One paper clip, 25 minutes, your imagination.
Generate at least 25 great creative ideas to promote the utility and versatility of the paper clip. (After all, it is an under appreciated occupant of supply closets everywhere.)
Work in teams of five, but for the first five minutes no talking allowed. Each team member writes non-stop any ideas that come into his head. After five minutes teams work together, sharing ideas, building off of each other’s kernels, augmenting the initial body of work, making them better, and finally agreeing on five or 10 really good ones.
Criteria for deciding
- Do you like it, really like it?
- Is the idea guaranteed to get attention?
- Is it something you’d remember?
- If it’s not pure, raw entertainment does it offer genuine utility?
- Would you tell a friend about it?
Hints and stimulae
What if the paper clip were huge?
What if Marcel the Shell used it?
What if it were a metaphor?
What if the world were attacked by Origami?
What if Banksy created graffiti with it?
What if it were a Guinness record?
What if it starred in the SI bathing suit issue?
What if it came in a little blue box?
What if it were a political statement?
What if it had an arch rival?
What if Lady Gaga’s incorporated it into her shoe collection?
What if it were an amusement park ride?
I tried this exercise yesterday as a way to inspire students in my Strategic Creative Development class to think more creatively. It worked pretty well. It got people to break out of traditional routines, come up with crazier ideas than usual (we had everything from epic battles between paper clips and staples, a means to world peace, even famous one page documents – think Declaration of Independence — that upon close inspection had a slight indentation in the shape of a paper clip in their upper left hand corners, suggesting that maybe there should have been a second or third page that we’ll never know about.)
Anyway, thought I’d share it, If your class or company or marketing department needs a little brain lubrication, this exercise works pretty well.
Got any others you can share? I need more.
Last October, David Armano, SVP/Innovation Chief at Edelman and I spoke at MIMA’s annual summit, a pretty terrific annual conference in Minneapolis. We agreed that we would not use decks, and instead that we would simply talk about our experiences trying to inspire others to embrace new ideas and technologies.
Our premise was that you don’t need to be a chief innovation officer to know that pushing boundaries in business environments can be both rewarding and often times frustrating. Advances in society, technology and the way we work have paved the way for innovation to happen in virtually every field.
But it can be hard. Muscle memory, organizational structure, physical space and a fear of change all present formidable challenges.
Yet for agencies to be more innovative — creating utility not just messages, practicing prototyping instead of demanding perfection, launching new businesses — we need to change. We need to change ourselves, our processes, our teams, even how we conduct performance reviews.
There were some good questions and topics for conversation. We talked about how innovation can be small; it doesn’t have to be big. How it’s hard to find funding for projects when agencies are in the service business not the software business. How important it is for our industry to become builders rather than message makers. How the next generation of creators wants to build things out of technology and code and APIs, not out of words and pictures. How simple tactics like “shut up and write” can inspire new thinking. How different teams comprised of the new creative person – digital, social, able to write code – can yield unexpected results. How it might be worth launching new sustainable businesses within existing companies.
MIMA’s Annual Summit is one of the better events I attended last year. Executive Director Tim Brunelle does an amazing job organizing an agenda and attracting speakers. And the opportunity to connect, network and discover sources of new ideas makes attendance well worth it even you’re from another part of the country.
David and I played a small role. But if you’re interested in what we do and how we think, and you have an hour with nothing more important to do, here you go.
Note: This video only became available recently. Hence this post four months after the actual event.
Social networks like Facebook start with your friends and let you see what you have in common. Interest graph-based models – Springpad, Pinterest, Get Glue – start with your interests and then let you make connections. It’s less about who you know and more about what you care about.
If you happen to have your Google alerts set up to grab the latest blog posts and articles about Pinterest, you’re stream is pretty well populated these days. Add “Facebook Actions” or “Springpad” or “Svpply” or “Hunch” and it gets even more crowded. Maybe that’s why I don’t dare add queries for Google’s new privacy changes or developments like YouTube’s original channels. It would be more than anyone could possibly bear.
With each passing week, the social web evolves. Now that we’ve supposedly mastered Facebook and Twitter, we’re confronted with Google + and all the new interest graph platforms mentioned above. Are we ready? Do we know what to do? Do we have a strategy in place?
Recent research that Mullen just conducted suggests not. We surveyed 160 CMOs and marketing chiefs to find out where they stood when it came to using social media, monitoring the stream, developing conversation strategy and having a plan for tapping the interest graph.
We were surprised at some of the results.
Marketers remain challenged by social media
While 87 percent of respondents claimed that social media was somewhat or very important to their marketing efforts, most of their efforts remained limited to, or at least focused on Facebook. Nearly 80 percent were committed to the world’s largest social network. But fewer than 20 percent were using Google + and a full 80 percent had no focus at all on a platform like Foursquare.
While ongoing engagement emerged as one primary objective (64.5 percent noted it) marketers declared their number one reason for using social media was to generate awareness (76.8 percent), an objective that beat out both customer support (29.7 percent) and building loyalty (53.5 percent).
