How to Sell Anything to Anyone

Also: how to hire employees that will work for you, not just for your money.

I came across this and sat dumbfounded. I thought back to all these things I’ve been searching for over the years and realize this is the subtle clicking of pieces, the thing that’s been on the tip of my brain and needed just a gentle nudge to get rolling: operate not on what but on why.

And it’s true (though not in the neuropsychological sense – his brain map is a little bit off) – we have these other divisions for it: classical and romantic schools of thought. That one controls the concrete and the other abstract. Logic v. intuition. What and why.

Because ‘why’ isn’t really a thing. It’s just a reason for a thing, and even then, just as often not because it’s a precursor; a filter for bad ideas, for things that have silly answers to itself: why?

It’s also the answer I’ve been searching for with regards to a specific subsection of the market I call curated brands. Best Made Company stands out, but there are endless examples. They aren’t a company that makes and sells axes. They’re a company that believes people should be well equipped for adventuring. That’s why they also sell all of these other, often unrelated things. They don’t exist to sell axes, they just happen to sell axes.

So I think this is a piece that slots into my artisan question – how can I, as a person, feasibly do these things? It’s “unheard of” (which, as I’m learning, isn’t true :: it’s far more common than we think) to be such a generalist. Every startup advice book I read repeats the mantra of focusing on the one thing you’re truly good at but I wonder – what if that one thing is curation? What if, and I ask this about myself specifically, my passion is in the act of curating and the store aspect isn’t actually the point? Best Made, by those definitions, should only sell axes. That is the core one good thing they’re good at. But I suspect that if they only sold axes they would be fulfilling the ‘what’ and not the ‘why’ which would result in a lesser business because the people who follow them aren’t interested in axes, they’re interested in adventuring.

There’s something of a paradox there, and it’s very interesting. Maybe not a paradox… a tipping point. There’s a graph with a curve that says doing the one thing you’re good at is a good thing – it’s focus – if and until you can generate more support by selling a belief or passion instead of a product.

But there is a self loop inside there: that one focused thing should also be inspired by a belief or passion instead of simply shipping for money.

My new conclusion, from the above two paragraphs, might be something like this:

All business ventures should be driven by a belief or passion and the number of types of goods sold should be inversely proportional to the amount of internal work required.

So that allows you to sell one awesome idea – let’s say… an app you’re developing internally – and really focus on it. Or curate, since while it’s work in itself, it’s still supplied by external manufacturers and therefor less internal worry. It’s a spectrum. Best Made falls in the middle: smaller selection, but they also make a lot of things in-house. Same with Apple. So the scale of the company is independent of the spectrum’s scale and location. It’s a 2D spectrum, then, really. Okay, so maybe it looks like this:

Size v. scale is an interesting subtle difference. I’m not sure I’m using them quite right here, but up is bigger (often richer) companies and down is smaller, more indie companies.

You can place people as you like: Apple v. Dell, Ferrari v. Ford, Best Made, Instagram, Facebook, Red Lobster.

In the end: sell your passion, not your product. In successful companies, that’ll be one in the same, but remember the order for marketing.

The Speed of Hertz

Fantastic look to the old school. And really, it’s not even about the graphic treatment, that’s just to stand out – the true beauty here is that they went back to the roots and the message takes over the ad. Each poster has one message, one selling point that it demonstrates. It’s clear and concise.

Graphic artist Chris Gray for studio DDB New York for client Hertz Auto Rentals

Read more // via

Thoughts on Cereal Boxes

The best part about being a designer isn’t the lavish lifestyle. Nay, the piles of money and fast cars get boring after a while. I once bought Norway just because I could and peacefully ruled it for a number of years, but they too became bored after I designed solutions for all of their problems. Alas.

No. But seriously, one of the things I love most is asking ‘why’ because – and especially with made things – there’s usually a reason if you keep digging further.

I was eating cereal (gold leafed Apple Cheerios) and curious as to where the box shapes came from. They’re incredibly thin, but tall and wide instead. I reasoned that they’d get a better volume to surface area ratio if the boxes were made more even across the edges. With the minimization of material to internal space, they’d save cardboard and that means weight and cost and in the end streamline a variety of costs throughout the journey between factory and grocer’s shelf.

