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Alignment & Innovation Through Inquiry

The Creative Power of Inquiry                                     


Every creative initiative requires an establishment of clarity; an alignment of strategy, needs, and desires with innovation and the means to deliver successful outcomes. Most of us are familiar with the terms, due diligence, discovery or, other introductory exchanges. In every case, this work is “framed” by asking questions; hopefully the right ones!

This business of asking questions frequently gets lost in check lists or pro forma questions that reveal important inputs to start a project, but the real power of finding the best stuff; real differentiation in new, innovative ways isn’t applied. So we seek to raise the bar on the art and science of inquiry.

“The important and difficult job is not to find the right answer; it is to find the right question.” – Peter Drucker (widely recognized as the “father” of management theory)

Organizations frequently hold group sessions for brainstorming solutions to problems or in open ideation. These sessions typically elicit answers that are relevant to the subject matter, but often don’t yield breakthrough ideas. We encourage an alternative to brainstorming: QuestionStorming.question mark

In questionstorming, collaborative time is invested in ideating many questions focused around a problem, situation or opportunity. The objective is to challenge participants to develop and, then, refine a list of questions in seeking the most insightful perspectives for follow up. This process often reveals hidden problems and opportunities that would likely have been missed. Diversity among the group; meaning a diversity of life and business experience that is unique to each person, fuels the creativity and breadth of the work.

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and author of The Innovator’s DNA, speaks of rediscovering a child-like curiosity about the world; taking on the endless cycle of “whys”. Asking probing, provocative questions is the root foundation of innovation.

Within the context of Gregersen’s book, DNA is code for “Discovering New Associations”. Big ideas, breakthroughs are often associated with discovering new associations; think of a chef who discovers a new ingredient in some part of the world and then combines it with an existing recipe that becomes a best seller. Finding new associations among your assets and across their networks is a wonderful reward for time spent in finding the right questions.

Insightful video from Gregersen may be found at https://vimeo.com/48199966

Journalist and innovation expert, Warren Berger, echos the notion of encouraging child-like curiosity, and takes a deep dive into finding imaginative, “beautiful” questions. His book, “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas”, is a wonderful resource for those seeking growth or mastery in the discipline of inquiry.

A relevant (short) video by Warren Berger may be found at https://youtu.be/5ALlGU2GYbk

So, we raise our glass to new ways of thinking. It’s simple in theory; a bit more difficult in practice, but worth the effort. Begin with…
Imagine if…..?
How might we…?
What would that look like?
Why, Why, Why, Why, Why?

SEM, SEO, SOS!

You keep hearing about the need for SEM and SEO for your website, but all you hear is alphabet soup. What are SEM and SEO? What is the difference between them and does your company even need these to be successful? We’re here to help.

What is SEM and SEO?

To put it plainly, SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are types of digital marketing. These practices are specifically used to promote your websitSEM SEO SOS Imagees by increasing their usability in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) like Google or Bing.

SEM is a broader practice of increasing web usability that uses SEO and paid advertisement listings, like Pay per Click (PPC) or Google Adwords campaigns. In other words, SEM can be thought of as buying traffic to your site through paid search listings. By using SEM you can instantly increase your web traffic and it guarantees a better visibility on search engine results pages.

SEO is the unpaid component of SEM. It increases your web traffic organically by adjusting or rewriting your website content architecture in order to achieve higher rankings. In other words, SEO uses content already on your website to help search engines “read” and properly index your site, and increase traffic.

SEO can be even further broken down into active SEO and passive SEO. Active SEO refers to going outside your site to build or influence other sites to point to you. This can be achieved through consistently creating new content, like blog posts.  New followers begin to recognize you as a thought leader in your market space and link to your site. Passive SEO refers to the management of SEO that is on your site, including using tags correctly, reusing keywords and having good descriptions and articles. Search engines, like Google and Bing, use both passive and active factors in their algorithms to make sure that they are providing relevant information to their searchers.

SEO is important for companies that want to be found online and increase website traffic. It’s inexpensive and will increase traffic over time, however it is a long term approach. Having good SEO doesn’t mean that the next day you are going to increase your rankings in searches. SEO establishes your presence and search engine credibility and, just like the real world, it takes a while for the word to get out.

SEM (PPC/Adwords) on the other hand instantly increases your web traffic. The people who see SEM advertisements are actively searching the keywords you acquire. However, it’s a paid service so you will be coming out of pocket.

Would my company benefit?

Many businesses benefit from SEM and nearly all benefit from better SEO practices. But it is important to assess website intent, use, and market dynamics when a business is considering SEM options.   One “size” definitely does not fit all!

