Category: Bad

Industry specialization: Great! Until maybe it isn’t.

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.
–Eric Hoffer 

Posted by:
Tate Linden

We’re frequently asked by prospective clients whether or not we’re specialists in particular industries such as healthcare or technology. The answer is that we’re not. And we don’t ever intend to be. While this sort of specialization was intriguing to us in the early days at Stokefire’s, we ultimately decided it would be better for our clients (and thus our long-term success) to go in a different direction.

I acknowledge that this decision seems to run counter to the traditional wisdom given to businesses of all types. And I’m good with that.

I can’t argue that industry specialization is universally bad. Far from it. It’s a critical ingredient in successful financially oriented businesses, such as auditing and investment banking. Even if the entire organization doesn’t specialize, employers retain industry experts that lend credence to an organization’s findings. Similarly, Stokefire employs or contracts with specialists to handle behind-the-scenes jobs that require specific training and experience, such as certain illustration styles, animation, or programming. Each of these is an industry of sorts. (No one, least of all me, wants to see what would happen if I tried to do this stuff by myself.)

I’ll also grant that, for the vast majority of organizations, industry specialization may actually be a good plan. But my reasons are something you probably won’t like.

As Jean Marie Caragher suggests in her article for AICPA, industry specialization includes benefits like high profitability, economical marketing, easily identified prospects and competition, fewer geographical barriers, prestige, increased knowledge of clients, and more. Studies (including this one by Craswell, Francis, and Taylor in 1995) find a link between industry specialization and the ability to charge more for the same services.

With a list like that, it’s hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t jump on board.

Put yourself in a client’s shoes for a moment and reread the list from their perspective. How many of the benefits help them? One could argue that industry experience helps projects run more smoothly, allows for common tasks to be done very quickly, and increases confidence that the work will meet industry standards. For accounting or other services that aren’t traditionally visible to the client’s target market it makes a lot of sense.

But what happens when the industry specialist’s work is front-and-center rather than hidden under layers of organizational process? What happens when it’s a branding, marketing, or advertising organization that decides to focus on a single industry? What happens when it’s the essence of who you are and what makes you the best in your industry that is crafted by an industry specialist?

Put on the client’s shoes again, if you would (this time as a client of an agency.) All the stuff that was desirable in the back-office is now questionable at best. Sure, the agency knows your competition, and may have even worked for them. But what does it say about the quality and importance of that work (or the ethics of the organization’s leaders) that they’re willing to immediately sell the same services to you? How could they avoid contaminating the guidance they give you with information gained from private meetings with your competitors? And if they share this information with you (overtly or not,) what would stop them from sharing your secrets?

Regardless of how they may position themselves, industry specialists serving most audiences are limited in the concepts that they can bring to you, since if they were to propose a concept that actually pulled market share from another client they might be liable for damages. An agency that gets a reputation for selling out its clients is an agency that won’t have that problem for long.

So, to my way of thinking, a creative agency that farms a single industry either doesn’t believe their work has the ability to materially change the fortunes of its clients (and thus can sell to direct competitors without worrying about conflicts of interest), or they don’t care that each new contract they get in their industry is likely to devalue the work they’ve done for others.

That’s why Stokefire doesn’t go in for industry specialization. When given the freedom to do great work for our clients we’ve enabled new industries and reshuffled old ones. To then go back to all the competitors our work has marginalized or impeded and say, “See what we did for XYZ Co? If you want to stand a chance against them then you’d better hire us.” is lacking in scruples even if it might make short-term business sense. (It’s not all about morality, though. Another reason we don’t do it is that many of our larger or more strategically-minded clients pay a premium to ensure we won’t work in their field for a period of time following our project on their behalf.)

I’ll again grant you that industry specialists may work faster or more efficiently, and that these qualities have the potential to result in lower over-all costs since they’re not billing as many research and administrative hours. I’ll even grant you that it’s a helluva lot easier to run a profitable agency that specializes in one industry. But I can’t seem to connect either of these with the sorts of outcomes creative work is capable of achieving or that clients actually need.

