Zeus Jones believes brands are defined by what they do, not what they say. Modern brands are guided by purpose and built on experiences. We built a company to see just what would happen if an agency infused this model into everything from product development to design to strategy. We think our case studies speak for themselves.
About our Blog
Welcome! Here you will find essays on technology, trends and our take on making things work. Beyond that, we post design examples we love, and other cool stuff we find.
This is the talk I gave last month at my mum’s festival in London. It was inspired by a comment she’d made that water is not only the source of life, but is also one of the only substances that supports and sustains all the life that come into contact with it. I thought that this was a particularly beautiful idea and also quite sad too, because the vast majority of things that our lives depend upon do not support or sustain the life that come into contact with them.
In particular, while almost everyone on the planet depends upon business, no one would argue that business supports the life that come into contact with it.
But, there are signs that business is changing, and in ways that make it more fluid, more human and more like water. So the idea was to try to show how, through changes in the ways businesses market, compete, organise and structure themselves both internally and externally, that business may actually be heading in the right direction. That it is becoming more fluid, more supportive and more human. That it is learning how to flow.
All in all, the talk went over quite well considering the majority of the audience were scientists and social activists. I didn’t get stuff thrown at me and people made nice noises at the end.
We’re always hosting design student tours at Zeus Jones. I remember these tours when I was a student being pretty fun and inspiring. The most memorable was when I got to visit Spunk. I just remember how cool I thought their work was and how amazed I was by the brands they worked on from their tiny warehouse district office. That’s how I remember it anyhow and those guys still do killer work today.
These tours are a great way for us to share some of our work and the thinking that goes into it. While it’s fun to show off the work that you’re so proud of, I think it’s also important to give students some insight into the business. It can be a scary time when you’re pulling your portfolio together in your senior year.
We’ve got a tour coming by today as part of the AIGA Portfolio 1 on 1 weekend and this time around I asked all our designers a few questions that I thought may be bring forth interesting insights for people. Here are their responses, along with some links for you students:
“I wish I knew how many moving parts there were besides just ‘design’. There are so many roles that I was pretty oblivious to.”
“I wish I would have concentrated more on the design and worried less about the restriction of actually producing my work. You don’t need to be a developer or book maker to be a great designer. Learn to create great mock-ups so you can spend more time on type, visual hierarchy, UX and other design skills.”
“Being strategic in how you approach a problem and how to effectively communicate an idea is just as important (maybe even more so) as aesthetics.”
“There’s a huge design community to tap into. You can participate through the web, social and physical events. Connect, talk and learn from others.”
“How fast you need to work. You don’t have two weeks to do a project. You may only have 2 hours.”
“Take your projects to the next level rather than just stopping at what was assigned to you. Demonstrate killer craft but also your ability to see the bigger picture and how different parts come together.”
“Your portfolio is never finished. Quality over quantity – your book is only as good as the weakest piece. Don’t apologize for anything in your portfolio. If you feel you need to apologize, redo it or take it out completely.”
“Have a diverse portfolio. A range of both print and digital work will offer you more opportunities. You’d be surprised how many students have zero digital work in their books.”
“Don’t limit yourself to school projects. Show your best work whether you made it in class or just did it for fun.”
“It should have a flow and not just feel like you put 10 of your best projects together in a book. Break up the experience to keep the viewer engaged.”
“Make sure that your work is buttoned-up enough to get useful feedback, but be prepared to edit/reprint what you made. I remember some people weren’t willing to revisit their projects and wasted great feedback.”
“Be open to critique – it’s the only way you get better. Take the feedback you get and put it to use in your portfolio. Network and stay in touch with the people you meet.”
“Ask for honest feedback. If everyone is nice and tells you your work is great, they’re not giving you the constructive criticism you need.”
“This is a subjective field so don’t be discouraged if someone doesn’t like your work. You will probably/hopefully learn and grow as a designer more in the first year of working than you did in all four years of school.”
