strategic thinking

Are you a strategic thinker?

Advertising, like other industries, is plagued with business speak. One word, that is often overused, is “strategy.” We see it in titles such as “Global Strategic Marketing Director.” We use it to describe a process or an output of a process, for instance, “2013 Strategic Plan.” But what does it really mean to be strategic?

I’ve had this conversation with several colleagues and mentors throughout my career. Can strategic thinking be taught or are certain people more strategic in their thinking by nature? First, let’s look at what it means to be strategic. The dictionary defines strategy(ic) as: a plan, method or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result: a strategy for getting ahead in the world. Stratagems being defined as: a plan, scheme or trick for surprising or deceiving an enemy or to gain an advantage over an adversary or competitor. This makes perfect sense for our world since we’re always coming up with “strategies” to gain market share or build market share within a competitive set.

What does it mean to be a strategic thinker? I’ve observed a few qualities and behaviors in people that are considered, and have demonstrated, great strategic thinking. Here are a few of those observations:

  1. They’re not afraid of a blank page. These are people who can formulate an opinion, a direction, a unique thought and not just react to one already created. They’re not lazy thinkers, but people who are willing to stand for a position and the effort it takes to get there.
  2. They can see patterns form a variety of different data sources. Strategy requires lots of input. Gathering input is easy; compiling that data into meaningful patterns that form a predictable conclusion is another.
  3. They call upon equal levels of past experience and gut. Part of their input for decisions is their past experience (and patterns within their experience) and also the confidence of trusting their own abilities to create the right direction.
  4. They demonstrate empathy. They know how to put themselves in the mind of a consumer, an influencer, a channel partner, etc. and understand the emotional reasons for decision-making.

You don’t have to be a general or a CEO to demonstrate strategic thinking. Most of us are presented with opportunities daily. The question to ask is, “Are you up to the challenge?”


A cute sheep

What one man’s forbidden love for a sheep taught me about being a good creative.

A couple of months ago, Gene Wilder taught me about love. It happened somewhere between midnight and 2 am.

To be clear, I’m not a huge Gene Wilder fan. His Richard Pryor/Blazing Saddles/Willy Wonka peak coincided with my domination of the Weisser Park Elementary spelling bee, grades K through 4. So let’s just say I was busy and leave it at that. But in theory, I’ve always liked the funny man with the melancholy face, which is why I watched his biopic instead of going to sleep.

And that’s when he blew my mind.

If you’ve seen Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (thank you, Internet), you know where I’m headed. In the film, Gene Wilder becomes infatuated with a very pretty sheep. And this is where things get interesting. Because Wilder knew making their romance funny meant taking their romance seriously. So he set about getting lovesick. For livestock. For real.

He spent his time off-camera with the two animals who played his love interest, until he could differentiate between the actor sheep, Daisy, and her stunt double. Daisy, he saw, had the prettier eyes. Her lashes were longer and swept over her fuzzy cheek just so. He noticed the sweetness of her temper and the fineness of her coat – so much softer than that other sheep’s. In short, he found concrete reasons to be unreasonably in love.

Which is basically what I try to do for clients and consumers every day.

The thing about working in an ad agency – the thing people who don’t work in an ad agency don’t see – is that it’s not all cars and beer and mobile phones. Sexy products with sexy budgets sold by sexy, sexy people. Boring things need ad agencies too. Like mutual funds. Cotton swabs. And that stuff they put in cereal to give it more fiber.

Fiber is not sexy. But you can love it a little bit. And if you’re a creative, you have to.

As that other great barnyardian, the chicken, has shown us, love trumps every rational argument. And it’s the first step to having a great idea, a solid campaign, a compelling message, a memorable ad, and just maybe, a loyal customer. Because I have absolutely no hope of making perfect strangers feel something real about where they buy their shoes, or download their music, or caramel machiatto their latte if I don’t feel something myself.

And that makes falling a little bit in love an essential part of a creative’s – wait, scratch that—an agency’s process. Call it good messaging strategy if you like. But commit to finding what’s loveable about a brand (not hard to do when you’re working with a company for good), and consumers will feel it too.

By the time that movie wrapped, I bet Gene Wilder would have leapt up in defense of Daisy’s honor. With the same fervency shown by iPhone devotees today, when confronted by a shiny new Galaxy S4.

That’s love for you. It’s irrational. But it’s real.


moose image

Where’s the moose? The real and the unexpected in social marketing

We at KW2 do a lot of work with state government on issues ranging from public health to highway safety to nutrition.

This brings a special set of challenges – layered approvals, budget restrictions, large committee involvement – totally understandable, given the public dollars supporting the outreach. But in the quarter-century we’ve been doing government work, the element that’s the toughest to work with is the caution inherent in these projects.

A lot of the government work we do is changing behavior – quitting smoking, avoiding HIV/AIDS, wearing seat belts. And changing behavior is very difficult work. You have to have an insight into the mind of the customer, and you have to get them to pay attention. Oh, and you can’t talk or act like government.

