Mini Marketing Moment: ‘Templating’

Say you’ve just created a powerful campaign to market a complex product (a car, for example, or a real estate development). Then, a couple of key people on the business are transferred onto another account, or they move to another company.

A year later, you’re called upon to market a similar product. If you’re like most of us, you start again from scratch, with a foggy recollection of what worked and what didn’t.

Templating is a an easy, highly effective solution to this problem.

I just helped one of my clients template their entire sales and marketing program. This isn’t the same as laying out templates of ads: rather, it’s templating all the elements of the brand that need to be ‘nailed’ prior to talking tactics; templating the questions you need to ask to establish the buyer personas; templating the buyer stages; and, of course, templating the specific marketing tactics you used.

Creating this sort of template ensures a consistent approach to your marketing and communications, without stifling anyone’s creativity. What’s more, it adds a valuable asset to your company – something that investors down the road might find extremely attractive!

Check out this video to see how it’s done.


As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create an unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY Course – available now.

How to stand out as a solopreneur

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of solopreneurs on the importance of standing out from the competition – and how to do just that with a powerful Unique Selling Proposition.

Luckily, we recorded the talk, so I can share the learnings with you now. Enjoy!

What you’ll hear

How to build a simple SWDIDA to state your Unique Selling Proposition.

The components of a Unique Selling Proposition.

How to conduct research on your Unique Selling Proposition.

The importance of creating a base proposition, with extenders.

Why you should check out investor decks (and in particular this one) to get tips on what belongs in an Unique Selling Proposition.

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create an unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY Course – available now.

Mini Marketing Moment: ‘Just Do Something’

Today, choosing how to effectively communicate can feel like drinking from a firehose. There are simply too many platforms for marketing your message. More often than not, the overabundance of choice makes us catatonic, unable to take any steps because we don’t know which step to take first.

If you feel stuck in this situation, this Mini Marketing Moment story might be just what you need.

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create an unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY Course – available now.

Using Creative Dissonance to Build Surprising Brands

A great brand can be the culmination of a single minded vision. But in my experience, the best, most surprising brands come about by bringing together two conflicting forces – matter and antimatter, as it were – and using their dissonant energy to create a greater new entity.

I’m living this creative dissonance with one of my clients, a developer of ‘new villages’ that combine cutting edge thinking and the sentimentality of Norman Rockwell settings. It’s something I’ve seen again and again in my sustainability brand projects. I know this dissonance leads to incredible creativity and freshness. Here’s how to make it work for you.

feel the cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is, by definition, the discomfort that comes from holding two contradictory thoughts, beliefs or attitudes at the same time. Belief in an almighty god, and belief in being in charge of your own destiny, for example.

While cognitive dissonance has fuelled the careers of philosophers since time immemorial, it often leads to overthinking, and trying to distort one thought to accommodate the other. What usually ensues is a muddled mess.

Feel the cognitive dissonance wash over you. Embrace it as a feeling that fires creativity, not as two conflicting ideas that need to be harmoniously brought together.

Contrast that with the work of director David Lynch in Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet is set against a utopian backdrop – lawns that are greener than green, milkmen smiling as they deliver their bottles. But the undercurrent is twisted evil, personified by a particularly demented Dennis Hopper. One of the things that makes this movie great is that Lynch simply puts this twisted dissonance out there for our entertainment. What ensues is an unforgettable cinematic experience.

My conclusion? Feeling the tension of two conflicting ideas or beliefs is a good thing. It’s a tension that makes us uncomfortable, and forces us to see reality in a new way. Revel in that feeling, instead of trying to wrestle the ideas into harmony.

Steampunk your brand thinking

“Steampunk is modern technology – iPads, computers, robotics, air travel—powered by steam and set in the 1800’s.” I found that wonderful quote on a site aptly named the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.

Steampunk is all about bringing together our infatuation with shiny, new, cutting edge thinking with the romance of Victorian or Wild West tech. What comes out is fascinating art, wondrous contraptions, and unbridled creativity.

Steampunk is a wonderful example of what happens when you embrace dissonance and use it to fuel creative thinking.

The underlying principle of steampunk is to go against conventions of how something should look and work. That’s where the ‘punk’ part comes in, challenging us to throw off the shackles of status quo thinking and adopt a ‘what if…’ attitude.

How could steampunk thinking change how your product is built, or how it’s presented to the public as a brand? Can you embrace both the reality of your product and how it might be transformed by overlaying dissonant influences? What would your brand be if you gave it to a futurist from the 1800s like Jules Verne?

celebrate your consumer’s idiosyncrasies

In the brand project I mentioned at the start of this story, I talked about how we’re bringing together cutting edge sustainability and ‘new village’ thinking with the sentimental feel of old towns.