“Don’t make excuses for your portfolio. If you don’t believe in your stuff, why will the person reviewing it?”
One other thing I like to emphasize in our tours is that there’s tons of inspiration and resources available online. We collected a bunch of links for you:
Inspiration - don’t be afraid to study other designers’ work. Here’s a few of our favorites places to get inspiration:
In the interest of helping you succeed at being awesome and getting an internship at Zeus Jones, we put together some quick tips to help give you an edge.
1. Don’t be sloppy
Pay attention to the details. This advice applies across the board, but I can’t tell you how many people actually misspell “Zeus” in their submissions. If you can’t get something as simple as the name of our agency correct, how can we trust you not to make mistakes in your work?
2. Choose wisely
Choose a brand that not everyone else will choose or a brand to which you can bring a totally different perspective. It also helps if you have personal experience with or passion for that particular brand.
3. Put time into not just the work, but the concept
One of my art professors once told me, “Hard work creates its own aesthetic.” What he meant by that was that hard work is obvious and tangible in the end product. Hard work doesn’t necessarily mean pencil-to-paper time (or mouse-to-screen time). The concept phase is equally as important and definitely shows in the end product as well, so spend time buttoning-up your idea before you start your creative work.
4. Show an idea in depth, but also the wealth of ideas that you can create
Execute the hell out of your ideas. Every year we have candidates that come up with really amazing thought-starters but don’t develop them. On the other hand, we have people that develop one idea in great depth. Comparing these people is like comparing apples and oranges. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. However, the people who really stand out are the people with great ideas who also bring them to life in really tangible and exciting ways. And by this, I don’t necessarily mean visuals. One of our candidates last year blew us away by writing a letter from the CEO of Best Buy to their customers. You can check out her entire homework assignment for inspiration.
5. Take former interns’ advice
Last but certainly not least, some meta advice straight from the mouths of last year’s successful intern candidates:
From Claire, mentioned above:
“Think about what YOU would want to see a business do that would be interesting and cool and amazing, and then come up with a bunch of ideas of how to make that happen. Pick out the best ones and then examine them – figure out what they say about the company’s values.
In the end, what you really want is to tell the story of how you could make those values a reality and communicate them to the world. Your original ideas might still work for that, but you might also need to come up with entirely new ones. Don’t be afraid to include stuff that seems impossible – it’s about changing the way people think, and sometimes that means taking risks.”
From Rachel, another former creative intern who was also hired in 2012:
“Research Zeus Jones – see what we have done, how we have done it and where it can be improved or where it rocks!
Take a look at culture – what is happening, what are people interested in, which sites and apps and experiences are trending.
How can your idea not just fit in, but be it’s own culture shifter?
Share your wild and crazy awesome ideas – nothing is too far fetched.
Follow through on an idea – a summary is only a starting point – how does this idea work across a whole company? Customers? People who don’t care about this brand?
Research your company – a solid amount of Google searching can give you insight into the brand you cannot get from your own head. Research can flesh out your idea, and help you see where the company could really improve.
Also look for traits, culture or values that are ignored and should be highlighted.
We are not about ‘polishing the turd’ – be real and transparent about your company – what do they have to offer, what are they passionate about, where do they need to improve? Honest experiences resonate with humanity far more than fake interactions. We can smell it.”
And from Becky, intern from 3 summers ago and current staffer:
“Don’t try to pander to what it may seem like marketers want: glitz, glamour and crazy, expensive stunts. Instead, let your inner geek steal the show. If you loved anthropology or global literature in college, bring that perspective to the table. We like deep thinking, not the superficial stuff. Also, show us what else you do. We like to hire well-rounded people.”
For personal enjoyment only, and to celebrate the greatness of Benedict Cumberbatch, a few of us at Zeus Jones collaborated on this quick t-shirt design. We plan on getting a number of them screen printed to wear to the premiere of the new Star Trek film which features Master Cumberbatch as the much-hyped antagonist. If you ask kindly, and act quickly, we may have a few extras to give out.
