Saturday, September 20, 2008

First a Flash of Light, Then the Rumble of Thunder

Every once in a while I come across something to cause little lightning storms inside my head. On the subject of history is was a 1970s book and TV series called Connections by James Burke. In the 80s, while I was president of an ad agency, it was Tom Peters' treatise on management, In Search of Excellence. And when I was in grad school in history in the late 90s, I was thunderstruck by the new ideas in William Cronon's Changes in the Land : Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England - the book that launched the practice of environmental history - and It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own by Richard White that helped form my view of American Western history. Let me not leave out Lawrence Olivier's King Lear, Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V and RM Koster's obscure, but no less electric, The Dissertation.

The common experience was that each provided me with a way to sharpen my curiosity about (or appreciation of) a difficult topic and gave me the impetus to better structure my notions regarding each. When I met Tom Peters at the National Association of Broadcasters meeting in 2001, I told him that reading his book led me into lots of trouble in the business world. He replied with what he and I already knew, "That was the point!"

Well, I saw something Friday in Bend, Oregon, that caused another cranial storm.

Yesterday, those of us attending the American Advertising Federation Western Region Meeting saw a presentation - crackling with ideas, insight and humor - by author Scott Bedbury founder of Brandstream, Inc., that represented a semester-long course in branding - miraculously shrunk to about 120 brain-buzzing minutes.

Bedbury is Northwest-born (University of Oregon School of Journalism) guy who cut his teeth at ad agency Cole & Weber and who subsequently drove the marketing machines at both Nike and Starbucks.

I bought his business book A New Brand World, some time ago, but haven't yet opened it. Shame on me for the delay. I've moved it to "next" in my to-read stack.

Here's Bedbury, on a more formal occasion, introducing his theory of motivating staff using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

It was a great afternoon, a high voltage current of ideas about the mystery we call "branding." I'm glad I was there to savor it.