Tag: "quote"

The Thingnamer Sleeps With Clients?

No. I don’t.

But I’ve been asked if I do with some regularity, and while it’s all in fun (I hope,) I find that when I ask other creatives if they get similar lines of questioning their answer has always been something like, “No. But I gotta ask, dude…  ARE you?”

During the unveiling of a new ID kit for a husband and wife business team just this week I was again asked if I’d gotten a concept by sleeping with a spouse. And it was the wife asking if I was sleeping with her husband.

So, I’ve got that going for me.

Two things seem to consistently precipitate the question. First, we have a stable of improbably big clients that no one can figure out how we land. And second, our work tends to communicate an intimate understanding of our clients – as though we might’ve gotten the idea from pillow-talk.

Regarding our ability to land clients, I’m not sure exactly what Stokefire’s success rate is on pitches now, but I’m guessing it hovers around 80%. A couple years ago we were over 90%. But, as fun as sleeping my way to profits might be, I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot less successful using any organ other than my brain to close deals. Our secret is that we only go after projects and clients that we know (and can prove) we’re ideally suited for. Sure, we might win more business overall if we went after everything put in front of us, but the wasted strategic effort and insight is something that I can’t stomach. We put a huge amount of effort into our proposals, so I don’t like to see them go to waste.

As for sleeping with clients to get better creative concepts? I’ve never tried it. I get results by putting the client under seriously uncomfortable pressure while I’m building their brand. I challenge their stated beliefs and test their commitment to their principles. It’s like Seraph from The Matrix Reloaded said, “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.”  Every one of our break-out successes on behalf of clients has come from pushing past what they said they wanted to expose a deeper truth that they couldn’t previously express or were perhaps even trying to hide. We build the brand on that newly exposed, raw, and unchanging truth so that regardless of what challenges lay ahead for our clients, the brand’s foundation will remain strong and stable enough to surpass them.

Great branding work does require intimacy, but only in a pants-on kind of way.

So, no, I did not have sexual relations with that client.

Searching for Steve Jobs’s “Dent In The Universe.”

Posted by: Tate Linden

Did Jobs make a dent in the universe? Damned if I know. Frankly, I can’t find a place far enough back to see for sure.

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
– Attributed to Steve Jobs

Actually, Jobs probably didn’t say that. At least the real one didn’t. Noah Wylie said this exact line in The Pirates of Silicon Valley while playing Jobs in a made-for-TV movie. Martin Burke (the director of the movie) admitted that he never actually interviewed Jobs, though he did “have two or more sources that verify each scene” which means that all he knows is that something like that happened, but not what was really said. Even wikiquote lists it as unsourced.

Noted leadership expert (and author of Organizing Genius) Dr. Warren Bennis (or perhaps his coauthor, Patricia Ward Biederman) hedged, writing in 1996,

To echo Steve Jobs, whose Great Group at Apple created the Macintosh, each of these groups “put a dent in the universe.”

Dr. Bennis uses the phrase again twice in 1997 in the same interview with David Gergen in reference to the ideas discussed in Organizing Genius and in another interview in 1998 Dr. Bennis is back to loosely referencing Jobs’s denting.

Jump forward to 2001 and Philip Elmer-Dewitt also uses it twice in an article for Time Magazine:

He loved to tell his designers that the computer they were building — with its icons, its pull-down menus and its mouse — would not only change the world, but also “put a dent in the universe.”

In the future, says Levy, “we will cross the line between substance and cyberspace with increasing frequency, and think nothing of it.” That’s what Jobs would call a dent in the universe.

Upon his death we see the likes of Macworld and Discovery News cite the quote and reference a Time Magazine article that doesn’t say anything about the context or timing.

But it’s Playboy, of all the publishers in the world, that comes through  and actually finds Jobs’s dent under a pile of 15,000 words in an interview he gave way back in 1985. Jobs says,

At Apple, people are putting in 18-hour days. We attract a different type of person‐‑a person who doesn’t want to wait five or ten years to have someone take a giant risk on him or her. Someone who really wants to get in a little over his head and make a little dent in the universe.

So, while I can’t confirm that he made a dent in the universe, nor that Noah Wylie was quoting him directly with his often referenced script reading, it’s probably safe to assume that Jobs was at least thinking about the issues.

What bugs me more than the way this quote has grown from something he did say into something that he likely didn’t is the fact that he would think of it at all. For a man that smart and talented to choose a sledgehammer as his tool of choice seems… wrong. A dent gets stuffed with Bondo and buffed out. Pretty sure he didn’t actually want that to happen. Maybe I’ll look into it in my next post if there’s interest from the (possibly dented) world-at-large.


