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Tag: branding

April 21st, 2017

What, Exactly, Is This “Brand” Thing?


Originally published 2013

A colleague of mine and I were recently having “shop talk” over the weekend, discussing various marketing campaigns that we’ve developed over the past few years. The conversation eventually turned to the concept of branding.  We compared products that have a brand, those that don’t, attributes of a brand, etc.  As the dialogue became more and more abstract, my colleague finally said, “I mean, how are you supposed to explain to clients what makes a brand, when I have trouble explaining to myself?” (more…)

April 11th, 2017

Why story and narrative matter…even in marketing

My wife and I have just settled down for the long evening’s nap.

When what to my wondering eye grabs my vision,

But a true crime story on television.

Alas it was one my wife had watched hence,

And she spilled the “whodunit” just 10 minutes in.

Angry was I, and rose with a burst.

Why would she tell me??? That is the worst!

I turned off the set, and laid back in frustration,

While secretly planning my own spoiler retaliation.

This playful little piece of prose is based what actually happened to me last night. Watching a true crime story on TV, my wife (who had watched the episode before) blurted out what happened just ten minutes into the episode. I was a bit perturbed. But that got me thinking about the construct that had just unfolded. I was watching the show specifically to find out “whodunit.” By telling me, and “spoiling” the episode, my wife was actually telling me exactly what I wanted to know. So why did I get mad?

Because story matters. And many times it matters more than the outcome.

The Spoiler Alerter is the worst

In an era of Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and a rejuvenated Star Wars franchise, we’ve come to expect a preceding announcement of “spoiler alert” as an integral part of modern etiquette. Seriously, I would rather have someone cut me off in traffic or hang up on my phone call than tell me who the next member of House Stark is to bite it.  The reason is that we really do enjoy the narrative, the story, the buildup in all of these shows. For many years, Titanic was the highest grossing film of all time. This was actually an instance that we all knew the outcome but were overtly more interested in the story. We watched it for the story, not the conclusion.

So, yeah, I probably could have still enjoyed the true crime episode I was watching even though my wife spilled the beans, but frankly I was a bit sleepy anyway. Didn’t change the fact that I was nevertheless a bit aggravated by the whole episode.

So what is the marketing lesson here?

Well, the lesson is the same: Story matters, sometimes more than the outcome. A common marketing buzz phrase is “brand narrative,” but this is one instance in which the thought behind the concept is substantive. People follow stories. People are engaged by stories. Much more so than product features. Cosplay thrives because people identify with and relate to totally imaginary beings who possess their own, often extensive, stories. People write fan fiction to further these stories. There are no “Consumer Goods Conventions” where people dress up like Tide bottles or rolls of Charmin.

Being engaged by stories is part of our DNA and uniquely human. It is one of if not the most uniquely human characteristics. In the very beginning, stories followed the origins of gods and heroes. Today, the most successful brands take this ethos and apply it to what would otherwise be a mundane article of clothing or electronic device.

I don’t really believe that a true “brand” can exist without a supporting story. Sure, you can have a logo and graphic standards guidelines, but these technical elements a brand does not make. The narrative does. Warby Parker has a great story. Luxottica does not. Not to say that this always a reverse Goliath vs. David scenario in which some brands are simply too big to have or need a story. The largest company in the world by market cap – Apple – has perhaps one of the strongest brand narratives of all time. Coca-Cola has a great brand story. Pepsi…not so much.

When building your brand, think beyond price points and product features. Another company can come along tomorrow and offer a lower price and promote different features. Focus on telling a story. Weave a tale. Create a persona. This helps your audience see your brand in a more “human” light and forges the beginnings of emotional attachment.

Happy tales!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

★ ★ ★

(BTW “Rosebud” is the name of his sled…also Ned Stark dies…and Bruce Willis is actually dead…)

January 11th, 2017

What does success look like?

Obvious…and overlooked

We conduct these things we call “Brand Impact Sessions” for companies and organizations. We invested some grey matter into what to actually call these sessions, but really the name isn’t that important. We’ve called them three or four different things over the past few years. Most agencies have their own “proprietary” brand planning process with a tre-cool moniker. One large agency titles their process “360-degree branding.” Another big firm labels theirs “Full Circle branding” (see the difference???). Regardless of how cool the name is, or how many infographics you can compose to explain the process, it is my experience that the effectiveness of these brand development exercises has less to do with the structure of the process and is much more impacted by the talent of those participating in the exercise. Any by “talent” I mean both on the client and the agency sides.

So in conducting these sessions we leave the process basically free-flowing. We talk about objective brand criteria, subjective likes and dislikes, target audiences, obstacles, points of pride, etc. After a few years of participating in these planning sessions, something of an epiphany hit me. Most people – client and agency – don’t begin with the single simple, obvious, and ultimately crucial question: What does success look like?

If you don’t know what success looks like, you won’t know when you’ve reached it…or if you’re going in the wrong direction.”

