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.

Acrylo Aerospace

Aerospace, of course, being the coolest word to put after any name.

Soon: sew-on shoulder patches! (heh, not really, though)

Snapstag Cider Flyers

I opened my fridge to grab the above bottles for the photo and realized something: I really like apples.

Like, if you had asked me the answer would have been “Sure, why not?” or “Who doesn’t?” – an answer of indifference at the ubiquity of the fruit’s presence. But I realized that I have, as I write right now, two kinds of apples and three kinds of apple juices. On the counter top opposite a candle with a subtle apple scent. In my cupboard both Apple Jacks and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (which are not, as I previously thought, the same thing) next to the box of apple cinnamon oatmeal flavoring and variety of dried cider mixes. Apple teas, though, I’ve declared terrible.

So it makes sense, I guess, to make an apple flavored ale.

We went the other day to the farmer’s market in search of fresh apple juice (preservatives in the commercial kind will kill the yeast) and came back with 2x 1 liter glass bottled soft cider from Harker’s Organics. We’re opting for small, small batches with lots of experiments and meticulous note taking so we can decide and make more in the direction we like the best. Next stop: The Vineyard, a local brew shop. First impression: super helpful and knowledgeable guys there. I had a shopping list based on this guide and they agreed, so we went with the Nottingham Ale yeast because in theory it should be hard to mess up. One packet is $4 and makes like, ~45 liters of brew, so we’ll have more than enough to keep playing; they’ll probably expire before we use them all. Silly yeast for having a shelf life. There’s some other pectins and things to control clarity and sweetness but I won’t get into the nitty gritty.

Unfortunately that’s all I can tell you at the moment, there’ll most likely be follow up posts in a few weeks / months.

In the meantime, we can play with the branding. There probably won’t be any real production scale any time soon, but can you blame design students for getting excited? We arrived at the name Snapstag entirely serendipitously and rolled with it. The above photo was the third try or something, so it’s hardly done. It’s not really original, but since we’re not competing on store shelves it’s less a concern to be memorable and edgy. We just wanted to do whatever we liked, and that’s what it is. It’ll most likely evolve over time and start to take on it’s own personality. I imagine there will be other names / brands for each flavor we come across and branch into it’s own right with ties to each other. We liked the industrial revolution Wharftown handmade branding that’s popular with the hipsters these days. I tried doing a truly hand lettered version and it’s terrible. I have so much respect for people like Gerren Lamson and Simon Walker.

In the end, it’s entirely for fun and we’ll have something to talk about and do with each other after we graduate.

Austin Eastciders Gold Top

Yeah yeah, “Cider is a girl‘s drink” you say, snickering at me across the bar table. But truly, all of my associations with the word are of houndstooth tweed Jay Gatsby hats and fox hunting with a break-action over your vested shoulder in the rainy forests of Britain. The contrast there is the warmth of the heavy stone pub and ornate oak tables, fireplace roaring in the corner quelling off the pea fog.

So whatever.

Anyway, I’m sad to read that I won’t be sipping this any time soon since the curse of most small breweries is that they don’t ship very far outside their zone – so unless I fly to Austin, it seems slim. The packaging itself is brilliant. Screen printed bottles are, of course, held in the very highest esteem. That’s how they used to be done, and for good reason.

Artistic credit goes to Simon Walker, who’s done an absolutely perfect job recontextualizing an entire genre of drink. But, really, everything is he does is just dripping with talent, so I guess I shouldn’t act too surprised.

You can read a full interview with Ed Gibson, the main man, over on The Dieline which is also where the above photos are from. There’s also the Austin Eastciders main page for more product information.

Well done, gentlemen.

Filthy Media Corporate Identity

I’m not sure if it’s just the mix of my favorite things (matte black with gloss black embossing) or that that blue colour happens to be what I’ve been running with lately or what, but this is lovely.


Datsun Logo

If you cruise car news sites you’ll probably have heard that they’re reviving the Datsun brand. The news is bittersweet for me because I’m a huge fan of the past work and all the faux-nostalgia that comes with it but I’d hate to see it driven into the ground with generic new stuff. I really don’t mind Kia, but that’s sort of what comes to mind when I imagine what the new Datsun will end up like.

Secondly, and perhaps most forebodingly, the new logo above there is atrocious and is exactly the move to banal, boring predictable rubbish.

