Brand Archaeology

by Patrick Woods on

Aquaduct

I'm jealous of writers. Fiction, history, biography, short stories—I envy the good writers across genre. Writers tell stories, they convey information, they move their audiences from one point to another, leaving them changed in the process.

That's why I love reading about how writers write. When they write, the process they follow for arriving at a narrative, even the tools they use and the desks where they sit.

On of my favorite accounts of a writer's process is Stephen King's class On Writing. King starts with the story of his childhood, college, and early marriage. After providing this humorous, sometimes moving, look into his autobiography, King moves on to the details of how we works. Where he sits, when he writes, how often he writes.

In one section, he unpacks what amounts to his view of Story. Where do stories come from? How do you know a good one?

In King's view, stories are fossils. In other words, the stories exist already, much like Michelangelo would say the sculpture is there, waiting, inside the block of marble. The ideas have been there since the beginning of time. Someone just needs to uncover them. In this sense, authors are archeologists.

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Safe Return Doubtful

by Patrick Woods on

Shackleton Expedition

A few nights ago, Netflix, in its infinite wisdom, suggested the delightful indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed. The story begins with a curious newspaper classified that reads:

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

As the film unfolds, the viewer uncovers what one critic deemed a "plaintive underlying theme about the fading dreams of those aspiring professionals in their 20s and 30s not swept up in the high-tech and financial gold rush."

In other words, ours is a cynical-yet-hopeful generation. If wealth is no longer an attainable analogue for happiness, we'll redefine happiness by emphasizing experience over possessions.

While this attitude seems thoroughly post-modern, the desire for meaningful experience isn't unique to the 20- and 30-somethings of the past decade.

Consider the following job posting, which sounds a lot like the one above, dating from 1912:

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In a Two-sided Marketplace, Build a Hen House

by Patrick Woods on

Mousetraps

When building a two-sided marketplace, the chicken vs. egg anology

"No one ever got fired for buying IBM," as the saying goes.

IBM here is a metaphor for the safe choice. For jumping on the corporate bandwagon. For following the trends of business.

Trend following might be safe for corporate types, but for startup founders, "safe" is a four-letter word.

Just ask legendary ad man George Lois:

Because advertising and marketing is an art, the solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with nervous borrowings of other people's mediocrities. That's precisely what "trends" are—a search for something "safe"—and why a reliance on them leads to oblivion.

Despite the risks of trend following, startups are notoriously bad about doing so (see my post Why Does Your Startup Sound Like a Startup? for more). Startup trends appear in homepage layouts, messaging, user acquisition plans, and even approaches to company culture.

But your runway's shrinking and everything's on fire and how are you going to make payroll?

This is no time for the safety of other people's mediocrities.

Lois, again:

In any creative industry, the fact that others are moving in a certain direction is always proof positive, at least to me, that a new direction is the only direction.

Sounds a lot like the startup worldview. So it's weird that, when, it comes to branding and messaging, so many startups fall into the trend trap of mediocrity and then oblivion.

Disruptive technology, you say? Too bad you look and sound like every other player in your space.

What if your messaging and marketing were as disruptive as your technology? What if your team put in the effort to tell a truly compelling and meaningful brand story that did justice to your product?

Leave the trends to the bloggers and journalists; they need something to write about come January.

By the way, when asked for insight into the coming year's trends, Lois says:

My answer is always identical to what I said the previous year: "Beats the shit out of me. I'll know it when I do it."

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A Trend Is Always a Trap: a Famous Ad Man on Mediocrity

by Patrick Woods on

Mousetraps

"No one ever got fired for buying IBM," as the saying goes.

IBM here is a metaphor for the safe choice. For jumping on the corporate bandwagon. For following the trends of business.

Trend following might be safe for corporate types, but for startup founders, "safe" is a four-letter word.

Just ask legendary ad man George Lois:

Because advertising and marketing is an art, the solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with nervous borrowings of other people's mediocrities. That's precisely what "trends" are—a search for something "safe"—and why a reliance on them leads to oblivion.

Despite the risks of trend following, startups are notoriously bad about doing so (see my post Why Does Your Startup Sound Like a Startup? for more). Startup trends appear in homepage layouts, messaging, user acquisition plans, and even approaches to company culture.

But your runway's shrinking and everything's on fire and how are you going to make payroll?

This is no time for the safety of other people's mediocrities.

Lois, again:

In any creative industry, the fact that others are moving in a certain direction is always proof positive, at least to me, that a new direction is the only direction.

Sounds a lot like the startup worldview. So it's weird that, when, it comes to branding and messaging, so many startups fall into the trend trap of mediocrity and then oblivion.

Disruptive technology, you say? Too bad you look and sound like every other player in your space.

What if your messaging and marketing were as disruptive as your technology? What if your team put in the effort to tell a truly compelling and meaningful brand story that did justice to your product?

Leave the trends to the bloggers and journalists; they need something to write about come January.

By the way, when asked for insight into the coming year's trends, Lois says:

My answer is always identical to what I said the previous year: "Beats the shit out of me. I'll know it when I do it."

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One Question that Reveals the Truth About Your Brand

by Patrick Woods on

Undercurrent

Imagine one of your employees at a party enjoying assorted cheeses and crackers.

The banter is in full swing. The standard cocktail conversations occurring around the room.

Where are you from? What part of town do you live in?

What do you do?

They'd explain they work at Your Startup, and something about what they do there.

But then, someone asks something more piercing:

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