Do as I say…

“When in doubt, attribute quotes to Anonymous.” –Unknown

Three Steps to an Irresistible Brand

I know you may not think of Gandhi as irresistible, but bear with me. It’ll become clear shortly.

Irresistible… It may sound impossible, or at least too good to be true. And you’re not alone in thinking that, but the great brands do achieve the impossible. They get people to change behavior in much the same way that Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln put themselves on the line to create monumental societal change. If you want to create  real change there’s no more consistent way to get there.

And here are the basic steps you can follow to get there yourself:

Step One: Become Self Aware
Know your unwavering core motivation then unquestionably prove its truth.

Brand-building without understanding why your organization exists is pointless. Without self-awareness your time, money and energy spent on brand is just as likely to hurt as to help reach your goals. But you need to do more than just know what makes you different and communicate it. An irresistible brand proves that you’re different. To do that you must be able to communicate your difference in a way that lines up with your real-world performance – and sheds light on the fact that your organization ‘gets it’.

In Stokefire’s world of Gandhian brands, becoming self aware is the beginning of your Gandhian pyramid development. We’re looking to bring what you think, say and do (or in brand-speak, “what motivates you, what you communicate, and how you perform”) into harmony. Any brand that has a disconnect between those three elements is a brand that capable competition can destroy – even if the competition doesn’t have a strong brand.

Proving your brand true involves communicating your unique commitment or understanding of your industry or the change you represent in a way that cannot be easily undermined. A few examples of this that we can attest to include our work for an HR firm showing that it understands the core issue in human resources, a campaign for concrete that made people care about what roads are made of, and identity work for the US Department of Defense that enabled them to be perceived differently by our allies and enemies.

The result of those campaigns? The HR firm became one of the fastest growing firms in its industry and region; the concrete industry’s single-market test campaign earned over $57 million in new transportation project, and DARPA reclaimed its rightful place at the head of military technology.

Step Two: Gain Perspective
Understand how your motivation relates to the core motivation of your competitors and of your target audience.

Perspective doesn’t come easy to people passionate about their cause. You do what you do because you’re invested in it and believe in it, so putting that aside and seeing where you’re weak and where your competitors are strong isn’t comfortable and can makes you feel fragile. The key is to understand and address the weaknesses before a brand launches and harden your identity against competitive threats or alternative solutions your audience may consider.

The perspective you need is that of your target audience, competitors and a sense of the environment at large. While you can begin to define your core identity in a vacuum, in order to refine it you’ll have to see how what you think, say, and do relates to what your customers and competitors are saying and doing – and what that might indicate about their motivations.

A brand can become a powerful tool that helps people rediscover their own core motivations and can create a wedge between their past and future actions. Those actions can relate to which products are bought or whether we believe (for instance) that slavery or oppression is just. It can even become a part of how an individual, competitor or era defines itself. In our own era we’ve seen technology brands uncover truths about thinking differently and coffee stores that can enhance one’s perceived station in life.

But these brands and those movements behind the ending of oppression didn’t just have a spiffy logo and slogan. They had enormous requirements in terms of infrastructure to create a lasting identity with consistent performance. They needed execution.

Step Three: Deliver Consistently
Deliver messaging and infrastructure that uses your proven identity as a lever to change the behavior of your target audience and competitors.

Even with an apparently compelling brand identity, if the mechanism to keep all the parts of the brand (messaging, performance, intent) doesn’t run consistently then the brand falls apart. This is why BP’s brand is so reviled – because they chose to brand themselves as “beyond petroleum” when they were still 95% invested in oil, and for the discord evident in the company’s response to their environmental disaster and their supposed commitment to being green. Any perceived disconnect between intent, message, and performance is an opening for your competition.

Infrastructure can be comprised of anything from consistently materials in support of your cause, or the people, processes and relationships that enable you to get your message out through every channel quickly and effectively. For every situation the infrastructure is going to be different, though you may find it helpful to look at the top players in your industry to see what they’re doing to stay at the top. Your infrastructure must work at least as well as theirs – and in some cases your infrastructure might be called upon to tear theirs down.

An excellent example of this in practice is Newt Gingrich’s disbanding of both the congressional Republican Study Committee and its counterpart on the Democratic side as unnecessary after ensuring that non-profit entities had been established to provide the needed research for the Republicans. The Democratic Party’s lack of external infrastructure to develop and communicate the brand and platform has been seen by many inside and outside the Party as a major weakness, and has allowed Republicans to pick off candidates one by one rather than having to take on a unified movement.

And A Warning: It’s Not For Everyone
It’s for the greatest of challenges.