Some word association. There’s a song which is fitting for two reasons: a) it features the word Datsun right in the title, but b) because it actually was a song I played a lot in my old Japanese car a few summers ago, when the sun fell hot onto the seats and we sat by the river enjoying the breeze. There’s something in the word that’s just dusty and well used and loved and black leather seats cracked from years of some young couple adventuring and going on road trips down endless roads. There’s that gold that you see on the old Firebirds and sometimes crossed over into the land of JDM – this , really, is the colour scheme of beautiful old cars. From Countach to Esprit there’s just something classic about that. It harkens to the dark alleys just behind the neon lights, when streets lit up with auburn glow and gangs had dance offs instead of shooting one another because everything was classy like that. There’s a bit of space where my “memory” composed of the stories I’ve heard and movies seen bleed together, as if people were playing Micheal Jackson’s Beat It in such a car though they are ten years apart. The guy’s vest at 0:54 is that diamond stitch leather, which is what a 260Z’s seats should be made of (as should the Countach’s). The people who lived through the era will laugh at my such loose associations, but I even lump the early Daft Punk soundtrack into there, reminded by the intro to the Electroma – that Ferrari 412 could easily be replaced by the Fairlady styling.

But in the end, it’s a faded thing. Those gold stripes aren’t shiny and the black has softened with time. It’s grown beautiful because of it’s age. The leather smells of dust and warmth and the interior is that most comfortable form of stifling. The kind where you can’t breathe but smile because it’s summer. Your leather jacket squeaks a bit when you get in, sitting low in the buckets. It’s not a plastic FOB but a simple metal key in the ignition, springing with anticipation. The music player winds to life and those classic synth lines from the 70’s / 80’s resound as you set off into the horizon fire.

Will the new cars encompass these things? Nah. And maybe that’s alright. Some kid waxing poetic about isn’t going to change anything and nor do I expect it to. I’m sad to see the direction set off in this way, and it’s a brand that has those memories in a lot of people’s mind to play off of, but in the end the goal and duty of the brand was to provide decent cars that were affordable and if they can inject that into this market I fully support them. In the end, that is a far nobler cause than any mere aesthetic.

So, best of luck out there, however you end up doing it. Even if the old style is dead, may the old goals remain. Make something good and in such a way that everyone can afford it.

Windows 8

It’s nothing new, of course. I’m sure most of you readers have been following this since last June when Microsoft decided they should blog about things in an effort to seem more open.

And I could write entire essays about the various things, from the recent logo debate to the timing of the recent beta release, but I really want to prod about the superficiality of the whole thing.

I don’t like it.

They wanted to make things youthful and fun and I feel like it’s tripped over itself on it’s way there. The tiles idea, from a cross-device cross-media platform view is brilliant. The OS is fundamentally similar between the desktop and phone versions because the tile underpinnings are so fluid and scalable. I like that problem solving. There are other, even better ways for the power user, but I think it’s a good thing what they’ve done trying out this format. I’m also glad that they seem to be running with this. I watched the first look demo from last summer and wondered how much of this would be taken out for the final production, much like concept cars get boring-ized before actually available. Okay, so these are nice things.

But the aesthetics. The raw, easy to change bits like tile colour. Where did they come from? I wanted to compare it to a local kids amusement place thing that we had growing up but it seems like they never had a web presence. Shame. It was garish. I remember thinking that even as a kid when we went there.

I was really excited to see screenshots like these:

Where there is unity and boldness and youth and vibrancy and that useful starkness that works so well for phones. Icons that has to be powerful to minimize language usage. But then they took that and stirred everything all together and made this soup of mismatched colour and style and I feel like the desktop OS end result is worse off for it. It’s just muddled.

The good news is that it should be very customizable (at least, we’ll find a way to force it, if not native) and the changes needed to streamline it aren’t that big of a deal. Icons. That’s easy, given everything else that went into the system.

I hate to say it, but the Vista Ultimate style would actually work perfect here. A nice unobtrusive background with those famous blues and greens popping as tiles? That’d be fun and elegant, bold and restrained. It’d be fresh and young without being childish.

Did I just write all of that to say that they should think about changing a few colours? So it seems. Twitter’s taught brevity might be a valuable thing to learn after all.

TL;DR Just wait and change the tile colours in the options because the default ones are rubbish.

Brands, Rationality and Religion

I realize this will probably be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written, and I’m entirely fine with that; that’s how the deeper questions get asked and, hopefully, then answered. I’m not saying any one side (on either side of the metaphor) is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but I draw the comparisons for both interest and learning’s sake and observation of the real world.

