Smarten up marketers – it’s a personality contest out there!

April 28, 2009


By: Creative Director/CEO, Michael Mark @ NYCA

My friend is a rascal. He wangles his way into places he doesn’t belong better than an A-list celeb thronged by his thick-muscled posse. He slips out of trouble like a greased David Blaine. This guy’s smart but he’s no Mensa grad, he’s not that good looking, he’s not well-connected. The tools of his trade?  His genuineness and natural charm. He’s likeable. Watching him work is remarkable. It’s not so much what he says – it’s all about how he says it. And don’t think he’s some butt smoocher – I’ve seen him tell people to take a long walk off a short pier, and they look forward to the trip!

My friend is a poster boy for reminding us, as we craft strategies and executions for our advertising campaigns, that brand character can be even more persuasive than the selling message.  It’s hard to be emotionally committed to an attribute. Features don’t beget followers.

A great deal of strategic development time is focused on getting the message right: delivering the single-minded relevant point to the target. We task it with being original, unique. Ownable. I was schooled that this was by far the most critical element in strategic positioning because it was where the big idea dwelled. Well, according to Jack Trout’s latest missive in “Forbes,” there are no new ideas anymore. We are blowing time and our clients’ money with the over-reliance on the rationale. (Tales From The Marketing Wars Minds Hate To Change)

Let’s concentrate on the brainy quotient, sure,  but heavy-up on the tone, the manner, the body. That’s where brand personality comes strolling in, dressed for success, making the everlasting first impression before he ever speaks an SAT word.

We can learn from a master teacher: Apple. You wouldn’t know it from their raving user base but these are machines, for cripes sake. Plastic, wires, glass and tiny pieces soldered together to help create pictures and words, remember them, and connect. But I know MAC users who’d would rather go graphicless in public than fraternize with a PC. They would revolt, feeling like they are betraying their friend. The machine seems to understand them, empower them – but this is lunatic devotion. A MAC has no feelings (yet!) so why does it stir them up?   And techies, please don’t blog/flog me with, “it’s the operating system.” That’s just a microportion of the emotional equation.  To see it another way:  I’d venture that PC people could more easily – emotionally speaking – move to Mac than the other way around. They aren’t as devoted to IBM and the like as MAC users are to Apple. IBM just doesn’t have the magnetic personality of Apple.

The Apple personality was brilliantly reverse-designed. They may have built the machine first but they sold the personality first. So the initial contact is the embrace of the upbeat, creative, change-the-world brand character before you ever boot up. It’s in the logo. And at every touch point the personality is true. We feel the easiness in their open, friendly clean-lined stores, enjoy the good-natured yet competitive TV ads, groove with (not just listen to) their ipod communications, hug their black-jeaned, bespectacled wonderboy leader. Personality perfectly designed.

Barbara Coulon, vice president of trends for market researcher Youth Intelligence, says that surveys show, “Apple has a clear brand personality. People feel like they are part of a tribe. There are a lot of people who are passionate about it. It’s sort of a cult brand. Apple is a way of life,” she told MacNewsWorld.

So study-up and invent a brand message that’s university smart. But invest some creative muscle in developing the brand’s personality so it’s genuinely persuasive.

Great brands have defined personalities within their categories but they’re not exclusive to their sector. So you can easily borrow inspiration. Here’s two examples off one personality statement: Down-to-earth, family oriented, genuine, and sincere.

Now who would that be – Coke or Pepsi?  Easy. But pour a glass of each and stand an inch from them – you couldn’t tell the difference. Brown sugar water is brown sugar water.

Take the same words for a car: Volvo or BMW?

Again, no doubt. Because their brand personalities distinguish them as much as their safety or handling claims. Better.

A well developed personality has the power to engage from afar, stir deep feelings, and make it all up-close and personal. And that’s the flashpoint where interest moves into buying and buying into loyalty.

You know, maybe my rascal friend is a genius after all.

Creating Harmonious Chaos

April 16, 2009

From Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO at NYCA.


10 Tips for creating a culture that fosters the corporate spirit of harmonious chaos, inspires great work and a better world. Any successful business owner will tell you that staff will make or break a company. Turnover is not only expensive, but also can be devastating to morale and work quality, taking away from other resources to find, train and indoctrinate new employees.

nyca_flowers_1In order to succeed, business owners have to focus a large percentage of their time (at least 25 percent) to creating a culture with a goal: harmonious chaos.

Working at a growing and entrepreneurial company is demanding work. The hours are long and chaos is part of the deal. Keeping employees happy and energized to return the next day, helping your business grow, is critical.

