First (and Lasting) Impressions

The advertising world is a great place for me. There are artists, strategists, writers, digital experts, musicians and other creative minds working with people who specialize in making budgets work and numbers fit into spreadsheets, which in turn churn out invoices, reports, and everything we need to help clients succeed.

I’m a little bit of all of these things. I am creative in that I have been an artist, actor, director and musician. I am also adept in the office environment. I know how to clear most jammed printers, order lunch for 40 people, mail merge and more.

The thing I do best, however, is answer the telephone. This tiny, little part of every day is such a huge deal to me. I am lucky it’s also a huge deal to my employer and our company culture.

Every time the phone rings, it’s my opportunity to get it right, to do something great for someone else. I’ve learned how to smile on the phone and convey that smile to the person on the other end. It is important that I make a caller feel taken care of. It’s so much more than just getting someone the extension they are looking for. It is about shepherding them to the person or information they need, while assuring them that they’re in good hands.

I know from experience that the initial contact can make all the difference. One time, I had an issue with my muffler. I called CarX and the guy on the other line made me feel so sure that I had called the right place; I immediately took my car there. When that same voice greeted me at the door, I became a CarX customer, exclusively.

The hook for me was seeing the face, with the same smile I had heard on the line. It was meeting the one who listened and already understood my problem. It was watching him explain my issue to the mechanic and give me an estimate that was fair, and delivered on. I continued to go there until another mechanic amazed me with even better customer service. There was an important lesson in leaving CarX, too.

First Impressions are important, but lasting ones take a lifetime of work. It’s about keeping the smile on all the time, giving all you can, and making sure you choose the right way to feel around your customers, your co-workers, and your community. The co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, Ben Cohen, once said, “There is a spiritual aspect to our lives – when we give we receive – when a business does something good for somebody, that somebody feels good about them!”



Why We Love Handmade Things.

We’re living in an era of bright, new and shiny. The technology we each carry around in our pockets and bags, whether it’s an iPad, iPhone or laptop, gives us the ability to create at a moment’s notice anywhere we like, and we do. We spend countless hours on these machines creating things. The tech in these machines gives us the ability to create flawlessly designed images and typography. Yet, also on these machines we find apps such as Instagram, Hipstagram and Camera Awesome that allow us to created images in the likeness of something we’d find in an attic. The app Lettrs allows you to use your phone to type or dictate a letter which will be converted into a “hand” written letter which can be delivered digitally, or as an actual letter in the post. So why in this golden age of technological precision do we still have that guilty, undying craving for old and grungy? What is it about the wonderful imperfection of handmade that make us so frigging giddy? Why, from letterpress to hand drawn typography, do we love to get our hands dirty?

For one, handmade is human. No matter what your ma tells you, not a single one of us came into this world perfect. You know from every time you’ve looked in the mirror, one eye might be a little bigger, or an ear may be slightly higher than the other. Something made by hand will always have a bit of what the makers, hand added to it. It’s in the character of the work. Handmade is inherently more authentic, and sometime it’s a little wonky, but it’s that little bit of wonk that makes handmade more approachable, friendlier, more real and likable.

Handmade needs hands, and usually, along with those hands, comes a maker. We like makers. We like makers because they’re passionate people that can get really geeky about what they’re doing. Makers pour time, energy, and sometimes their life savings into what they’re doing because they can’t imagine doing anything else. We like that kind of passion.

People are nostalgic. We like stuff that reminds us of where we’ve come from and where we’ve been. We like to be reminded of our past, and not just our personal past, but our cultural past as well. The accomplishments we can all be proud of, the folks who we may not see as often as we would like. A saved handbill, or a box of letters carefully preserved in a shoe box under your bed. The stuff of sweaty palms and butterflies in your stomach.

It seems in this era of bright, new and shiny, handmade is an antidote to digital ephemera, texts, emails, and voicemails, which unlike ephemera of the past, are truly here in the now, gone in the next. As we continue forward into an increasingly digital world, the stuff you can actually hold onto is going to become increasingly valuable to us.


illustration of footsteps

Why your marketing department needs Steve Jobs (and that guy from Office Space with the red stapler)

Who are the people in your company that drive your decisions?