Truth is, our target audience have absolutely no compunction bringing together these dissonant elements in their minds. In fact, they’d welcome seeing the two together.

Your audience would probably embrace your brand’s creative dissonance without batting an eye. In fact, they’d be fascinated by the cross pollination.

All too often, we believe we need to be pure in our approach. If something is new, we need to dress it in the trappings of the new. That’s boring, constricted thinking.

Far more creative (and memorable) is to create the equivalent of an old hot rod with an electric motor. Do they belong together? No. Do they work together? Brilliantly. Would our audience accept them together? They’d probably be fascinated by the cross pollination.

So let the dissonance begin. Your brand will be better for it.

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create an unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY Course – available now.

BrandDIY 4: From Unique Selling Proposition to Unique Ownable Speciality

Over the course of the last three BrandDIY posts (you can check them out here, here and here) we’ve done some heavy lifting. Specifically, we’ve figured out what you think your brand does better than any of your competitors, and what your fans think you do better.

Now, we bring everything together like chocolate and peanut butter – first, as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), then as your Unique Ownable Speciality.

Your BRAND’S unique selling proposition

Al Ries and Jack Trout introduced the concept of a Unique Selling Proposition to the world in their seminal book Positioning. But the best book on the subject I’ve found is Bill Schley’s Why Johnny Can’t Brand.

I love WJCB because it lays out the USP in a simple, commonsense way that flows logically from your insights on what you do best, and what your fans think you do best.

In fact, it reduces it to two simple sentences:

My brand does (blankety blank) better than any other brand in the world, because (reason one), (reason two) and (maybe even reason three).

This is supremely important to (the specific consumer niche I’m targeting) because (consumer need one), (consumer need two) and (hey, maybe consumer need three).

Let’s fill in the blanks using Apple because, well, pretty much everybody gets Apple.

Apple enables your creativity better than any other computer, because it’s easy to use, it has more built-in creativity-enhancing features, and its interface is designed for people who want to express themselves creatively.

This is important to people who want to use their computer as a creative tool, because they feel the need to express themselves digitally, and they believe technology is currently hindering them in that.

Your USP should state what you do best – and more importantly – why that actually matters to people.

So sit back, and think about your brand. Can you craft a unique selling proposition that makes your point of difference / superiority that simple?

Better yet, can you craft four or five of these unique selling proposition statements, then sniff test them with your stakeholders?

Your unique ownable speciality

There’s a wonderful little story in WJCB that illustrates the Unique Ownable Speciality beautifully.

The original tire manufacturer owned the category of car tires because, well, he was the only one making car tires. 

Of course, as cars caught on, multiple competitors entered the tire space. So did our original manufacturer get out? No. He simply found a sub-category he could own. Say, truck tires. And again, he became the sole supplier. 

Unfortunately, as trucks caught on, the market again became crowded. But this time, our clever original manufacturer decided to simply carve off a section of the truck tire market for himself. Say, the longest-lasting truck tire. Once again, he became the sole supplier. 

Again and again, this happened. And each time, our clever original supplier became #1 in a smaller, but incredibly lucrative subcategory.

Now, I hear you saying, don’t you eventually end up becoming the owner of a hopelessly small niche? Not necessarily. Think of the new Alfa Romeo SUV. It can’t own the category SUV. It can’t own luxury SUV. But it can own luxury SUV with Italian flair. In doing so, it also opens up an entirely new market – people who love Italian flair and have been utterly disappointed with milquetoast SUVs to this point.

Owning a tight niche market is far more lucrative than being a me-too in a large, diluted market.

Here’s the counterpoint to the too tight niche argument. If you don’t want to be number one in a tightly defined niche, what’s the alternative? To be number three or four in a larger category. To which I say:

Name me the number three cola.

Can’t do it, can you.

That’s because we only have room in our heads for one number one. We barely have space for number two. Number three, forget it.

We only have room in our heads for one number one brand. Being number two is as good as being invisible.

Being any number except number one is as good as being invisible.

start crafting

It’s time to start crafting your Unique Ownable Speciality. Try it using this progression:

I make (product / service). I make an SUV, for example.

I make (adjective)+(product / service). I make a luxury SUV, for example. 

I make (adjective)+(adjective)+(product/service). I make a luxury SUV with Italian flair, for example. 

You’ll know you’ve arrived at a good Unique Ownable Speciality when you can say with confidence that you’re the only brand that offers what you offer, and that this offering is relevant to the fans that love you most.