Jordan Spieth Sets Records & a Fine Example

The media is rife with examples of celebrities, sports stars, public and corporate leaders demonstrating a “lowering of the bar” for conduct, fueling cynicism and making many of us wonder whether a worthy role model is to be found these days. But every now and then the world is treated to something extra special that transcends its own context or genre; something that captures our attention and re-calibrates our expectations of personal and profeJordan Spiethssional behavior. Right now we are enjoying the emergence of this rare phenomenon in professional golfer, Jordan Spieth.

Jordan began to attract the attention of golf fans at the tender age of 14, even appearing in a (now famous) video sharing his desire to some day win the Masters Championship. As a two-time winner of the United States Junior Amateur Championship (2009, 2011), and an anchor of the 2012 University of Texas Longhorns NCAA Championship team, he continued to demonstrate his potential for greatness, turning pro in 2012 at age 19.

Having notched his first PGA Tour win at the 2013 John Deere Classic, Spieth became the first teenager to win a Tour event in 82 years. But the magic of his skill and character began to draw worldwide attention in late 2014 as Jordan won the Australian Open with an 8 under par final round and a 6 shot victory, followed by a 10 shot win at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge in December. In early March of 2015, Spieth won again – this time the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in extra holes. He then realized his dream of winning the Masters Championship in April, as the second youngest winner of this prestigious championship in history.

During this 79th playing of the Masters, the golf world seemed to light up with renewed excitement and energy reminiscent of Tiger’s dominant years, as the now 21 year old Spieth played with a calm demeanor and maturity far beyond his years, setting or matching many performance records. His interactions with his caddie and other players, thoughtful and intelligent comments in interviews, and the depth of his respect for the history of the game drew rave remarks and praise, spilling over from the golf world to main stream media. Grace under pressure, adjusting to and managing adversity, and maintaining focus under incredible competitive fire power and the fragile state of proximity to realizing a dream that could be dashed by a single errant shot; what a show!

June brought us the United States Open, the second Major championship of the year on the links style Chambers Bay Golf Course in Washington state. Conditions at Chambers Bay were challenging and a bit controversial, but Spieth again demonstrated poise, focus, and skill without complaint, outlasting Dustin Johnson on the final hole to become the youngest winner of the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923. In picking up the second Major of the season, Jordan joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Craig Wood as the only men to win both of these tournaments in the same year.

The stage was now set and the chatter at full volume about a possible single year Grand Slam run (winning all four Major championships in one year) raising the hype, excitement, expectations of, and certainly the pressurSt Andrewse on this young man as The Open Championship at St. Andrews approached. Yet another window into Jordan’s character was provided by his decision to play the John Deere Classic, honoring a commitment made rather than opting to prepare for the Open Championship at a links style tournament in Scotland. A classy move and, yes, he won the tournament in a playoff.

Now the number 2 professional golfer in the world, Spieth played The Open Championship under extreme pressure that only seemed to affect fans, commentators, and other players. In the end, he finished one shot short of a playoff for the third Major of the year, but he won more hearts and minds, and the respect of the sporting world handling the loss with grace and true sportsmanship.

So, time will tell how far this remarkable young man will go; how deeply he will rewrite the history books. The fourth and final Major of the year, the PGA Championship is coming next week. A win at Whistling Straits would make Spieth one of only three players in history to hold 3 Majors in a season, along with Woods and Hogan. We can’t wait to watch!

So, why, you might ask, are we writing about a professional golfer in this forum at all? Simple, really; the example set by Jordan Spieth, especially given his age, inspired us. His commitment to excellence, pursuing success within a highly competitive landscape with dignity, courtesy, and good sportsmanship. These behaviors should be fundamental qualities of all companies, and the reminder comes to us wrapped in the meteoric rise of this amazing young man. A true role model for our times.

 

Video: Promotional Products Adventure

As a full service marketing agency, SMARTS uses and sells promotional products as integral elements of enterprise branding and outreach. We recently decided to produce a video about the use of promo merchandise in business. We wrote the script and began working through storyboard ideas, only to reach the conclusion that the material was so dull; well-written, of course, but dull and ordinary to the point that we, ourselves, wouldn’t enjoy making or watching the piece.

Enter new idea: why not have promotional products make their own case for use in business? The stars of our video were on my desk – fun, character pens with a diversity of looks and market-specific relevance. All they needed was a voice and an opportunity to tell their story!