At the start of this post I mentioned three great leaders. While they all to a large extent had their goals realized, none of them lived to enjoy the world that this enabled the rest of us to experience. Creating a truly irresistible brand takes courage. You must take big risks to achieve the biggest rewards.

Apple didn’t become the most prosperous technology firm in history by following the path of others. It did it by staying true to its core, understanding the motivation (rather than opinions) of its audience and consistently delivering products and services that connect the two over time.

Brand irresistibility takes more than courage. It takes a worthy cause – and people who are willing to take risks to move the cause forward.  Looking at America today there are dozens of movements that could benefit from taking these steps, but few that are going to do it. The Occupy movement has such potential, but without a core identity (other than “we’re not going to take it anymore!”) and without an understanding of how they are perceived from the outside (as extremists and anarchists rather than those that have had their jobs and homes taken from them) there’s no chance for infrastructure and consistency to develop and move the cause forward.

If you have any ideas about what brands or causes are likely to be taking the three steps to irresistibility in 2012 let me know. I’d love to look into them or discuss them in a post.

The Difference Between Good Designers and Great Designers

Posted by Tate Linden


Are you a good designer or a great designer?

No… Wait. Don’t answer that until you get to the end.

There seems to be a common belief that any designer can become great if they just work hard enough on their technique. Most of our design schools are built on this very premise. And of course there’s Tippy the Turtle who remains infamous (long after most have forgotten what art program he represented) because many bought into it.

I don’t believe it.

I find that in most of the interviews I’ve had with design school grads and even journeyman art directors, their big moment seems to be when they show me their mad skillz when it comes to using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Or maybe it’s their charcoal technique. They’re usually truly excellent at one of these, mind you, so they’re justified in bragging a bit.

But none that went this route got a job offer, because in our world that’s not what commercial design is about.

Of course a designer must ensure that their design is strong technically before it goes into production. That’s a given. But isn’t it more important that the design is strong conceptually before advancing beyond sketch stage? A designer who doesn’t understand how to read a creative brief and develop a concept that not only fits within it, but can expand or enhance the effectiveness of the entire campaign or brand identity? Well.. that’s a designer that doesn’t work here.

And a designer that can’t stand up for what matters (at least once) with a client, creative director, or professor? You’re probably not seen as a designer, you’re seen as a tool. Most likely a paintbrush, but if you have other definitions that fit, maybe try ’em on for size.

Pay attention to how your peers, bosses, and clients discuss your work… I’m betting that what’s true here at Stokefire may be true elsewhere:

Good designers are praised for their technique, great designers for their impact.

So, which are you? And how do you know?

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.

It has to do this, and this, and this, and this, and…

Let’s hear it for home pages.

A while back we were reviewing the existing home page for a prospective client and I asked what the purpose of the page was.  His response was that it had to make all the points necessary to attract the interest of anyone who could possibly become a client.  The number of points?  Well… the page had about a dozen.

If you’re reading this and you are a branding professional you probably just imploded.

For me the implosion somehow immediately resulted in my thinking of an obscure animated film by the similarly obscure Harry Nilsson.  One quote in particular came to mind:

“A point in every direction is the same as no point at all.”

The story is about a round-headed boy in a world where by law everyone and everything had to have a physical point.  And thus everyone else has pointy heads except him.

Yes, it’s a little odd.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

Perhaps unintentionally, the quote exposes a truth about developing a compelling identity.  If you try to be appealing to everyone you end up being completely unremarkable.  Physically speaking you become indistinct, smooth, and forgettable.  Anything on which people could focus just becomes a blur.  The moment you pick a direction and go (thus establishing your point) both you and the people you hope to attract can begin relating to each other.

I said “unintentionally” because as it turns out, Nilsson came up with this whole concept in a way that didn’t have much to do with branding. Here’s what he said about how he came up with the concept:

I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all
came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses
came to point. I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it
doesn’t, then there’s a point to it.'”


Say “no” to drugs, kids.

Two Quotes from Spinal Tap

You might not intuitively understand why we’d post quotes from Spinal Tap on the Thingnamer blog… but maybe this will help:

Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest): “And then, we looked at each other and said…”
David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean): “Said, look, why not?”
Nigel: “…we might as well join up. You know?”
David: “So, we became the Originals.”
Nigel: “Right.”
David: “And, uh, we had to change our name, actually.”
Nigel: “Well, there was another group, in the east end, called the Originals and we had to rename ourselves.”
David: “the New Originals.”
Nigel: “the New Originals.”
David: “Yeah.”
Nigel: “And they became…”
David: “…the Regulars.
They changed their name back to the Regulars. And we thought we could
go back to the Originals, but what’s the point?”

