Author Archives: Tullycaster

About Tullycaster

Marketer, broadcaster, writer and public speaker Brendan is the CEO and of Horse & Cart Agency in Montreal and a general issue trouble maker.

Giving Tuesday and a new approach to donating online

Giving Tuesday

Nothing like a bright, brisk, BITTERLY FREEEEEEZING COLD day to remind you that some people may not be enjoying such a cosy christmas this year.  Just as Montreal delivers its first belting blast of cold, a stalwart network of charities across town are hoping that today, Giving Tuesday, will make a difference.

It’s heartening to see how many companies are taking up the cause. CIBC’s simple Ret-tweet=$1 is bang on. I hope it goes INSANELY VIRAL….;)

NOTE: Google, who seems never to miss a day with its fun and frivolous dedications is strangely absent.

One of the big challenges charities face, beyond the obvious hurdles of being heard over the racket, is handling the cost of giving itself. Believe it or not this represents a considerable share of their administrative costs. You’ve got to spend money to make money, right? Right! And once the estimated 50% of their budgets that go to fundraisers is spent, they’re squeezed just a little but more by the credit card companies and growing number of “philanthropic startups” that help handle payments and other stuff. That generally amounts to an additional 5-7% of donated dollars NOT going to those in need.

It’s a bad old story. And it’s one of the reasons many people cite for not wanting to give through organizations.

Take Ed Norton’s Crowdrise concept. Great initiative right? Well, let’s a take a closer look at their pricing model.

If you go straight to their pricing page, it looks pretty much the same as any of the others, with three tiers of transactional costs ranging from 5% in the basic “FREE” plan to the 3% all bells and whistles “Royale” plan (nice name, that one), that costs $199 per month (with an annual commitment paid upfront). Oh, yeah and in the spirit of doubling down, as a Crowdrise donor you are asked to make your own contribution to their effort through the checkout process suggesting that the charity hasn’t already paid.

It’s the same basic concept employed by Classy.org but classy isn’t afraid to go Royale with Cheese, imposing a sliding per transaction fee from 5% to 2% and then 1% as you enter a monthly fee structure with them that starts at a $499/mo and goes up to a whopping $1,999/mo. But hey, that gives all sorts of awesome web integration, banking and admin options and multiple sub domains!

No one would blame the tech industry for being entrepreneurial but there’s a big difference between leveraging technology for good, and being predatory. These models, even if they can argue some machiavellian case for raising more money in the aggregate, are simply not doing charities any favours.

As you may have guessed, I am building up to a point here, but before I make it I want to provide full disclosure. As I present what would seem to be the antidote to this problem, and a possible game changing alternative, namely Ensemble.co happens to be a Horse & Cart client.

The brain child of Jason Dominique, Ensemble.co not only turns the whole online charitable giving concept on its head. It also takes what might have been considered a suicidal business model and makes it one of the most attractive aspects of it for charities and donors alike.

NOTE TO READERS: Ensemble is currently signing on charities to it’s service. As such its donor functions are not fully activated. If you would like to help the Ensemble cause, please urge your favourite charity to claim its free page on the site. 

Instead of engaging charities as clients, Ensemble speaks directly to the donor and their desire for fair and transparent pricing. It’s so transparent in fact that the company bravely commits to a model that is now and forever 100% free to charities. Hand in hand, Ensemble does a great job of empowering donors. In their words:

“Because a gift isn’t a gift if it isn’t free. This simple, immutable principle is the reason Ensemble exists, but we can’t do it alone. Collective Responsibility empowers donors to take on the cost of giving and ensure that their gifts of charity really and truly are gifts.”

Ensemble

Ensemble.co’s pricing page

Of course the credit card fees are inescapable. But what if the credit companies could get on board and actually stop charging transactional fees for charitable donations? Shouldn’t they be doing this already?

Happy Giving Tuesday, and here’s hoping this season we all find a way too help out and make life a little better for the people around us.

Beth ‘the Coo’ Thouin Flies the Nest

Beth Thouin

Beth

‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’ ~ William Shakespeare

It is with a heavy heart that I announce my departure from Brendan & Brendan today to pursue a life of skincare and data (more on that later on). What can I say? For just over a year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with this fine team of industry experts, creatives and clients from around the globe. We’ve turned ideas into action, arguments into genius work, and genuinely helped companies achieve their goals.