With plenty of inspiration from the lead and supporting cast, we soon had a new script in hand and enthusiasm for letting the characters drive the visual elements of the story. Happie Inkster, our host writing implement, provides a guided tour beginning on the executive desktop with appearances at Tampa landmarks and visits to outer space and the ocean floor, extolling the virtues of promotional products in reaching people, connecting with them, everywhere!

The point to all this is to drive home the idea that almost anything from an ink pen to a World War II army vehicle can be branded and linked with a cause, message, or simply something fun that breaks the daily grind. These things make a difference in the most powerful dynamic of business: connecting with people.

We hope you enjoy our video. It Takes a Village, with Happie Inkster.

The Changing Landscape of Public Relations

Public relations is, indeed, a marketing art of tremendous importance to companies and organizations as enterprise-level messaging and communications strategies, brand management, reputation management, and crisis management matters are dealt with proactively.

PR is rapidly evolving; the press release, while still a means of outreach to the media, is largely obsolete as communications tools and bandwidth enable better, “stickier” messages across multiple channels.   Business and consumer expectations are rising and appetites for consuming rich visual content are whet, necessitating more attention to creativity, content production values, and reaching people when and where they are ready to receive enterprise content.

In our latest video production for SMARTS Library, we teamed up with our good friend and strategic partner Tony Collins, President of the Blake Collins Group. Tony shares his thoughts about the evolving world of professional public relations, and the importance of having enterprise content created in the right medium, with the right message, distributed across the right channels to reach target markets at the right time.

We hope you enjoy our video production of The Changing Landscape of Public Relations, with Tony Collins.

Winning Presentation: Video Presentation – SMARTS Wins ICTC Website Design & Development

A picture paints a thousand words; a video, nearly 2 million in about a minute.   While PowerPoint remains a useful tool in the hands of creative and skilled authors, the marketing art of presentation “ante” is being upped (as with everything else it seems) by technology.  In this case technology is lower-cost access to video production, post-production equipment and software, distribution channel bandwidth, and improved audio-visual projection.

When the opportunity value is “big” the presentation should also “go big”.   Companies need to differentiate and get their message across as clearly and effectively as possible in memorable style.   Video pulls together live-shot content, motion graphics, demonstrations, music; all of the communicative media that deliver those millions of word-equivalents to the senses of buyers of goods and services.

SMARTS recently had the opportunity to present our case to the Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing Industry Certification Training Center Program (ICTC) in our bid to become the design and development agency for their new website.  The ICTC initiative is an international partnership to bring German/European – style education, training and apprenticeship programs to the Tampa Bay area.   Our video presentation (shared with you here) includes live-shot bi-lingual elements, live-capture demonstrations of comparable website design and functionality, motion graphics, music, and a clear connection of presentation content back to our proposal.   As with a PowerPoint presentation, commentary was delivered live to the ICTC selection Board (a voice-over of the commentary was added to the video for other uses, including this blog post).

We are incredibly proud to be the design and development agency for the ICTC’s new website.   In this case, our video presentation was a significant differentiating factor, expressing our commitment to the ICTC initiative, our understanding of their goals and objectives, a connection to additional detail in our proposal, and a sense of practical direction for next steps.   Here is SMARTS’ winning video presentation.  Thank you so much to the ICTC for choosing us to work with you on this excellent program.  It’s a terrific example of what a public/private partnership should be.

 

Have you Heard about the St. Petersburg Science Festival?

This past Saturday, we volunteered at the St. Petersburg Science Festival located along the waterfront campus of the University of South Florida, St. Pete.   Our sponsorship of the event included demonstration of our quadcopter video drone, and filming highlights of the festival.

Our participation at the event refreshed our perspective on the power of hands-on experience in connecting the depth, beauty, and enormity of science with people of all ages.  This event is a terrific blend of family fun, entertainment, interactive learning, and eye-opening experiences with creatures from land, sea, and air, both seen and unseen by the human eye, and the chemistry, biology, geology, physics, eco- and environmental systems of our planet and beyond.

Part of our responsibility in filming the event was to capture visual highlights of the festival, but the most powerful imagery that emerged was the reaction of kids, their parents; everyone who could be seen catching on to a new idea, expressing amazement at realities of our world, and consuming this “stuff” with wide-eyed enthusiasm.  Seeing the people connect; that was the beauty of this event for me.

Please enjoy this video from the 2014 St. Petersburg Science Festival.

Animated Videos for Product – Service Marketing: Advantages versus Live-shot Video

As we continue our mission to help clients REACH internal and external customers, CONNECT their enterprise content with people, EVERYWHERE through digital and traditional media, we create and produce content in all forms, shapes and sizes. One of our favorite tactics is the use of animations to transcend the limitations and costs of live-shot video.

