Let’s Hit the Highway

Thomas Marks brings years of marketing experience to his blog "It's All About Content" as the President and Managing Partner of TMA+Peritus. Prior to starting the agency in 1983, Tom was the VP of Marketing and Advertising for Bally Corporation in Chicago. He was also President of Bally's multi-million dollar in-house ad agency FFC Advertising.

After 34 years, I might go back to college. Interstate Trucking College, that is. I actually rode shotgun in an 18-wheeler when I was in my twenties, but I’ve never grabbed the wheel of anything that didn’t fit in a parking stall. I must say, I’m not wild about bouncing kidneys and showers at the Flying J, but I am down with chicken fried steak, and I can probably master the one language where words are supplanted with numbers, that’s a big 10-4.

I’m not a guy who keeps a pen and paper bedside in case I generate the big idea in my sleep. On the contrary, the only thing I generate at night, so I’m told, is a lot of noise. I love you honey, but that noise is not coming from me, it’s your pug down the hall. The best ideas for me come when I’m behind the wheel of my car, and with two offices 130 miles apart, there’s plenty of time to think and strategize. So it stands to figure that the larger the rig I’m driving, the bigger the idea.

So here’s the point to all of this. You definitely want to foster a big idea culture, certainly from your marketing team, but also from your ad agency. Sure, it’s a little corny to say, “Any ideas you might have, no matter how out there they are, I’d like to hear them; in fact, I expect to hear them from you.” But guess what? It’s rarely said. And even when it is, and the ideas start pouring in, they’re usually shot down faster than you can say, “Jack Robinson.”

We try to give our clients one big idea each month. Some stick others are a brick. But without a constant flow of ideas, what do you have? Well, that’s easy. Sameness. No relevance. No differentiation. Little innovation, and so it goes. Even the smallest ideas can get big. Take for example the now famous Mr. Tom Dickson, CEO of Blendtec, who one fateful morning tried to blend an iPod during an employee break. What was a small idea, and maybe not even an idea as much as a time-passer, turned into the “Will it blend?” video series that resulted in a 5-fold sales increase during an economy that was, well — in the blender.

I think the best ideas are the ones that aren’t about us. They’re about you, as they should be. Gosh darn it; we spend so much time trying to be understood, and not enough time understanding that we really need to focus our attention on ideas that matter to others. Or in our case, the others of others. That would be our client’s customers. So shout it down the halls or run it up the flagpole and start asking everyone in the shop for their ideas. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ve got an idea about that, but I’ll let you answer.

Now I’ve got some 10-17 to attend to, but we’ll 10-10 in two weeks.

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