To those consultants who espouse industry specialization for creative agencies, and to those agencies that farm single industries for profit, I ask you this: How does your industry focus tangibly improve outcomes for your stable of competitive clients?

Anyone willing to venture in and share their contrasting views?

Cows! And Also the Secret to RFP Success.

I’ve been hearing from my peers in the branding and advertising industries that they’re getting invited to participate in many more RFPs, and that this is a sign that the economy is recovering. But I’m also hearing from them weeks later that they aren’t winning when they submit responses. Some firms are pushing three to five proposals per week out the door and only getting a nibble once or twice a month. Many respected and competent firms complain that the RFP process is flawed, and quite a few refuse to respond to requests for proposals entirely since most decisions seem to be made purely on price or back room handshakes.

I spent about a decade working for other people before opening up my own shop, and remember the constant pressure to get responses out the door. The bosses played the numbers, knowing that we’d land 8 to 12 percent of the opportunities, focusing our efforts on increasing the number of fish in the pond rather than becoming better fishermen. We used databases of canned responses and lightly customized them for fit. I recall numerous times where the final proof-reader, so tired from reading the same damn material on every single proposal, glossed over an instance where the wrong client name or industry example ended up being sent along. It upset leadership, but they still invariably valued increased RFP response volume over increased customization, believing that if we could just get into the final group we’d take the time to get it right. And when we did get into the pitch group most of my bosses did a good job closing the deal. We may have only landed about 10 percent of the RFPs overall, but when invited to pitch our success rate went up to about 40% – and that’s where the leaders focused.

As Stokefire approaches our ninth year in business I look back at a client list that includes Google, Motorola, Heinz, Charles Schwab, The US Department of Defense and hundreds of other worthy organizations, and realize that if I’d followed the tactics I’d been exposed to earlier I’d probably have landed about 10 percent of what we’ve gotten. And that’s where I was headed until something momentous happened.

About five years ago (prior to landing our first globally recognized client) a huge prospective client took me aside and said something like, “Look, man. You’re good. Very, very good. The fact that your four person firm has made it to the final four out of 128 agencies we considered should indicate that you’ve got something special. You brought up all sorts of insights and issues about the deliverables we asked for that proved you understood what we needed more deeply than anyone else. And then you lost your courage, and checked off every box on your RFP response and committed to delivering exactly what we asked for anyhow. And that’s the problem here. You have to admit, no matter how insightful you are, you can’t possibly deliver exactly what we’re asking for better than a nationally known firm a thousand times your size. And even if you could, the board members of a public company aren’t going to take a risk on an unknown like you . The only way I would ever get their approval to hire you is if you’d stuck by your guns and refused to give us what we asked for, and instead insisted on giving us what we need.”

There’s some serious paraphrasing going on there, but I believe I’m being faithful to his theme. It was a two hour conversation with a leader of a multi-billion dollar organization. And he so wanted to hire us that he not only took the time to tell us why he couldn’t, but to teach me how I could earn his business the next time he was in need as well. The last thing he said was that he was looking forward to working with us down the road.

No, he still hasn’t called us back (which would make this a much better story, I know) but we took his lesson to heart.

Today we respond to only a small fraction of the RFPs we receive. It’s not that we don’t believe in the process. In fact, it’s the opposite. We use the RFP process as a screening process to ensure that we’re actually a good fit for the client and opportunity. Our job as a branding and advertising consultancy isn’t to answer the questions and accede to the demands made in RFPs, it’s to figure out what’s behind the questions and demands, and ensure that the stuff in the RFP actually has the potential to get the results the client really wants, if they want anything at all. The RFPs we tend to respond to are the ones where we can prove there’s disconnect between what’s being asked for and the results they’re likely to get from the investment.

