All posts in Innovation

Lose weight!!! Get fit!!! Grow your business!!!

Whether you’re looking to shed some pounds, decrease your resting heart rate or grow market share for your business, far too many of us fall for outrageous claims, ridiculous pitches, and mystical promises of the “one and only thing” we need to be happy and successful. You sheepishly may have a Bowflex, Atkins book or Vine strategy hiding in your closet as proof.

Sadly, it’s just not possible.

The truth is that there isn’t one diet.
There isn’t one exercise machine.
And there isn’t one school of thought.

We fall for the gadgets, gizmos, and techniques because we want it to be easy.
We want it to be simple.
We want an easy solution, a magic pill, a killer app so we can press a button, collect our cheque, and go back to watching Downton Abbey.

I don’t want to be the grumpy boots who shows up like the parent who drops in on a high school kegger… but building a business isn’t easy.
But it’s not rocket science either.
You just have to be focused on figuring it out. Sure, you can read books or hear speakers or check out case studies but your business is unique. You can’t duplicate a strategy or a tactic. You have roll up your sleeves and do the work to figure out what it all means for you, your customers and your bottomline.

That’s why Dx3 Canada was created.
We’ve filled 2 days – March 6-7 in Toronto – with keynotes, speakers, workshops, debates, demonstrations and Canada’s leading digital companies just  so you can take what you need to get your business to a new place. Social, CRM, retail, RTB, apps, content marketing,.. it’s all in there. It’s an all you can eat digital buffet served up by some of the smartest people on the planet including:

Ben Palmer (co-founder of Barbarian Group)
David Labistour (CEO, Mountain Equipment Co-op)
Alan Huggins (President, Lowe’s Canada)
Michael Macmillan (CEO, Blue Ant Media)
Mike Volpe (CMO, Hubspot)
Ann Handley (CCO, Marketing Profs)
Kerry Munro, (Group President, Canada Post Digital Delivery Network)

In addition, top digital agencies will pitch Xbox campaign ideas for Movember.
PayPal will showcase the retail store of the future.
Amber Mac will interview top CEOS.
AOL will host a conversation lounge of compelling content.
Doug Stephens will launch his new book, Retail Revival.

There’s something for everyone. You just have to listen and watch and then work really hard to make it your own.
To register for Dx3, just click here.

To help, here’s a little video that Marketing Magazine shot. Enjoy. And see you at the show.

They’ll tell 2 friends. And so on. And so on.

Those my age (or older), probably remember watching Love Boat on a Friday night. Well, in between drinks and double barrel finger points from Isaac and random love stories featuring guest stars like Charo and Don Ameche, you were interrupted by these things called “commercials”.

Commercials were different back then. Farah Fawcette hair. Memorable jingles. Crappy production value. And a lot of one shots of people talking directly to camera. They didn’t know any better and they certainly didn’t have the metrics to know they were wrong (although 4 out of 5 dentists probably would have told them so).

One of the most memorable spots for me wasn’t very good at all. But I’ll never forget it.
And given where we are in the advertising ecosystem, it should be taught to marketers on day 1. Have a look.

Why should we aspire to this piece of communication when it seems so bad?

1. It’s organic!
I don’t know that this was the first uttering of the word “organic” in a commercial but it certainly wasn’t the last. Brands all around the globe are clamouring to justify their products as organic. Why? Because consumers desperately want products that are simple and pure and sustainable. So while it’s great to dial up the earth tone colours and folksy language to try and appear more natural, your customers prefer you focus on actually making products that are.

2. Repetition helps.
While the split screen production technique certainly contributed to this campaign standing out over the years, it’s complemented by the repetitive line, “You’ll tell two friends. And they’ll tell two friends. And so on. And so on.” But the real repetition was the campaign. We seem to treat our communications like disposable diapers these days – they’re on one minute and at the first hint of odour, we pitch them in the garbage faster than you can say, “Pamper your agencies”. (Sorry) Instead of starting over, we should take a step back, rethink and reinvest.