With a good Unique Ownable Speciality, other elements of a great brand become apparent. Your name, your tagline, your story, and a visual that encapsulates what you do. But that’s for our next blog posts. Stay tuned!

a bit of history on branddiy

I’ve been helping clients build powerful brands for over 25 years. Today, more than ever, entrepreneurs with small-to-medium sized businesses are on the rise – we live in a startup world.  As a consequence, I’m seeing a greater need to help clients help themselves. That is, DIY their brand.

With that in mind, I launched the BrandDIY Playbook late 2016. The Playbook takes you through the step-by-step process I follow when I’m building brands. It works.

But a Playbook is all about instruction, not motivation. Sometimes, we just need a little one-on-one encouragement to keep us moving forward. That’s why I just launched the BrandDIY Course. The course is broken into 10 interactive units. Each unit includes an introductory video, an instruction session I narrate, a workbook, and an open invitation to share in a private BrandDIY Forum. Check it out!

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

What Bill Bernbach would say about data-driven marketing.

I love tech. Most of my clients are launching or growing the next generation of wizardry that will make the world a better, more facile, happier place. My job is to tell audiences exactly what it is my tech clients are doing, and why that’s worthwhile, in language simple enough for all to understand.

Being up to my eyeballs in tech, I’m exposed daily to an inundation of data-driven marketing. It truly is amazing that I can track the success of any piece of advertising down to the verb. I can tell you who’s clicking, who’s buying, when, where, how much, and even why. To a creative director who has spent much of his career guided by the crude tools of 20th-century research (focus groups and shopper intercepts, for anyone who wants an unpleasant blast from the past), data-driven marketing is a great leap forward.

Except that it isn’t.

Deep in my core, I believe that the art of persuasion is being lost in the rush forward. The pendulum is swinging hard in the direction of technique, away from art. Content is filler that drives people, like lab rats,  through the funnel to the orange buy button. Where’s the fun in that, for ad consumers and ad creators?

Of course, we’ve been here before. As revolutionary as this all feels, the uneasy balance of technology and art in commerce is as old as the hills.

As revolutionary as data-driven marketing feels, the tension between tech and art is as old as the hills.

Last night, I cracked open an amazing book called ‘The Real Mad Men’ by Andrew Cracknell, one of the best copywriters ever to have graced the business. The book launches with a letter from ad legend, founder of DDB Advertising and the primary driver of the Creative Revolution in 20th-century advertising, Bill Bernbach.

This letter, written by Bernbach to his bosses at Grey Advertising in 1947, bemoans the fact that the business of persuasion is losing its soul – and its power – because it’s being driven by ‘technicians’. Turns out, this letter had the same impact on his bosses as most great office memos have – zero. Luckily for all of us, Bill Bernbach took Grey’s lack of action as an impetus to start his own agency.

I wanted to reprint Bill Bernbach’s letter here, as a reminder to all of us enthralled by the power of tech in marketing, that we should step carefully, lest we trample one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal…art.

Without further ado, here’s Bill Bernbach’s letter:

May 15, 1947 –

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damn worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begins to set in.

I’m worried that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance…that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities…

There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately, they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you the greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.

In the past year I must have interviewed about eighty people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique.

But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God. 

…look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness…a mediocrity of ideas. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.

All this is not to say that technique is unimportant. Superior technical skill will make a good man better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability.

The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising. The danger lies int he natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.

If we are to advance, we must emerge as a distinctive personality. We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.


Bill Bernbach 

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create an unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY Course – available now.

Instead of selling cereal, OWN cereal.

Yesterday, I had a terrific conversation with Spring Advertising founder and Creative Director Rob Schlyecher.

Like myself, Rob believes the classic ad agency model is flawed. His ‘a-ha’ moment came when he created a  campaign that enabled his clients to sell their company for millions – while Spring was paid a nominal (in hindsight) fee.

That got Rob scratching his head and wondering how he could avoid this sort of conundrum in the future. His solution? Create products, instead of just selling them for others.

Sure, other agencies have done it. But most of them have failed, because they don’t get the entrepreneurial (vs service industry) mindset.

Spring seems to be charting a course for success in innovation. Their first product, Poop Like A Champion cereal, is selling out.

If you’d like to get in on Rob’s secret, listen in to our conversation here.

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s DIY Brand Build Guide – available now.

The Matchmaker for Better Brand Agency Relationships

The world of brands – like the world in general – is becoming more complex.

Where the rule was once to find an ‘integrated’ agency capable of handling all your brand needs, the mood today is shifting toward finding a raft of specialized shops, then ‘conducting’ them like a symphony.