We did a Work Zone Safety outreach several years ago for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. We needed to get drivers to slow down when driving through road construction, because highway workers were getting seriously hurt or killed. Rather than simply threaten inattentive drivers with high fines, we opted to go for the emotional impact – we showed a driver at night right after he’s speeded into a work zone and killed a worker. The look on that driver’s face as he saw what he’d done and was recognizing the impact this was going to have on his life was more powerful than a triple fine.

There was some resistance to the concept, because the Department had been reluctant in the past to show the physical results of traffic crashes. But they appreciated the dramatic impact the spot delivered and accepted the risk of running it. It garnered widespread attention … including some phone calls … and was judged particularly successful with driving home the point of Work Zone Safety: Make the driver FEEL what it would be like. And the Department got the credit for making a bold spot. Take a chance.

Here’s the spot:

Government work doesn’t have to take the path of least resistance. In fact, that’s generally the path with the smallest payoff.

The Finnish government redesigned its passports last year. Passport design has many things to focus on – like security and durability. The new passport is fully biometric, of course, and impossible to duplicate.

But Finland took it a step further and put a flipbook movie of a sauntering moose right onto the pages of the passports (see the video below). Not terribly risky, true. But someone made a bold recommendation to add some freshness and some humanity (or mooseness at any rate) to a very mundane government document. Many someones gave the concept a bold approval. And Finland’s getting some buzz as a nation that’s proud of its heritage and willing to having a little bit of offbeat graphic fun with an official document.

A bit o’ moose is a helpful ingredient not just in government outreach projects, but in almost any marketing outreach. It puts the customer first. Just a thought.


User Experience Design Graphic

Can you really design a user’s experience?

Begin a new web development or design project and you’ll likely encounter the term “user experience design.” But is a user’s experience really within our control? As UX designers, we are able to influence an experience through the pieces we plan and create, but the full experience is the sum of many roles and many departments.

User experience design is the holistic picture of a user’s interaction with a product, system or service – in this case with an online or mobile product. There are three main areas that a designer will address:
Utility: identifying the user’s needs and designing a product that will be useful
Usability: creating an intuitive and usable interface
Design: creating an interface that is visually appealing

As user experience designers, these components are the actionable elements and the easiest to address. However, your website is just one piece of the puzzle. To the user, the experience is not segmented between each of our marketing components; it is the totality of their experience – with you.

The UX Book broadens the definition of user experience design to include seeing, touching and thinking about a system or product, including admiring it and its presentation before any physical interaction occurs. This can include your marketing mix, buzz about your product, interaction with the website and the utility and design of the product itself. Some of these things are within our control as designers and marketers and some are not, but no single role will ever be responsible for the totality of these interactions.

To be effective, user experience design needs to transcend teams and the client/agency relationship to ensure that all pieces fulfill utility, usability and visual design. And our processes change too. User experience design should be a shared focus from the conception of the product down to the development of the website, to design (or at least influence) an experience that is pleasurable and memorable.


Introducing the new KW2 blog, Good Words from Good Folks

Click here to see a little welcome video.

Welcome to our blog, internet traveller. We’re excited to share some ideas with you marketing folks out there. We’ll be talking about putting customers first, Companies for Good (those are the ones who put customers first), creative disruptive communications, our culture, all kinds of good stuff. We want this to be of value to you, so please let us know what you think any time. And feel free to share. Enjoy.



Keep your work humming & attitude bright – show yourself some outdoors (spring) love.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir

It is well known that taking breaks outdoors can lift one’s spirit and induce positive inspirations, energy and, more importantly, creativity in the work place. This is true at KW2. We embrace the warm Wisconsin weather shift into the most alive and vibrant season of growth like no other place I have known. People transition into flip-flops and short sleeves, and the space heaters are replaced with desk fans. Our team gets ready as projects pick up speed and with them, the spring infusion of fresh inspiration and ideas throughout the agency.

Approaching the building doors in the morning sunshine, you can often find a designer sitting on the front step strumming a guitar, a cup of coffee by his side. Spring has sprung and it is time for KW2’s culture to transition to productivity infusions of all things outside. We enjoy outdoor group meetings, Beer:30 on the patio at day’s end, lunchtime cookouts, planting seeds in the container garden outside the digital wing and taking walks with coworkers through the surrounding neighborhood of the office. KW2 comes alive in the spring and our culture gets inspired and energized which leads to better work efficiency and mental focus for our clients’ communications initiatives. Welcome Spring, the good folks of KW2 have anxiously been awaiting your return.

Since joining the KW2 team, I’ve come to appreciate the creative ways we conduct advertising in our own way. We share the Common Cup (an agency mentality and we do actually share common, handcrafted cups) with anyone that strives for the common good, and we enjoy the company of our colleagues and comrades both in the work place and socially.