3. It’s not about the Like. It’s about the product.
If this campaign was executed today, the line wouldn’t be, “You’ll tell two friends. And they’ll tell two friends. And so on. And so on.” It would be, “Please share this with 200 friends on Facebook and tell them to do the same. And so on. And so on.” Luckily, Faberge couldn’t do that because the platforms for simple social sharing weren’t around. So they did something truly remarkable: They created a product so good that you would want to tell two friends.

These days, we’re more focused on creating communications that ask people to spread the word instead of developing products so fantastic that they’ll just do it on their own.

Who knew Heather Locklear was so prophetic?
TJ Hooker would be proud.


Business should busk.

What marketers can learn from street performers.

I’ve always thought that buskers were “Carnies with Talent”, working their way around the world entertaining suburban dads decked out in a Tilley hat and a willingness to be embarrassed in front of a crowd of assembled strangers. Now, given your average street performer makes less than minimal wage over a 40 hour work week, it may not seem like there’s much to learn from them. But there is.

Busking is the epitome of the cold call.

No brand awareness. No liquidation sale. No inbound marketing techniques. A busker has the unenviable task of selling their product in an environment filled with the direct  competition and booths with food and face painting that distract their customers even more. In one 20 minute set, they have to build an audience, deliver their product and then ask for voluntary payment. Is there a more pure business transaction in the world? I doubt it. Here’s what we can learn.

1. They build a unique product.
When you’re competing against other performers, you can’t simply do what the other guy is doing. Even if you’re juggling stuff, you have to look unique, act unique, sound unique and in some cases, smell unique. And when you hit the stage, you better have invested the time to perfect your product. Who’s going to invest the time watching someone perfect their bit when there are so many other perfect options available?

2. They use the audience to build an audience.
Stepping into an empty space, a busker has to immediately create interest in his or her product without the benefit of a social media agency to help them do it.

To build an audience, they simply start with one person. They’ll politely ask an innocent bystander to get involved. “Can you hold this? Can you stand there? Can you put your hand up?” Volunteers aren’t given the 3 year strategic plan and asked to share with their friends – they’re just asked to do something simple. They’re involvement intrigues others to at least stand around and wait to see what’s going to happen. Even the most skeptical will wonder what we’re missing when a crowd starts to form.

3. VIP access for early adopters.
Why hang around waiting for something to happen when there are so many other options? Well, anyone who has been to a busker festival knows that the early adopters get front row seating. They get to see more and hear more and if they’re lucky, there’s a chance that they’ll actually get to star in the show. There should be a reward for those who stuck with us even when there wasn’t any show to speak of. I hope I never forget that.

4. Make ‘em feel special.
A positive attitude creates a positive experience. Every time someone does something, says something, or volunteers to join the show, the professional busker initiates a response with the age-old, “Let’s give Phil a really big hand, folks…” And it doesn’t just make the volunteer feel ridiculously special. It creates intrigue for customers who may be bored at another show. We consumers don’t want to think we’re missing out on something. With this strategy, the bigger a crowd gets, the bigger the crowd will get.

5. They use humour.
I don’t think puns or sexual innuendo are funny. Apparently, I’m in the vast minority. While crowds bellowed at lame one-liners, I was heard muttering, “They think this shit is funny?” Oh well. Regardless of the specific tone of the humour, I think we can all agree that humour is critical when building relationships.

6. They ask to get paid. 

Can you imagine if agencies had to complete a campaign before asking, “How much do you think that was worth?” Yikes. Part of me thinks agencies would actually make more. Well, that’s what these folks do every day of the week. And those who are good at it make more. When they make more, they can perform more.

The approach is usually honest: “I do this as my job and the festival doesn’t pay me.”
It’s rational: “Can you see a show this good for $10 for your entire family?”
It’s promotional: “If you give $20, you get a free DVD.”
It’s humourous: “If you give $10, you’ll go home happy. If you give $100, you’ll go home with me.”

I always feel bad asking for dough. I think I may change my approach.

It’s not like I’m asking brand managers to get a guitar case, work on stilts or juggle their product while it’s in flames. But there’s a lot we can learn from our nomadic creative colleagues. We all want to build community, give a good show and create applause. But unless people put money in our cap, we won’t survive.