So why do they do it?

And I thought about it for a time and although it’s obvious now looking back, I didn’t realize it until I was in the store buying more – the flatter the front face of the box is, the more advertising it can display. Each box is it’s own mini billboard, so it stands to reason that you’d want to maximize that.

Logistically, the shipping and packaging advantages are probably negligible when compared to the effect of sheer size in a crowded, finite shelf area.

Part two of this is an open question I’m still debating:

Eye level is really important when putting things on shelves. That’s the primo spot for merchandise and brands pay more for it when negotiating for products, we know this, but I wonder if cereal’s “eye level” isn’t actually lower because the target market for sugary cereals is younger. They want the kids to take the boxes off the shelves to submit into mommy’s cart. The data is inconclusive and depending on which store you go to (I’ve looked a couple since I had the thought) you might find that each brand has a chunk that takes up the full height (so that that whole strip is the same type all the way up and down) but is relatively skinny down the shelflength.

Anyway. I don’t claim to have any answers, but those are some observations and an interesting topic to question.

In defense of targeted ads

I don’t have any ad-related photos, so, uh, here’s something completely different.

This shouldn’t turn into a rant, but I warn you now, it could go off on tangents.

Today I was walking home from class and thinking about the advertising around. I thought back to Banksy’s brilliant sentiments regarding billboards and immediately my designer mind went down the path of how to make them better. “I know!” I thought “Why don’t we make them so they recognize you and show you things that’s you’d like.” and then I thought “Wait. That’s ridiculous. That’s what Google does already and everyone’s against it.”

But then, why?

Like, truly, erase everything you know about ads and think about this hypothetical: You’re browsing around these websites. Your Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Reddit or whatever, your news sites and TV shows and billboards on the side of the road, they all have this box of content. What if all of that content was the best thing you could think of – not ads, but whatever you wanted. What would that look like? My initial response, personally, would for them to just be flat colours. A few white, maybe a couple 80% grey, some bright orange or green or that teal-ish blue that I love so much. So, that’d be cool. But maybe… boring? What if they could show me cool things. What if – and remember, not ads – they were just like, cool cars and adorable kittens and bits of my favorite movies. Pretty neat. Okay. But I’ve already seen those things, old hat. What if they could take all those things I love and then show me new things. That’s pretty much what I’m doing when I spend hours just cruising around looking for new things anyway. Like, what if those billboards were showing the next thing on my RSS reader, so it integrates into my lifestyle instead of purposefully sitting down to read it. For one thing, I’d crash my car into everything trying to read them, but that’s the idea – it’d be so compelling.

Okay. But what if those cool, compelling articles and things were products (really, it would be hard not to be) that you could buy.

“But Brennan, wait!” you cry out “Those would be… ads” you say, with mock horror. Exactly.

What if the ads around you were so attuned to you, so compelling and so cool that you would actually – heaven forbid – be interested in them. Crazy talk, I know.

And that’s why I’m in full support of intense targeted advertising. I want them to know what I like so they can serve me. Banksy says they own you and that’s true, but that’s spam – things that don’t apply to you. Do I as a male ever need to see lady deodorant ads? No. That’s the spam that clutters up my field of view. Would I be the poorest person in the world if every ad was a product from The Black Workshop? Yeah. I’d be tripping over myself to give them my money, because it’s exactly what I want.

So don’t say it with such disdain. The alternative is them advertising to the mass and general appeal which rarely relates to you. I’d much rather be excited and interested in the things presented.

I mean, it’s not like they’re just going to stop advertising randomly, right?

The Excitement Effect!

Silly dog, don’t you know you’re going to get food anyway?

But… we do this too. Silly humans.

Have you ever noticed that just by changing the mark at the end of sentences, you can convince the reader about how they should read it? Crazy, I know. Mind control. Mind control! Haha. See? Right there.