Who are your team’s neophiliacs – the ones that push things forward and say ‘let’s try something new’? These are the seekers, full of energy and continually pushing people and business processes into unknown territories for your marketing and business teams. Who are your team’s neophobes – the ones who like the safety of the current business model? They consider the marketing plan that you ran last year to be just fine for the year ahead.  If it worked, why change? They trust in the routine and the safe routes.
I’ve always been curious about these two distinct types of people that you see at almost any business meeting. How can they both co-exist in the world? A recent NPR podcast featured Winifred Gallagher and her book New-Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. Gallagher delves into these two opposing approaches and concludes that our evolution has depended on both types.  So must your business and marketing plans.  She says you need Steve Jobs constantly pushing new ideas, but you also need that guy in the basement office with the red stapler.  He keeps the trains running on time and just might be the guy who carries out the visionary ideas of Steve Jobs.

For the record, we favor the neophiliacs. Of course vision needs to have grounding in a customer need. Do your homework. Learn what your customer really wants from you. Learn what you’re really selling. Then set a bold vision that even the neophobes can get excited about.

Just remember that your customers are the one surefire way to determine if what you’re doing is good for them or not. They cast their votes every time they purchase or don’t purchase your product.  Each of those customers is telling you something about the tools you’re using to reach them. Listen.

Find out what type of person you are by taking this quiz.

View Tim Christian's profile on LinkedIn


On Cheerios, racism and the rewards of taking risks

On Cheerios, racism and the rewards of taking a risk

A lot has already been said about people’s reactions to that new television ad from Cheerios, the one featuring an interracial couple and their painfully cute little girl. Most of it can be summed up as follows:

One: Emboldened by the delicious anonymity of comment sections everywhere, the world’s racists and the web’s trolls seem determined to ruin the post-racial America we’ve all been finger-crossing for since Grey’s Anatomy first aired and that nice young couple moved into the White House. It’s annoying, disheartening, gross.

Two: Rather than tempt fate—a word which here means the fast-typing fingers of a vocal and (can we just say it?) vile minority—most advertisers, even the progressive and fair-minded ones, will continue to make ads that aren’t quite what you’d call culturally au courant. And in the age of the socially conscious consumer, where being nicely neutral isn’t good enough anymore and apps like Buycott make it easier than ever to ensure what what we buy lines up with what we believe, that’s not just a shame. It’s short-sighted.

And three: Seriously, that girl is dangerously cute.

So, since so much has already been said—on AdWeek and Slate, HuffPo, Jezebel, The Today Show and, heaven help me, The View—I’m just going to say this:

Last year, Pew Research Center calculated that 15% of all new marriages in the U.S. are between people of different ethnicities. That’s more than double the number in 1980. But in thirty-some years of flipping channels and watching ads, I’ve only ever seen two commercials featuring a family who looked anything like mine. Two.

The first one made me a unrepentant Comcast cable apologist, doggedly loyal despite the Facebook pages, yelps, posts and the considered opinion of almost everyone everywhere.

The second one had me buying a box of Cheerios.



I can hardly wait for my Common Cup.

I use the same coffee cup every day, and have for six years. It’s a pyramid-shaped, ceramic mug designed to sit on the dash of a car, with a foam base that won’t slide or spill. It means the world to me. My mother gave me one that looked just like it fifteen years ago. I used that one every day until it broke. I found this cup at a yard sale the next day. It was like a sign or kismet, because it was green and brown, like my new reception desk, and the same shape as the cup from my mom. It was a perfect match. It soon became an extension of my hand.

When my old company closed and I learned of an opportunity at KW2, I was thrilled to read about the Common Cup. “The Secret Sauce,” as the website described. It was about creating community. It was about recognizing that togetherness, collaboration, and really great work were things that grew out of good relationships. And good relationships were based on things like eating meals together, celebrating milestones together, and drinking coffee together from our common cups. I knew about that stuff. I’d experienced that already, in my own way, with my own cup. Suddenly, I wanted a Common Cup of my own – real bad. After getting the job I found myself looking at co-workers cups, putting them away from the dishwasher, wishing and waiting for the chance to hold my own.

The process is long. There are steps involved that take time. The kiln itself at Cambridge Wood-Fired Pottery only fires up three or four times a year. It takes six days of 24-hour care of the flames to generate the heat it requires.

So, today the fires burn in Cambridge. And inside me burns excitement for my own Common Cup. My hopes and fears all spun up in a piece of art I allow to help define me, and define the company culture I am now a part of. That is the good stuff. I’ll let you know how it comes out!


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.