Instantly Obsolete

Guerrilla Branding for Entrepreneurs: A Prototype Class at the d.school

dschool

Pictured above:
Fig. 1: A card-carrying Cardinal (who still roots for the Cal Bears).
Fig. 2. Studio 2 in building 550, the best class room at the d.school.
Fig. 3. A student creates the mind map of her homepage concept.

A little over ten years ago founder David Kelley and Executive Director George Kembel tapped me to help to them articulate and launch the Institute of Design at Stanford University. It was a true privilege and an honor. Over the years I’ve stayed involved, be it lightly, advising and guest lecturing for classes.

However, this last summer, I conspired with Caroline O’Connor, a former d.school fellow and current lecturer, to develop and teach new course curriculum.

The driving idea was to create a series of classes specifically geared to aspiring entrepreneurs, providing design training and frameworks that they could immediately apply to their own budding ventures. Dubbed “Founders Studio”, our mission is to offer hands experience (and tools) for some of the most pressing needs facing new businesses — everything from brand strategy to user experience design.

Authentic to the d.school’s ethos, we begin by developing prototype to test our idea, and ran a three evening class fall called, Guerrilla Branding for Entrepreneurs. Each night was a three-hour intensive workshop that featured a series of mini-lectures, followed by group and individual exercises for the students. Additionally, each class had special guest advisors, to help guide the students.

We started by introducing a concept stub — a germ of a product concept, specific enough for the class to quickly grasp the idea, but open enough for their own direction and interpretation (see the course ‘teaser’ below for the details).

Day one focused on research and need finding for the target audience. Day two we focused on positioning and articulating the brand. And finally on day three, bringing the brand to life and expressing it on a prototype home page.

Yes, from product concept to testing homepage designs in three nights. That’s a lot. Perhaps too much, but the prototype absolutely served it’s function. It was clear the students got a lot out of the studio, and in the process the whole teaching team learned a ton from the students and our experience. Learnings that will certainly be applied to develop future Founder Studio classes. So, look out for more in 2013.

In the meantime, here’s a little teaser of our prototype:

DMI Design/Management Thinking 24: Little ‘i’ Innovation

I was in Portland last week to speak at DMI’s Design/Management Thinking Conference — Balancing Extremes: Tensions in Design. The two-day event, at the stunning Gerding Theatre, offered focused presentations, discussions, and interactive sessions with leading business and design leaders.

The program kicked off with John Hoke and Angela Snow, Nike’s VP of Global Design and Global Director of Creative Operations, who spoke about how tension in design fuels Nike’s breakthrough innovations. Thier big, bold keynote was peppered with high-energy videos featuring cutting-edge products and triumphal sports moments.

I immediately followed with my own session, Little ‘i’ Innovation, in which I proposed that committing to incremental improvements and pivoting on adjacent innovations are as critical to business success as the big breakthroughs ideas. It was a fitting juxtaposition. I was however compelled to employee the multi-talented Justin Timberlake to help me make my point.

A big thank you to the DMI and the conference organizers with a nod to co-chair Josh Levine of Great Monday.

Planning-ness 2012: Connected Personal Objects

Last week, David Bliss and I presented at the 2012 Planning-ness Conference.

For those that haven’t had a chance to attend, Planning-ness is described as an “un-conference” for creative thinkers who want to get their hands dirty. Each session is half teach and half workshop where participants put the presented ideas into action. This year a two-day, two-track event was hosted at the Annenberg Community Beach House in sunny Santa Monica.

In our session, we mapped the ever expanding Internet of Things landscape, broke down the “anatomy” of connected objects, and described how personal connected objects have the ability to encourage new behaviors, even increase human potential.

After which we gave the following assignment:

Think of a personal object. Imagine how you might embed sensors, log interesting data and connect it to the Internet for analysis. Consider what insights this new information would bring to light and what behaviors, or ideas those could inspire.