AgencySparks was launched to meet the corresponding need for hyperspecialized matchmaking. Founder and CEO Joe Koufman joined me in a conversation on the shifting priorities of brands, the willingness of big brands to trade the stability of one agency for the greater performance of many smaller shops working together, and how to make this all work – both logistically and in the presence of competing egos. Check out our conversation here.

Wanted: Curators

Although he acknowledged AgencySparks bore some similarity to recruiters and headhunters, Koufman pointed out that strong curation was a value-add that was still rare among older, more established competitors. “It’s moved far beyond just teaming brands with specialized agencies. You need to make sure everyone is playing in harmony with one another.”

Instead of having agencies try to steal each other’s share, he believes the mindset needs to be about growing the business so all could profit. “There’s definitely a karma economy at play here. We need to make sure everyone understands there more upside to working together, than in undermining and grabbing someone else’s business.”

This sensibility seems to be on the rise societally, with the movement to a sharing economy. Morphing the agency model toward profitable sharing seems inevitable. Having spent a great deal of my career inside agencies, however, I’m certain it won’t come without bumps.

Virtual talent

One issue with specialized agencies is size – generally, they’re smaller and scattered across the continent.

Not a problem, according to Koufman. “Most brands are unperturbed about geography. As it’s become easier to work virtually, the need to find face-to-face talent has decreased.”

Indeed, the upside of finding great, specialized partners who can deliver stellar results far outweighs the challenge of creating an uncomplicated single agency relationship.

Is it easy? By no means. But is it worth it?

To this question, Koufman had a great answer from Teddy Roosevelt

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s DIY Brand Build Guide – available now.



Bootstrap Marketing and the Beautiful Idea

Bootstrap Marketing and the Beautiful Idea is one of the keynote addresses I give on a regular basis. It resonates particularly well with startup audiences – although I’ve seen a fair number of big brand marketers in my audiences as well. Apparently, stretching your marketing budget with highly creative, low cost ideas has universal appeal.

The reason I’m bringing up this keynote now? I just received a wonderful graphic rendering of my speech’s content from Deborah LeFrank, graphic journalist and owner of Visual Life Stories, who heard me give the talk at the SOHO conference a few months back. I wanted to share the graphic with you, recommend Deborah’s services and – as an added bonus – provide you with a manuscript of the actual speech. Enjoy!

here’s the picture

Marc Stoiber_SOHO_Bootstrap marketing and beautiful idea

and here are the words

Here’s my favorite bootstrap marketing story.

An acquaintance of mine was a top-notch creative director at Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis, one of the best ad agencies in America. He had just retired when I met him on a consulting project.

In addition to consulting, he told me, he also took on pet projects. One of those projects was to help his young son-in-law get a new business off the ground.

The son-in-law’s business was dog treats. He had figured out how to make dog treats that were healthy, and that dogs preferred over just about anything.

The company was called Scaredy Cat. Because, after all, dogs love a Scaredy Cat. It was a great name.

Scaredy Cat Dog Treats was a classic start up. The son-in-law bootstrapped everything.

He mixed the ingredients himself, baked them in the family oven himself, then bagged and delivered them to local stores…himself.

He asked his father-in-law, my friend, how he could do some bootstrap marketing. No budget, big impact. How hard could it be?

My friend, who had created multi-million dollar ad campaigns that earned his clients billions, took up the challenge. And started thinking about it.

A few days later, driving home, my friend and his son-in-law saw an old, beat up courier van for sale. One of those big ones that look like rolling billboards. This one had broken windows, no engine. It was basically scrap metal.

My friend said buy it. Couple hundred bucks. Price was right.

Buy it? Why? The son-in-law didn’t have any money to spend, least of all on an old, broken down van. My friend just said… trust me.

They took the van home, and together, painted it jet black. Then they painted a bunch of yellow cartoon dogs on the side that looked like they were jumping up right over the driver’s head. The same sort of dogs that were on each package of Scaredy Cats treats.

Next, my friend got a fishing pole, and on the end of the pole, he hung a stuffed cat. One of those fluffy toys that kids love to snuggle with.

He stuck the fishing pole on the front of the hood, so it looked like the cartoon dogs were jumping up over the driver to get to the little kitty hanging from the pole. A bit like the old joke about hanging a carrot in front of the horse.

Final touch? They wrote Scaredy Cats Dog Treats on the side. And their phone number.

It looked great. But this was the 1990’s, when camera phones didn’t exist – let alone Instagram or Facebook. To the son-in-law, it looked like a great idea that would pass in the night, unnoticed by all except a few amused neighbors.

A waste of his $0 marketing budget.

But my friend wasn’t done. He said “Let’s tow it down to the local radio station.” Once there, they parked it outside the front door. And left.

