I recently got a phone call from a CEO. He told me that he was worried about his organization’s brand. The company had hired another advertising agency to jazz up their image. But he felt like what they came back to them with was very vanilla. I pondered the idea of very vanilla. As if there was mediocrity, and then there was extreme mediocrity.
He knew his business couldn’t win against formidable foes with vanilla. He knew he couldn’t motivate his considerable team with vanilla. And he knew he couldn’t recruit top talent with vanilla. Vanilla is flat. Undifferentiated. Forgettable.
I knew I could help him. I have spent my career helping brands find their flavor. And vanilla is simply not on the menu.
We spoke for an hour. I shared how my team at The Weaponry would approach their brand development needs. Which included developing differentiated processes, products and services so that they truly had something interesting and ownable to talk about. Even if it didn’t exist today.
I enjoyed our conversation. But I was curious how he found me. And why he thought I was the right person to call.
Then he shared the following.
‘Adam, I don’t know much about The Weaponry. Or the type of work you usually do. But I saw you speak several months ago. And I remember you not seeming very vanilla. And I figured you could help us seem not vanilla too.’
If you want to be remembered you can’t be vanilla. You have to differentiate yourself in positive and meaningful ways. You can differentiate your personal brand by doing things differently. By breaking rules. And adding extra-anything to your personal recipe. Like energy or thoughtfulness. Or excluding a common ingredient altogether. Like shaving, laziness, alcohol, or pants.
Your business can differentiate itself with personality, product or process. You can stand out because of your pricing or packaging. You can be remembered for your people or your promise. Or simply be doing unreasonable things on behalf of your customers. But whatever you do, don’t be vanilla. Vanilla is the flavor of the crowd.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Today, nearly everything that is fun or interesting has been cancelled thanks to COVID-19. In this desert of action, the smallest activities you are doing appear fun and interesting to the rest of the stuck-at-home world. Which means that right now there is a better than average chance you will be interviewed by the news media. Even if you haven’t done anything truly interesting. Or illegal.
Your place. Not mine.
However, due to social distancing, stay-at-home regulations and lockdowns, no reporter will show up at your home or business to talk to you. And they aren’t going to invite you and your potential cooties into the news studio for a chat. Instead, you will be asked to give your interview at home on your computer, smart phone or tablet.
I have been asked to do 2 TV interviews in the past week. The first was with Julia Fello about how our team at The Weaponry is adjusting to working from home. The other was an interview with George Balekji about a video chat reunion that 16 of my University of Wisconsin college track teammates held last Friday to revive the camaraderie of our locker room during this time of social and physical isolation.
In case you get called by the local or national news to do an interview from home, here are a few tricks to increase the likelihood of you giving a great interview that will actually get used.
9 Tips For A Great Interview From Home
1. Find A Good Background
Find a simple, uncluttered place in your home to conduct the interview. To find an appealing background you may have to get creative. Prop your backdrop if necessary. In the Pro Tip below, my friend Katrina Cravy, a media training expert and long time news anchor demonstrates that the setting you choose sends an important message about your brand.
2. Adjust The Camera Height to Eye Level
Our computers and hand-held phone cameras are typically well below our natural eye line. Which means that we look down at them when we are in our normal operating mode. But for an interview it is much better to raise the camera up to eye level. This will make it look as if you are having a conversation with a real human, not your little digital buddy. Use boxes or books to elevate your laptop. If you have a music stand in your home, it will work perfectly to hold your smart phone at eye level. Best of all, it will prevent the rest of us from staring up your nose and seeing bats in the cave during your interview.
3. Go Landscape Mode
We naturally hold our smartphones vertically when we use them. Which is called portrait mode (named after Francois Portrait*). But a television has a horizontal orientation. To make sure your picture properly adapts to the TV screen, turn your phone sideways into landscape mode for your interview. It will look much better on TV.
4. Hold Still
There will likely be a lag in the video based on your technology, wi-fi strength or internet speed. So the more you move (like I tend to do) the funkier your interview is likely to look. Keep you body movements to a minimum in order to not draw attention to picture quality.
5. Improve the Sound
Bad sound will ruin an interview. If you have a good microphone, use it. A headset can work well too. Earbuds are good. Air Pods work really well, because they don’t dictate where you sit. Even better, they don’t have wires to dangle and distract viewers.