When a client knows exactly what they need and how best to get it, then my firm is like just another lowing cow lost among the herd, hoping that today it’ll be our milk in the pail the farmer brings to his own family. All the respondents are checking all the boxes provided. It’s like cows jostling and mooing – “You want milk? Well, I make milk. Let’s do this!” and “Me toooooo! Look how milky my milk is. It’s the very definition of what you’ve asked for! Why go anywhere else?”

How the Hell is the farmer supposed to choose when every cow can provide the requested services at the required levels?

When a prospective client requests a proposal they provide a structure for response so that each can be evaluated in parallel. The farmer says he wants milk, so he ensures that he only considers solutions that get him what he says he wants. Cows, goats, sheep, are the likely candidates. If he gets really creative he might consider almond, soy or rice milk – and feel all the more insightful for it. But what isn’t up for discussion – and is rarely even mentioned in an RFP process – is why the desired product or service is needed, and why the solutions outlined in the RFP are the best way to meet the need.

Stokefire doesn’t make milk. Real nor imagined. We figure out why the farmer says he needs it for his family, then determine if milk is the best product for the job. If it is? We go on our way – there are plenty of lowing cows ready to compete for his attention and give him what he asks for. If we find that the farmer’s real need is better served by something other than the proverbial milk? That’s when we invest the considerable time and effort crafting a response to an RFP – one that cannot be compared to anything else under consideration because it addresses the needed results rather than the ‘required’ methods and steps that have little chance of getting the farmer what he wants, and an even lesser chance of landing us the job.

The key to successful RFP responses isn’t getting the answers right. It’s having the courage and insight to modify the assumptions, questions, and rules so that the original request becomes irrelevant. Sure, the farmer said he wanted to bring milk back to his family, and there are millions of cows able to give him that milk. But what if you learned that the entire family was lactose intolerant, or that he was using it to fill his swimming pool at the rate of one bucket per day, or to clean the mirrors in his house? In each case, the best response wouldn’t be to fill the stated request and follow the process, it’d be to find a product better suited to the requirements.

Those uses may seem obviously wrong, but put in the context of what we see on branding RFPs are actually pretty reasonable. We’ve seen RFPs requesting logos that increase customer loyalty, demanding reuse of previously used campaigns for increased results without creative expense, and asking for a rebrand intended make a highly visible company scandal go away. These and many other RFPs got dozens of responses that checked every box. We didn’t check a single box for any of them. We couldn’t deliver what they asked for so we responded to the RFP we believed they should’ve written.

And we won.

Does it work every time? Absolutely not. About 10% of the time it doesn’t work and we fail to change the prospect’s perspective. About 5% of the time it doesn’t just fail, it fails spectacularly. If it was that farmer’s RFP, he’d grab his shotgun and unload both barrels into our chest. Then he’d tell us we didn’t get the job.

As bad as it sounds, I know from experience that being screamed at by prospective clients for having the nerve to challenge their assumptions is survivable. And it’s led to some wonderful client relationships months or years later, when the prospect has tried it their way and we have the, “You know, funny thing about that pitch you made…” conversation. It helps to keep that result in mind when resisting the urge to wipe their spittle from your eyebrows during the pitch.

If you’re not willing to take the risks needed to achieve results, but still blame the system itself rather than your ability to use it to your advantage? I’ve got no problem with that. In fact, I’ll even help. There’s a word you can repeat in your mind as a mantra that will ensure you always deliver fully compliant responses to RFPs. It’s easy to remember, and oddly comforting, too.

Say it with me…

“MoooOOOooooo.”

No.

Dearest potential applicant:

In our eight year history we’ve never brought on a single intern nor employee who started their cover letter with “Dear Sirs” or “To Whom it May Concern,” and then perhaps followed it with body copy that could just as well introduce someone trying to break into the laundromat business, or maybe rocket science.

The unofficial policy doesn’t hit home for you? Consider what it would be like if a purportedly reputable organization was staffed by people so lazy that instead of taking the time to understand and address each applicant individually, they just posted a blanket rejection statement on their blog and left it at that.

