What’s the big idea? Razorfish hosts annual Client Summit

The 9th Annual Razorfish Client Summit, held April 21-23 in Las Vegas, asked a simple question: how do great ideas flourish?

In context of the summit’s theme — “Art of the Idea” — companies like Mattel discussed how they’re working with Razorfish to devise innovative marketing ideas and launch new products right in the middle of a recession.  Keynotes like Dave Stewart and Matthew Weiner gave us a peek inside the often chaotic (and very nonlinear) process of creating brilliant, commercially successful ideas.  And Razorfish thought leaders such as Strategy Executive Andrea Harrison and Royce Lee showed us “big ideas” for approaching digital marketing in a different way, whether you’re researching consumer behavior or preparing to launch a product in China.

So what did I get out of the experience?  Three themes stand out:

Innovation is a social act

Shiv Singh, Social Influence Marketing Lead at Razorfish, put it best: “innovate with others or die a slow death.”  Shiv was among the speakers who discussed the relationship between collaboration and innovation.  Shiv went so far as to suggest that employees need to collaborate more aggressively with thinkers outside their organizations (not just with each other) in developing new products and services.   Meantime Andrea Harrison provided a different take on the social nature of ideation when she unveiled a new Razorfish consumer research approach: Social Graph Analysis.  Andrea contended that to really understand one’s customers, you need to research their behaviors in social settings to see who informs their decision making and how.  And yet, many companies remain stuck in the mindset of creating user personas in isolation.  Andrea delivered a compelling case for reinventing consumer insight.

Shiv Singh looking dapper and sounding smart

All photos courtesy of Ray Velez, Razorfish

And then there was keynote Dave Stewart.

In an unbelievably mind-blowing presentation that had the audience gasping at times, Dave helped us understand where he finds ideas and how he develops them into profitable ventures.  And given that he’s a successful musician and counselor to Nokia, he knows what he’s talking about.  The highlight of his appearance occurred when, joined by a singer onstage, he collaborated with the Client Summit audience to write a song in real time.  He asked the audience to shout lyrics and phrases, which he either rejected outright or turned into melodies.  In other words, he didn’t tell us about collaboration — he got us involved.  And he pushed us beyond our comfort zones, just as creative collaboration can do in real life.  Some audience members volunteered ham-handed lyrics while others were too shy to try.  But eventually we got better at working with Dave.  After he left the Client Summit, he flew back to Los Angeles, mixed the song, “500 Minds,” and made it available on his website, davestewart.com.

Collaboration: sometimes ugly, sometimes awkward, but ultimately fascinating and (I think with Dave Stewart’s song) successful.

I can truly say I’ve never done that before.

Dave Stewart rocks the house

Big ideas deliver value.  Now.

We’ve been hearing a lot about how innovating during a recession helps prepare you for an economic turnaround.  But the Client Summit client case studies showed that a big idea can deliver business value now, smack dab in the middle of a bruising recession.  For instance, Chuck Scothon and Betsy Burkett of Mattel, and Jill Druschke of Razorfish, discussed how Mattel has worked with Razorfish to celebrate Barbie’s 50th anniversary through a digital experience that encompasses a Twitter identity, Barbie blog, content posted on YouTube, a microsite, and a successful Facebook page.  The big idea: instead of doing a massive TV buy, create a digital lifestyle for Barbie to reposition her with grown-up women.  According to Mattel, the Barbie brand has enjoyed 18 percent domestic sales growth (reversing a decline in sales) since undertaking the effort.

Barbie: All Doll’d Up

Matthieu de Lesseux of Duke Razorfish shared a witty case study about how McDonald’s France wanted to make 66 million French food lovers also love fast food at McDonald’s.  The big idea: create a series of viral videos in which a self-appointed official hassles unsuspecting diners attempting to enter a McDonald’s restaurant (and rejecting them for a variety of ridiculous reasons). The “punk’d” style video series was not only hilarious but rewarding: McDonald’s France has realized a 7.7 percent increase in sales during the launch of the campaign.

Those are just two obvious examples.  There were many more.

Fernando Madeira of Terra Latin America: “the reinvention of our web presences is synonymous with reinventing our company”

The experience is the big idea

Porter Gale, vice president of marketing for Virgin America, shared how Virgin has completely reinvented the meaning of an airline as an experience, not just a company that transports you from one place to another.  From providing one-of-a-kind mood lighting to on-demand movies, Virgin has done the inconceivable: made flying fun again.  Even the in-flight safety film is amusing.  She also shared the astounding details of how Virgin monitors Twitter traffic from its customers (she calls them guests).  If a guest tweets negatively about a Virgin experience while in-flight, he or she might find a company greeter waiting at the arrival gate prepared to respond.

