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A Recap of the PSFK Conference

I2m_psfkconference_2 Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the first conference event put together by Piers and the team at PSFK focused on trends and ideas.  The agenda was very compelling going into it, and I did leave with many interesting insights and new ideas about marketing and communications.  Though I unfortunately had to duck out early due to client commitments, here are a few key observations I made in my notes:

  1. Getting the "doers" to come and speak. At many industry events, there are lots of great (or average) speakers that are trained to position companies.  The tone at the PSFK was definitely more real, with Piers choosing to feature many "doers" rather than speakers.  The result at times was the necessity to really focus on the essence of what someone was saying rather than being caught up in the speaking, because the presentations could be halting or awkward.  In the end, I think that added to the appeal of the event.
  2. Blogs fill a void in vertical media. This is something I had experienced, but not thought about … how blogs are augmenting vertical trade publications in just about every industry to offer another channel for learning and information.  Elizabeth Spiers started the day with a somewhat sales-pitchey presentation about her collection of sites for Dead Horse Media, but did share the interesting observation that the secret of success behind was that it allowed lots of 29 year old financial services workers to read something entertaining while "allaying their guilt because it is peripherally related to their jobs."  Seems like a lesson lots of other blogs have learned as well.
  3. Most toaster designs suck. This is something I would never have thought of before Allan Chochinov’s presentation from Core77.  He shared lots of imagery, talked about the design asthetic and illustrated how his sites was truly focused on design ideas.  Bucking the trend for many popular blogs, Core 77 does not necessarily post what they like, but rather what sparks the most ideas.  His tour of Flickr, Worth1000 and other sites were worth checking out – as is Core77 and coroflot.  If you have anything to do with design in your job, or are passionate about it, this collection of sites are must-reads.
  4. Gaming was the first social revolution (maybe even leading to UGC?). This sentiment was echoed both through the presentation from David Rosenburg from JWT and Kevin Slavin from area/code.  Until about 2004, video games were played alone against the computer.  Slavin pointed to this as what people 20 years from now might call the dark ages of gaming.  Now it’s social, huge and for everyone (especially people in categories you might not expect, like women and boomers).  Rosenberg’s survey of the many different types of gaming, evolution of gaming and built in videos was a great 20 minute survey of a very ambitious topic. 
  5. TrendSpotting is not as important at TrendUnderstanding. Simon Sinek  had many great moments as part of this panel, and one of them was pointing out that much of the crappy marketing work published recently comes from brands blindly following trends without understanding the underlying reasons and motivations for them.  Positioning the difference between the academic world and the business one, Grant McCraken from MIT shared the perspective that the academic world is very good and understanding the underlying reasons, but not quickly spotting the trend.  As Simon noted, the marketing world is just the opposite.  I’ll be subscribing to his Re:focus blog in my rss reader …
  6. Using continuity instead of consistency to create a great brand experience. Going against the trend of sameness in retail locations, George Murphy (the former VP of Brand at Starbucks) shared the example of how Starbucks creates an experience of continuity without resorting to consistency.  With so many brand marketers focused on making every aspect of an experience fit together and giving consistency an undue reverance, Murphy’s observation offered an insightful caution about avoiding your brand becoming stagnant because of sameness. Planned inconsistency can make a big difference in fostering your brand experience and offering some personality without losing your consistency.
  7. Good guerilla marketing is not deceptive and sometimes even useful.  In a strong panel about guerilla marketing, folks from several agencies shared some core principles of doing guerilla marketing right.  The first idea that stuck out was that you cannot be deceptive otherwise you risk pissing off consumers.  The other interesting concept was that now messages could become inherently useful by offering messages or guides to locations that people need.  Floyd Hayes of Cunning also shared an interesting observation about how we use so many militaristic terms in marketing (guerilla, campaign, targeting, etc.) and perhaps we need to stop treating customers as "targets" and more as people.  Amen.
  8. How to invent assvertising without becoming the "assvertising agency."  This is a topic of particular relevance for me as I focused late last year on participating in dialogue about Social Media Optimization without wanting to become the "SMO guy."  Darren Paul of Night Agency shared the story behind coming up with "assvertising" and how it helped to put his agency on the map to do much more.  It’s a great lesson in not being afraid to introduce a big idea even if you are afraid of getting "type-cast" with it.  There’s always a way to move on.
  9. Big games and building a "public secret" really work.  Kevin Slavin’s presentation about the Brand as activity was one of my favorites of the day, as he shared lots of examples of great games and real life contests that used brands as the focal point for interactive experiences.  This is the concept at the heart of the "creationstorming" idea I posted about earlier this week.  The Tucson Conqwest is a great early example of a mobile "big game" and how effective it can be.  Kevin shared lots of other examples I will be checking out, including several I am linking to in my resource link list below.
  10. Art as advertising is not anonymous.  Most attendees of the event would be familiar with the intense frustration creative professionals feel after spending long hours to produce artistic work as part of a marketing effort, only to have their involvement be anonymous and hidden to everyone but the advertising community through awards shows and trade pubs.  The panel on using art for advertising was illuminating
    because it represents a different kind of advertising where the art is identified with the artist and the brand is simply a participant.  This was the concept we explored through our popular effort with Julian Beever for Aveeno – and seemed to represent a different type of respect for advertising that most aspired to.

As with most of these kinds of events, I also noted many sites for a follow up visit (or revisit) because of mentions in presentations and tagged them in  You can check out my list of sites at

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