A couple of weeks ago, I had a minor car accident. Someone ran a stop sign and plowed into my left front bumper. Luckily, neither I nor the other driver was injured.
As a marketing professional, I was immediately intrigued and a bit surprised. I’ve often heard (and even used) the phrase, “Your direct mail piece needs to stand out in a crowded mailbox.” And, yes, several of the envelopes I received stood out. One envelope was bright yellow. Another was red. One was thick, oversized and expensive. Several of the envelopes had the words “free gift” printed on the outside. There was one postcard (for a quick read), offering me a free biscuit if I acted today. The senders were mostly attorneys, chiropractors and auto body shops.
But, none of these envelopes or messages stood out in my mailbox.
Why? Because they all arrived on the same day. All thirteen were crammed into my small mailbox on the same day. My first reaction, since I had to work very hard to extract them from my tiny, overstuffed box, was to toss them all out immediately. They were creased, folded, torn and tattered. Instead, I decided to try to learn something from the experience of being on the receiving end of 13 simultaneous direct marketing campaigns.
Sure, a colorful envelope, a clever message, a free gift, even a biscuit might sway some to act. But, did any of the business owners consider timing? In this case, being there first was akin to not being there at all. I have to admit that I did not open a single envelope.
I wonder … If I had received a single direct mail envelope the following day, would I have opened it? Probably.
How would you have responded in a similar scenario? I’d love to hear your impressions.
As a musician, I get this question often: ”Who is your favorite composer?”
Without hesitation, my answer, for as long as I can remember, has been and forever will be, the great German Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). For me, there are many reasons why.
Bach’s music moves me like no other. Though challenging to play, his music is filled with pure joy. Understanding the music of Bach is a lifelong pursuit. Never static, each time I hear or play a work by Bach, I hear something new. Bach’s complex layers are constantly revealing themselves to the focused listener or student. My list could go on and on.
In addition to all of these attributes that I attach to Bach, I am convinced that Bach embraced principles of design thinking throughout his musical career. For instance:
Bach combined the analytical with the intuitive. He coupled research (listening and learning from others) with his amazing intuition, moving things forward by imagining new possibilities. Bach was a master at synthesizing past, present and future into nearly everything he wrote. Even his staunchly well-loved B Minor Mass is now believed by many to have been somewhat of an exercise that Bach used to convey his latest musical discoveries.
Bach employed iterative prototyping. Bach would often reuse his own earlier compositions, revising and improving them. He regularly created three or four versions of a single cantata movement. Referred to as parody in the classical music realm, Bach would re-work a movement from a harpsichord concerto into a cantata movement or parody a minuet from a Brandenburg Concerto in a chorale.
Bach took inspiration from a broad range of experiences and cultures. As a young man of only 20, Bach supposedly walked more than 200 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the older, well-established organist and composer, Dietrich Buxtehude, play. Surely, ideas generated by this experience worked themselves into his music. Bach incorporated a variety of music styles from throughout Europe into his works. For example, Bach composed each of the four movements in his Partita for Unaccompanied Flute in a popular dance style of the day with German, Italian, French and English styles all represented.
Bach co-created with others. Bach knew he couldn’t go it alone. He regularly looked to others for inspiration and new ideas. One of his most frequent collaborators was the librettist, Picander. Together, they created a large volume of cantatas and other works including, most notably, the St. Matthew Passion.
Bach regularly embraced constraint as a source of creativity. Probably the most famous example of this is The Musical Offering, inarguably one of Bach’s most striking works. In 1747, upon a visit to the palace of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, the aging Bach was challenged to improvise on a difficult theme given to him by the king, himself a formidable composer. On the spot, Bach improvised a complex fugue at the keyboard. Within two months following his visit, Bach completed The Musical Offering, based entirely on Frederick’s theme. The piece was immediately printed and presented with a dedication to the king.
Bach wrote music for the people. He composed music for the enjoyment of the listener. In Bach’s words, music was “for the recreation of the mind…” Bach’s music can sound simple and elegant, yet beneath the surface exists a highly detailed system of counterpoint and fugue. In addition to his responsibilities as church organist and Kapellmeister (chapel master), Bach directed a Collegium Musicum off and on during his tenure in Leipzig. Actually founded by Telemann, this group of amateur and semi-professional musicians met for informal music making at the coffee-house of Gottfried Zimmermann. Through these performances, Bach was able to hone his skills in writing for a secular audience while giving the people of Leipzig exposure to music outside of the typical church setting. Read A Rollicking Bach Time Is Had By All in today’s New York Times for a modern-day reference to these coffee-house performances.
