Archive for February, 2013

What I Learned from Bloons TD 5

DATE: February 22nd, 2013

One cold, snowy January morning Ashton (my grandson) and I curled up on the couch and concentrated on killing as many bloons as possible. We worked together, adding defense towers to beat off those horrid bloons.

Then I got hooked.

After Ashton left, I started to work to beat the game. Now beating the game is nothing to sneeze at.  Each game has 5 levels…. from easy to apopalypse and deflation…. and there are 24 “scenes”, that’s 100 levels to beat. That takes significant investment in time and energy.

But  I did learn some valuable lessons from my foray into Bloons TD5. I learned, that to win one has to do more than add defense towers willy nilly. And more defense towers aren’t necessarily better. Taking the time to develop your banana farm, increasing your overall revenue, changes the game. When you invest in specific towers, upgrading them to their full upgrade potential, you get free special agents that can really help you out in a pinch.

Ashton and I, intuitively, want to protect the exits — making sure the bloons don’t escape. The number of escapes are limited — so we need to take care we make sure we pop them all before they get to the exits. So when things start to go south, our immediate response is to clog the exits with spikes — saving the day.

But, when I started to explore the game, I learned some really meaningful lessons. And each of those lessons teaches me a little about myself — and marketing.

1. Invest in the long term.

Building that banana farm requires an investment mindset. It means that I have to take some risks in the first few rounds — risks that may let a few bloons seep out of the maze. But that investment will give me a lot of power when the bloons start to come fast and furious. In business, we often want to take the easiest and least expensive route. But before we latch onto that strategy, we need to weigh the cost.  I have clients ask me all the time what is the fastest way to acquire new customers, clients or donors. I have to tell you, the best way is to strategically invest in building the banana farm. There is no quick fix for long term engagement. It is hard work. It is strategic. And it leads to a win.

2. Don’t be fooled. Some Towers are better than others.

Choosing the right defense Towers will change your game. Each maze has unique patterns and schematics that change the defense needed. Understanding the pros and cons of each Tower is critical in beating the game. Marketing is no different. Choosing the right tactics for your campaign is critical. Sometimes the dart monkey is perfect — other times the ninja monkey will be a better bet. The monkey apprentice does pretty cool things, but you might just need the mortar tower. When you figure out your campaign, you need to outline all the tactics — then choose the most effective. Simply implementing a tactic is not a guarantee win. Smart marketers know their tactics — and choose wisely.

3.  Take risks

My tendency, especially when I am watching too closely, is to resist risks. After all, each bloon that escapes contributes to my demise. But there are times when letting one or two squeeze through so you can increase your defense team helps you win. Also, taking the risk to test a new defense Tower teaches me better methods of winning. Taking that risk in one maze, gives me the power to defeat another — if I don’t take any risks, but just play the game the same way all the time, I don’t open new doors. Marketing is the same. While there may be a cost to the risk, there are always benefits. Understanding the risk, doing it purposely and collecting the data on performance leads to increase knowledge — and extremely valuable tool.

4. Take strategic risks

That doesn’t mean that I will take risks foolishly (if I want to win). I know the power of the monkey apprentice. I know that I have to employ them early in the game to hit cameo bloons. Because I understand the role and the power of each tower, I am able to take strategic risks. You will not learn if you don’t take risks. But you will be more effective if, when you take the risk, you employ the learnings of other experiences. Be prepared to fail — in my experience, campaigns that struggle teach us more. Also be prepared to win….

5. Know when to take action

The closer I watch the game, the more likely I am to make nonstrategic, gut responses. But when I watch TV, catching a bit of the action while my defense team struts its stuff, I find I make smarter, more decisive decisions. I also have more cash to make those decisions, because I’m not micromanaging. When I watch the game, I am more likely to start new things, build more Towers, not using my increased cash flow to build stronger, more powerful defense structures. I think that’s a common business and marketing error. Doing little things — just to keep the cash flowing — can deter long term growth. It’s like software companies that launch their software before they remove all the bugs. On the other hand, there are times in the game when quick action will save the play. So the answer is more complex — while we need to invest in long term growth — we also need to be prepared to act on opportunities quickly.

