Being there means your brand cares.

March 23, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

A client looked me in the eyes this week and told me, “Michael, it’s better to be fast and wrong than slow and right.”

I think it was directional in nature. Still, it was quite a statement. It’s conceding that the speed needed to move at in today’s business environment is reaching a pace of acceptable recklessness.

Woody Allen said something like, “99 percent of success in life is showing up.” Not sure if it’s exactly how he said it, but you get the point: you don’t have to be perfect, just raise your hand and be counted all the time. That’s harder these days as there are so many places to be.

Reminds me of how my mother forced me to go to kindergarten even when I was absolutely dying from excruciating, intolerable, at-the-doors-of-death-pain with a tummy-ache. I didn’t do much schoolwork that day but the important part (to my mom and teacher – you can say, my customers) was that I was marked present. And being there, even physically wounded, counted more than being fully mentally present.

Today’s marketing environment is a great deal about brands being here and there. And these days, with the proliferation of .coms, social sites, applications, and meet-ups, there are so many more parties where one needs to be seen that you could well show up underdressed. What’s a brand to do?

The perfectionist’s motto, “measure twice, cut once,” has become: “cut, oops, cut better, oops, cut, repeat constantly, just keep cutting.”

Why such a rush? Is it worth it? Our successful customer is saying “Yes.” Because consumers have a seemingly all day and night hunger for content and they demand to be served promptly and frequently with constant feedback and the occasional coupon.

Like any close and good relationship, brands and consumers don’t get caught up in the small stuff. Mistakes are overlooked and, because we do move so fast, they are forgotten in a matter of several tweets.

Are we saying that quality isn’t as important as quantity? This makes me queasy but I think so. Quantity is taking precedence because touching all those touch points means you’re there for me in all these places, all the time, and the sum is: you care.

Now, of course, some mistakes are more grievous than others. Be sensible as you speed along, but keep that speedometer pressing on the red as we head to another party at which to be seen.

When he protested that Macintosh wasn’t ready yet to launch, Guy Kawasaki was assured by Steve Jobs, “Don’t worry, be crappy.” They launched and they made it better on the run. Quite a run it’s been.

So here’s the dress code: even if slightly untucked here and there, make sure your brand shows up. Often.

In other words, “Get your business out of bed and get out there right this instant or else!”

Just like momma said.


Build it smart enough for your customers at their dumbest.

March 15, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

When we go too fast, our attention is taxed and our IQ drops. Happens in the car, when we talk, when we eat, when we shop.

As marketers, we spend a great deal of time learning about customers and their lives. But do we create work to serve their mindset at the buying moment, when they’re overwhelmed, distracted, mindless?

So if we want them to buy from us, we must make it easy on them, even stupid easy. We need to make our engagement pieces easier to act on in all mediums and at fast-fast motion. The speed bump is creativity’s arrogance.

Too often I used to hear that the execution is super cool, it’s sophisticated, innovative, subtle, cutting edge. That the customer will be intrigued and, yes, although it will challenge them, the customer will figure it out.

No, they won’t. They came to shop, not to pass an SAT test. They’ll move on to the next site.

So resist the ornamental and build the navigation so it’s as intuitive as if they came up with it. Design the e-commerce site so it’s easy to buy immediately. One example: don’t require a sign-up/registration before allowing consumers to check out. You might lose a customer as they are handing you the cash – that’s a nightmare.

You want drama? Make the media drivers and the content captivating. Customers might slow down for that.

We think that’s creative – the kind that creates customers.


Day dreaming

March 11, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

No brief.

No outline.

No beginning.

No deadline.

No target audience.

No focus group.

No responsibility.

So essential.

So purposeful.

So valuable.

So liberating.

So easy.

So hard.

So alive.

So much R.O.I.


The big idea isn’t dead; it’s just smashed into millions of itsy bitsy pieces.

March 9, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

The most dramatic change since I started in advertising is the big idea. In the hallways and conference rooms, that’s all you heard: “You got a big idea? Client is demanding a big idea.” We would work nights, weekends, lunches, coming up with the single-minded, iconic, brain-straining idea that would be the center of all the work. Now the big part of the big idea is that it would have to be so insightful, so expressive that it could be long lasting in the marketplace. That’s a lot of pressure on an idea and the people who were charged to come up with it. I must say I learned a great deal and still apply the intense training and scrutiny that went into coming up with those ideas. I wrote the line for the New York Stock Exchange, “The world puts its stock in us.” which was used for more than a decade because trust and fidelity must always be part of any financial institution.