Client Summit attendees also demonstrated the importance of the experience as and end unto itself — in their case, by inserting themselves more actively into the Client Summit through their use of Twitter.  Attendees used Twitter to share ideas, critique the presentations, and basically provide a real-time attendee feedback mechanism for the Client Summit team.  They became active content creators and in doing so became unofficial speakers on the agenda through their customer experience.  Throughout the event, the 475 attendees posted nearly 2,300 tweets and retweets using the event hashtag (#rzcs).  At one point, the Client Summit was trending as high as Number 5 in the Twitter universe.

Event emcee Iain McDonald of Amnesia Razorfish engaged the audience in a series of exercises to generate enthusiasm for Twitter, including promising to drop his pants if he could get MC Hammer to return a tweet.  Hammer did reply, and Iain fulfilled his promise — sort of.

In one fascinating exercise, event attendees were challenged to use Twitter to raise awareness for a nonsensical word created on the spot, “Razorfunfish.”  By tweeting the term “Razorfunfish,” attendees managed to generate about 18 pages of “Razorfunfish” results on Google.  We even saw paid search ads on Google.  As one client wrote, “This conference was the tweetiest.”

Razorfish CEO Bob Lord closes the 2009 Client Summit

Statements that resonated

Here are some especially pithy remarks from Client Summit speakers (you can find many more by searching for #rzcs on Twitter):

  • “My life is made out of cocktail napkins.  Got an idea?  Write it down before you forget it.” — Matthew Weiner, the genius behind Mad Men
  • “Don’t waste a good crisis.  Embrace a crisis — it can make you stronger.” — Fernando Madeira, CEO, Terra Latin America
  • “Who owns the Virgin Brand?  Richard Branson, our employees, and our guests.” — Porter Gale, marketing vice president, Virgin America
  • “The future is less about saying things to people and more about building experiences that are relevant.” — Clark Kokich, Razorfish chairman
  • “To succeed in China, build your brand quickly before a local company duplicates your product and extinguishes you brand’ — Royce Lee, Razorfish Greater China
  • “Focus groups are the enemy of innovation.  They help you do something better, not differently.” — Joe Crump, Razorfish Strategy executive
  • “Rebuilding our web presence is like rebuilding our company.”  — Fernando Madeira
  • “Don’t question where ideas come from.  People are saying inspiring things eery day right in front of you.” — Matthew Weiner
  • “User personas too often view people in isolation.  We need to understand people in context of their social behaviors.” — Andrea Harrison, Razorfish Strategy executive
  • “As children, we draw pictures of airplanes.  Then as grown-ups we dread dealing with airline service.” — Porter Gale
  • “The greatest enemy of innovation is associating innovation with creativity.” — Joe Crump
  • “Asking customers to do your marketing doesn’t excuse you from marketing, too.  Your customers will actually make you work harder.” — Shiv Singh
  • “I have 500,000 policeman following me on Twitter.” — Dave Stewart

Reactions from the blogosphere

I’m sure more blog coverage will unfold.  Please share yours with me.

Thank you to Razorfish clients who braved the recession and traveled to Las Vegas. I hope you found the experience worth your time.

MillerCoors: a bold product launch in a recession

Recently Christine Overby and Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester Research speculated that a recession is the best time to innovate — a theme of the 2009 Razorfish Client Summit and a position taken by BusinessWeek and WIRED.  MillerCoors is the latest example of a company that proves the point.  Rather than retreat during recessionary times, MillerCoors is plowing ahead with the launch of a new product, the cold-activated can.  And my employer Razorfish is helping MillerCoors through a bold digital marketing campaign.

As reported by Stuart Elliott in The New York Times, at the heart of the campaign is a playful website, the “National Glacier Tracking Center,” that allows you to follow the progress of a dramatic cold front in the Rockies that causes (make-believe) glaciers to break free and launch themselves across the United States.  You can follow the paths of the glaciers as they work their way to major U.S. cities in time for the launch of the cold-activated can on May 15.

The message: Coors Light is pretty freaking cold.

But the microsite is just part of the effort.  Content from the site will also be reproduced as banner ads on properties such as ESPN.com, Pandora.com, and Weather.com.

A glacier menaces Manhattan

As Razorfish Creative Director Tim Sproul mentions to Stuart Elliott, the campaign is all about making an emotional connection with the consumer.  Rather than explain the innovation behind the cold-activated can, the campaign uses humor to associate Coors Light with a refreshing break from the heat.  It’s an approach that Razorfish has employed many times for MillerCoors — for instance, the creation of a comedy video series, Callin’ It a Day, designed to raise brand affinity with young men of drinking age.