This question may be “obvious,” but it is also misinterpreted. I’ll bring up the “success” question in a planning session, and it is typically greeted with someone saying “to make a lot of money,” and subsequently yucks break out around the room (while I’m thinking to myself, ‘haven’t heard THAT one before’). Seriously, the talk will usually center around either revenue projections, market share goals, or (in the case of non-profits) effecting some benchmark statistic. All well and good, and something that we shouldn’t be spending a lot of time on, right? I mean, success is OBVIOUS, right?

Well, in a manner of speaking, yes, success is obvious. But remember, clients are coming to us to help build a brand. So I look at success metrics from the standpoint of brand development. You can achieve revenue goals by slashing the quality of your product and/or gouging consumers via price hikes (I’m looking at you, Pharma Bro …). That’s an extreme and ludicrous example, but one that demonstrates that the idea of what brand success and business success “look like” are complimentary but not identical. Therefore, it is necessary to spend time thinking about what success actually looks like from the brand viewpoint.

If nothing else, this is an exercise in evaluating guidelines for marketing efficiency. If you don’t know what success looks like, you won’t know when you’ve reached it…or if you’re going in the wrong direction. What is the impact this has for your company? Well, wasted marketing dollars for one. I always use the example of the moonshot. NASA doesn’t wait until a spacecraft is 238,900 miles away from Earth’s surface before checking to see if their course was set correctly. They make small measurements all along the journey to ensure the lunar trajectory is on course. If they waited, it would take a HECK of a lot more time, effort, and expensive rocket fuel to steer the ship back to its intended destination. The same thought process should be applied to brand evaluation. Of course this is impossible if you set out on your journey and don’t know where your moon is in the first place!

Three Simple Steps

Just the other night I spoke to a group of students who are involved in Spark-o-Matican MWB-affliliated program that tudors kids in digital literacy and digital creation platforms. I was asked to talk about “strategy.” I explained that “strategy” is just another way of defining “the best way to get someone to do what you want them to do.” I iterated to these kids the basic way that you develop a “strategy” to define success:

      1. Determine who you are trying to get to take an action. Often the answer to this is “everybody.” And sometimes “everybody” is a reasonable answer. Mostly, it is not. We ad people like to call this a “target audience,” a term I find too clinical and limiting. “Target audience” often infers parameters like demographics or even often limiting psychographics. I prefer to think of the “who” more like Arsenio Hall used to refer to “those people over there…”

Simply meaning that, the more specific you can get, the more directed your marketing can be and the more you can determine success. Being “specific” in many instances means going beyond the obvious demographics to define unique combinations of behaviors and mindsets. Rather than targeting “Caucasian males, married age 25 – 54 with $50,000+ income,” think in terms of “men who work in creative industries who like to write blogs and listen to podcasts and play recreational sports and participate in March Madness bracket pools (may or may not be left-handed : ).” Thinking beyond demographics (and even psychographics) will help more precisely determine the “who.”

2. Determine what action you want them to take. I know…I know… “buy my product/service.” But is this really the case? Is success achieved – or optimized – when the purchase is made? The best brands in the world will tell you that purchase is much closer to the beginning of the journey to success than the end. The strongest brands will testify that the real action you want your “who” to take is to integrate your brand into their lifestyle. This means becoming both an ambassador and advocate for your brand, not merely just a consumer. And this action can be passive, active, or both. We have always said that a huge win for a brand is when someone wears a T-shirt displaying the brand. A person has identified enough with the brand to incorporate it into something as personal and visible as an article of clothing=WIN. Identifying these kinds of goals in the beginning of brand development is another step in defining what actual success looks like.

3. Determine how is the best way to reach your “who” to encourage your “what.” Channels. Media. Reach. Touchpoints. Whatever you call it, the outreach platforms available to us today allow a brand to reach virtually everyone on the planet more efficiently than ever before. The trick is to figure out which “how” makes the most sense. This is a balance evaluation among costs, time investment, and engagement. The “cost” of course being self explanatory. TV airtime is expensive. Effective? Yes, for some messages to some peeps. Is it worth it for your brand? “Time investment” is often used as a substitute for hard dollar costs. You can distribute your message organically via social media platforms for a fraction of the out of pocket costs of paid media. But is the trade off of sweat equity and the time it takes to build an audience organically worth it? #TimeSuck. In some instances yes, and in others, no. “Engagement” simply means is there involvement with your platforms beyond simple impressions? Your “who” may see your brand, but do the platforms you’re using allow for and encourage deeper levels of interaction?

…effectiveness of brand development exercises have less to do with the structure of the process and more to do with the talent of those participating…

I guess to sum up, I’m not advising against investing in a brand planning process. Actually quite the opposite – I do advise it, and advise you do it with MWB : ). But the bigger point here is to guard against allowing the mystique of the process impede defining the obvious: what success looks like for your brand. And in corollary, don’t let what you think are the obvious business answers to success substitute for what is branding success. Ask the right questions, determine the right answers, and watch your branded moonshot find success.