Among the more disappointing, but perhaps expected findings was the fact that marketers measure success primarily by how many followers and/or likes they generate (71.6 percent). By comparison, downloads (24.5 percent), share of conversation (25.2) and referrals (35.5) remained far less important. The latter is particularly surprising given the social web’s built in ability to inspire word-of-mouth marketing and the sharing of recommendations.
When it comes to content, marketers continue to think like traditional advertisers. They primarily use social platforms to promote products and offers (67.5 percent) and to deliver updates (64.9 percent). Providing utility (33.1) and offering entertainment (22.7) remain far less important concerns.
Despite the flurry of press coverage on the emerging importance of the interest graph, nearly half or respondents (48.7 percent) never heard of the term “interest graph,” and when they had it explained – the ability to connect with consumers in a more meaningful way by tapping into their interests – only 26.6 percent thought it could be “very useful.”
As for all that buzz around Pinterest, a platform generating page views, user growth and inbound links for the early adopter brands? Close to half of our respondents (42.2 percent) never even heard of it, while barely a sliver (4.5 percent) had started using it.
Perhaps that’s no surprise given that 68.8 percent of marketers surveyed capture no interest graph data at all — not preferences, interests, or intentions.
Finally, while brand stewards aren’t quite overwhelmed with the proliferation of platforms, they (44.2 percent) struggle with one fundamental challenge – where to put their resources.
From the social graph to the interest graph
The last finding surprises no one. Getting social media efforts to deliver hard results and ROI is a challenge for the simple reason that most consumers aren’t there to connect with brands and their advertising messages.
But the interest graph platforms can change that. If marketers can suddenly identify people who’ve raised their hands and virtually asked for a “proposal,” they can more easily connect with people who’ll welcome them.
Every social network knows this is the future. Facebook Actions now allows users to tap into and identify friends’ interests — music, tastes in foods and preferences for movies, books and more. Presumably, if you actually know what friends have good taste in music it will now be easier to call on their recommendations. Actions aren’t perfect, however.
You still have to scroll through the stream and most content isn’t really persistent, meaning if you miss it in the stream it’s gone. It still poses challenges for marketers, too. Check out your own page and refresh it a few times. I guarantee that you’ll find the majority of ads that get served to you are completely irrelevant. But the promise is significant. Facebook will inevitably get better at capturing even more data and presumably allow advertisers to more accurately focus messages.
Foursquare, which our research told us is barely on the radar for most marketers will start making recommendations to its users on where to eat and where to vacation based on past behavior and that of friends. Certainly any hospitality marketer – restaurants, chains, museums and hotels – should at least be exploring the possibilities, if not encouraging user participation.
But all of this is still new. The social graph as we know it is only a few years old while the interest graph has been a topic of discussion for a matter of months. So what does it all mean? For brands, it’s definitely not too late to be early. Marketers can still get in on the ground level. But they need to embrace it and work to leverage it.
For social media practitioners, there’s work to be done. We need to learn, educate each other, experiment and develop effective strategies and tactics.
Eight steps you can take to get ready
- Learn the difference between the social graph and the interest graph. This simple description, by David Rogers writing in Read Write Web might help.*
- Read Grouped and get a better sense of how influence happens on the social web. The Tipping Point is a fallacy. Influence isn’t what you think it is. Small groups are what really matter.
- Open accounts on at least a few of the platforms. We would recommend Pinterest, Springpad**, and one other of your choice (The Fancy, Fab, Hunch) just to learn what it’s all about. Don’t commit to any one platform. Pinterest may be hot right now, but it’s too early to own this category and some consider the platform of the month a bit one dimensional.
- Take the time to learn what constitutes appropriate and effective conversation strategy on these new platforms. (Hint: it’s not simply about publishing content or adding a Spring This or Pin It button to your site.)
- Look for opportunities to market to the data. We’re a few months or more away from this, but it’s coming.
- Use the platforms yourself. There is no better way to learn and understand their potential.
- If you’re at SxSW this year, come to our panel on the interest graph and deferred intent.
*The Social Graph
A social graph is a digital map that says, “This is who I know.” It may reflect people who the user knows in various ways: as family members, work colleagues, peers met at a conference, high school classmates, fellow cycling club members, friend of a friend, etc. Social graphs are mostly created on social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, where users send reciprocal invites to those they know, in order to map out and maintain their social ties.
*The Interest Graph
An interest graph is a digital map that says, “This is what I like.” As Twitter’s CEO has remarked, if you see that I follow the San Francisco Giants on Twitter, that doesn’t tell you if I know the team’s players, but it does tell you a lot about my interest in baseball. Interest graphs are generated by the feeds customers follow (e.g. on Twitter), products they buy (e.g. on Amazon), ratings they create (e.g. on Netflix), searches they run (e.g. on Google), or questions they answer about their tastes (e.g. on services like Hunch).
Your thoughts? Please share ideas, examples or insights as to where you think things are going.