I would say, looking on it all from the outside in, that people are not into religion for rational reasons. No one coming from an unbiased secular upbringing looks at it completely emotionless and thinks “Yeah, this seems like a good idea for this and that reason.” – people are drawn to religion, people stay within religion entirely because it’s an emotional thing. They find sanctuary in it mentally. They don’t choose based on specs and perks and logic.

A good brand, and I say this in a slightly manipulative way, should take this principle to heart: appeal to people’s emotions. We are a society who likes to make the best choice or the ‘rightest’ choice; we don’t like to be wrong or make the wrong choice or through inaction have the less desirable thing happen to us. I’ll reference Barry Schwartz here for further info (and it’s very good info), but I’ll leave that point as it is and move on.

Apple is often accused of it’s cult-like following, and from a marketing standpoint that’s exactly what you’re trying to generate. A cult following of people who will preach your product is incredibly powerful against the boring, stuffy approach of comparing numbers. And that’s a dying culture, I think, the type who choose the product based solely on specs. Other than the oldest of nerds and hardcorest of early adopters actually seem to care about that sort of thing anymore. A product isn’t just numbers, and the mainstream is realizing this. I should back up a bit, because I’m pointing too much at consumer electronics. One last point in that field: which person do you want to hang out with if given the choice between an iPhone person, a Blackberry person and an HTC EVO 4G? Exactly. So if your goal is to sell to real people, be aware of how real people think and market to them. The nerds might be vocal, but don’t confuse that with actual selling ability / market size.

By all means, the iPhone should not have the market share it made up in the years since it launched. The Android people are quick to point out it’s relatively slow processor and lower RAM so why is did it not only succeed in the market but surpass the people who have been doing it since the beginning? This:

Mentions of RAM? Nope. Quad cores? None. Screen resolution? Nada. These are things some people care about, but people in real life don’t and Apple knows this. They make simple ads about a parent taking cute photos of their kids and tweeting it. Because, you know, that’s what matters to people. They don’t care if it has one core or 16, they care about the end result. That thing people so often miss because they get stuck on the bridge in between the technology and the result. Ideally, there should be no numbers at all; ideally it should work flawlessly no matter what’s inside that little magic box. Since we don’t have that, we invent little counting systems to compare things and often don’t realize that they’re arbitrary and often don’t actually mean anything. Galaxy tablets have four cores and still can’t smoothly scroll through a list of song titles without lag. That’s what matters – the 4 part failed. The experience is ruined. The number can be superior, but without the result being effected for the better, it’s a moot point.

Full circle:

People aren’t in religion because of numbers, because of superior technology inside or because of rational, logical thought about the event. They’re in it because of how it makes them feel: part of a group, often special to a deity, often promised rewards after mortal death. The emotions can’t be proved or disproved, and yet people still do it. They don’t choose which religion based on cost per positive event. They choose the one they like and the one that fits their lives the best.

Reason two: mutual hatred. I personally think it’s ironic in the sad way, but on a whole religions exist because of a mutual dislike for something. It’s a way for people to come together and try to stop something, be it other races or lifestyle choices etc. I seem to recall I’ve mentioned this before somewhere, but Apple is the anti-Microsoft. They succeeded in part because they were the group who had a mutual agreement that they were better than the other computers. So, when people had issues with Microsoft products, even if Apple didn’t have a better solution, they thought about switching to the “better” side. So as a brand, and from a designer point of view, what is your product against? Why / how does your design solve that? And, make this abundantly clear in your message. Do you hate peeling oranges? So do lots of people, you made a thingy that peels oranges and you want to help everyone who hates peeling oranges themselves. Using hatred productively! Sometimes it isn’t so apparent. Were people outraged because there wasn’t an easy way to tweet photos from their phone? Probably not. But, once you have the ability it becomes hard to live without and perhaps that would discourage users from switching. A lot of design and invention is identifying invisible holes to fill with solutions. Marketing (I mean the sleazy infomercial type) is the creation of products that fill holes that don’t really exist. Snuggies are a solution without a problem unless you are truly that terrible at keeping blankets on yourself.

Woah. That went on a lot of tangents. But, I think all are important to note.

TL;DR Emotions are human, so appeal to them. Unless your market is bleeding edge early tech adopters, you probably don’t need to market the numbers and specs of your product. Show people why the thing exists (because you hated problem X and this solves that) and what it’ll do for them in real life. Numbers are meaningless without corresponding outcome results, so cut the fat and advertise the product for the result it generates. If it doesn’t, your product needs to rethink itself.

