What makes something cool?

Part of the art of marketing is making something cool, but not too cool.

What?

Research shows that we gravitate toward the familiar, but that we’re also bored by it. We cherish the new, but we’re also scared of it. The art is in finding something innovative that still has roots in things we already trust and understand.

This is why Apple so rarely pioneers technology and, instead, leverages things that have already been tried and haven’t yet been optimized, Then they nail it.

And it’s why truly innovative companies can be “ahead of their time” and tank.

An article in The Atlantic provides some interesting examples in the context of a long piece on the brilliant designer Raymond Loewy who coined the term MAYA (“Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”) and said: “To sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

There’s plenty of science to back this up:

In 2014, a team of researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University wanted to know exactly what sorts of proposals were most likely to win funding from prestigious institutions such as the National Institutes of Health—safely familiar proposals, or extremely novel ones? They prepared about 150 research proposals and gave each one a novelty score. Then they recruited 142 world-class scientists to evaluate the projects.

The most-novel proposals got the worst ratings. Exceedingly familiar proposals fared a bit better, but they still received low scores. “Everyone dislikes novelty,” Karim Lakhani, a co-author, explained to me, and “experts tend to be overcritical of proposals in their own domain.” The highest evaluation scores went to submissions that were deemed slightly new. There is an “optimal newness” for ideas, Lakhani said—advanced yet acceptable.

We can lament our intolerance for innovation. But it seems that understanding it is a good place to start if you want to effect change.

Read more, including how Spotify figured out that Discover Weekly playlists should include songs you already know.

 

Championship car races to end Alzheimer’s

Last Saturday marked the launch of Racing to End Alzheimer’s, a new foundation designed to help fund research into this debilitating disease, as well as to support programs for families who are dealing with it.

The campaign debuted with redesigned graphics for this season installed on the Legistics-sponsored #17 Porsche Cayman. The new livery highlights Racing to End Alzheimer’s and the brand new website at r2endalz.org. Celebrity golfer and co-sponsor Rickie Fowler will be helping to promote the cause.

But the new summer look only lasts until the fall. At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 23, 2017, the sponsor logos will be stripped from the car and it will be covered in matte black. For $250, donors can honor a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, with their name and hometown emblazoned on the Porsche as it competes in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

All elements of the campaign, including the car, were designed by FreeAssociates. Check out the ways you can make a difference at r2endalz.org.

Bullish outlook, despite a first quarter dip

Our client Tempur Sealy International (makers of Tempur-Pedic, Sealy and Stearns & Foster mattresses) recently released their quarterly results Despite discontinuing sales to the huge national retail chain Mattress Firm, they’re doing pretty well. Sales to the rest of their retailers are up 15% overall, and margins on those sales should be up, too.

While we are just a small sliver of a huge team, we like to think at least a part of that uptick is the result of the refresh of the Sealy brand we designed, which came out of the gate at the start of this year. With fresh new product graphics, point-of-sale displays, and a strong presentation to retail buyers, the 135-year-old Sealy brand has been elevated and reinvigorated.

“This represents the eighth consecutive quarter of double-digit adjusted EPS growth,” said Scott Thompson, chair and chief executive officer. “These solid first-quarter results are a byproduct of the team’s focus on our long-term initiatives and the overall positive worldwide economy underlying the bedding industry. We are pleased with the progress of our new product launches around the world and the positive early market reactions.”

“Eight consecutive quarters” just about syncs with the amount of time we’ve worked with Tempur Sealy. But I’m sure that’s mere coincidence. 🙂

For more bullish financial analysis, take a look at the industry publication BedTimes.

Milton Friedman’s disastrous argument

I read Seth Godin’s blog every day. I think he’s smart and we share most of the same values. Today’s post is a wonderful example of that. Its insight is simple but profound.

The renowned and (in many circles) revered economist Milton Friedman made an argument half a century ago that says this: “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…”

Since then, business school deans, the Harvard Business Review and Fortune (among others) have published rebuttals. But, as Godin points out, the interesting thing is that this corrosive, destructive point of view has been used to justify irresponsible actions by many, many corporations since it was published. Why? It’s simple. It lets people off the hook. It gives them permission to act like brats. To pillage the rest of society, take the spoils and run. With impunity. What’s not to like, if it applies to you?

But if the human beings who run companies can’t find a way to act like human beings, then it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to protect our larger society from them. We do that in other areas where we see societal damage: We can’t put melamine in baby formula. We can’t sell cigarettes to children. We have building codes. Hell, we carefully regulate near-irrelevant areas like sports. So why should corporations be immune from accountability?

