Giant Sealy stretches —and wakes up the industry

For the past year, we’ve been working on a complicated, many-faceted brand refresh for Sealy — part of the world’s largest mattress manufacturer, Tempur Sealy International.

It involved a major rethinking and overhaul of the entire structure of their product line, brand architecture and marketing presentation.

On January 20, at the enormous Las Vegas Market trade show, the company announced the update and revealed the new line to stellar industry reaction. The brand was re-energized — and so were Sealy’s own sales staff and their national retail customers. The excited response was universally positive. We’re relieved (whew!) and delighted!

FreeAssociates was involved from the earliest stages, meeting with the brand experience team and brand managers, sales execs, product designers, ad agency and strategists to help define the brand, clarify its position, and craft its messaging.

Dozens of concepts were floated and vetted, tested and refined, through a grueling but thorough process that left no stone unturned. Over many months the design vocabulary was established and tweaked, until a powerful, unified evolution of the brand emerged.

Under the watchful eyes and thoughtful leadership of Director of Brand Experience Karl Myers and his Senior Manager Jonah Nelson, we crafted a comprehensive new branding system.

FreeAssociates has developed a refined version of the logo, color palette, the master brand style guide, point of sale displays and materials, product labeling, a feature icon system, sales guide, product guide, trade show campaign graphics and all the displays and information graphics for Sealy’s 14,000 s.f. permanent showroom at Las Vegas Market (interior designed by Jhipo Hong).

We’re truly grateful to be working with this talented Sealy team and to have an opportunity to help affect the course of their venerable 130-year-old brand.

For the full story, take a look at this article in Furniture World.

Desperately keeping customers

siemens_kf108-gross

It always amuses me when online services try everything they can think of to keep your business, especially when their responses are rote and pasted in (or read) from a script. It’s so inhuman and odd.

I just canceled our e-Fax account. The poor online agent had to run through his entire repertoire of canned objection-answering. It feels so creepily fake to be on the receiving end of this stuff. If only corporations could just empower their reps to connect with customers like human beings. (As the best companies do.)

Here’s the transcript.

Fred: Hi, my name is Fred. How may I help you?

Josh: Hi, Fred. I’d like to cancel my account please.

Fred: I am glad to help you. Could you please provide me your fax number and 4-digit PIN/last 4 digits of the Credit card on file for verification?

Josh: 310-441-9949 is the fax number. Charges to card 4007.

Fred: Thank you for providing your information. Please give me a moment while I pull up your account.
In the meantime, please type the number corresponding to your reason for cancellation:
1) Moving to another provider
2) Bought a fax machine
3) Business or role changed
4) Short term project completed
5) Financial reasons
6) Problems with faxing or billing
7) Dissatisfied with quality of service
8) Too costly

Josh: 8

Fred: Josh, as we’d like to keep your business, I can offer to waive the monthly fee for the next 1 month. During this time, you will not be charged any monthly fee.
Fred: Secondly, after the free period, the monthly fee will be reduced to $12.95 per month. This plan also includes 150 free inbound and 150 free outbound pages every month.
Fred: There is no contract and you may cancel anytime. Shall I switch you to this 1 month free $12.95 monthly plan?

Josh: As usual with numbered questionnaires there’s no really accurate answer. We just don’t use faxes anymore. I’m paying monthly to receive junk faxes from travel agents and bogus business loan companies.

Fred: If you believe that you are in receipt of a junk fax, we ask that you please submit the offending fax to us by visiting https://www2.efax.com/privacy?tab=reportSpam We will investigate your complaint, and attempt to prevent any further transmission of junk faxes from the same source.

Josh: Thank you, but please cancel my account.

Fred: I completely understand your wish to discontinue. May I offer you a waiver of 2 months on the subscription fees so that you can re-evaluate your needs?
Fred: This way, you will be able to send and receive faxes for 60 more days. There is no contract and you may cancel anytime.

Josh: No.

Fred: As per the records you have ported this number into eFax. I would like to inform you that once the account is cancelled you will not be able to use this number. If you want this number back, you will have to ask your service provider to submit a port request to eFax and once the number is ported out successfully you need to get back to cancel this account.

Josh: Okay.

Fred: Would you like to keep the account active?

Josh: I know you have to go through this silliness, but no. Please just cancel it. End it. Stop it. Kill it. Like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch.

Fred: OK, I will go ahead and cancel your account. Is there anything else, I may assist you with?

Josh: No, thanks, but please do send me a confirmation by email.

Fred: An email has already been sent.

Josh: Thanks for your help.

Powerful consumers? Not always.

The ever-provocative Seth Godin wrote this about the power of the producer (i.e. the creator, manufacturer, provider to the consumer):

Producers and consumers

In the short run, it’s more fun to be a consumer. It sure seems like consumers have power. The customer is always right, of course. The consumer can walk away and shop somewhere else.

In the long run, though, the smart producer wins, because the consumer comes to forget how to produce. As producers consolidate (and they often do) they are the ones who ultimately set the agenda.

Producers do best when they serve the market, but they also have the power to lead the market.

The more you produce and the more needs you meet, the more freedom you earn.