Zeus Jones has never defined itself a “digital agency” and our work often combines digital and real-world activities. More and more, the kind of work we do is being thought of more broadly as “always-on” marketing that uses digital at it’s core.
In the last year we’ve gotten much better at defining the role of an “always-on agency”. And these two graphics have helped us tell that story. (You can enlarge them by clicking through to the source image.)
The first – though not perfect by any means – describes the fundamental differences between campaigns and always-on. Always-on isn’t just “surround” or an extension to campaigns – it’s a completely different discipline with different roles, processes and success metrics.
Campaigns vs. Always-on (Click through to source to enlarge)
The second chart shows how we describe the role of digital in doing this kind of marketing. Because content is such a key component of always-on, we need a system that is more than just a container – we ought to be using our digital assets to help us create content and involve people in what we are doing too.
Always-on Digital Ecosystem (Click through to source to enlarge)
And you can see that’s exactly what we do. We take constant input and inspiration from many, many sources. We look for creative partners and co-creators (many of them from outside the agency/design/marketing world) to help us make compelling stuff. We publish that to our hub and serve it up to our social communities for reactions and feedback. We figure out how to use all of our available assets to distribute and evaluate what we make. Then finally we build on the best ideas and potentially build platforms, campaigns, products, etc around them.
At Zeus, we are major soccer fans. During the World Cup, a lot of us had the game going constantly on second monitors or TVs while we worked. That’s why we were thrilled that the local soccer team, then called The Minnesota Stars, came to us to work on their branding. They had just switched from being owned by the North American Soccer League to private ownership, and they saw this as a chance to make their identity mean more to Minnesota.
Picking a New Name
The team wanted to change their name to something that all Minnesotans could rally behind, something that would bring diverse groups together to celebrate a home team. That’s why they changed it to Minnesota United, an inclusive name that celebrates our state.
Creating a New Look
We also redesigned all of their uniforms, from what they wear on the field to their warm-ups. Rather than just putting one designer to work, we wrangled all the designers in the agency to imagine what the team’s new identity could look like. We started by examining sports design amongst U.S. teams, and saw a lack of differentiation. Looking at European uniforms, we saw more effort to make the design represent the community that a team belongs to.
We decided to do the same, and whittled our many design ideas down into one that centered on Minnesota’s iconic loon, which has an active, aggressive nature that we thought was inspirational for a soccer team. The design also incorporates a star to tie to their past, as well as a blue stripe to represent the Mississippi river.
The primary typeface was based on a typeface by Eric Olson at Process Type Foundry, whose creations we’ve admired for years.
We hope that the newly branded Minnesota United goes on to do great things.
See what people on Twitter are saying:
I love a soccer rebrand…and a large “bird” with red eyes. bit.ly/102aXzN
One of my favorite oddball super geniuses, the French semiotician, Freudian psychoanalyst and insanely rich business consultant Clotaire Rapaille, is famous for his observation about Americans and cheese:
“In America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don’t want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag.”
This sentiment says a lot about American food culture in general. Historically, we have liked our food safe, simple and consistent, above all things. We have generally been divorced from the growing and sourcing of our foods, and prefer processed foods that have been scientifically engineered to have addictive thresholds of taste.
But things are changing in America, and we have, in a sense, entered an era where we are ready for our cheese to be alive once again. It took us awhile, and necessitated the invention of the Internet, but the new, enlightened consumer is here to stay. Today’s consumers have a newfound willingness to understand what things really are, and a desire for authenticity in what we do – and what we eat. Just like we are starting to want our cheese to be cheese, we are also starting to want our Italian food to be Italian.
