Wednesday, December 30, 2020

King of the substitute brands

I've re-published this story on Medium and will be moving all my posts over there soon.  Thanks for visiting!

Friday, November 27, 2020

Here, I Made This: Vasili from Kokkoros

Note: this post is the first of more where I will write about something that I made in the past and still feel like sharing again, for one reason or another.  I borrowed part of this title from Seth Godin who reminds me of the importance of sharing your work. 

In 2012, my sister-in-law asked me to create a video about her ninety-four year old Greek father Vasili aka Bill, a gruff patriarchal figure who was nearing the end of his long adventure.  We used collected photos and his favorite music to help give people a glimpse of his epic life both in Greece and after he came to America. As projects go it was a relatively simple piece, but it was one of the more rewarding videos I've made. We were amazed that Bill himself was by far the most enthusiastic viewer, as he watched it over and over again in the weeks and months before he passed away, occasionally pointing to the screen and saying simply, "it's my life".

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Wild and wonderful storytelling

It was probably 2003 or 2004 when was majoring in cinema at the University of Iowa and taking a course called Nonfiction Video Production taught by David Ellsworth, when he decided to show us something called The Dancing Outlaw.  My first reaction, probably like many others, was 'is this real?'  I watched and shared it with many others since then.

If you haven't already seen or heard of The Dancing Outlaw, film reviewers like Jake Harvey have already done a great job of summarizing this pretty amazing piece of documentary filmmaking.  Instead I'll just share a few specific things I love about this film.

The environment.  In the heart of the Appalachian mountains, the state of West Virginia is some of the most rugged and beautiful (especially in fall) terrain in America, but for many largely historical reasons it is also a financially depressed region with some very visibly poverty-stricken small communities throughout.  This juxtaposition of natural beauty and economic hardship gives it a remote and isolated feeling despite it being even closer to many population centers than my home state of Iowa.
Interstate 77 - West Virginia

The people.  I've spent time in Kentucky as well and always marvel at the sound of the language there, and in West Virginia the accent is just as thick, and it's more than a twang, it's a musical quality.

Beyond the aurally pleasing quality of their speech, the real people that populate The Dancing Outlaw- including the primary character Jesco, his wife Norma Jean, his sister Mamie, even his deceased father D. Ray who still casts a long shadow over the family-  are all entertaining storytellers in their own right.  Many of the people I've met who survived a great deal of adversity or turmoil often have very dramatic, humorous or colorful personalities and the White family embodies this.

The music.  Beyond a few obligatory classic rock tracks that anchor the story in the rural South, the music of The Dancing Outlaw- a mix of guitar and banjo-driven bluegrass and country western- gives this the feeling of a time capsule anywhere from the 1970s back to the 1930s.  Any other time but now.

The quotes.  The interviews and stories throughout are so colorful that if you encountered them in a work of fiction you would dismiss the characters as over-written and outlandish.

If you see The Dancing Outlaw and find it interesting, there is a good chance you would appreciate the excellent (in my opinion) follow-up, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.

One could make an argument that films like these, and celebrating them, are exploiting these people and their problems and their culture.  Certainly, these portraits are not flattering in many ways and echo negative stereotypes about the region.  But I also think they add real human stories, detail and empathy to those general impressions, and to me that kind of understanding is always worth developing.

I also have no doubt that many more people know about West Virginia as a result of this film.  The way the state is branding itself as "wild and wonderful", to attract business and tourism, seems to confirm this.

I would encourage anyone to check out this unusual film- or the state made it possible- for themselves.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The United States of Fast Food

Image credit: Thrillist
In America our relationship with fast-food is a funny thing. It carries so many negative connotations- unhealthy, unsustainable, low-status, the worst of corporate America. Everything that Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollen, Morgan Spurlock and others have very persuasively deconstructed about it. For all the profitability of the McDonald's brand, you can seemingly devalue a thing by adding 'Mc-' to the front- McMansion, McJob, McChurch, etc.

But for many of my generation, fast-food was our first paying job and where we learned to work. I remember at age 15 being taught to work the grill at a McDonald's in Bellingham, Washington, and marveling as my trainer explained that their hamburgers tasted the same wherever you went because their entire system of operation was designed to achieve that consistency. I came to discretely harbor immense pride at being an employee of the most unstoppable restaurant brand in the world and looked down at my friends who'd settled to work at inferior chains, jobs that had the same stigma without any of the (admittedly, perhaps, imaginary) status.

