Okay, I admit it. I am hooked on Snapped, a true-life crime show on Oxygen, the network that encourages women to “live out loud,” which in this half-hour of programming is defined as first-degree murder. Despite the title’s promise, no one ever explodes into an ax-wielding frenzy. These homicides are premeditated, usually motivated by jealousy, greed, or boredom, and carried out in such a ham-fisted way that Helen Keller* could probably solve the case. But I do have to give these ladies props for their courage, even if they do end up as sunken-eyed inmates with bad hair.

Lesson #1. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
A note pad, a spare afternoon and boxed sets of CSI can be a literal lifesaver for someone looking to get away with murder. Case in point, the fate of the ladies on Snapped. How might their lives have been different with tips, such as: Don’t dispose of incriminating evidence in your own trash can. When staging a burglary, break the window from the outside. Homicidal motorcycle gangs are extremely rare, especially in suburban Connecticut. And my favorite: after murdering your husband, don’t plop into your hairdressers chair and say, with a giggle, “Guess what I’ve been up to?”

Lesson #2: Always do your homework.
Inappropriate behavior during a 911 call is an immediate red flag in a criminal investigation. When reporting an emergency, most people tend to be frantic, terse, and unguarded. Unlike the callers on Snapped, they seldom laugh, make jokes, answer call waiting, attempt a British accent, sound as if they’re reading, or ramble on as if chatting with a girlfriend while folding laundry. “So I was making chili for Troy’s Scout meeting (many minutes later) and my husband is bleeding from the neck.”

Lesson #3:
Use the appropriate tone when communicating with your target audience.

* Note: No offense to Ms. Keller, who would be the first to admit she is not qualified for police work.

Join, follow and friend me
Join, follow and friend me

“I just retweeted your tweet about your post on Facebook for your new blog entry and then added a link on my blog back to your original post. Thanks for the friend request.”

In today’s world the above would be commonplace as more of us have entered this world of “status updates”, “tweets” and “blog posts”. This new evolution has allowed us to keep in touch with people through quick snippets of 100+ characters. I say evolution because that is exactly what we are looking at. We are social creatures and this is nothing more then the Book Club or Tupperware Party of the past. Those D&D Thursday nights or Monday Night Football gatherings. Now we see people hosting their Book Club and Tupperware Party in virtual settings like Second Life, and Monday Night Football has turned into a Facebook/Twitter/MySpace status update each time our team scores. While DND Thursdays have turned into all-night raids during games of World of Warcraft.

There is no denying the fact that social media usage has made massive gains. These gains are not just among the normal internet user but also the on-the-clock internet user who sometimes uses these sites for more than simply personal reasons.

Several reports have now shown that there has been a steady increase in on-the-clock users for several of the online networks. The top reasons users gave for using these sites at work were professional networking, keeping up with friends, and general research. While a small percentage were logging on for more specialized reasons or to market to customers.

Not surprisingly, this rise in usage has started to raise red flags for some companies. In one poll three-quarters stated that is was unacceptable to check Facebook or other social networking sites if unrelated to work. This new stance has caused complications for some users when friending a colleague or supervisor and has blurred the boundaries between personal and business because of these sites’ usefulness at work and at home.

This doesn’t mean that these social networking sites are only good for home use and keeping in touch with friends, but for those of us who have taken the time to integrate them into our lives and our business we need to know not only how to use them but better yet – when to use them. We need to recognize the networking medium as a way to more intimately engage the end user and to help better understand their needs. Social media can help to get those conversations started or to jump-start an old conversation with your end users, allowing you to offer better support to them. It’s up to us as advertisers to figure out how to best gauge the value and the budget needed to attract those end users. Because in the end there is no real reason to have a fan base that had to be bribed by a re-tweet, re-post, or a ping back. Not to mention, Tupperware Parties just don’t seem to be in style anymore.

Design from a New Vantage Point
Design from a New Vantage Point

I am an aesthetics over analytics girl any day, and I always have been. I pursued my degree in interior design because I love to be surrounded by a purposeful beauty, but in my final year in the interior design program at the University of Alabama, I realized I yearned to experience something more.

I had become trapped in the idea that the only choice I had in my career was whether to go “commercial” or “residential,” and I was suffocating. I was on the UA Greek system’s governing board, as well as an active member of the Student Government Association, and I adored planning our big events and being a part of all the small details that take something from good to great.

And then entered Lewis Communications and the world of advertising.

It was a conversation that was had often during that final semester. The summary goes like this: “I have no idea what I am going to do. Help.” Then, during one of those conversations with a mentor and dear friend, I learned about summer internships at Lewis Communications. I had never thought about taking my love for aesthetics in the advertising direction, but I was quite intrigued by the idea.

Here I am today, fresh off a photo shoot for Tiffin Motorhomes. In my role assisting the stylist, I have served on both the creative side and the account side, and I’ve been able to combine my love for visual beauty with my organized, detail-oriented nature. Though it may seem like styling a photo shoot can’t be that different from designing an interior space, I have learned there are so many little things that go into photography that engages consumers. It’s about creating the right shot list with the right colors for each unit for the right medium. Scale and proportion that seem great in person may not translate well in photography, and I have loved taking on design from this new vantage point.

I’m now off the shoot and in the office, and I can’t wait to see what all the work we’ve done thus far will turn into. Already I’ve learned how captivating various images can be for different audiences, and I can’t wait to learn more.