2013 marked the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, a day set aside to recognize the influence of the natural environment on our well-being. The more we experience nature and all it has to offer, the greater is our desire not to litter, pollute or otherwise harm the planet we live on. Take time as we have at KW2 to integrate the outdoors into your everyday life this spring. Find a moment to step outside and bask in the sunshine, go for a walk with your children, friends or colleagues. Embrace what’s offered freely… mini, refreshing ADVENTURES. Ignite your focus and creativity for the common good.

“Go Outside,” The Cults:





A formula for client happiness based on family movie night

Friday nights are deemed Family Movie Night at our house. And on Friday morning like clockwork, the family and I talk pizza orders and figure out the movie du jour. Sometimes there is a little more strategic Netflix queue planning involved. Sometimes we have guests join us – friends or grandmas and grandpas. Sometimes we watch sequels back to back. This month is all about Star Wars – we’re going out of order based on the best viewing order recommendation we found online. And boy, Episode I had a really long wait. But, every Friday, without fail, is Family Movie Night.

As we all converge from our busy day, everyone gets in comfy clothes, grabs plates and heads to the living room. Yes, the living room. I am the crazy person that allows a five year old to eat pizza in the living room. But, he’s been doing this since he was three. No disasters yet. (Knock on wood.) And we each have our designated spots where we sit. Even the dogs have their spots – easily accessible for any crumbs dropped.

This got me to thinking. FMN boils down to a simple formula: Predictability + Collaboration = Happiness.

Every Friday. Always pizza. Always a movie. Always in the living room. No matter how crazy the week or what is going on for the weekend, we have carved out time for our family to be together.

In the case of FMN, our family runs as a democracy. Everyone has a say. We collaborate on our choices, agree or find a compromise that everyone can stand behind. (Yes, I’ll admit, the five year old wins most of the time.)

All of us look forward to this time together. Okay, and we’ve been known to dance during the credit songs.

So, isn’t this what clients really want from their advertising agency? And why they keep coming back?

They want to know they’re going to get the very best service with each and every project. You do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. And their job will be done right every time. They expect you to come to the table with loads of ideas and be open to hearing theirs. All with the goal of finding that perfect collaborative balance to choose the best possible direction (solution). And, ultimately, they want to be over-the-moon happy with their creative. Well, who doesn’t want that?

Hey marketers – we could all adapt a little more FMN into every project and every client relationship. It goes a really long way in building those trusted partnerships. Especially the happiness part.

As Yoda would say, “May the Force be with you.” Okay, that was lame. Cut me some slack. I haven’t watched Star Wars in over ten years.


Putting customers first in a small Irish Wisconsin pub with free beer.

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 7.26.00 AM

Putting customers first, 16 ounces at a time.

So there’s this small tavern in the small town of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin a few miles from my home. It’s called Paddy Caughlin’s Irish Pub. It’s wonderful.

Alas, I didn’t celebrate my Irish brethren there this year. (This photo was taken last summer.) But the photo shows an incredible idea for how you can put your customers first – let other customers buy them something. In this case, it’s a beer.

This simple “pay it forward” chart shows who bought a beer for a pal, and who has a free beer coming their way. This idea plays into the neighborhood hangout brand that they’re trying to carve out. It encourages word of mouth. And it means instant revenue for the bar; with 15 to 20 percent of gift cards going completely unused, it’s likely that this is a pretty profitable tactic.

Free beer? Great idea, Paddy.


a pie chart showing campaign success metrics

Don’t forget metrics for traditional media

Digital thinkers are constantly creating new ways for us to learn, work and play. The emergence of digital media has also paved the way for demanding metrics about every campaign tactic. As an agency with a history of media expertise, KW2 has never forgotten one important lesson underscored by the digital era: don’t forget metrics for traditional media.

Digital media has shown us that more and more, we as advertisers are accountable for our clients’ dollars. And hey, we should be. That brings us to the question: How do we measure traditional media’s success?

Here are some time-tested ways we use to gather metrics for a traditional media campaign:

1. Connect. Want to see if a TV spot is capturing your audience better than radio? We’ve varied the call to action on two spots, such as phone numbers vs. website addresses. We also used this method by promoting a sale in one medium only – then measuring the traffic from that piece.

2. Pull. The standard in A/B testing is to “test and pull”: try out two or more options and then cut out the ones that are under-performing. In the case of traditional media, this might come in the form of a consistent radio ad and pulsed TV. Then, reverse it if you have the budget to do so. Track how user awareness and behavior changes. See how your web traffic changes with the start and stop of a spot.

3. Poll. At the action stage of your campaign (in-store purchase, website visit, phone call, contact form), ask those who got to you how they got to you. This could be in the form of an exit survey post-purchase on your website. Perhaps you offer an in-store incentive for those who fill out a short survey on the spot. It’s the classic, “How did you hear about us?” And it can be incredibly powerful when you need to know what worked.

In digital media, our guiding principle for the foreseeable future is metrics. But if traditional media is right for your brand, don’t forget about metrics. Do, however, always push yourself to find the best way to measure how media is performing for you.