I started thinking about all of this when someone told me yesterday that Olive Garden is suffering. How perfect, I thought. A downfall of Olive Garden would be perfect evidence that there is a certain type of karma at work with today’s new enlightened consumers. This type of consumer has traits that are often attributed to millennials in the Power Points that companies go through behind the scenes, but I think that they have affected baby boomers too, or anyone who has figured out how to use the Internet. Here’s a short summary of the traits that apply here:
1. They use the Internet to spread and learn about companies’ reputations.
2. They are more acclimated to cultural diversity.
3. They desire authenticity, in their own cultures and in their experiences of others’.
4. They are easily bored and constantly want new stimulus. This translates to being relatively adventurous with food.
In my opinion, Olive Garden committed a few “sins” in the eyes of this type of consumer.
1. Olive Garden has come to be the butt of a joke in ‘foodie’ culture
Marilyn Hagerty’s review of Olive Garden was hilarious to people because no one takes Olive Garden seriously anymore, and it was funny to see someone doing that. My friends may eat there out of nostalgia every now and again, but make sure to let everyone know they are only eating there ironically. It’s associated with safe, fatty comfort food more than any real idea of what Italian people eat like.
2. Olive Garden simplifies another culture in a way that we are uncomfortable with.
My comic friend once pointed out that taking an Italian person to Olive Garden on a date to offer them their own cuisine would be just as stupid as taking a Brazilian person to the Rainforest Cafe. Enough said.
3. Olive Garden has bad karma.
They’re the first to admit that part of the reason their sales are down is because of how they reacted to Obamacare. To absorb the raised payroll taxes, they slashed many employees’ hours back to part-time, which ended up hurting their bottom line even more because it just made them look like jerks. Companies could get away with this type of thing 30 years ago, when the Internet did not quickly make harsh business moves spread across culture and end up on the Colbert Report.
They continue to embarrass themselves by blaming payroll taxes and negative media coverage for their loss of sales, rather than look to the way they are operating first and foremost. If they did, they might see that their negative reputation is keeping mindful customers at bay in the short term, and that their brand of food is doomed in the long run.
Americans are finally waking up, and that means a lot of things for businesses. For now, it means endless breadsticks just may not be enough.
As creative partner Christian Erickson sometimes says, advice from Zeus Jones might be the opposite advice from what people at other agencies would give you. We have a relatively flat structure, we insist that everyone take a multidisciplinary role and much of our work is digital. But I think processes like ours are cropping up in other agencies around the world and a few of our observations can’t hurt.
1. Don’t feel bad about wasting time on the Internet. This is as important as school.
All of that time you are spending playing around on the Internet is actually very applicable to working in a job like mine. Explore it all, and actually care. It’s essential to understand these platforms as a user and not just a bored marketer being like, “That’s a thing people do.” Understand the emotional reasons why people use Facebook. Understand the cultural resonance of Reddit. Spend a week Photoshopping an embarrassing collage of your best friends. Download random iPad apps and use them to draw, animate things and organize your life. In a way, you’re studying web design and user experience by being your own focus group of one. Don’t be afraid of breaking things or doing things wrong.
2. Create a body of your own work that is yours alone, all about what you truly care about.
We get a lot of applications from people that are very polished but feature only group projects and collaborations. This usually makes me wonder how much of the work the person applying actually did. When it’s clear that people have their own passion projects that they spend hours working on in their room at night it’s easy to see what they’re about and what kind of skills they possess.
3. Realize that your schoolwork is not the most interesting thing on the planet.
It’s great to work hard at school and be passionate about what you’re learning. But academia and schoolwork can absolutely overwhelm your life while you are in the middle of it, and it can make people very myopic. It’s great to mention your thesis or whatever at a job interview, but I’m always wary when people roll in and start ranting about a very niche academic subject that has clearly kept them away from the real world for 6 months. Have internships that actually get you into offices and making things other than what you want to make yourself. Your career will likely involve working on things other people dream up. Learn to be interested in those too.
4. Don’t worry too much about guarding your Facebook and personal life.
Here’s the truth. Employers totally stalk your Facebook, your blog, your Twitter. But this industry is fairly relaxed, and it’s usually just to see if you’re a real, genuine, cool person. If you keep your image guarded and buttoned up, you may lose out on the chance to connect with people online. Jobs like mine are very collaborative, so people want to find people they resonate with and truly like. We don’t care if you’re drinking a beer on Facebook. We drink beer here.
