I started drawing coffee bean art for fun, but soon learned a ton about content marketing from that experience. Here are some of the lessons I learned.
Our Kickstarter campaign for the Helium Core, a hardware product that we developed over the last 9 months, successfully concluded on May 27. We were fortunate enough to raise 134% of our goal of $30,000 in order to fund the tooling and first production run for our first product. As our first independent foray into developing and launching a consumer product (we’ve done it as employees at other companies before), this is truly exciting, and we look forward to the opportunities this presents.
In ClearSketch’s last blog post, I shared an announcement about our product development efforts. What I didn’t include was the fact that we’re launching that product on Kickstarter. We’ve already bootstrapped the product development and marketing efforts, and have a product that’s 98% ready for market. So why crowdfund? I grappled with the decision for a while, but ultimately, the decision to crowdfund proved to be a no-brainer.
There are a number of reasons that crowdfunding is the right next step for a product startup. For us, they boiled down to:
- Market validation
- Community involvement
- Reduced financial risk
In an ideal scenario, anyone who creates a product would be able to validate their idea in the market before making a significant investment to produce and market the products. Crowdfunding platforms allow that kind of exposure and testing, and we’re using it as part of a hybrid approach to launching our product. While we’ve spoken to many people in our target market to get input during the product development and prototype phases, there’s really only one way of knowing for certain that the product will be a success. Crowdfunding platforms provide a ready testbed for the type of product we’re creating, and the velocity at which it gets adopted (or doesn’t) gives us the data we need to make our next major decision.
As a lean startup (read, not enough people), we rely heavily on the power of an interested and engaged community to help us spread and amplify our message. We tried to engage our community as early as possible in the process, both so we could refine our product, as well as to gain their support when we finally do launch the campaign. While the results are still to be determined, we’ve found it really powerful to have the type of grassroots support that companies and brands constantly seek. The direction of our design efforts reflects the many voices we’ve talked to, as will our pricing decisions, and if all goes well, those same voices will help spread the message along an exponential arc - far further than we could ever hope to accomplish ourselves.
Reduced Financial Risk
When we exclude the time we’ve dedicated to this project, tooling is the single biggest line item on this project’s cost spreadsheet. The tooling expense is a huge financial bump pre-launch, and hence, the single biggest risk factor we’re encountering on our way to bringing our product to market. Crowdfunding helps us to defray the cost of tooling, while giving our backers a steep discount off the retail price of the product. Discounts as high as 50% off the retail price for “early bird” backers are relatively common, so there’s a form of quid pro quo exchange in place - backers get a product that they want to see on the market at a reduced price, and the company they support gets to take the next step towards becoming a legitimate business story by removing a major hurdle in their path.
There are many other reasons for crowdfunding, and this article provides a more well-rounded view of the whys. We’ve supported over 30 crowdfunding campaigns ourselves, and we’re excited to finally be a part of one. We’re launching at the end of April, so stay tuned.
ClearSketch was officially born exactly 5 years ago today. It has evolved significantly in that time, both to meet clients’ changing demands, as well as to keep pace with the contemporary marketing environment. In half a decade, ClearSketch has done work for clients ranging in size from a one-man startup to heavyweights in the Fortune 500. While the services and clients are diverse, the things that initially sparked the company to life, and which continue to drive it forward, have remained the same. Those things are:
- A focus on the power of ideas
- A commitment to finding effective ways to tackle challenges.
One such challenge that I pushed us towards was born out of a frustration that I had outside of work.
As much as I love taking photos and shooting videos of the places I travel to, I just can’t stand lugging my equipment around. When I’m doing work for ClearSketch’s clients, I specify and use professional equipment, such as the RED Epic, the Nikon D800, Canon 5D series and the Sony A7s. These are high end, no compromise tools, and they’re expensive, bulky and heavy. However, when I’m capturing images for personal use, I want to be mobile and discreet. I want to move about without being encumbered, and I don’t want to be the target for criminals who want to get their paws on my gear. How do I accomplish those goals? Enter the iPhone.
When Apple released the iPhone 5s, they shot their TV campaign with the device. Bentley, the luxury car manufacturer, has shot commercials with the iPhone. A film that was an official 2015 Sundance Film Festival selection was shot entirely on an iPhone. All those things combined gave me enough confidence that the iPhone had good enough quality to be my main camera. However, it suffers from poor ergonomics, doesn’t have interchangeable lenses, is difficult to accessorize, and is not particularly rugged. That’s where ClearSketch comes in.
