Our approach to creating relatable brands for our clients.

Q:

Does our logo look tired? Can you tell us how we should update it? Is the orange still relevant? Is the typeface dated? Is the icon working?

A:

If we answered these questions before asking many more first, we would be referencing our ideas of what is valuable, relevant, and interesting. Those answers would be about us, not about youyour customer or the true value you represent and therefore, they would be wrong.

If that was our process, we recommend you fire us.

Your questions need answers that come from looking more deeply at who you want to have a conversation with. Who do you serve? How do you serve them? What is the most important way that your service improves their life? How are you serving them vs. the competition? What insights and additional questions come from asking these questions? And so on.

The answers can reveal which services your customers need and value, and which may need to change, a little or a lot, to better meet customer’s true needs and practices as well as revealing clues as to the best way to speak to your customer so that they can hear you.

The world changes with ever-increasing speed. Thus, the way you talk to people, the reasons you think they work with you or buy from you and the narratives and media channels you use all benefit from consistent, periodic evaluations.

Pop Quiz

Who is using your product? What are their 3 biggest stressors daily? 

Why and how do your customers choose and use you?

What are you doing now that positively impacts your customers lives that your competitors are not?

And how is that message reaching your customer? 

If you haven’t considered these questions in a while, we can help you through the process.

And from there, we can talk about the color of your logo.

At Seed Agency, we help clients navigate their brands through an ever-changing landscape of customers, behaviors, media platforms and data. If you need a partner in better navigating toward your own north star, we are here to help.

 

Can I borrow your eyes for a moment? Using empathy to better understand and engage your ideal customer.

To win eyeballs you might want to first imagine they are yours.

It’s very easy to look at perceived behavior and data, and project what people want. But it’s another thing to empathize with the experience of your key customers to better understand where they might be coming from and what they need from you.

You want their attention, their eyeballs, but what you really need are their eyes.

To better understand how to get their attention, imagine first that you can borrow their eyes and look out. While you’re at it, borrow their shoes as well. You don’t need a degree in cultural anthropology, as fascinating as the Yanomamo people and indigenous tribes of Africa can be. Instead try pausing for a moment letting go of your own view of the world, and your own beliefs and stories of how things work and simply imagine that you are your target customer.

What is that customer thinking about when he/she wakes up? What is their biggest challenge of the morning or day? What do they need most? And how does what you do solve for that need?

Use data. Use empathy. Use both to gain broader insights into the real challenges your customer faces and how you can help solve them.

“Is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes even for an instant.”

-Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

Humans fail to fit into most standard settings. Why that’s good news for brands looking to connect.

Are you a small, medium, large, or…?

Living in an industrialized world means that we are surrounded by systems that attempt to automate and simplify most activities, services, and products down to a basic set of options and settings. But nothing about you or your customer is a standard size. And that is a good thing.

The gold is in the variations.

People do many of the same things but with slight variations and reasons behind each one every day. Why do we do what we do? Why do we like what we like and crave what we crave? Our behaviors and thinking are a mix of built-in habits and responses to the detailed and ever-changing world around us with some hard-wired caveman stuff thrown in. Most behavior is driven by our need to accomplish large and small goals and a desire for doing this in the simplest and most enjoyable way possible.

Forget ‘branding’ and ‘positioning.’ Once you understand customer behavior, everything else falls into place.

Thomas Stemberg, founder of Staples

Ask why and then keep asking.

When looking for better ways to authentically and helpfully engage with your customer, look first at their actions before, during or after they use your product. What is your customer doing and feeling  in each phase of the interaction? Now that you are in the mindset of your customer, how you can improve their experience?

Starbucks founder Howard Schultz discovered that between home and work, people could enjoy a small but meaningful moment for themselves, and the idea of the ‘third place’ was born. Starbucks still uses this ‘third place’ concept to craft a customer experience which results in a much larger imprint on customers than discussions of beans or coffee preparation alone.

Keep looking and stay malleable.

Getting into your customer’s mindset and asking questions is a discovery exercise that you can do to fine-tune any branding or messaging effort. To keep up with the ever-changing world your customers occupy, repeat the practice a few times each year to stay tuned-in to your true customer experience to maintain a positive impression.

Let us know how it turned out, or, if you don’t think this is your thing, we are but an email away.

 

Frenemies: Disruption & Opportunity

The ground is moving.

It’s easy to look at the state of the world today and feel like things are blowing up everywhere. Media practices and outlets, politics, social behaviors, language, medicine, education, transportation, the list is endless. So many of the things we know are being challenged, disrupted or are quickly becoming obsolete, replaced by new practices, thinking, beliefs, and beings – sentient or not.