**Note: In addition to my role as Mullen’s chief innovation officer, I also work as Springpad’s chief marketing officer.
Daniel Stein, CEO of EVB, shared that thought last night with #BUSCD, the class I teach at Boston University. Arguable, certainly. But as Daniel put it, “Give an agency $200,000 and they will come up with endless creative ideas. Give them $20 million and you get a TV campaign. Give them $200 million and you get really big TV campaign with celebrities and Superbowl spots.”
His lesson, of course, was that creative teams should welcome smaller budgets. The tighter financial reins won’t restrict your creativity. On the contrary, they’ll liberate it. Take away that extra zero and you won’t have to satisfy expected solutions and media buys.
Of course Daniel told his now famous story of EVB’s Elf Yourself. The casting call for a dancer went out over Craig’s List. A repainted wall in the office served as the green screen. And the entire production cost well under $30,000. That’s a pretty good price for one of the more popular brand icons of the last five years.
There’s no shortage of examples that demonstrate how a tiny budget can yield both big ideas and real results. A few memorable favorites (particularly because they were among the first demonstrations of new social platforms) include Poke’s Baker’s Tweet, CP&B’s Shocking Barack, Fallon London’s Tate Tracks, Mullen’s Will it Blend, and the Milwaukee burger joint AJ Bomber’s Swarm Badge event.
In every case the budget was the advertising equivalent of pocket change. In most cases TV would have been the wrong solution. And as a result, creators were forced to use digital and social media in ways that invited users to be part of the story.
I should give Daniel a shout out for another reason. He kindly took the Red-Eye from San Francisco to Boston specifically to speak to 25 students eager to hear and learn from the best. It’s a wonderful example of someone who has succeeded and prospered taking time to give something back and help the next generation of advertising thinkers and creators.
Thanks, Daniel. Twenty-five students, and one instructor, are all smarter for your visit.
Note: Will share Daniel’s #BUSCD deck once we get it online.
I had an interesting interview yesterday with E-Marketer. They’re working on a project to explore the implications of too many screens and too little attention. It appears that consumers these days are flipping through digital pages on their iPad or fiddling with an app on their smartphone when they’re supposed to be paying attention to the TV commercials. What’s a marketer to do?
Interestingly the questions alone suggested that too many of us are still stuck in an old way of thinking and aren’t leaping quickly enough onto the newer platforms that call for engagement and collaboration rather than advertising.
“Should advertisers be trying to elevate a consumer’s attention level? Or should they instead accommodate themselves to current behavior and try to craft messages that will make a positive impression even if the consumer isn’t paying much attention?”
“Research has shown that many consumers check their e-mail during them commercial breaks of TV shows they’re watching. If they’re not looking at the TV screen but haven’t bothered to mute the sound while the commercial pod is on, does this mean that (for reaching this segment of the audience) the sound track is more important than the visual element of a commercial?”
“In the age of distraction, does consumption of ad content need to be more a lean-back activity (thus accommodating other simultaneous media usage) or can it be a more immersive, lean-forward activity?”
Such questions suggest that marketers are still in the business of buying attention. Fat chance. The idea of actually creating a more memorable soundtrack because someone’s looking down at their iPad instead of up at the screen in hopes of securing recall is ludicrous while the thought of making a positive impression on someone who isn’t paying attention strikes me as incomprehensible.
There are three things we can do, however. The first is simple. Be so damn interesting and entertaining that consumers not only welcome out content, they seek it out and pass it on. This is hard, but essential. The more choice a viewer has the better an ad has to be.
The second, of course, is to forget all about buying attention and focus entirely on adding value through utility. Years ago when we had no remote control to save us Charmin’ could force Mr. Whipple into our living room. Today, however, the brand has graduated to utility like Sit or Squat, an iPhone app that crowdsources the locations of clean, public restrooms. Clearly a better way to think about the second or third screen is to create content that considers context.
The third, and perhaps most promising approach is to go where we’re wanted. If a marketer is paying attention at all he or she knows that the newest trend in digital behavior is the interest graph – new platforms that encourage consumers to express their interests (Pinterest) and better yet their intentions (Springpad*) in ways that practically invite brands to connect, inspire and incent people who actually want their presence.
Granted the latter once again calls for marketers and advertisers to learn new tactics, master yet another form of conversation and figure out how to add value on a user’s term (hint: that requires more than simply posting your content on those platforms or adding a “spring me” or “pin me” button to your site) but who wouldn’t make the effort if there’s access to people who opt in. (I’ll be writing and speaking more about this over the next few months.)
As we’ve discussed lots of times, advertising in its traditional form won’t go away. At least not enirely. But thinking that we can meet the challenge of new behaviors and technologies by simply moving old tactics to new mediums is a sure way to accelerate its ineffectiveness.
*Note that in addition to my job as chief innovation officer at Mullen, I also work as CMO for Springpad, thanks in great part to Mullen’s willingness to let me experiment more and explore the startup world.