Marketers: Stop Thinking Like You!

Marketers: Stop Thinking Like You!When evaluating marketing content and creative, business owners frequently fall into the trap of imagining themselves as the target audience. Big mistake!

When developing a message, good communicators routinely engage in a highly unnatural act: they stop thinking like “Me” and start thinking like “Them” (their target audience). “Me-think” can sabotage your marketing efforts when you assume potential customers know and care about company insider jargon (often, they don’t) and when you assume your audience shares your personal tastes and aspirations (they may not.)

Only when you stop reacting to ideas as “Me” can you communicate with “Them.”

How to Create High Impact, Low Cost Corporate Video

Using dynamic graphics and historical photography, Bidlack created an engaging and professional video presentation for venerable Detroit engineering firm Hubbell, Roth & Clark—without the time and expense of a video shoot.

THE CHALLENGE: Earlier this year, Hubbell, Roth & Clark (HRC), a legendary Michigan-based consulting engineering firm, was named the 2014 “Firm of the Year” by the Michigan chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).

HRC was asked to submit a short video about their company to be shown at an upcoming award ceremony. However, with a limited budget and extremely short timeframe, “shooting” original video wasn’t practical for this project.

THE SOLUTION: Since HRC is preparing to celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 2015, Bidlack worked with the company to leverage this important milestone by creating a video presentation that focuses on the company’s unique past, exciting present, and promising future.

HRC supplied numerous historical photographs from its company archives, and Bidlack used these photographs to weave together a compelling storyline that highlights the company’s unique history, core values, notable accomplishments, and present-day competitive advantages.

The use of stills in lieu of video footage saved considerable cost, yet resulted in a professional-looking corporate video.

THE RESULT: HRC is proud to have an engaging, informative, and attractive video that showcases the company’s 100-year-long history — that can be shared with colleagues, employees, and existing and potential customers at a variety of anniversary-related events over the next two years.

Click here to watch the full video on YouTube.

Michigan Venture Capital Association: Building a Toolkit for Success

Bidlack Creative Group creates Toolkit for Michigan Venture Capital Association

MVCA members received a custom “Toolbox” with materials designed to help them promote the organization to potential new members and clients.

THE CHALLENGE: As a dynamic, fast-growing organization, the Michigan Venture Capital Association (MVCA) needed to find a way to make sure all of its members and associates were “on message” regarding its mission and goals — and well-prepared to communicate more effectively with existing and potential clients.

THE SOLUTION: Bidlack designed and developed a member “toolkit” that included a series of engaging, informative, and entertaining materials that focused on MVCA’s mission and goals — and its significant recent achievements. The toolkit included a series of “all-star” baseball-style cards showcasing some of the organization’s most accomplished entrepreneurs; and a handy “wallet-card” for members that included key facts about the MVCA and the dramatic growth of venture capital activity in Michigan in recent years. In the process of developing these materials, Bidlack also worked with MVCA to help them strengthen their core message, and develop a more consistent overall “brand identity.”

THE RESULT: MVCA says these materials have helped their members and other associates to think about — and talk about — MVCA in a more consistent way; and have helped to spur significant conversations within the organization regarding the importance of additional outreach and education efforts focused on MVCA members, clients, and associates.

Bidlack Creative Group creates Trading Cards for Michigan Venture Capital Association

The Toolbox included set of baseball card-style trading cards featuring notable entrepreneurial “all stars” who’ve benefited from MVCA-supported venture capital funding.

Bidlack helps Yankee Air Museum raise $6 Million in 4 months

Save The Bomber Plant campaign billboard

Yankee Air Museum’s campaign launched last May with a kick-off party, a fundraising website, and a billboard splash across Metro Detroit, and has been in the public eye ever since.

THE CHALLENGE: The leadership of the Yankee Air Museum, located at Ypsilanti’s Willow Run Airport, saw an opportunity to better serve the public, and expand their exhibit space, by saving a small piece of the historic Willow Run bomber plant as a new home for the museum. However, in order to do so, they needed to raise $8 million dollars in only a few short months … an almost unheard-of fundraising challenge.

THE SOLUTION: Bidlack worked with Yankee Air Museum to develop a multi-faceted communications strategy designed to quickly focus public attention on the historical significance of the site, and establish the credibility of the campaign in the eyes of media and potential donors. Featuring World War II-era icon “Rosie the Riveter”, and the optimistic “We Can Do It … Again” motto, Bidlack launched the SAVE THE BOMBER PLANT website, and produced a variety of materials (flyers, yard signs, and buttons) to empower supporters to spread the word.

THE RESULT: Based in large part on the attention this campaign has created, friends of Yankee have so far been spotlighted in national media outlets from NPR to CNN … and just as important, have been able to secure several extensions of the original funding deadline … while raising over $6 million in a few short months, meaning the chance to save a portion of the legendary Willow Run Bomber Plant as a new home for an expanded Yankee Air Museum — once thought to be a long-shot, at best — is now becoming ever-more likely.