A couple of days later, they got the call. “Do you guys own this van with the cat on the fishing pole?” the voice said. It was the radio station.

The son-in-law explained the story behind the van, and told the station what Scaredy Cats treats were. The guy at the station thought the company was pretty cool, and the stunt was funny, to boot. So he asked if the son-in-law would like to come by and talk to the DJ’s about it, on the air.

They set up a day, and the son-in-law asked that every dog owner at the station bring their pet that day. When he showed up with an armful of treats, everyone’s dog went nuts. The DJ’s loved the story. They all had a great time on the air, talking about the van, the treats, how great dogs are, and this great local business.

Well, after that success, my friend and his son-in-law did it again. And again. Radio stations. TV stations. Newspapers. When they’d hit every media outlet in town, they drove to the next town, and did it all over.

Sales began to grow. Soon, Scaredy Cat dog treats were outselling every other dog treat in their state, including national brands with multi-million dollar ad budgets.

All for the price of one broken down van.


There are so many things to love about this story. The van, the cat on the pole, the media attention, the success.

What I love most about it, though, is that it’s not really a bootstrap marketing story at all. It’s just a story about a great idea, executed really well.

At it’s core, it’s a brilliant brand idea. Hometown boy makes great product for dog lovers who have a sense of humor.

It had a great insight into the target market. I’m a dog owner. I know dog owners love dogs that scare cats. Even though sometimes, in polite company, we don’t admit it. It’s a guilty pleasure.

It was a great creative execution. And it had great media placement. Right outside the media’s front door, in fact.

My point is, if you start with a great brand idea, you understand your audience, you do a great creative execution, and you have great media placement, you win. Bootstrap or not.

This is fundamental stuff. Unfortunately, though, I think too many of us today look right past the fundamentals.


We’re living in times where you can shortcut everything.

A friend of mine, Jason, is the creative director of Doner Advertising in LA. He works with a lot of what he calls Yuc’ies. Young urban creatives. He said to me they all want to be Disney moguls like Hannah Montana or iCarly. Actors, singers, clothing designers. TV hosts, loving children, CEO’s. They want it all, they want it now, and they don’t really want to hear about the craft and work it takes to get there.

He contrasts this with the heroes we saw in the 1980s. Rocky comes to mind. An underdog who worked really, really hard on one thing, and got his shot at greatness that way.

That’s not so interesting to Yuc’ies. And, ironically, thanks to technology, they don’t have to focus on one thing. Or even focus on sticking to anything in particular for any length of time. They can create a professional sounding song on their laptop. Shoot a movie. Do a multimedia ad campaign for pretty much zero dollars.

They don’t do a good job of it. The results may be OK, but certainly not immortal.

But in a world where attention span has gone the way of the dodo, they…can…do…it.

Same goes for bootstrap marketing. Google it, and you get hundreds of hints on how to market your company for almost nothing…right now. Here’s some of the ideas I found on page one of Google.

  • Build your email list
  • Optimize your conversion
  • Get your SEO right, and your Pay-Per-Click
  • Write blogs
  • Organize a flash mob
  • Send press releases
  • Build a list of prospects
  • Network

These aren’t ideas. They’re tactics. And if I put my experienced creative director hat on, they’re not particularly inspiring tactics either.

If you have a non-idea, and you send it out over email, or write it in a blog, or send it in a press release, it will flop. No matter if you get the SEO right, no matter if you optimize for conversion, no matter if you A/B test.

But if you look around, 99% of the noise we see on the internet is just that. Non-ideas mass-communicated.

But what do we say when we put a non-idea out into the world and it falls flat as a pancake? ‘Fast fail’. Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided it’s sexy to fail, and fail, and fail again. When never think any deeper than that.

Failing has become too easy. It’s a bit like writing ad copy on a computer, as opposed to the old fashioned pencil and eraser way. With a pencil and eraser, you know it’s hard to erase, so you think about what you’re going to write.  On a computer, you can delete…instantly. So you type more, faster, with less thought. I’m not sure that’s better.

Failing has also become synonymous with painless. Our production and online media are free. You screw up, you haven’t lost any money.

Or have you?

This little bit of free marketing ended up costing Kenneth Cole millions.

This nice little online campaign got American Apparel in the news, in all the wrong ways.

And here’s a great example of using technology to respond to your customers. Big time and money saver, that one.


So what’s my answer?

It’s simple. Stop. Stop and think about the problem sitting right in front of you.

Albert Einstein was asked what he would do if the world was coming to an end in an hour. How would he solve that problem? He famously replied that he’d spend 59 minutes thinking about the problem, and one minute creating the solution.