November 21st, 2016

Ad agencies know they’re getting it wrong, but not for the reason they think.

Saying “advertising” isn’t connecting with “consumers” is only a symptom. Thinking in terms of “advertising” and “consumers” is the underlying disease.


It was inevitable in a political season driven by marketing and positioning that post-election analysis would filter into the larger marketing/advertising industry. A recent article published in the WSJ discussed how ad agencies bemoaned the “disconnect” with Middle America. So much so that the CEO of Leviathan agency network McCann Worldgroup convened a meeting of top brass to discuss the surprising election results.

“One takeaway for him and his staff was that too much advertising falsely assumes that all U.S. consumers desire to be like coastal elites.”

Ahhhhh. This sounds like exactly the conclusion that erudite coastal elites would arrive at…but it’s wrong and the reasoning behind it is wrong, as well. The article goes on to describe how ad agencies have taken the tact of “elevating” brand messaging to what they believe is impacting with these “coastal elites.” The supposed takeaway idea being that Middle America aspires to “be like Mike” has been exposed as an exploded system. In other words, fly-over country doesn’t have the same value system as Atlantica and Pacifica. The 2016 POTUS election highlighted this and reactionary advertising agencies assume that their flaw has come from not connecting with these “values.”

No. NO. NO. 


Have many ad agencies become disconnected from the people they are trying to reach? Yup. Does it have anything to do with some formula that balances coastal elitism with red state values? Not by a long shot. In this case, the fault lies with the paradigm under which ad agencies/marketers continue to operate. The issue isn’t missing the mark on making a “connection” with people, but rather not appreciating how drastically the whole system itself has changed. Let’s say that you are a horse-and-buggy manufacturer circa 1910. You see sales decline. You learn that people are using the new fangled “horseless carriage” to go farther distances in less time, and seem to like this.  The conclusion you then draw is to blame the decline on the fact that the horses being attached to your product aren’t of sufficient stamina to transport people as far as they would like to go, as fast as they can. Your solution? Breed horses with more stamina. Or better yet, invest in breeding a new species of turbo-camel. This approach will then make your core business for creature-drawn buggies relevant again. Sounds ridiculous, yes? In this scenario, the truth was that there simply was no more market for animal-pulled carriages. It wasn’t a matter of not “connecting” with people’s wants or needs, it was the fact the entire paradigm that the business was built upon was changed to the point that it wasn’t really identifiable as an enterprise anymore.

Stick an engine in that carriage, or retire

The solution for this perceived problem of consumer disconnect is to “spend more time with consumers in their own habitats,” or to hire more talent hailing from Middle America and observe what they do. My first question is – when did ad agencies start taking lessons from Jane Goodall? Frankly, this approach, while patronizingly well intentioned, is a fail. The reason that “advertisers” miss the mark with “consumers” is because they continue to think in terms of “advertising” and subsequent “consuming.”

At some point during the big bang that has littered the media universe with so many platforms, people became aware that they were viewed as “consumers.” Prior to the bang, The BIG 3 TV networks and all the mass media iterations beforehand were basically marketing channels for products and services. Advertising drove content. Which was fine. People will take what they can get, and if I have to sit through six minutes of commercials to get 22 minutes of Cheers, I’ll gladly do so. But the thing is, I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t have to subject myself to ADVERTISING, at least not in the traditional sense. I’m now in control of my own content. I can schedule my own content, I can create my own content…hell I can even distribute my own content.

Now couple this with the shift that has occurred in the sentiment related to goods and services. There are a couple of different macro-trends here that have been game changers. First, there’s a trend toward brands that have an underlying social purpose. From legacy social brands like Tom’s Shoes and Warby Parker, the landscape has extended to small companies learning how to do good and turn a profit, to larger corporations leveraging their Corporate Responsibility initiatives for marketing purposes. To quote Frank the Tank from Old School, EVERYBODY’S DOING IT.


The other macro-trend that has occurred is the quality of content available to the populace. Netflix, HBO, Amazon, etc., have been HIGHLY successful in developing and producing a real quality product that is not advertising-driven. With the high price of the cable network model, folks are perfectly OK paying relatively small subscription fees to access super high quality content, on-demand, and often without ads. And this isn’t just video, either. The same goes for music and some “print” content. As this trend proliferates, smaller non-media companies that have been primarily product driven have gotten into this space (e.g. GoPro and RedBull). Apple did it way-back-when with the iTunes store.

So the lesson here is no big revelation at all. What matters is CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT. And increasingly the content no longer exists to house advertising pods. The content is standalone, and many marketers and agencies don’t treat it as such. That’s where the change has to be made. That’s the engine to stick in your horse carriage.

Middle America watches GoT, Westworld, The Crown, Mr. Robot, etc. 