Change, die, hide, medicate.

To many people, this is cause for outcry. Change, unless you are the catalyst, is unwelcome. Over time, whether you want to or not, you adjust, adapt and at times become an advocate for a new way of doing or thinking. And then just as you have adapted something changes again, and again.

So do we view this current state of seemingly ubiquitous disruption with terror and panic? Do we hide under our beds? Or invent a stronger cocktail?

Find your possible, your inner Elon Musk.

Or do we open up, invite it in, and get curious? Can we recognize and dismantle fixed mindsets and explore what new opportunities lie beyond our comfortable idea of how things work? Can we disrupt ourselves for a moment and look into the new open spaces that disruption creates to discover new solutions for ourselves, our workforce, customers, and clients?

What is being done now that can be done better? What can we invent and refine? What kind of positive change can we make out of the messes and mistakes that are bound to happen along the way?

At Seed Agency, we help clients navigate their brands through an ever-changing landscape of customers, behaviors, media platforms and data. If you need a partner in better navigating toward your own north star, we are here to help.

Real stories: Confessions of a Barbie loving CEO.

I just opened my updated version of Word to see that it now offers pre-made resume templates designed by Moo. Brilliant cross-promotion. But I cannot use Moo templates. I run a design and branding business. I love Moo. The clean graphics, the neat still-life shots of stacked business cards and simple design solutions. I’ve thought about picking one of their templates to use for my own but as the head of a business that offers design as a service, that seems wrong. Or does it show that I am great at appropriately distributing capital resources? That is CEO talk by someone who has never truly been comfortable putting those three letters after her name. When it comes to ideas and bringing them to life for clients, I’m confident but that CEO thing, however much it was my vision for myself when I was a kid, feels like an ill-fitting jacket.

It’s funny thinking about being a kid and having a vision of myself as a businesswoman. I clearly saw the briefcase, the shoes, the power suit and the ‘bring home the bacon’ hair and glasses transition dance I was going to do at the end of the day. So many people will tell you that when they were eight they wanted to be a fill in the blank here and now there they are on Oprah living it and telling their story. Like the time that Katie Holmes told Oprah how her childhood dream was to marry Tom Cruise. How did that work out? The idea that we knew it when we were children and it happened like magic is misleading. Some people do have a vision and they hold it firm, work hard to become it and live happily ever after. Others hold that vision and become it and it’s not at all what they envisioned so they leave their job as a lawyer and become a taxidermist.

Childhood visions are meaningful, but how literally should they be taken? The visions I saw screamed, “Must run company.” When in actuality, those visions might also have been saying, “You have a vivid imagination.” Or, “You are a writer or an illustrator, someone who can invent worlds and armies of people having conversations and living lives who do not and will never exist.” They also told the truth about where I stood on being in charge.

Growing up I loved playing Barbies. I could do it for hours. But did aptitude tests in the 1970’s ask kids what kind of play they enjoyed most? “Can you play Barbies for 8 hours at a stretch?” or “Did you totally redesign your Barbie’s wardrobe, because you felt she deserved better?” “Yes! Yes, that is me! That is what I do!” And then I would have trotted out Barbie in her tailor-made pants and dresses. Another great question, “Did you create a home line for your Barbie’s house, with pillows, artwork, vases, and sheets?” I would nearly hop out of my seat with excitement at having been asked a question that I could answer so passionately. At having someone understand me so well. To know there were others who couldn’t bear to put Barbie down for the night on a hard rectangle of pink plastic — not comfortable or cozy at all! She needed a mattress, a fitted sheet! A blanket made from soft cloth! Vases made from toothpaste caps, pillows in the corners of the homemade couch, artwork on the wallpapered walls. Magazines! I wanted to move in with her and Ken so we could eat popcorn together by the paper fire and have parties and drama in great outfits and bedding sets.

Make-believe was so important to me and the worlds I created were so real in my mind. All I wanted was for them to be real in life. That would explain the demise of a group of Barbie-sized dolls called the Sunshine Family, that I accidentally destroyed because I needed their camping trip to be more real, and so I added fire. When my Sunshine Family decided to go camping, they packed a stove in their hatchback. They were prepared. I loved that stove because it was tiny and metal and had holes in the top where flames could come out. A candle from my mother’s dining room drawer, placed underneath the stove made it all the more real. Until the day I joined a friend as she roller skated by. When I got back all that was left was a grey pile of ashes in the dirt under the treehouse. As I surveyed the damage my mother walked toward me looking grave and concerned. “What on earth happened here?” She asked, completely flummoxed when she saw flames from her kitchen window. I don’t think I ever explained the cause of the blaze. I was too embarrassed by my carelessness and sad about the loss of my little plastic family with their hip clothes, relatable hair, and cute baby.

