Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thankful

Sometimes the Flowers Arrange Themselves

On site with David Edwards Clothier — importer of fine Italian cashmere and couture menswear — here in Chicago. It's 8:30 on a cold, November Saturday morning. Two floors of windows, at left, are allowing the natural light to outdo even the giant softboxes at our studio on North Ave. A group of good people, good food, coffee, sodas, a bag of Costco almonds, and laughter. You can just tell this crew is ready for the holidays.

Below, the model's aunt reprises an earlier pose by her talented nephew; I get to capture the moment.



Brands are, of course, so much more than a collection of moments, although those certainly help. At their best, they're full of the personality and vigor of those involved. This Fall, I'm thankful for the opportunity to work with so many unique brands and for the occasions where the pieces just fall into place.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Long Game

Meeting Consumer Expectations Means Getting on the Same Timeline

For manufacturers going consumer-direct, the benefits are obvious: better margins, the opportunity to interact with enthusiastic consumers and important trends at ground level, and the chance to unplug from an entire layer of distributor logistic hassle and slow payments. But, the journey can also be a harrowing experience with a steep learning curve, too. It's often replete with much of the good ol' awfulness that can accompany fickle consumers: outsized expectations of the product itself, insistence on fast and free(!) shipping, painfully liberal return policies, and the expense of a skillful customer service team.

And that's the good news. This underlying shift in sales channels is also happening contemporaneously with a shift in consumer loyalty habits. Consumers are, in short — without the hard work and diligence by a brand to build a meaningful relationship with a new customer — less loyal to specific brands as a matter of cultural dynamics, as referenced in this Forbes article. Direct-to-consumer manufacturers — these "new-to-the-game" retailers with their perfect websites and fancy dynamic pricing — are still left with the distinct possibility of a substantial investment to attract a one-time customer. Here’s why:

Many new retailers assume the start of the relationship with a consumer is the first paid click and the end of the relationship is the sale itself. That's not how consumers perceive it. Consumers, instead, see the start of the relationship as the moment the product arrives at their home. That's why 'unboxing' videos are so ubiquitous on YouTube. Everything before that delivery moment is research and anticipation.

To cultivate the kind of long-term relationships that matter to legitimate, calculable, bottom-line, put-it-in-the-valuation, lifetime-consumer-value, brands in the direct-to-consumer space need to rethink assumptions about that timeline — so often perpetuated by monthly agency reporting and superficial KPI metrics that stop at the sale itself — and build processes that extend into the consumer relationship after the product delivery. To earn the next sale, direct-to-consumer manufacturers need to deliver on price and product, of course, but also in their post-sale presence to best align with the consumer expectation of the sales cycle timeline.

What that post-sale presence should look like will vary, but consider, for example, email outreach designed specifically for consumers who have purchased a product in the last 12 months — emails that bring the product features, benefits, and brand identity to life while acting to guide the new-user experience over a 6 month window — rather than simply treating this new buyer group to the same email campaigns designed to elicit sales out of prospects.

To be sure, the story is not entirely written on how eCommerce will affect retail at large, but this much is clear: even an exceptional experience at checkout on the first sale may no longer be enough to bring the consumer back the next time without an earnest effort at a deeper bond. Smart retailers will jump at the chance to build sturdy, worthwhile relationships even and especially after the box leaves the warehouse.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Engaged

Are Your Consumers Offered the Excuse to 'Learn More?'

A large part of our work involves finding the perfect moment in a photograph; sometimes that's the obvious and authentic laugh of a subject, other times it's a still life that finds a perfect reflection. But that's often just the beginning. Given the flood of content flowing across social channels these days, the big trick usually involves finding the right opportunity to engage a consumer, a way to get your foot in the door.



Consumers are now highly skilled curators, scanning and quickly rejecting content that is of the least interest and, many times, only offering a basic bookmark action for the most interesting. So, how do we successfully break through for our clients? We use the standard toolbox, of course: contests and invitations, sale pricing and limited time offers, too, but our most effective one-two punch has always been, first, a beautiful photograph and, second, a clearly visible button with a plain call to action. It's amazing to me how often that's missing in expensive placements. Leaving out the simple, courteous "ask" to engage in the equation drops the click rate significantly and, without a doubt, loses an opportunity for a prospect to envision participation for the brand.

