leah told us she’ll work with anyone, micro-biologists, nanothechnologists, designers, and pretty much anyone else who she can learn from or be inspired by. The collective subconscious in the room said “You can work with me” in unison.

After a quick break, the affable Simon Rippingale took us through the process of ‘getting a project off the ground’ while telling the story of how we got his latest animation “A Cautionary Tail” realised. “A Cautionary Tail” was written by his creative partner while holed up in hospital for a year (echoes of @FullSickRapper). Stylewise, it uses live, filmed sets with 3D animated characters. The results, that we saw, were stunning and clearly painstaking to create. Somehow he managed to get it voiced by Barry Otto, David Wenham and Cate Blanchette. Impressive. Inspiring. Informative. Everyone is barracking for it to be a success. Look out for it on ABC later this year.

Ok, so I met Jan Van Shaik (from Minifie Van Shaik Architects) for the first and only time on Monday night. After a few beverages we had a chat. Despite only meeting him once, I will trust him to the ends of the earth and back. I mean, you’ve got to trust a man who loves his mum so much to walk out onto a stage in front of 2,500 people, get them to stand up and sing her (hi Catherine) Happy Birthday. Jan’s talk was a great balance of information, aspiration and detail. The only thing that could have improved it was if he’d successfully organised a Kickstarter project to fund a group purchase of that art deco former hospital in Mildura. Maybe there’s still time…. I dare you.

Reiko Sudo, founder of Nuno Corporation and Nuno Works is a worldwide authority in textiles. The time and effort that goes into her work, is reflected in the exquisite results. I couldn’t even begin to describe it. Simply go to nuno.com and feast your eyes. Despite not being particularly fluent in English, it was easy enough for Reiko to let her work do the talking. Simply breathtaking work.

After lunch, Ken Cato announced the winners of NewStar. Again, the ladies shone out (apologies for not getting names: I think there was a Grace? and someone from New Zealand) Anyway, congrats!

Then Kane Hibberd filled the breech after the unfortunate passing of the scheduled speaker’s mother (condolences to Mr Mott and family). Kane is a rock photographer who likes taking photos of guys covered in ‘shiz’. His talk was a refreshingly candid study in believing in yourself, following your dreams no matter how shit people say you are to your face. He shoots promo shots for bands in unique ways. It made for a ripping yarn accompanied by some very interesting visuals.

Chris Khalil came out next to take us on a half journey/half lecture on the world of User Experience. Like Kirsty Lindsay yesterday, Chris told us that if people don’t notice what he does, he’s doing a great job. It must be a bugger for his boss to give him performance reviews. Still, it was a good peek behind the curtain as to why news sites lay things out the way they do.

Ian Anderson followed Chris. You could see a good percentage of the audience sit a little further towards the edge of their seats. Despite still having tickets to sell for his ‘Up And Over Down Under’ Workshop this weekend, he was definitely not on a charm offensive to win over those umming and ahing over going along. Ian grumbled, grizzled and swore through his set. He’s no arse-licker is Ian. There’s no such thing as a good, rich designer too. Maybe it’s his thing? Maybe the fact that he earned the Twitter hashtag #CheerUpIan during his talk will please him. His PR shot (a close up him casually giving a two fingered salute) would suggest as much. Not knowing him from a bar of soap beforehand, I saw him as someone I’d probably love to have a beer with, but wouldn’t cross the road to be inspired by. Still trying to figure out if his parting slide “Don’t be a cunt all your life” was ironic or not.

Taiwan’s Pey Chwen Lin has created a really interesting hologram based installation piece known as Eve Clone. She took us through the process of bringing the concept to life – which was kind of interesting. Then she went deep. She started talking about the planet and how we’re stuffing it up (which I’m totally cool with). And this all led into what Eve Clone was all about. I was kind of expecting a half-baked concoction that was tenuous at best. What we got was so good it was scary. From memory, Eve (the first woman) Clone (technology) represents the lust men have for technology, and their desire to advance it, be with it, and use it to the sake of everything else. Her eyes follow you around the room at all times. The explanation had one absolute effect – All the guys who were live tweeting, quietly put their phones down. Bless.

By this stage of the day, you need something refreshing. The guys from Voice design delivered. So confident were they in their ability to cut the mustard as designers, they started their business fresh out of Uni. Their theory was, you’re not born with it, you learn it, work hard and earn it. From the looks of their work and their shut-up-and-do-it attitude, they’ll do just fine.

Last up was John Barratt. I’ve already sung his praises and he carried on well in the face of a couple of technical difficulties. The big difference between this talk and this morning was it gave us an insight into how his career started and subsequently took off. It’s all about trust.

I trust, we’ll see some more brilliance tomorrow.

Like, like, like, donate ~ or ~ The clever way that GetUp uses Facebook

If you want to be cynical, charities work on a simple model. They point out a problem, and then use a mix of guilt and sympathy to get us to donate. “Look at this problem. Isn’t it terrible? If you give us money we’ll do something to fix it.” Basically, it’s a kind of outsourcing.

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Now you don’t need to feel hopeless or useless in the face of human suffering. You’re doing something useful: you’re paying someone to fix it.