Ray Davies Tip: Remember to workout the kinks in your audio technology well before the interview starts.
6. Prepare Your Talking Points
TV news is all about the sound bite. So make sure you have some strong, simple sound bites to share. Before the interview write down your thoughts on the topic. Craft them into short, interesting or memorable statements. A unique, but easily understood statement makes for great TV. Keep your notes nearby to reference during the interview.
Pro Tip: Practice delivering your talking points before the interview. Write down the name of the reporter on your notes. If you are nervous, write down your own name too.
7. Properly Frame Yourself.
Position yourself within the picture so that you look great. You should be centered left and right. Don’t leave a lot of room over your head. If you notice the ceiling in your shot you are doing it wrong. If you can smell your own breath through the screen, back up. And have a mint.
8. Light It Up.
You are not in a perfectly lit studio. So you will have to control the lighting yourself. First, make sure there is enough light on your face so you don’t look dark and creepy. Natural light works great. If you can position yourself to get even light from a window it will make you look even more naturally beautiful than you already are. Then consider grabbing an additional lamp, especially a flexible, direct-able lamp to add additional light if needed.
Side Note: I believe in Crystal Light, cause I believe in me. #nowthatswhatIcall80s
9. Next Level Background
Zoom enables you to use a virtual background. To do this you will either need a very good computer, a plain wall, or a green screen backdrop. Grab a green blanket, sheet or towel, and hang it behind you to create your own green screen at home. On Zoom, go to Preferences…Virtual Background, and then manually pick the background color by clicking the small oval. Then click on your background to sample the background color your photo will replace. You can upload any photo to create your perfect backdrop.
This is a great time to share a little of your good news with the world. Make the most of your opportunity by preparing yourself ahead of time. A little planning will go a long way towards ensuring that you look good and sound good on TV. Good luck. And Stay Classy San Diego.
*Don’t waste your time googling Francois Portrait. I just made that up.
**If you know someone who could benefit from these tips, please share this with them.
Last week marked a major shift for our country. The mood changed. The rules changed. Which meant that many brands had to change their messages and tonality in order to sound in sync with the times. While other brands that had not been part of our collective conversation finally found their pick-up lines working like Joey Tribbiani’s best material.
This meant a McFlurry of activity at The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency. While other business were grinding to a halt, our services were sought after like a jumbo pack of toilet paper at Costco.
Did I mention that my entire team also moved to our spring offices this week? Which is a fun way to say that we all worked from home. So did all of our clients. You probably did too.
Here are some of the highlights from our week.
We had our first client meeting at 9am on Monday morning.
In that meeting we planned significant messaging adjustments to respond to new social and economic conditions.
We spent the rest of the day ideating. It felt like we were in a movie about advertising. Complete with Glen Frey’s The Heat Is On playing in the background.
At 5pm we presented a new creative campaign for that same client we met with at 9am. Boom!
We added 2 news clients to our roster.
1 in Columbus, Ohio.
1 in Los Angeles
We had a kickoff meeting to get the L.A.-based client rolling. Because there was no time to waste.
I had a 2-hour video call with my CEO roundtable to talk with other business owners about what they are facing, and the challenging decisions that need to be made in response to the current uncertainty. Several of the member’s businesses were essentially stopped in their tracks by the current ban on gatherings. Which made me extremely thankful for the strong demand for our services.
We presented a new fully-integrated campaign for a new sponsorship that we created on behalf of one of our clients. The campaign included TV, outdoor, long form video, print, in-store displays, event activation, barn painting, social media, digital display and vehicle wraps. That was about it. #ThingsBubbaSays
We presented 37 new logos designs for a long-existing brand as part of a major rebrand initiative. Our 4 clients were all on video-conference, from home, while under house arrest.
Thursday night at 11pm I received an email from one of our clients inquiring about availability to meet the next day. They wanted to discuss ideas for a new promotion to take advantage of the new normal. I responded minutes later with a meeting time on Friday to kickoff the project.
We presented a new content campaign featuring online videos, ranging from 15 seconds to 4 minutes long.
