Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Creative Thought

In Tips, Trends on October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Our level of creative success may be tied to what we can forget. As new models emerge our tendency is to layer them onto old models rather than jettison old things and start over. It’s much harder to face the the stark kernel of a new model. We wind up retrofitting our old models w new baubles instead of building sleek efficient new models.

A recent article in Newsweek highlighted one aspect of this problem. According to researchers interviewed for the article, students can learn creativity. At least, they can exercise the creative sequences in their brain. They do so by following this pattern:
  • Divergent thinking to learn and explore
  • Convergent thinking to select and synthesize
The first step involves identifying the problem, learning about its causes and aspects and then researching and brainstorming related topics, themes, ideas, solutions. Note that brainstorming isn’t creating a list of possible solutions from which to choose in the next phase. The best brainstorming chases a lot of rabbits, veers and detours and dives into minutia of situations only tangentially related to the problem. In fact, the most creative people tend to be those who can venture farthest afield from the issue at hand and still make it back home safely.


The second phase involves shifting through all of the data, knowledge and ideas generated by the first phase. Some will indeed be irrelevant. But some information that seemed unrelated on the surface may hold a key to enabling a new solution. Creative thinkers can take their far-flung fact-finding and combine or cut out its pieces to arrive at a new, original idea.


Newsweek describes the process this way.


When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.

Having glimpsed such a connection, the left brain must quickly lock in on it before it escapes. The attention system must radically reverse gears, going from defocused attention to extremely focused attention. In a flash, the brain pulls together these disparate shreds of thought and binds them into a new single idea that enters consciousness. This is the “aha!” moment of insight, often followed by a spark of pleasure as the brain recognizes the novelty of what it’s come up with.

Now the brain must evaluate the idea it just generated. Is it worth pursuing? Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.


For me, the crucial part of this process is the turn-around. It’s an intuitive decision to say, “I’ve done enough research. Any more time invested in divergent thinking is not going to yield any better result.” And it always feels like there’s a backlash at the instant of turn-around. My mind is thinking outward, forward, divergently. When I turn around to head for home, I get the impression that the inertia of my ideas are continuing outward without me. I find myself scrambling to lasso them – write them down, take a picture, sketch something, leave a voice recording – anything to help herd my ideas toward the finish line.


Which creative trap are you most likely to fall into?
  • Sticking too close to home so that your solutions tend to be repackaged version of old methodologies?
  • Venturing far afield and never bringing your thoughts back together?

Something to Ask

In Tips on October 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm

As we near November elections, you’ll notice more and more politicians asking you for your vote. It’s a central principle in political campaigning – ask for the vote. It’s important to ask. It’s important that candidates do it themselves. It’s important to make it personal. It’s important to ask in a straightforward manner without any hint of reward or consequence.

Fundraisers have a similar mantra. They’ll tell you that the most important piece of their campaigns is the ask. You’ll never raise any money if you don’t ask for it.

But businesses and brands too easily lose sight of the ask. We rename it (call to action), bury it (first register, then download a white paper, then get a free consultation, then we’ll ask you for your business), or just wait for the prospect to do the asking (contact us if you’d like to ask us to work for you).

If you have something to sell (and you probably do if you’re reading this blog) consider how you ask prospects to buy it. Is your ask simple and straightforward? Are you making it difficult for prospects to figure out how to hire you? Or, on the other hand, does your ask come across more like a plea? A beg?

Here are a few suggestions for formulating your ask:

  1. Make it plain. “Would you like to buy a glass of lemonade?”
  2. Make it easy to move forward. “Just click this big, red, gaudy button.” It’s important to reduce the risk of taking the next step. It’s not about luring them in. It’s about starting an easy conversation.
  3. Make it unavoidable. Sales calls work because they demand a response. Look for ways to ask for business that strike a nice balance – putting the ball in the prospect’s court without being pushy.

REACH has had success with email marketing because it accomplishes all three of these tasks.

  1. We ask in a straightforward way.
  2. We give recipients a clear path to contacting us.
  3. We put the ball in their court. Email (from a person) must be dealt with. If I send you an email, at the very least, you have to click the “Delete” key. But even that is a response. Email forces a response without being rude. And since it’s just as easy to click “Reply” as “Delete” we often get leads or referrals in response to our email campaigns.

Of course, email isn’t the only way to accomplish these three tasks. But regardless of the medium used, think about your ask. And, of course, think about this:

Would you like to buy a two-day review of your brand and marketing from REACH? If so, click here.

Two Piles

In Kindness, Tips on October 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm

All of life can be sorted into two piles – the things we do to extend our number of days and the things we do to make our days count. The first pile includes work and paychecks and food and exercise. The second includes family and friends and service. God is in both. And if we’re lucky, there may be some overlap where our work is also important or fulfilling.

Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood?

In Trends on October 5, 2010 at 9:51 am
In the last two days, I have seen the truth of my favorite marketing model played out in an arena completely unrelated to REACH. Actually, I’ve seen it in my neighborhood.
Tonight is National Night Out – a day for neighborhood block parties to promote public safety and neighborly goodwill. (Actually, the nationwide National Night Out happened in August, but a few years ago Texas figured out that no one was participating because no one wanted to have a block party in Texas in August. Go figure. So we’re celebrating the “National Night Out of Texas” tonight. We can do that. We used to be a country.) As we’ve done for the last three years, my wife and I have volunteered to organize the block party for our cul-de-sac in Valley Ranch. We’ll have about 25 people from our block come out for burgers and a bounce house and a lot of fun.
What does that have to do with marketing? In the last two days, two organizations have come contacted us asking for permission to pass out literature or present their platform at our party. One is a community group supporting an HOA referendum. The other is a neighborhood gardening club promoting their own event. Unwittingly, Christine and I have organized some customers in the target market for these groups and now they’re asking for access.
As long as there are marketers who know how to bring together customers, there will be companies willing to pay for access to them.

The Importance of Design

In Tips on October 4, 2010 at 3:56 pm

A quick story from a REACH project: we recently helped with development of a web application that turned out to be pretty robust. In fact, the more functionality requested by the client, the less and less attention was paid to design. We developed Photoshop documents and design standards at the outset, but as more changes we made, the design got pinched and squeezed into worse and worse variations. When we finally launched the project, it looked much less appealing than it did when we started. The site had only been live for about a month when the client called us back. They were getting anecdotal reports from users saying they weren’t getting past the home screen because they were confused about how to enter, what to do next, where the big red “click here” button was. We wound up simplifying the tool itself but as we discussed, it became clear that this was a problem with design. As much as we love content and efficiency, it’s important to be reminded occasionally that good design is good communication and leads to good business. Ask Myspace.