Insights from Nebo

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March 11, 2011

America's Next Great Pitchman

Reality TV is no longer just a guilty pleasure, but an insightful one. The funhouse mirror that reflects humanity’s angst and misplaced ambition also reveals ways that we can change for the better. Take NBC’s new show, America’s Next Great Restaurant. In the first episode, contestants pitched their dream projects, showing us (painfully) the do’s and don’ts of selling ideas.

First, the pitches that were shown the door:

Pitches that weren’t as good as the idea. Many contestants presented ideas that may have been structurally sound, but their presentation were not. Their stream of consciousness style did more to breed contempt than interest. Others froze up when (*gasp*) questioned about their genius ideas. These contestants were met with a humbling, and often patronizing, “Thank you for your time, but we aren’t interested.”

Pitches that lost sight of what they were supposed to be pitching. Some contestants had the best laid plans for restaurants, complete with visual aids, huge diagrams, and even some tent like ecosphere that apparently didn’t have all the parts included.  In the drama of their pitches they lost focus. Ideas, though innovative, were off strategy, off topic, and just plain off. NEXT!

Pitches that were nothing new.

There is a place for the usual, mundane, everyday rigmarole. A place where naivety and awkward enthusiasm will push you and your dream forward. Good luck finding it. Goodbye.

Pitches that moved forward:

Pitches that had heart. Sometimes an idea isn’t a super fantastic homerun. Sometimes the person pitching it isn’t even that knowledgeable about what they’re doing. What can make the difference is having heart and determination. Evoking emotion can get the powers that be behind you to push an idea forward.

Pitches that showed expertise. As stated before, not every idea is a super fantastic homerun. In fact, these ideas are usually pretty rare. What is even more rare is someone who is savvy enough to actually execute an idea well. These people usually get to pass go and collect $200.

Pitches that were short, punchy, with ideas that were at least decent. Remember those super fantastic homerun ideas? These came in the form of a short, straightforward sentence with a clever twist that made everything come to life for the audience. Everything else in the pitch was just gravy on top. Even just ok ideas presented in this format made a big impression. These pitches are escorted past the velvet rope with a glass of champagne waiting for their arrival.

The last place anyone would look for tips on their pitch game is reality TV. Some truths, however, are universal no matter the medium. Our reality is everyday we play a precarious game where we have to prove to clients we know what's best for them, their audience, and their bottom line. We can avoid selling ourselves short by keeping it brief, having a little heart, a lot of focus, and twist that brings it altogether.

March 8, 2011

YES MAN Agency

“The customer is always right,” is the mantra of a marketing agency where things have gone very very wrong. They stand by this tired, abused, and misleading cliché as the gospel that will not lead them to glory, but will at least keep the lights on for a bit longer.

This is the YES MAN Agency.

Maliciously obedient to clients, they deliver bullshit with a smile, trading integrity and creativity for security. At least until the client fires them for doing what they are told or the company folds.

Though the YES MAN Agency usually lives to fight another day, it only has dull tools in its arsenal. Its equity decreases as their portfolio of reputable work diminishes. Star employees move on so they can actually shine. Soon it becomes a pale imitation of the agency it aspired to be, surviving by preying the naivety of their clients.

So where exactly do these YES MAN agencies go wrong? Sacrifice. The “S” word is something that cannot be avoided. There is, however, a choice of what you are willing to give up.

A decent living can be made snatching the crumbs that fall down the cracks from the adult table, hanging on the purse strings of clients. Or, you can choose to stay thin and trim, learn to say “Thanks, but no thanks,” and move on to clients that are more worthy of your talents.

Your choice.


February 28, 2011

Want to Improve Your Writing? Deflate your ego.

For any author, it is important to establish a sense of authority in their writing. They must prove to the reader that they are not only knowledgeable of their topic, but have a strong grasp of the English language. This, however, is not an excuse to be a poser.

Writing that is rich and ornate comes off as pretentious and hard to comprehend. It can put your audience on guard and your credibility in question. Instead, Strunk and White, in their ubiquitous book on writing, The Elements of Style, advise readers to practice plainness, simplicity, order, and sincerity.

It means using your thesaurus to aid in the flow of your prose, not to find ten-dollar words to make you look smarter. It means stop using adjectives and adverbs when a regular noun or verb will do. It means it’s okay to use figures of speech if it will help get your point across, but don’t push it. Finally, it means writing sentences that cover the subject without seeming like you love the sound of your own voice.

