Wednesday at FUSE

Wow! What a kick-start futurist, Magnus Lindkvist gave the FUSE audience this morning.  One of the most entertaining, engaging and informative talks I have ever heard (and I have heard a lot of talks in the past).  Magnus not only gave us an articulate vision of the future but a way of dealing with it.  He enticed us with the challenge, “Letting go of ideas is the pinnacle of inventing the future”.  Free yourself from conventional wisdom and anticipate new thinking.

He discussed globalization and mentioned that we have not truly realized this imagined status.  Only 5% of people live outside o the country where they were born.  He bemoaned the fact that globalization is simply “copy and pasting” culture, architecture and experience from one location to another.  Tokyo looks like New York. Shenzhen looks like Dubai. Magnus sees this same copy/paste mentality in branding and product innovation, renaming R&D “Rip Off and Duplicate”.  This iteration rather than true innovation causes lots more competition between similar brands rather than a truly new experience.

He suggested that rather than these “horizontal” shifts in culture; we need “vertical” shifts.  Technology is one of these vertical shifts.  Digitization and Digitalization will truly accelerate change and make the future more radically different than today.  Part of our future we can predict now with certainty.  We now for example how many 70 year olds we will have in the next 50 years, but we do not know is how they will behave.

And so, in this uncertain future we need to determine if we are going to just compete or truly create.  He offered 3 tenants that we need to embrace if we are to be truly creative.

1.     Willingness to Experiment- the need to try new and potentially dangerous things.   He showcased a book called “50 dangerous things you should allow your children to do”. He suggested we teach our kids how to take safe chances and learn from them.
2.      Embrace Failure- be willing to recycle past failures and improve upon them.  He mentions that nothing ultimately fails faster than success.  When we are successful we feel that we are immune to change, and that always catches up with us.
3.     Foster the Virtue of Patience:  Success takes time but persistence and willingness to learn from failure is the only way to guarantee lasting success.

He ended with a truly compelling video clip of a lone dancer at an outdoor music concert who was unabashedly just going for it.  Slowly one by one he gathered followers.  Soon there was a tipping point where those who were sitting started to feel out of place and then everyone got up and danced.   He used this as analogy to the designer and encouraged us to be the crazy dancer.    I wanted to rip off my sport coat and shirt and dance as we all gave him a standing ovation.

Dennis Furniss- VP Global Design Unilever then took up the goal of designing brands for life.  As the first VP of Design in this huge, 100 year old company, Dennis mentioned that creating brands for life is very different from creating brands for consumption.  Unilever’s goal is to improve life through their products. He talked about this mission and how his management team is driven to shift thinking within this huge organization to make products that are relevant, ethical and responsible. Their measure of success is to double the size of their business but not increase their carbon footprint in the process. 

He sees the goal of design at Unilever to solve problems not just create solutions.  This interesting distinction was then further defined in the remainder of his personal story and his relationship with design.

He had a short video clip of 6 boxes being opened, each containing an object that helped him tell his story.  An orange is a perfect object that reflects the never-ending cycle of re-generation. The year 1969 reminded him of being a boy and watching the lunar landing while still using an outhouse and marveled at this contrast.  This served to highlight how Unilever is now on a quest to provide proper sanitation to developing worlds. The erector set called Mecano was used as an analogy for building things, breaking them down and rebuilding them, learning from the mistakes and enhancing mastery. The empty box was the analogy for inventiveness.  It’s not an empty box but a container for a gift, a child plaything, and endless number of things that come from looking beyond the expected and developing the unseen opportunity.  The stone became a symbol of usefulness.  Design is purposeful and concrete.

In the end he left us with the idea that design needs to influence how we think and not just how we execute.  He represents the next generation of Unilever thought leadership and the courage to be bolder, more assertive, more daring.

The senior vice president of one of our collective mentor brands then took us on a case study of the evolution of Target’s design-driven differentiation.  Shawn Gensch, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Target gave us an understanding of how design differentiated the Target experience from the other discount retailers who were formed in the same year, Wal-Mart, and Kmart.  Shawn acknowledged that differentiation based on the lowest price is a “zero sum game,” a race to the bottom.  Target played this game well for a period of time, but because of the size and scale of Wal-Mart, they would never be able to win.  Rather, in the late 90s, they embraced design to transform the bullseye into “an icon of affordable chic.”