All of the participants embraced the challenge with passion and enthusiasm — generating ideas that sparked imagination, laughter and smart thinking for where the Internet of Things may go.

Check out the results of the work session here.

2012: Up and to the Right

Once again, SoDA (Society of Digital Agencies) has compiled the thoughts and opinions of more then 700 marketers, agencies, technologists and digital industry insiders. And, for a second year I participated as a section editor (Industry Insider) and content contributor. Below is my article from the above report:

THE ONGOING AGENCY EVOLUTION

The ongoing agency evolution is inextricably linked to an evolving and complex digital landscape—one that includes constant technological innovations, emerging consumer behaviors and the volatile economic climate in which they operate. With all these moving parts, it’s no wonder that many agencies are experimenting with new growth strategies and looking for opportunities to carve out an offering that’s both unique as well as timely for the brands in their portfolio.

Exploring the Adjacent Possible
The ever-shifting landscape continues to introduce new opportunities, areas of focus and business models to evaluate. These opportunities present choices, each of which can suggest a divergent direction. The decisions an agency makes about these prospective futures will have real and tangible repercussions. It will likely require unique processes, structure, talent-mix and even something as fundamental as company culture. However, a successful agency offering should always maintain a clear and purposeful vision. Below are a few of the competing directions agencies are debating—obviously the paths they choose have a tremendous effect on whether they are the right fit for a business or a brand.

Full-service vs. Innovation Focus
Agencies often banter around the idea of a 360° offering for brands. But in an age where services are constantly expanding and bleed from one type of agency to the next, where does “full-service” truly start and stop?Additionally, this path has the tendency to create a reactive environment in which big picture thinking and more innovative ideas struggle to thrive. Other agencies are focusing on delivering digital innovation. But, unless they’re just paying the word lip service (by definition innovation is disruptive), such a focus requires that the agency challenge the status quo for brands. It also requires that they manage the often uncomfortable process that a successful outcome requires.

AOR (Agency of Record) vs. AOI (Agency of Influence)
An AOR is a little like a “general contractor.” It manages a big pool of money and along with it the responsibility of managing a vast swath of projects, subcontractors, and—quite frankly, highly commoditized work. The price pressures that come with “buying in bulk” often require AORs to employee offshore production teams and/or lower-level talent.

Alternatively, other agencies prefer to be the “general counsel” (or consigliore) by focusing on the most business critical (and most influential) projects. While there is less overall work, the highly strategic nature and senior level talent required to deliver on initiatives

Marketing Communications vs. Products and Services
Simply put, there are agencies focused on “making the thing”, and others focused on “marketing the thing”—and more and more, on both.

In recent years, we’ve seen a great deal of overlap in the digital space when it comes to marketing and products. Today, marketers require that their campaigns continue to live on, acting as an open channel between the brand and its audience. Often this means building an application or creating a new service.

Simultaneously, companies are striving to deliver products and services that are imbued with emotive benefits—that tell a story beyond their core utility. Given that, it is possible this is less of a choice, and more of a question of philosophic approach. Don’t they say the best marketing strategy is to make a great product? Just
ask our friends at Apple.

Up and to the Right
A common sentiment shared by many agency principals is their desire to move up the ladder of influence with their client-partners. But of course, this progression requires strategic services that deliver clear value to their client’s business.

One lens to determine where any agency falls along this continuum is to examine what their clients are asking them to do—and how they are responding to those requests.

A Process of Continual Improvement
The landscape will continue to evolve, so, in order to stay relevant and thrive, most agencies are in a perpetual state of adjustment and realignment. I’d say that any agency that professes to have the perfect offering is lying, or delusional.

In fact, some of the most successful agencies embrace a “beta culture”—where they are always experimenting, prototyping and placing small bets to learn and build on what’s working—both for their client’s needs as well as their own bottom line. Not a bad approach, as long as in the absence of certainty, they maintain clarity of purpose.

End.