No, You May Not Have This Tasty, Tasty Apple.

I understand that everyone loves the Apple brand for its vibrancy, simplicity, and power. I really do. It’s a kickass brand, so it’s not surprising. But… Please don’t ask me to build you a brand ‘just like Apple’ unless Steve Jobs’ ghost is already on board to lead it. Because that’s what it’d take to make it work.

Look… Contrary to what most of the branding and advertising industry shouts at customers, the job of a great branding team is not to give you the brand that you want. Our job is to give you a brand with which you can succeed. Asking for a brand that looks like Apple may be an effective short-hand way to convey an aesthetic that you find appealing, but the whole underlying structure from which brands are actually built is overlooked in the process. Worse, the chances that what you and your staff find aesthetically appealing and what will bring a positive change in the behavior of your intended audience being the same are nearly nil.

What made Apple… well, Apple… was the insight, effort, and execution of Jobs, Wozniak, and their team. The name and logo they chose didn’t cause their success; the verbal and visible brand was a direct result of the unique qualities of the organization’s leadership expressed nearly to perfection. They changed the behavior of hundreds of millions of consumers around the globe by genuinely understanding who Apple was, delivering a product that could only come from such people, and communicating both their thinking and performance in a way that seemed to both illuminate and prove their difference. Or as I would normally put it, they used something very like Gandhi’s Pyramid. If you want to honor their brand or have similar successes then I’d advise you stop trying to copy the result of their efforts or the current state of their brand and start duplicating the effort and unique insights that led to it.

Making you look like Apple isn’t that hard. (Just ask Samsung.) But creating a lasting and valuable brand as unique and genuine as Apple from your own values and actions should actually result in a brand that in the end isn’t much like Apple at all.

 

FAIL: PETCO Thinks We’re Idiots? Yes. Yes they do.

 

Well, PETCO certainly doesn’t win any points for the creativity of their product name, but when it comes to the art of needlessly clarifying proper use of the product I think I’ve just witnessed perfection.

This, folks, is why I don’t hire lawyers to write copy.

 

Don Draper Tells It Like It Is. And So Should You.

It’s come to the point that I can’t turn on the TV anymore without feeling the need to talk back to the commercials. “No, drinking your product will not make me able to dunk a basketball!” or “IF YOUR PRICES ARE SO GOOD SHOULD’NT YOU BE SHARING THEM RATHER THAN JUST SCREAMING ABOUT THEIR GENERAL LOWNESS?”

Mad Men’s writers got it right, I think:

Peggy Olsen: [Presenting an idea to Don] We thought that Samsonite is this very rare element, this mythical substance, the hardest on earth, and we see and adventurer leaping through a cave…

Don Draper: Is this a substance much like bullsh*t?

Amen, fictional brother.

One reason the campaigns we develop for our clients have been so effective is that we don’t start by trying to create something that doesn’t exist. Our very first task is to take out the shovel and dig through the piles of marketing that have built up over time so we can uncover the true foundation of the brand.

Every great and lasting brand was built on a foundation of compelling truth.

If you’re not successful yet? Start digging until the BS is gone rather than trying to throw more crap at the problem hoping to cover it up.

If you are successful at selling a lie? I suppose you should enjoy it, because I don’t know when it’ll happen, but at some point you’re going to collapse. Count on it. BP, Madoff, and Enron all thought they could get away with it – as did countless others. And all of them eventually get proven wrong.

TrueTwit, Extortion & Other Synonyms

 

Posted by:
Tate Linden 

Getting those annoying TrueTwit validation messages from people you follow on Twitter? So am I. And I’m not happy about it. Read on to learn how TrueTwit’s leaders have created a league of unwitting sales zombies, and wasted over 80 years of human effort, while building a badly aligned brand.

While I must admit that the business model TrueTwit uses is brilliant, it’s also pretty damn creepy.

Here’s how it works.