To Brendan and Brendan (literally, the two guys) – you have a passion and drive to deliver the right kind of marketing creative to companies in a way I have never seen before. Your eclectic experiences and unique characters collide into what I can only describe as an unstoppable powerhouse. It was an honour to stand beside you and help grow this company.

To the team, it has been such a pleasure working with you. Morning sprints, last minute power meetings, outdoor lunches and after hours chats will be missed. Continue on the path of resilience! #holacracyalltheway

And so, as hard as it is to leave the best place in the world to work, my hankering for startup marketing beseeches me. I will be heading user acquisition at Vain Pursuits.

If you haven’t heard of this exciting startup already, Vain Pursuits is a unique startup that leverages data (your data!) to offer customized skin care to women and men. Exciting times ahead!

To commemorate my time with The Brendans, here is a list of the Top Ten Things I’ll Miss Most About Brendan & Brendan!

10. Triple BBB fist pumping

9. Being a mom to Nat

8. Watching the interns grow like weeds!

7. Drew’s digefied comebacks

6. Singing ‘Want to Build a Snowman’ with Moni

5. Skype messages from Leila (you know what I mean girl 😉

4. #BethSmash

3. Tully’s spontaneous guitar jams

2. Digibomb’s ad hoc rapping

1. Most of all, my family who is ‘The Brendans’

My highest esteem,

Beth

Keep Marketing Fun!

Marketing Rock & Apeing Terry O’Reilly – Part 1

A frequent source of KMF inspiration, our own national treasure Terry O’Reilly of the CBC’s Under The Influence is never lacking for a good hook. Can anyone blame me?

Well this time we’re on a meta journey into influence, well past mere inspiration and headfirst into the very essence of marketing – creative plagiarism. Nowhere has this constant been better and more entertainingly applied than in the business of marketing rock and roll music. Indeed the worlds of art and artifice are never closer than here, and O’Reilly’s first in a series segment “The Marketing of Rock ‘N Roll is – Part 1” is thick with classic gimmicks, trickery and some woefully missed opportunities.

Timely too, as we nurse our Grammy night hangovers, celebrate our favourite winners and console the nominees that didn’t win. In this case there were a couple very close to home, including my own brother Tim Walsh for his fine bass playing on Louisiana roots artist Zachary Richard’s nominated record le fou. Next time.

O’Reilly starts his tale on an otherwise ordinary day in February 1964, when the Beatles woke up, ate a few scones and changed rock and roll history. Amid the bacchanalian screams that nearly drown out their charming if imperfect performance of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on Ed Sullivan, the Beatles were instant rock and roll royalty, taking a powerful swinging crack at Elvis’ thrown.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show

And yet, as Terry O’Reilly posits, whatever the Beatles got right in channelling the zeitgeist of the early 60s, they got completely wrong when it came to monetizing it.  But that didn’t stop at least one long-forgotten band of the era to capitalize on their rapid rise.

O’Reilly gives a delightful recount of how complete unknowns – “the Beau Brummels” – applied the 2nd P of marketing to brilliant effect. Choosing a name that sounded British and “just happened” to fall alphabetically right after The Beatles, this American Beatles-look-and-sound-alike “B-band” ensured their records were right there after the empty bin of sold out fab four records for desperate buyers. Great marketing placement.

the Beau Brummels

Meet the Beau Brummels

But back before the Beatles were just a misspelling of an eeksome pest, Elvis’ hegemonic commercialization was in full swing. Under the watchful eye of Col. Tom Parker, who, not having great faith in Elvis’ longevity at first, took supreme advantage of the rising star’s early popularity. Producing every piece of throwaway (now highly collectable) souvenir garbage he could, he took every opportunity available to cash in. All in support of his big film debut Love Me Tender in 1956 – a huge success – the teen-oriented marketing machine that was Elvis stopped at nothing.

According to O’Reilly. “In just a few months over 50 Elvis-themed products were produced from charm bracelets and necklaces to scarves, teddy bear perfume, tops bubble gum cards and sneakers to record players, hats and lipsticks in hot pink and houndog orange ….”

Not a bad day at the hound dog races. The campaign generated over 20 million dollars – a huge pile of loot for 1957. From himself selling “I hate Elvis” pins to making his short tour in the Korean War yet another opportunity to propel the Elvis brand, Col. Parker was the first rock and roll marketer and arguably himself “The King” of another art in his own right.

