SXSW Panel Picker - Please Vote!

I've been nominated to be on two panels at SXSW and need your votes so I can go party in Austin. Voting ends Friday, September 4 so please vote before then. Just click on the links below to vote for each of the other panel topics! (you'll need to quickly register to submit your vote)

Traditional’s Dead--But is Digital Driving the Hearse?

Dinosaur RFPs: Should They Be Extinct?



Getting Dishy

If you're reading this blog, you're probably interested in marketing, advertising and technology. If that's the case, you might want to consider putting Susan Bratton's DishyMix podcast on your iPhone. It's a great little program where she interviews some amazingly smart and relevant people. Past guests have included Steve Wozniak, Alex Bogusky, Nolan Bushnell (inventor of Atari), Gina Bianchini (CEO of Ning), Seth Godin, John Battelle (Federated Media) and dozens of other really smart and knowledgeable people in the industry.

I listen to it all the time, so I was really pleased when Susan asked me to be on it a few months ago. Even more so when she invited me to guest host the show. I interviewed Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora.com and I'll publish a link when that episode goes live. It was really fun and Tim's an amazing guy and Pandora is revolutionizing how we discover and listen to music. Can't wait to share that.

A transcript of my interview and the actual podcast are available on the DishyMix blog. Here's an excerpt from the transcript that I liked (I took the liberty of editing out the "ums" and you knows"):

Adam Kleinberg: ... the vision that we have—that I found from our first website on the Way Back Machine—is still true to everything we say and believe today despite all of the web design agency, advertising agency, confusion along the way. There’s a vision that we’ve been true to all along…

Susan Bratton: What is it?

Adam Kleinberg: The vision is that everything is interactive. It’s all about the experience. What we have here that’s different from other agencies is that we have both a very established practice of human centered design, user experience design, and we also have a really great background in branding, advertising and design. We try to bring those two together into an approach that we call brand experience design. You ask us what we are? We try to avoid it ‘cause it sounds kind of buzz wordy—but we're brand experience designers. That’s really what we’re designing. Every point of contact between a brand and a consumer… I’m not saying we do everything. We don’t do PR. We do what we’re good at and we outsource the rest for sure. But, we’re taking a really holistic approach. We’ve even come up with an approach to communications design, communications planning, that we’re calling engineered marketing.

You know, the funnel doesn’t exist anymore, right? The marketing funnel is now…

Susan Bratton: No, the funnel is now shot full of holes, right?

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah, it’s a maze, right…

Susan Bratton: Or a siv.

Adam Kleinberg: So what do you do with that? There wass an e-marketer study last year that said 60 percent of consumers now rely on word of mouth for how they make purchase decisions. That’s up quite drastically from a few years before. I don’t want to throw out a statistic because I don’t have it specifically, but I believe it was in the range of 30 percent a few years earlier…

Susan Bratton: So twice as much.

Adam Kleinberg: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: That means you’re in a world where contributors to your brand's story are as important as purchasers because purchasers are relying on contributors when they’re making purchase decisions. So you have to really think through all of these things. You know, one of the things—when we were frustrated about the lack of integration we were seeing—was: here’s a print ad, use the same photo in the banner ad. That’s not integration. Integration is thinking like where are people going to go, what are the opportunities, what are the possibilities, how are they linked together, what are the metrics that you’re assigning to track and optimize all of these things and how is everything working together, because every time a customer comes into contact with your brand it’s part of an overall brand experience.

Susan Bratton: So it’s planning, but it’s planning in the web world where so much of that contact is either IRL – In Real Life – or something that’s a touch point on the web that is something that a classy corporation is just getting their hands on, that change, right?

Adam Kleinberg: So we’re doing print, we’re doing TV downstairs, we’re even doing packaging, but we see them all as part of a brand interaction. We’ll think about where that print is driving someone online… We’re just doing wire frames that extend beyond the page out into the ether.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Adam Kleinberg: You know, interactive goes beyond digital. I think everything is interactive.


What we do at Traction

Depending whom you ask, Traction is seen as a creative agency, an interactive agency, an ad agency, a design agency, a social media agency or some combination of the above. The common thread is that we design brand experiences across channels of communication. We believe everything is interactive.

In pitches, we illustrate that the marketing funnel (awareness, consideration, intent, action) no longer exists in a connected world. What’s more, consumers are now empowered to consume media on their own terms—meaning brands must provide relevance and value more than ever before. We have a flexible process framework for developing communications in this environment.

