Friday, March 25, 2005

Evolution 4 - "Strategy and Positioning Platform"

I learn a lot from a lot of people. Mary Sicard from iGenuity posted a comment to my first "Evolution" piece and included a quote from someone named Darwin John. The quote intrigued me, I followed it to the url she provided, and I found an eloquent review of what businesses should look for when considering growth. Here's the real meat of what Darwin John wrote:

"Traditionally, businesspeople have thought of growth as entering an expanding market or adding a new product in hopes of increasing revenues. But that's only one of four dimensions of growth, and it is not the most important. What does growth really mean? Successful growth starts with being clear on what our purpose is, and on what we want to accomplish as a corporation. This is the most important dimension. The second most important is being clear on what strengths we have that we can leverage to that end. Without purpose, growth is meaningless and chaotic; without strengths, successful growth is impossible. Only when we've determined the first two should we turn to the third: what we might add in terms of new product lines, acquisitions or capabilities. The fourth dimension of growth is determining what products, product lines or companies we need to shed because they lie outside our corporate purpose or strengths." (Click on the title of this post for a link to the entire article.)

The first of John's "dimensions of growth" seems clearly descriptive of the "Strategy and Positioning Platform" we offer as the key deliverable in our ideation, or "ProjectOne," process. It is the foundation of and for a business, but you'd be amazed how few business leaders can communicate theirs.

The most interesting stuff we do is help people clarify and then communicate their company's SPP. What's yours? Need some help? It's the foundation not only of growth but also for survival.

Do you shuffle?

A break from the "Evolution" series to share a piece I read from David Kirkpatrick of FORTUNE. (Click on the title of this post - "Do you shuffle?" - to read Kirkpatrick's entire column.)

According to Kirkpatrick, the new iPod Shuffle has made it easier for him to live in a world of music. So right. I have one of the larger iPods, and I take it with me everywhere. It's my default player in the car; I listen to either NPR (usually the news programs) or my iPod. I try to walk each morning, and I always listen to music when I do. When I fly, I'm often plugged in.

I haven't listened to so much music since my teenage years. And 33 1/3 LP's were hardly portable.

But what is remarkable about Kirkpatrick's insight isn't what he writes about his iPod and music. It's this:

Why, he asks, "do I, and so many others want to cocoon ourselves off into our little music bubbles...? I think one reason has to do with the other technologies around us: cellphones, PCs, BlackBerries, laptops, etc.... For me, email is particularly annoying. Every day, I'm finding it more and more debilitating. There's just too much coming in, and it takes me way too much time to manage it all.... I never come close to catching up."

I'm a huge user (but, I hope, not an abuser) of email. Yet I've come to realize that email can be a curse as much as a boon. So I've lately tried to split my communications into a hierarchy of priority ranging from "immediate" (instant message, phone, Skype); "get it in writing, but conveniently" (email and email with attachments); and "formal and/or sincere," which is good ol' fashioned snail mail.

So many people use email now for everything, and you can sense their frustration when they don't receive an email reply in minutes. "Did you receive my email?" Maybe, but perhaps I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Possibly, but I'm traveling and haven't logged on since this morning. Yes, but I haven't yet replied. No, perhaps my email program catalogued it as spam.

I suggest we all consider the various communications tools we have and try harder to choose the one that is best fit to each task.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Evolution 3 - An "idea cooperative"

We're pushing this thing forward.

Over the weekend, I took Friday and Monday off to play in an event called the Heritage Non-Classic. Seventy-two players, all of them golf lovers, and 71 of them wanted to know what we do at BURRIS. (What can I say? It's a friendly group.)

We're an "idea cooperative," I'd say. They would scratch their heads, work up their best quizzical looks, and say something like, "Come again?"

BURRIS is an idea company, I'd tell them, and we do our best thinking, our best work, when we work in cooperation with our customers and for their brands.