Late on Friday afternoon we received client approval on a re-edit and new voiceover language for a television commercial. I contacted the recording studio to book time with them to record and master 2 new spots. They asked if I wanted to book time on Monday. I said no, I wanted time today, or tomorrow, which of course was Saturday. Since it was late in the day on Friday, and most people had gone home for the day, we settled for first thing Saturday morning.
My team, the audio engineer, voiceover talent, and editor gathered virtually to help speed new commercials to market to help our client respond to our current climate.
We sent brand new commercials to TV stations for immediate airing.
We took a deep breath, and were thankful for the ability to take deep breaths.
These are unique times. The rules, challenges and opportunities are different right now. Help your customers, clients neighbors, family and friends get through this and they will never forget what you did for them. Yes, the stage is different. Most of us are everything-ing from home. But what it takes to shine during these times is the same. So shine on you crazy diamonds.
What’s in a name? When I was launching my new advertising agency in 2016, I needed to come up with a name. But I didn’t want to do what other agencies do. I didn’t want a collection of last names that sounds like a law firm, (Welcome to Nonebrecht, Somebrecht & Albrecht…). I didn’t want random letters like SOS, PMS or IBS. In short, I didn’t want a boredinary name. What I wanted was a name that no one would forget.
Whoomp, there it is!
When I first wrote down the name The Weaponry, it might as well have been written in giant, flashing neon letters. Because it jumped off the screen at me. I instantly knew I had found the right name.
Like the boy named Sue, our name has been one of our great assets. People tell me every week how much they like the name. It’s intriguing. It sounds aggressive and provocative. And I am constantly asked about The Weaponry’s origin and meaning. In other words, it’s a great conversation starter (except maybe that conversation it started with the Immigration officer in India at 2am).
What’s behind the name.
When people ask me what the name means I usually answer with the follow statement:
‘Well, right behind the desk in my office is a giant sign that says, The most powerful weapon on Earth is the human mind.’
Like the answer to a good riddle, that line always converts skeptics, doubters and critics, into enlightened insiders.
But wait, there’s more!
However, there is another reason we are called The Weaponry. I absolutely love the definition of the word:
Weaponry (noun): all the weapons, collectively.
All The Weapons
When I set our to create my perfect agency, I wanted to offer our clients ALL the weapons, collectively. For two reasons. First, it would make life easier for our clients to be able to get all of the services they need from one resource. Having one agency translates to less time looking for agencies, less time managing agencies and no time coordinating agencies.
The second reason I wanted to offer all of the weapons is that I believe that if you have the ability to skillfully use each weapon, you will always use the right weapon for the situation. Whereas specialist, or sliver agencies, who only know how to operate a couple of weapons, will use what they have, regardless of what the situation or strategy dictate.
So, what kind of work do you do?
People always ask me what kind of work The Weaponry does. I say, ‘Whatever our clients need.’ Which I realize sounds kind of lame, and kind of smart-assy. But it is the truth. To illustrate the breadth of work we do at The Weaponry, here is a list of the things we are creating this week:
credit card design
business card design
photo shoot planning
brand style guides
Powerpoint template design
trade show booth design
and some fun promotional buttons
At The Weaponry we are living into the vision. We have created a valuable and flexible resource for our clients. Our broad range of opportunities have created a stimulating environment for our Weapons. And thanks to our provocative name, we have great t-shirts, stickers and business cards that always get people thinking, and talking. Which is exactly what advertising is supposed to do.
Last Saturday I received a very interesting text message. It was from a former client of mine who was the CEO of a popular American brand. The text said that she wanted to talk about potentially working together on a new marketing campaign. She wanted to know if I could talk the next day. Which, for those of you familiar with calendars, was Sunday.
I have always really liked this woman. She is smart, savvy and aggressive. But what made her text particularly interesting was that I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in 5 years. That’s right. 5 years. So I was quite surprised to hear from her. Pleasantly surprised, yet surprised nonetheless.
Sunday afternoon we jumped on a call (actually there was no real jumping). She told me that about the exciting things unfolding at a new company that she is now leading. She said:
The work we need to do requires someone who is passionate, strategic and highly creative. And the first person I thought of that fits that description is you. -Former Client
That may have been baloney. I may have been the 5th person she thought of. Or the 50th. Or 500th. But the thing that struck me was the Venn diagram she referenced.