If you want to check out more photos I took at Buskerfest, click here. 

Compared to this, taxis suck.

When You Combine Great Tech With Great Customer Service, Good Things Happen…

While you may enjoy white-knuckling it through the downtown core challenging road ragers and over zealous bike couriers for asphalt supremacy, I‘d rather avoid the stress and hail a Beck chariot to drive me to my destination.

It’s easy. It’s fast. And it’s all all so civilized (even if some of the cars aren’t). But it’s not perfect.

The quality is inconsistent, the customer service is non-existent, and payment is a pain. Whip out a credit card and just sit back and watch the driver flutter between administrivial exasperation and technological bewilderment as they negotiate with the gods to get their payment device to connect. (Hint: Shaking it at the sky doesn’t work.)

Clearly, the taxi industry desperately needs to be reinvented.

Luckily, Uber has arrived.

Headquartered in San Francisco with an autonomous Canadian team, Uber isn’t even close to being a taxi. They’re an on-demand private driver in an SUV or town car powered by technology and with amazing customer service.

Here’s why this is a company to watch.

1. Tech to the core.

You can request a car to your location using SMS. Or their mobile website. Or their Android or iPhone apps. The whole service is GPS based so you know where the closest car is, you can visually track the progress as it makes its way toward you and you know precisely when it’s arriving. At the end, you’ll know exactly how far you went, the route taken and what your average speed was. Data geeks rejoice.

2. Giving and getting 5 stars.

Providing consistent customer service is difficult when your front line staff aren’t actually employees. Well, Uber has that figured out. Immediately after your ride has ended, you rate the driver contributing to their overall score. But here’s the best part: Drivers also get to rate customers. This fully transparent system ensures that both parties are on their best behaviour. Drivers get great customers. Customers get great drivers. “We believe in quality control on both the driver-side and the rider-side,” said Lucas Samuels, Uber Toronto’s Community Manager. “It helps us ensure a smooth experience for everyone, and helps drivers connect with our business and their favourite customers.”


3. Easy payment. As in no payment.

No, the rides aren’t free. But because there’s a credit card on file, you’re automatically billed once your trip has ended. Tips are included. No muss. No fuss. No pleading with the driver to take your credit card. An invoice with a complete breakdown arrives in your inbox immediately. The digital wallet may not be here but like the Starbucks app, they’ve built a great work around.

4. You can’t hail amazing customer service.

I’ve only rated a driver below 4 stars once. When I did, I was asked why. Lucas investigated my issue, looked at the GPS data and confirmed that the driver took an inefficient route. My card was rebated the difference between the most efficient cost and what I actually paid. I didn’t ask him to do it. He just did it. But what’s important is that he could do it because he had the data. Not surprisingly, data allows for wonderful customer service by removing the subjective bias that exists in most disputes.

5. A Community Manager who gets it.

In Toronto, Lucas Samuels is an outstanding Community Manager but it’s not by accident. All Uber CMs are thoroughly trained and are paired with a CM Buddy from another Uber city to talk about potential situations and share best practices. They also have a shared CM knowledge base to refer as needs arise. They’ve actually built their own outreach tools and are pretty active on most social channels. They listen, they respond, they solve.

There’s a great lesson in all of this. Lazy industries with bloated legacy infrastructure and substandard experiences can be easily trumped by tech savvy, convenient, and connected startups who put the customer first. Call it what you want. I call it Uber.

(This article first appeared in Dx3 Digest)


Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I was working away tonight and had turned off all distractions when I got a text from my girlfriend.

“Did you hear Steve Jobs died?”

I didn’t know him. Never met him. I didn’t even have the opportunity to actually ever see him in person. He wasn’t Canadian. He didn’t attend my university. He didn’t share my ethnic heritage. He was simply the founder and CEO of a company based in another country on the other side of the continent.

But he influenced me.

For most of my life, I’ve worked as a creative in the advertising industry. And for all of those years, I was inspired by Steve Jobs.