We’ve had clients with exciting creative visions for marketing their product or service, including a desire to communicate these visions through video, but the production scale to realize these visions, if produced with live-shot video, would be cost and time-prohibitive.

In these cases, we’ve found that using illustrations, animated in various styles, including white board animation, frees the creative process from limitations of location, visual themes, production complications; basically the only limitations are imagination and the talents of the creative team.

Animation allows the creative team to proceed with clever, humorous, exciting stories set in any location or physical scenario desired to position products and services in context with their markets in a unique way.  One of the examples posted here uses the analogy of a battlefield of competition and a treacherous mountain climb to success in capturing government contracts as facilitated through specialty financing.    The second example shares a path from distraught thoughts of retirement challenges, through a humorous education about the benefits of an online retirement planning tool, and the excitement of now having simple, affordable support for retirement planning.

The time and cost associated with these productions was a small fraction of live-shot versions, and the point of each piece is far better made by the animated scene-scape and messaging.  These cases were major wins for our clients!

So if you would like to go with video for your branding, messaging, product/service marketing, keep in mind that there are many options for producing creative works and the first step is matching up production methods with budget and time resources.

Pitching for a Capital Raise; Video for Your Pitch

We’ve had several inquiries lately about the use of video in capital raise initiatives, from simply adding audio and video elements to standard pitch decks, to creating and producing “pitch reels” that make a connection, impact, and lasting impression on individual investors or investor groups.

Video is a terrific medium to add to this kind of outreach effort.   It can be used as a stand alone piece to “break the ice” and test interest, and also for use in support of more detailed pitch decks and presentation documentation.   Video can introduce more personalized character and content to capital raise campaigns, applying creativity, humor, and individualized themes in making these critical connections.

We recently produced a “Pitch Reel” for a new tech company that is seeking investment capital for launching and scaling its product.   In this case, the video was created and produced for an audience of “one”; Sir Richard Branson.  The video was produced around the common interest of the client CEO and Branson in the sport of kiteboarding.

This piece, created for HORN CEO, Lawrence T. Levine, built a story around Levine’s and Branson’s common love of kiteboarding, connecting special and very specific elements of the kiteboarding world and personal experiences of the two men with the technology behind, and applications of the HORN product.  The piece then proceeds with an overview of HORN’s present situation, successful history in tech launches and exits, and objective of scaling the product globally.

This pitch reel will be used to catch Branson’s eye, along with the rest of his exclusive review team, as part of the Extreme Tech Challenge (ETC) program.  The video will accompany a brief pitch deck and forms with necessary details, but the idea was to create a piece that would hit reviewers in the face, connect directly with Branson, and compel the ETC folks to focus on the HORN opportunity.

Check out the video and see if you agree with us that Sir Richard will want to check it out; and then take a second look for good measure!


Good luck to Lawrence and his team at HORN and thank you for trusting SMARTS with this important work!

Aerial Videography via Drone

Drones (used by SMARTS) are unmanned aerial vehicles that have been scaled down to four propeller “quadcopters” that are simple to fly. Most of the drones used for commercial video are very small, around 24 inches from prop tip-to-tip, and flight is assisted by GPS satellite positioning and even guidance. The drone we use has a gimbal-stabilized, high definition camera that can be controlled from a smart phone connected through a wifi network that is setup from the quadcopter to the remote controller and phone. Real-time flight video can be watched on the phone during filming, and adjustments to the camera view and settings can be made during flight.

Our applications for SMARTS-Force 1 (the first in our drone fleet) have been real estate, tv commercial production, and company “sizzle reel” productions for promotional videos that are deployed on websites, email campaigns, and social media posts. The aerial footage is incredibly stable and dramatically increases production values of each video through unique perspectives and motion dynamics. Home & property video is more inclusive and dramatic, adding a sense of majesty to beautiful architecture and surrounds. Filming with the drone can yield shots that were formerly too expensive or time consuming to capture, and low altitude, close quarters flights can provide producers and directors with many more creative shot angles and camera movements that really beef up editing options in post-production.

The small size of these drones, their toy-like characteristics, and basic safety features make the use of this equipment easy and safe for proximity to buildings and people, assuming responsible operators are at the controls.

The controller device and GPS data alert the pilot if the quadcopter enters restricted air space, and sensible deployment (or a no-go decision) can manage risks during production. Very few rules or regulations exist at present to limit or foster drone uses for film, although it is expected that the FAA will develop regulations as the population of private and commercial drone users continues to grow.