Come in here dear boy, have a cigar!

Come in here dear boy, have a cigar!

That’s not quite the title one would give to the infamous Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager. Though miraculously well-loved by the band to this day, and trusted to a fault, Brian Epstein’s notorious mismanagement of the Beatles and non-management of the enormously lucrative merchandise licensing opportunity of their rapid rise left the Beatles’ bank account up to 1965, (according to George Harrison) considerably well below a million dollars. Others have suggested that their individual payouts were in the low 6 figures during those halcyon days.

So while Col. Parker had cut the template for how to make a bundle on rock and roll stars, (while retaining a 50% stake for himself), Epstein handed over 90% of the Beatles’ merchandising to a faceless third party management company simply because he didn’t want to deal with it. Many have suggested the reason and timing of Brian Epstein’s ultimate suicide in 1967 (the year his contract with the Beatles came up for renewal), was traceable directly to his tragically bad decision.

Epstein’s notorious error of judgement and management has provided a fantastic lesson to future stars. Anyone who’s been even a casual observer of the music industry would see who the winners of the merchandizing machine of rock music are. From the Monkeys to KISS to ZZ Top and ACDC the standard set by Elvis in the 50s has been firmly ingrained in the business to this day.

As Terry O’Reilly’s series continues, we’ll be back next week to look at more of the fascinating world of Rock & Roll Marketing.

Soon You’ll be Able to Automate Your “Social” Life, and Other Truly Terrifying Trends

I swear if I had a buck for every time I’ve heard about a new technology that I’d already thought of, well….I’d probably have about 28 bucks or so. Of course it’s all in the execution, but even more to the point, it’s all really about the will to create these magnificent and in some cases (this one) monstrous new technologies.

I try to keep up with the news of the day, but somehow this piece only crossed my smartphone this past Sunday evening, and may I say I was aghast, not surprised, just thoroughly aghast.

The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops

It seems that in their noble pursuit to become all things to all men and women, Google is taking the next logical step, to in a virtual essence, somehow become us. Of course this hijacking comes in the way of a kind, friendly helping hand.

I learned from the BBC’s technology desk that Google has just patented a new of kind social media machine learning algorithm that when applied can predict how we would interact with our peers across all social networks. Knowing us as well as any machine could, it would then suggest a recurring series of timely, prefab comments and interactions (likes, follows, etc.) to keep those social home fires burning.

Wait a minute….WHAT? Holy Sh#t! How did I miss this?

And more importantly, how is possible that the royal scale hubris of this effort escaped the mass outrage it deserves? I will note without a suggestion of conspiracy that the story seems to have crossed the wires on Friday, generally the day newsrooms take out the garbage. But this was no garbage, and yet its strong, pungent odour was hard to miss.

Is my reaction overblown? I don’t think so, but please weigh in if you disagree.

As presented in the piece (and published elsewhere), the author of the patent, Google technologist Ashish Bhatia, paints a simple, compelling picture that goes straight to a pain point many of us have felt. Keeping our social media gardens in order can be fun and rewarding, but it’s also a royal pain in the ass. If you are like most people in the wired world these days, you’re liable to be juggling several social media accounts along with texting and email. According to A-List industry analyst Mary Meeker of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, Byers, most smartphone users check their phones 150 times per day. That’s up there with the number of times one might scratch a body part. Invasive? Yes. But let’s not forget the grand bargain we’ve all made inviting these world-broadening channels into our lives.

So while the idea of a machine that could learn the way we react, engage and comment on social media might seem compelling at first, if we unpack the implications, a rather horrid picture of our future as interacting humans takes shape.

Isn’t the very point of social media the ability to interact with our communities of friends, family, colleagues and peers? Even if we could automate those interactions, wouldn’t we ultimately become disengaged, and I don’t mean just the automator, but all of us. Speaking for myself, I can hereby guarantee that if I were to discover that a peer had dropped the equivalent of a social media auto-responder on me, I’d be inclined to stage a real-world intervention. And over time, to be sure, this kind of lethargic, uncreative, and indeed inhuman interaction would lead us all to eventually abandon social media in favour of that very real and very gratifying experience of the real human kind.

The example, (and it’s a real doosey) that the BBC cites from the patent reads as follows:

Despite its potential sophistication, examples provided in the patent suggest it still needs refinement.