MillerCoors has something in common with Intel.  Both companies have worked with Razorfish to launch new products during a recession — the cold-activated can for Coors, and the Core i7 microprocessor for Intel.

Who says innovation has to wait until an economic turnaround?

Yep — this is digital advertising, too


Smile – ASDA’s rolling back more prices from Razorfish UK on Vimeo.

You might have heard about the fancy Razorfish online/offline viral campaign created with all® detergent   Now comes British retailer ASDA (a Wal-Mart subsidiary), which asked the Razorfish London office to create digital advertising that supports ASDA’s “price rollback” campaign.  We took a completely different approach for ASDA.  In keeping with the ASDA value-based brand, we stripped the advertising down to the essential message in a video that looks deliberately home-made.

I invite you to visit the ASDA website and then watch the video we posted on Vimeo.  What do you think?  Make sense for the brand?

Who are the top 50 social brands?

Recently Infegy published its March 2009 list of of the hottest social brands on the market — the names that have the strongest reach across the digital world as measured by a number of factors.  Some observations:

  • The Top 5 are not surprising: Twitter, Google, Obama, the iPhone, and Facebook.  But four years ago, did you ever think you’d see the day when a U.S. president would battle Twitter, Google, the iPhone, and Facebook for top billing?
  • I counted three games inside the Top 20 list: XBox (ranked 14), Playstation (#15), and Wii (#17). Anyone surprised that Wii ranked behind XBox and Playstation?
  • It’s not surprising that Wikipedia made the list.  What’s surprising is that Wikipedia ranks only #44.  This is a brand that was created to be inherently social.
  • Look for Kindle (#42) to steadily climb the list — I wonder if Kindle will even gives Amazon (#16) a run for its money?
  • General Motors (#26) ranks ahead of MySpace (#29).

I did a double take when I saw GM rank ahead of MySpace and wondered if this list represented only the “most discussed,” not necessarily “top,” social brands.  But then my Razorfish colleague Megan Anderson told me about a lunch meeting she’d had at SxSW with Christopher Barger, GM social media director.  His team has been on Twitter since January 2008 and runs GMBlogs.com.  Moreover, all GM brands have YouTube channels.

As Megan wrote to me in an email, “The thing that made the biggest impression on me was that their team is very dedicated to clarifying any questions or confusion regarding the situation [GM is] in right now.  When the [Federal] bailout was announced for the automotive industry, they were up all night answering tweets (@gmblogs).”   Megan also directed me to this SxSW panel discussion in which Christopher was a participant.

What do you think of the Top 50 list?

Online, offline converge in new marketing campaign

How do you make laundry detergent fun?

My employer Razorfish tackled this challenge when we helped all® detergent create a promotion that aired April 5 on Celebrity Apprentice.  Instead of focusing on product attributes, we associated all® with a charitable cause through viral marketing.  Celebrity Apprentice viewers saw a 30-second TV ad directing them to a website to watch videos that feature Celebrity Apprentice contestants Joan and Melissa Rivers.  The playful videos feature Joan and Melissa using all® in fairly ridiculous settings.  (In one video, Melissa portrays a laundry fairy who helps families clean their dirty clothing.)  Each time people forward the videos, all® donates 50 cents to charity. (We’ve also uploaded the videos on YouTube.)

Razorfish created both the TV spot and the viral videos.  According to Adweek magazine, the promotion “is more evidence that the lines between digital and traditional shops are blurring.”  Razorfish Executive Creative Director Marc Lucas told Adweek, “Razorfish has a history in digital media and developing Web sites.  In the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve made a push to be a marketing services company and being more media agnostic.”

Indeed, Razorfish has honed long-form video skills for clients like Coors Light and L’Oreal.  For Instance, with L’Oreal, Razorfish created the tongue-in-cheek “Harry Situation” viral videos to promote the Bold It line of hair care products for men.  And with Coors Light, Razorfish created the “Call It a Day” series in 2007. (The videos consist of amusing little vignettes of people having a very bad day, with the message being, “Isn’t it time you called it a day and had a Coors Light?”)

I think the crucial distinction to be made between digital video and TV video is the interactive nature of digital.  Consumers can comment on the YouTube video vignettes — ripping them if we dislike them, and praising them if we enjoy them.  Essential to this campaign, we can share the content with each other.

Some day, when TV realizes its potential to become interactive, the distinctions between the digital world and TV will disappear.  For now, Razorfish is tapping into the inherently interactive and social nature of digital to help all® build its brand.

I welcome your feedback.