  1. You click follow to track someone interesting on Twitter
  2. You immediately receive this direct message: “SoAndSo uses TrueTwit validation service. To validate click here: […]
  3. If you click the link soon after you get it you’ll be sent to a page with a huge 18 word ad for TrueTwit, followed by a paid Google ad, followed by a slim 32 words telling you how to validate, followed by 47 words telling you that if you inflict the service (for free!) on your own followers you’ll never see this annoying message again, followed by 70 words telling you how awesome their paid service is. Some paraphrasing may have occurred above, of course. Only then do you actually get to enter the two captcha words to prove you’re human.
  4. If you don’t click the message shortly after you receive it you may get the same two ads as above and a message saying “Sorry, but it appears the person you followed may no longer be following you.” That means that the user (or more likely TrueTwit) classified you as not worth following back. Opportunity to make a connection is lost.
I am not a subscriber of the service and I’m not willing to waste the time of my select few followers or my own money to try it out, so I don’t know every detail about how it works from the inside. And while the website has a FAQ sheet it doesn’t give the kinds of details I want to hear about. Honestly I don’t really have questions, though. They’re more a seething pile of visceral responses to the business practices I see being used by TrueTwit. Stuff like…
  1. By far the most egregious issue is that TrueTwit says it has the technology to automatically ensure that human users are identified and don’t need to go through the validation process at all. It’s a formula that the paying users are able to utilize. Fine. But for the non-paying users there is no legitimate ‘validation’ reason to make a human follower go through ten validations in a row to prove they’re human. The only reason to require it is to annoy the Hell out of the follower and get them to sign up and annoy others – or buy the service.
  2. While I do get Twitter spam occasionally, most spam I receive is from TrueTwit. And worse, it’s exactly the sort of bot spam that the service is supposed to prevent. If I want to get rid of it all I have to do is agree to do everything TrueTwit wants me to do or pay them money. Sounds an awful lot like a protection racket, since the only thing I’m trying to do is have them stop wasting my time – and potentially billable hours – to prove something they already know (see my first complaint) – that I’m human.
  3. By having the basic TrueTwit service automate the validation process via DMs it turns its non-paying users into the very bots that it claims it is trying to eliminate.
  4. TrueTwit isn’t a validation service at all. The DM spam sends the follower to a page with 32 words telling people how to validate buried on a page with three links to sign up for the service, a paid ad, and 135 words trying to get me to do something other than what the link said they were going to give me? Just counting the words alone that’s worse than a 4 to 1 ratio of advertising copy to information. TrueTwit isn’t in the validation business – it’s in the ad business.
  5. The basic service preys on selfish people who value their own time over the time of those who choose to follow them. They’re fed up with all the spam and shut it of for themselves, making the rest of their new followers similarly annoyed, spreading this time-wasting ad service like, sadly, a virus.
  6. TrueTwit admits that the service doesn’t actually stop human spammers – saying “If a spammer is human they will get through. The point of TrueTwit is to eliminate automated spam software from grabbing your attention.” Which is exactly what TrueTwit basic is doing to the world. Worse, all it takes is a human to click the link and validate so that their automatic tweets can hit your stream, so a human can dig through piles of TrueTwit DMs at about 15 seconds each to validate and then auto-spam at will.
  7. Want to break the system? Pay $20 and spam as a “validated” user. While TrueTwit can terminate a user for any reason, they don’t specify Twitter spam (only listing email) or unwanted DMs as a cause. And most of the limitations under “USER CONDUCT” as currently written only apply to international users. So if you’re American and want to send unlimited tweets without having to validate through the annoying TrueTwit service then you’re home free!
  8. As great as TrueTwit’s (Google owned) reCaptcha is, it has been hacked as recently as 2011, and has allowed bots to bypass the security check, so the whole thing is pretty much not as (overly) advertised.
TrueTwit turns its users into bots for no reason other than increasing its own advertising reach and increasing income. The validation it provides is intrusive, wasteful, and ineffective.
If they want to be useful I think there’s a simple fix. Stop spamming mandatory site links to everyone. Let some of the more advanced services trickle down to the free service and change how your validation works. How about:
  1. If someone has just validated on your site then let that validation stand for a period of time for all the people they follow – even if it’s just an hour that’s better than nothing. Perhaps let your validated and trusted users decide how long that period should be – give them a range and make it easy to find and adjust. After all – they’re human and your service is not.
  2. Once a Twitter account is validated within that specific time-frame you can have your auto-DM (still spam, mind you) indicate that the follow was approved by TrueTwit automatically and if they want to know more they can click the link. That turns you into a service rather than an obstacle.
  3. Consider using your algorithms to keep specific accounts validated for longer periods. New accounts may need to re-validate frequently, while established accounts with tens of thousands of followers and low spam profiles might only need validation once a week – or perhaps never.
The real reason this is so annoying for me is that it is an example of organizational leadership completely out of alignment. What they think, say, and do in the name of the organization is a mess.
TrueTwit says: “What if you could know for sure that your followers are truly human and not some cyborg?” But TrueTwit does: send cyborgian links to actual humans who universally don’t want them.
TrueTwit says: “Avoid Twitter spam” but does send the same Direct (DM) Twitter message advertising the TrueTwit service from multiple TrueTwit users to a single follower multiple times in a single day.
All of this makes it seem that the motivation (what TrueTwit thinks) is to get free advertising or lots of money – or both – by breaking the rules they say they enforce.
That’s not a recipe for long term success and respect. Unless you maybe the mob, in which case you are totally awesome and I have no complaints at all with your methods. (And it has just dawned on me that since there’s not a single indication of who runs the service on the website and no owner attribution on whois this could conceivably be run by them. So… apologies if that’s the case. I like my kneecaps and shall retract this post if that’s what it takes to keep them.)
I’ll share you with the saddest part of all. On the right side of TrueTwit’s Welcome Page there’s a statistics sheet that currently shows over 4.2 million verified followers. We’re looking at about a minute to read and digest the page copy and enter the Captcha codes – assuming we get them right the first time. If my math is right (and it probably isn’t) that’s more than 80 years of lost human effort. More than a literal lifetime wasted responding to an automated process that never had to happen in the first place.
It’s time to practice what you preach, TrueTwit. Stop causing the problem you say you’re here to solve. Trust us to willingly advertise services that we like instead of forcing your message down our throats with Sisyphean cyborgs.
Love the name, by the way. After looking into the organization in such detail I find it somewhat descriptive.