Over the last few months, ClearSketch has been designing and developing a product that will address the shortcomings of the iPhone as a camera. It’s the first of what we hope will be a system of products that will enable iPhone users to create amazing content without any compromise. We’re officially giving it life today, and dedicating Feb.28, 2016 as its birthday. We’ll occasionally share additional details with you in the future, but if you’re curious to learn more, please visit www.heliumcine.com
In our increasingly “right now” world, we constantly seek quick answers to challenges we face, and for the majority of us here in the United States, our oracle is our phone. Whether we’re trying to figure out how to fix something in our houses, what to buy to replace something that’s broken, or where to go or what to do when we’re seeking specific experiences, an increasing majority of us turn to our mobile devices to provide answers to those questions. The numbers tell the story -
82% of smartphone users say they consult their phones on purchases they’re about to make in a store*
91% of them turn to their phones for ideas in the middle of a task*
65% of smartphone users agree that when conducting a search on their smartphones, they look for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing the information**
90% of smartphone users are not absolutely certain of the specific brand they want to buy when they begin looking for information online.**
As marketers and business owners, that pattern of behavior gives us an opportunity to provide useful information to customers who seek information. If we can help our customers solve their problems at their time of greatest need, then we’ve accelerated the process of developing their trust and loyalty. How can we do so, though?
The first step is to have a clear and comprehensive understanding of our customers’ narratives. What are their daily lives like? What sorts of challenges do they face? What types of information or solutions are they most likely to seek? Find the opportunities where we can become relevant to customers, so that we can plan and generate the appropriate content to intercept their micro-moments and to share that content with them in the channel where they’re looking for it.
Next, determine the type of content that would be most useful to our audience during their micro-moment, and use context to deliver the right experience. For instance, if a customer is looking for information on a washing machine, their purchase intent is very likely high, and they may be interested in getting information about features and price. A comparison chart detailing how our company’s product is better than the competitors’, or testimonials of happy customers would be effective pieces of content.
Finally, don’t overwhelm the audience with too much information. Micro-moments, by their very definition, are brief and fleeting. Be quick to deliver the right information and ensure that the information loads quickly and has impact. Also, many mobile device users have a limited amount of data in their mobile phone plans, so we need to be mindful of the amount of data that the information we deliver consumes.
To get a more comprehensive guide to micro-moments, check out this great resource from Google.
* Consumers in the Micro-Moment, Google/Ipsos, U.S., March 2015
** Consumers in the Micro-Moment, Wave 3, Google/Ipsos, U.S., August 2015
Marcus broke into a broad grin. He had wanted to drive a forklift since he was a child, but never had the opportunity to do so. Now, he was sitting in a silver Nissan forklift in the quietest part of his customer’s warehouse, and he took advantage of the opportunity to race around in his propane-powered steed. The aisles felt just like a Formula 1 track and he made high frequency engine and exhaust noises in his mind as he floored the pedal. He loved his job!
As much fun as this was for Marcus, he was on a serious mission. He was a product manager for a Fortune 500 conglomerate and his company was about to develop and release a product that broke convention and straddled the divide between B2B and B2C. He was at the warehouse to do market research, but in an unorthodox way. Instead of interviewing users and using focus groups, he was here to observe, experience and understand the story of his customers.
The power of storytelling is usually invoked at the tail end of marketing. Narratives are created to try and show clients and customers how a product or service could fit into and improve their lives. While that’s how storytelling is traditionally used, I asked myself a couple of years ago if there’s a better way of using storytelling to accomplish product and revenue goals. What if the power of storytelling was used to improve the entire product marketing process, from research and requirements specifications through manufacturing and go-to market?
I believe that using storytelling throughout the product creation process can help create amazing stories at the end. By incorporating an intimate, contiguous study of customers’ usage patterns, product interactions and needs, using storytelling techniques to help sell the business case for different features and functions, and keeping the customer narrative front and center at every step of the development and marketing processes, better products can be developed. I use the word ‘contiguous’ when talking about the market research process because it separates storytelling-driven product development from conventional product development. In a storytelling-driven process, we observe all stages of a product’s usage cycle, which could unearth precious insights that a snapshot-driven study might miss.
While parallels to ethnographic research immediately come to mind, the distinction between a storytelling driven approach to product development and the use of ethnographic research is the pervasiveness with which a storytelling approach is used in the product development process. Instead of using it only during the market research and requirements phases, storytelling should be present in the development of the business case, the design process, design reviews, prototyping, manufacturing readiness and final production. Having a clear reference for why each decision about the product was made can help with buy-in from everyone involved in the process and resolve issues related to scope creep.
One company that seems to have nailed storytelling-driven product development from the perspective of understanding their users’ product usage narratives is cool kitchenware maker, Joseph Joseph. As an example, while other companies that makepepper and salt mills focus on the traditional design aspects (ergonomics, quality of grind), Joseph Joseph looked at the entire usage pattern of the device. By understanding the story of the mill’s life and how its users interact with it, the company realized two additional things. The first is that many people use the mills at the dinner table, where their aesthetic qualities matter. The second is that most mills leave a messy residue behind after they’re used. They incorporated those observations into the design of their “No-Spill Mill Electric Salt and Pepper Mill with Closing Base” (hey, they’re great product designers, not necessarily naming gurus!), which resulted in them winning the Housewares Design Awards in 2012 for that product.