My friend, the Scaredy Cats fellow, didn’t just pop out an idea to his son-in-law. He thought about it for a few days before deciding on what to do.

When I say stop and think, I also mean turn off the computer.

John Cleese famously said “We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops.”

That’s how I think you come up with brilliant bootstrap marketing.


I mentioned at the beginning that it would be a shame to think of Scaredy Cats as just bootstrap marketing. It was brilliant marketing. It had everything a brilliant marketing campaign needs:

  1. A great brand idea
  2. A great insight into the target audience
  3. A great creative execution
  4. And great media placement.

I’m going to show you other bootstrap marketing ideas that really nail these four things.

Take a look at this. Big company, sure, but this ad cost nothing. Thanks to social media, it’s been seen by millions. Behind it all, there’s a great brand idea. Slim-Fast is a wonderful way to lose weight on the go.

Now if you stop to think about it, there must be a million places on the go where you could get this message out.

Slim-Fast thought of that. Here’s another piece they did.

What I love is that they took a simple idea – great weight loss on the go – and through exaggeration, made it hilarious. You’re allowed to do that in marketing.

What about this one? Calgary Farmer’s Market hung these apples from trees in the middle of winter with little tags saying ‘Fresh All Winter’. I’m sure the folks at the farmer’s market used that line when they were talking about what their brand represented. Fresh all winter is not a clever ad line. By exaggerating it, though, it becomes a brilliant bootstrap marketing idea.

And another one. The brand idea – it’s easy to transport yourself somewhere else with this travel magazine. Add a little exaggeration, a little mixed media,  and bingo, you have a viral campaign.


So those are great brand ideas.

What about the second part of the equation: understanding your audience?

In the Scaredy Cats example, my friend knew that dog owners think Scaredy Cats – the real, live ones – are pretty funny. Even if they won’t say so in polite company. Because at the root of it all, as the book says, Cat Spelled Backwards doesn’t spell God.  Dogs are better than cats, so making fun of cats is fair game.

Here’s another great example of understanding your audience.

I can remember back when there were only two options for getting rid of junk. Take it to the dump yourself, or go through the yellow pages and hire a couple of shady characters to move it.

Brian Scudamore turned the whole business upside down with 1-800-Got-Junk. And a big part of his success, right from day one, was his truck billboards.

Not only were they parked everywhere. But they were clean. And they stuck a phone number in your head.

In other words, they knew that I didn’t know how to get rid of my junk. And I needed to be reminded on my way home. In a way I could remember without trying to scribble something down while I was driving.

Here’s another great example. Based on the simple insight that we all hate baggage handlers.

And another great example, this one from my friends at Rethink. This one deserves a bit of explanation. See the 3M logo? You’d think it was 3M that did the ad. It wasn’t. It was a small local dealer of film that you applied to windows to make them shatterproof. He didn’t have any budget.

Now you see the bus shelter? Bus shelters are expensive. What you don’t see is that there was only one bus shelter in this media buy. Right in front of Rethink’s office.

What they did was cover the bus shelter ad window with this special film. Then they put money inside. Real bills on top, fake ones underneath. I know, I asked them.

Then, they told the journalists.

The stunt made national news. And if you think about it, it’s all based on the simplest guy insight. If you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to do it.

By the way, nobody broke the glass.


Now let’s finish off by talking about a great execution, and a great media placement. In the context of bootstrap marketing, they’re kinda the same thing. Because often, your medium IS your execution.

Like here. A bit of paint that washes off in the rain, a nice ribbed grating, and a camera phone. Nothing fancy, but a great way to really get the product benefit across to millions of people on the internet.

Here’s another one. This one makes the Slim-Fast can ad look positively big budget. A barbecue fork, a stencil and paint, and a great eye for stuff that looks like beat up barbecue grills.

When it comes to bootstrap marketing executions, that is often the mark of a great one. Finding something that looks like something else, but that nobody takes the time to notice.

Walk stripes look like French fries.

Bus straps look like watch straps.

A pizza box looks like a mouth. I can’t believe this hasn’t been done for shark week.

A door knob looks like a…well, anyways. You get the point.


The thing is, I could go on all day about how much I love bootstrap marketing. In a country where 99% of the employers are small businesses, I think bootstrap marketing is the only marketing that makes any sense.

I know it’s easy to do a terrible job of it. But if you get back to the fundamentals, understand your brand, understand your audience, and use the world around you as a canvas for a great creative execution, you’ll do great things.

Now, I’m going to end on a challenge. I have 10 copies of my book that I’ll sign and send to the first 10 brilliant bootstrap marketing ideas I see coming from you. Do them, take a picture of them, and send me the photo.