This Sprint ad always makes me cringe when it gets to this line:
“I need to upload all of me. I need – no – I have the right to be unlimited.”
Is it really anyone’s right to be able to upload “all of yourself” to your mobile phone? To upload every meal to Instagram and never run out of data? Is it really an assault on rights to charge mobile phone users an extra $15 for exceeding their data plans?
To me, this seems silly, and a tacky example of marketing trivializing what it means to declare and protect your own rights.
But then I started to think about it more when a co-worker made a slide of the “modern consumer” and their desire to have everything on their own terms, from their media to their access to exercise. The slide contained birth control pills, because he said “Consumers also want to be able to have babies on their terms.”
This led to a discussion of pundits who still viewed birth control as a fairly new invention, and because of that, believe that access to it isn’t necessarily a “right.” Right now, that idea is fairly controversial, especially since the U.N. declared birth control a human right. How could you take away a technology that has created so much freedom, population control, family planning and progress toward gender equality? Especially one that is so cost-effective and relatively easy to distribute world-wide?
But the two ideas, that birth control is, for the most part, considered a right and that unlimited cell phone data is not, got me thinking, “How do we decide whether or not people are entitled to fairly new technologies?” After all, mobile access to the Internet has the potential to make almost as big of an impact on humanity as the birth control pill. We’ve already seen how it can inspire and empower social revolutions and change the face of modern journalism and communication. And within younger populations, smartphone ownership is growing for many populations, especially minorities and even people living technically in poverty. There could come a time when not having a smartphone during key parts of someone’s life could constitute its own societal disadvantage.
While I certainly don’t think unlimited cell phone data is a right, I do think it’s worth questioning when or if access to the Internet will become a right. Recently, Anonymous acted against Israel for compromising Internet access, implying they already believe that web access is a right that can be taken away. Could it be that the ability for the government to gain power by taking a way a new technology makes access to it somehow a right?
It’s kind of strange to think of fairly new inventions as something people have a right to. When we think of rights we usually think universal basics – the right to safety, food, shelter, free speech. Not the right to have a tricked-out cell phone. But there is something dehumanizing about taking a technology that drastically betters the lives of a population of people, and declaring that it’s just for some. Once technology is invented, it can’t be taken back. It’s already changed the way things are. There must be a point at which certain new technologies become rights.
Just brainstorming a couple parameters, it could be that to become a right, a technology has to:
1. Be widely available and affordable.
2. Be fully complete, safe and usable. Data plans are generally still limited for a reason, but birth control has been tested, tweaked and honed.
3. Create individual freedom, safety and empowerment.
4. Contribute to social mobility.
Looking at these parameters, we could observe that books and transportation could be considered rights that the government could actually promote, through public libraries and public transportation. Access to fruits and vegetables could be argued to fulfill 3 and 4, but not necessarily 1 and 2, as they are still not widely available and affordable for everyone, and the systems to make them so (2) are not necessarily in place. Is that because of technological constraints or a lack of government attention?
This whole post has clearly been somewhat of a tangent, but that’s because these are hard questions. What do you think? Do you agree with the Sprint ad? Do you think that in 30 years everyone will? How can we know for sure?
Society, and maybe advertising especially, focuses a lot on memes, which are replicable, spreadable ideas. Memes are memes because they are easily copied and shared, but also because they hit on something that makes people buy into them. Like this “That’s a Paddlin’” meme. It’s funny, it’s related to pop culture and it allows people to express annoyance at things people do on the Internet, so it spreads.
We all want to make the “next meme” and get rich off something that seems simple and infectious. But memes are ideas that succeeded, if we can define success in an evolutionary way, which means they can copy and spread themselves. But we don’t often think about the ideas that don’t spread. Ideas, just like most things go through a natural selection, wherein a huge amount are generated every day and only a small amount survive. Think how many random concept blogs people are making and hoping go viral on Tumblr every day.