When we think of early examples of design thinkers, the first person often cited is inventor, Thomas Edison. Yet more than a century before Edison was born, Bach composed a set of 15 keyboard pieces in two contrapuntal parts and termed them inventions. I’m convinced that we can all learn more about design thinking by studying Bach and listening to anything from his large output of work, be it his cantatas, oratorios, solo partitas, concertos and yes, his inventions.
Let me know what names you’d add to a list of early design thinkers.
On a recent trip to Paris, I decided to take in an opera performance at the Palais Garnier. I’ve enjoyed many opera performances throughout my lifetime, including two in Paris, but this was to be my first at the Garnier, the opulent Beaux-Arts masterpiece designed by Charles Garnier as part of the great reconstruction of Paris during the Second Empire of Napoleon III.
In advance, I noted that a French Baroque opera, Hippolyte et Aricie by Jean-Philippe Rameau was programmed one evening during my stay. I had always wanted to attend a live performance of a Rameau opera.
My expectations were high.
The curtain was to be at 7:30pm. I decided to swing by the box office midday to purchase a ticket. I was traveling alone, so I thought there was a good chance that a single ticket was still available. I exited the Metro at the Opera stop and the view of the Palais Garnier nearly took my breath away. After climbing the steps past hundreds of seated spectators who were enjoying an outdoor rock concert (go figure!), I entered the grand lobby. Again, the beauty took my breath away!
I stopped at the information desk to inquire about ticket availability for that evening. Although the box office was closed for lunch (silly me — I was in France, after all!), the gracious, articulate woman at the desk assured me that I would have no problem purchasing a ticket at the door, one hour before the curtain.
Some may have regarded this as a wasted trip. For me, however, the stop only whetted my appetite further for an evening filled with music, dance and beauty. Anticipation is a lovely thing.
After an afternoon of walking, sightseeing and visiting a friend, I returned to the Garnier just as the box office was opening for the evening. The line was long.
When I finally reached the ticket window, I asked to purchase one ticket. Although the performance was nearly sold out, I intuitively knew that I had a good chance of securing a single seat.
The box office representative’s first question to me (in perfect English, by the way) was, “Would you prefer a really lousy seat or a really great seat?” What a question!
My answer? “I would like to purchase a seat with an unobstructed view, s’il vous plais.”
So, I was told that there was one “great” seat left. It was in a box on the mezzanine level. All of the other seats in that box were taken. The price was more than I had ever paid for a musical performance of any kind, anywhere in my entire life!
After pondering a few moments and despite the painful conversion from Euros to dollars, I said, “d‘accord” and handed over my credit card.
My expectations climbed higher.
After enjoying an aperitif at the brasserie across the street, I walked back to the Garnier, ticket in hand. I climbed the stairs to the entry doors. I savored that grand entryway for the third time that day, then took the curving staircase up to the mezzanine level. My night at Opera Garnier had finally begun.
The young usher showed me to the box where my seat was located. There were eight movable seats in the box, seven of which were already taken. My seat was actually a backless stool at the rear of the box.
I wanted to settle in and read the program book I had purchased on my way in, but I found my seat very uncomfortable. In addition, no matter how I tried to rearrange its placement, I was unable to get more than just a sliver of a view of the stage. The stage was very close, but the tall patrons in front of me were obstructing my view. I tried moving my stool all the way to one side of the back of the box only to find that my view was then fully obstructed by the wall of the box.
Then the overture began. As a musician myself, I enjoy the opportunity to watch the musicians in a pit orchestra. I could see none of them. I could just barely make out the fact that the conductor was a woman.
When the curtain opened and the action began, my disappointment mounted. I could see only about a quarter of the actual stage. When the action was toward the wings, I could see nothing. Furthermore, I could see none of the projected supertitles.
So, I could not watch the musicians. I could see a quarter of the action and none of the translations. I tried to sit back, close my eyes and just listen to the music, but I wanted to savor the entire spectacle that evening. I wanted to understand the story that was unfolding on stage. I wanted to see the expressions on the faces of the singers. I expected no less than the complete opera experience!
As the first act ensued, my dissatisfaction escalated. I literally spent most of that first act deciding whether to leave and go back to my hotel room, unfulfilled and unhappy only two days into my vacation. What I decided, instead, was to find the usher who had seated me, communicate my dissatisfaction and ask for a refund.
I quietly left the box. There was the usher who had seated me. I started with, “I am unhappy with my seat.” She said that she couldn’t help me. The hall was completely sold out. I asked if the box office was still open and she said, “No, but they wouldn’t help you anyway. No refunds. No exchanges.”
Next, I walked down to that gorgeous entry lobby. I’m sure I was frowning. A young man approached me. He may have been the house manager. He asked me what the problem was. I said that although I had never left an opera performance early in my entire life, I was so unhappy with my seat that I found it impossible to enjoy the performance. He looked at my ticket stub and said, “This is one of the best seats in the house.” Obviously, my expectations were higher than his.