The media habits of Middle America aren’t that different from the coasts. Content that is popular in Palo Alto is also popular in Peoria. Yes, there are some regional variations, but as a whole, we are fairly homogenous in the types of content we consume, and create. And “create” is an important component of this, because we all now have a platform that, from a technical standpoint, puts us equal to NBC, ABC, or CBS. The reach of those networks PALE in comparison to the number of people who use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Ad agencies and marketers should abandon the new found epiphany that they have to better connect with non-coastal non-elities. Good content is good content, period. Ad agencies and marketers should rather make efforts to be authors and distributers of this content, and do so in a way that doesn’t segregate brand messages from the underlying narrative. Yes, I’m talking branded content. Marketers in general and ad agencies in specific have given lip service to branded content for a long time now. A handful have done it well (I mentioned RedBull, GoPro…Nike also falls in this category). Most, however, have viewed branded content in much the same way as the old :30 commercial paradigm – in that the content is separate and possibly secondary from “getting the advertising message out.”

That doesn’t fly anymore.

Forget “advertising.” Forget about trying to define your audience as “consumers” of your product or service. These are outdated concepts. The people want narrative, and increasingly interactive narrative. Soon this will evolve into immersive narrative. My advice? Start there, at narrative development. Then weave in brand messaging as it fits the story. You aren’t an ad agency anymore, you now have the opportunity to truly be a creative shop…as in “creation.” You aren’t a marketer anymore, you a developer and producer of content into which your brand nicely fits.

No more connecting with “consumers” through “advertising.” That’s not just a lesson from election 2016. It’s the trend that we’ve all been lax to recognize and slow to adapt to. But those of us who are will be real winners.

September 13th, 2016

Top Three Tips for Fast Casual Startup


Chipotle: the smell of money
Panera bread: this classy dough is on the rise
imageLum’s: the collapse of an overextended wiener

Many a food lover/business owner has wanted to create an easily replicable food chain that becomes a well-loved cash cow. If you are looking to start your own, here are our TOP Three Tips for a Fast Casual Startup.

Tip #1. Be known for something.

This is master chef Gordon Ramsey’s basic Kitchen Nightmares‘ rule #2 (right behind “keep it clean”). It holds especially true in the Fast Casual startup market. You must be famous for one thing. Just one. You’ve got to make the best “something.” Make that the fail-safe option for your customer to order. “If it’s your first time here, we really want you to try ‘this’. Because, once you try it, you’ll be back again and again.” As a kid who grew up on the Florida coast, there was a Greek restaurant that ran a spot on the radio for years. At the end of the commercial, the owner said, in his heavy Mediterranean accent, “You no satisfied, I pick up the tab.” His voice cracked on the word “tab” sparking visions in the minds of the listeners of that drunken party of 20 deciding (nightly) they needed George to conveniently pick up their tab.

No voice cracking allowed! In Fast Casual, you say it like you mean it. Every time. Stand behind every aspect of your customer’s experience. This includes the ads, the social media, the signage, the parking lot, the greeting, the interior, the menu, the food, the staff, the restrooms, the pricing: all of it! Return business is your cash cow. Your business will thrive or die based on whether or not you can consistently gain (and grow) repeat business. So focus on your “one thing!” If you aren’t known for something delicious, to put it bluntly, your Fast Casual will not last.

Tip #2. Keep Your Menu Simple.

Both Five Guys and Chipotle have nailed this concept with mouth-watering results. Both of these fast casual titans follow Tip #1. They’ve also mastered Tip #2. The only thing you should ever contemplate “adding more” of are customizable toppings for your clientele. If you add another entree, you must take off the one that is performing poorest. Too many fast casual startup restaurants have menu lists that exceed 50 or 100 items. Overwhelming your customers and your staff with too many menu items guarantees people feeling stupid, and trust me, people do not like to feel stupid.. Re-read Tip #1. Remember to keep it simple.

Tip #3. Grow Small and Steady.

According to investors The Motley Fool, the number one mistake made by many fast-casual brands is promising too much growth too quickly. This is based, in large part, on the Chipotle’s wildly successful rise to the top. After all, Steve Ells has a personal net worth of reportedly $200 million and ranks #48 on Forbes list of CEO Compensation. Yet, Ells has parents who, in 1993, could stake him $85K to start his first Chipotle in a college town. Furthermore, they gave him an additional $1.5 million in investment to continue company growth. Mr. Ells then partnered with McDonalds in 1998 who invested $360 million into the company, till it went public in 2006.

When you look at numbers like that, you quickly understand that the Chipotle growth-effect is a myth. Odds are, you did not go to the Culinary Institute. Most importantly, you do not have, nor can you hope to have, that kind of investor backing. Learn from Steve. Take copious notes. Eat at every Chipotle you pass. Learn from his mistakes, as well as from his successes. Thoroughly understand; however, that gaining his level of financial backing is like getting struck by lightning: twice. It happens, but this is such a rare phenomenon as to make it happening to you a virtual impossibility. Therefore, make realistic promises to yourself and your investors. Grow steady by growing small. This is where the magic happens, as you work out all the foibles of your Fast Casual startup and gain your following.