Venn diagrams are like filters, sorters or separators. They are like visual algorithms. They help identify people places and things that have a specified combination of required attributes. And based on her evaluation, I fit into the small space at the intersection of strategic, creative and passionate.
I was flattered, honored and appreciative of her comments. And when I quieted my own humility, I had to agree with her evaluation. I have worked very hard at developing both my strategic and creative skills for decades. They are areas of relative strength. And I am a naturally passionate human. However I don’t take any credit for that. Because baby, I was born this way.
Our personal brands are nothing more than Venn Diagrams. We are sorted and remembered for our distinct combination of traits and abilities. It is how we quickly summarize and categorize each other.
Following that phone call I thought a lot about my own VD (um… maybe we should stick with Venn diagram). I wondered about what venn diagrams I had created in the other people’s’ minds. I wondered about the good, the bad and the ugly. I thought about my strengths and weaknesses. I thought and the various impressions I have made along the way. I thought that I should ask for feedback from other people to better understand my venn diagram.
Do you have a strong brand image? What unique combination of assets or liabilities describes you? Do you get sorted into the groups you want to be in? Do people think of you at all? If not, it is time to develop your own Venn diagram. Work on sharpening your strengths. Put them to great use. Add value. And let me know the next time you find yourself in a satisfying venn diagram. We could all use a little more of that in our lives.
I don’t have any tattoos. But each time we get a meaningful image or quote added to the walls of our new offices at The Weaponry, I feel as if an important statement has been tattooed on me. Of course our wall art is much larger and much less painful than a real tattoo. And I don’t have to hide the wall art from my Mom.
I’ve written about our wall statements before. But last week we had another quote tattooed to our office. Not only do I find this quote inspiring, it states a critical tenant of brand-building.
Our Latest Wall Quote:
“You are remembered for the rules you break.”
-General Douglas MacArthur
MacArthur hit the nail on the head, and sent it into concussion protocol with this line. In Nike Founder, Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, he references this quote several times. I find myself referencing it often too.
There are multiple ways to interpret this quote. But I see it in the most positive light possible. You are remembered for the norms the standards and the expectations you don’t follow. You are remembered for the parts of you that stick out. Not the ones that fit in. You are remembered like Frank Sinatra, for doing it your way.
This is true of people, businesses, brands, products, services, plants, minerals and animals. Speaking of animals, consider mammals for a moment. They are warm-blooded and fur-bearing creatures. But the dolphins doesn’t seem like a mammal because it lives in the ocean. The bat doesn’t seem like a mammal because it frickin flies! And the platypus, well, it breaks so many rules I don’t even know what it was to start with.
Conformity is the opposite of creativity. Conforming to every rule means you disappear. If you want to be remembered by your peers, in job interviews, or in customers’ minds, you have to break some rules.
Look for ways to be different. Break stupid rules. Break smart rules when you have an even smarter reason to do so. Rules were made to be broken. You were made to be remembered. You are not a sheep, or a cow. Don’t follow the flocking herd. Give them something to remember you by. Your Mom and Dad will eventually get over it. Trust me, I know.
Over the past year I have helped several brands introduce new logos. It’s always exciting to freshen up a brand’s core mark. A new logo is a powerful way to offer a more contemporary, more stylish and more relevant brand image to the world. Logos are like clothes and hairstyles. If you don’t re-examine them periodically, one day you’ll wake up and realize that you’re sporting the wrong decade.
Just as a logo serves as the identifier for a product or organization, your signature serves as a signature mark for your personal brand. Whether you are John Hancock, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Zoro, your signature represents you when you are not around to represent yourself. The kicker is that the mark that you make mindlessly today will be around to represent you for centuries to come. Seriously.
Which begs the question…
When was the last time you revisited your personal signature? It’s probably been a long time. Most people put very little thought into it. But I would like you to think about creating a new autograph. A new signature. A new stamp of approval. A new (insert your name here).
Steps to re-branding your signature.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen
Sign your name the way you normally do
Explore making it more legible
Explore making it more professional
Explore making it more fun
Explore making it more distinct
Explore making it taller
Explore making the letters rounder
Add an initial or two.
Add a flourish, icon or ownable mark.
