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posted by Kevin Smith Nov 06,2013 @ 06:46AM

Own Your Contradictions: How to make the most of confusion around the work you do

Brand strategy is nothing more than the truth. Like great strategy, the truth is simple. That doesn’t mean it is easy.

What makes the truth difficult is the uncomfortable debate, the idiosyncratic exception or the inherent contradiction. And therein lies the opportunity.

Rick Ridgeway, VP of Environmental Affairs at Patagonia, recently penned an essay, “The Elephant in the Room.” Ridgeway acknowledges that while Patagonia has enjoyed growth, continued growth is ecologically unsustainable. He admits Patagonia’s “uneasy relationship with growth,” and continues a dialogue began on Black Friday of 2011 with Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad in the New York Times, something I blogged about in 2011.

Likewise, there is discussion at Riggs Partners regarding our own growth and profit relative to our emphasis on pro bono, love of nonprofit work and embrace of the cause du jour. Let the “what abouts” continue, as business is nothing but the commerce of constant course correction.

Business complexities shouldn’t cause confusion; they should prompt candor and clarity through conversation.

posted by Kevin Smith Feb 18,2013 @ 05:05AM

Thoughtless Consumption

Americans have come to consume incessantly. There’s even consumption as a by-product of consumption: that plastic bag with groceries in it, the eight packets of ketchup a drive-through clerk puts in the bag, the plastic cutlery that comes with take-out food.

These are things we never asked for, and they aren’t things we value or appreciate. They are just stuff we throw away. It’s not just that these things are wasteful and environmentally harmful, they denigrate brands by association. I call it thoughtless consumption.

There’s been a slow movement away from thoughtless consumption, and one I predict continues with increasing fervor:

Another example is Coke’s new “freestyle” fountain drink machine. Fountain drinks had become a self-served bottomless commodity. How to add value? Make the experience special and tailored to the individual.

It’s time to revisit the products we offer and the manner in which we deliver them. We suspect that those who do will find increased sales and customer affinity.

posted by Kevin Smith Jul 02,2012 @ 06:14AM


The past few days have offered nonstop prognosticating and political posturing around healthcare reform. It’s worse that the banter that lead up to the Supreme Court’s actual decision. (Then, I thought, the discussion might finally end.) What makes it frustrating is that amidst the roar, I believe we’ve all become more confused.

The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare as some call it, is a classic example of more communication failing to result in better understanding or more engagement. “It’s complicated,” they say. Or, “the explanation is confusing.” Well, when consumers are confused, they simply tune you out. That’s what I’ve done — stopped listening.

Many of us see our marketing problems as complex. So I’d like to offer this: if your problem is complex, the solution isn’t.

The best products are the simplest. The best food often has the fewest ingredients. The best communications are likewise pared down. Here’s my advice for today. The next time you examine your business plan, marketing strategy, home page content or anything else; simplify. I promise your customers will have a very simple response: thank you.

posted by Kevin Smith Feb 27,2012 @ 02:00AM

Three Questions Every Brand Should Ask Itself

Consumers are demanding more all the time. Yet they seldom get all they want. As a result, it often takes very little to delight them.

In light of our economy’s shaky recovery, nonprofit and socially conscious brands alike need to innovate. This needn’t be difficult or expensive. Let’s examine Nabisco’s Premium Saltines brand. More than 100 years old, Premium is not complacent. It asked three simple questions.

1. How do people interact with our product?
The product has been packaged in boxes of two or four sleeves for decades. Most Saltines are consumed with other foods like soup, salad, cheese or peanut butter. Thus, an entire sleeve is rarely consumed in one day.

2. What do they think about us?
Saltines are wonderful, but they go stale quickly. Most people don’t eat stale crackers. They throw them away. No one likes throwing away food.

3. How can we make it better?
If your crackers go stale, you need to buy more crackers. If consumers kept their Saltines longer, they’d buy less. No actually. Saltines go stale, and consumers switched to another brand.

Fresh Stacks provides a reason for reconsideration. Repackaging resulted in a reason for trial, and ultimately, a shift in brand perception. Even better, the Premium brand shows consumer empathy, a catalyst for brand loyalty.

The next time your organization’s brand is stuck, make empathy your goal and start with the most basic questions.

posted by Kevin Smith Apr 11,2011 @ 01:42PM

Lonely Days are Virtually Over

A recent Pew Research Center study found that 1 in 3 Americans doesn’t know his neighbors.

As suburbs sprawled, front porches disappeared and screened porches morphed into Florida rooms. Sidewalk parking — heck, sidewalks in general — disappeared, as carports became three-car garages. It’s today’s reality: In our communication-starved society, there’s little hope of neighborly dialogue between the garage and the kitchen’s granite topped island.

Enter the great reboot of the American dream. For the first time since 1950 (when the average size home was a mere 983 square feet), houses are getting smaller. Many people now prefer to rent rather than own. Security has replaced more as the American ideal. So how has this impacted marketing?

Facebook is the current decade’s front porch.

Put simply, people are starved for human connection. On Facebook, people can see you sitting right there, just watching the world go by and waiting for a friendly visit. Human connection via IM, but connection nonetheless.

You can see it playing out on TV as well. Lay’s potato chips wants us to “know the farmers.”

A far cry conceptually from “No one can eat just one.”

California Milk and Cheese is adopting a similar strategy.

Again, the shift is pronounced. “Got milk,” the dairy association’s legendary campaign, focused on the consumer. Now the focus is on the integrity of the product.

What’s key is realizing that relevance is no longer enough. Now there must be value and values – even for a potato chip. Sustainability, community investment and charity aren’t ancillary messages anymore. And the perfect place to parade them is right in front of today’s virtual front porch.




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