Marketing plots: the usual suspects (and two ways to beat them)

Judge me by my size do you?

This is a story about advocacy and rigid leadership-sets.
It begins with a seemingly simple question:
Why do “the usual suspects” keep winning?

“The usual suspects” is a marketing pattern/plot familiar to anyone in the venture capital business:
1. The best venture capital funds get more chances to invest in the best startups.
2. The best startups have better chances to making big exits with big multipliers.
3. Having the best exits further cements a fund’s reputation as being among the best.
4. Repeat.

A virtuous or vicious cycle, depending on a VC’s rank.

A similar dynamic will be found within engineering:
1.The best engineering firms will get a disproportionate amount of opportunities to tender for bigger, better, higher profile projects.
2. High profile projects draw more attention to their best of breed work.
3. Having best of breed high-profile projects further establishes them as an industry leader.
4. Repeat.

How about universities?
1. The best universities are/have the first choice of the best students and faculty.
2. The best students and faculty are mutually drawn to each other.
3. The work/results/success perpetuates the university’s status as among the best.
4. It stays up in the rankings/league tables year after year. (The closer you get to the top of rankings the less movement you will find from year to year).

The usual suspects plot is especially common in professional services and large B2B businesses. Notable categories are legal services (where the leader-set is known as “the magic circle”) and accounting/audit firms (“Big Four”).
Indeed, success begets success.

But what else is there?

The dynamic plotted here is the tendency of big scale advocacy-led categories to have highly rigid leader-sets.
Two questions come to mind: First, what drives this rigidity at the top? And then – What can second tier players and challenger brands do about it?

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The 10 habits of highly creative people, applied to creative companies

You and What Army
A couple of months back, I was once again falling down the rabbit hole that is the theory of creativity. While revisiting the useful and inspiring concept of “Mental Flow” I discovered a later book by the psychologist who coined the term, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The book Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (previously titled: Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People) contains an exploration of the common personality traits of creative people. The traits are articulated as a series of ten paradoxes. Before listing them, he writes:

Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. Call it full-blast living.
Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity.
What makes us different from apes–our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology–is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognised, rewarded, and transmitted through learning.

You’ve got to love the man, I’m sure he’d be against speculative work and 6-way creative pitches.

The list itself is delightful on its own, and will feel intuitively familiar to anyone who has an appreciation for creativity and creative people. An interesting thing, is that while going through the list you discover that the principles apply not just to creative individuals, but also to innovation and to creative companies and organisations.

So here are Csikszentmihalyi’s Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality, translated to the the traits of creative companies.

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. Continue reading

Valve software doing what they must, because they can. For science. (and gaming, and marketing…)

Too busy to write a full post report, but here is a story told in links… To gamers, this will all be taken for granted, but many people in the creative industry are simply oblivious to what’s going on in this arena, and they shouldn’t. We should all pay real attention to this category, because it is the avant-garde of post-modern marketing.

If you have any interest in transmedia storytelling or the future of marketing, what Valve is doing as it promotes the release of Portal 2 (probably tomorrow at this pace) is simply amazing.

Links:
Portal 2: The game
The wiki of the game about the game which is played across social media, other games, podcasts, magazine websites, email, IRC … involving the gathering of clues to aid the gathering of “potatoes” required to overclock the AI antagonist of the game (=Valve releasing the game earlier). But also includes the release of branded content across the other games, new content about the game’s universe and its meta-universe (which is a version of our’s).
Which all results in this accelerated countdown to the release.

Single handily revolutionising the PC gaming industry through their Steam platform (an app store for PC games, installed on pretty much every gamer’s PC on earth) is apparently not enough.
Seriously exciting, ground-breaking and creative stuff.

Update 26/4/2011: And here is a good summary of the Portal 2 ARG by Edge Magazine.

One word (equity) is not enough

"Could you define the brand in one word?"
In one word?  How about "No."

Albert Einstein was quoted saying: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
I don’t know any worthwhile stories or conversations that contain one word, or that focus on just one word. Any brand needs more than that to craft its narrative.

I’m tempted to say something like "The age we live in is very much about creating (new) meaningful connections." but actually, that’s what life’s about, isn’t it?
Well, no connections if there is only one thing. Two are a minimum requirement, and you need a third one if you want movement. The math of stories, one could say.

And if you do take one word and try to use it to link yourself and your audience – you already have something that goes beyond this single word, just by making that connection, you have three points of reference. If that’s the case, you’d better have a better idea of what it might be. And an attempt at articulating it, not necessarily only with words.

If your team or agency get only one word, what they get is a wide open brief to do almost anything with your brand.
Sure, great brands become iconic. Talking about one word alone may give an iconic impression. But being iconic is a result, not a cause.

And if you tell me you want to "own" something, then I’m really going to reach for my gun.

Poetry for these Facebooked times

(the Hebrew version after the fold)

I lost my identity card /Yehuda Amichai

I lost my identity card.
I have to write out my curriculum vitae
all over again for many offices, one copy to God
and one to the devil. I remember
the photo taken thirty-three years ago
at a wind-scorched junction in the Negev.
My eyes were prophets then, but my body had no idea
what was happening to it or where it belonged.

You often say, This is the place,
This happened right here, but it’s not the place,
you just think so and live in error,
an error whose eternity is greater
than the eternity of truth.

As the years go by, my life keeps filling up with names
like abandoned cemeteries
or like an absurd history class
or a telephone book in a foreign city.

And death is when someone keeps calling you
and calling you
and you no longer turn around to see
who it is

Continue reading