How Can You be More Creative?

Pay attention.

As my hero Sherlock Holmes would say ... observe.

Do you recognize this font?

This was the original name given to what we now know as Helvetica. This font is actually all around us now and has been for many years. I recently learned about all of this after watching one of Gary Hustwit's documentaries suitably named, 'Helvetica.'

The documentary not only taught me a lot about the history of the famous font, but it also taught me about the 'curse' of being a designer. You can probably imagine what this curse is, it's basically that designers see design everywhere. Actually, I should say ... designers observe design everywhere. Everyone sees design everywhere.

Is this a 'curse' really? No. It's a gift. In fact, I would argue that in some way we all have this gift. Each of us is good at something. We are all artists. The simplest example could be what you do for a living; however, it could be something you've done in the past, a hobby, a sport ... something. If we can recognize that we are good at this thing, we can also recognize when others are good at it too.

More importantly though, we can recognize when others are bad at it.

This is when we can choose to do something good. This is when we can learn to be creative. When you recognize your art being done badly, think of how you would do it differently. Do this often. Every time you come across your art in some way, observe it, think about how you might change it, think about the process that went into it.

Next time you do your art, bring to memory all the recent art that you have observed and the ways in which you would do your art differently ... now is your chance.

Be creative

Foursquare FTW

I am a pretty big fan of Foursquare. I have personally tried to be an advocate of the platform in my city for a long time now. A lot of people have been skeptical, some simply haven't heard about it and some are not sure how to fully utilize it.

Foursquare just gave everyone two more reasons to fall in love with the service ...

Visa and MasterCard.

 They are kicking things off with a U.S-wide BK partnership.

They are kicking things off with a U.S-wide BK partnership.

According to Foursquare's latest blog post:

To make saving money even easier, we’re working with First Data and CardSpring to expand our seamless credit card specials to Visa, Mastercard, and debit cards.

Here are three reasons why this is HUGE for Foursquare and its existing - and future - userbase: 

  1. Even more valuable specials - Some venues may already be offering some form of monetary discount as a special; however, now they have the opportunity to team up with credit card companies to offer even more. This also means they can be creative and potentially use other types of specials for non-monetary rewards. They could use the specials to build-in some fun for the brand e.g. A fast-food restaurant could use a loyalty special to giveaway a free t-shirt! 
  2. Spending metrics - Venues will now have the ability to see how specials tie into purchases. This can give them some serious insight into which products are popular among certain users - simply by combining the Foursquare venue demographics with purchases to tell a story. This kind of understanding could help in future product development and marketing e.g. If venue managers realize that males aged 18-24 are most likely to purchase X product, then that product could be further improved for that specific demographic. The company may also choose to begin a marketing campaign around that product targeted specifically to that demographic. 
  3. Removing friction - The really interesting feature of credit card based specials are that they can be redeemed without the additional required interaction with an employee at the venue. On previous occasions, this interaction may have caused friction due to an employee not knowing about the special. Although this does remove a barrier for the consumer, I strongly believe that venue owners should make all of their staff aware of these specials even though they do not have to be involved in the redemption process. I believe this is important because it gives employees a tid-bit of knowledge that they can then share with consumers to allow consumers to have an even more valuable experience. 

I simply cannot wait to see more credit card based Foursquare specials come up. I am very, very excited for the future of this platform. Foursquare ... for the win.

The Black Box Transformation

Starbucks is trying something new.

  Image via Mashable courtesy of  StarbucksMelody.com

Image via Mashable courtesy of StarbucksMelody.com

They have installed a video feed in some drive-thru locations so that patrons can see the employees taking their order and vice versa.

Why was this necessary and what does it signify? 

This was necessary because as consumers, we are starting to relate to brands far more visually than we used to. 

If you look at the amount of visual branded content on the web now and the stats around just how much we interact with visual content (search any recent YouTube staggering number) ... it only seems logical to add a layer of video over what was previously a black box (of audio). 

Starbucks just personified the drive-thru black box by literally adding a person to it. 

Starbucks just became even more human. 

What can your brand learn from this transformation? Where can you add in elements of personification? Where is your black box? 

p.s. In all my references to black boxes, I realize aircrafts also have black boxes; however, my references have nothing to do with that. Also, an aircraft's black box is actually orange.

The Genius of Simplicity

Square is easily one of the coolest solutions out there for small business owners.