Your team needs a guide on how to succeed and how to create a “culture club” of their own within the company. The guide should contain reminders of what employees already know on how to think and behave and grow the businesses and the community.

The guide can also include activities, events and symbols to foster this club of culture. Everything from golf outings to personalized watering cans for each employee to remind them that they are growers – Planting a grove of trees representing client growth and art classes- these are all ideas to foster a culture that will spur energy and ideas.

In a nutshell, 10 things any company can do to create a better culture to grow better work are:

1. State in writing what the organization is about – clarity is key and find only people who love the vision and repeat it all the time.

2. Take care of the basics – insurance, comfortable chairs, good lighting – sounds simple but it works! Allow employees to make their space personal, have food around – healthy and unhealthy.

3. Listen carefully – no, really carefully to the employees – have some feelers out and people who will tell you what you don’t want to hear because it is good for you – and respond.

4. Celebrate when it goes right. Give spot bonuses – Starbucks coffee cards, afternoon off, flowers, parking spaces, you name it.

5. Tell the truth – allow criticism, say you’re sorry – be a human place. Always celebrate the victories – and be honest about the errors.

6. Be who you are. Don’t be silly thinking it will get you what you want if you’re not silly – it won’t take you where you want to be unless it fits.

7. Work is personal – people spend a lot (sometimes almost all) their time there – when you hire someone, make sure you see the person as an individual and how they fit in the team.

8. Families – you don’t just hire the employee — you bring the family into your extended family.fruit-from-our-clients-tree

9. Have a mission, a cause that is bigger than your P/L that they can sign up for.

10. Create a culture club – put people in responsible positions.

11. Understand who your employees are – they are not like you. They may be younger, older, from another country, even planet (if you’re lucky) – be in touch. Give them the goals and the environment and they will do the rest.


OK, so being on the creative side, that’s 12 tips instead of 10. The end result of these tips is to increase the creativity quotient within company walls – the quotient must go up to solve serious problems and move to the next level. Creating a culture club can steer the work to fulfill promises for all involved.

Our conference room table says everything

April 3, 2009

From Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @ NYCA


At NYCA we don’t have an elevator to the executive floor. In fact we only have one floor, the ground floor. Right on Main Street. This building used to be a grocery store and, before that, a bank. We chose this place for our agency for one reason above many: this is where people walk to the market, get their dry cleaning, stop to have a cup of coffee and a chat. Here we are part of the world with whom we engage every day on behalf our Clients.

We are a working class breed.ny-conference-room-table

So don’t expect a slick granite lobby or high end designer furniture. Our money is hard-earned and goes to the rare, deeply passionate and talented people that fill our agency with inspired ideas, each aimed at growing our Clients’ businesses.

We have something we say around here; more than say, its how we live – “Spirit of Water.” It means everything we do is clear and open, and all are treated fairly. Just the way water buoys us all up equally. It’s about integrity and trust. Big deal around here.

Which brings us to our $700 conference room table. Nothing fancy. Holds cups with coffee, laptops and the tins of late night dinners. Many a grow! idea has been conjured, tough-loved and shared on and around this table. And more than once, its trembled under the weight of an impassioned NYCAer pleading their case on behalf a potential grow! idea.

So when an inspired group of art directors and producers came to show their conference table design based on the Sprit of Water, we took a moment.

It was a magnificent sculpture of molded and burnished domestic woods and finely-etched glass with a fountain of spring water running under and through it. Art, truly.

More than a conference room table. This was a beautiful challenge to our creed!

And even, though water flowed freely to all ends of the table, we had to wonder: is this in the Spirit of Water? How is this fair to all when most of the agency won’t be able to enjoy the table? The production artists, programmers, and traffic staff who spend so much time over the critical details that build our work would rarely see it.

Plus this table was so fancy we likely wouldn’t feel at ease working on it, for fear of messing it up with our markers and various forms of caffeine. Now, any detraction to the creation of a grow! idea is an enemy of the state – lovely as the design is. Oh, and at $23,000 – well any Client would have to ask, “If you are so careless with your money, I hate to think what you are doing with mine.” Our controller would certainly ask that.

It simply isn’t how we do things on Main Street.

So when you visit you will see our $700 table at work. It may not inspire you at first glance but have a seat and be joined by some NYCAers with ideas focused on growing your business and you’ll soon know — just as any NYCA Client does – that this sturdy discount table is testimony to who we are and how we do things. And when we are around it together, pounding out and sketching and creating grow! ideas, it’s the best conference table in the world.

If this is how you want your agency to act, then we invite you jump deep and freely into The Spirit of Water.