I recently started thinking about how many ideas have to be tossed out before one takes off. As I was explaining to someone who was new to working at Zeus Jones, a small percentage of what we do here actually gets made and put out in the world. There are some things I have worked on for months that get killed in the end. Sometimes on a naming assignment, we’ll come up with hundreds of names only to have all of them rejected. In some projects, the ratio of killed ideas to successful ideas can be 1,000:1, and in some that ratio can, thankfully, be smaller.
But we do work in an agressive, fast-moving industry where ideas compete with one another and the variability of success is insanely high. One project might change culture, one might make a small splash, one might flop. This translates to my personal life as a writer as well. For every 50 Shades of Grey, which, arguably, is not a good book at all, thousands of similar books probably fizzle out of existence every day.
I think the key is to maintain zen-like detachment from your ideas. If you treat them less like your “babies” and instead try to come up with as wide a variety of ideas as possible, some are bound to succeed. But when an idea of yours does not succeed, you can take comfort in knowing that millions of ideas don’t succeed every day. Those are the sacrifices we make to get to the ones that do.
“The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them.” Lao Tzu
According to my mum, one of the most exciting areas in science today is the study of water. While water’s very simple from a chemical standpoint, it’s prone to exhibiting behaviours that are extremely complex. One of these (which I barely understand so am probably butchering completely) is its tendency to form an infinite variety of supra-molecular crystalline structures like snowflakes, each of which is unique. These structures also form in liquid water and sometimes the introduction of a foreign compound into water will spark the formation of different structures. In some cases the structure formed actually mimics, or remembers, the structure of the compound that was introduced.
This becomes interesting when you think about homeopathy and the practice of introducing a “poison” into water and then diluting it repeatedly. It has long been argued that the rate of dilutions would leave no trace of the original substance, but now a number of studies have shown that water actually retains a memory of the structure of the original substance. For example, Luc Montagnier discovered that certain DNA sequences dissolved in water cause electromagnetic signals to be emitted at high dilutions and that the DNA sequence itself could be reconstituted from these signals.
It’s truly fascinating and challenging stuff, but what’s even more interesting is that the study of water is so tightly entwined with the study of and questions about life. So for the first time, scientists are asking many of the same questions as artists and musicians. And that has inspired my mum to organise a conference to explore the convergence in thinking.
Yes, incredulously, I’ll also be speaking about some things I’ve been stealing seeing in some extremely progressive companies across a number of different industries. Things like:
Companies that operate and thrive without any formal bosses or structure
Emerging business models that are designed to create ecosystems for mutual benefit
New models for marketing that place companies in partnership with their customers.
All of these are signs that business can also behave more like water; that businesses can be more fluid, more organic, more supportive and be structured to benefit all of the lives that depend upon them. I’m quite inspired by the subject but even more inspired to hear what the other speakers have to say.
If you are in London (or even not) you should definitely check the festival out. I’m speaking on the 22nd but planning to be around for a bunch of the other sessions, I’d love to see you all there as well.
When people were first speculating about Apple creating a tablet, there were certain problems that it was supposed to address. At the time, all of these problems were assumed to be somewhat impossible. These problems were, in my memory, primarily the following:
-Can you make a color tablet? (For some reason at the time this was doubted.)
-Can you make a product that will save the newspaper and magazine industry by giving people a way to consume them digitally?
Apple creating the iPad almost seemed like Apple taking a dare from different worlds. Could they create a digital device that would save newspapers in a digital age? Could they make that device do even more, like play videos and let people surf the Internet?
In my mind, this was the prompt that led to the iPad. Remember how ridiculed the name was? Now it’s one that 2-year-olds shout with reverence. This is how things change.