Design Studios as Rock Bands or: How to Stay Startup

Lately I’ve been pondering a very simple question with a very complicated outcome: “What is a business?”

The question spawns from the recent wallstreet uprisings mixed with a healthy dose of reality as I’m faced with the world outside and how I want to go about looking for my own livelihood as I leave the protective womb that is school.

And, I’d thought about it briefly before, but I had a little thought that sort of paradigm shifted everything: bands don’t follow the rules. I mean, as businesses. They don’t ever really expand. You might gain some members or lose some members but at the core, they are a band together, not an empire. You can’t just keep hiring people into a band without some breakdown threshold of people count. But, there are different types of bands. Rock bands (for example) might have four people: guitar, bass, drums and vox. But then orchestras might have a 100 people each with various instruments and roles. They can be a strong group as led by their single director. The rock band might have a natural leader, but for the most part they are a classless organization.

So the lesson here, if it can be drawn, is that size indicates need for leadership. I look at – and have worked for – small design firms that might only have those four people but have a very centralized leader. It’s a snowball, where one person has an idea or a business plan and the skills to start it and the secondary and tertiary employees are either directly complimenting that skill set (be it more designers) or providing some further service (bookkeeping, marketing etc.) and more and more employees come and build up outer rings of service, all leading to that central first person. But then there’s this breakdown. At some point the organization changes into the hierarchy with leader > board > managers > employees (to simplify) instead of this circular ideal. It’s been said that Apple maintains this circular approach even with it’s monstrous size and thus maintains the start-up like communication between wings. So why doesn’t everybody take this approach? I suspect it has to do with the old style thinking that’s present in the generation that makes up the heads of these large companies. Remember, Apple is still quite young compared to, say, Sears. It’s hard to buck what is so entirely engrained in the company DNA and when the large companies started, that’s what the attitude was; power at the top that trickles down the pyramid.

But it’s tricky to implement that because unlike bands, your company will probably have to grow and with growth comes the need for communication between departments (and please, please integrate your departments. Again, see Apple) as well as that director in the middle. The entire orchestra can see him and hear each other. The entire rock band can see each other and hear each other. So I wonder if there isn’t something to be said for staying the rock band course. A core group of people deeply intuitive of each other all pushing for the common good of the group. Especially in design studios is this a seemingly practical business option. Sears can’t survive as four people, they’d never be able to staff all the stores and fulfill all the roles, whereas designers can stay small and be successful. I would look towards several industrial design groups as an example of this. IDEO is kind of the Rolling Stones with a long, varied career and relatively well known status without become a massive empire of business. Studios, like bands, don’t look for or need an empire to be ‘big’ (in the successful sense, not the pyramid sense) whereas other business (like retail) might.

And, as we’re learning with the super lean tech startups in the valley right now, staying small and agile can be a fantastic benefit. So, since we’re in the business that can afford to be this way, leverage it. I look at studios that try to expand so fast because they see this as success; building it big as a pyramid and not seeing the true reason they exist.

No Name Brand

The ever awesome XKCD recently posted this comic – and he’s right. It occured to me that Americans don’t have No Name Brand, which is literally just name brand stuff repackaged into glorious yellow boxes with crisp black Helvetica.

We call it Helveticola.

There are entire stores that sell this as their primary brand and it’s doubly awesome because it’s actually cheaper than the ugly graphics branded counterparts. Who says good design has to be expensive?

Granted, occasionally the foods don’t taste the same; things like mayo and ketchup. But really, it’s pretty impossible to mess up Cheerios and I suspect quite often the foods come from the exact same factory.

The branding itself is effective. It’s easily recognized and conveys the item for what it is clearly and easily. I’m not sure about American packaging, but our laws require both French and English, so I suppose that’s really the only extraneous part when living in provinces that are majority English speaking. That’s still different than being superflous, though, French is still effective and practical for the other half of the country which maintains it is good design.

Whereas other brands might have pictures of the contained food on the outside of the package, No Name usually just makes little windows into the contents. It’s simple and elegant. Occasionally there are foods that dont look like what’s contained (like cake mix is just powder, but the picture on the box is a finished cake slice) so they will use pictures on some items. Also, of course, packaging that cannot have windows (like aluminum cans) will have a wrapper that may have a picture of the contained. For the most part, though, it’s glass jars and plastic bags which lend themselves well to such simplicity.

So, Randall Munroe, there’s your solution. It’s the answer to a great deal of questions and I repeat it again for clarity: move to Canada.

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