I confess, this little app has amused me far more than it should — after all, I’m not 8 any more. But I think the game has also taught me a bit about myself. I am tempted to act before I should — it’s human to want to protect one’s bloons. I also want to save time and money — who doesn’t — but sometimes that makes me lose the game.

Finally, most of all, I want to take risks, to learn from my mistakes and to respond in an agile manner when needed — that’s what wins the game.

And if I would crunch everything I learned about me in one line?  I really want to win.

Back to Basics

DATE: February 12th, 2013

I just spent a week going across Canada to do donor focus groups for a client. The journey jolted me back to the basics of communications.

1. Don’t confuse your icon with your brand.

Trite? I don’t think so. As a crowd breaker, we showed each donor group a set of icons. Each icon had been stripped out of their name and stood on its own. I tested my client first… they identified less than 20% of the icons. Donors identified less than 10%. In fact, the client’s own logo was on the paper in front of them. Still, less than 10% of the donors in the groups were able to identify it.

That would make sense, if I had used obscure charities. But when I went through the icons with the names of the organizations, the organizations were easily recognized by most of the donors. They could tell me about the organization, but they couldn’t identify the logo. While we went through the list, in each group at least 50% of them told me they sponsored a child through World Vision and they were looking for that specific logo. Less than 10% actually could identify the World Vision logo without assistance.

I tested my own staff… they were able to identify at least 80%. (I breathed a sigh of relief.)

2. Don’t expect donors to grow with you.

I know, it seems harsh. Especially because we put a lot of time into our communications. In this case, the organization had expanded its focus about 15 years ago. That was a surprise to most of the donors. Interestingly, one of them told us how excited he was about the Christmas Gift Catalog. In fact, he asked his family and friends to use it when giving him a Christmas gift. The catalog clearly describes the breadth of the work. He was still surprised when we explained that the focus had been expanded.

The organization also offers a monthly program. Clearly, few people who attended the focus groups understood the unique details of the program. Even those who were members of the program.

It made me realize that we need to keep our programs really, really simple.

3. The donor wants to make a difference

If you work in a complex business or a charity that addresses complex human need, you understand that describing your product is often difficult.

I just bought a new lap top (Kevin was embarrassed to have me go out with my old lap top… it worked, but it was slow and lacked the sophisticated design of new products!). It’s awesome…. A touch screen, it straddles the line between the ease of the tablet and the full performance of a desk top — exactly what I needed. But if you tried to tell me all the details of how it is made and the performance enhancers… I would tune out.

I don’t want to know the technical details. I want to know that when I swipe my finger across the screen my document appears (and it does!!!).

Think of that when you are describing your program. In each group, the donors were clear. They wanted to impact change. They wanted the money they gave do something. They understood that there were admin costs. They were even OK about giving a part of their money to admin costs. But they wanted to see that the money they gave touched someone’s life. They didn’t want fancy program names or elaborate philosophical rationalizations. They wanted to know that a little girl who was hungry received food. Or a young man whose legs were twisted by polio was given training to do a job so he could by food for his family.

Let me end with one story…. Ed forgive me….

There was a young man in Zimbabwe who faced many challenges. For his entire life, he was different. He had Cerebral Palsy. Even though he could do most daily chores, his simple mind and twisted body set him apart. He lived in a small hut beside his mother. Even though he was in his mid thirties, he depended on his mother for everything: clothes, food and shelter. Then he attended a training school.

For the first time he had an opportunity to earn his own income. He received two goats from a Canadian supported organization. Those goats were his to care for and to use to generate his own income. For the first time in his life he had something that was his very own… a job he could do and thrive at.

“What are you going to do with the money you earn,” he was asked.

Without hesitating, he answered: “I’m going to buy a purple shirt.”

“A purple shirt?”

“Yes,” he explained. ” I have have always wanted a purple shirt. But my mother buys my clothes and she doesn’t like purple shirts. But now, I have my own money. I can buy a purple shirt!”

He turned to walk to his hut, clapping and laughing…. dreaming about his new purple shirt.

Your donors want to give someone a dream. They want to give a young man who has nothing of his own the chance to dream about a buying a purple shirt.