No, but back to the issue at hand. We have this dog that we feed this food. Both are constant and maintained variables while the only thing changed is the delivery method. Yet, the outcome excitement seen in the test subject is remarkably different. Interesting.

I won’t be blatant about my metaphor because I’m sure you can figure out how to apply this to business. Remember when the Nintendo Wii’s first came out over six years ago? People who didn’t even know what the things were wanted to buy them just because seeing one in a store was so rare. The news talked about it; people were in line and bribing store employees to get them. Were they the most powerful console? Not at all. It was essentially a Gamecube in a glossy white box with a different sort of controller that wasn’t even really established with the public. But they got people excited by withholding things in all the right places. Games were everywhere, sure, but the console itself, well…

And so people are like the above dog. They know the food will come. They know they’ll get to eat. They could have easily walked over and bought an Xbox or a PS3 because there were mountains of them in the corner, but they want the things cascading over the bowl with such anticipation.

Silly humans. Shiny things.

Hollywood’s Woes

That’s us, that man standing there, onlooking Hollywood.

The quote that best describes this comes from a recent article by Marco Arment:

The MPAA studios hate us. They hate us with region locks and unskippable screens and encryption and criminalization of fair use. They see us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us.

Yet when we watch their movies, we support them.

Those of us who use Netflix or Apple TV forget how truly annoying physical disk movies are to try and get to work on anything but sanctioned players – and even then filled with unskippable threats.

But I wonder what is to come of the entire thing. Bigger than Hollywood, bigger than the games industry, bigger than the MPAA and everyone, what will our entertainment be in the next ten years? 20? 100?

It’s sort of an unusual situation we find ourselves in. The Roman gladiator games lasted roughly 135 years and only really ended when the particularly vile leaders had died and the newer generations looked at the entire sport with confusion and unease, yet we see entertainment mediums such as radio come and go entirely because new technology (television) claimed it’s overtaking. But here we are in an age where movies on the whole are not very good and the industry blames piracy instead of truly looking at why people aren’t buying the films anymore. I mentioned previously somewhere that the movie going experience is jaded. People aren’t interested in paying $14 to sit in a room with a 100 other strangers who talk and text and spill sticky things on the floor. Since bigger home screens mean the theater screens aren’t really as interesting anymore, the cons are outweighing the pros. It’s a matter of poor experience.

Y Combinator, the famous startup investor has issued this statement denouncing the whole thing and I have to agree; what exactly are we going to do with all of this?

Time to design.

Design, at it’s more pure roots is simply problem solving. The hardest part, often, is finding the problem to solve. Are we really solving piracy? Are we solving entertainment? Are we solving the problem that many people have, which is a lack of choice in the matter?

It’s interesting to read message boards and see everyone’s take. The consensus here seems like people want a new distribution model like iTunes did for music or Steam did for games but I have to wonder if that even solves the overarching problem which is, in my mind, the lack of interesting things to watch. Sure, we have a few great shows targeting various demographics, but on the whole it’s a lot of filler. Worse yet, this:

Really? Reeeeally?

No wonder people aren’t watching things like they used to. It’s a reboot of an old franchise from the 70’s which, admittedly, did pretty well, that features scenes like this which are basically just commercials featuring the characters in the show. Then, there are actual commercials between the show segments. Where did the actual entertainment go?

I propose a threshold is being reached: There is a certain level of product placement that you can put alongside entertainment because the entertainment factor is still high enough to make it bearable, but at some point it isn’t anymore and people will stop watching the “show”.

So I ask again, what will our entertainment be in the next ten years. 20? 100?

Hopefully, not this.

Acrylo Logo shirts

Same deal as last time: super comfortable American Apparel shirts, with print, sold at prices actually cheaper than buying them retail. Sweet deal!

Comes in eight snazzy colours, two genders and five sizes.

Check them out.

As soon as mine ships I’ll definitely take better photos of it – these are terrible, I know.