And it reminds me of a TED Talk by Thomas Thwaites on “How I Built a Toaster From Scratch”. We live in a world where almost nothing we use, touch, interact with, is something we could actually make ourselves. As powerful as we are as a society, we are pretty incompetent as individuals. We need the producers, and each other.

Pier Party was a blast!

PierParty3

My wonderful wife Patricia and me, in between chowing down on the delicious brunch provided by some of the top restaurants in Santa Monica — and that’s saying a lot! (Thanks, Ted, for the photo!)

Sunday was the first ever Pier Party!, a fundraising event on the Santa Monica Pier at Pacific Park, supporting the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, which is responsible for most of the academic, athletic and arts enhancements that make SMMUSD so incredible. FreeAssociates donated the design of all the promotional graphics…. sponsor proposals, ads, posters, t-shirts, signs, etc.

Linda Greenberg Gross is the visionary powerhouse who runs SMMEF. She’s positive, effective, and a joy to work with.

Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica chaired the steering committee composed almost entirely of powerful, connected, highly committed women (I was one of only two guys that I know of).

The overall project was spearheaded by Rachel Faulkner, who pulled off complex miracles on a daily basis — with a lot of help from dozens and dozens of  energetic volunteers far too numerous to name here, but so impressive.

It was a gorgeous day and a wonderful group of people! I am grateful to be a part of this project, and of this amazing community.

Here are some snaps from the event, plus a few of our graphics just to give you the flavor of things. There are more photos on our Facebook page.

 

Consuming content makes me queasy

I was listening to an interview with Thom Yorke of Radiohead. He was told by his team that they had a multimillion-dollar offer from Nokia who was looking for content for their phones.

His response was, “Content?”

‘”You know. Content.”

“What? You mean music?”

“Yes. Content.”

Yorke explains, “I think really my problem with it is, like, it’s now something to fill up the hardware with…The music itself has become secondary, which is a weird thing to me. And I think that will change because there’s only so many different permutations of the same hardware you can make before people go, ‘Well, actually I have an iPod now, so thanks.'”

I have hated the term “content” used to describe music, films, videos, literature, art, photography, since the moment I heard it uttered. It’s the ultimate commercialization and diminshment of creative work.

And what makes it worse is when people talk about “consuming content” as if there’s a ravenous public out there, bloated and gorging itself on the huge amount of junk food that all this creative work represents. While that may be the case, do we have to lump everything under this lame, lazy umbrella?

I can go with “content” to describe stuff I’m not that enamored with. Reality TV. YouTube videos of cats. And, yeah, I can see that those are consumed like Cheetos. Pop ’em in your mouth and they go straight to your hips.

But putting that disposable crap in the same category as thoughtful films like Philomena and The Grand Budapest Hotel, or the powerful writing of Jonathan Franzen or Michael Chabon, or the innovative music of Laurie Anderson or Radiohead, seems absurd. Not only does it belittle the creators, but it belittles the reader, viewer or listener. It denies the power of art and its impact on our thinking, on our society.

I realize there’s a blurred line here. Malcolm Gladwell to me represents fascinating insights packaged in accessible ways. But to other people, he’s a huckster. Steven King produces both cheap thrills, and vast admiration of his craftsmanship and intelligence. And painting is highly subjective: Was Jackson Pollack an example of groundbreaking innovation? Or a perfect representative of non-art, as in “my kid could do that.”?

But whatever it is, it’s not “content”. It’s not a stream of thoughtless Hostess Twinkies of the mind and spirit designed to fill mobile phones and MP3 players and keep us fat and sitting on the sofa. It’s the work of real people, with real talent and something real to contribute to the human story. And I would love to see their work spoken about and thought of in that way.

As Yorke says in the same interview, “What’s weird about putting a record out now, really – and this is not like sour grapes at all – is just the fact of volume, literally the sheer volume of stuff that gets put out. It’s like this huge frickin’ waterfall and you’re just throwing your pebble in and it carries on down the waterfall and that’s that. Right, okay — next.”

Guess what? A pebble like that has value to the people who love pebbles. You admire it. You play with it. You keep it in your pocket. And perhaps you skip it across the surface of the water so someone else can enjoy it.

But you don’t “consume” it.

Pippin at Samohi

PIppin graphic

I’m working on a campaign for the musical “Pippin” which Santa Monica High School is putting on starting March 7. The theater department there is something I’ve supported for 5 years now. I love creating posters for them that are evocative and professional. I hope they inspire the young actors, musicians and production geeks to put forth their best efforts, and that they let audiences expect a high-quality experience, which in turn supports the program.

The productions do live up to the campaigns. (And sometimes surpass them!) If you get a chance to attend, it’ll be an entertaining experience, and you’ll be supporting a wonderful cause.

My favorite books on branding (so far)

My friend and leadership group buddy Cheryl asked a bunch of us for our favorite books on branding. I sent her these, and thought I’d post them here for all of you, too.  I’d love it if you shared your favorites in the comments.