In response to learning that an acquaintance called David has changed jobs, the system might suggest: ‘Hey David, I am fine, You were in ABC corp for 3 years and you recently moved to XYZ corp, how do you feel about the difference, enjoying your new workplace?’ (sic) “

Wow, that’s an “unfriend” worthy note if I ever saw one. But perhaps first I might send a friendly rejoinder suggesting to the contact that perhaps their account had been hacked. But hey, it’s only the beginning! Certainly the depth of its inhumanity will become refined and perfected.

The real problem here is that the only acceptable form of some kind of social automation would be one that was perfect, that always got it right. But since the model for it (namely us), is by nature imperfect, this is all perfectly impossible.

So back to my many million dollar ideas. About a decade ago over a few too many airport lounge cocktails, my boss at the time and I hatched an idea we thought was pure genius. We’ve all at some point had to write those perfunctory but entirely appreciated little notes to our loved ones, especially our wives and girlfriends, to remind them we’re alive and we love them. They are so often the same, and even verbatim, and may in fact occur at around the same time of the day between bouts of work and meetings. “So what if,” we though, “You could schedule a regular set of auto-shuffling personal messages programmed to fire at random times of day, so as to stay in the good without having to break your busy stride.”

We laughed hearty, evil laughs and agreed it must be done. By the time the booze wore off and a text came from my gal saying she loved me and hoped I had a safe flight, I realized the dehumanizing scenario we’d envisioned. I guess Google has yet to see it. Don’t be evil.

What Happens When Great Brands Let Go Of The Reigns

When I was shit from shinolaa young lad and I would stumble upon some piece of popular culture I thought truly great, I’d run excitedly by my father to show him what I’d found.

Be it a piece of music, a film or an off-the-shelf product, his reaction was often the same and most often this verbatim quote of his own…”Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s crap”.

This was validation in our house, though the implication that it was only by pure chance that it wasn’t crap was loud and clear. Still it did give one a bump for having the discerning eye to see through the tinsel to the greatness underneath.  

The older I get the more I find this phrase popping into conversation, but the fact is you have to have seen, heard and been thoroughly disgusted by a lot to feel the truth of it.

Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s crap

my dad

How does this relate to Brands? If it hasn’t been done already, one could draw the arch of a typical brand’s lifecycle – from the early halcyon days of excitedly building, of solving a problem, of delighting customers, viewers, fans and of changing people’s entrenched perspectives – of creating something truly great. This applies equally across physical products to works of music and art.

Every artist has their “wow” period, and it’s usually early on, just as products have their hay day (“back when they used to care…”). Suffice to say there are as many examples in the world of art and academics as there are in the world of products. You even might say that in certain cases they are connected. As the novelty of piece of art or certain approach hits the mainstream, becomes a part of the fabric of popular culture it quickly becomes productized. More and more quickly in fact as the window closes in a blink on “cool”, capitalizing on it rapidly is the name of the game. This isn’t always a bad thing, and in fact many brands that truly understand themselves and their value don’t always commit commercial hari-kari when they productize, franchise and generally balloon out to the mass market. Virgin Airlines is a good example of this. TED Talks is a bad example.

Unfortunately most brands follow this – “had it for a while, saw the opportunity to make a buck, let quality slip, killed the brand.”

I was struck by this this past weekend as I set down with my wife and 2 year old son for bout of bedtime story reading. I picked up one of the newer acquisitions on the shelf. It was Cat in The Hat’s Safari So Good: All About African Wildlife. By the second page of miserably desperate rhymes, careless art work and those tell-tale stuck-on-cells of the Cat in the Hat, my wife and I looked at each other in silent disgust. This wasn’t the work of the late, great Dr. Seuss. Our bad since all we had to do was look at the front cover and the author Bonnie Worth to know. Further investigation revealed that it was a 2011 rendering by something called Dr. Seuss Enterprises LTD. The same people who make that hideous cartoon rendition on TV with the vaguely creepy Noel Coward sound-alike Cat in the Hat.

I am not suggesting that the franchising of a cultural institution is wrong. There’s every reason to continue along on a formula that works. What doesn’t work is letting hacks cheapen the experience and bring down the brand. As we all know, it takes much much more time to build a brand up than tear it down, and yet somehow we let it happen, like sitting idly by while a loved one dies of a cold. There’s no reason for it.