Future Spotting at CES

Pictured above:
Fig 1: Our client, Sony, had an impressive showing.
Fig 2: The new G-Shock with Bluetooth.
Fig 3: The Chambers, by Rza.
Fig 4: Polaroid’s Android camera.
Fig 5: Justin Bieber-bot with Tosy’s mRobo.

I went looking for the future in Las Vegas. From the moment I walked into the first hall of the Consumer Electronics Show I was adrift in a sea of 3D TVs, bedazzled iPhone cases, iPad wannabes and a myriad of lifestyle headphones. “Beats” by Dre have been popular for some time, but have you heard about “Street” by 50? Or, “Soul” by Ludacris? Perhaps you’ve heard of “Chambers” by Rza? Then there was the candy colored assortment from iWave, iLuv and Nixon. One thing is clear — lifestyle headphones are more than a fleeting fad.

We Like to Watch
By sheer quantity, you’d probably surmise that the future is all about TV. Ultra-thin and ultra-big — one was 84 inches! 3D in every flavor — including the new kind with no glasses required. (Speaking of glasses, I saw a TV that up to four people could all simultaneously watch different programs by wearing special glasses with built-in earbuds. I didn’t try it, but I can tell you that without the glasses it could possibly cause seizures).

The 4K and 8K TVs that offer four to eight times the pixel resolution were certainly impressive. Sadly, it may only be an alternate future in which the broadcast industry supports these formats.

For me, TVs that boasted facial recognition and took voice commands showed the most promise. I’m ready to ditch my many remotes and own a TV that knows what volume I like it set at and can pull up my favorite show, based on a verbal description.

“Hey TV, play that episode of 30 Rock when Jack talks to his TV.”

The Evolution of Things
It was the adaption of existing products that did the most to suggest future possibilities. For example, the Bluetooth G-Shock watch that communicates with your phone, Motorola’s smart fitness watch that collects both biometric and telemetric data, or Polaroid’s “smart camera” that runs on Android. There was also a swath of home electronics designed to allow users to control and monitor products and systems via their smartphones — from lights, to security systems, to thermostats, to washing machines and even dog collars. Personally, I loved the Swiss Army knife equipped with a 1-terrabyte drive, demonstrating that even our most basic survival tools are quickly adapting.

“Scissors, saw, sewing needle, screwdriver, bottle-opener, toothpick, all six seasons of Lost and my entire music collection, right here on this handy little pocket knife.”

Meaning in a Mass of Memes
CES does more to surface prevailing trends than to point toward future states. There were loads of replicated ideas, all played out with subtle differences in their form-factor, feature and styling. However, when you looked closely, clues to our future certainly emerged. For me, it was in the things that weren’t prevalent:

Entertainment without interactivity: We may be looking for deeper immersion, but we still love passive entertainment experiences.

Devices without boundaries: With sensors, apps and access to the cloud, smartphones are becoming smart everything.

Control without a GUI: Be it by voice, facial recognition or gesture, natural human interfaces offer wonderful new possibilities.

In my view, the natural human interfaces foreshadow the most interesting future possibilities — suggesting that the emotive connections digital technology can create are far more important than the electronic devices that deliver them.

Hello Little Printer

Now this is a newspaper I can really sink my teeth into.

When available later this year you will be able to set up subscriptions on your smartphone and Little Printer will gather news, puzzles and media from your social graph and stitch it all together into a sweet mini-newspaper you can print at home.

A wonderful little invention from the crew at BergCloud.

I’ll be ordering one for sure. And, thanks to Larry for the awesome find.

NYT’s Interactive Mirror (and Kinect Hack)

The R&D team at The New York Times designed and prototyped this interactive mirror they call Reveal. It displays news media content as well as personal health and lifestyle data — all controlled through voice and gestural in-puts (or “natural user interfaces”).

More here on Reveal and the NYT R&D Lab.