Was it because creative departments proudly used his computers and software? No.
Was it because he was behind my favourite spot, “Think Different”? No.
Was it because he approved what is widely considered as the best and most effective TV spot of all time, “1984”? No.
Was it because he lead a company that is THE branding case study? No.
Was it because he created brilliant products that people didn’t even realize they wanted? No.
Was it because he completely overhauled his business model creating the most valuable company in the world? No.

It was because he did something that all of us who work in this business try to do every single day: He succeeded simply by doing what was right.

His ads were what all ads SHOULD be.
His design was what all design SHOULD be.
His business was what all businesses SHOULD be.
He proved that the really successful didn’t need to resort to sales, promotions, or starbursts. He proved that a corporation COULD connect with people emotionally.
He proved that good taste wasn’t just a creative thing, it was the right thing.

Even when I had a hand in creating some brilliant work – work that I am extremely proud of – I compared it to his. And it never measured up.

Thanks for the inspiration, Steve. Thanks for being that bar that all of us try to reach in every piece of communication we create.

I promise to stay hungry and stay foolish. And I’ll always remind myself to think different.
Something tells me that’s the way you would have wanted it.

Technology does not = innovation. Just ask a parking lot.

The other day, I had a meeting in an office tower I hadn’t been to. Don’t tell David Suzuki, but I drove. Luckily, there was parking in the building.

You all know how parking lots work: Pave or dig land and rent out the space for brief periods of time. (It’s like a short term motel without the bad drapes and naughty behaviour.) When someone enters, they punch a clock and when they leave, they pay someone sitting in a booth for their time. Simple enough.

How do you innovate such a simple system? Well, there’s a right way and a wrong way.

The wrong way to innovate
Some parking lots decided to invest in technology to cut costs by replacing the people with machines. Innovation! You grab a ticket when you enter, take it with you to the lobby and before you leave, insert it into a vending machine, pay your bill, and then insert the “I’ve paid” verified ticket on your way out without ever interacting with a human being.

That’s not innovation folks, that’s a recipe for decreased business.

Someone loses their job and the customer gets to do more work and experience more aggravation all so that an accounting line item is improved. Sure there are signs that remind us to take “Take your ticket with you” but you might as well say, “We’d like to make more dough. Please don’t screw this up.” Unless the savings are passed on to the consumer or re-invested in the product to add more value and differentiate you from the competition, it’s wrong. And it’s kind of evil.

The right way to innovate
Other parking lots have taken a different route. Enter your credit card when you enter, insert it again when you leave and you’re good to go. No muss, no fuss and no cursing yourself when you realize you’ve left your ticket in your car. While I don’t love that someone loses their job in the process, hopefully, the money saved can be re-invested to create other employment.

Now THAT’S innovation.
A win-win that satisfies the customer and decreases operating costs over time which can be reinvested to create even more value for the customer.

Who knew this much thought could go into a parking lot?

Don’t be a Polaroid.

I still remember the day.

I was wearing Montreal Alouette sneakers, a hand-me-down Adidas T-shirt, short-shorts, and an Expos hat on top of a homemade Lego haircut. It was the mid-70s and my mom gathered us four kids to take a picture. But she wasn’t just using a camera.

She was using a Polaroid.

I know, I know.. many of us consider Polaroid a retro brand who’s claim to fame is inspiring the Instagram format and the odd Outkast lyric.

But before you write it off, think about life BEFORE polaroid.

Your camera was horizontal Tetris piece and the flash was a vertical tower of power that connected to the top. It featured 12 little flint flashes that individually burst into flames when initiated. Then, you had to GET IN YOUR CAR and drop off your film to a pimply faced teen who sat in a Fotomat (fishing hut) in the middle of a mall parking lot. 2 months later, after a lab in russia developed them, you got your photos. 

Then Polaroid showed up.

Talk about a life-changing innovation. It didn’t just make life a little better. It drastically changed consumer behaviour. People no longer had to drive. Labs no longer had to develop. And photos could be enjoyed instantly (well, almost instantly – first you had to shake it, shake it…)

What a wonder! What a truly brilliant innovation! What a company! What a brand!