You signature makes an impression every time you make it. Every check, document and permission slip you sign makes a statement about you to the people who read it. So put a little more thought into. If it’s bland, messy or Kindergartenesque, take this opportunity to make an evolutionary or revolutionary update. Experiment, play and practice until you find something that feels more like your personal brand today. Don’t stop until you find an option that you would sign off on. If you find something you like, or have put real effort into this in the past, I would love to hear about it.
Did you see Super Bowl LII? What a show! The game is always hyped as the greatest television event of the year. It certainly lived up to that billing again this year.
The game itself was amazing. There were so many Super Bowl records set that I think the game set a Super Bowl record for setting Super Bowl records. There were over 1000 yards of total offense. There were two pass attempts toquarterbacks playing wide receiver. And there was an exciting Hail Mary pass into the end zone as the clock expired. The only thing that would have made the game better for me would have been a Patriots victory. But as a huge Pats fan, I have two Super Bowl miracle wins in the last few years to console me.
After getting off to a slow start Justin Timberlake’s halftime show made a nice comeback and finished strong. The momentum turned during JT’s tribute to Prince. His performance of Mirror was spectacular. Although I worried that one of the hundreds of kids running around the stage holding mirrors would drop one and bring seven more years of bad luck to the hometown Vikings.
Then there were the ads. As an advertising professional I love Super Bowl spots. At a price of over $5 million for 30 seconds, commercials during the Super Bowl are too expensive to get wrong. So most of the spots that run during the big game do what good commercials should do. They entertain us. They make us laugh. They surprise us. They wow us. They make us think differently about the products, services or brands they promote.
The Super Bowl ads are so good that people actually want to see them. They are part of the appeal and entertainment of the entire event. Sometimes they are they best part of the program. Especially when Up With People are the halftime entertainment. Or when the Dallas Cowboys are playing the Buffalo Bills.
The Best Advertisers
So who won the battle of the advertisers? This is a question that gets asked every year. It will be a topic of conversation around the proverbial water cooler all week. Marketing types will weigh in with their professional opinions. And there will be polls that try to determine a winner. However, we will never know the real answer.
You don’t succeed in advertising by winning a popularity poll. You win by setting a marketing objective, and then nailing it. Advertising can help increase awareness, brand affinity and purchase intent. All of these dimensions are measurable. But not by a poll that asks viewers to pick their favorite commercial.
Your opinion of the marketing only matters if you are part of the audience the advertiser is trying to reach. I thought the beer commercials were funny. But I don’t drink alcohol. I also liked the Tide commercials, a lot. But I don’t make any of the decisions about which laundry potions my family uses.
Super Bowl commercials are not simply meant to entertain you. They are strategically developed marketing weapons. The only way to evaluate their success or failure is to measure the impact they have on their target audience. Anything else is just playing Monday morning quarterback.
In the summer of 2015 I began the perfect agency project in my home office in Atlanta. It wasn’t just this blog. It was an entrepreneurial project to create the perfect ad agency. I was a man on a mission. I wrote down my goals. I mapped out the people, processes, and purchases needed. I declared the agency’s core values and pillars for success. I could see it all. I even envisioned the first company picnic, and how lame it was going to be when we played tug-of-war with just 2 or 3 people.
In mid 2016 the agency opened for business.
One of the most profound and important steps in the process was naming the agency. There was something about going from building “an advertising agency” to creating The Weaponrythat transformed the dream from ethereal to concrete.
November 1st we got the keys to our new space in Milwaukee’s modern North End. The team is thrilled to have an office of our own. But just like when you buy a house, the empty space we inherited didn’t immediately feel like us. It wasn’t bad. It was just, neutral. And we are decidedly not neutral. So, just like at the beginning of the project, our team had to apply our vision for the agency in order to transform the space into The Weaponry.
We started with some basics. We added wi-fi and computers, desks and chairs. We were operational and our most basic needs were met within the first week. But the space wasn’t ours yet. Like ranchers brand their livestock, we needed to brand our new space. We needed to give the office a name. And personality. So we looked for ways to make our mark.
Our front door was just naked glass. There was nothing on it to tell people who we were or where they were. This had to change. So we contacted a very talent freehand sign painter. We really loved her style. Apparently so does everyone else. Because she told us in November that she was booked until late January or early February. Since we signed a 13-month lease we couldn’t afford to go sign-less for the first 3 or 4 months.