I started thinking about this after the iPad Mini came out, and it quickly became apparent that it was somewhat perfect. After poo-poo-ing the idea that Apple needed a small tablet, I tried one, and then pined for one until I broke down and bought one, even though I wanted to hold out for a retina display. I already use it far more frequently than I had the regular iPad. Compared to the mini, the first iPad seems overly large, clunky even.
This has made me question the initial design of the iPad. Didn’t Steve Jobs, after all, argue for a larger size, leading to the comical headline, Seven Inches Is Enough, RIM Tells Jobs? There was a lot of dismissal from Apple when it came to smaller tablets, yet they eventually released their own.
So what gives? Well, I think 7-inches maybe was too small for a device that was supposed to replace the newspaper. (Another question – wasn’t the newspaper itself poorly designed to begin with – too big and awkward?) But the iPad as primarily a replacement for the sunday paper is hardly how anyone thinks of it anymore.
Instead, the process of publications switching to iPad versions is still being figured out, iPad magazine subscriptions haven’t exactly taken off and well … the publishing industry is still in decline. But at the same time, people are reading more than ever, just differently. For example, apps like Flipboard let them aggregate news from many sources, for free.
The better news is that the iPad has evolved to do a lot more than replace the paper you read with your coffee. It has trained a computer illiterate world into the Internet. It has given toddlers their first interaction with the power of technology. I have been shocked by watching my mom, who has rejected computers her whole life as “confusing,” suddenly sitting on Pinterest all day, shopping online and even asking me if she should sign up for Instagram. She literally calls “the Internet” “the iPad,” because to her there’s no difference. My niece and nephew, 4 and 2, can navigate the iPad more impressively than my 7-year-old classmates could play Number Crunchers.
And Apple has realized this. Maybe it was initially trying to replace large papers for large hands, but they realized that didn’t mean they shouldn’t make an everything-machine for very small hands. People have called the iPad Mini the “paperback” version and the regular iPad the hardcover. The harcover comes first but isn’t it the paperback you want to keep in your purse?
I think this brings to light the importance of looking at the original challenge a product was supposed to solve, and thinking about how its purpose has led to new opportunities. For example, with many things we make at Zeus Jones, we stop at the end of the year and ask, “Why did we do it this way?” When we trace back the reasons why, we sometimes see that it has become something altogether different from what it started as. There are many ways something evolves over a year, and that creates a lot of potential opportunities that could be overlooked.
It’s important to be honest about the way something’s purpose can change, rather than be stubborn about what it was originally created to do. What’s a better challenge, getting newspapers online, or getting a generation that thought they were “too old” for technology onboard? If Apple had stuck to their original belief about the ideal tablet size, well, I wouldn’t have spent so much time reading on my iPad mini last night.
Buried within the context of the last few posts on this blog has been a fairly profound shift in the nature of relationships within business. While a typical business relationship used to be transactional – I pay and you give – the ideal relationship today is far more complex. There is an exchange of value that exists quite independently from the exchange of money or labour.
I started thinking about this a couple of years ago when it struck me that I couldn’t figure out who pays whom when a company like Dreamworks does a deal with McDonalds for a Happy Meals promotion.
In these relationships, the exchange of value is quite even. In addition, the ability to collaborate and share a variety of different assets, processes and IP, almost certainly delivers value to both parties which transcends any financial cost.
I’d love to be in the room for the negotiation of a deal like this because it seems to me that all dimensions of value would need to be considered in order to determine the true cost and more importantly, that new units of measurement would need to be created to track all of the value being created and transferred. However, it’s quite conceivable that deals like this are still being negotiated under old, transactional models for value, and that the units of measurement are one-dimensional and equally old fashioned.
Sadly, I think the latter is much more likely to be the truth. Most relationships in business are still created using completely obsolete frameworks and units of measure. More often than not, the measurement chosen has no relationship with the desired result, as is the case with creative companies charging by the hour, and actually works against achieving the real goal.
When contracts are created around a framework like this companies lose in two ways. They don’t get the results they really want, nor do they get all the other value could be realised through looking at their relationships in a more holistic way.