Polaroid has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Twice.

Sure, they were saved by a private equity group, have adequately licensed their name and currently feature a range of products including everything from sunglasses to printers. Hell, they even hired Lady Gaga as Creative Director. But I think you’ll agree that they literally (and legally) are a shell of their former selves.

There’s an important lesson in there:
It’s one thing to innovate. It’s quite another to keep on innovating.
The hot thing (and the profits that go along with it) may be great today but it can be one line of code away from being replaced by something else that makes consumers’ lives even easier.

It also applies to people.

You may be flying high and on top of your game one day and be obsolete the next simply because you didn’t change, adapt, or learn. People – not just brands – have to continue to innovate.

You may want to be many things. I just hope you don’t want to be a Polaroid.

This 71 year old knows more about social media than you and I do.

While various social media apps can help you be more effective or more productive or more accurate, a passionate desire to connect is far more powerful than any software package. A brand that has a genuine willingness to engage with their customers will trump one that doesn’t, regardless of the budget, websites, widgets or tools used.

You want proof? Don’t talk to the 21 year old social media evangelist who’s busy building their Google+ profile in the corner. Talk to 71 year old Evelyn Hannon.

Back when putting brochures online was considered breakthrough, Evelyn decided to launch a website for female travellers called

That was 1997.
And she hasn’t changed the design since.

Seriously. There’s no flash. No video. No HTML 5. Or, in her words, “…there’s no fancy shmancy”. Check it out. You’ll be amazed. It’s so old school, it’s retro. Her site is the Polaroid in a sea of iPhone 4 HD cameras. One look and you’ll think you got to it by putting a punch card into a mainframe.

What it does have, though, is a massive loyal community of active contributors.

• She has an e-newsletter with over 75,000 subscribers.
• She has 13,000 Twitter followers.
• She built a global database of female mentors.
• She’s been an imbedded blogger on a ship sailing around the world.
• People from over 200 countries follower her, read her and trust her.

She has no heavily researched strategy, she’s never checked out Google Analytics, she doesn’t read up on what the experts say she should do and her approach to engagement, refreshingly, doesn’t even use the word “engagement”.

All she does is care.

She cares about the subject of travel. She cares about helping women. She cares about being genuine.
She acts like a grandmother. Not surprising because, well, she is.

Evelyn reminds us that real communities don’t live on Twitter or Facebook. They camp out there. Real communities live because of a passion that is shared by those who belong to it. And when it’s strong enough, that community can exist anywhere.

Have a listen. You won’t just love Evelyn. You’ll love her approach.
Success may be a journey but this woman has figured out what to do along the way.

This is the future of Television. Or is it?

Television is caught somewhere between being a dying a medium and, because everything will eventually be delivered over IP, a rapidly growing one. Throw in the network acquisitions of Canadian telcos and it’s easy to see why the old boob tube is in a period of transition.

Well, one network that has clearly jumped the queue is internet television network Revision 3. If anyone has staked out a unique spot in the TV universe, it’s them.

I had a chance to chat with their impressive CEO, Jim Louderback recently. If you have any interest on where television (or the ads that pay for it) is headed, you should listen to this brief interview.

With close to 30 shows including Epic Meal Time and Digg Nation and over 80 million views a month, Revision 3 is redefining the modern day network. Here’s why:

Content people care about
It costs a lot of money to put a show on television so networks have to serve up programming that serves the most number of people possible. The result is lowest common denominator content that a lot of people like but may not love. Revision 3, on the other hand, delivers shows that people actually care about. Do you really love apps? Well, they have App Judgement. Into the “Unboxing” phenomenon? You can tune into Unboxing Porn. We all have specific interests that, given the choice, we’d watch over shows made for the masses.

A new approach to advertising
On mainstream TV, we either cut to a commercial break to see a big budget spot that is repurposed across a whole whack of shows or we’re forced to endure branded content that can leave us feeling dirty. Not so with Revision 3. They’ve managed to keep church and state separate while delivering more effective ads that are actually delivered by the hosts, a taboo among conventional networks. Plus, many of the advertisers featured could never afford to advertise on TV. Now they can.