It is tempting to put on airs for your audience. However, going to great heights to impress others often leaves you open to fall flat on your face. It is far better to be yourself and use plain English. It will help you gain the respect of your reader, and keep your message intact.

February 23, 2011

A Narrative Experience

Whether it’s around a campfire, on a rug in a classroom, or whispered between covered lips and eager ears, everyone loves a good story. It is an age old way of influencing behavior, making it a very useful tool for marketers. Narratives create a more immersive experience, causing consumers to spend more time on a site, leading to more conversions, and increasing the likelihood they will share the experience with others.

Non-profits have found that personal narratives can help pull in donors and volunteers, while comforting the afflicted and their families. The Day I Found Out, a website developed by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, does this to great effect by sharing the stories of a community of cancer survivors. By sharing a myriad of stories, they guarantee visitors will find someone they relate to, and the message of universal hope shines through.

Canon takes the multiple stories bit in a more playful direction with their “Your Second Shot” project. The camera company encourages people to recapture moments lost using cameras that do not work well in low light –unlike the Canon PowerShot. A variety of real life stories are shared and visitors even have the chance to share their story to add to the list of recovered moments.

In a very ambitious effort from a very ambitious brand, Mercedes drops visitors into a personalized story called “Sensuality & Sense.” Written by author Joey Goebel, the short story features over 40 hand-illustrated pagestates digitally dissected into 200 layers, to created an interactive story that uses photos, favorites, and a few personal questions to put the user in the narrative. Though the process of personalizing the story may have some interesting drop off rates, the pay off is a beautiful experience that arrests users to the idea of the Mercedes CLS as the car for them and their world.

By using a narrative, marketers are able to present information in a more engaging way. Consumers let down their guard, and practice suspension of disbelief. Soon they find themselves going down the rabbit hole without even realizing they've taken the pill, leading to more happy endings for marketers.

February 16, 2011

The Limits of Innovation

Sir Isaac Newton once said, "If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." His point was simple. Without the works and contributions of those that came before him, his discoveries would have never happened.

In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson refers to this concept as The Adjacent Possible. The idea is that the boundaries of innovation expand as you explore them. Or as he puts it:

Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn't have reached from your original starting point.

This means that innovations are almost destined to occur based on the existence of the necessary pre-conditions for their discovery. Each new innovation sets the stage for other future innovations. Innovations are less the product of singular genius, and more the product of a perfect conditions. This is why you often see the same innovations discovered in different places, by different people, in the same time period (ex. calculus, the telephone).

Without flash video, html standards and high speed internet access there would be no Youtube. The computer wouldn't have been possible without the existence of vacuum tubes, and GPS wouldn't have been created without Sputnik.

Innovations can only evolve to the adjacent possible. Successful innovations are never ahead of their time. They're merely waiting to be discovered. They're biding their time for a creative soul to build upon the disparate accomplishments of those that came before, and through that combination of existing ideas, create something entirely new.

February 14, 2011

Take the shock out of your tactics

Ever see someone so desperate for attention they’ll do anything? At the cost of their self-respect, they will engage in the most crass behavior, using shock without the awe to court attention. They can be seen at a bar or any social gathering trying to score with a chick, or on your television screen trying to score with consumers against a glutton of other advertisers.

As people are more and more inundated with media, advertisers are getting more and more desperate for ways to get their attention. Sometimes this takes the medium to new highs, but often inspires it to go to new lows. Instead of personality and charm, we’re stuck with user-submitted posershomosexuality as a punchline, sexed up octogenarians promoting web hosting and fancy naming conventions, and companies that feel just because they donate to a cause it gives them the privilege to make fun of the plight of Tibetan Monks.

Shock tactics do help advertisers gain attention. However, whether that attention is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the audience's reaction. Take Groupon’s Super Bowl ads for example. Though Crispin Porter & Bogusky, a firm known for pushing the creative envelope, made some though provoking ads, the people they offended could not be silenced or bribed by great deals on trips or fancy dinners at ethnic restaurants. It’s no wonder they are doing emergency damage control, and the ads have been stopped post haste.

People prefer their ads with a twist, not a shock. Ads must be endearing, revealing something about the way people live their lives, or enhance the way they see themselves or the world. The best ads do not make light of themselves, their product, or their audience. They show their depth of understanding of their target audience, which in the end does more to form a strong, lasting relationship. Shock tactics do the opposite, distancing advertisers from their audience, and their goals.

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