For all the unfavorable associations with fast-food, it is part of the fabric of our culture, because it is everywhere we go. On a remote state highway or in a bleak airport terminal with few appealing options for sustenance, it might be the one thing you feel like you can trust. And in this excellent read by Adam Chandler, his fascinating personal and historical journey showed me how fast-food, for all its faults and flaws, serves as kind of a connective tissue, facilitating shared experience in this country in a way I'd never fully appreciated. And in this day and age where we live in either a red state or a blue state and there is no shortage of issues to fracture us- whether it is politics, religion, education, health care, parenting, or the economy- it's worth noting when anything has the power to connect people in ways that transcend social, racial, economic, political, geographic and even generational lines.  Even if it's a way we might be reluctant as a fast-food nation to admit.

Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heard of America's Fast-Food Kingdom
By Adam Chandler
288 pp. Flatiron Books. $27.99.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Thoughts on "This Is Marketing" by Seth Godin

Image result for this is marketing

If you work in or anywhere near marketing I'm sure you've heard of Seth Godin, if you haven't already read his work.  I have several of his books on my shelf right now and started with more but they often disappear because I am so eager to get other people to read them.  Seth's latest book, This is Marketing, is such a unique discussion of the topic, so very readable and engaging like all of Seth's work, that rather than interpret it for you or try and fail do it any justice, I just want to share a few of the many quotes I wrote down while reading.

"Marketing is our quest to make change on behalf of those we serve, and we do it by understanding the irrational forces that drive each of us."

"If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status, or one of the other most desired emotions, you've done something worthwhile."

"'Roll Tide!' is a promise about dominance." 

  • (As a higher education marketer working on brand strategy, and someone who grew up in a Big Ten college town, I am fascinated with the ways large public universities use sports to build affinity with populations far beyond their customer base.)

"Your promise is directly connected to the change you seek to make, and it's addressed to the people you seek to change."

"'Brand' is a shorthand for the customers expectations.  What promise do they think you're making?  What do they expect when they buy from you or meet with you or hire you?"

"If you want to build a marketing asset, you need to invest in connection and other non-transferrable properties.  If people care, you've got a brand."

"Without a brand, a logo is meaningless."

  • Amen
"The market has been trained to associate frequency with trust.  If you quit right in the middle of building that frequency, it's no wonder that you never got a chance to earn that trust?"

On attention and permission:

"Facebook and other social platforms seem like a shortcut, because they make it apparently easy to reach new people.  But the tradeoff is that you're a sharecropper.  It's not your land.  You don't have permission to contact people, they do.  You don't own an asset, they do."

"Connected tribes are more powerful than disconnected ones." 

Find it here on Amazon

Monday, November 5, 2018

Freedom and accountability: can't have one without the other

This freedom and accountability matrix shows how I think these two concepts come together in the most successful working relationships.

People want to be trusted to do their job and be given the freedom to figure out the solution to whatever the challenge at hand is.  Employers and supervisors want to see results that hit the target and make real progress on the big goals.  I see the upper right quadrant- high freedom and high accountability- as the ideal to work toward, and believe you can't really achieve success in one dimension without addressing the other.

freedom and accountability go hand in hand

For example, if you're a supervisor who perhaps has a talented and capable employee who is nevertheless disengaged or seemingly avoiding accountability, it may be that from their perspective that limits on their freedom (real or imagined) are inhibiting them from performing to your expectations.  If you can confirm they value autonomy or freedom to operate in carrying out their mission, whatever it is, that may be a great opportunity to negotiate for the specific outcomes or change that you seek as their supervisor and move the relationship closer to win-win.

On the other hand you may have a team member who you have given a long leash, so to speak, but you have still not seen the results you want.  In those cases, there is a good chance they may not understand what is expected of them, or understand the stakes of their work, or some combination of those two factors.  This too would be an opportunity to recalibrate by negotiating clear expectations around what both sides value and need from the relationship.  Aspiring toward the ideal of high freedom and high accountability can help ensure everyone gets what they need from the partnership.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

New University of Iowa TV spot

This is our new halftime spot, the television commercial that airs for the university during our football and basketball broadcasts.  It seeks to build on the style and tone of our spots from 2016 and 2017 before that while adding in what some are calling the best new tradition in sports, the Hawkeye wave.

King of the substitute brands

I've re-published this story on Medium and will be moving all my posts over there soon.  Thanks for visiting!