The numbers
You want unaided brand awareness? 100% (yes, 100%) of viewers can name a show sponsor. That’s unbelievable. 93% can name 2 or more. More importantly, 57% of viewers have purchased products from the sponsors. When you pair specific content with advertisers that are closely aligned to that content, the numbers aren’t surprising but still pretty impressive.

The hosts
Normally, we get pretty people who are trained to be good on TV. Revision 3 chooses to get subject matter experts who are passionate about the content. It’s substance over style. The result is a more genuine host that the viewer trusts.

Social integration
Since it’s delivered through a browser, you can not only set up network preferences, you can also Tweet it, Digg it, Like it, share it, favourite it, download it, email it, comment on it, and check in for special deals. Don’t want to actually watch at No problem, you can tune in via tablet and smart phone apps or just watch on their Youtube channel. They even have Ambassadors who volunteer to help spread the word through their own social networks and face to face events.

Responsible production
Whether they appear on CBC, HBO, Netflix, or Rogers on Demand, there will always be a place for big budget shows like Boardwalk Empire and The Wire. Shows that have a smaller, more passionate viewer base will never be able to compete on production value. But with more importance being placed on the content, they don’t have to. Revision 3 balances both. Nice production. Low cost.

Is this exclusively the future of television? I don’t think so. It’ll augment standard TV and more importantly, it’ll help redefine what we watch, how we watch it and how it all gets paid for. Internet networks will continue to grow as more content is produced for smaller audiences. Many of the features that you see on internet networks will be seamlessly integrated into the shows you already watch.

I’m sure Revision 3 isn’t the last revision to the television model but as of right now, it’s certainly one of the best. To check them out, go to

Free stress balls! Free stress balls!

Among us self-appointed cool people in marketing and advertising, trade shows don’t really bubble to surface as a priority. The common belief is usually,

“A trade show? Isn’t that where Dockers-wearing sales people wander past pipe and drape booths to collect free stress balls and celebrate a product launch with the members of Honeymoon Suite?”


I was recently named Chief Content Curator for Dx3 Canada, Canada’s largest trade show dedicated to digital advertising, digital marketing, and digital retail. It’s not a full time job or anything – it’s kind of like being appointed a jury head at an award show. I’ll work with the advisory board (some of Canada’s brightest digital minds) to design and deliver a relevant learning experience for all the attendees and participants.

Admittedly, I haven’t attended a ton of trade shows but I know MY business and we need this one badly. Here’s why:

Talk has to be followed by action.

Trust me, I know how valuable conferences are. Hell, I speak at a ton of them and know critical they are. They allow us to  pause. They allow us to think. They allow us to hear unique perspectives, brilliant case studies, and people we would never get access to. They can shape our thinking, confirm our thinking, or point out that we really haven’t been thinking.

At some point, though, that talking has to translate into action.

Did someone convince you that digital signage is critical to retail success? Great. Now get off your butt and buy some. Wondering what mobile advertising platform you should use? Talk to all of them in one place and get on with it.

The St. Lawrence Market for Innovation

Sure, the peameal bacon sandwiches and loud vocal jarring between vendors is great but what I like most about the St. Lawrence market is that everything is under one roof.

The web is a market itself but when you want to actually meet people, demo a product, negotiate a price, or show off your stuff, you need to visit a technology market every once in a while. And when all the important players have set up shop at that market, it’s even more valuable.

We are better business professionals when we talk and listen. But we’re best when we turn all those those conversations into action.

See it. Hear it. Demo it. Feel it. Play with it. Compare it. Order it. Buy it. And most of all, get on with it.

I look forward to working with the great people running Dx3 Canada as well as the brilliant Advisory Board. Hope to see you there.

Dx3 Canada takes place January, 2012.

Speaking of talking, I’ll be hosting the Art of Leadership in Toronto on June 6th and the Art of Marketing in Vancouver on June 9th. Brilliant speakers, relevant content, and fun all around.