Brand is Four Letter Word:
Positioning and the Real Art of Marketing
by Austin McGhie
This is a smart, opinionated overview from the president of Sterling Brands’ Strategy Group with deep experience on the both the client side and the agency side of things. There’s a good interview with him on the Design Matters podcast that will give you a taste of the book. He hates the word “branding”. He contends that a brand is simply a relationship, and that you can’t “brand” anything, you can only position it.

World Famous:
How to Give Your Business a Kick-Ass Brand Identity
by David Tyreman
This is a workbook on defining your brand. I’ve used it as a rough guide in leading two companies through a deep evaluation and redefinition of their brand strategy and found it very helpful. Tyreman worked with Polo Ralph Lauren, Nike, Banana Republic and many other companies and has a kind of enthusiastic upbeat approach that works. I find him a little relentlessly self-promotional, but the core stuff is great.

Start With Why:
How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
by Simon Sinek
Probably my favorite thinker about clarifying who you are and what your purpose is, and letting that drive what you create — as a company and as a person. First got turned onto him by a friend at an agency who was using his concepts in everything they were doing for their clients and themselves. I have drunk the kool-aid.

The Brand Gap:
How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design
by Marty Neumeier
Practical and highly visual, Neumeier presents his ideas in an entertaining and very valuable way. Easy to read. Fun to look it. Awesome cover design. “Fresh” and “relevant” to quote some of the blurbs. Many clear and simple ideas, but not “light” ones. The guy has thought through his subject and distilled it well.

Purple Cow — or practically any of his other books
by Seth Godin
This guy is the big thinker about positioning and marketing businesses. Huge influence, unafraid and committed to getting people out of the fear-driven culture and finding their art as business people. Purple Cow is about being different and remarkable — the essence of a good brand. I have to admit I didn’t like it at first; it seemed a little contrived and precious. But as I’ve delved deeper into Godin’s world through blog posts, interviews and other books, the principles just make more and more sense.

Your turn.

Inspiring leadership starts with Why

Start With Why bookWhy is it that a company can write glowingly about its specs and features and even its benefits and elicit not much more that a yawn? Why do we meet the promises of our politicians with such apathy? Why are we so focused on convincing and manipulating people instead of inspiring them?

We think we make important decisions rationally, but we almost never do. Instead, we are driven by, and respond to, signals that are difficult to articulate, but powerful when we receive them. And to be effective and meaningful, those signals always start with “WHY”.

That’s the premise of Simon Sinek’s fascinating study of leadership called “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” (Portfolio/Penguin).

You may know Sinek from his TED Talk, which I’ve blogged about previously. His book expands and details those concepts with many examples that go far beyond the few in his video. If you buy his basic premise, that the WHY is the hook that connects us to the brands and ideas we care about most deeply, then his book will flesh out your understanding and give you lots of fodder for your thinking.

I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Sinek’s writing style. I find him too pedantic and repetitive. But that may also be because this is the kind of book many won’t read cover-to-cover, and he had to include repeated references and reminders to anchor his points. I’ll give him a break on that score because his fundamental idea is so important.

That idea is well worth incorporating into our communications — not just our marketing efforts but our broader role as leaders (and we’re almost all leaders in some sense, but that’s another conversation). We want to start with the WHY. The belief. The purpose. That’s what will enlist followers in our vision. As Sinek points out, Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a plan.” He said, “I have a dream.” And millions of people who shared that dream of fairness and equality, who also imagined a world where people were treated like people, thought, “Hey, this guy thinks like I do… he wants what I want.”

Notice that they didn’t say, “Hmmm, that’s an interesting idea.” as if they had never imagined a world like that themselves. King tapped into something that was already there. He attracted the people who already believed what he believed, and then galvanized them to action. They became a movement because of the WHY.

Sinek explains that brands work the same way. People love or hate Apple. But the reason the company has so many rabid fanboys is because they stand for something and are willing to start their communications with that central value. If you identify with their rebellious creativity and obsession with design detail, with their core belief in challenging the status quo and thinking differently (their WHY), you’re on board. And you’ll pay more for it, because it reflects who you are, and meshes with your personal values.

That WHY pulls a company, a leader, a brand, out of the swamp of commoditized, transaction-based competitors. It means you no longer need to offer a lower price than everyone else. It means you don’t need to drive volume with coupons and discounts and sales in a never-ending downward spiral of slimmer and slimmer margins. It means you create products or companies you love and care about, and your customers are people who feel the same way.

That’s why Sinek’s message means so much to me in my own business, and to my clients’ businesses as well, whether or not they’ve read the book. Creating work I care about for people who feel the same way? That’s my dream job. And I bet it’s yours, too.

Grab a copy of Start With Why. And start letting people know what you really value.

Start with Why

Almost 2 million people have watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk on leadership called “Start with Why”, including me (several times). If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and spend 18 minutes finding out about the difference between manipulation and inspiration, and how great leaders understand that it’s not about the What. It’s about the Why.

I’m finally reading his book, and it’s enlightening and engaging. I’ll write more about it once I’ve finished it. but the core idea is nicely summarized right here. Check it out.

Bringing art to your work

The courageous Seth Godin talks about getting out of your comfort zone because it’s not safe. Taking a risk? That’s safer.

44 minutes of enlightened conversation.