Who knew that two fake rock stars could say something that would actually give intelligent business-people a lesson in naming.  The lesson?  Do some research! 

A good number of people who approach us have found out too late that the name they’ve selected is actually owned by someone else.  (It can cost a heckuva lot of money to undo a name.)  We come in and help them do it right…

We love our jobs because we get to save a whole lot of people a whole lot of trouble.

Which leads to the second quote…

Derek: “We’re lucky.”
David: “Yeah.”
Derek: “I mean, people should be envying us. You know?”
David: “I envy us.”
Derek: “Yeah.”
David: “I do.”
Derek: “Me too.”

Amen, brothers.


Little Quote in Associations Now Magazine

I almost missed it …  Page 110 of Associations Now (published by ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership) has a short statement from me in response to the question “What is your most important key to success as a consultant to associations and nonprofits?”

My dollop of wisdom:

“Getting the senior-most decision makers in the room.  Any rebranding without senior representation will be derailed at the last minute. Every. Single. Time.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

(And I didn’t.)

I love the fact that everyone else interviewed provided quotes that make themselves look caring, smart, and insightful.  Me?  I’m cold, pragmatic, and I can’t. Use. Punctuation. Correctly.

Rock on!

What’s the Big Deal About Simplicity and Names? The Second Criterion.

This post examines another criterion (following yesterday’s post on distinctiveness) commonly cited as a goal for organizational, product, or service naming: Simplicity. We’re told that to be great a name must be simple… but we’re rarely told why.  We’ll take a quick look and see if its actually worthwhile.

You’ve probably heard or read it dozens of times… Perhaps even hundreds.

Einstein said it best:

“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to
make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible
without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single
datum of experience.”

Hmm… maybe Einstein didn’t say it best.

An editor or copywriter of his seems to have improved upon it a bit:

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Still not quite right, though, is it?  Engineers working on the Apollo program said it even better:

“Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

If Einstein himself couldn’t get simplicity right then how can any of us mortals be expected to do it?  And when Einstein got it wrong it’s not like people ignored him, is it?  They just kept working with it until it worked out…

Of course, none of these statements actually say anything about why stupid people (or anyone for that matter) should keep things simple.  So – I aim to fill in that gap – at least as it pertains to naming.

Why does simple work for naming?  Two reasons:

  1. People have a limited amount of attentional capacity.  Simple stuff requires less attention to notice than does complex stuff.  Things that are overly complex or involved just get ignored by our minds to preserve our sanity.  Consider this: You may notice the beautiful color of the buds on a blossoming dogwood tree (simple) but you would never stand there to count them all up and see if the number of blossoms had something to do with how beautiful it was (complex.)  Sure, someone might do this – but not your average consumer or viewer of dogwood trees.  If something is too complex it will be screened out – basically unseen and unprocessed by our minds.  If your name gets screened out for being too complex (like your typical five word non-profit association name) it’s as good as not being seen at all.
  2. People remember simple things easier than they remember the hard stuff.  Remembering the lines of a musical staff is hard (EGDBF).  Remembering “Every good boy does fine” is easy.  Simplicity is a significant key to being remembered once a name is noticed.  Simple means easy to understand and process.  This can be via mnemonics, rhyming or other tools that assist us in the processing and storing of this information.  I’ve never bought a “Pooper Scooper” for my dog, but after having seen it once I’m unable to forget the name.  If I had to send someone out to buy one I’d reference it by name and if they were on the aisle it’d be the one purchased.

As with distinction, simplicity is not a goal in itself – but a way to get other desirable goals.

Simplicity gets you noticed, getting noticed is a requirement to making the sale.  (You can’t buy a product you don’t see.)

Simplicity gets you remembered, getting remembered builds familiarity, familiarity reduces the barriers to making the sale.  (You can’t ask for a product when you don’t remember its name.)

Last example – When I give speeches and talks I often ask what the best car in the world is.  People list about a dozen models from Ferrari to Honda.  When I ask who makes the safest car?  Almost unanimous – Volvo.  They stick with a simple message and become inseparable from the word.  That’s powerful – I can think of no other brand that would bring the same word to mind for 95% of the populace.

The power of simplicity is the power to break through barriers and screens.  Simplicity gets you further into mental processing than any other criterion.

In this Thingnamer’s view simplicity is indeed a desirable measurement
criterion.   In fact, I can’t think of a single complex name that I
like.  Though it’s only a sample of one, I’d wager a lot of us only
have place in our minds for the simply expressed names and brands.

How about you?

Subscribe to our newsletter »