Gesamtkunstwerk

I. In the mid-nineteenth century, German composer Richard Wagner, inspired by the ancient Greeks, began advocating for a synthesis of all art forms—drama, music, dance, poetry, spectacle—into what he called a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art. His vision came closest to realization in his 17-hour Ring Cycle and in his Bayreuth opera house, which he had custom-built to stage his epic works. The design of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is innovative and meticulous. Famously, the giant orchestra is nested underneath the stage, which allows the singing actors to project over Wagner’s dense scores without barking or straining their voices. Orfeo…

Trauma center

I think of my professional craft, and my professional interest, as “unlocking human energy.” Over the last decade or so, as the logical continuation of that interest, I’ve become increasingly focused on trauma. Trauma arrests human energy. It prevents individuals, groups, and societies from flourishing. The traumas I am thinking of include a range, from developmental traumas of neglect and abandonment, to extreme violence, to daily mundane dissatisfactions and thwarted expectations, to giant historical injustices. Trauma wants our acceptance and understanding. As an intrinsic part of the human experience, it is both the obstacle and the path. Trauma triggers the…

The Six Centers

All individuals and groups have finite attentional resources. These attentional limits constrain what organizations can do, including their efficiency, ambitiousness, insightfulness, and success. As I’ve said elsewhere: “In his wonderful and occasionally heady book The Ecology of Attention, Yves Citton writes that ‘we never have the means to pay enough attention’ and so we end up paying attention to what preoccupies others. Limited attention leads to groupthink: we pay attention to what others in the group pay attention to, reacting to and in the context of other people’s priorities, in an endless feedback loop. Attention, in other words, is ‘an…

Product and Marketing

In 2017, Brad Feld wrote an article in which he proposed that any startup can be viewed as essentially three machines: “(1) the Product machine, (2) the Customer machine, and (3) the Company machine.” I love this model. For me, it captures what day-to-day strategy and execution feels like at a typical startup and many other kinds of organizations, too. The three machines must be high-functioning, and they must be aligned. Feld adapted this framework from one of his investees, and when he first saw it, the machines had different names. I similarly want to tinker with his labels just…

Aligning Marketing and Sales

For years, I’ve been writing about how businesses can optimize human relationships inside and outside their organizations. I’ve fleshed out this idea over many blog posts, with a core visual denoting three kinds of strategy that should always be tightly linked. I love the purity of this diagram, but some kinds of businesses merit an expanded framework. In my last post, I complicated this model slightly, by adding a fourth circle for corporate strategy: For B2B companies, however, there is at least one more circle that’s conspicuously missing, and I want to address it now: Sales. I have avoided talking…

Brand marketing vs. performance marketing

There’s a simple procedure I use for creating or evaluating an organization’s marketing strategy. It starts with: Clarifying the opportunity we’re going afterArticulating and segmenting the specific stakeholder relationships we must foster to capture that opportunityDesigning and managing clear, custom funnels for each of those relationships These last two steps lend themselves to an easy-to-remember progression of images, where we could first depict an organization’s relationships with the outside world using a Venn diagram: And then pour each of those external circles into the top of a traditional marketing funnel, as if they were gumballs: And then, over time, we…

What is positioning?

Positioning is important for every organization. Yet there is no consensus on what the term means. Among positioning experts, Michael Porter talks about strategic advantage, Seth Godin talks about purple cows, and Clotaire Rapaille talks about tapping into enduring cultural archetypes. Are we really all discussing the same thing? Here is a simple description that I use to align teams and viewpoints: Positioning defines how external audiences see a company or product relative to its competitors. In practice, positioning answers three questions: Where are we in the competitive landscape?What is the nature of our offering?How are we situated in stakeholders’…

Becoming #1

Long ago a colleague recommended that I read the book Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan. I did. At the time, I thought it was interesting, if simplistic. And then I continued to use it as a key tool in my professional work for the next dozen years. The core idea in Eating the Big Fish is that there are large incumbents in every market space, but “little fish” can come to dominate the ecosystem through effective brand-building and communication. The book came out at a time when “brand” was the buzziest of buzzwords, one that could smother any…

What is marketing?

Marketing is one of those words that seems to have a different definition depending on who you ask. If you explore the huge volume of resources, history, and commentary out there regarding marketing, it quickly becomes obvious that these voices have little to do with each other. It’s hard to believe that they all describe aspects of the same general craft. I work with companies across a wide range of industries and levels of scale, so it helps to have frameworks that are easy to understand and broadly applicable. I’ve written previously that business strategy is essentially about opportunity—seeing clearly…

What is brand?

Brand is a top priority for many businesses, but it often lacks a clear definition, owner, or action plan. People frequently conflate the term “brand” with related concepts like vision, awareness, positioning, and design, and so it never really gets articulated, and therefore never really gels. I’ve been doing brand work for a long time, across a wide range of clients—from massive global conglomerates to edgy startups to small local businesses, and everything in between. Personally I’ve found that the most effective way to think about brand is to replace it with the word “relationships.” Not relationships in some abstract…

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