Bidlack also helped brainstorm “guerrilla marketing” techniques to achieve earned media and word-of-mouth publicity at low cost— including:

Save The Bomber Plant donor brochure

Well-designed and compellingly written high-end donor materials with impeccable production values lend essential credibility to the campaign.

Save The Bomber Plant media response

Incredible earned-media coverage, including National Geographic TV, was the result of well-timed press releases, creative special events, and non-stop community buzz, in social media and “in real life”.

Save The Bomber Plant campaign materials

Bidlack helps manage and grow a lively and engaged Facebook following for Yankee, while colorful campaign collateral turns supporters into campaign ambassadors, in lieu of costly advertising.

Detroit Without the Platitudes

Guardian and Buhl Buildings last week, both designed by Wirt C. Rowland

Guardian and Buhl Buildings last week, both designed by Wirt C. Rowland

For decades, we’ve heard the platitudes coming out of Detroit: Detroit renaissance. Detroit pride. The new Detroit spirit. They aren’t wrong, and they’re not necessarily unhealthy, but over the years, they’ve rung a little hollow.

But I’ve recently experienced three occasions which demonstrated that those well-intentioned but at times vacant Detroit rah-rah platitudes are really no longer needed. The creative, smarter, and innovative Detroit I see is genuine.

The three things I saw which reinforced my understanding of the Detroit vibrancy all occurred within the past month. All three involved vision and energy, but most importantly, they proved to me beyond any doubt that there are many, many brilliant and creative minds working in and around Detroit, Michigan.

My first experience of new inspiration was the TEDx Detroit conference on September 29th at the Detroit Institute of Arts. ( Literally a mini TED conference, this day-long annual event was filled with famous, semi-famous, and unknown minds, all presenting brilliant and creative ideas, many of which orbited around the prevailing vitality of Detroit. (And all  to be absorbed and enjoyed without the $6000 annual membership fee of the national TED conference.) Presenter after presenter demonstrated, explained, preformed, described, delighted, and inspired. By the end of the day, my note pad was full, and my brain was beyond full. (By the way, the most inspiring presentation of the day was by Steve Kahn, director of Wayne State University’s Math Corps, a program bringing Detroit public middle school and high school students into a college setting to study and become enthralled with mathematics. Check out, and keep an eye out for the video of his TED speech, hopefully soon to be posted on the TEDx Detroit web site and on YouTube. You will laugh and you will cry. Most importantly, you will learn about kids’ lives being changed in one way you probably never considered.)

Then, on October 9th and 10th, I attended WordCamp Detroit (, a 2-day conference on the WordPress web platform for local designers and bloggers. I was tremendously impressed by all of the high-tech brainpower found in Metro Detroit, and by the extraordinary knowledge of both the speakers and the attendees. (Personally, I felt like the most ignorant person in the room, but I left with a lot more energy and knowledge than I came with.)

(One does not have to travel to New York to Chicago to experience a great conference. They frequently take place in our own back yards. If you want to get inspired by attending cool local conferences and events that generate ideas, one way to start is to search for local upcoming events on EventBrite (, sometimes referred to as the Ticketmaster of idea events.)

My third experience providing evidence that we can forgo the Detroit platitudes occurred this past week. I had a meeting in Downtown Detroit at the SmithGroup, the 7th largest architecture/engineering firm in America. What a treat. First, their offices are on the 17th floor of the Guardian Building, arguably the most beautiful 20th Century Skyscraper outside of New York City. The lobby of the Guardian Building is stunning, and if you’ve never seen it, make the trip. And when one gets off the elevator on the SmithGroup’s floor and turns the corner, you see the results of great creative thinking: Their “me” wall is giant three-dimensional 30-foot model of downtown Detroit (mounted vertically) with every building, from the riverfront to north past the Fisher Building represented. (Many of the structures in the model appear in a different shade…Comerica Park, Ford Field, the Penobscot Building, Hart Plaza, etc.…they’re the ones that SmithGroup designed.) The meeting was productive, but the heartening moment came by looking out the windows. Not a run-down ruin in sight. What one sees when looking out the windows of the 17th floor of the Guardian Building is true city vitality, traffic, commerce, and stunningly beautiful architecture.

These three experiences infused me with new energy and a new healthy dose of creativity. And that energy and creativity is available to everybody in Metro Detroit, all you have to do is seek it out.

We all know that the Detroit area has more than its share of problems. But perhaps our biggest problem is a national misconception that Detroit is nothing more than a giant run-down ruin. We—the ones who know—know that nothing could be further from the truth. The way to change minds, especially the minds of people who form their opinions about Detroit only from what they see in the media, begins with fewer platitudes and more stories. All of us who know the real Detroit must consciously and deliberately share our experiences and understanding of Detroit and the region with those who are ignorant. A platitude rarely convinces. But a first-hand experience or story, related by a friend, almost always does.