That’s the thing about realism. It has real consequences. And now, the imaginary world I occupied through my Sunshine Family was over. Poof. Thinking about it now, I wonder if the heavy feeling I had was less about dolls and more about the end of using them to create a place where I was in charge. I was God. And a fashion designer.

But I needn’t fret. My vivid imagination continued to play out and insist on having a role, whether appropriate or not as I made my way through high school and college, art school and every job and moment of my life that followed. And that brings us to now. Where I am a CEO. Not the one I imagined, but another kind altogether. One who uses imagination and creativity to help clients and inspire team members. A CEO who has always had an odd sense of humor and way of looking at the world. And that is a good thing.

This story is brought to you by our observation that being real and sharing truth is something marketers talk about a lot, but don’t really do. So we’re doing it. We’re sharing our truths. About what we think, feel, and experience. What is your truth? We challenge you to be brave and tell it.  

Man plans. God laughs. Plan anyway.

They say that when man plans, God laughs. We find it wonderful to make people, and if possible deities laugh, so we plan.

We also find that if we don’t plan, we are super busy all day, but in the end, find it hard to measure just what we accomplished with all of that busy-ness. So, we set goals, create action plans, look back to see what worked and what didn’t work and use that insight to adjust and keep going forward.

In the midst of the holiday frenzy of parties and shopping, light shows, and end of year ‘best of’ lists, we are stopping for a moment and asking ourselves a few questions to help get 2018 off on the right foot. In our Girl Scout-inspired spirit of preparedness, we offer this list of things to ponder, as you get ready to kill it in 2018.

Winning: What marketing initiatives and events went right or better than expected in 2017? For each of those wins, name three decisions, actions, or people responsible.

Learning: What didn’t go as planned? What ideas failed? What were three things learned from those failures?

Change: In what areas do you plan to grow or change in 2018? And how will this set of changes solve problems that your customers or stakeholders struggle with now?

Actions: What are 3 action steps must be taken for you or your team to successfully make these changes? And what lessons from number two can you apply as you create your plan of action?

Assessment: How will you measure the effectiveness of the changes you are making? And how often will you measure?

Time: What timeline are you giving yourself and your team for putting these changes into place?

Partnership & Cookies: Who can be your partner in planning, mapping, strategically thinking about, taking action and achieving your goals? Who will hold you accountable to your timeline and pick up the slack or play cheerleader when you or your team are overwhelmed? That is the easiest question of all. Us!

Wishing you the joys of the season and a spectacular new year.

How do users really experience your brand?

The repetition of traveling daily to one place, driving into the same building or walking into the same space can cause an unintended blindness to what is in front of and around us. Understandably, most people are moving through life, intently focused on the next action steps needed to achieve their goals. This practice repeated contributes to success, but over time, can also contribute to oversights that can damage the perception of your brand.

How is space related to your brand, you may be wondering?

“The impact architecture has on a person’s mood is huge. Arguably these are the fundamentals of architecture: not how it looks, but how we feel it, through the way it allows us to act, behave, think and reflect,” says Dr. Melanie Dodd, program director of spatial practices at the Central St Martins art school.

Given that your mood can positively or negatively affect your entire day, why not leverage this information to benefit the perception and experience of your brand?

Below are 7 simple steps to help you see your environment and pivot where necessary to make a more positive impression.

Take a walk.

Start to gain objectivity by stepping away from your space and re-entering along a new or different path. If time permits, take a quick walk around the block and come back inside through an entrance not normally taken.

Settle into a moment. 

Find a place to sit, ideally with a view of the busiest area. Put on your Margaret Mead hat and get curious.

What is the flow of users?

Where are they coming from? Where are they going? Where are they congregated? How does this behavior inform the placement of your signage, both fixed and temporary? Is anyone lost or confused? Is the flow of movement efficient?

A visitor will most likely not tell you that a sign could be in a more helpful place, or include a more clear message, but watching traffic flow for just 5 minutes during a busy time of day will.

How are people using the space?

Furnishings? Accessories? Signage? Is there anything that can be added, moved or removed to improve the user experience?

What do you hear? 

Watch and listen to interactions with staff members: How are valets handling car flows? How are security and staff members handling check-ins? What phrases, questions, comments, and expressions are you hearing by those passing by?

Is there music? Is there clanging? Is there a buzz of energy or a din of chaos?

How does what you see align with your original vision?

And how is what you currently see aligning with users needs? Or not aligning?

Celebrate, ideate and take action.