There is room for creating enduring Fast Casual Startups that meet the taste and sensibilities of today’s modern eater. Consider that Mediterranean or Asian food chains are still virtually untapped, especially here in the U.S. Dare I say, “Noodles: a potential fortune in one hot pot.”

Maris, West & Baker has been helping Fast Casual Restaurants succeed for nearly 20 years. Producing effective, award-winning concepts from start to finish, we’ve helped multiple local eateries expand their profit-driven footprint beyond their owners imaginations. We’d love to sit down and talk about your idea. Together, we can help your fast-casual startup grow.

About the author: Erica Robinson once worked as the pastry chef for a local Great Harvest Bread chain here in Mississippi. Her ninja skills with dough, and all things food, are the stuff of legends.

February 10th, 2016

Shooting the Golden Lobster in the Head

I’m the “Fast Casual” guy around here. And not just because of the way I dress. I’ve spent the better part of a decade supervising advertising and marketing campaigns for fast casual style restaurant chains. So when something big happens in the restaurant business, fast-casual or no, I’m all ears.

This past Sunday all the talk was about Super Bowl 50. Peyton’s last game. Cam’s cockiness. A litany of crappy, overpriced commercials sprinkled with some nice conceptual ones. Then comes Beyoncé’s halftime performance which was watched by over one gazillion people (uh, yeah, sorry Coldplay—but y’all weren’t really top of the ticket). After one line in the chorus:

“When he f@#& me good, I take his #$% to Red Lobster, ’cause I slay.”

…we get this headline:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 3.07.20 PM

Is it sustainable? Will it jumpstart Red Lobster into double digit growth over the long term? Will America be forced into rationing Cheddar Bay Biscuits? Not likely. Was Red Lobster thankful for the boost and the exposure? You bet.

RL TWeet1.jpgSo seriously, what does this microcosm of a marketing anomaly tell us? Well, for one, the sales spike is the anomaly, not the situation. In an age when the personas of societal influencers— celebrities, sports stars, even politicians —are brought so much closer to us via our accessibility to interactive media and the influencers are their own mini-publishing operations, we see what an incredible impact they can have with content issued in the right context.

The advertising industry should take a lesson from this. I won’t belabor the point of how consumers are now EMPOWERED and how it takes more than a good-looking ad to shift movement… but that is the case to a great degree.

If Red Lobster had paid for six 30-second commercials during the Superbowl (at $6 million a pop, nonetheless), do you think they would have seen anything close to the actual ROI they got from Beyoncé spending a total of 7 seconds mentioning the chain? NO WAY. And do you think all the social media amplification would have occurred over screaming through the TV about LobsterFest? Negative.

The lesson here – advertisers take note…You just might find yourself becoming part of the pop culture. And that can’t be bad for business.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 3.12.20 PM


P.S.: Curious to see how much sales of Budweiser spike this week. Stay tuned…








P.P.S. Hold up. Pay attention. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS!!!!!!!!

Ok, so an excruciatingly EIGHT HOURS after Beyoncé pimped Red Lobster in front of afore-mentioned one gazillion people, the brand snapped back with all of the wit and hipness it could muster:


Uhhhhhhhh. Uhhhhhhhhhh. UHHHHHHHHH. (taps Red Lobster on shoulder…) Excuse me. Beyoncé puts your brand squarely in the center of the pop culture universe, and the best you can do is HOCK YOUR BISCUITS? You were given a seat at the table of the Illuminati, and THAT was your first reaction???

Sometimes you have the goose that lays the golden egg…. and you take that goose and shoot it in the head and have it for supper. Yes, it fills you up for one meal. BUT NO MORE GOLDEN EGGS!!!

This is actually a great instance of a brand NOT reacting with proper content given the context. Why oh why do so many brands knee-jerk to the SELL…SELL…SELL… mentality when presented with an excellent opportunity to build brand equity and street cred?

Red Lobster, all we can say is “HONK!” Congratulations on the sales spike.

MWB talks about how mobile is taking over the world

April 21st, 2015

80/20, Pecha Kucha, Play-Doh, and purple hair.

At the risk of the MWB Blog looking increasingly like a tavern, I feel compelled to write a postmortem on our latest #MWBeer30 event. Jon Fisher, Donnie Brimm, and Bethany Cooper from Oxford-based FNC gave a great talk reviewing many of the practices and protocols their company has put in place designed to stir innovation and creativity. I think attendees of this event (4/17) will agree that it really was inspiring to hear a Silicon Valley-esque approach to innovation being undertaken by a company who is committed to being headquartered in Mississippi.