For instance, it's not the advertising we created for Softspikes that made that product perhaps the most powerful new brand in golf in the 1990's. It was getting golfers - good golfers, the ones who influence other golfers - to try them. It was getting superintendents to endorse the use of plastic cleats on their greens. It was getting exclusive private golf courses to ban on metal everyone could see the benefit of smooth putting surfaces. And if we still worked with the company (Softspikes was acquired by Pride Tees in 2002), we would innovate ways to encourage golfers to change their cleats at least as often as they change their golf gloves.

The power of the "idea cooperative" is the strength behind the brand we call BURRIS. And we're absolutely focused on our golf and home furnishings practices to grow our business in an environment where ideas can have so much more impact than merely the next ad or direct mail or brochure.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Evolution 2 - "We are an 'idea farm.'"

I don't know yet what to call BURRIS in this new iteration, but I can tell you what we aim to be.

BURRIS is an idea farm, a place that creates, germinates, nurtures, manages and harvests the kind of big, inspirational thinking that solves companies' marketing problems.

We have two areas of particular and extensive experience, two "idea practices" where we are so comfortable we believe we can step right into a situation and work from an elaborate knowledge base and expertise:

1. Golf Business
2. Home Furnishings

There's no question we have a range of opinions and offer an experience and perspective that can be valuable to almost any company or brand participating in these industry categories. We are centering our communications and prospecting specifically in these businesses or industries. Perhaps righteously, if double negatively, there's no one we believe we cannot help.

Evolution 1: "What we're not."

As I've written here several times lately, BURRIS is attempting to move up the branding chain, from the creator of communications to a contributor to the idea itself.

What's the idea that motivates your brand communications?

So often, marketers can't answer even that basic question. It's clear to me that they need help earlier and earlier in their own processes, and I believe we're actually very good there.

We try to challenge customers to think fresh, think big, think about the problem before suggesting a solution.

It's fun. It's rewarding. It's why I still enjoy what I do. But describing it, getting prospects and customers to understand what they need and what we can do to help ... that's not so easy.

And it's proved to be not so easy for members of our own organization to grasp either. Why? Two reasons, I think:

1. As a company, we're still learning to survive. The loss of several major clients in 2003 forced us to work very hard on both ends of the business, costs and revenue. Simultaneously, we've significantly reduced overhead and kicked up new business opportunities. In the process - and in an attempt to keep cash flowing and debt outside the door - we've done a lot of things that resemble communications and advertising more than early-stage ideation.

2. It's not where we've been. For twenty years (come June) ours has been a company we most often described as an "advertising agency." But we're not an advertising agency, not by any true definition. We don't place media. We don't have account executives. We don't even have a lord-over-the-creative director. Our customers, our vendors, friends, even we sometimes resort to the default term, probably because we haven't come up with a better one.

What we are not is an "advertising agency." That's clear. But what we are is not so clear.

Some attempts at a description:
- We're brand consultants.
- We work in marketing and communications.
- We're a "laboratory for marketing inspiration."
- Ours is an "idea house," a "creative, collaborative sanctuary," a "refuge for lost brands."

See what I mean? It's tough, isn't it?

Evolution - Introduction

Over the next several posts, I hope you'll indulge me as I lay out my thinking - and our thinking at BURRIS - about a transformation we are going through, one that gets us closer not only to what we really love doing, but also what we've found brands and companies need from us now. (It's more than they've asked for in the past.)

One of the questions I often ask now of my friends in corporate environments is "how": "How amidst all the travel and the meetings and the other demands on you, how do you ever get anything really substantive done?"

The answer is, most often, "I don't."

They don't have time to execute. They don't have time to monitor, to measure or to manage. They don't have time to brainstorm, innovate or collaborate. They don't have time to think.

(If I'm overstating the case, I apologize. If this doesn't describe you and your company, that's good.)

What BURRIS does more and more of - and what I truly enjoy - is help to identify the thorny marketing problems a company or brand faces, then facilitate and participate in a process that generates the kind of big ideas that can overcome those marketing problems.