From a marketer's perspective, Square has some of the most elegant, yet simple branding and messaging that I have ever seen. In 2012, Square was named one of the most innovative companies in the world by Fast Company.

Recently, Square launched a new hardware solution to go along with its Square Register app called: Business in a box.

 Business in a box.

Business in a box.

Here are some strategies that marketers can adopt from Square:

  1. Sell the solution, not the product - When people have a problem, they seek solutions. Think like a user. Identify all the possible areas of their pain points and figure out how you can solve them. In the process you may realize that there is an opportunity for your product to be supplemented with other products in order to provide an overall solution. That's what Square has done with 'Business in a box.' They have continued to focus on their own product offering but also brought in other specialized products to sell an overall solution. 
  2. Build an ecosystem - Square started with a dongle and an app. They have now evolved to become a bigger solution for small businesses. By expanding into hardware offerings and allowing the different pieces of hardware to communicate, Square is slowly building an ecosystem. This makes it harder for people to switch to a different service when they've bought into Square.
  3. Be simple at every turn - Everything I see from Square is simple. If you look at their product page, even the explanations of what is normally a slightly complex topic (credit card transactions) ... Square makes simple. Find as many ways as you can to simplify what you do. Perhaps you can have a hackathon on simplicity.  

Be simple. 

Be smart.

Be Square. (I heard it's hip to do so). 

Content Marketing The Sub Way

I love how creative companies are getting with their content marketing. This latest example by Subway is one I find particularly brilliant.

Subway has designed a new online contest where anyone can virtually build and run a virtual Subway store. Contestants will go through various challenges and be rewarded for completing these challenges and according to a PSFK article:

Five winners will receive an all-expense paid trip to the U.S. to meet founder Fred DeLuca and the global executive team, attend a special session of University of Subway, and get a VIP tour of the HQ.

What can content marketers learn from this?

1. Build it and allow them to come - The brilliance of this contest from a content marketing perspective is that the majority of the content is not coming from Subway but instead from contestants (users). Subway has ingeniously figured out how to create an entire campaign around user-generated content. In order to do something like this, brands need to spend time thinking about the platform that users will create the content on. 

2. Educate your audience - The really neat part about this contest is that it may actually educate the consumer on the process behind running a Subway restaurant or even just the process around running a franchise in general. Regardless of whether or not you're a Subway fan, if you have any interest in entrepreneurship ... this could potentially be something you engage with.

 Make social easy.

Make social easy.

3. Make it inherently social - If the content is engaging enough, people would find value in sharing that with others ... so make it easy for them to do that. Subway has done a great job with this by using social sharing buttons and easy calls to action. Consider building a platform with social in mind as opposed to adding in a social layer after you've got the core of the platform built.

Subway's approach to content marketing: Engaging, educational and social.

Three traits worth emulating.

The New Impulse Purchase

 Yes, they talk to each other. Easily.

Yes, they talk to each other. Easily.

You know that moment when you've spent a whole bunch of time in the supermarket, then you come up to the checkout and those chocolate bars look soooo tempting? They are on sale too! Sale = must buy.

You give in.

Why did you give in?

It was easy. It was right there! What's another 88 cents on to your $65 or higher grocery bill? You also gave it because it was science my friend. The science of decision fatigue.

Now let me paint you a slightly different, yet very similar picture.

You come home after a long day at work, a really long day. Perhaps you have dinner, perhaps you're too tired to even do that right now and you just want to crash on the couch for a few minutes, maybe even take a quick nap.

You turn on the TV ... you mindlessly watch. Then you come across a commercial that looks like a slightly modified version of this (same call to action though):

amex-tv-commercial-of-the-future

You've wanted an e-reader for a while, this deal looks great. You pick up your phone and you tweet: #BuyKindleFireHD

You give in.

Why did you give in?

It was easy! Your phone was right there!

Have American Express and Twitter just created a way for consumers to make new impulse purchases? I will certainly be keeping an eye on the future of this program to find out. If you're interested, Danny Sullivan from MarketingLand.com wrote a terrific post about his whole experience with this new service.

Happy shopping.

The TV of The Future

Earlier today, a co-worker of mine shows me this ... 

 Yes, it's this small. 

Yes, it's this small. 

 Micro-USB charging port and USB port.

Micro-USB charging port and USB port.

 HDMI-out port.