He then had me follow him back up to the mezzanine level. He said that he was going to take a look at my seat and see what could be done to improve upon my experience.
Just as we got there, a man and a woman left one of the center boxes. The manager asked me to wait a moment while he went to appease the other couple. A discussion followed; I could not hear the conversation. The couple then left the hall completely. I wondered what their complaint had been.
The house manager then had me follow him to the center box where there were now two empty seats in the front row. I took one. The other one remained empty the entire evening.
My experience was now so different! No obstructions. No need to crane my neck. I had a clear view of the entire stage, the orchestra and the supertitles. I was able to quickly get back to the story line of the opera and salvage the entire evening!
After the final curtain (and multiple curtain calls by the incredible cast), I exited the box and walked down those lovely stairs once again. I spotted the house manager and thanked him for saving my evening. As it turned out, the wife of the other couple had felt ill and she and her husband decided to forfeit their tickets and go home. With an otherwise sold out hall, the house manager quickly seized the opportunity to, as he put it, “make a good memory of Paris for me.”
In retrospect, I wonder:
Were my expectations set too high? By me and/or the box office staff?
Had the box office representative ever sat in the house and witnessed a performance?
For that matter, had the ushers and house manager ever done so?
Was I a victim of price gouging?
What was the cost of the seat I actually sat in?
I cannot help but feel that there are several lessons here:
Lesson #1: Be careful when setting expectations for your customers.
Lesson #2: Remember to “Think like a customer.” Make sure you and your staff periodically experience the purchasing process from start to finish. And, don’t stop there. Take yourself through the entire user experience once in a while.
Lesson #3: Train and empower your employees to make wise customer service decisions on their own.
What do you think? What were other learning moments from my night at the opera?
It was an honor to present the North Carolina screening premiere of Design & Thinking documentary in Greensboro on Monday, June 4. Sponsored by Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels and Syngenta, the event took place in the Hawkins Brown Room at the elegant O. Henry Hotel.
The evening began with drinks and networking as guests began to gather. By 7:15 pm, the approximately 35 guests had arrived and seated themselves at tables facing the upcoming action. Attendees included designers of all ilks, university types, marketing professionals, artists, musicians, architects, scientists, corporate managers, small business owners and non-profit leaders from throughout the North Carolina Piedmont Triad area.
As co-host and designer/owner of Cochran Creative Group, I was pleased to make a few opening remarks. They included:
I first heard the term ‘Design Thinking’ perhaps 4 or 5 years ago. As a designer, I was immediately intrigued. I took it upon myself to read everything I could find on the subject. Then, in late 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Design Thinking in Toronto. Over the course of 2 days there, I heard many proponents of design thinking share their thoughts. The standout for me was a keynote by Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto. (You’ll hear from him in this film.) I felt as if Roger looked right at me in the audience that day and said (about himself, of course), “I’m a designer. I don’t design things. I design ideas.” I felt that statement described me, as well. That one statement gave me a new-found confidence around what I do for a living.
The documentary you’re about to see, Design & Thinking, is a production of One Time Studio, consisting of a group of 4 young Taiwanese designers who met at the Taipei Design Center U.S. in San Francisco. They were interested in the topic of design thinking and the challenges of blending their various expertise and cross-cultural perspectives.
One Time Studio raised all of the funds to produce the film via KickStarter, the online funding platform for creative projects. I was curious, so I got online and looked at the pledge history for this project. Pledges started at a mere $1, with the majority of backers pledging between $15 and $30. They surpassed their funding goal.
Design & Thinking had its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival on April 28. Subsequent screenings have taken place in New York City, Dallas, Phoenix and Singapore. An internal screening took place at Google headquarters last week. I’m designing the T-shirt now: New York…Mountain View…Greensboro!
Next, I introduced Bill Knowles, head of Learning & Development at Syngenta, North America. Bill talked a bit about his experience with design thinking, having visited IDEO and worked with the Kelley brothers and Tim Brown. Bill described how he and colleague, Uri Hess, developed a course on design thinking that they deliver, globally, to Syngenta employees. The course is a component of Syngenta’s Breakthrough Innovation (BTI) course. Bill suggested that we take notes during the film, recording new ideas and concepts that we may be able to apply to our own work.
We then screened Design & Thinking. When the closing credits rolled by 75 minutes later, the entire room broke into spontaneous applause.