There you go. Now get bootstrapping.

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Will enlightened consumers stop buying your brand?

Brands were created to make us happy – for a fleeting moment, at any rate. After that moment passed, they trained us to be dissatisfied until we hit the ‘buy’ button again.

This cycle of desire, fulfillment and dissatisfaction worked beautifully in our economy, built as it was on the concept of planned obsolescence.

But lately, something strange has been happening.

Blame it on sustainability or internet-induced transparency. Blame it on people getting fed up with feeling compelled to buy more on smaller paychecks. Blame it on enlightenment.

Today, people want to be makers, or they want to enjoy experiences. Buying new shiny things is starting to look less, well, shiny.

In this context, I wanted to introduce you to John Habibi.

John caught my eye because his business was teaching tech entrepreneurs to close more deals and take more time off. As I spend considerable time with tech entrepreneurs, this promise seemed like the holy grail. Intoxicating, and unreachable.

When I dug a bit deeper, it turned out John was helping many of these entrepreneurs discover happiness through mindfulness and spirituality through meditation. Again, a concept that seemed incongruent with my impression of the average alpha tech entrepreneur.

John and I have had a number of conversations on his practice, and how our yearning for something ‘more’ than material success is changing the face of our society. As a brand specialist, I dug into his thoughts on how mindfulness could destroy brands, or reshape them.

If you’d like to hear the conversation, press play below. If you’d simply like the Coles Notes version, I’ve summarized some of the highlights for you. Either way, enjoy!


Habibi said key to attaining happiness was being aware of living in the present. Easy to say, hard to do.

“Society has trained our brains to think in terms of the past or the future. Brands do this by constantly promising happiness just ahead. What’s interesting is if we can discover mindfulness, and use it to find happiness in the moment.”

Not surprisingly, this isn’t easy when you’re dealing with tech entrepreneurs. As Habibi said, men are generally wired to be more goal and action oriented – always striving for more. And men comprise the overwhelming majority of tech entrepreneurs.

“I teach them that happiness is a process – like a marriage. The point is enjoying the results every day, at multiple levels. Happiness comes not from trying to make your marriage better tomorrow, but in making it better moment by moment. To be a happy entrepreneur, you need to figure out how to treat your job the same way.”

This concept is also core to brand thinking. We have created a linear approach to consumption – desire, buy, use, discard. The results have been environmentally disastrous, and haven’t made us very happy in the process.


Habibi believes this linear approach to consumption is coming to a close.

“Most tech guys are just passionate about what they do. But some of them are coming around to the idea of a circular world. In the same way, authors like Peter Diamantis have shown that we live in a world of abundance – ruling out the brand-centric concept of linear consumption and scarcity.”

According to Diamantis, ‘exponential’ technology unleashes new thinking and ways of getting things done. At this stage, the technology is monetized as it is taken to market. If successful, it creates a wealth of new products at progressively lower prices, until those products are given away – completely demonetized.

Where does this leave brands?

Look at the trajectory of demonetization. Through exponential technology – and our search for happiness beyond consumption – we discover that money cannot buy us spiritual happiness. What we discover all around us (again through technology) is a growing movement toward mindful living. For free.

So where do brands go as we happiness becomes demonetized? That’s the big question.

Habibi believes looking at our current reality and fixating on that to determine the future is like looking in the rearview mirror to drive. Pointless and dangerous.

However, there are some signs of brands in transition as we move toward demonetization.


The ultimate experience is created from the inside out. We need to find happiness inside, not in the world around us.

Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign is a good example of this. The athletic equipment manufacturer asserts that we already have everything we need inside us. All Nike wants to do is join us on the journey.

This is a wonderful example of a brand that understands how people on the road to mindfulness think.  The further they get from their personal essence, the less happy they’re going to be. The closer they get, the happier.

Rather than signalling doom for brands, Habibi thinks it will be a motherlode of creativity. “If a brand person has to imagine creating a product for people who don’t need products to be happy, imagine the new avenues they could explore!”

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Has advertising lost its focus on innovation?

Leading North American advertising agencies used to be headed by creatives and innovators. Today, managers and accountants hold the reins. The result? Less focus on innovation, and more on efficiency and maintaining revenue.

This has created a crisis in confidence in the sector, with vital young talent pursuing their passion in sectors like tech.

Andrew Carty’s agency Send+Receive is rethinking the role of agencies, and changing a number of accepted practices to put the focus back where it belongs. Crafting great ideas.

Carty’s agency is also re-emphasizing the importance of selling, striving to achieve outcomes that should make any client CFO smile.

Andrew joined me for a lively discussion where we covered these issues, and more.