He deconstructed ad campaigns and early relationships with Michael Graves, Philippe Starck and other designers to bring style to everyday things. By representing even the least design driven, commodity products in a new, fashionable way, it gave the everyday elements some flair. They moved the ad campaign to the runway and used a fashion parable to further differentiate the brand. This spawned the Everyday Collection and their limited-time fashion house offerings. Social media helped continue the story and close the gap between the brand and its guests.  

Shawn left us with an important and reoccurring theme of the day, take chances, embrace change and have fun!

Virginia Postrel, Author of “The Substance of Style” and her new work, “The Power of Glamour”, then diligently deconstructed the history and current redefinition of Glamour.   Virginia grounded us in the entomology of glamour with its mystical roots as an illusion of reality.  She traced the use of the term through literature, the military and aviation and into its contemporary description of indulgent luxury.  She aptly defined glamour as “an inarticulate longing” It creates the feeling, “I wish I could be like that”.  The perception that life would be perfect if I had that home, that watch, those shoes, etc. 
She even looked at the visuals that defined Obama’s 2008 campaign suggesting that it embodies everyone’s ideal of what they wanted in government, in American society.  

Glamour provides a promise of escape and transformation.  From the indulgent fashion and travel photography to the ad campaign for Corona beer and the offer to “find your beach”.  Glamour also has a grace to it, the appearance of effortlessness that masks any possible flaws.   She highlighted the power that this experience has and will always have in allowing us to imagine and ideal possible within our lives and to attach that to an object or a brand.  Powerful indeed!

We had the chance to explore the mind of the independent film maker and story teller Tiffany Shlain as she introduced us to the “cloud film making”, or requesting video clips through a global social network and weaving them into a unified story.  

She chronicled her career from early days of collecting film clips and re-assembling them to her new venture of sending a message out through the internet and assembling many messages into one unified story.  She embraced the Internet very early on recognizing it as a social phenomenon.  She founded the Webby Awards and owned it through the dot com boom and bust.  She explained that 9/11 had a profound impact and encouraged her to go back to filmmaking but to incorporate new technology to dramatically simplify the process. She celebrated our global collectiveness, our inter-dependency through a cloud film from the contribution of people across the globe.  She then provides this film to not for profit organizations to support awareness and development funding. She left us with the thought that since every smart phone now allows you to take video, there is no barrier between the filmmaker and the storyteller.  Stories are more real, more authentic.  This will only become more evident as new generations and the rest of the world comes on line.

A panel of corporate design leaders and a consultant explored the client/agency relationship. Moderated by Wendy Orner of Procter & Gamble, corporate design leaders Adrienne Powers of Kraft, Jon Denham of ConAgra, Jennifer Giannotti-Genes of Colgate-Palmolive and Rob Swan of Brand Image provided a candid analysis of what works and what does not.   The metaphor of “marriage” was offered up and then discussed as it relates to the best agency/client relationships.  The definition of “partnership” was explored.  Elements of trust and mutual respect were outlined with specific antidotes.  Both sides discussed the value of making an investment in each other and the brand stewardship that evolves.  Honesty, directness, transparency and empathy were also featured as essential components of every interaction. 

The ideal client was describes as one who has courage and conviction, who maintains consistency of direction and helps navigate the complexities of the large client organization.  Borrowing Steven Webster’s quote, the ideal client is “a preacher, a teacher and a game show host”, evangelizing best practice, educating its team on the process and rewarding those who follow it.   The design director as an enabler, a creator of design thinking culture.  A translator, of the internal culture’s language, helping tell the back-story and unmasking the hidden politics and cultural traps that live under the surface.  And the design director must be a soldier, fighting for best practice, protecting the consultancy and allowing them to do their best work.  

Wendy’s presentation with Leo Burnett and her design firm partners from yesterday were referenced as one of the most effective case studies of advertising and design collaboration.  The agency relationship is determined and run by executive management while the design firm selection does not have access to this level of decision makers. Adrienne suggested that this collaboration could become a reality when the design firm is engaged on a longer-term retainer rather than a project-by-project basis.