Make a note of what’s working well or better than you envisioned. Reach out to staff or managers to pass on positive feedback and reinforce what’s working.

Address neutral or negative observations with a 30-minute afternoon brainstorming session. Bring issues to light and invite team members to share ideas for shifting the user experience toward the positive and in a way that is more aligned with your original vision.

Periodically repeat the steps above, to remain attentive to and nurture the brand you have so carefully built. Leverage the power of space to convert customers to a happy army of brand advocates.

Share your story.

Have other ways that you find objectivity in the familiar? Or tips for furthering the connection between your audience and your brand through curated spaces? Send us an email, we’d love to hear more.

 

How do we connect better?

As part of our series on connection, I asked Ben Woo, founder and managing partner at market research firm QC Strategy/Beamline Partners how we can connect better, and avoid common pitfalls? Here are 5 golden rules to stick by – let’s go! 

Put things in a language that your audience can understand.  A language around benefits vs. features.

Just because there is something that you think about a lot, doesn’t mean that everybody else does. Driving with your own frame on situations can prevent connection. Ben provides an example of work he did recently with a digital media company. If in the process of conducting research, he and his team were to ask consumers, “Which of the following things make you more likely to consume a piece of content?” Most likely they wouldn’t learn much. People don’t walk around thinking about the content they’re consuming. Instead, they think about a particular show they watch or an author or genre they like to read, so it’s key to focus more on how those things really show up in people’s lives. Companies that make products tend to focus overly on product features, tech specs, and innovation but that’s not how consumers think. Customers think in terms of benefits. In terms of, “How will this product affect my life?”

When interviewing or trying to get to know someone, say as little as possible.

When you ask shorter questions, you get longer answers and in the process of doing this, you are putting less of your own language or your own frame onto things. Craft open-ended questions to get more detailed answers. Keep in mind that you want to hear the story of the other person, as opposed to having them fill gaps in your own story.

Keep the focus on the other person, resisting the urge to interject.

I asked Ben about this as it frequently trips me up in conversations – when someone shares something that I too have experienced, it’s tempting to interject and share a story, in an effort to relate. As much as my intention in doing this is a good one, what I’ve learned is that switching to my own story lessons that moment of connection when the focus was on the other person. Ben’s view was enlightening, and inspiring, “Keep in mind that initiating connection is all about giving, about giving kindness openly without direct hope of something in return. As someone is answering something about their own life experience, to give somebody space to do that is a gift.” Ben reinforces, “It’s good to relate to folks, but not by making it about you.”

Approach conversation more like a Ouija board and less like a sheepdog.

Try to push the other person’s story forward, as opposed to interjecting with bits of yours, cutting them off or redirecting that energy. If there is an objective to the conversation, you have to make sure you can get there, but it is much more Ouija board than it is sheepdog.

Listen and follow up with simple questions.

Don’t worry about your questions needing to sound like your favorite late-night talk show host. Use simple follow-ups such as, “Oh, what was that like? And then what happened? Why? When did this happen?” Resist the feeling that you need to entertain and instead focus on gently pushing the conversation along.

What are your companies’ connection questions or challenges? Share them with us and become part of the conversation.

Thank you the founder and managing partner at market research firm QC Strategy/Beamline Partners, Ben Woo, for sharing his valueable time and knowledge. 

 

Using curiosity & storytelling to reconnect teams.

A brand may be working well on many fronts, but if there is conflict within an organization the brand will begin to suffer. Unresolved conflict within companies doesn’t stay put. It starts to perceptively leak outward and the result reflects negatively on the brand as a whole.

With this in mind, I asked Debra Valle, organizational behavior expert, strategist and executive leadership coach, to share some of the processes she uses to help broken teams get back to a productive state of connection. Debra works with Fortune 100 corporate leaders and their teams to create high performance. She is frequently called in when there is a particular drama with key team members at stake and they need to create more alignment and collaboration, re-establishing connection and communication.

Why is the source of most team conflict? Is it just human and unavoidable?

My first guess about disconnection was that we each bring different modes of operation and maybe some baggage and sensitivities into the workplace, which might create conflict or result in some relationships working less well than others.

A starting point.

Debra clarified that she doesn’t start there. She begins with the idea that we all come to work every day wanting to do our very best and that we bring with us a certain way of looking at the world. Where we get our energy, the way we interpret information, what we hear and how we hear it, our particular strengths and blind spots, each of these things is unique to a person. What’s important is that we appreciate the fact that nobody’s like us on this planet and that we each bring to any situation, problem or strategic plan a particular slant or view and we are best served by keeping in mind the idea that none of us is as smart as all of us. If we can learn to appreciate our differences and be self-aware enough to understand our own blind spots, we can create and connect better.