Sensory Overload at Comerica Park

Last week I went to a Tigers game in Detroit at Comerica Park. I played hooky from work and went alone, because I really wanted to watch a good baseball game without non-baseball related conversation and distraction, even from friends. I had a great time, the weather was beautiful and the Tigers won. (Final score: Tigers 8, Nationals 3.)
But a couple of things stood out during the game that made me start wondering about the value of the huge advertising expenditures at Comerica Park. One was the fact that so few people seemed to be concentrating on the game. Many people, as one would expect, were deep in conversation with one another, and not really taking time to glance at the scoreboard (and the ads next to the scores), or to watch at the game, (and the ads posted on the edges of the field), or to just look around (and seeing the ads everywhere). Many people were focused with their own pods of friends, having a great time among themselves, rather than taking-in the world around them.
The other thing I noticed was the unbroken chain of noise. Crowd noise is to be expected, but every moment between innings was filled with audio messages over the public address system, as were most of the moments leading up to the game. I had to wonder if the intended audience just tends to shut it all out, and how seriously, if at all, sensory overload is taken into consideration by advertisers who pay for messages at the ballpark.
ballpark advertisingIn baseball’s golden era, advertising was as much part of the experience as the Crackerjack. But instead of hundreds of ad messages to absorb, there were dozens, at most. And they didn’t rotate, blink, or share space with other messages. And they were probably very, very effective at selling.
A media buyer today might argue convincingly that with millions of sets of eyes even just glancing at a logo during the season, or millions of pairs of ears hearing an ad over a summer in the ballpark, the ad buy is effective. And with so many smart people making such buys, it’s hard to argue that ads in ballparks are indeed not good buys. But as each message at the ballpark is watered-down buy other competing and beautifully designed sensory messaging, I’m not sure there aren’t better buys elsewhere. When it comes to advertising exposure, attending a professional baseball game today is a bit like attending a trade show, where booth after booth is competing for your attention until in the end they all seem to blend together in your head.
There has always been advertising at baseball games, and always will be. But I have to wonder if the advertising in the old baseball parks (signs in the outfield, and maybe a few scattered other messages during the game) was more effective than the cascade of ads and the constant barrage of sponsored messaging of today. With so much distraction and so many competing advertising messages in the American ballpark of 2010, are the advertising expenditures at the game a great value, or less than completely effective?

Bad Names for Good Movies

Okay so I’m a naming fiend. I believe that a good name (or title) is one of the simplest ways to quickly communicate purpose when it comes to a project, a meeting, an undertaking, or any group endeavor. The right project name or meeting title or report heading allows participants to understand intent and to buy-in to the activity.

This week I was also thinking about wrong names. As important as the right name is to any group venture, a bad name can be disastrous. And I remembered two examples from the world of motion pictures.

In 1994, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption was released by Castle Rock Entertainment. The movie was an adaptation of the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and starred Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as prisoners in the fictional Shawshank Penitentiary in Maine. (The movie is one of only three Stephen King NON-supernatural stories turned into films, along with Stand By Me and Misery.)

The Shawshank Redemption is a great film, and one of my top ten favorite films of all-time. On its release, reviews were almost universally positive, and it remains one of the highest-ranked movies ever in IMDB. Yet no one saw it. In fact, even I, its biggest fan, failed to see it when it was released in theaters. The reason? A horrible name. I’m convinced that audiences stayed away from The Shawshank Redemption because it didn’t have a name that was exciting (The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai) or intriguing (12 Angry Men, Chinatown), or enchanting (Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives). Shawshank is a word that sounds a little goofy and mostly just causes blank stares. And it’s probably reason No. 1 why you’ve never seen this beautiful, uplifting, and completely fulfilling motion picture.

Eleven years later, Ron Howard produced and directed Cinderella Man, a wonderful movie staring Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, and Paul Giamatti. It told the moving story of boxing champion James J. Braddock during the Great Depression. And although  Cinderella Man depicted a powerful story, had a great script, received outstanding reviews, and was nominated for many motion picture awards, audiences stayed away in droves. Why? My guess is the lousy name. The title Cinderella Man simply does not make you want to see the movie. It doesn’t reflect the content of the film well, it doesn’t match audience desires when selecting a film to see, and it doesn’t captivate. And it’s a shame, because it really was a good movie.

Creating a good name is hard because it must be both brief and comprehensive. (Just ask a good news headline writer.) And failure to name is almost always a missed opportunity. Worse yet, and regardless of the quality of the product behind the title, a bad name can be disastrous when it doesn’t match expectations or audience hankerings.