This session ended way too soon for many of us. Later discussion suggested that an entire day could be devoted to just this topic at future FUSE sessions.

Daniele Monti of Starbucks then detailed the Tazo tea brand identity evolution.  Since its launch almost a decade ago the brand went through a series of what Daniele called “face lifts”.  New products were added periodically but the brand had not been truly renovated in some time and its relevancy had eroded.   So much so, that in 2009, the brand was pulled from international markets and replaced with the Starbuck’s logo—despite the fact that this old logo still had the word “coffee” in it green circle.  This did not matter.  In fact, this rebranding increased sales significantly.   It was time that the Tazo brand owned its own story.

The first step in Starbuck’s rebranding process was to identify and personify its inspirational user.  They named these users Zack and Zoe and defined them as highly discerning and somewhat skeptical authenticity seekers.  They defined what brands Zack and Zoe had real affinity with and imagined what was in Zoe’s bag and Zack’s backpack.

The compelling brand experience that Tazo could uniquely own was “life reblended”.    Tazo is cultured, refined without being unapproachable.  Daniele shared an interesting chart where the design exploration was mapped out in context of how evolutionary or revolutionary each aspect of the exploration should be.  For example, the logo could evolve, but because other elements had little equity, the design architecture, the product segmentation strategies, the flavor communications, the color palettes could all be revolutionized.  And team leaders courageously determined they wanted to see some totally revolutionary concepts just to learn from.  The resulting design exploration was more focused and effective. 

The selected design architecture eliminated the restrictive holding shape behind the logo and celebrated the ingredients in an unconventional and beautiful way.  Herbs were photographed in a unique way.  Powdery ingredients were represented in new, playful shapes.  The design’s shelf impact was enhanced with a color device that appears to link adjacent packages.  This new brand identity system was then transformed into new communication standards.  Typestyles, boarders, textures and all other visual elements were defined and their usage confirmed.  This was used to design the brand’s web site and its signature retail store in Seattle.   Overall this was a compelling presentation of design processes that resulted in a most successful new brand experience.

Bringing insights from her work on both the client and the consultancy side of the business, Karen Laisster-Bryan of Design Resource Center described the tenants of the design best practices.   She suggested that the brief must include objective success criteria and the analytical tools to determine they are maintained.  This prohibits arbitrary critiques and a moving target that causes scope creep.  She warned that design couldn’t precede strategy.  One must know the brand story first and design against it.  She warned that research is not a diagnostic tool, “which one do you like best”, but rather an opportunity to gain an understanding of how specific design elements make the consumer feel, using research to help shape the best strategies and only then execute against them. 
Lastly she suggested that the design process should know when to stop, to question the last tweaks.  Designers and decision makers should not loose conviction or chicken out but remain consistent and vigilant in maintaining objective criteria.  She left the team with the idea that the “bake off” or selecting multiple firms to do an initial design exploration dilutes the impact that one dedicated firm can create.   This comment brought a number of big smiles on the faces of the consultants in the room.

Steven Peters of No Mimed Media ended a most successful conference with an engaging story that used text messaging, web site access, a Youtube posting, Google search, and cell phone calls to tell a story that can become more compelling if delivered in multiple and unexpected touch points across multiple tools. 

He painted the vision of entertainment where once you have purchased the tickets to a movie you get a phone call from the characters to give you a bit of a back story before you enter the theater.  After the movie, you could dial the character’s cell number and hear a message from them that gives you a richer context.  He warned that it’s easy to be sucked into the allure of new technology but suggested that the story is paramount.  Only engage when the story will benefit from the use of technology.

This, the largest and most successful FUSE conference ever, concluded with sincere thanks to Debbie Millman and Cheryl Swanson, co-chairs who created and evolved this brand with the help of IIR’s Kim Rivielle and Krista Vasquez.  We as an industry owe a great debt of gratitude to their collective efforts.  They are to be acknowledged for their vision, their passion and their incredible contribution to our industry’s success.  Again Deb and Cheryl, thank you!

Looking forward to engaging with all of you again next year!

Rob Wallace
Managing Partner, Strategy
Wallace Church Inc



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