Cell Phone Commercials

So Google (which I’ll use interchangeably with Android here) makes this glorified Powerpoint and calls it a commercial. Did it inspire anyone to buy anything? I doubt it. “We need more cool stuff!” someone says, doodling Tron lightcycles in the margins of the advertising notes. “Alright, let’s try that.” which led to this:

It’s still pretty much a slideshow except with shiny graphics. Boooooring.

My other issue is that these are TV ads, as in, that medium that the target market for Android phones pretty much doesn’t use anymore. They’ve gone to online versions or straight up torrenting – both of which don’t have the above.

Compared to Apple, which is definitely marketing to the wider audience (TV watchers) and usually shows one or two features in a real world application. The viewers think “Yeah, that applies to me; I’d like that.” instead of the Android approach which throws out numbers and features and expects the viewers to think “Oh, I know what that means and what it can do for me; I’d like that.”

It’s interesting to me, as well, what sorts of features each brand promotes as being reasons to buy them. Also notice the length of each ad. The shiny slideshow is nearly two minutes long – 1:30 longer than the average attention span. Apple figured that out with the Mac v. PC ads: short, to the point jabs with a memorable punchline makes for a memorable ad. Old Spice got around the attention span by making things unexpected and interesting as well as being funny and memorable. Android seems to fail on all of these accounts.

I’m not commenting on the phones themselves, nor the brands or features, but from a strictly advertising point of view I have to give the win to Apple here.

Ideacious – the next kickstarter?

From the sounds of it, it’s like Kickstarter with a few twists:

They can take your idea and do the industrial design for you. No word on the price, but I assume it would be an upfront cost to them that (hopefully) gets repaid via selling on the site. If you’ve already done the ID work, they just take a small fee for the initial hosting etc. which seems fair. Of course, again, the idea is you’ll make enough money to end up with net profit after initial fees.

You can also invest in something. Kickstarter is just the sale of something for pre-order. You might get a hat or a shirt that says “thanks for helping us” or, depending on the product, one of it itself. This makes sense. Ideacious goes a little further and has a investment model, so that when you preorder something, you get bought in for a percentage of it’s profits when it goes on sale. You can choose to do a real preorder (that is, when the product comes out you get one + additional % revenue) or just do an investment (you get the % but skip the product itself, maybe you think it’s a brilliant idea but have no use for it).

They also base the % revenue on your queue in the pre-order. If you’re first, you get a bigger cut. This works as an incentive to speed things along with the FOMO psychology principles. Makes sense.

The idea? Awesome. I’m really excited to see where it goes.

The problem? Exposure. I don’t see it as a Kickstarter killer as much as a complimentary service (since KS won’t do your ID or anything, that’s up to you) with a different intention. Either way, it needs to prove itself in the marketplace before the ecosystem ramps up. Investors might be hesitant to work with a relatively unknown marketplace and without investors they can’t attract producers, who then don’t attract investors. The cycle repeats. So, these times are strategically important for them.

But, if you’re in inventor with an idea and no way of manufacturing it at the moment, this could be your lucky break. Check them out.

Free Range Chicken Theory

I would repost the entire thing if I could. Just go over and read it, seriously.

It applies to you as a person, be it in design or wherever. It applies as to the products you make or sell. It will make you more popular to everyone around you and they will crown you with “Mr. / Mrs. Popularity” for that entire year. So again, read it now.

Some quotes:



Products are very much like this. If you’ve had something for a long time and it’s become a part of your identity you do tend to forgive it’s shortcomings more readily. Likewise, when it becomes broken or slightly off, you feel somewhat sad, slightly sympathetic, like you would if you found out your friend was really sick.






Again, I would attribute some of Apple’s success simply because it was the anti-Microsoft. People saw it (because they advertised it as such) as this scrappy underdog who valiantly fought against this stale, monolithic corporation. People automatically saw flaws in Windows and thought “Hey, I’ll bet Mac doesn’t do that.” even if it weren’t true (there are lots of flaws both share) which is how the advertising stuck – they made enemies. “You’re frustrated with Windows? So are we. Come join us.” is what the honest slogan would be. And it’s incredibly, incredibly effective.

Do this, you’ll win.

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