These things are simple: put out your hand to welcome a prospect, invite engagement, ask the question: "Want to Learn More?"

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

People. Product. Profit. People.

Screen Share Can't Capture the Essence of a Business

With many new clients, I take the time to visit the business from the outset. In fact, I generally bake the idea directly into the initial proposal. I'm eager to meet the crew and start to understand not only the business workflow we aim to support with marketing and technology projects, but also the people and passion they bring to their work. To be really present and fully engaged in so many of our projects at 3VERB, it takes an understanding of the tools of the trade and the people behind them. Almost without exception these visits renew my belief in some of our best shared ideals: the entrepreneurial spirit, a commitment to creating useful, quality products, and a ground-level confirmation that people still work best in a collegial and cooperative environment.

Seen here, a few snapshots from my visit with the incredibly hard-working and ingenious crew at Escape Climbing outside St. Paul, Minnesota. They're a case in point: Great products, an enterprise geared to profit in an emerging category, but quite clearly book-ended by people-power.




Nowadays, in so many regards, I'm convinced it serves us well to not allow rapid-exchange email and social media chatter and screen-share-conference-calling to act as our proxy or define key relationships. We can do better than that. We can dare to show up in person.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

As Seen on TV

The ATMOS Performance Golf Shaft Takes Off

In early 2017 our friends at Fujikura Golf found themselves in a pickle. They needed to bring a new shaft to market in a hurry. They had the technology and research to support the release and real confidence in its performance but they lacked a name and graphic treatment that would mark the latest release as distinct and important. At 3VERB, we put the creative machine into high gear and returned a variety of graphic ideas and naming directions, but Fujikura gravitated towards a name we had unpacked from a hybrid idea: ATMOS, an earnest reference to the determination of space-race era and performance at a core, ‘atomic’ level as shown in the interlocking ‘atoms’ featured in the design.

The shaft was eventually featured in the Golf Channel reality series, ‘Driver vs. Driver,’ as shown below.



After the initial launch of the product, we supported continued visibility for ATMOS with design for advertising, social media campaigns, and marketing promotions.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book

Neil Shapiro Rolls Out the Long-Awaited "Jazz Alphabet"

In the past 18 years, we've had the chance to work across a whole array of industries. We've built websites, of course, but also the technology base for a sports drink company, branding for (it seems) every kind of sporting good you can imagine, and managed lots and lots of online marketing. Nothing, though, is quite like the chance to work with the occasional super-talented artist, those with legitimate, old-school skills to put paint and paper to work. Featured here, Neil Shapiro, a Chicago illustrator with an obsession, of sorts, with jazz.



Neil rolled around this idea for a book of jazz greats organized by alphabet for 20 years and mentioned it to me a few years ago. It seemed like such a fun, funny, and cool pursuit. I'd seen other artists take on the alphabet as a structural form onto which they could improvise in the past – think John Lennon's perfectly oddball alphabet poem – but Neil's final product takes it to the next level: indulging, as Neil says, his love of both the music and letterform.

For more information on Neil's incredible book, click here. For a PBS video interview with Neil, click here.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Fifteen

A Reflection on 15 Years of Sobriety

This month will mark 15 years since my last drink. It's hard to believe and even harder to talk about out loud. After all this time, I now have distinct groups of friends who have never known me as anything but sober and whole batch of friends who, for some reason, have stuck around despite the sobriety. Newer friends occasionally ask why I don't drink out of curiosity. Older friends lovingly recall the times I boiled vodka at a Christmas party, got tossed in a bush, or sang "Happy Birthday" one-by-one to the first 100 attendees at a party. Most times I defer on the details as the story isn't nearly as interesting as it should be. I never missed work – I was born with that curse – but I certainly operated at 80% of my capacity many days and regret the times alcohol facilitated acerbic or mean-spirited conversation, especially among people I love or respect.