You can check out the actual interview by pressing play. Or skip ahead to the highlights that follow. Enjoy!

listen to the podcast

Has advertising lost its way?

Advertising is the business of selling things. We are vital cogs in the machine of capitalism. And while the bloom may have gone off the capitalist rose,  it remains our most effective tool for creating outcomes we all desire – comfort, wealth and security.

Carty feels advertisers have grown bored with selling, chasing more ethereal, complex measures of success instead. Driving impressions, creating engagement… everything but sales. This could be a direct outcome of an hourly billing structure, which tends to encourage adding non-essentials to justify more work. Or it could simply be the result of sales becoming disassociated from marketing – a trend that could put advertising agencies in serious jeopardy.

Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs. As Carty says “Our job is to get to the heart of what makes a product special and figure out how to sell that. It’s simple. And, I believe, endlessly exciting.”


Post-recession, consumers may have less money, but large companies and brands are sitting on unprecedented wealth. How do advertisers get them to unlock the war chest?

According to Carty, it isn’t by doing defensive, status quo work.  “We aren’t in the maintenance business – we’re in the creation business. But the creative modus operandi contradicts the status quo mandate of holding companies and shareholders. Risky, bold work is, by its nature, well, risky. Unfortunately, timidity has become the new normal. What client would pay vast sums of money for work that, at best, maintains market share?”

Consumer insights vs product stories

Carty bemoans the sameness of most advertising. While he does point the finger at the ‘status quo mentality’, he also sees another fundamental fault in the system – consumer insight driven research. “We’ve come to believe that ads should cater to consumer needs. This completely de-emphasizes the awesome stories products have to tell. I believe if you start by unearthing the magic of the product, then go to consumer, you create much more original, impactful advertising.”

the way forward

Carty’s agency Send+Receive was created to answer to rapidly shifting client priorities. “We haven’t seen the agency model fundamentally change in 50 years, despite the last half century being one of unprecedented change and innovation.”

Carty points out simple fixes like moving to an outcome-based fee as progress. He also emphasizes the importance of building an agency that’s small and nimble, without the burdens of network overhead inflating client costs.

Ultimately, it’s about getting to better results, faster. A mantra of modern capitalism. And, with any luck, a breath of fresh air for ad agencies.

Want a brand that thrives into the future? Learn to decode happiness today.

Brands sell happiness. And, of course, brands sell perennial unhappiness.

They’re two sides of the same coin – on the one hand, we promise consumers that their next purchase will make them happy. And as soon as they’ve made the purchase, we tell them they need to update to the latest model / version / colour to truly be happy. It’s sad, but this method of selling planned obsolescence is a reality of 20th century marketing.

Until now.

Consumers are getting wise to marketers’ superficial promises of happiness through consumption. They’re beginning to understand that happiness without consumption isn’t just possible, but natural.

How will brands survive?

To decode happiness from a brand perspective, I brought aboard author and psychologist John Marshall Roberts. Check out our lively discussion below!

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Culture and the Futureproof Brand

Culture is a word everyone in the corporate world uses, but few understand. What we do know is that companies with strong cultures outperform their rivals in everything from customer engagement to employee retention. Culture works.

So how do you ‘get culture’? David Reeve, author of Unleash Culture, has made corporate culture his career. He’s won 45 major awards for helping companies reboot and upgrade their culture, counselled companies from startup to Fortune 500, and made the workplace a happier place for thousands of us.

I spoke with David on how to develop a corporate culture, the impact it can have, and how strong culture translates into a powerful brand.

Enjoy the interview!

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Cleantech marketers, simplify your pitch!

Cleantech Canada asked me to write a series of op-ed pieces on effectively branding technology. This story describes how to make your pitch simpler, and more compelling. Enjoy!

Are you a digital slave?

In this podcast, I brainstorm with behavioral psychologist John Marshall Roberts on the causes of our dependence on our digital devices, what that means for brands, and how we can break free. Enjoy!

How to create an effective personal pitch

The global economy is turbulent, and not getting any better. Jobs are changing, jobs are being lost, people are striking out in new directions.

In an atmosphere like this, one of your most valuable assets is the story you tell. Your vision of the future, your path, and your adventures along the way – if you can bring these elements together, you can capture your listener’s ear and make yourself unique.

I published Why You Need a Personal Pitch on Linkedin today. The uptake was phenomenal. Think this one struck a nerve.

Take a look, and tell me what you think. And if you like it, please make sure to pass it along.

Futureproof brand predictions for 2016

In my final episode of the Ian Jessop show for 2015, Ian and I explore which brands will thrive, and which will dive in 2016. Enjoy the fun!