That's what we "say" anyway, and in many, many cases that has been what we "do." Yet an effective transformation from being perceived as an "agency" (of "advertising" or "marketing") to a welcome and valuable resource for ideas, for rich thinking, well, that's not been so easy to effect.

Over the course of the next few posts, I'll address the evolution BURRIS is going through now. Your comments - your ideas - are welcome.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Ideas are the currency of the future."

My friend Fred Palmer (a VP at Club Car) picked up on the statement at the top of this post during a presentation way back when. (You know, way back when we worked with Club Car.)

Fred recited it for about six months, whenever he heard others use jargon ("paradigm shift") or pet phrases about thinking and boxes and such. And he put it to work with his staff and his customers.

For us at BURRIS, we might say now that "ideas are the currency of our future." We've cast our fate to the area of the marketing business we enjoy most: generating ideas - big ideas - for our customers.

This direction isn't new to us; I've been talking and writing about it for months now (since way back when).

Neither is it unique to us. Companies like Bright House in Atlanta have been doing it for years. Even here in Greensboro there's an interesting approach being taken by Tom Dougherty at Stealing Share.

The idea company that fascinates me most, however, is Ideo from Palo Alto, CA. Known by too many as a hip product, graphic and industrial design firm, Ideo brings its talent and experience to much more than the obvious. What I like about them is that they go deeper than product design; they get into the process too. They see design virtually everywhere.

For instance, Ideo just completed some fascinating work for SSM DePaul Health Center in St. Louis. According to an article in TIME's "Inside Business" (April 12), "Ideo staff members deployed a technique they call bodystorming. Taking on the roles of real patients, they acted out the entire physical experience of a stay in the [hospital] unit, with one hand on a crutch and the other on a video camera. They also gave disposable cameras to DePaul's nurses and told them to take pictures of anything that impeded them during their duties." Among the things they recommended was a check-in kiosk similar to what we find now at airline ticketing counters.*

If you'd like to learn more about Ideo, go to

And ... how's your currency holding up? Need some fresh thinking?

(*March 14, 2005 issue.)

Friday, March 04, 2005


I was an undergrad at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, a great four years, a good educational environment - overall, an outstanding experience (for me, at least).

One of the fascinating things I remember about those years was the College's Honor System. It included much more than "I won't cheat." It covered lying, stealing - in short, it was a code of behavior. And the results were better than the process. We didn't lock our bicycles; we left books or tennis rackets or music lying outside the cafeteria doors or library; we left the door to our rooms open 24/7. I'm told it's still that way, and I'm sure it has something to do with the College tradition, something to do with the relatively small (1,000) size of the student body, and a lot to do with a value system handed down from one generation of students and faculty to the next and so on.

Here's what the College catalogue says: "The heart of all academic and social conduct at Hampden-Sydney is the Honor System, and the heart of the Honor System is individual responsibility."

This bit of nostalgia comes as a result of my reading a piece from Ron Sirak in the February 18 GOLF WORLD. "Honest is as honest does" deals with baseball player Jose Canseco and his new book, "Juiced." Sirak compares baseball to the values of golf, focusing primarily on the individual golfer's relationship to the rules and the honor inherent to the game itself.

50th Birthday Event
(Here are three of the most honorable, on the course as well as off: My brother Brad; Mike Harmon, Director of Golf at Secession; and my good friend Jim Crouch. I do well in their company.)

In the pro game, Sirak says, "there have been incidents of creative ball-marking on greens, non-conforming drivers...and [even] whispers of players who used hot golf balls. But there also have been players who disqualified themselves when they discovered they had played a ball yet to be approved by the USGA."

In baseball, cheating is a violation only if it is caught by the umpire. Same in basketball or football with the referee. But not golf. The spine, the backbone of the game is the golfer himself. "I think my ball moved" forces the player to decide for himself if it moved out of its position or not, thus determining if his score should have added to it a 2-shot penalty.

The Honor Code at Hampden-Sydney worked in the 1970's and apparently does still today. The concept of individual responsibility is one of the things I admire about the College, and it's one of the things I love about golf. The individual sets the tone for morality.