Here's the story: Just about 16 years ago now, Peggy's mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer; it still feels like yesterday in many regards. As a family, we decided to collectively dull the impending loss with a river of booze. Each weekend during the last three months of what turned into a life-altering experience for me, Peggy and I drove to and from Cleveland, back to our home in Chicago. I could still drive that route with my eyes closed all the way to the Tim Horton's just outside Toledo. As long as we were stationary, though, I found a reason to drink and tucked the justification behind the fog and sorrow with the rest of the crew.

After Peggy's mom passed away in mid-December of 2003, and after a decidedly dim and hazy set of holidays that followed, Peggy initiated a training routine to run a marathon in memory of her mom. She was quickly in great physical shape, I felt like a slug and a drag. Each morning as she trained along the cold lakefront path here in Chicago, I walked the empty, wide open park with our dog who scattered groups of seagulls back up into the overcast sky. It was, quite literally, cold reality.

I was haunted on those days by my rock-n-roll mentor's, Dan Zanes', song, "Cruel Cold Feeling," about his own struggles with alcohol:
I knew what I told her, "Those days are gone. I'll stop for one then be right home."
How do I stop these shaking hands, calm the nerves, mend the man?
To Dan's credit, and something I so admire about his writing, he managed to distill a whole 24-hour narrative into two lines, replete with the awful missing parts that fall on the cutting room floor in any good edit. Dan's a Grammy Award winner and, as I understand it, they don't hand those out unless you know what you're doin'.

Beyond that, though, I was also pursued at a deep, personal level – as I am to this day – by the essayist Wendell Berry's profound direction*:
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
More to the point, I wondered then: Was this how I was supposed to live in a manner meant to honor the people around me? And now, do I hold myself to this standard as a father as I try to help raise a young boy?

In those moments, facing an icy Lake Michigan, I found a whole new perspective. And, importantly, I found a way to push that perspective directly into motivation. I managed a day, then a week, then a month without alcohol, then quit smoking. Mend the man, just like the song says.

Like many creative types, I had long before convinced myself that alcohol was part of a successful operating system that produced good work – writing, music, coding, the same as now – and, to the extent that a hangover can produce an uneasy space for reflection and regret, I suppose that's somewhat true in the granular. But, overall, it's a falsehood. The truth is, on the other side, there's clarity and courtesy, and the chance to better support the journey of those around us.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Postscript. A number of books, records, and movies have been important to me along the way as context for the the drinking life and day-to-day sobriety. Here are my top three:

(1) Now out of print, Dan's CD "Cool Down Time" (referenced above) from the early 1990s is a masterpiece: the first half will knock the wind out of you; the second will remind you of the power of redemption.

(2) Mary Karr's excellent book "Lit" follows in the fine tradtion of memoirs from writers like Caroline Knapp ("Drinking: a Love Story", "Pack of Two") about navigating recovery.

(3) 1988's "Clean & Sober" features a Michael Keaton performance so real, so raw, so honest that you almost forget Morgan Freeman co-stars in the movie. It's written and shot perfectly; gritty and desperate from scene to scene as it showcases the logic that empowers addiction. Keaton's final speech in the movie comes on the heals of a plot turn that tries its best to break him fully. The speech, delivered at an AA meeting, feels like a friend talking directly to you.

* from Wendell Berry's "The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," 1973.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Sharp

Great Social Media Campaigns Require Diligence and Joy

It's true for 3VERB that when one door closes, another opens wide. In 2018, we had the good fortune to meet and start working with the crew at MCA Golf in sunny Carlsbad, California. For MCA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi, there's a challenge to be present consistently across social media – that's part of what we're already working on for them – but also an advantage in the inherent quality of their products and respect they command from even the best players in the world. Shown here, a beauty shot of their TENSEI™ line of performance golf shafts completed at our 3VERB studio here in Chicago's Humboldt Park. Headed into the PGA Show, then quickly into the new season – can Spring get here soon enough? – we'll look to build on the reputation they've already established and extend the brand to new eyeballs and advocates, as well. We'll be sharp, on our toes, and ready deliver on the joy and beauty their products and team deserve.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.