The idea of using storytelling to sell products is well established. I believe that by extending where and how storytelling is used in a product’s life cycle, a revolution in the product development process can occur, which will drive shorter development times, produce better products and increase revenue and profitability.
I decided to write this post because I've seen a trend in business of bringing creative teams in-house. The motivations are primarily cost and control-related, given the competitive landscape and the need for financial prudence. One thing that I've also noticed is that many of these creative teams are managed by non-creatives, who've never dealt with this breed of employee before. While non-creative managers may not have a shared experience with their team members, there are some simple things you can do to ensure that your team is successful.
Over the last few years, I've had the great privilege of working with some amazing creatives. The opportunity to work with some world-class musicians, front end developers, illustrators, filmmakers, back end developers, photographers and graphic designers has allowed me to learn how they work and how to provide an environment that allows them to produce their best. Some of the lessons I've learned can be distilled into the following steps:
Step 1 - Know what you want
The two things that creatives hate more than anything are ambiguity and multiple change requests. Take the time to think your challenge through and formulate a clear vision of your solution. If you're stumped, get input from your team on how best to tackle the problem. Involving them in the process and valuing their input makes them more interested and invested in the project, and makes your job a lot easier. Change is inevitable, but it should be in response to factors beyond your control, not because you couldn't make up your mind about something. Asking your team to change often mid-stream really upsets the groove (see Step 4) and has deleterious effects on productivity.
Step 2 - Give your team very clear directions
What you envision in your head can only be fully and accurately realized if you provide clear directions to your team. Remembering that ambiguity is anathema to a creative, always err on the side of over-communicating your goals and vision during the inception of a project. Draw pictures to help describe what you're thinking; most creatives think visually and pictures are a huge part of our language. You don't have to be an artist to communicate effectively through pictures. Check out Dan Roam's book, "The Back of the Napkin" as proof.
Step 3 - Trust the people you're working with
Once you've provided clear direction, your role from then on is shepherding the process, not micromanaging, or telling your collaborators how to do their job. You've presumably done a good job of assembling a great team, and unless you yourself are a skilled (insert creative skill here), it's very likely that they know what to do much better than you. Have faith in that experience and skill, and you'll be rewarded with great work.
Step 4 - Don't mess with the groove
Creatives don't work in fits and starts. It can sometimes take a while to get there, but when we end up in a productive phase, we don't want to be interrupted .... nay, we *cannot* be interrupted. When a creative hits their stride, they're in the groove, and their productivity and output accelerates like crazy. If you've never experienced that feeling, it's kinda like hopping onto the "East Australian Current" in Pixar's "Finding Nemo" - you get where you want to go a lot more quickly, and the ride is both exhilarating and fun. Give your team ample time to find, hop on and power through their version of the current. Frequent, unnecessary meetings are the bane of existence for most creatives. Leave large chunks of their time (hours, even days) undisturbed so that they can produce.
Step 5 - Be their leader and shield them from bullshit
It's very tempting for everyone in an organization to criticize and offer suggestions for improvement on the work that creatives perform. If you allow that to happen, your team will get frustrated, upset and will not produce their best work. Your role as manager is to be the shield for your team. Let's use a movie industry analogy to illustrate this point more clearly. In moviemaking, producers are the managers, and they assemble a team that includes a director, actors, cinematographer, composer and other supporting roles. The producer is the final arbiter of decisions and is responsible for the success or failure of her project. She creates the protective structure that enables her team to function at its maximum potential, and any feedback goes through her instead of to the individual members of her team. By protecting her team from distractions, she enables them to do their work and benefits from the combined output of their talents. Managing a creative team in your business shouldn't be any different if you want to achieve success.
Step 6- Praise good work!
When your team produces what you want, tell them thank you! Be grateful for the contributions that they make and tell them you appreciate it. If you're not sold on their contribution, take a moment to consider what they do - creatives are tasked with understanding very abstract requests (your goal/project), then translating them into software code or graphics or images and sounds that align with your vision and support the ultimate goal of making customers happy and filling your company's coffers with cash. They are not taking logical, precise data and translating it into a different set of logical, precise data. That's the job of computers. They're taking the logical and transporting it into the realm of the emotional, that place where minds are engaged and hearts are touched. It's a difficult task to accomplish and one that relatively few people are great at. Give them the praise they deserve.
Managing a creative team can be a difficult task if you don't share the same mindset as your charges, but by following these simple steps, you ensure yourself a better chance of success.