LEGO’s Beautiful Failure

Posted by:
Tate Linden

“When people look at LEGO, they see an innovative company; they’ve come to expect great things from it. So when LEGO put out its first official iPhone application, and people get excited, it just continues, and builds on, that brand affinity.” —  Jason Apaliski, Associate Creative Director, then from Pereira & O’Dell. Quoted in Communication Arts Interactive Annual 17.

It’s a nice sentiment, and an easily believed one, but I think it may be untrue. To build on brand affinity you have to connect with what makes the brand appealing, and with LEGO that’s more than just the look and sound of the blocks. With LEGO’s successful line of video games the look and sound of the blocks are an afterthought, not the reason for success. It’s the interactivity, nearly endless options, and creative play that take top billing. If they weren’t then the epitome of LEGO success would just be a bunch of randomly falling bricks on a screen. (I’m fairly certain a falling LEGO bricks app would not be particularly successful, but don’t quote me on that.)

Mr. Apaliski says, “Our challenge was to extend the brand to something that wasn’t just for creative people.” and the application (still available here for free) indeed gives non-creatives a chance to interact non-creatively with the visual and audible aspects of LEGO. The application lets you take pictures using the iPhone camera or images saved on the phone and convert them into flat LEGO images. It’s a nice way for people who already love LEGOs to bring that affinity with them.