Examples abound, and I put them in four categories. 1) Great brands that killed themselves, never to be revived 2) Great brands that nearly killed themselves but turned things around at the hands visionary management 3) Brands that nearly killed themselves but were saved by fans or good business people 4) Brands that have always known their value and would never dream of sullying it.

From Fender Guitars and Indian Motorcycles who were brought back from the brink after years of mismanagement to companies like Saab who were allowed to die at the hands of careless buyers, to companies like Martin Guitars, BMW and Omega who have never let their brand guards down.

To bring it full circle, I was most pleased recently to discover an entirely different category of brand resuscitation with the Shinola company, once a popular purveyor of shoe polish often contrasted with shit, to be transformed at the hands of marketing-savvy folks in Detroit who have turned the Marque from shoeshine to watches and a whole lot more.

For a marketer this is perhaps the most exciting prospect, and makes me think it’s about time to start a short list of long lost but not forgotten brands primed for a spit, polish and relaunch.

What Can Holden Caulfield Teach Us About Marketing?

Holden CaulfieldAs J.D. Salinger’s unpublished works find their way into the spotlight approaching the 5th anniversary of his death, the reclusive author’s star rises to another height of popular admiration. His literary a-bomb, The Catcher In The Rye, considered one of, if not the greatest pieces of American fiction, still sells some 250,000 copies a year.

Though it comes as a bit of surprise, the idea of The Catcher In The Rye as a marketing self help book seems to have no precedent.  Save this blog and please correct me if I am wrong, but how is this possible? A timeless reminder of some of the more important things in life – principally,  “don’t be phony” – The Catcher In The Rye strikes a direct hit at the very foundations of our “discipline”, formed and poured of pure phoniness – and by way of collateral damage, the marketer him/herself.

As we unpack the themes of this great novel, familiar, and perhaps even painfully so for some (this author included), we find more than a trite one liner, but a study in the character flaws of a young man whose intelligence, self importance and self-deception confine him to a tragic alienation from the real world.  At the heart of his skewed and dangerously sui generis worldview is a naive belief that the forces of phoniness and self-importance are at odds with a childish ideal of simplicity, constance and predictability which he desperately needs.

The reality of course is that Caulfield’s mantra, and his desperate clinging to an idealized image of lost childhood innocence prevents him from truly understanding the world he is in, and being able to relate to it as an adult. As such he armours himself against his own misapprehensions with hollow efforts at reflecting uniqueness (his red hunting hat), lying pathologically and criticizing everyone around him that don’t seem to “get it” in the manner that he has convinced himself he does. In the process he makes no lasting human connections, while burning those relationships that might have provided him pathway out of his deep loneliness and disaffection.

How does all this relate to marketing? Not to be overly dramatical, as this is heavy stuff, but we might say there’s a little bit of Holden Caulfield in all of us. If that’s true, there’s just a little bit more of him in the average marketer. Fair to say, marketers think they are pretty special, and in many cases it’s true. They are generally very creative, intelligent, critical people with a strong vision for how to make things better, simpler and more accessible. But while they often fail to deliver on this vision, they also may develop a deep-seated insecurity about what they do and their very roles in their organizations. They don’t design or engineer their products, they don’t sell or support them and they generally aren’t involved in the day-to-day operations that make them a success or failure. Feeling isolated yet?  However self-imposed this isolation, marketers often develop a naive view of how things really work in their their industries and their companies. While trying to create an environment that is simple, predictable and constant, they face a world, that even with the ease, access and low cost of social media has only become more complex.

The danger for marketers today is that the very technologies they believe will help them exorcise the phoniness at the heart of their art, they may still be behind a wall of their own making.  While they get the message about being “authentic” by exposing their company “culture”, “customer stories“ or other random bits of (red hunting hat type) content through the great equalizer of social media, they run the risk of further self-deception. Does anyone really care? Basing their seeming success on random measurements like “likes”, reach or engagement, they may believe they are finally on the other side of the wall, but are they really?

As you can probably guess, there’s no easy way out of this particular line of questioning. And whether we look to The Catcher in The Rye, Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Plato’s The Cave they all provide harsh lessons in the importance of seeking real truth, however painful. And so for all of you marketers (and hey, why not product managers, project managers and CEOs?) out there working in fluid, unpredictable and even at times unmanageable environments, you aren’t, won’t be and can’t be the saviour, so stop thinking that way, check your ego at the door and start having as many honest, uncynical and self-reflective conversations as you can.

Esse Quam Videri