Going to Boulder to drink the Kool-Aid
Going to Boulder to drink the Kool-Aid

My colleague Carlton Wood and I just attended a fantastic seminar at Boulder Digital Works (BDW) in Colorado. Thanks to a nonstop schedule, we barely saw the Rocky Mountains, but we did have the chance to hear from some of the leading voices in digital marketing.

BDW, a joint venture between Crispin Porter & Bogusky and the University of Colorado, is a graduate school that offers both a 60-week program for full-time students and an immersive workshop for working advertising professionals. Instructors are working creative and strategic leaders at top agencies like Crispin, Colle & McVoy, RAPP, Mullen, Modernista, and Victors & Spoils.

The session was sponsored by ICOM, our international agency network. It was revealing for Carlton and myself to work side by side with agency principals from the US, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Finland, India, and beyond. After each session, we went into breakout groups and concepted digital ideas and solved problems, based on the information we had just learned.

A few takeaways from our seminar that seem well worth sharing:

Everyone knows that social media is playing a larger role in marketing campaigns now, and that there is movement toward a two-way conversation, rather than just a creative broadcasting of a slogan or positioning.

BDW instructors spent a great deal of time talking with us about the next wave of digital marketing—the notion that a brand’s communications should not only be powerful, but useful, to consumers.

If the first stages of the Web were about microsites, e-commerce, and brochureware, and today, it’s about a two-way conversation with consumers, what lies ahead is a fully-integrated digital ecosystem. It’s not just your website, or your Facebook page. It’s about shaping your brand at every touchpoint of contact. Are you the same company in your print ads as you are on your mobile website? Does your social media speak in the same voice as your event advertising? What about emails, banners, and search?

Kip Voytek, SVP Communications Planning at RAPP: It’s no longer about talking at consumers—it’s about talking with them—listening, helping, inspiring, and facilitating conversation. (If this sounds a lot like the language you’ll find on the Lewis website, we think that’s good news; it’s a sign that we are headed in the right direction.)

Mike Caugin of Colle & McVoy had this memorable observation:

Web 1.0 = The Information Age
Web 2.0 = The Participation Age
Web 3.0 = The Helpful Age

He cited companies that were pioneering helpful, such as Google, Netflix, and Kayak. In his words, “the lines are rapidly blurring between what is marketing and what is operations.” It’s challenging marketing departments and the people who actually create product to work together in new ways.

A great example is Apple, and the fact that the advertising, storefronts, and product are so seamlessly integrated that you can barely tell where one ends and the other begins. Great marketers are looking past media messaging and searching for ways to more powerfully connect with consumers at every touchpoint of a brand. At the same time, powerful storytelling will remain an essential part of a great brand.

Scott Prindle, Interactive Creative Director at CP+B put it this way: In the expanding digital ecosystem, brand utility is a key component of the marketing mix. How can we be useful in our interactions with consumers, in a way that’s congruent with our brand? This mix of utility and brand story will define the great brands of the future.

At our BDW seminar there was also a great deal of talk about the emergence of a new team member. The “creative technologist” is becoming a vital new member of the creative team: the technically-savvy individual who introduces the latest technological possibilities into a creative concepting session. Ideally, this is someone who speaks both advertising and technology and who can bridge the gap for the other players.

Two other key trends: the rapid adoption of smartphones is going to define our marketing efforts in the next few years, and the proliferation of crowdsourcing is definitely changing the advertising and communications landscape.

Carlton and I loved getting to work with our ICOM counterparts from agencies around the world. Agency networks sometimes are only mentioned in passing during new business pitches, but our experience reminded us that these ties are real, powerful and useful. As part of the ICOM network, we have the ability to gather research or get assistance from agencies all over the globe, and to share our knowledge with them. Being able to meet and work with these people firsthand really affirmed the value of the ICOM network for me.

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It’s fascinating to watch the advertising press get all atwitter (forgive me) about the advent of social media. The simple fact is that a company’s brand has never been defined by lush print advertising, clever TV commercials, or a stunning brochure or website.

The waitress who just forgot to refill your customer’s iced tea? She’s your brand. The door that squeaked awkwardly when your most important prospect walked in? Branding, that could use a little WD-40.

Everything a consumer sees, hears, believes, touches, encounters, smells or feels is the essence of your brand.

The biggest challenge for marketers today is being authentic. Because nothing will torpedo positive perceptions of a brand faster than a negative customer experience.

That doesn’t mean that you, your company, or your service has to be perfect. Consumers don’t expect perfection; they expect satisfaction. What it does mean is that you need to present yourself as genuinely obsessed with meeting your customers’ needs, and willing to step up and make it right when you don’t.

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A print campaign for Tiffin Motorhomes and a poster announcing the 2008 Birmingham ADDY Awards were featured in the Graphis 2009 Advertising Annual.

Graphis, the International Journal of Visual Communication, invites leading professionals across the disciplines of photography, illustration and graphic design to submit work for inclusion in their annual books. Among the thousands of entries, a jury selects the most compelling work of the year in each category for inclusion.

This is the second consecutive year Lewis has been so honored by this prestigious international publication.

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Lewis recently helped create a successful joint promotion for Whole Foods Market and the Black Warrior Riverkeeper. A portion of proceeds from a day’s sales went to the Riverkeeper, and sales for the gourmet market were up by 5% the day of the promotion. Lewis also created a new educational brochure for the Riverkeeper.