Like I’ve said a million times before, Silicon Valley was an apple orchard 60 years ago. There’s no reason we can’t turn the Delta, red clay hills, pine woods, gulf coast, and mini-Appalachian landscapes that are Mississippi into something at least equally as impressive. And I don’t want to gloss over the fact that FNC – like so many other thriving entities – is committed to a robust corporate headquarters in our state. The company counts the majority of the top 20 banks in the U.S. as clients utilizing their applications. They are rapidly expanding operations into Brazil and Canada. I have a feeling new products are in the offing. FNC basically invented a category and is the market leader. Not bad for Oxford, Mississippi. Heck, that wouldn’t be bad for Oxford, England.

But back to the main point, the latest #MWBeer30. We had a great crowd attend representing Innovate Mississippi, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Clarion Ledger, EatShopPlayLiveJXN, C Spire, and various other highly innovative individuals. After a brief announcement about TEDxJackson 2015 (coming 11.12.15) and watching the newest Star Wars Trailer (yes, it looks uber cool) the folks from FNC took the floor. Here’s what we learned from their 6 minute 40 second presentation:

1. A 6-minute, 40-second, 20 slide presentation is called “Pecha Kucha.”


Here’s Jon Fisher from FNC getting into their talk. Many of you may be familiar with the “Pecha Kucha” approach. I was not. This is a presentation that consists of a total of 20 slides and each slide lasts no more than 20 seconds. Jon’s pictured here taking us “through the wormhole” that is FNC’s innovation process. The story I was told was that #MWBeer30 was the first time these guys had used Pecha Kucha in a talk… and they didn’t practice, either. They really had it down seamlessly, so I don’t know that I necessarily believe that “we didn’t do a run-through” story. Either way, they nailed it. This was a highly effective and engaging way to present information, so three cheers on the style points!

2. Play-Doh isn’t just for kids anymore.

MWBeer30_Bethany MWBeer30_Bethany2















Bethany Cooper of FNC talked specifically about some of the (dare I use the phrase) out-of-the-box exercises that the company utilizes to get the creative juices flowing. These include actual Play-Doh planning sessions. Don’t be skeptical. There’s a reason four-year-olds think they can do anything.

Other hyper-cool practices FNC has implemented include developing and maintaining their own internal Innovation Team, an annual all-night hackathon called The Forge (props to Jon Fisher for having a product from The Forge now in development), and their implementation of the “80/20” work principle. The latter of these, being a concept pioneered by 3M and really made famous by Google, roughly states that an employee has the freedom to spend 20% of their time working on pet projects they believe will contribute to a company’s mission, outside of “sanctioned” job functions.

3. People will show up and talk… for beer… (and for other reasons, too).

Many, many apologies to FNC, but I didn’t learn until they pulled into our world headquarters about 2:45 p.m. that they had actually missed out on the annual FNC crawfish boil to some speak to the attendees of #MWBeer30. I hate the thought of making someone miss their own event like that, but I will also say that we’re not BYOB. We had great craft beer (much of it brewed here in the great state of Mississippi) on hand for sampling. There are so many innovative people in Jackson and across Mississippi that we feel honored to provide a forum to evangelize the growing nature of our state’s knowledge economy, the great creative assets that we possess, and the how companies, organizations, and individuals are really fostering a culture of innovation.



Tasha Bibb (top) and Lynlee Honea (bottom) were among a contingent from Innovate Mississippi who attended #MWBeer30. Innovate Mississippi is a great organization who are champions of innovation culture and entrpreneurialism across our state. Always very glad to see these folks in attendance.

4. Mississippians are engaged and ready to support our knowledge-based companies. 

Plain and simple, we (Mississippians) get a bad rap. “We’re a backwater…” “we really can read and write…” “thank goodness for Arkansas…”.  Well we say phooey on all that nonsense. And apologies to our friends from the Travelers State, no disrespect intended. I’m just trying to convey the point here that we’re poised and ready to springboard into a prominent place in the 21st century.


Here’s Donnie Brimm from FNC talking. Donnie and the rest of the FNC crew got peppered with questions after their 6 minutes and 40 seconds were done. And I don’t mean peppered in a “Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes GOTCHA” kind of way. The people at #MWBeer30 were genuinely curious and supportive of  great knowledge-based business like FNC and wanted to know more about the industry, the development aspect, and especially what kind of stumbling blocks had the company encountered in implementing a real culture of innovation.

They say that an indicator of creativity and intelligence is the ability to ask great questions. That being said, we certainly had a highly creative and intelligent group of people who attend #MWBeer30. Being a connoisseur of great craft beer is simply a plus. By the way, our craft beer is courtesy of the great guys at LD’s Beer Run, serving a huge selection of local, regional, and national craft brands. Stop by and see them if you’re ever in the neighborhood.



5. Star Wars The Force Awakens looks super cool.


One of the warm-up acts for FNC’s presentation was screening of the new trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To quote Mississippi icon Marshall Ramsey, “I watched it at least a dozen times and I felt my heart swell when Han said, “Chewie, we’re home.” To quote MWB VP Keith Fraser, “OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod.” Yes, it certainly sends chills throughout your spine. The folks gathering at MWB world heaquarters gave a standing ovation after the trailer. Well, technically they were already standing, but I feel certain if they could have levitated, they would have.