Every assignment has five phases: Learn, Plan, Concept, Build & Evolve. The three areas we generally apply our process are User Experience Design (web sites, apps, mobile, anything with an interface), Social Marketing programs and Integrated Branding & Advertising campaigns.

Strategy happens in the Learn, Plan and Concept phases. First we learn—we gather inputs from internal (client) sources, on the target audience and on the marketplace. Then we plan a strategy that aligns to our brand and digital philosophies.

We believe that in the mind of a consumer, a brand can be one thing. That one thing is not a box. It is a prism through which a brand can be expressed. The artifact that we use to express how we got to that one thing is called the Brand Strategy. This is one of two key deliverables of the Plan phase for our end-to-end brand process.

The second deliverable of the Plan phase is called the Interactive Strategy. We are an interactive agency, but we don’t limit that to digital. The artifact we produce here defines target media consumption and shows how we will move audiences from awareness through conversion (and conversation). We’ve been calling our approach to designing integrated communications plans “Engineered Marketing.”

First, we redefine the purchase continuum for a scenario. Then we develop a big creative idea. Next, we “engineer” a tactical multi-channel contact strategy that takes into account how people actually engage with a brand today. Finally we produce a narrative across tactics to drive measureable results. We define how we will measure success from the outset and provide a transparent view into program performance along the way.

Observing human behavior to design solutions that meet human needs has become a hallmark of the worlds’ leading product design companies. But, no one has applied design thinking to communications planning—until now.

At Traction, we create a brand narrative that aligns business objectives with human behavior.


How to have happy accidents

No, this is not a blog post about potty training (although that is a subject I know intimately).

Last night I had nothing to say, so I tweeted: "What should I write a blog post about?"

@Ray_anne responded:

@adamkleinberg write about accidents in life that turn out to be blessings...

So accidentally, here I am writing this post. A blessing? Maybe, maybe not. But I do believe that not only can accidents turn out to be blessings, there's a lot you can do to make sure that comes true.

My background in the ad agency business is on the creative side. As a designer, I've always seen my job as sculpting little accidents into solutions to creative challenges. To me, this is what the creative process is all about. Tiny experiments based on a framework of intuition, experience and common sense.

It's this framework that is the key.

When the economy collapsed and Theo and I got laid off from Tribal DDB in 2001—one year after being recruited to start their San Francisco office—that was an accident.

We thought we could create something better, so we started Traction. Now, BtoB Mag says we're the #1 interactive agency in the country. I feel confident saying that accident turned out to be a blessing.

Sure. Talent, hard work and luck all played a role. But I truly believe that it was having a consistent framework that has—and will—evolve us into a great company.

I recently peeked at the Wayback Machine to see Traction's original website. What struck me was that all the stuff we said when there were four of us working out of the spare bedroom of my apartment is still the stuff we're saying today. Things like:

"Messaging must be concise, relevant and compelling. The user experience rises to the forefront of consequence. A clearly defined benefit is imperative - a catchy tagline or jingle will not suffice. Simply put, a unique human insight must be presented to the consumer at all points of contact."

But, our goal is not just to produce great advertising, It is to produce a great company where the experience getting there is as great as the final work itself.

Life is the stuff that happens while you're making plans, after all.

To achieve our goal, we need accidents to become blessings all the time. We need a framework.

How do you define a framework? Well, what do you value?

At Traction, we've very clearly defined what we value: Candor, Communication, Great Work, Empathy and Integrity

This means that everyone in my organization can intuit the correct answer to a "what should I do?" question by looking at this framework.


Q. "Should I tell the client now that their expectations are unreasonable?"

A. (Hmm. Candor!) "Yes, I should."

Q. "Should I spend an extra hour on this ____ until I nail it?"

A. (Let's see. Great work!) "Yes, I should."

And so on.

By defining what it is YOU value and understanding how values contribute to your goal, you can give yourself the framework you need to fall uphill.

There will always be setbacks and challenges you can't control. Eventual outcomes, however, you have the power to guide. Having a framework, a mission and value system—call it what you will—sets you on a course.

Follow it.


Traction campaign for Alibaba.com makes WSJ

Check out the latest Traction campaign for Alibaba.com featured in the WSJ .

The first of three spots aired tonight on the premier of ABC's Shark Tank and the campaign website is at success.alibaba.com.

After you've checked out the campaign site, do a search and poke around Alibaba.com to get a sense how amazingly easy it is for people to find business partners across the globe. It blows my mind.