But it doesn’t give you any of the joy of interacting with the LEGO brand if you aren’t already a fanatic.

I wonder what the team at LEGO believes is at the core of the brand. Here’s what a Google search turned up from fans and other folks around the Internets:

  • “[The] freedom to create and build”
  • “Being able to express something that I see in my head so that other people can see it”
  • “Combinability is the very essence of LEGO”
  • At the essence of LEGO are”products [that] can be assembled and re-assembled into something else: building blocks of the imagination
Those seem a lot closer than what LEGO’s own CEO came up with as related to the essence of LEGO:
  1. When it’s advertised, does it make a child say ‘I want this’?
  2. Once he opens the box, does it make him go ‘I want more of this’?
  3. One month later, does he come back to the toy, rebuild it and still play with it? Or does he put it on the shelf and forget about it?

To me what Jørgen Vig Knudstorp has identified isn’t the essence of LEGO at all. It would be at the core of any toy company trying to stay popular and relevant for the long term. He’s identified symptoms of having a great child-focused product that is advertised effectively, is collectible, and is addictive or multidimensional.  To Jørgen it seems that the essence of LEGO is exactly the same essence found in Barbie, G.I. Joe, Play-Doh, and Hot Wheels. Each of these brands has successfully advertised, up-sold, and addicted kids and adults around the globe using the formula. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just not different. And it’s not what truly attracts people to the toy.

There’s an essence beneath the advertising and playability that is missed. There’s something about structured but limitless creativity here that none of the other toys have. If LEGO’s leaders can’t define why people will select LEGO over the other iconic brands then they can’t work on making that aspect more visible and attractive. They won’t know what to put in front of the prospective user or buyer to make them want to play.

And that insight, folks, is what’s missing in the LEGO Photo app. It’s a beautiful idea, but entirely ineffective at getting anyone to buy more LEGOs. It absolutely deserves an award for visual creativity, but it doesn’t serve as a tangible business driver.

And it should have. And could have.

In the referenced article, Mr. Apaliski spoke of giving non-creative types the ability to use their ideas instead of their creativity. But any iPhone app that applies a filter to a photo does that. What LEGO brings to the table should be more tangible. LEGO’s product (and associated experience) crosses the line between imagination and reality with ease, but this app gives access to neither.

We already know that people can turn LEGOs into art – and folks like Sean Kenney do it for between $450 and $1695. So why wouldn’t we help someone with an iPhone do something similar but on a budget? Give people a way to transition from the virtual world to the real one – to embrace and share the possibilities that only LEGO can provide. How? Well, how about these for starters:

  1. A simple Email Me The Parts List button so the user could sort through their stash at home or bring it to the lego shop so they can build the picture themselves.
  2. Custom-packed and shipped Let Me LEGO Artwork boxes from LEGO.com that allow people to send a kit of custom parts and instructions (or perhaps without) for self-assembly. Maybe even include backing board and glue.
  3. For the creatively lazy you can have the high-end LEGO-Made Artwork for the sorts of prices Sean Kenney is charging – or allow him to fulfill for the brand. (Though at this level I’m fairly certain that some sort of human screening would be required or everyone will be asking for copyrighted works and naked people.)

Successfully executed that’s an app that’s not just a nifty advertisement to be tried and discarded by all but the most diehard fans, but creates an entirely new revenue stream, helps the product sell itself through viral distribution, and even off the walls of our living-rooms as well. Better still (for LEGO’s bottom line), once LEGOs are part of a glued piece of art it takes them out of circulation, meaning that if the buyers want to play with more they’ll have to buy more.

I’m pretty sure that the essence of LEGO is different for every user – and that’s the joy of the medium and maybe even the brand. It is what you make of it. And what you can make of it is constantly being pushed beyond what you thought possible. By creating an app that didn’t let us do or experience the one thing that LEGO encourages – the making - LEGO has failed (albeit beautifully) to deliver on the promise of the brand.

 

 

 



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