We looked into signage that we could have in place quickly. We found a good sign company that could make what we wanted, and have it installed within 3 days. Which was great. But then we ran into another challenge. To install the wall graphics we wanted we had to wait a month after we painted so that the gas could escape from the new paint on the walls. I snickered at the idea of having gassy walls.
So we began painting immediately. Or I should say K-Lil, our super talented Associate Creative Director started painting. She picked the perfect colors and started bringing The Weaponry to life as a real place.
Last Friday, the paint had properly aged and we had the sign people come and make their magic. And magic it was. They put up our first three branding marks. And suddenly the space feels like The Weaponry. Our front door declares that you have arrived at The Weaponry. When you enter our space you are greeted by a 90-inch wide reminder of where you are. And we have started putting small thinking reminders around the space.
We have much more to add. But the office is developing a great feel. We’re thrilled to call this place our home. And we’d be happy to have you come see it for yourself.
Here are a few videos of the installation. If you want to see and hear more about our journey please subscribe to this blog.
I recently spent a long weekend in St. Louis with my family. It’s a great city with history, excellent food, interesting architecture and such. They have some of the best such in America. The city has a special place in my heart because 17 years ago I proposed to my wife, Dawn, under the St. Louis Arch. Why would I choose The Arch as my proposal stage?
Top 5 reasons I proposed under the St. Louis Arch.
I could afford to.
It’s the Eiffel Tower of Missouri.
It was April and the weather in St. Louis was way better than Wisconsin.
It seemed better than the monkey house at the St. Louis Zoo.
I heard that Lewis and Clark, one of the great American couples, started their adventure under the St. Louis Arch.
Back to the story.
My family and I enjoyed many of the great attractions of St. Louis: The afore-mentioned Zoo, Grant’s Farm, a great restaurant on The Hill, The City Museum (which is one of the most interesting, mind-opening places I’ve ever seen), historic St. Charles and, of course, The Arch.
The thing that stood out about St. Louis, above all else, was The Arch. It simply makes the city look different than any other city. It is the thing that makes the St. Louis brand memorable. There are a lot of great cities in America, and the midwest is packed full of them. But it is hard to come up with the distinguishing feature of Detroit, Cincinnati, or Minneapolis. Other than the sitcoms that took place there.
Since proposing under the arch I have noticed just how much it is used as an American icon. Every time a commercial, TV show or movie wants to tell the ‘Sea-to-Shining-Sea’ story they include the following:
Icons that represent America
The Golden Gate Bridge
The St. Louis Arch
The Statue of Liberty
A lighthouse in Maine
Not only does the Arch represent St. Louis, for most coasters, it represents the entire Flyover Region of America. (I’ve always thought that ‘The Flyover Region’ sounded funny. Mostly because I imagine people working at Levis discussing the ‘Flyover Region’. As in ‘We should put a fly over that region’.)
In the city itself, The Arch (aka the Gateway Arch and the Jefferson Expansion Memorial) is the symbol that represents the city. Which makes me wonder, why don’t more places create their own version of The Arch?
And if it works for cities, certainly it works for brands. Far too few brands take the time to figure out the one thing that will set their brand apart. Of course there are brands that have their thang: A catchy jingle (Nationwide Insurance) Free returns for life (L.L. Bean), Ducks (The Peabody Hotel) Swedish Meatballs (Ikea).
I have spent my advertising career helping clients find the things that will help them stand out from the crowd. But the same holds true for your personal brand. (And we all have a personal brand). Do you have something that stands apart? Do you do something, say something, wear something different? Do you refuse to eat chocolate? Is one of your eyebrows actually a tattoo of a caterpillar? Do you have a memorable sign-off to your conversations? If you don’t have anything I encourage you to spend some time thinking about it. Or better yet, try something. See if you like it. See if it sticks.
Today we have an abundance of options for everything. When travelers are looking for their next destination, The Arch helps St. Louis stand out from other great neighbors like Kansas City, Omaha, Memphis and Indianapolis. Having your own Arch-like differentiator will help your business or personal brand stand out in the same way. If you’d like help finding your Arch, shoot me a note. If you’d like a great place for a weekend getaway, head to St. Louis.