We had tons of fun working on our latest project, which involved 6 babies and a high speed camera! Our client, Summer Infant, wanted a fresh, unique brand video to accompany the launch of their new Born Free Breeze baby bottle, an innovative, 2-piece baby bottle (traditional bottles have anywhere from 3-6 pieces). The Breeze helps parents to spend more time creating special moments with their babies by reducing the time it takes to clean bottles.
We captured those precious moments using the Phantom Flex 4K, a super high speed camera, which enabled the micro-expressions of the parents/baby interactions to be captured clearly. The slow motion shots reveal a lot about the depth of emotion and the connections between baby and parent, and it has turned out to be one of our favorite projects. Working with babies and high speed cameras is challenging, but loads of fun, and the work we produced helps to paint a wonderful picture that depicts the amazing relationship between parent and child.
A lot of attention has been given to storytelling in marketing and selling, but the focus has rarely been on using storytelling as an entertainment vehicle.
Years ago, BMW created a series of branded content videos that were directed by famous movie directors. BMW was really at the forefront of the movement to create stories that entertained customers. They understood the value of entertainment as a soft way of selling and of the power of using Hollywood star power, without the typical endorsement deals.
More recently, millions of people have watched NBA star, Kyrie Irving, play ‘Uncle Drew’ in Pepsi Max’s branded content videos. In these videos, Kyrie plays the role of a senior citizen who schools a group of younger players on the basketball court. The focus of the videos is not on the story of Pepsi Max, nor its features or marketing messaging, but on the story of the most unlikely of playground heroes. This form of storytelling allows Pepsi to target a specific market segment and provide it with entertainment that it will enjoy. Pepsi then reaps the benefits of the association that the audience forms between Pepsi and the funny videos, while also providing product placement opportunities for the company.
The experiment was a success, and Pepsi Max released another set of videos. This time around, Jeff Gordon played the role of a nerdy, middle aged man who test drives a Camaro with an unsuspecting used car salesman riding shotgun. Hilarity ensues as the NASCAR star takes the salesman for the drive of his life.
Consumers are tired of blatant attempts at sales, and are asking brands "What more can you do for me?". Entertaining them is one way of answering that question, and branded content provides the vehicle for doing so.
The 90s was a tremendous time for cartoon fans. It was the era of The Simpsons, Dexter’s Laboratory, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and South Park, all amazing in their own right. But the one cartoon that has remained my absolute favorite is a cartoon called Doug, which aired on Nickelodeon.
Douglas “Doug” Funnie was the main character in the cartoon, an early adolescent who faced all sorts of everyday challenges and responded to them in his inimitable way. While I enjoyed the series as a whole, my clearest memory of Doug is represented by a line in one of the episodes. In response to being bullied by a teen much larger than him, Doug’s response was “I may not be big, but I’m small.”
I laughed because of the ridiculousness of that statement, and frankly, I think I remember it so well because it’s one of those silly memories that my brother and I share and reminisce about every once in a while. However, that line turned out to be prescient, because today, it informs my approach to business.
“We’re not big, but we’re small” is something ClearSketch uses as its guiding principle. Hidden within that silly-sounding statement are a number of things that we’re proud of as a company.
- We limit the number of projects that we work on at any given time. It allows us to imbue everything we do with care and love, and a high degree of craft.
- It gives us an opportunity to select only the best collaborators for your particular project, instead of trying to shoehorn disparate projects into a generic set of collective skills.
- We’re very responsive, because we don't have to go through multiple layers of hierarchy.
- Our overheads are low, so our clients get great bang for their buck, while giving us the opportunity to pay the people we collaborate with quickly. This probably resonates with any business owner who has to deal with accounts receivable!
- We’ve got real-world marketing experience, on multiple projects worth over $4 Billion (yes, ‘B’, not ‘m’), so everything we do is based on an intimate understanding of you, your product and your target market.
- We don’t lose stuff in translation between market research, strategy, creative direction and execution, which means the creative we produce aligns well with the market you’re serving.
Do we give up the opportunity to grow and make a lot more money by adhering to this philosophy? Absolutely! But when I started ClearSketch, the goal was to do great work for great people, alongside great people. The door that’s closed on the number of opportunities has opened the one that leads us to the right ones. I hope to find you behind it.
We launched a new website in September last year, but almost immediately ran into a challenge with the proprietary platform that we built it on. To make a long story short, we lost everything we created. Although we were originally upset that all our hard work went to waste, it gave us the opportunity to rethink how we approached what we shared and how we shared it. We knew it was important for us to share our story in a way that's authentic to us, and to allow the site to be a reflection of our personality; fun, creative, colorful and whimsical. We've had the amazing opportunity to work on a variety of different projects, for clients ranging from startups to small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, and we've given every single project our all. We think that it's reflected in our work and we hope that you'll check it out, and get in touch with us if you think that what we do and how we do it resonates with you.