In those days an idea with a lifespan of three to five years was the goal. Those were the ones that would run again and again with just resizing here and there. The longer it could last, the bigger. It was if the product, the competitive situation, the consumer was stationary, frozen, stunned timeless. A target that was a sitting duck. Hard to believe, right?

Take the Marlboro man. He was one such big idea – man, horse, sagebrush, logo. Welcome to Marlboro country. An emotional territory. Ran years and years without a change in TV, print, outdoor, POS, events. Sometimes he would ride the horse, sometimes he’d walk at its side, but that was it.

Today it’s about a lot of little ideas – tons, thousands of them, generating and regenerating connections – all energized with consumer insight and relevance, customized to the media in which it’s delivered, the time delivered, the specific audience delivered to and from again and again. Lots of small ideas, emanating from a bigger idea, packaged to travel anywhere at any time.

A big idea without the tentacles, the ability to scurry to multiple directions to many locations, is too slow, too clumsy, too asthmatic to keep pace with the consumer’s voracious appetite for more: more unique, more personal, more more. Due to the ability to see them all over, ideas can overstay their welcome fast, get outdated, become irrelevant, stale instantly. Bad for the brand.

Small is the new big. Lots and transmutable is the new focused.

Warning: this small is a bigger drain on the talent pool than the old big was. So it’s critical to find big and small thinkers and lots of small doers. And they have to love making the stuff (makes you think of Santa’s workshop with the elves). If they are passionate about connecting with consumers and generating ideas for and together with them, then it’s energizing. Then it’s a high (makes me think of those three-martini lunches of yore).

There’s a big upside for me from the old days of the single big event. Compared to now, they were lonely, self-involved, stagnant times. Just like we imagined our consumer to be. I’m big on small.


Yesterday we interviewed a candidate and someone else showed up.

March 3, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

The senior writer had his site up in our conference room. Six of us walked in for our usual group probe. At NYCA, we surround candidates like Disney hyenas. “What was the strategy behind the creative? How did the work perform? What would you do now to make it better? What’s your work process with other departments? With clients? What are your thoughts on consumer generated content and also social media?” All that stuff.

Suddenly up popped an instant message from a Facebook friend: “Yo.” We all laughed; well, one of us didn’t – she was texting on her Blackberry and missed the moment. A causality of time shifting. The candidate’s instinct was to shut it off and get back to his pitch. “NO! Wait!” we said. “Tell him you’re in an interview.” The candidate good-naturedly followed the pack. We found out the fb-er was an art director in Chicago. “Ask him to tell us something about your work,” we dared. The Chicagoan im-ed back a cheeky, “Good or bad?” At our urging, the candidate wrote: “The truth.”

There was a sticky moment of tension, the kind you get when you’re on the verge of something that could go either way. We waited. “You’re a solid writer” came up. That’s it? Really? In an interview, you say “solid” about your fb friend? Maybe it’s easier to be honest or inconsiderate screen-to-screen than checking references on the phone? But what if it was a set up all along? What if the fb-er Chicago art director had raved – would that have influenced us more? More than if he’d said the same thing later on a call? What is the persuasion value of in-the-moment testimony? There are possibilities here to change the dynamic of the interview by bringing along a posse. The point is today you can.

The lines and boundaries are forever blurring. Editorial is really ads, ads show up as content, personal conversations are corporately sponsored, friends are purchased or bartered for, so why can’t intimate business meetings turn into a large social events on behalf of a business decision?

We went back and forth some more; it was just too novel to stop. We even started interviewing the art director. As for the writer, the intruder event didn’t appear to sway us one way or the other. This time.

It just shows how accessible we all are now. Even in the protected space of an interview we can be found. And perhaps be found out. We’ve all checked on candidates, future bosses, blind dates and companies through social networks before and after we meet. Guess now we can consider doing it as we meet. It’s a collision of the virtual and the real – though sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.

I’ll never forget that interview and the writer’s work was pretty good too.