At some point political activists realised that this was a model that could work for them. They don’t ask us to man the barricades anymore. Instead they get us to pay them to man the barricades on our behalf. The buzz phrase is “outsourcing our activism”. Now we see it all the time.

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The whales are in danger from the Japanese? Give money to Sea Shepherd. The wilderness is under threat from big mining? Give money to The Wilderness Society.

This model has an inbuilt dilemma, though. To keep us engaged as an audience, they need to make us continually feel like we’re doing something useful. BUT they can only ask us for money so many times in a year before they piss us off. So they need to give us something else to do that we’ll find meaningful.

The problem is, it’s expensive to keep finding “meaningful somethings” for us to do. Plus, it’s even more expensive to spend the time to package them in a way that makes them easy to act on.

This is where GetUp’s work on Facebook is so clever.

Yes, they’re still doing their standard “we’ve got an ad and we need money to publish/broadcast it” campaigns, like this one that raises funds to print a newspaper ad in February:

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But these campaigns are only run infrequently so they don’t use up their community’s “donation” energy.

Most of their campaigns are from a second tier. And this tier, while providing us with “meaningful somethings” to do, has cost them little more than a couple of emails to produce. How have they done that? They’ve been very clever and outsourced both their production and the activism. Like with this post here.

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The basic model has been kept the same. “Look at this problem. Isn’t it terrible? If you give us money we’ll do something to fix it.” They’ve just replaced “give us money” with “click on this link” and outsourced “do something to fix it” to another organisation.

The post hasn’t cost them anything to create because it’s been organised by the MEAA. GetUp isn’t responsible for delivering on the promise: that’s the MEAA’s job too. Plus, because the call to action is “Join” GetUp aren’t using up their community’s “donation” energy even though they are providing their followers with a “meaningful something”.

If the model works so well for GetUp, it begs the question: how can the rest of us use it?

How to make Google ‘like’ your website ~ or ~ Why good copywriters are a vital part of SEO.

Google cares about three things in a website:

Is this website relevant?

Is this website popular?

and

Is this website current and up-to-date?

SEO is really about convincing Google that your website is all three. If you do it successfully, you’ll end up on the front page of a Google search.

There are a few basic rules.

1. Convince Google your website is relevant.

Here’s an important insight into how the Internet works: the words that people type into search engines are not the same as the words people write on their websites.

You can use this disconnect to convince Google your website is relevant. It’s a three-step process.

  1. Find out which words and phrases people commonly type into search engines when they’re searching in your specialty area: the “keywords”.
  2. Go through these keywords and phrases and select the ones that describe what you do best that aren’t being used by other websites.
  3. Use these keywords on your website.

Then when people search for those words and phrases, because no one else is using them, it helps your website come closer to the top of the search results.

This leaves you with two challenges: find the right keywords and then weave them subtly into the copy of your website.

How do you find the right keywords?

The “commonly searched for” part is easy. Lots of places on the Internet will tell you that for free like Google’s Trends. The challenge is finding the words that no one else is using. There are freebie tools such as Adwords Keyword tool to help you with this, but they’re not designed specifically for website keywords.

So you’ll get no more than a “close approximation” of what words will work for you. They’re better than nothing but nowhere near as accurate as paying an SEO specialist to use their sophisticated software to provide you with the good stuff. 

How do you weave the keywords subtly into the copy of your website?

Hire a good copywriter.

2. Convince Google your website is popular.

Now your site has all the right keywords on it. So do twenty others. Or fifty. Or a thousand. How does Google decide which of these sites goes on the front page? They choose the site that’s most popular.

How do they determine if your site is the popular one? They look at how many other sites have linked to yours. The jargon term for this is “link juice” as in “wow, dude, your site’s really popular. It must have a lot of link juice.” If your site’s got the most link juice it becomes the site with the best search result.

I know. Link juice: it’s gross. This is what happens when you let engineers have access to the dictionary without proper supervision.

How do you get link juice?

There’s a good way and a bad way. The bad way to get link juice is you pay some guy in India or China who owns a link juice farm (I’m not making this up) who will provide you with as much link juice as you’re prepared to pay for. Google do not like this. This is not how they think the Internet should work. Someone is getting rich from search and it’s not them. If they catch you (and they will) you suddenly won’t be appearing on their search results anymore.

The good way to get link juice is to create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everybody likes to quote on their blog or post on Facebook and twitter. Google likes this.

How do you create a strong, informative website with interesting content that everyone likes to quote and create links to? Hire a good copywriter.

3. Convince Google your website is current.

Congratulations. You’ve got a site with all the right keywords and a lot of link juice. And so do thirty other sites. How does Google choose between you? Currency. They look to see who has got the most up-to-date content on their site.

This is why we’re all writing blogs now and Sally is hosting this one on her directory. Hi, Sally 😉

Of course, any new bit of content on your site adds to your currency, but this is where rules one and two come in again. Is this new content relevant and popular? Is the content full of keywords and phrases that are frequently searched for but are not frequently used on other sites? Is the content of sufficient quality that people will link to it from their highly regarded websites (think government or higher education), their blogs or post it on their Facebook or Twitter accounts?

How do you continue to produce new content that’s relevant and popular?

Hire a good copywriter who understands SEO.

Muchos gracias to Chris Talbot from The Reactor Digital for being a SEO Yoda and fact checking.