jason oke

If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention.

Lots going on

Since I haven’t had time to write I thought I could at least point you towards some other important stuff to read.

John Grant wrote a howitzer of a post this week – part wake up call and part call to arms regarding the state of the planet, based on some new scientific data that’s just being released.  It’s at the same time one of the most terrifying and most inspiring things I’ve read in a while. It shook a lot of people (I’ve been thinking about it ever since), and the ripples are already spreading around the web. Every person on the planet with marketing skills should be spending time thinking about how to address these issues right now. His previous post is also a must-read – it lays out some tools on how we can all start working on this.

In slightly happier news, John’s also working on a talk for the 40th anniversary of planning event in the summer. He’s trying to collect 40 people to help write an open-source talk. He’s still looking for a few contributors, so if you’re game, go here to get involved.

And on the topic of group writing, the captains of crowd-sourcing, Drew and Gavin, are at it again – based on the success of last year’s Age of Conversation book (written by 103 authors including some of the brightest thinkers & bloggers in the marketing worlds), they’re going to publish a second one this year. Drew’s got more info here – the call for authors is closed now but more details on the book will be announced soon.

Filed under: Books, green, planning

Learning how to be green

greenOne of the things we’re focusing on at the new agency is sustainability. We’re working on a fascinating project for a major marketer that I can’t wait to develop. But we’re quite wary of the fact that this is a complex territory with quickly and constantly shifting landscape. And that it requires doing marketing a lot differently than most of us are used to (for a great dive into how and why, read John Grant‘s excellent new book The Green Marketing Manifesto – it’s essential reading if you’re working in this space).  I’ve been trying to be green-ish in my personal life for a while, but professionally I’m only 3 weeks into to this space, so I don’t know anything at all yet. But I’m trying to note my newbie observations. And what I’ve been noticing so far is that marketing in the green space seems to require two things:

  1. Don’t forget everything you know about marketing.
  2. Forget everything you know about marketing.
When I look at a lot of green marketing, I was struck by the fact that it seems like people had thrown basic marketing 101 lessons out the door. We spend our careers learning how to set clear objectives for communication, properly target, find a personal benefit, and to make things interesting. But as soon as many people get into the green space, they seem to throw that all out the window.  A lot of the communication is just shouting about what companies are doing, rather than making it clear why this is personally relevant to me (thus falling into the old “what you make, rather than what I buy” trap). There’s a lot of cliched imagery (it seems every print ad features a tree and a smiling child). They seem to treat the “green” audience like it’s one big undifferentiated lump of people. And they don’t seem to have clear objectives about why they’re communicating and how it will affect their business.
I wonder if it’s that after thinking about dull undifferentiated things like washing powder and orange juice for years, marketers are so excited to finally have something meaningful to say that they think they don’t have to be marketers anymore?
But at the same time as you need to remember to start with your marketing fundamentals (objectives, strategy, targeting, insights) it seems you also need to forget everything else you know about marketing. The actual communication needs to be handled differently, and carefully. As John points out, marketing traditionally is about portraying something in its best possible light and creatively bending the truth (last time I checked, drinking a Coke doesn’t actually make you gleeful). And in most categories people let it slide because they understand the way advertising works, and because it’s not something they care to think that much about.
Once you get into the sustainability space, you need to take the opposite approach. If you bend the truth, or if you focus on only your best practices while obscuring your weak points, you’ll get killed. These are issues that people are passionate about (with good cause – it’s basically turning into a life or death issue) and on which they are skeptical about corporate agendas. People will analyze your statements and promises with a microscope and are waiting for you to overstep or misstep. Also, marketing generally tries to simplify things into single messages with easily digestible soundbites and taglines. But given the complexity in this space, simplification easily becomes oversimplification which can seem minimizing, ill-informed, and patronizing. Throw in as well that many standard marketing practices are actually very bad for the environment (flying dozens of people halfway around the world for meetings and shoots, paper-intensive mail pieces). Has anybody ever calculated the carbon footprint of a typical TV shoot?
So big, glossy, glamorous advertising messages can easily (and usually) backfire. Instead of focusing on your strengths and achievements, you really have to not step beyond your weakest point and pretend to be your biggest skeptic when thinking about things. Instead of trumpeting your awesome superiority, you have to be humble and understated. Because it’s not about looking green, it’s about actually being green and showing you’re making an effort.
I’m finding it a delicate balancing act learning which of the “how to do stuff” parts of my brain to hold onto and which to discard. It’s tremendously exciting but really challenging stuff. Then again, maybe I’m just slow.

Filed under: green, sustainability

The golden age of travel


I’m traveling all next week, meeting new clients and getting into my new responsibilities. So I’ve been thinking about air travel the past few days. The news is full of stories and opinion pieces about the horrible state of air travel. We’ve all read about it, talked about it, and probably complained about it. It’s as if you can’t mention air travel without including the phase “little indignities” in the same sentence. So unless you’re a masochist, no one really looks forward to business travel, and even pleasure travel seems to be getting less and less exciting.

Now I have a dirty little secret: I actually enjoy flying. I really love it. (That’s putting aside the CO2 emissions issues: the picture above is enough to give me serious doubts about the sustainability of flying. I’ve recently started to carbon offset my flights – not sure if that’s enough, but it’s something and I’m trying it out. Interested in hearing other opinions on it…)

I love the sense of possibility and momentum in airports, the fact that thousands of people are beginning and ending adventures. I love the people watching and speculating as to where various oddly attired people might be going. I love watching the crowd dynamics in large groups of strangers. I look forward to the actual flying for the quality time with a book or a magazine or an iPod with no chance of being interrupted by phone calls and emails, and no parental obligations to weigh on me.

And while I’ve certainly had the occasional bad experience with delays, cancellations, and questionable airplane sanitary conditions, in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t seem all that bad. And the more stressed and angry people around me get, the calmer I get. It’s like some osmosis permeable membrane thing happens with stress – they pull all the stress out of me. It’s very zen. (And selfishly, I find when you’re the unstressed person who smiles and shows a little consideration to airline staff, they’re much more likely treat you like gold because they’re so used to being abused these days.)

I’ve felt very alone in my love of flying given the prevailing conventional wisdom. So I was glad to see that the excellent travel essayist Pico Ayer has a wonderfully contrarian piece in the NY Times blogs challenging that conventional wisdom.

It’s very plannerly – he argues that flying hasn’t actually changed much at all, and where it has it’s changed for the better: “[a]ir travel is in fact as comfortable and reasonable today as it’s ever been.” Instead, it’s our expectations of control and choice and speed of access to everything that have changed. And flying, with its various hiccups and uncertainties, seems jarring and anachronistic in comparison.

“I wonder if that is what makes us so fussy and impatient when it comes to the rare occasion — such as getting on a plane — when we have to leave the controls to someone else and are at the mercy of forces (other humans) who haven’t been bookmarked in advance.”

He also has some insightful observations about the fact that outside of North America and Western Europe – i.e. in most of the world – no one expects most things to go smoothly or quickly, and they remain much more patient. We could probably all learn something from that. It tends to leave you open to the little wonders of life. Or at least to some quality people watching.

By the way, my travels take me to San Francisco and Denver/Boulder next week, so if anyone fancies meeting up for a coffee or a beer let me know.

Filed under: good reading, green, life

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