6. It’s ok to hire people with purple hair.

This was actually a happy little coincidence of parallelism. A couple of years ago FNC CEO Bill Rayburn was giving the luncheon keynote talk at Innovate Mississippi’s annual luncheon. During his impassioned delivery (those of you who have ever heard Mr. Rayburn give a talk know exactly what I’m talking about), he made the statement – I’m paraphrasing here – that in the new economy we have to get over not hiring people because of things like tattoos and purple hair and instead be meritorious in our approach. Basically, hire the most creative, innovative, and driven person for the job at hand.


Well MWB new hire Erica Robinson just happened to show up at her first #MWBeer30 sporting a rather glamorous “Friday wig,” as she calls it. Everybody loved it. She’s a great addition to our creative staff and innovative culture and certainly the embodiment of how not to let individualism and self expression be an impediment to raising your organization’s intellectual talent. Can’t wait to see this Friday’s colour-de-jour.

In fact, one of the best TEDx talks I’ve heard was given by purple-haired Heather Crawford at the TEDxAntioch event I also spoke at in 2014. Check out Heather’s talk here, titled “You really ARE what you eat.”

Correction, 1:37 P.M. Also do not be afraid to hire people who’s names are spelled in unconventional ways. I just realized her name is actually “Hether Crawford.” Our apologies, Hether.


So anyway, a great time at April’s #MWBeer30. Again, many many thanks to FNC for sending down some of their most impressive folks to give a great 6-minute, 40-second presentation. We’re already working on the agenda for #MWBeer30 in May, so if you want to keep up with this and other #MWBeer30 events, please opt into our MWB Tap special alter system. Cheers!


Ray Harris (MWB), Tasha Bibb & Lynlee Honea (Innovate Mississippi), various unidentifiable pairs legs.

All photography via MWB’s Tate Nations.

January 14th, 2015

A major aspect of effective UX is being “responsive” (and that word doesn’t mean what you think it means)

One of the biggest buzz terms today is “user experience.” Truth is since the dawn of commerce those who have been successful have more often than not placed an eye toward user experience. Today the term has evolved to be more inclusive of branding and marketing – truly every touch point in which a user “experiences” your brand. In the age of nifty square icons with rounded corners, “user experience” even has a cool abbreviation: UX. Your humble author has written in the recent past about the new aspects that determine UX in the digital age. One of the most significant factors is the content/message being responsive. When you hear one of my types utter “responsive” today it usually refers to the automation of content constraints so that a virtual unique digital user interface is optimized relative to the experiential environment.


UX Dots In Line

That’s geek-speak to say that the stuff on a webpage sizes itself to look right on different size screens. Most high traffic websites now are “responsive.” Columns, images, and text will resize and re-order to make it easier to consume via TV, desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone – portrait or landscape orientations.

This article, however, is not about that kind of “responsive” communication. This post focuses on a more elemental – and powerful – type of responsiveness relative to brand building. And I’m using two very recent and very impressive examples from organizations in the southeast US to do so.

How to build a fan base

Twelve-year-old Cade Pope is a middle-schooler from the Shreveport, Louisiana area (as best I can tell). Like so many young men of that age, Cade was just encountering many of the fundamental decisions that would shape the rest of his life. The least of which, no doubt, is deciding what NFL team to pull for (nobody wants to be accused of jumping on the bandwagon… #GoTheOhioSt). Young Mr. Pope took some time a couple of weeks ago to write letters to executives of all 32 NFL franchises, asking why he should be a homer for their team. Cade got exactly one response. He received a package in the mail that contained an autographed Luke Kuechly helmet, and a letter (hand written) from Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. In the letter Mr. Richardson stated the team would be “honored” to have Cade cheer for them, and pledged to always represent him with “class.”

CarolinaI have little doubt that if Cade joins a fantasy football league next year, his first pick will be Cam Newton.

Think about that. The NFL is a billion dollar multinational corporation (actually a non-profit, if you didn’t know). The  Carolina Panthers spend millions of dollars each year marketing their brand to fans. I would venture to say that this simple act did more for the image of professional football (and man does it need it) and for visibility of the Panthers organization than just about anything short of Tim Tebow being named commissioner and a Super Bowl victory, respectively. Do I think it was pure altruism with no regard for the PR value? Heck no. Do I care? Nope. Do I admire the Panthers for doing it? You bet. And there’s no way that they could have known they would be the only team to respond. But they were. To owner Richardson – great job. To the folks responsible for routing that letter to Mr. Richardson – awesome job. Back to owner Richardson – those a fore mentioned folks deserve a raise. Or at the very least their own Kuechly autographed swag.

For our second example we shift ever so slightly south and west.