I’m going to start by saying I’m not actually an expert at this. In fact, I’m fairly new to thinking about how brands can work with bloggers, although it seems to come up frequently. What I am an expert at is being a blogger who ignores countless queries from people wanting to put their message on my blog. Any email that seems impersonal (even if it uses my name and knows I’m in Minneapolis) and wants to promote their whatever on the blog, I delete immediately.
I’m also an expert at judging websites for being full of spam. We’ll put up with a lot, as Internet readers, because we know these writers have it tough. Pop-up ads, takeover ads, countless queries to take a survey, posts written for SEO purposes alone, we’re used to it. About the closest thing to a tolerable brand presence on a website (other than a routine banner ad) that I can take is a sponsored story where it’s clear that the brand let the person write whatever they wanted without injecting in their campaign message. A story about watches sponsored by a watch company can be interesting. I’ll take that. Writers have to make money somehow.
But how do you do a blogger partnership well?
Ok, disclosure – I feel weird answering this question with something that my work produced, but I’m going to. If it helps, I didn’t have anything to do with it (that would be Joseph Kuefler). I just discovered it and thought, “this is how you do a blogger partnership.” Upon seeing it, my inner critical reader was silent, impressed even.
Theron also has a project called This Wild Idea, where he interviews people across America about their lives and takes pictures. It’s amazing – get lost in it for awhile.
Anyway, Purina ONE beyOnd let him come up with a project, and he came up with Why We Rescue.
Over 30 days, he will be interviewing people across New York about why they rescued a pet, and taking pictures of their homes.
How does Purina ONE beyOnd fit in? Well, the logo is on a tile on the site, and other than that, purely ideologically, in the sense that both This Wild Idea and Purina ONE beyOnd promote adopting homeless pets. Spam quotient – zero.
Anyway, inspired by this, I talked to JK and came up with some basic guidelines for partnering with bloggers/creative people:
1. Pick good bloggers
This sounds really obvious but it’s actually not. It’s easy to just pick bloggers who report high monthly impressions among a certain demographic, who just have badly-designed blogs full of sub-par content. Even bad bloggers can get an audience, with the right amount of SEO manipulation, coupons and targeted posts.
If you pick a blogger doing respectable, even amazing and different work, like this guy, it’s going to be much cooler. Not only will it show that you’re having fun (which I truly believe is something people sense and look for in creative work), but it will also give you clout, helping you attract more good bloggers, who will give you more and more clout. Suddenly your brand is cool, instead of just being associated with spam, noise and banner ads.
2. Scale isn’t everything
As JK pointed out, the creator doesn’t need to have a huge audience for the partnership to work. If their audience is still growing, the brand can provide the scale, and draw lots of people in. That means you can worry about the quality of their content, not the quantity of their fans. It’s also worth considering the quality of their audience. Are they thought leaders or influencers, people living and working in the media? Bonus, even if it’s a small group of them.
3. Go outside your own industry/category
Creating blog posts about pets might seem like a task that calls for partnering with pet bloggers. But people who write about pets as their main subject may not be as engaging to your audience as people excelling in photography, design, fashion or any other subject, who also love pets. As JK said, you can make partnerships based on shared values, not necessarily just a shared category. Limiting your brand to your own category can limit the type of conversations that you’re capable of having.
4. Partner on the creator’s terms
Respect the bloggers and creators you partner with as their own brand rather than dictating the content they provide. If you come to the table with an open brief, willing to collaborate and make compromises, it allows them to invest themselves in what they create. Try to give them creative control over what they say and depict as much as you can while still ensuring your brand is comfortable endorsing their content. When it comes to adding your logo, be open to different strategies and placements that will integrate it naturally rather than shoving it in people’s faces.
As I said, I’m not an expert, and I believe that what makes a smart blog partnership is still being determined by creative brands and cultural influencers. Hopefully these rules will be thought-starters.