Bill encouraged each table to take about 10 minutes to discuss their impressions and share ideas. Later, he polled the tables and asked each group to share an idea or two that they could immediately take back to their work tomorrow. Lively discussions followed with many people making immediate connections on some of the design thinking concepts addressed in the film. Attendees left with new-found inspiration and an eagerness to learn more about design thinking. Each guest received a copy of the Design & Thinking Resource List we had compiled in advance. You can download it here.
Each day since the screening, I’ve been deluged with positive comments about the event and stories of how participants are already applying design thinking concepts to their work. We hope to host a follow-up event soon in affiliation with Idea Network, an informal group I founded in 2010.
Here are a few of the many excellent quotes from the all-star cast of thought leaders interviewed in the film:
“Design is a participatory sport.”
“It’s not about the brief. It’s about what happens after the brief.”
“You have to do in order to know.”
“When design is reduced to a formula, we lose something.”
“In an ambiguous problem, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“Design thinking is liberating.”
“Think crazy. Think wild.”
And, here’s an excerpt from today’s edition of Syngenta’s Connections newsletter, where the screening event is mentioned:
This week, a movie premiered in Greensboro, N.C., after receiving accolades at the recent Newport Beach Film Festival in California. How did Greensboro become the location for such an exciting event? Because of the influence of Bill Knowles, head, Learning and Development North America. The movie was titled Design and Thinking and was a documentary about a concept called ‘design thinking.’
“Design thinking is something I’ve been teaching at Syngenta and outside our organization for the last several years,” Bill shares. “It juxtaposes with innovation by bringing intuition together with analytical thought. It means going beyond what is and looking at what could be.”
When Bill heard about the film Design and Thinking, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to introduce the concept to other prominent businesses and universities in Greensboro.
Please feel free to add your comments here if you attended the June 4 event. If you have questions on how to bring a design thinking event to your organization, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, I was exiting one of my favorite coffee shops after enjoying my Saturday morning cup. I tend to linger longer on Saturdays.
Just for the record, I drive a metallic blue Honda Accord.
As I was leaving the shop, I was reading an incoming text message on my smart phone. Since I was focused on my phone display, I wasn’t looking at my car. But, I knew the general direction in which I had parked.
As I approached my car and pressed the “unlock” button on my remote, I noticed that there was a half-used legal pad sitting on the back seat. My first thought was, “How did that get back there? I never use the back seat and, by the way, I don’t use legal pads (well, not in public, anyway).
Then came the a ha. This wasn’t my car. Mine was parked in the same overall position, just one row over.
My first instinct was to feel embarrassed. Who saw me? Did the owner of the “other” car think I was trying to steal something? Who was having a good laugh at my expense?
As I unlocked my car door, hopped in and sped away, I had a good laugh at my mistake.
Then, another a ha. This was my Saturday branding lesson. Thank you, Honda.
The “other” car I tried to enter was also a Honda. Not an Accord, but a Civic. Not metallic blue, but metallic gray, and probably the same model year as mine.
It dawned on me that this was branding at its best. Even though I wasn’t focused on the cars in the lot, out of a tiny little corner of my eye, subliminally even, I had shown my brand loyalty to Honda. I didn’t walk up to a Toyota or a Mazda or a Nissan and make this mistake. My eyes took me to a Honda, albeit not my Honda.
Was it the color similarity that fooled me? Was it that I sometimes park in that exact parking space (the one where the Civic was) many a Saturday morning? Was it the overall design of the car that I recognized? Did I unknowingly glance at the Honda logo and gravitate towards it?
It was probably a combination of all of these factors (and probably some I haven’t even thought of yet) that attracted me to the Civic. All in all, it was an interesting branding case study. This Accord is only the second Honda I’ve owned in my lifetime. Oh, but I did receive a telemarketing call from Honda this week. Scary, huh?
Pity I can’t time travel back to notice whether there were other Honda models in the same general area of the parking lot. Or notice if there were other cars the same color as mine. Or any of a myriad other factors which may have affected my choice of the gray metallic Civic.
I’d love to know what you make of my branding experience. Please comment and let me know what factors I’ve overlooked in my analysis.
P.S. Thank you, Honda, for the interesting study in branding and brand loyalty. And, by the way, I love my Accord. Keep up the good work.
Today, effective marketing is more about brains than it is about budget. Whether you’re a start-up or an established company, you’ve no excuse not to jump into the fray. Here are 4 quick steps to finding your marketing sweet spot:
- Prototype like crazy. Faster experiments mean better results.
- Measure, but don’t over-measure. Use your gut, too.
- Re-tool and correct. Adaptability is key.
The bottom line? Just get started. Today’s pace doesn’t allow for stragglers.
- brand loyalty
- customer service
- design thinking
- Direct Mail
- employee engagement
- Online Marketing
- return on social investment
- setting expectations
- social marketing
- social media
- user experience
- website design