‘Holla back

Atlanta-based Delta Airlines is one of the largest and most prominent companies in the world. Any travelers know that you very rarely feel more at the mercy of “powers that be” than when you fly commercial. I’ll also note it’s not like airlines are traditionally recognized as bastions of responsiveness and customer service, so this example may mildly surprise some people.

No, this isn’t some drawn-out story about lost luggage or cancelled flights that you’ve heard ad nauseum at cocktail parties (yeah, to YOU people, you’re not the ONLY one it’s happened to… #shocker). It involves social media (you didn’t really think a blog post from an ad agency could get by without mentioning it, now did you?). I had heard sometime back that Delta was really responsive on social media and was one of the better companies who utilized it as a form of customer service. So for the purposes of this article, I did a little experiment. You can see the results as follows:


To which I received within less than 15 minutes:

I thought the rest of the conversation was pretty good. *NH at Delta was a great sport:

That’s not the full correspondence. The responder actually sent me a link to contacts in Delta’s PR and marketing departments. Absolutely excellent. It was evident through the exchange that there was an actual human on the other end of the tweet line. Was it an actual Delta employee bunkered in a high-tech social media laboratory in Atlanta? Probably not. Was it a third-party contractor perhaps overseas? Maybe. Didn’t matter to me. The point was Delta responded promptly and substantively. I didn’t get a form response. Yeah, Twitter is a small part of what Delta does, but isn’t that the point? Paying attention to the small stuff gives me more confidence they’ll get the big stuff right. Or if they don’t get it right, they’ll make it right.

So what have we X’ed here?

In a world focused on UX, “responsive design” should mean more than the just the difference between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio. Digital experience is important but it’s only one component of brand interaction. As marketers we must think in a circumnavigational manner regarding our user’s interface. It’s not just screen to face. For brand building, the other senses matter too. Go Panthers. Fly Delta.

NOTE: Sports teams mentioned in this post do not necessarily reflect the preference of the staff, management, or shareholders of Maris, West & Baker. Go Browns, Saints, Tarheels, Boilermakers, Braves, and Blazers, among others.

August 6th, 2014

Why market when you don’t have to?: Talent Recruitment

Head Hunter - RecruiterThroughout my career I have run across corporations who are the market leader in their industry, have products that have the bulk of the market share, and/or have no viable direct competition. In many instances, their attitude toward marketing is summed up in a simple phrase:

Don’t need it.

Ad agencies have a ready answer for this. Usually involves a metaphor using Coca Cola or Budweiser… market share leaders with insanely high brand awareness who among the world’s biggest advertisers. “That’s how they maintain their market share,” we say. And there is some truth to this. A truly consumer facing brand like a Coke or Bud must maintain awareness levels or their market share will slip. However, this example isn’t as applicable to more specialized products in narrow verticals or B2B spaces. So do we have to bite the bullet and admit that such companies really don’t need marketing?

Nope. Marketing and brand development is just as important. It is not that marketing is not needed, but rather that the objective of the marketing is different. The objective is talent recruitment and retention.

Brands are built by companies, but companies are built by people. To have a great company, you need to attract great people. The way to attract great people is increasingly reliant on a company’s culture. Company culture is best reflected in a brand. To keep your talent pool stocked and growing, you do, in fact, have to market your brand. Google and Facebook at far and away the market leaders in what they offer. They don’t really have to advertise their product offerings. Rather they are marketing their company cultures. It’s no accident that Google and Facebook are consistently ranked among the top places to work in the world, and the target of every other computer genius coming out of college. These people – the best at what they do – in turn feed back into growing the companies.

So in actuality HR and PR aren’t – or shouldn’t be – that different.

I think most corporate leaders don’t correlate talent recruitment to marketing because of the highly segmented nature of business organization. For years companies have been divided into divisions and departments, each with its specific function, goals, and processes. In the 21st century economy, the companies who are rising to the top seem to be those who replace departments with initiatives – placing the emphasis more so on the end result as opposed to the process that gets one there. Under the old convention, advertising was strictly to help sell products and services. Under the new model, advertising is an important component of communicating who a company is, and what it represents. This has a direct impact on the type of employees a company is able to recruit.

So Mr./Ms. Market Share Leader, in respect to advertising,

You do need it.

It just might not be for the reason you think.


January 27th, 2014

MWB Launches Digital Magazine

We’ve launched a new digital magazine focusing on creativity and innovation in the world of marketing. MWB staff Tim Mask, Randy Lynn, and Marc Leffler are the magazine’s primary content wranglers. The magazine is created via a platform allowing for optimized viewing via tablet or smart phone. New editions will be available every 7 – 10 days, and will chronicle the innovation happens that make advertising one of the world’s most rapidly evolving industries. The publication, called INNOVATIONS is available by subscription or can be viewed by clicking here. MWB’s Twitter feed will also note when a new issue has been posted. We all hope you enjoy!