Hello Future — So Glad You Could Make It

I’ve seen my share of childhood science fiction come to reality, and it never gets old.

I knew that Jaron Lanier was working at Mircosoft Research on applications for the Kinect device, however, I was unaware of the output from their Sensors and Devices Group — a part of the Computer-Mediated Living research area. The team produced the “HoloDesk” (video above), a system that combines a special optical display and the Kinect camera to create an experience that replicates realistic physical interactions with virtual 3D objects.

The demo is intriguing. And adjacent possible, astounding.

The Future of Media: Channeling Passion, Culture and Relevance

Above: Angry Birds Theme, covered by Pomplamoose — the VideoSong was filmed with a Samsung Infuse 4G phone.

Recently, I participated in SAY Media’s Create conference with an inspiring group of passionate people who are all creating amazing content and building culture around the things they love.

The event got me thinking about the future of media — and how brands can best position themselves alongside “passionate” content to foster more meaningful connections with their customers.

Media creation and consumption continues to fracture and expand into every conceivable space. What once were a few trusted sources has become an ever-expanding universe of niche players. Never before has there been more content available in more places. However, consumers and creators are often overwhelmed, finding it difficult to know what’s relevant, and to connect with others who care about the same things they do.

For brand marketers, this landscape has become frightfully convoluted, proving to be a difficult ground to find reliable tactics for consistent success — particularly when it comes to connecting meaningfully with their target audiences.

So, how are people discovering media today? What draws them in? What inspires them to engage and what compels them to come back for more?

One thing is clear; people aren’t waiting for it to be delivered to them from the same old mass media channels.

Consumers are actively, sometimes feverishly, seeking out content about their passions. They’re on the lookout for fresh thinking from people who share their interests and demonstrate like-minded views. Generally these passionate creators also foster a persistent exchange with their audiences — catalyzing communities that generate even more content for, and about their passions.

Their voices are authentic. Their platforms are open. And, in aggregate, they’re drawing profound, even massive audiences.

New jack media networks like SAY, are capitalizing on this phenomenon by aggregating and connecting the best independent content creators and their communities to provide simple ways for brands to engage with passionate audiences, at scale.

This new wave of media networks continue to experiment with opportunities for brands to get closer to the content and provide meaningful ways to engage with audiences.

It was in this vein that Odopod helped develop the Master of All Skills promotional contest for DonQ Rum earlier this year. A highly bespoke program that positioned their brand at the center of deeply engaging custom content from publishers with passionate interests, including Cool Hunting, Instructables and Good Magazine.

What’s more, it seems the individual creators don’t mind working with the brands either. In fact, when a brand shares their interests, they welcome collaboration, even earnest co-creation.

For example, during their presentation at Create, Jack Conte, of the musical duo Pomplamosse, discussed their collaboration with Samsung to develop one of their inventive YouTube video-songs (see above) in order to generate buzz an upcoming product launch.

And, that’s the kind of relationship can propel a brand out of the cluttered margins, and smack dab in the center of passionate conversations and cultural relevance.

PS. Thanks for the invitation Troy.

Internet of Things Say Hello to Model S

It’s true Tesla is a client, but that’s far from the only reason I love ‘em.

In a large part it’s because they behave much more a lot like a Silicon Valley software company then an automotive manufacture. And, in addition to weaning us from our costly dependence on oil, Tesla on a mission to create the most connecting car. Ever.

Based on the videos from this Engadget post, it looks like there on track to do just that.

Sure, there’s that sexy 17-inch touchscreen in-dash display. That along with a full Webkit browser operates everything from the climate and navigation to the cloud-connected entertainment system. However, it’s the demo of the native app above that’s really got me ready to burn the $50K+ hole in my pocket when it rolls into full production in 2012.

Hello.

I'm Guthrie Dolin. I'm a seasoned creative director, connector of dots, marketing strategist and insatiable entrepreneur. I’m Principal and Director of Brand and Strategy at Odopod in San Francisco.

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