I’m not suggesting we prohibit profits. Just that we insist they be tempered with other obligations. The same ones we live with as individuals. Here’s Seth Godin’s suggestion:

A business is a construct, an association of human beings combining capital and labor to make something. That business has precisely the same social responsibilities as the people that it consists of. The responsibility to play fairly, to see the long-term impacts of its actions and to create value for all those it engages with.

This sounds like a great starting place to me. More here.

Helping out the honeybees

Does the bee die-off freak you out? It should. Bees are essential pollinators and they’re a huge part of why we have fruits and vegetables to eat. California farming without bees would be a disaster. But between April 2015 and 2016, the United States lost 44% of its bee population.

Now, at least one invention is helping. It’s a clever concept — a foldable, easy to set up, baited hive that attracts swarms and keeps them in the area, so farmers can be a little more assured that they’ll be able to continue to grow our food.

It’s another example of how design thinking can make a huge difference in the world. Check it out.

Cleaning up the garbage patch

It looks like the young inventor Boyan Slat has improved his incredible design to efficiently extract plastic from the Pacific gyre. The project goes into action next year. And if all goes as planned, the enormous pile of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean will be reduced by 50% in 5 years.

Considering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers such a huge area, that is simply amazing.

Trust: Earned and Unearned

trust-fall1The brilliant Seth Godin (how many times have I typed that phrase?) explored the issue of trust in one of his blog posts about a year ago, and he raised a fascinating point.

All the ways that we think we — individuals or companies — need to act in order to build trust might be wrong.

They’re not wrong in the sense of creating mistrust. But they might not be very effective compared to the shorthand heuristics we actually use as consumers, voters or friends to decide whom to trust.

Why do we trust brands like Apple or Google or Evernote? Have they been so transparent, so altruistic, so consistent, so authentic that we should hand over our most sensitive data to them? Do we know enough about them in order to truly trust them? And would we even be willing to take the time to find out?

No, probably not. Our lives are just too complex, too fast-moving, and there’s too much information to evaluate. Instead we trust online reviews, Consumer Reports, MSNBC or Fox (your call), or even Seth Godin himself, to tell us the truth and help us make decisions. The world is so large and we are so small and fallible, there’s no way we can know the future or predict the kind of complex behavior of which humans and their companies are capable. So we jump off the cliff in good faith, using our best guess, and hoping we’re right.

What are the clues we use? For people, it’s body language, choice of words, a look in the eyes, a sense of the familiar. For brands, it’s product design, packaging, graphics, warranties, a voice, a website. And for both it’s referrals. Other people’s experiences are the biggest touchstones. Making sure their experiences are good ones— keeping your promises, correcting your missteps, treating people with respect — all are indicators that trust is a safe choice.

Unfortunately, charlatans know how to play us. We trust our gut instincts and sometimes those instincts are wrong. But mostly, I think humans have evolved to have pretty good bullshit detection systems. We can be suckered to a point. But if we trust our antennae, we usually head down the right path. Eventually.

Want to read more? Check out Seth’s blog.

 

Customer service the right way

Previously, I wrote a post about our e-fax provider and how painful and silly it is when they have to go through a giant litany of scripted attempts to keep you as a customer.

Here’s a contrasting experience.

After 10 years with DirecTV, we decided to save some money and consolidate our internet, phone and television signal under Time Warner.

I expected the same sort of runaround. But instead, I had a friendly, helpful, almost touching experience canceling my DirecTV service. Their rep, Misty, was understanding, funny, and utterly charming.

Of course she tried to keep me as a customer. But her approach was thoughtful and genuine, and not scripted. In the end, she realized they couldn’t compete with the package our cable company was able to provide. So she created a reasonable, non-defensive transition for me. No crap. No whining. No blaming. Just pleasant and helpful.

That goes a long way toward building DirecTV’s brand and means I’d happily reenlist if they meet my needs in the future. And here I am, unsolicited, telling everyone in earshot that they were wonderful. How much advertising and PR would they have to do to achieve that kind of result?

A second Silver from Graphis!

graphis-silver-award-2016Wow! We did it again! We received another Silver Award from Graphis, the international design journal. This one was for the same project — the rebranding of Legistics, international providers of practice support services and equipment to law firms. This time, the award is part of Graphis’ Logo Design 9 annual — a different competition, and still pretty damn cool.

We’re delighted that the work we did for Legistics continues to be recognized by our peers and our industry. And continues to make an impact on our client’s business as well.

Huge thanks to Anat Rodan and Amy Crossan for their stunning design concepts and execution. It’s gratifying to be leading such a great team.

The robots are coming

Absolutely fascinating to see how far Boston Dynamics has taken the independent, untethered robot. The agility, speed and accuracy are incredible. Watch how the ‘bot balances when it picks up a package — its “head” is used to counterbalance the weight of the box. Looks alive, and smart. Yikes!