Focus on higher good.

Debra asks her clients to look at what triggers them and what might be getting in the way of their success. She doesn’t ask them to try to figure out if it’s because their mother or father didn’t love them or some other aspect of their personal history. She instead helps clients to focus on the higher good that they’re wanting to accomplish and to look at the ways they can engage the other in order not to be assumptive, in conflict or create drama.

She suggests starting from a neutral place, from an understanding that we look at the world through a different lens and that’s a good thing.

One reason she doesn’t focus on people’s personal history is that for each person in the room, there are two parents. If there are six people in the room, instead of six people arguing and six points of view, you now have twelve. This makes for a crowded and not very productive room.

Curiosity as a tool for connection.

When conflict emerges, a disagreement or lack of alignment on an issue, Debra recommends that the parties involved get curious. Instead of criticizing, start trying to understand the other person. Ask where their thinking comes from; learn more about how they arrived at their position or assumption.  Sometimes when we hear the framework others have used to build their ideas we develop empathy. We may never have approached an issue in that manner, but the information we gain by asking is useful.

Multiple viewpoints create better solutions.

When we get curious, the problems we’re trying to solve are more completely flushed out. For example, some people see the world from the viewpoint of what’s occurred in the past and others are listening for facts, data and proof. They are a very valuable part of the conversation, they’re grounding. Some people are intuitive and ask questions like “What if…? Why not…? How come…?” These people allow us to stretch. Others may ask, “How would we build that?” and “What do we need to do to get that done?” and others who are focused on the people involved, seeking answers to questions like, “How do we get buy-in? How do we get financed?” Everybody’s coming to the table grounded in their framework and all those frameworks together create stronger solutions.

Debra recommends trying to cultivate and understand the perspective that the other person brings. When a view that is different from our own arises in the discussion, isn’t that a good thing? Try treating these moments as if you’re talking to somebody from a different country, and you’re authentically curious about why they do things the way that they do.

You’re wrong. Ok, you’re not wrong, you’re you.

When you hear a viewpoint that is different from your own, resist the urge to tell the other person they are wrong; instead, listen and try to understand how they got to where they are. If you can open up and hear them, you will most likely have empathy for their way of thinking. From there, you may be more open to working out a solution that makes sense to both of you.

Make positive assumptions.

If you start from the place of believing that everybody wants to do their best work every day, you will be more open to new thinking. Debra asks her clients to begin with two assumptions, that everybody walks into the room bringing their best self and that nobody wants to be intentionally oppositional or a jerk.

I know everything. Ok, I don’t know everything.

The second piece of this is to remind yourself that you don’t know everything. Get curious, over and over. What might the other person be able to share that will shed light, adding to the fuller picture of the issue? Imagine that this person’s intentions are wanting to contribute and collaborate and that you may not have all the answers. Somewhere between the two (or more) of you, there sits a kernel of something that is true for all of you. That is the nature of Debra’s work. Facilitating the kinds of conversations that are difficult to have but that are important for creating understanding and the opportunity to collaborate. One way she gets there with people is not by attacking the issue or the problem first, but by storytelling.

Tell your story.

Begin by having each person tell a story where they experienced intense collaboration, where they were able to do something extraordinary with another team in the past.

What happened? Who was there? Why did it work? What was the result of that extraordinary effort of collaboration? Everyone writes and shares their story and the group begins to see that everyone involved knows what collaboration looks like, feels like, and the idea of collaboration individually is not new to people. It is a common experience, not a stretch or something rare or elusive.

Why does this work?

From each person’s past you are building a common understanding of what must happen in order to form a connected and productive work environment. You remind the group that the state of productivity is not hopeless or unavailable to them. They each have the tools to make this work.

Through the different stories shared, each person is able to see what collaboration looks like from the other peoples’ point of view. It’s not always the same. This step allows others to shift their view of someone who at first appears only to be a roadblock.

Envision success.

Whatever the problem is or the thing they are trying to achieve, get each person of the team to imagine that six months have passed and after this period, everything has fallen into place, everything is done and working perfectly. Then ask “What do you see? What is happening? How did it get started? What happened?”

Design a process forward, together.

By sharing their stories the group is sharing a vision of the future. This process opens up the opportunity for the team to create together, paint together and out of this creative process they can design a path forward.

It all starts with curiosity, a willingness to share, and openness to be willing to listen to ideas that are not your own. Sometimes you have to build that in people because they don’t have it.

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A giant thank you to organizational behavior expert, strategist, and executive leadership coach, Debra Valle for sharing her time and knowledge.