HDMI-out port.

 "Remote" and THE device. 

"Remote" and THE device. 

If you're into this kind of thing ... you may already know what this is and for you this post may simply be the musings of a kid in a candy store who's just discovered how good pretzel M&M's are. 

However ...

If you're NOT into this kind of thing ... let me explain what it is that I was holding in my hands earlier today. It can actually be summarized in the following simple two words:

"The ... Future."

More specifically this is an Android 4.1 Dual-Core Cortex A9 1GB DDR3 4GB ROM Mini PC with Wi-Fi and HDMI. 

You read that correctly my friend ... this is a computer.

Rather than me explain to you how it works, let's just say ... we found a screen that had an HDMI input, plugged it in ... made sure the device was powered (see image 2) and this is what ensued:

Now, you might be wondering how much does such a device (excluding the remote) cost? Well ... here: Device and remote. You do the math. Yes this site imports the goods from China but you will notice shipping to Canada is free so ... again ... you do the math. 

I did the math. It's a little over $70. In words that's: s-e-v-e-n-t-y d-o-l-l-a-r-s.

If you re-arrange the words seventy dollars it spells: DISRUPTION.

Well. You get the idea.

Ok, enough of these one sentence game-changing lines, let me actually tell you three ways in which this single device could bring about a new future for consumers:

  1. Your media everywhere - Android is Google and Google is pervasive. This device is so small that it can be carried anywhere and plugged into anything with an HDMI input. You literally have a movie player, gaming console and general entertainment center with you in your pocket. Yes, I realize I could have just describe a smartphone; however, this device is not meant to replace a smartphone, it is meant to complement it. 
  2. An app ecosystem - My co-worker also showed me how he could be working from his laptop, hop over to the Google play store, download an app and have the app load on to his "TV" (mini-computer) and then next time he plugs in his mini-computer ... it's there!
  3. A single entertainment source - Think about the generation that is growing up today, the pre-teens who derive a whole lot of their entertainment from YouTube. To them the cloud is intuitive. To them this device may make immediate sense, because really this device can be everywhere and can contain everything they need from an entertainment standpoint. Just imagine what will happen once YouTube original content hits the tipping point. 

i haven't even talked about the marketing/advertising implications around this but I am more interested in how Google will market this product. This is not a mainstream product yet, in fact I would argue is it at the fringes of the adoption-innovation curve. If Google decides to keep this price point low, this device fits almost perfectly into Clay Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation.

It will be so interesting to see how a device like this brings about new ways to actually view the content on this device. Will we see micro-projectors become mainstream? Will we see, big display TV's become much simpler with lower price points and simply just contain HDMI inputs as their functionality? 

I am so excited for what this future holds. Go #disruption. 

The Microsoft Channel

Microsoft may have just put another piece in place to create the ultimate platform.

Transient

Microsoft is getting into original programming.

It's going to start with content aimed at the core Xbox audience; however, it will most likely evolve from there to other audiences and users of the Xbox.

Much like YouTube original programming, this announcement by Microsoft is a game-changer for the future of television. It also places Microsoft in an extremely powerful position as it will own a significant part of the content supply chain (the hardware, the software and the content creation itself). 

Here are some reasons why this move allows Microsoft to come closer to becoming the ultimate platform:

  1. Content created with the device in mind - The Xbox is interactive. A show could potentially become interactive ... how? Who knows. It is yet to be invented. The point is, the technology exists so it's just a matter of time until it actually happens.
  2. Advertising relevance will be made easy - Microsoft can offer advertisers something very, very enticing ... they know the kind of audience consuming a program ... and they have control over the interface through which that audience is consuming this program. This means ... if a show is talking about an app ... a download button could hypothetically appear on the screen, you could wave your hand, point to it and then it could start downloading directly to your Windows Phone. Not only will this change the way consumers interact with ads but it will also change the very notion of how ads are created. Value in advertising will become far more prevalent.
  3. The Xbox becomes an all-in-one device - No more cable, no more blu-ray player, no more multiple remotes. A TV ... and an Xbox. If Microsoft gets into TVs then they suddenly start selling living rooms. All the content you need: games, programs, the web ... all can be easily accessed through one device ... and due to the nature of the cloud, this device could theoretically move with you through your Windows Phone or even your Surface tablet.
The Microsoft Channel ... coming soon to a TV near you.